Fairy Tale Friday: The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, was published in 2014 by Katherine Tegen.

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside torn in half or smashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that holds Sand prisoner. Why wasn’t this in the stories? To survive, Sand does what he knows best—he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending? Or have the saints who once guarded this place returned? When Sand finds the castle’s lost heir, Perrotte, they begin to untwine the dark secrets that caused the destruction. Putting together the pieces—of stone and iron, and of a broken life—is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it’s the only way to regain their freedom.

Rating: 2/5

The Castle Behind Thorns is a unique reinvention of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale (although it’s not marketed as such, it’s got Sleeping Beauty written all over it), where Sleeping Beauty wakes up not because of a kiss but because someone is fixing everything that was broken in the abandoned castle. I like adaptations of fairy tales that place the fairy tale somewhere in history, and this particular world is closely tied to the religion and the politics of medieval France.

The message of forgiveness laid out in the novel is good, although laid on a little thick by the end. The moralizing message is a bit much for an adult reader, but it might be just the thing a younger reader might need to hear. Haskell seems to have a much heavier hand here than she did in either Handbook for Dragon Slayers or The Princess Curse, so I’m not quite sure if she had a different audience in mind or if she simply thought a less subtle application of her point was needed because of the world she had built. It’s a good message of forgiveness, but it perhaps could have been communicated in a way that was less moralizing and thus less likely to turn people off from it (though, again, a younger audience may be more receptive).

However, I didn’t enjoy The Castle Behind Thorns as much as I enjoyed Haskell’s other works, and I’m not quite sure why. The lack of subtlety may have been one reason. Ultimately, though, I just didn’t find much about the book incredibly interesting. I’m not all that fond of Sleeping Beauty and Haskell wasn’t so unique in the telling of it as to make me really involved in the world and the plot. The premise was good and so was the reimagining of the fairytale as a whole, but the book wasn’t strong as a whole. I’ve read better versions of Sleeping Beauty and better books by Haskell. The Castle Behind Thorns is good, but not great; interesting, but not enticing; imaginative, but not groundbreaking. I’d much rather read The Princess Curse again.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fairy Tales, Middle Grade

He, Sand, had done all this. He had saved these things, sorted them, repurposed them, and made them work again.

With his mended broom held above his head like a sword, he shouted: “I am Sand, lord of this kitchen!”

Even though when he said it out loud, he could hear how silly it sounded, he knew that it was incomplete. There was no one here to challenge his rule, no one here to tell him otherwise.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pNrATa

The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, was published in 1961 by Puffin.

Ranofer wants only one thing in the world: to be a master goldsmith like his beloved father was. But how can he when he is all but imprisoned by his evil half-brother, Gebu? Ranofer knows the only way he can escape Gebu’s abuse is by changing his destiny. But can a poor boy with no skills survive on the cutthroat streets of ancient Thebes? Then Ranofer finds a priceless golden goblet in Gebu’s room and he knows his luck—and his destiny—are about to change…

Rating: 5/5

Filled with rich imagery, detailed description, and enough tension to keep the reader satisfied between pictures of goldsmithing and stonecutting, The Golden Goblet is a wonderful book about bravery, standing up for what’s right, and striving to achieve one’s goal. This book is a worthy Newbery Honor winner (beaten by The Bronze Bow; McGraw also had two other Newbery Honor books).

The distinct style and vocabulary might make it hard for some readers to get into the book, but it lends itself well to the setting and after a little bit you get used to it (and it makes Ranofer sound even more daydreamy and wishful than he is already portrayed, which fits). It would feel strange for a book set in ancient Egypt (roughly around 1360 BC, if the Queen Tiy in the book was supposed to be Queen Tiye, the wife of Amenhotep III) to have modernized vocabulary, so the wordy, sometimes flowery sentences fit the book better.

The summary is a little deceptive, in that it takes a very long time for Ranofer to actually find the goblet and the summary makes it seem as if it happens fairly early on (at least it seemed that way to me), but it’s only a small hitch in an otherwise intriguing and captivating book. I would recommend this book to 4th graders and up. Its lack of female characters should not deter girls from reading it, as 1.) the Queen plays a large role in the end and 2.)it’s an accurate representation of ancient Egyptian society—which means The Golden Goblet could also be read as a supplement to a history class.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“But if Gebu is seized for the thefts—”

“Gebu will never be seized. Only Ibni, or I.”

Heqet thought a moment. “You refused to take that wineskin yesterday.”

“Aye.” Ranofer gave an involuntary shiver. “I’ll not refuse the next one, you may be sure of it. Gebu is a devil, I tell you. I do not want to go on thieving for him, yet I must until Rekh is told.”

“Then Rekh must be told.”

“Aye, but I cannot do it. I cannot, Heqet! Therefore—”

“Therefore what?”

“Therefore I want you to tell him!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2o9GNko

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

Rilla of Ingleside, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was first published in 1921. It is the sequel to Rainbow Valley.

Anne’s children were almost grown up, except for pretty, high-spirited Rilla. No one could resist her bright hazel eyes and dazzling smile. Rilla, almost fifteen, can’t think any further ahead than going to her very first dance at the Four Winds lighthouse and getting her first kiss from handsome Kenneth Ford. But undreamed-of challenges await the irrepressible Rilla when the world of Ingleside becomes endangered by a far-off war. Her brothers go off to fight, and Rilla brings home an orphaned newborn in a soup tureen. She is swept into a drama that tests her courage and leaves her changed forever.

Rating: 2/5

Rilla of Ingleside would be a wonderful tale of the effect of World War I on families if it wasn’t for its one major flaw, which is that it’s boring. The familiar Montgomery shenanigans are swept away for pages-long conversations and depictions of battles in WWI, and while some small amount of ridiculous antics are present, the mood of this book is much more gloomy and dark than previous Anne books. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the grave tone fits the setting, but the book seemed unnecessarily long and dragged on and on.

Also, I felt that Rilla and Kenneth’s relationship wasn’t nearly as well developed as, say, Anne and Gilbert’s, or even Mr. Meredith’s and Rosemary’s from the last book. It’s a background piece, really, and perhaps that’s how Montgomery meant it, but it did seem to me to fall a little flat. I do appreciate Rilla’s character growth throughout the book, however, and how she matured as she grew up and as the war required her to do things that she would not normally have had to do.

I applaud Montgomery for the more serious nature of the book, as befitting of the time period, but she definitely does “silly nonsense” better, as Rilla of Ingleside seemed overly long, spent too much time dwelling on Susan Baker recapping battles of the war (spent too much time with Susan in general, actually), and its little intersperses of humor were sporadic and jagged. I do appreciate that Shirley, at least, got a little more limelight and wasn’t treated as a nonexistent character—a step up from my complaints from the previous two books!

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: Character death.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ovWBuL

1924 Newbery Medal: The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes

The Dark Frigate, by Charles Boardman Hawes, was first published in 1923. I read the Little, Brown and Co. edition from 1971.

In seventeenth century England, a terrible accident forces orphaned Philip Marsham to flee London in fear for his life. Bred to the sea, he signs on with the “Rose of Devon,” a dark frigate bound for the quiet shores of Newfoundland. Philip’s bold spirit and knowledge of the sea soon win him his captain’s regard. But when the “Rose of Devon” is seized in midocean by a devious group of men plucked from a floating wreck, Philip is forced to accompany these “gentlemen of fortune” on their murderous expeditions. Like it or not, Philip Marsham is now a pirate–with only the hangman awaiting his return to England. With its bloody battles, brutal buccaneers, and bold, spirited hero, this rousing tale will enthrall young listeners in search of seafaring adventure.

Rating: 1/5

Aside from The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle, I’ve found the early Newbery Medal-winning books to be dry and boring. The Dark Frigate adds “hard to follow” to that list. The vocabulary Hawes uses, while perhaps echoing reality, makes the plot dense and convoluted, with viewpoints switching frequently with no warning and very little of the character connections explained well enough to ward off confusion.

There is much mention of characters “knowing” one thing or another, or doing things that are never explained that apparently the reader is supposed to know about. For example, what was the bundle that Philip tossed overboard? Who was it that Will was signaling? Are the innkeeper and Martin’s brother two separate people, and if so, why was Martin hiding from the innkeeper and how did Nell know his brother? What is the connection between Mother Taylor, Tom Jordan, and Martin? Perhaps Hawes does explain this in the book, or at least infer it, but if so, I found the book so muddy and confusing that any meaning failed to make an appearance to me.

Lloyd Alexander gushes over the book in the introduction, and while The Dark Frigate may have been the perfect book to read in the 1920s, it is now certainly dated, with little in it of substance, besides the promise of pirates, to tempt young readers today. I can see why it would win a Newbery, especially in the award’s early years, but the book has not aged well and there are much better non-Newbery books about pirates out there.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

So Phil waited; and the broad hat that hung on the bulkhead scraped backward and forward as the ship plunged into the trough and rose on the swell; and Captain Candle remained intent on his thoughts; and a sea bird circled over the wake of the ship.

After a long time the master turned about and walked into the cabin and, there espying Philip Marsham, he smiled and said, “I was remiss. I had forgotten you.” He threw aside the cloak that lay on the chair and sat down.

“Sit you down,” he said with a nod. “You are a practiced seaman, no lame, decrepit fellow who serves for underwages. Have you mastered the theory?”

“Why, sir, I am no unacquainted with astrolabe and quadrant, and on scales and tables I have spent much labour.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2nCk6VO

Rainbow Valley by L. M. Montgomery

Rainbow Valley, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was first published in 1919. It is the sequel to Anne of Ingleside.

Anne Shirley is grown up, has married her beloved Gilbert and now is the mother of six mischievous children. These boys and girls discover a special place all their own, but they never dream of what will happen when the strangest family moves into an old nearby mansion. The Meredith clan is two boys and two girls, with minister father but no mother — and a runaway girl named Mary Vance. Soon the Meredith kids join Anne’s children in their private hideout to carry out their plans to save Mary from the orphanage, to help the lonely minister find happiness, and to keep a pet rooster from the soup pot. There’s always an adventure brewing in the sun-dappled world of Rainbow Valley.

Rating: 3/5

In my review of Anne of Ingleside, I mentioned how I preferred Rainbow Valley, but now having read the latter, I actually think the former is my favorite of the “Anne’s children” books—unless Rilla of Ingleside takes that honor, of course. Rainbow Valley is good, but the Meredith children are no replacement for the Blythe family. And while I do get some guilty pleasure out of pining romances, Mr. Meredith and Rosemary’s drags on a little too long. There’s also some contrived nonsense sitting in the way, of course, as Montgomery is fond of the dramatic romances.

There are some good things about the novel, of course—the build-up to World War I is patently obvious and already Montgomery foreshadows just how much this will shake up the Blythe family. This book was written before Rilla of Ingleside, but I think Montgomery had certain things in mind even during this book because the foreshadowing and telegraphing are quite strong. In addition, there were some conversations about God and theology that had me laughing out loud. Montgomery certainly has a way with phrasing things exactly how children would phrase them, which is precisely why the original Anne of Green Gables is so beloved.

However, Rainbow Valley still can’t hold a candle to Anne, and I think it’s because Montgomery is trying too hard to recapture the charm of the first book. Also, while reading, I had this nagging feeling that Anne is not actually the best mother to her children. Of course, with Montgomery’s focus on the children, and especially the Meredith children, it could be that we just don’t see enough of Anne for me to seriously make that argument. And Montgomery doesn’t help Anne out either, because once again Shirley is mentioned briefly at the beginning of the novel and then vanishes, never to be mentioned again—not by Anne nor by the narrator, who lists all the Blythe children and what they’re doing, except for Shirley. Like I did in Anne of Ingleside, I ask: why bother giving Anne this child if he’s not even going to be mentioned? It really doesn’t do any favors to how Anne looks as a mother. But perhaps I’m obsessing too much.

Rainbow Valley is good, but there are one too many shenanigans featuring the Meredith children and the book runs out of steam about 3/4s of the way through as a result. Also, I’m still not as fond of the married-with-children-Anne, due to the fact that her glib, laughing nature makes her seem like a shockingly airheaded and uncaring mother, arguably.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Well, you kids have gone and done it now,” was Mary’s greeting, as she joined them in the Valley. Miss Cornelia was up at Ingleside, holding agonized conclave with Anne and Susan, and Mary hoped that the session might be a long one, for it was all of two weeks since she had been allowed to revel with her chums in the dear valley of rainbows.

“Done what?” demanded everybody but Walter, who was day-dreaming as usual.

“It’s you manse young ones, I mean,” said Mary. “It was just awful of you. I wouldn’t have done such a thing for the world, and I weren’t brought up in a manse— weren’t brought up ANYWHERE— just COME up.”

“What have WE done?” asked Faith blankly.

“Well, you kids have gone and done it now,” was Mary’s greeting, as she joined them in the Valley. Miss Cornelia was up at Ingleside, holding agonized conclave with Anne and Susan, and Mary hoped that the session might be a long one, for it was all of two weeks since she had been allowed to revel with her chums in the dear valley of rainbows. “Done what?” demanded everybody but Walter, who was day-dreaming as usual. “It’s you manse young ones, I mean,” said Mary. “It was just awful of you.   I   wouldn’t have done such a thing for the world, and   I   weren’t brought up in a manse— weren’t brought up ANYWHERE— just COME up.”

“What have WE done?” asked Faith blankly.

“Done! You’d BETTER ask! The talk is something terrible. I expect it’s ruined your father in this congregation. He’ll never be able to live it down, poor man! Everybody blames him for it, and that isn’t fair. But nothing IS fair in this world. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2nt85yB

The One True Love of Alice-Ann by Eva Marie Everson

Disclaimer: The One True Love of Alice-Ann, by Eva Marie Everson, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Living in rural Georgia in 1941, sixteen-year-old Alice-Ann has her heart set on her brother’s friend Mack; despite their five-year age gap, Alice-Ann knows she can make Mack see her for the woman she’ll become. But when they receive news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Mack decides to enlist, Alice-Ann realizes she must declare her love before he leaves. Though promising to write, Mack leaves without confirmation that her love is returned. But Alice-Ann is determined to wear the wedding dress her maiden aunt never had a chance to wear—having lost her fiancé long ago. As their correspondence continues over the next three years, Mack and Alice-Ann are drawn closer together. But then Mack’s letters ease altogether, leaving Alice-Ann to fear the worst. Dreading the war will leave her with a beautiful dress and no happily ever after, Alice-Ann fills her days with work and caring for her best friend’s war-torn brother, Carlton. As time passes and their friendship develops in something more, Alice-Ann wonders if she’ll ever be prepared to say good-bye to her one true love and embrace the future God has in store with a newfound love. Or will a sudden call from overseas change everything?

My rating: 4/5

I tend to enjoy World War II-era novels, so I was looking forward to reading The One True Love of Alice-Ann. The author, Eva Marie Everson, is also the same person who wrote Five Brides, which I quite enjoyed. And, happily—this book was great.

Though Alice-Ann’s angst over who she really loves is not quite convincing enough—I knew long before she did whom she didn’t truly love—making a lot of the last third of the book a little tedious to read as she agonizes, I thought the overall message behind that was good and well-expressed. And even though the outcome is, perhaps, a little predictable, the focus is much more on Alice-Ann’s discovery of her feelings and the realizations she makes rather than on a “who is she going to pick?” love-triangle-esque romantic plot.

The biggest negative I had about the book is Alice-Ann is the type of protagonist who doesn’t think she’s beautiful and envies all the beautiful women around her. There are certainly people who think that, but it’s a little hard to read. I suppose it fits Alice-Ann as a sixteen-year-old, though, and her thoughts on this do die down a little as she grows up and realizes what’s most important. At least Everson didn’t play the “she doesn’t know she’s beautiful” card, which would have been irritating.

I really enjoyed The One True Love of Alice-Ann, which is full of charm, has a good romantic plot, and despite its predictability is still an engaging read because of Alice-Ann’s journey as she learns more about love as opposed to infatuation. The message behind the novel, “You can’t choose who you love but you can choose who you marry” is a good one to emphasize and overall was developed very nicely throughout the book. I would read more books by Everson.

(Please click here for a Q&A with the author)

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2nxp1pR

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R. L. LaFevers, was published in 2007 by Houghton Mifflin.

Theodosia Throckmorton has her hands full at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London. Her father may be head curator, but it is Theo—and only Theo—who is able to see all the black magic and ancient curses that still cling to the artifacts in the museum. Sneaking behind her father’s back, Theo uses old, nearly forgotten Egyptian magic to remove the curses and protect her father and the rest of the museum employees from the ancient, sinister forces lurking in the museum’s dark hallways. When Theo’s mother returns from her latest archaeological dig bearing the Heart of Egypt—a legendary amulet belonging to an ancient tomb—Theo learns that it comes inscribed with a curse so black and vile that it threatens to crumble the British Empire from within and start a war too terrible to imagine. Theo will have to call upon everything she’s ever learned in order to prevent the rising chaos from destroying her country—and herself!

Rating: 3/5

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos reminds me a little bit of a much tamer version of Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, minus the gods, or maybe something more along the lines of Serafina and the Black Cloak combined with Withering-by-Sea. I’m not really a fan of the “young girl is more competent than the adults around her” trope, but Theodosia has some good moments with her parents and there are enough competent adults that it slightly alleviated my disgruntlement with the trope.

The plot revolving around the Heart of Egypt was a little hard to follow, especially once Theodosia gets to Egypt and the tomb, and there were one or two plot threads that seemed totally random (i.e., the whole thing with Isis getting possessed, which seemed completely unnecessary), but I do like how LaFevers wove in the tension leading up to World War I with her supernatural/fantasy plot so that amidst all the magic and cursed artifacts lies that historical thread. LaFevers also includes a lot of other little things about that time period, too, such as Britain’s occupation of Egypt and their archaeological fervor, Kaiser Wilhelm, the growing tension with Germany, and other historical facts that, again, lend a nice note of reality to the supernatural premise of the novel.

While I didn’t enjoy it so much that I’m itching to pick up the second novel, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos was enjoyable enough that I wouldn’t mind reading more, if only to find out more about the ambiguous “forces of Chaos,” the secret society that Theodosia stumbles across sworn to combat them, and how other historical details will fit in with the story as it unfolds. The main thing holding me back from immediately getting the next book is my annoyance at Theodosia as a protagonist, who is one of those smart-alecky characters who always knows what to do better than the characters around her. Theodosia, luckily, has a few flaws which makes her more endearing and less annoying, but I’m still not incredibly pleased with her.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

Luckily, everyone’s eyes were focused on the artifact so they didn’t see me shiver violently, as if I’d just caught a ghastly chill. The truth of it was, whatever was in that package was cursed with something so powerful and vile it made me feel as if my whole body were covered in stinging ants. When Mother lifted off the last bit of paper, she held a large scarab carved out of precious stone in her hand. IT had gold wings curving out of its side and they were inlaid with thousands and thousands of jewels. A large round carnelian, the size of a cherry, sat at the head, and a smaller green stone decorate the bottom of the beetle. “The Heart of Egypt,” she announced. “Straight from Amenemhab’s tomb.”

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1923 Newbery Medal: The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting

I’m starting a new series/reading goal: reading every book awarded with the Newbery Medal! While I will not be sticking to straight chronology, I do plan to go as chronologically as possible. Each book I review will have [Year] Newbery Medal before the name in the title of the blog, and I will have a separate page just of the Newbery Medal books I review. I have read some Newbery Medals already, so I will add to their titles.

The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle, by Hugh Lofting, was first published in 1922. I read the Illustrated Junior Library version published in 1998.

Doctor Dolittle, the veterinarian who can actually talk to animals, sets sail on the high seas for new adventures with Polynesia the parrot, Jip the dog, Chee-Chee the monkey, and young Tommy Stubbins. Together they travel to Spidermonkey Island, brave a shipwreck, and meet the incredible Great Glass Sea Snail.

Rating: 4/5

Dr. Doolittle is a series that I read a lot when I was younger. For a story about a man who can talk to animals, it’s surprisingly mature and lacking in silliness. The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle is very much a seafaring adventure whose main character also happens to have the ability to speak to animals. The only thing lacking that would make this a standard adventure novel are pirates and buried treasure, and Lofting replaces those with a shipwreck, a battle, and politics, all of which make for sometimes funny, sometimes serious adventure that is much more mature in terms of language and plot than I remember it being.

Now, having been written in the 1920s, all the things you might expect an author from that time period to include that would be different from today are there. I definitely don’t think either Bumpo or the natives of Spidermonkey Island are portrayed in a negative light, but it would not surprise me at all if there was some essay or argument out there explaining perceived negative stereotypes. Bumpo is an intelligent African prince studying at Oxford, who does use language incorrectly but only for comic relief (although some people might have a problem with even that initial premise). As for the natives, Long Arrow, in particular, is described many times as a great naturalist and while the terminology to describe the natives are not terms we would use nowadays, I feel like Lofting dealt with them with a great deal of respect. Perhaps you disagree, and that’s okay.

The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle is technically the second Dr. Doolittle book, but it is absolutely not necessary to have read the first. It’s a fun little adventure about a naturalist who can talk to animals and his adventures with his assistant, his friend, and the animals who accompany him (Polynesia is the best). It also says some good things about duty and responsibility, curiosity, and helping others. It brought back a lot of fond memories for me and was an auspicious start to my Newbery Medal reads!

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: Includes what some people today would probably deem “cultural insensitivity” at least.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Children’s

“From what the purple bird-of-paradise tells me, Long Arrow’s knowledge of natural history must be positively tremendous. His specialty is botany—plants and all that sort of thing. But he knows a lot about birds and animals too. He’s very good on bees and beetles. But now tell me, Stubbins, are you quite sure that you really want to be a naturalist?”

“Yes,” said I, “my mind is made up.”

“Well you know, it isn’t a very good profession for making money. Not at all, it isn’t. Most of the good naturalists don’t make any money whatever. All they do is spend money, buying butterfly nets and cases for birds’ eggs and things. It is only now, after I have been a naturalist for many years, that I am beginning to make a little money from the books I write.”

“I don’t care about money,” I said. “I want to be a naturalist.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2nkX7gr

Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

Our Only May Amelia, by Jennifer L. Holm, was published in 1999 by HarperCollins.

May Amelia Jackson is the only girl ever born on the Nasel River—A Real Miracle, her family says. And with seven brothers she believes it. Most of the time she forgets that she’s a girl, like when she wears her overalls to go fishing with Wilbert or helps Uncle Aarno and the boys make the fishing nets. Bu sometimes her family does treat her like A Miracle, and it’s just plain maddening, like when Pappa yells at her for running around the logging camp or orders her to stay in the house because there’s a real live murderer on the loose. Once in a while, though, it’s good to be treated like a Miracle and have a whole family looking after their only May Amelia. Still, what May thinks would be the greatest Miracle of all is if the baby in her mamma’s belly turned out to be a girl. Will May always be their only Miracle, or will the new baby be the little sister she’s been hoping for?

Rating: 5/5

I read Our Only May Amelia a long time ago, and even though I didn’t remember specific aspects of the plot, I still remembered the sense of it, if that makes sense (ha). I remembered that there was something sad, and I remembered that at the end of the book May’s family gathers around her for some reason, and I remembered that there were lots of “Our Only May Amelia’s” in the dialogue. But other than that, I didn’t much remember anything else, so it was almost as if I was reading the book for the first time.

It took me a little bit to get used to the fact that there are no quotation marks in the book, but once I got into the flow of it I stopped noticing their absence. I can see why Our Only May Amelia received a Newbery Honor—it’s sweet, it’s poignant, it’s alive, it’s sad and funny and bittersweet in all the right places. It captures both the freedom of living and the hardships that go along with that freedom. It captures the rough and the smooth sides of families and how people show their love in different ways (or not at all). It shows the hospitality of neighbors and the close-knit community of cultures. In short, it’s a perfect little snapshot of life.

While I think the book might deal with too many complicated issues for a younger reader (I teach 4th grade and I don’t think it would be well suited for that age), Our Only May Amelia would be a great book to give to a middle-grade reader. It’s serious enough for discussion, but light enough for laughs and the genuine pleasure of reading. Maybe the nostalgia increased the quality factor in my eyes, but Our Only May Amelia is a lovely book about family, loss, and love that encompasses timeless qualities even as it describes a specific time in history.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

Outside the window the sky is black and the stars are winking at me. I watch the fireflies dancing in the field and realize my birthday is nearly over, and I haven’t made my secret birthday wish yet. Mamma says that a wish made on a birthday always comes true. I don’t know about that, though. Last year I wished for Kaarlo to stop being so mean to me all the time, but he’s still the same mean old Kaarlo.

Still, it can’t hurt to try. I think hard but it’s an easy wish. I can’t tell anyone, not even Wilbert and he is my very best brother. I can’t tell him because he’ll never understand what it is like to be me, May Amelia Jackson, the only Jackson girl, and the only girl in Nasel.

I squeeze my eyes tight and wish hard with my heart that Mamma has a little baby girl so that I can have a sister.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2lOGid4

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson was published in 2012 by Shadow Mountain.

Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she’ll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry. From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will Marianne be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke.

Rating: 4/5

You would think, with Blackmoore being so enjoyably bad, that I would avoid more books by the author. There’s only so much enjoyable nonsense I can take, after all. However, something compelled me to pick up another book by Donaldson (maybe because I saw that my library carried it). And, I must confess, I ate up Edenbrooke and its angsty romance even more than I love-hated Blackmoore.

Plain and simple, I enjoy romances like Edenbrooke’s. I delight in the angsty “I love him but he couldn’t possibly love me” type of self-denial that’s found in this book. I mean, it does tend to make the heroine seem a little dense at times, but there’s something about this particular romantic archetype that I enjoy every time I encounter it. And it doesn’t matter how poor the rest of the book is—I would read it simply because of that one element.

To be honest, though, Edenbrooke really isn’t all that bad. It was actually much better than I was expecting, and it lacked a lot of the contrivance that Blackmoore had, though there were some random parts that stretched the bounds of believability a little. I highly enjoyed every minute of it—I even teared up a time or two. It’s certainly not classic literature, but it’s far from the sort of trashy romance novel you’d be embarrassed to be seen reading. Edenbrooke was good enough that I might keep my eye on Donaldson to see what else she has up her sleeve.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction

I lifted my chin, feigning dignity. “I was hiding so that I would not be seen wet and muddy.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You were wet and muddy? Before you fell in the river?”

I cleared my throat. “I fell in twice.”

He pressed his lips together and looked off in the distance, as if trying to regain his composure. When he looked at me again, his eyes were brimming with laughter. “And may I ask how you came to fall in the river the first time?”

My face burned as I realized how silly I had been, how childish and inelegant. Of course, he already knew those things about me from my actions at the inn last night. Singing that song! Laughing, and then crying! And now falling into a river! I had never been more aware of my faults than I was at that moment.

“I was, er, twirling,” I said.

His lips twitched. “I cannot imagine it. You must demonstrate for me.”

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