The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford

The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, was published in 2016 by Henry Holt.

Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault are on a mission: find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. During the search, however, their ship, the famous privateer the Left-Handed Fate, is taken by the Americans, who have just declared war on England, too. The Fate (and, with it, Lucy and Max) is put under the command of new midshipman Oliver Dexter…who’s only just turned twelve. But Lucy and Max aren’t the only ones trying to assemble the engine; the French are after it, as well as the crew of a mysterious vessel that seems able to appear out of thin air. When Oliver discovers what his prisoners are really up to—and how dangerous the device could be if it falls into the wrong hands—he is faced with a choice: Help Lucy and Max even if it makes him a traitor to his own country? Or follow orders and risk endangering countless lives, including those of the enemies who have somehow become his friends?

Rating: 5/5

Kate Milford has done it again. I loved her book Greenglass House and The Left-Handed Fate is—nearly—as perfect. It’s a well-written, intriguing, fascinating historical fiction with hints (and more than hints) of fantasy woven through it. It gives a great deal of information about the War of 1812 and seamanship in general. Every character is interesting and they interact in ways that are believable in each circumstance they run into.

Apparently this book is a continuation/companion of other books Milford has written about Nagspeake, but it’s not necessary to have read them. I had no trouble at all understanding the world and I have only read Greenglass House before this one. There is enough explained with the characters that nothing seems missing; backstory is given when necessary and when not, small details are given that fill in possible gaps. Milford does a great job of bringing in an audience who may not be familiar with her other books.

I said The Left-Handed Fate was nearly perfect, so now here’s the ways I felt it faltered a bit—not enough to drop its rating, ultimately, but enough for me to comment on.

First, there’s a conversation between Liao and Max that is really odd, or maybe teeth-clenching irritating, or simply nonsensical. Basically, Liao believes that weapons have feelings and that they like it better if they’re used for good rather than evil, which makes absolutely no sense but he’s nine, so whatever. Then Max starts thinking about cannons/gunpowder being chemical reactions and then thinks about how people are exactly like that. Yes, people are exactly like cannons. Just chemical reactions. That explains why we have thoughts and emotions. You know, just like cannons. *eyeroll*

Second, the whole Copley thing is very hard to believe. Even harder to believe than a black ship that appears out of nowhere. I mean, the latter is clearly magic. The former is…some combination of magic and science fiction? An artificial intelligence brought to life by a golden elixir? I don’t know—for some reason, I had a hard time accepting that part of the book. I can do ghostly black ships and blue lights appearing out of nowhere. I can’t do a computer that functions on magical juice.

However, those flaws are not serious enough to significantly affect my liking of The Left-Handed Fate. Overall, I thought it was well written, engaging, and a wonderful historical fiction novel.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“I had that piece for years,” Jeton said. “It was brought to me damaged and the repairs were complicated, but they only took as long as they did because I made them take that long. I strung the work out as long as I possibly could, in hopes that your father would answer my letter or turn up. If either he or you had managed to get here before war had been declared, you could have had it, and welcome. I would have lied to the owner, claimed the shop had been robbed—I had the whole story worked out. But you didn’t arrive in time.”

“My father couldn’t come because he was dead,” Max retorted. “It made traveling difficult for him, you understand.”

Jeton’s eyes hardened at the sarcasm. “It was more than a year and a half ago that your father passed, may he rest in peace.”

“I came as soon as I could!” Max said wretchedly. “And then we were attacked twice in the Chesapeake. If not for that, we should have been here before—”

“But you weren’t here, and we are at war, and I will not turn traitor. There are those who might do it, but I am not one of them.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pUH2k5

1928 Newbery Medal: Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon

Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon, by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, was published in 1927 by Dutton.

The heartwarming and sometimes almost heartbreaking story of the training and care of a carrier pigeon. Writing out of his own experience as a boy in India, Dhan Mukerji tells how Gay-Neck’s master, an eager, highly-sensitive lad, sent his prized pigeon to serve in World War I, and of how, because of exceptional training and his brave heart, Gay-Neck served his new masters heroically.

Rating: 3/5

I found Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon, the most interesting of the early Newbery Medal’s I’ve read so far, barring The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle. That’s not to say it enthralled me, but it was better than the dense and confusing The Dark Frigate and a much better story than any of the myths in Tales from Silver Lands. It was also a very quick read for me, which I’m citing as a positive since I was beginning to fall behind in my reading when I started Gay-Neck.

Much of the interest of Gay-Neck, for me, was not the story of a pigeon and his adventures leading up to and during World War I. It was the description of India and its culture. I always enjoy it when an author so clearly knows a culture different than the one I do, and, since Mukerji grew up in India, he’s even more qualified to describe it and make it approachable for American readers (I say American since the Newbery medal is an American award). And since this was written during a time when lots of people were traveling abroad and the British still occupied India, it’s nice to get a glimpse of the mountains, valleys, and jungles of India through the eyes of an Indian.

So, yes, the culture part of it interested me. The actual story of Gay-Neck, not so much. I’ve read better animal books before, and let’s face it, I’m more into horses than pigeons. The pages-long descriptions of Gay-Neck flying to avoid the claws of an eagle may be riveting to some, but I found myself skimming a lot of it. There’s also only so many times Gay-Neck can disappear and his owner wonder if he’s dead before all the suspense is drained out of the event entirely.

Gay-Neck is definitely a step up from previous Newbery Medal winners, but despite its lavish and loving descriptions of India and Indian culture, it’s not particularly exciting or enthralling. It’s a good look at how carrier pigeons were used, and, of course, as I’ve already mentioned, its depiction of India is beautiful, but it falls apart a little in terms of mechanics and holding the reader’s interest.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

But this [bird] was coming straight, like an arrow. In another two minutes my doubts were dispelled. It was a hawk making for little Gay-Neck. I looked up and beheld a miraculous sight. His father was tumbling steadily down in order to reach his level, while his mother, bent on the same purpose, was making swift downward curves. Ere the terrible hawk had come within ten yards of the innocent little fellow, both his flanks were covered. Now the three flew downwards at a right angle from the path of their enemy. Undeterred by such a move, the hawk charged.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pq0uFq

The Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot

Disclaimer: The Maggie Bright, by Tracy Groot, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

England, 1940. Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the Maggie Bright—a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she’s counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden on board, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler’s darkest schemes and prompt America to action. Across the Channel, Hitler’s Blitzkrieg has the entire British Army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk. With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes may not return. Yet Clare knows the Maggie Bright must answer the call—piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth. The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.

My rating: 3/5

The Maggie Bright tells the story of the historic rescue of the British army at Dunkirk. And, when it gets to that point, it’s exactly as nailbiting and tense as you might expect, with bombs falling, planes strafing, and soldiers eager to escape certain death. If you didn’t know much about Dunkirk before, this book will certainly inform you on some of the important aspects, such as the call for civilian craft and the routes the boats took to avoid mines.

However, while the Dunkirk part of the book is good, the lead-up to it is a little strange. There’s a mysterious package, which really serves as a MacGuffin device to get the characters to act, a shadowy figure who wants it, and a whole lot of convenience. Plus, once Dunkirk occurs, all of that investigation and mystery are swept under the rug and never brought up again.

So, the first half of the book I thought was heavily flawed: odd characters, a plot that shapes together slowly, resolves quickly, and then transforms into something completely different, a romance that springs out of nowhere and is completely unnecessary, and a whole lot of talk about a package and the person after it that ultimately ends up not even mattering. The second half is better, though weighed down by that first half—a tense lead-up to the rescue at Dunkirk, the rescue itself, and then the aftermath. If the novel had just been about that without the extraneous bits at the beginning, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot better.

The Maggie Bright starts out poorly, but ends more strongly, with a pretty riveting telling of the rescue at Dunkirk. I think its flaws outweigh its strengths, unfortunately, but at the very least, it’s got me interested in seeing the movie about Dunkirk that comes out later this year.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

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

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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