The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin

The Blackhope Enigma, by Teresa Flavin, was published in 2011 by Candlewick Press.

For centuries, Blackhope Tower has remained an enigma. Rumors abound that skeletons have been known to mysteriously appear in the middle of a labyrinth found in the most famous of its rooms—The Mariner’s Chamber. When fourteen-year-old Sunni Forrest visits the tower and watches as her stepbrother, Dean, disappears, seemingly into the painting itself, she goes in search of him—and finds herself drawn into the heart of the Blackhope Enigma.

Rating: 2/5

I very nearly stopped reading The Blackhope Enigma about a third of the way through it. The writing is amateurish (needless descriptions and explanations, melodramatic villain lines, clunky action and lots of telling rather than showing), the characters are forgettable (also, don’t ask how many times I pronounced Sunni’s name as SOON-EE rather than SON-EE because of the spelling), and the whole thing hinges on a premise that is barely explained and not incorporated well.

However, the story does pick up a little and gets slightly more interesting once the characters make their way into the inner-inner painting (there’s the surface painting, then the inner painting where things are alive, and then apparently an inner-inner painting). Of course, then the book adds another melodramatic villain character and the obligatory mysterious handsome sorcerer, so it doesn’t really get any better in quality. But it became interesting enough for me to read it all the way through, though it never passed beyond merely bearable.

I like the idea that Flavin is trying to get across, but unfortunately, she executed it poorly. I think the concept of an enchanted painting is a good one and if Flavin was a better writer the book as a whole would have been a much better success. But Sunni, Dean and Blaise never become more than stock characters, stumbling around a world that is a good idea conceptually but poorly designed and implemented. I never get any sense of real danger from the villains or the world and the ending is clunky and contrived. The Blackhope Enigma is certainly an enigma—I still don’t know how I managed to finish reading the entire thing.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade

“All you knew was that we had disappeared—not how we got in.”

“Well, let’s just say we looked at it from a new angle and got a result.”

“But I asked Mr. Bell about Corvo and the painting after Sunni and Dean had disappeared, and he didn’t tell my anything. Why would he do that?”

“Knowing Lorimer, it was so you wouldn’t get too curious and follow the others into the painting,” Angus said. “He was trying to protect you.”

“From what?” asked Blaise.

“From never getting out again.”

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

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Disclaimer: Just Look Up, by Courtney Walsh, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

After tirelessly climbing the ranks of her Chicago-based interior design firm, Lane Kelley is about to land her dream promotion when devastating news about her brother draws her back home to a quaint tourist town full of memories she’d just as soon forget. With her cell phone and laptop always within reach, Lane aims to check on her brother while staying focused on work—something her eclectic family doesn’t understand. Ryan Brooks never expected to settle down in Harbor Pointe, Michigan, but after his final tour of duty, it was the only place that felt like home. Now knee-deep in a renovation project that could boost tourism for the struggling town, he is thrilled to see Lane, the girl he secretly once loved, even if the circumstances of her homecoming aren’t ideal. Their reunion gets off to a rocky start, however, when Ryan can’t find a trace of the girl he once knew in the woman she is today. As he slowly chips away the walls Lane has built, secrets from his past collide with a truth even he is reluctant to believe, putting Ryan at a crossroads that could not only alter his relationship with the Kelly family but jeopardize his future with the girl of his dreams.

My rating: 2/5

I really am not a fan of the “bitter female” protagonist because so often it is completely overdone. It’s hard to get readers to sympathize with someone whom they feel is overreacting and/or being irrational. Luckily, Courtney Walsh manages to avoid most of the pitfalls in Just Look Up, although the longer I read, the sicker I got of Lane’s angst and bitterness (it’s a long book, so by the end Lane continually feeling sorry for herself wears thin). Lane has some legitimate reasons for being so closed-off, though some of them I thought were expressed a little melodramatically by Walsh, and at least her behavior makes sense in light of her past and emotions.

Ryan, unfortunately, falls into every pitfall and cliché of a love interest and of a character with his particular background. My kingdom for a love interest who doesn’t have “muscles rippling under his shirt” that the female protagonist admires and then pretends she doesn’t feel attracted to him.  Nothing of Ryan’s story surprised me and he was about as interesting as a paper bag.

I do think Walsh overexaggerated the extent that people rely on their cellphones, although I don’t doubt there are workaholics like Lane in the world and that people are too attached to their screens. I also am upset that there was never a scene in the novel where Lane talks with her family about her work, her stress, and the physical effects it had on her. There’s actually never really a scene where Lane gets her thoughts out, at all, or any sense of resolution or fulfillment besides a short chat with her sister. The Lane the story ends with is virtually the same Lane the story begins with, which seems counterproductive to the point Walsh is making.

Just Look Up starts off well with a character type that is usually annoying, then falls flat when the length of the novel means that Lane’s bitterness starts to grate after 300+ pages with almost no progress. Maybe I’m just not very sympathetic to a character’s seemingly (and actually) irrational thoughts and behavior, especially when it’s dwelt on for the entire book and never truly resolved. I was also not a fan of Ryan, who breaks out of no “male love interest” boxes and whose story is check-box predictable, right down to his rippling muscles. I think a lot of the book is good and/or has potential, but I think a shorter book with a better sense of resolution would have made it better.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2rOLA8y

2006 Newbery Medal: Criss Cross

Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins, was published in 2005 by Greenwillow.

She wished something would happen. Something good. To her. Looking at the bright, fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, Something like that. Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one. Hoping it wasn’t too late, she thought the word “soon.”

Rating: 4/5

Criss Cross was a really interesting read. It has this kind of 70s/80s feel to it and a quirky tone, which really comes across in Hector’s sections, which make it both a strange and an endearing novel. I thought it was a pretty unique Newbery Medal winner, in that nothing particularly sad happens nor is there a particularly prominent coming-of-age moment—it’s simply whimsical and laid out in a pretty unique and interesting style.

One of the things I loved most about Criss Cross was Hector and Rowanne. Many times a sibling relationship in novels is characterized by lots of fighting and complaining. However, Hector and Rowanne showed the caring, friendship side of family, where they helped each other, hung out with each other and in general were quite darling as characters. Hector was probably my favorite character and the part where he runs around with a sarong tied around his waist—that Rowanne helped him with tying without laughing at him at all—was my favorite scene of the book (following closely behind in second: Hector at the carnival with the elephant ear).

The end also doesn’t end the way you think it will, either. There’s this moment where you think Perkins is taking it somewhere and then at the last moment it changes, and it’s done in a way that makes sense with the tone of the book so that even if you were hoping one thing would happen, you’re not surprised when it doesn’t.

Criss Cross is whimsical, nostalgic and charming, a more subtle book than some other Newbery winners in terms of message but a good read all the same. The characters are endearing, the style of the book is unique and memorable, and overall I found it a delightful read, especially when it came to Hector.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

“So you were going to take this girl to a drainage ditch?” said Rowanne.

“It’s a ravine,” said Hector. “It’s more like a ravine than a drainage ditch. It’s a really pretty spot. Except for the garbage. I don’t think it’s gonna work. I don’t know where else to go, though.”

“Why don’t you just come here?” asked Rowanne. They were sitting on a bench at the Tastee-Freez, eating ice cream cones.

“I mean, for starters,” she said. “Then you could work your way up to the drainage ditch.”

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

The Healing Spell by Kimberly Griffiths Little

The Healing Spell, by Kimberly Griffiths Little, was published in 2010 by Scholastic.

Eleven-year-old Livie is keeping a secret, and it’s crushing her. She knows she is responsible for her mother’s coma, but she can’t tell anyone. And it’s up to her to find a way to wake her mamma before anyone uncovers the truth of what really happened. Added to the list of Livie’s problems are being stuck in the middle of three sisters, trying to hide a forbidden pet alligator, and possibly disappointing her daddy, whom she loves more than anyone else. Livie feels like an outsider and prefers the solitude of the wild bayou to her ever-crowded home. But she can’t run away from her troubles, and as she struggles to find her place within her family, Livie learns a lot about the powers of faith and redemption. Is her heat big enough to heal her mamma and bring her family back together?

Rating: 4/5

The Healing Spell is a charming, heartwarming story about a young girl who both longs for and dreads her mother waking up from a coma and the lessons she learns about love, her family, and herself along the way. It’s got a nice balance of “this is what this means” and “this might be what this means but I’m not going to say it straight out” and it never crosses the line into triteness.

While the plot, and especially its ending, is predictable, it’s not so predictable that you don’t enjoy the journey along the way. Books like this one tend to make me cry, and while The Healing Spell didn’t quite get there, Livie’s moments of sadness and loneliness are well-executed and never seem over-the-top or melodramatic. Similarly, her moments of learning and realization are also well-done and, as I mentioned above, the message is delivered in a good balance of subtle, but not so subtle as to be nearly invisible.

The book itself is a beautiful example of faith amidst sorrow and hope amidst despair. I know some people would probably hate this book for its ending, but I think the ending was appropriate; it fit the situation and what the author was trying to say. It wasn’t preachy, but there was definitely a message there to be delivered. The Healing Spell is a lovely book and I’m glad I picked it up.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic

“And you got yourself a baby gator!”

I nodded. “Isn’t he beautiful?”

Jeannie leaned over to touch the top of his head. “I think he likes you.”

I held him up and looked him in the eye. He opened his mouth and showed off his tiny pearly teeth. “I think I’ll call you T-Baby.” The tiny gator was staring up at me as if I was his mamma. It was the funniest thing.

“What are you gonna do with him? You aren’t taking him home, are you?”

I shrugged. “No, just keeping my eye on him.”

“My daddy would tan my hide if he saw me with a baby alligator.”

“My daddy, too,” I admitted, but a longing rose in my heart. I wanted that baby gator to be mine.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pW7olF

1981 Newbery Medal: Jacob Have I Loved

Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson, was published in 1980 by HarperCollins.

“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated….” With her grandmother’s taunt, Louise knew that she, like the biblical Esau, was the despised elder twin. Caroline, her selfish younger sister, was the one everyone loved. Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, angry Louise reveals how Caroline robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampered Caroline, Wheeze (her sister’s name for her) began to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who had mysterious returned after fifty years. The war unexpectedly gave this independent girl a change to fulfill her childish dream to work as a waterman alongside her father. But the dream did not satisfy the woman she was becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise began to fight her way to a place where Caroline could not reach.

Rating: 2/5

Jacob Have I Loved is written by the same author as Bridge to Terabithia, a book I still vividly remember and another Newbery Medal winner that I’ll be reading at some point. Another of her books, The Great Gilly Hopkins, won a Newbery Honor. So, basically, Katherine Paterson’s books are good and she won a lot of awards for them.

However, I must say, I was disappointed by Jacob Have I Loved. I think it was because the underpinning of the novel, the perceived favoritism of Caroline that affects pretty much everything Louise does, seemed more like Louise was overreacting to small things than actual favoritism. To me, Louise seemed overly melodramatic in places, such as when Caroline would say something normal and Louise would suddenly start yelling or storm out of the house. I understand that they’re teenagers, but Louise didn’t really do much to make me sympathize with her feelings of jealousy and invisibility.

It got a little better once more solid things than Louise’s perceptions were involved, such as Call and Captain Wallace, and Paterson better communicated Louise’s sense of always being overshadowed, but still, several times during the novel I thought Louise was being more ridiculous than Caroline and certainly was more unlikeable.

Perhaps that was Paterson’s point, though, that Louise was ultimately unhappy with her own life and was blaming it on whoever or whatever was in reach, such as her sister. In which case, Louise’s behavior makes more sense, I suppose.

There were also several parts of the book I found inexplicably strange, such as Louise’s infatuation with Captain Wallace (??) that had virtually no explanation and then dissipated into nothing, used only as a vehicle for Louise’s grandmother to say mean things and scare Louise, and the ending, which I sort of understood when I read it, then read someone describing how bittersweet it was, and then read the ending again only to wonder from where in the world that person was getting any of his descriptions. Either the ending communicated something that I clearly missed or the person inferred a whole lot from two pages that wasn’t actually there.

I can see why Jacob Have I Loved won the Newbery; it’s exactly the sort of adolescent coming-of-age novel that these sorts of awards seem to attract. But I didn’t quite buy Louise’s characterization and for a lot of the book I barely sympathized with her, seeing her instead as a melodramatic teenager who needed to stop blowing things out of proportion. It got a little better by the end, but overall I barely enjoyed Jacob Have I Loved. Mostly, I think it’s strange and not something I would immediately recommend.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Swearing, some nasty insinuations made by the grandmother

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic

“I’d want to pay you something,” the Captain said. My ears stretched practically to the top of my head, and I opened my mouth to utter a humble thanks.

“Oh, no,” said Call. “We couldn’t think of taking money from a neighbor.”

Who couldn’t? But for once in his life Call talked faster than I could think, and the two of them snatched away my time and energy and sold me into slavery before I had breath to hint that I wouldn’t be insulted by a small tip every now and then.

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

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Paper Things, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, was published in 2015 by Candlewick.

When Ari’s mother died four years ago, she made Ari promise that she and her older brother, Gage, would stay together always. So when Gage decides he can no longer live with their bossy guardian, Janna, Ari knows she has to go with him, even though they don’t have an apartment yet. Instead, Gage and Ari “couch surf,” crashing with friends or sneaking into shelters to escape the cold Maine nights. In all this chaos, there is one thing that gives Ari comfort: her Paper Things. She knows she’s too old to play with the paper people she’s cut out of magazines over the years, but it’s nice to pretend to have a big, happy family and a house with a room all her own. Of course, it would be better if she didn’t have to pretend.

Rating: 3/5

Paper Things, though a little clumsy in execution, is a sweet book about family, love, determination, and the problems and emotions that can arise from keeping (or not keeping) secrets. The problems that Ari faces and the solutions that come about flow naturally from each other, so nothing seems contrived, forced, or too over-the-top to seem unrealistic. Enough is explained of Gage and Janna’s relationship to understand both why Gage left and why Janna didn’t pick much of a fight about Ari leaving. And, though Ari and Gage never seem to be in any real danger, there is enough hinted at that gives the vague feeling of danger for these two siblings while they are without their own home.

The book is marred by only one major thing: the author’s tendency to philosophize, moralize and explain all of Ari’s symbolic decisions through Ari’s thoughts and dialogue. This gets especially bad at the end, when, of course, everything turns out all right and Ari grows up and Learns Things and reflects back on her experiences—basically, a whole lot of telling when it’s not needed, because we’ve already been shown how Ari has changed. Having her philosophize for the last two chapters was gilding the lily and nearly ruined the entire book for me.

Paper Things is good, but it’s prevented from being great by the at-times clumsy writing and the whole lot of “let me tell you what I’ve already showed through my actions” that goes on at the end. Maybe middle grade readers need that sort of thing shoved down their throats, but I doubt it—subtle tends to be much more powerful than explicit and much longer lasting in impact. There’s very little that makes this book bad, but there’s a whole lot stopping it from being great.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic

I yank the folder out of his hands and place it at the bottom of the pile of books. He’s still clutching Miles, though.

“Give,” I say, making a grab for him.

But Briggs pulls his arm back playfully. And as quick as that, Miles tears in two.

I can’t believe I’m only holding half of him in my fingers. Miles was the first person I ever cut out of a catalog. I have played with him in our apartment on Crest Street, at Sasha’s, and Janna’s, and every place we’ve stayed since.

My eyes don’t tear up. I don’t say anything. I’m more invisible than invisible.

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

Sandpiper Cove by Irene Hannon

Disclaimer: Sandpiper Cove, by Irene Hannon, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Hope Harbor police chief and single mom Lexie Graham has zero time for extracurricular activities—including romance. Ex-con Adam Stone isn’t looking for love either—but how ironic is it that the first woman to catch his eye is a police chief? When Lexie enlists Adam’s help to keep a troubled young man from heading down the wrong path, sparks begin to fly. Could it be that God may have a different—and better—future planned for them than either could imagine?

My rating: 1/5

Sandpiper Cove is the story of a police chief and an ex-con who help out a teenager who gets in trouble for vandalism and who fall in love with each other along the way. If you imagine any contemporary Christian romance novel, that’s what you get here, complete with love at first sight, electric touches, lots of kissing (and even kissing in grandiose ways like in the movies; just imagine Aragorn kissing Arwen after he’s crowned in Minas Tirith. That’s literally what happens here), romantic angst, and, of course, lengthy descriptions about how beautiful/handsome the main characters are.

Full-disclosure here, I’m going to try and get through this review without getting scathing, but I may not be successful because this book was a nightmare to get through.

First of all, let me just say that I almost stopped reading after the second page when Hannon describes a sigh “like C02 whooshing out of a soft drink can.” Uh, what? Just say he sighed and move on!

Second, Sandpiper Cove revealed a convention of romance in general, and of the Christian romance I’ve been reading in particular, that I utterly despise: the beautiful couple. I know there’s beautiful people out there. I know they meet, fall in love, and get married. But that doesn’t mean every romance I read needs to be between a “drop-dead gorgeous” woman with “full lips” and “stunning eyes” and a man who has “rippling muscles,” “sun-kissed skin” and a “chiseled jaw.” Give me someone who wears sweatpants and maybe has some acne and has scraggly hair and spin me a romance out of that, please, because that also happens and is way more relatable.

Also, Lexie and Adam’s romance was cheesy and cliché to the extreme. It was conventional, it was predictable, it was fake angst drawn out over predictable tension, and the sappiest stuff you can think of. Did you think I was joking about the Aragorn/Arwen kiss above? Because I’m not. There’s literally a scene where Adam goes down the aisle during church and kisses Lexie in front of a crowd of people because why not, it’s romantic.

Oh, and the vandalism sideplot? There’s a whole lot of tension because all the evidence is circumstantial and people’s careers might be in danger and stuff, and then all of a sudden, Lexie and Adam are getting married and the entire vandalism plot is swept under the rug. I get that Hannon is trying to say that all the uncertainty and the career misgivings weren’t important and shouldn’t stop people from moving on with their lives, but after all the time spent on it, you’d think there’d be a little closure. Instead, there’s a lot of handwaving and more of the predictable, boring romance.

I could barely get through Sandpiper Cove and almost stopped reading on multiple occasions. I really don’t understand how people like this sort of boring, predictable romance, with a faux-tense plot that’s swept aside the minute the characters get together and is there only as an obvious means of getting them together. This is why I so much prefer historical romance—at least it’s more interesting than this kind of romantic nonsense.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

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

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar, was published in 2010 by Delacorte Press.

The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him to hook up with his best friend. He has no money and no job. His parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner—whatever that means. Alton’s uncle is old, blind, very sick, and very rich. But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious influence over him. Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda. As the summer goes on, he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.

Rating: 4/5

The Cardturner is a story about bridge. That’s really the simplest way to put it. It’s a story about how to play bridge wrapped up in the story of a boy and his uncle. And Sachar manages to describe the complicated game in a perfect way, lessening its complexity, putting the rules into the voice of a teenager also learning to play bridge, and describing scenarios with helpful diagrams so that the reader knows, by the time Alton and Toni get to nationals, how important/amazing certain hands/rounds are.

I’ve read this book before, and it sucked me in for a reason I couldn’t—and still can’t—identify. I recently read Fuzzy Mud by Sachar, which was a disappointing read, and so going into this book I was a little worried that my memory of it would let me down. However, perhaps I just enjoy stories about beginners who start out with a sport or a game, not knowing how to play, and then, through practice and study, work their way up to the big leagues. Perhaps it’s the way Sachar explains the game, or the way he interweaves humor into its explanation, or the backstory given about Trapp. Whatever it is, I found The Cardturner compelling and, pun definitely intended, a page turner, exactly like I did the first time.

Now, that’s not to say there weren’t any parts I didn’t like. The entire conversation with Trapp and Alton about how ideas are the only thing that are alive was nonsensical, although I suppose Sachar did it so that he could include Alton and Toni hearing voices without going the psychological or supernatural route. Speaking of which, that part of the novel is a little hard to swallow, though it does make for a good read and emphasizes Alton’s grit and success in a way that would have been lacking without it. However, The Cardturner is best when it’s not philosophizing and sticks to describing bridge, a game I almost never play but definitely enjoy knowing more about, thanks to this book.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some innuendo, mentions of domestic abuse.

Genre: Realistic, Young Adult

I learned what I was supposed to do if Trapp was dealt a hand with no cards in one suit. I’d say the word void. So when telling him his hand, I’d say something like “Spades: ten, nine, eight, seven, six. Hearts: king, queen, jack. Diamonds: void. Clubs: ace, nine, six, three, two.”

I also began to understand how the game was played. I learned what trump meant. I wouldn’t admit it to my uncle, but the game began to intrigue me. I would sometimes try to guess what card he’s play before he told me to play it, but don’t worry, I never asked, “Are you sure?”

Toni Castaneda must have been out of her mind.

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

Maybe It’s You by Candace Calvert

Disclaimer: Maybe It’s You, by Candace Calvert, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Nurse Sloane Ferrell escaped her risky past—new name, zip code, job, and a fresh start. She’s finally safe, if she avoids a paper trail and doesn’t let people get too close. Like the hospital’s too-smooth marketing man with his relentless campaign to plaster one “lucky” employee’s face on freeway billboards. Micah Prescott’s goal is to improve the Hope hospital image, but his role as a volunteer crisis responder is closer to his heart. The selfless work helps fill a void in his life left by family tragedy. So does a tentative new relationship with the compassionate, beautiful, and elusive Sloane Ferrell. Then a string of brutal crimes makes headlines, summons responders…and exposes disturbing details of Sloane’s past. Can hope spring from crisis?

My rating: 3/5

Apparently there are two books previous to Maybe It’s You, but they’re not necessary to read beforehand—which is good because I didn’t. I’m assuming, based on what I know about the first two books and what was revealed in this one, that Sloane appears as a minor character in them, but I don’t know for sure. And Calvert does enough in terms of character development that any previous development given isn’t necessary to Sloane’s growth and development in this book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Maybe It’s You—possibly some cheesy book version of a soap opera, or something written specifically for fans of Grey’s Anatomy or something—but the plot pleasantly surprised me. There was intrigue, criminal behavior, and a much more dark and traumatic backstory than I was expecting. It’s also well-written and compelling, which is good because even though the book as a whole is not something I would usually pick up or read, I found it interesting and wanted to finish it.

However, because the book is not the sort of thing I would usually pick up or read, I can’t really gush about it or anything. Like I said, it was mildly intriguing, well-written, and more interesting than I thought it would be. Sloane had good character development and even Micah gets some backstory to make him more interesting than the usual male romantic interest. The message aspect of it was good and there was a good emphasis on things like letting go of the past, moving on from past hurt, and forgiving others.

But Maybe It’s You is pretty forgettable, at least for me. There’s nothing in it to make me want to spread the word about it, although perhaps it might lead me to keep an eye on the author if Calvert ever writes anything except medical dramas. It was good, but not great. It was interesting, but not that sort of mesmerizing interest that makes you put the book down and go “Oh, that was good. I want to think about this a lot.” I suppose the highest praise I have for the book is that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be and it’s better than I gave it credit for.

Warnings: Sexual abuse, prostitution, alcohol abuse, violence, death.

Genre: Realistic, Suspense, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2kRVy6z

The Black Stallion’s Courage by Walter Farley

The Black Stallion’s Courage, by Walter Farley, was published in 1956 by Random House. It is an indirect sequel to The Black Stallion (by which I mean it’s number twelve in the series).

When Hopeful Farm burns down, Alec’s dreams for the future go up in smoke. How can he get the money to rebuild? To make matters worse, a strong young colt named Eclipse has taken the racing world by storm, threatening to replace the Black in the hearts of racing fans. Against all odds, Alec sets out to save the farm and prove that the Black is still the greatest race horse of all time!

Rating: 5/5

Normally when I read a series, I prefer to go in chronological order. However, my plan for doing so with Farley’s Black Stallion series was foiled when I discovered that my library simply doesn’t carry them all. So, I have to jump around and review them randomly. Luckily, only a few books in the series really need to be read chronologically—the rest stand alone and can be read in any order.

The Black Stallion’s Courage, the twelfth in the series, is not technically a stand-alone book, since it’s a direct sequel to the events of The Black Stallion’s Filly, but it’s not entirely necessary to have read that book before this one. I chose this book because it’s the Black Stallion book I remember liking the most beyond the original—and now having reread it, I might even like it more!

One of the things I like the most about the Black Stallion books is that they’re so predictable—of course the Black will win the race!—but Farley delivers on the tension and the obstacles so that in the moment, you’re feeling the anxiety of the characters enough that the predictability flies to the back of your mind. The race in The Black Stallion’s Courage is fantastic, as are all the races before the grand finale.

These books also teach a lot about horse racing and Courage spends a great deal of time stressing the nature of handicap races. And Farley does it well enough that when the time comes, we know why the different weights carried by the different horses is so important and we feel the tension with Alec and Henry about the weight the Black has to carry versus the rest of the field’s. It’s a quality of writing that I love, that ability to communicate something and get the audience to feel with the characters as they experience it. Farley is not necessarily the best writer in terms of style, but he is an effective one.

Simply put, I eat up The Black Stallion’s Courage every time I read it. I think I like it even more than I like The Black Stallion. To put it in perspective, I’ve read this book four or five times, whereas I’ve read the “prequel,” The Black Stallion’s Filly, maybe twice. It’s a fast-paced, heart-racing adventure and even with the number of times I’ve read it and its predictability, I still wonder, every time, if the Black, with all that weight, can beat the two best horses in a race.

(Also, funny story to end: I wondered while reading if Eclipse was really fast enough to beat Secretariat’s record (described as the Preakness/Belmont record in the book)—then realized this book was written some twenty years before Secretariat raced. Oops.)

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

One of the reporters touched Henry Dailey on the shoulder as the small procession neared the long green-and-white sheds. “How come you didn’t let the Black finish out the season at Hopeful Farm?” he asked.

“It seems we need a good handicap horse more than we need another sire,” Henry answered. “Satan’s there.”

“Then you think you can win again with the Black?”

“Sure. Why not?”

The reporter laughed. “Well, I can think of a lot of reasons, but I’d rather listen to you. As far as I can remember there was only one older horse that was ever able to come back after being retired and that was Citation.”

“That’s your quote, not mine,” Henry said. “I’m not worryin’ about the Black bein’ able to make a comeback, so don’t you worry, either.”

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