Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2007 by Scholastic.

Alcatraz Smedry doesn’t seem destined for anything but disaster. But on his thirteenth birthday, he receives a bag of sand, and life takes a bizarre turn. This is no ordinary bag of sand…and it is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians who are taking over the world by spreading misinformation and suppressing truth. The sand will give the evil Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them!…by infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness.

Rating: 3/5

I need to preface this review by stating that I love Brandon Sanderson. As an author, as a worldbuilder, he really is phenomenal. He’s incredibly prolific and has the knack for developing unique magic in all of his books. And that shows even in his books for younger audiences; The Rithmatist was wildly creative, and Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians is as well, especially the magic system.

The big draw of these books is the voice of Alcatraz-the-author, who interrupts and explains and rigmaroles his “origin” story, complete with cheeky winks and nods at Newbery Medal books and To Kill a Mockingbird. It actually reminded me quite a bit of Lemony Snicket, to be honest. And the reference at the end of the book to Harry Potter was amazing and completely on-point.

However, the one thing I discovered that I don’t like about these books (I’ve read them before, all but the most recent one) is that they are incredibly self-indulgent. You can tell Sanderson wrote these just to indulge his humorous side, the one that’s tamed a bit when he’s writing epic fantasy. And maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much if it wasn’t so obviously self-indulgent. But it is, and if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s authors being blatantly self-indulgent.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The plot is great—did I mention how good Sanderson is?—the reveals are twisty and surprising in all the right places in all the right ways, and Alcatraz is that sort of bumbling, yet oddly competent boy hero that people love. He’s a lot like David in Steelheart, to be honest—I think Sanderson just enjoys writing those sorts of characters. Yet, the plot, when it wasn’t being funny or Snicket-esque (which is most of the time), is gratingly self-indulgent. Maybe some people are fine with that, but not me.

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians is well-written, with a memorable protagonist and the sort of tongue-in-cheek, snide narrator that is funny most of the time. However, I found it a little too self-indulgent to be very satisfying, towards the end, and I actually began to get just a little annoyed. Different strokes for different folks, though. I honestly do like this series, because I think Sanderson is amazing, and I like most of the humor, but the tone hits me the wrong way at times.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Now,” I said, holding up a finger. “I want to make something very clear. I do not believe a word of what you have told me up to this point.”

“Understood,” Grandpa Smedry said.

“I’m only going with you because someone just tried to kill me. You see, I am a somewhat reckless boy and am not always prone to carefully considering the consequences of my actions.”

“A Smedry trait for certain,” Grandpa Smedry noted.

“In fact,” I said, “I think that you are a loon and likely not even my grandfather at all.”

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

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Eve of the Morn by Idazle Hunter

Disclaimer: Eve of the Morn, by Idazle Hunter, was provided by the author. All opinions are my own.

Run…That is the only thought that can cross Ammira’s mind. One would think that a Princess would never want to leave her castle, but they have never experienced what life is like with King Corsan, the polar opposite of his brother, the late King Richon. Enter into the kingdom of Cahal, where danger lurks around every corner and even friendly strangers may be hiding a dark secret. Spending too much time in a single place can prove deadly. There is only one thing left to do: Run!

My rating: 2/5

I’m back with the sequel to Dawn of the Night, which once again the lovely Idazle Hunter provided me. I’m surprised I’m still alive after my review of the first book, but here I am to talk about the second one, Eve of the Morn.

Eve is a vast improvement over Dawn; the grammar is better (though still too many awkward turns of phrase), the story is more understandable (though I’m still confused about the mysterious Calvin), and it’s much more tight and focused in plot than the all-over-the-place plot in Dawn. There’s still loads of improvement that could happen, but the quality of the book as a whole is noticeably better than Dawn.

That being said, the book is really long and the pace is agonizingly slow. That might be due to the fact that there isn’t a clear conflict, despite all the running from the king. The problem is that Ammira runs away, gets caught, runs away, get caught, and runs away so many times that everything blurs together. It gets slightly more interesting at the end, when giant snake shadow Luke shows up and starts possessing people—I’m assuming he’s the same being that possessed Paul in the first book, or perhaps a similar being—but by then it feels slightly out of the blue. Not to mention all the mysterious characters whose names begin with “C.” There’s Calvin, who shows up for a hot minute and then leaves, and then there’s Christian, who is the type of character who is mysterious, but you’re also not really sure yet of what they’re supposed to represent (beyond the obvious Pilgrim’s Progress symbol) or what their purpose is beyond being mysterious and super-hero-y.

The characters are still full of dramatic exclamations and contraction-less sentences (which makes some conversations sound really stilted and awkward, and also unintentionally funny). Ammira is a more likeable hero than Paul of the first book, though she doesn’t really do too much in the story as a whole beyond running away again and again. Corsan is supposed to be evil, but he’s more melodramatically cartoonish (dialogue again), plus a great mustache-twirler of a villain.

Eve of the Morn improves on many of Dawn of the Night’s faults, but also shows room for lots more improvement in terms of pacing, descriptions, dialogue, and characterization. It still reads a little too much like a NaNoWriMo novel and not enough like a polished work, but I can see a hope for polish in the future.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2ASb1ii

1943 Newbery Medal: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray

Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray, was published in 1942 by Viking.

“A road’s a kind of holy thing,” said Roger the Minstrel to his son, Adam. “That’s why it’s a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It’s open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it’s home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle.” And Adam, though only eleven, was to remember his father’s words when his beloved dog, Nick, was stolen and Roger had disappeared and he found himself traveling alone along these same great roads, searching the fairs and market towns for his father and his dog.

Rating: 4/5

Adam of the Road is a delightful tale of a boy who longs to be a minstrel like his father and travel the road. After his dog, Nick, is stolen, and he loses his father while searching for Nick, Adam sets out on a journey to not only find his lost dog, but also to return to his father and to finally become a minstrel.

Adam’s journey never becomes boring, even as it becomes slightly repetitive in format. His adventures fall in “travel—city—adventure” format pretty consistently, with few variations. However, Gray does not spend too much time dwelling on things that could easily get boring; the pace is fast where it should be and slackens when necessary. The book seems long, but actually goes along quite quickly, especially once Adam, Nick, and Roger are separated and Adam is on his own.

Gray also manages to make each adventure Adam has realistic, and clearly a great deal of research went in to representing thirteenth-century England accurately. Adam is a relatable protagonist, plucky and courageous at all the right times, with hints of young boy creeping through in his boastfulness and pride. His encompassing desire to become a minstrel, regardless of other circumstances perhaps being better for him, is clearly shown in his thoughts and actions.

I couldn’t help but compare Adam of the Road to the books set in the same (or near enough) time period, Crispin and The Door in the Wall. Of the three, this book is absolutely my favorite. Adam was not nearly as annoying as Crispin, and, while The Door in the Wall was surprisingly deep in historicity, Adam of the Road was more enjoyable to read as well as being more memorable. I never once got bored or tired of reading this book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

Adam’s gray eyes suddenly shone out as if candles had been lighted behind them. “He’s coming!” he cried. “Roger’s coming!”

Nick got up and put his paws on Adam’s knee, his tail wagging so hard that his sides shook.

“Now there was no name mentioned,” said the dame warningly.

“They don’t have to say his name,” said Adam proudly. “He’s the only minstrel worth talking about. Where are they coming from?”

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

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic by Betty MacDonald

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic, by Betty MacDonald, was published in 1949 by Harper. It is the sequel to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

Children love Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle because she’s tons of fun. Parents love her because she can cure children of any bad habit. When Mrs. Burbank is in despair because her children have become Thought-You-Saiders or Mrs. Rogers’ sanity and crockery are threatened as Sharon turns into a Heedless Breaker, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle calmly produces a magical potion that takes care of the problems. And of course, all of her medicines taste delicious! Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s helpful, hilarious magic is irresistible—and as funny as it is effective!

Rating: 4/5

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic is the official sequel to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, though I’ve always read this book after Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. That’s the way my box collection ordered them, so that’s the way I’m used to reading them. One thing I noticed immediately were the illustrations—the book wasn’t quite as familiar to me because the illustrator was different (the book being a newer edition, of course). I did, however, still practically know the book by heart.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic is my favorite Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book. It does do a much better job of explaining the magical cures than did Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (of course, as this is the second book and not the fourth, of course it would. The abruptness of Hello was my fault for reading them out of order). I love Lester in “The Bad-Table-Manners Cure” and the inevitable pig faux pas made at dinner, I love the haphazard nature of “The Interrupters” and the art of flower arranging explained, and I especially love the treasure hunt in “The Waddle-I-Doers.”

I love stories about finding hidden rooms and secret drawers in old houses—hence why I love Return to Gone-Away so much—so the massive treasure hunt in the last chapter is one of my favorites. Perhaps that’s why this book is my favorite Piggle-Wiggle book. Sure, the incentive is kind of abrupt and hard to swallow, but the entire book is like that and by the time you get to the last chapter, you accept all that is thrown at you.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic is delightful, giving you quirky families, realistic bad habits, and not-so-realistic cures. The treasure hunt at the end of the book is a memorable moment, at least for me, and is what caused this book to become my favorite as a child (and now, too). I’ve loved the nostalgia factor these books have given me, and I’m eager to reread Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm now, which I don’t remember quite as well as the others and which never seemed as good to me growing up as the other three.

Recommended Age Range: 6+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s

“Look, children. See how beautiful the city looks from up here. Watch the fog rise over there.”

“Where’s the dog?” said Bard.

“What dog?” asked Darsie.

“What color are the dog’s eyes?” asked Alison.

“What on earth are you talking about?” said Mr. Burbank. “I said, ‘Watch the fog rise over there.’”

“Oh,” Bard said. “I thought you said, ‘Watch the dog’s eyes glare.’”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BY6wyy

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, was published in 1954 by Faber and Faber.

At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. This farm from civilization they can do anything they want. Anything. But as order collapses, as strange howls echo in the night, as terror begins its reign, the hope of adventure seems as far removed from reality as the hope of being rescued…

Rating: 4/5

Despite Lord of the Flies being one of the more popular books to assign in high school, I never actually read it until now. Of course, I knew what it was about—a group of boys are abandoned on an island and end up killing each other. But knowing about something and reading it, experiencing it, are two completely different things. I also read this book right when it was announced that there’s apparently going to be a female version of Lord of the Flies developed as a film. More on that in a minute.

I can’t say that I liked Lord of the Flies. Can anyone really enjoy reading a book about young boys resorting to savagery and vicious murder, simply because of the loss of authority and civilization? But I did like the way Golding used all of the symbolism, some subtle, most overt, to point out this descent. The decaying pig head, Piggy’s glasses, the conch shell, the fire…they’re perhaps too obvious, but perhaps that’s best in a book aimed at high-schoolers, who are still learning to decipher figurative language and symbolism.

The descent of the boys into violence is really well-done, creepy in all the right places and in all the right tones (the killing of the sow is especially cloaked in terms that could easily apply to something else, which makes the whole scene even darker). And the killing of the sow is only the beginning, as the boys give in to their bloodlust to commit even more vile acts. Even Ralph, the symbol of leadership and authority in the novel, falls prey to the mob—only Piggy (the intellect) and Simon (not sure what he is supposed to symbolize, to be honest—some suggest he is the opposite of the Lord of the Flies/Beelzebub/Satan, which would make him a Christ figure) resist.

Then, of course, there’s the ending, which demonstrates, again, Golding’s point that a loss of authority and intellect leads to barbarism, a “devolution” if you will. And he’s not wrong, to an extent, though I would like to think that some people would rise to the occasion and resist—though, I suppose, Ralph, Piggy, and Simon do resist.

After reading this book, I now think a Lord of the Flies with all females would not work at all. Let’s face it—women react differently than men. Girls in a situation like what the boys faced would react differently. You can’t make a female Lord of the Flies like the book at all. It would be something completely different. And maybe that’s what the movie will be—since it was just announced, I obviously have no idea. But trying to force it into a carbon copy of the book would not work at all.

Lord of the Flies is an excellent case study of what the lack of authority and rules can bring. The subtle increase and inclination towards violence is portrayed nicely through the use of symbolism, and gets increasingly creepy and dark as the novel goes on. I can’t say I liked it, or enjoyed it, but I can see why it’s assigned reading in many (most?) schools.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, some graphic descriptions, swearing.

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic

“We used his specs,” said Simon, smearing a black cheek with his forearm. “He helped that way.”

“I got the conch,” said Piggy indignantly. “You let me speak!”

“The conch doesn’t count on top of the mountain,” said Jack, “so you shut up.”

“I got the conch in my hand.”

“Put on green branches,” said Maurice. “That’s the best way to make smoke.”

“I got the conch—”

Jack turned fiercely.

“You shut up!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BIav2j

Death at Thorburn Hall by Julianna Deering

Disclaimer: Death at Thorburn Hall, by Julianna Deering, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Drew Farthering arrives in idyllic Scotland for the 1935 British Open at Muirfield, hoping for a relaxing holiday with his wife, Madeline, and friend Nick. But death meets him once again when Lord Rainsby, their host at Thorburn Hall, is killed in a suspicious riding accident—only days after confiding in Drew his fears that his business partner was embezzling funds. Thorburn Hall is filled with guests, and as Drew continues to dig, he realizes that each appears to have dark motives for wanting Rainsby out of the way. Together with Madeline and Nick, he must sort through shady business dealings, international intrigue, and family tensions to find a killer who always seems to be one step ahead.

My rating: 3/5 

Luckily for me, it is not required to have read any other Drew Farthering mystery before reading Death at Thorburn Hall. It may have helped me get a better grasp of the characters, but I was able to understand enough that reading the previous books wasn’t a prerequisite to understanding this one.

First of all, I’d just like to quickly say how much I enjoy the cover art for this book. I love the vibe and the “old-timey mystery” feel it gives off.

Anyway, back to the important stuff. The mystery of the book wasn’t anything too special—definitely no Agatha Christie—but there’s lot of red herrings and rabbit trails for Drew to explore, and lots of speculation as to the various suspects and motives, which I appreciate in a mystery. However, while I wouldn’t say the killer is obvious, the revelation of the killer left a lot to be desired, and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at the lack of complexity to the whole thing.

Reading the previous books definitely would have helped me to be able to better understand the characters, especially Nick and Carrie, who seemed to be in the book to further their own personal plotline, rather than contribute anything to the plot of the book. However, as I mentioned above, there’s enough mentioned about each character and each situation for a new reader to get a good grasp of what’s going on. I wish that I had experienced everything from the beginning, but at the same time, the book didn’t thrill me so much that I’m dying to start from the beginning.

Death at Thorburn Hall is a decent mystery, though my Agatha Christie-loving bones wished for a bit more complexity to the whole mystery. The villain isn’t obvious, though the revelation is a bit disappointing, and I wish some of the characters had been more important to the mystery, and contributed more, rather than just there to further their own storylines. Overall, though, Death at Thorburn Hall is not bad at all.

Warnings: Some violence.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction, Mystery

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2AUBYB0

1956 Newbery Medal: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham, was published in 1955 by Houghton.

Nathaniel Bowditch grew up in a sailor’s world—Salem in the early days, when tall-masted ships from foreign ports crowded the wharves. But Nat didn’t promise to have the makings of a sailor; he was too physically small. Nat may have been slight of build, but no one guessed that he had the persistence and determination to master sea navigation in the days when men sailed only by “log, lead, and lookout.” Nat’s long hours of study and observation, collected in his famous work, The American Practical Navigator (also known as the “Sailors’ Bible”), stunned the sailing community and made him a New England hero.

Rating: 5/5

There are so many historical events and figures I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for literature. Ruta Sepetys’s Salt to the Sea taught me about the wreck of the Kaiser Wilhem, and that one review copy I read taught me about Dunkirk. I learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the harsh child labor and factory work in England, Stalin’s “cleansing” of the Baltic states, and many more things. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, continues that tradition, with its story of Nathaniel Bowditch.

Nathaniel Bowditch wrote The American Practical Navigator, a book that is still used on Navy ships today. He stopped going to school when he was ten, but taught himself calculus, Latin, French, and Spanish. He figured out a new way of calculating navigation using the moon and the stars, and taught it to the crews he sailed with. He found many mistakes in the current navigation book of the time and wrote his own book as a result. He translated books that helped developed astronomy in America. Basically, Nathaniel Bowditch was an awesome person that for some reason I’d never heard of before.

I’m not sure how much of Latham’s account is fictionalized and how much is reality, but at least the bones of it are grounded in history. The book is actually quite humorous, which is needed because of all the death that occurs. I think maybe ten named people die in this book, as well as a few members of the “faceless masses.” Seriously, Bowditch had a ton of tragedy in his life—reminiscent of the dangers of that day in occupation, as well as in the lack of life-saving medicinal discoveries. And while there’s certainly enough death to be concerned about younger readers, it’s a good opportunity to discuss the perils of the day and why people back then so often died of “consumption” (aka tuberculosis).

It’s also a great book to emphasize how a lack of education doesn’t necessarily spell doom. I mean, Bowditch had no schooling past the age of 10, yet he taught himself calculus and four different languages. Self-teaching and self-motivation are huge factors in educational/intellectual success.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, while written simply, is a wonderful portrait of a man who before this I’d never even heard about. The eighteenth century was a great time of discovery and this book highlights a little of the enthusiasm and determination that carried inventors and discoverers through all life’s hardships to better the lives of the people around them.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

He whistled while he found his slate and pencil. He whistled until he was out of the house and up the street. Then the whistle died.

All the way to Mr. Walsh’s house Nat’s feet seemed to beat out the words: Nine years…nine years…nine years…

Two or three months to study bookkeeping. Then no more school—ever.

Indentured: Nathaniel Bowditch.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BBZ4tE

Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen

Dragon’s Blood, by Jane Yolen, was published in 1982 by Delacorte.

Jakkin is fifteen and a bond servant, which is little better than a slave. He labors for Master Sarkkhan in the dragon barns, tending to the beautiful beasts who are raised to fight in the pits. Jakkin’s only hope of freedom is to steal a hatchling, secretly train it as a fighter, and win gold enough to pay his way out of bondage. But does he know enough to train his dragon to become a true champion?

Rating: 2/5

Clearly influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, Dragon’s Blood is a science-fiction/fantasy that didn’t turn out to be anything I was expecting when I picked it up. I thought it would be a fun dragon book (How to Train Your Dragon still makes me squeal in excitement); I was not expecting something akin to McCaffrey’s works. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing—it just caught me off guard.

I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, especially this kind, where strange terms and words are introduced and everything is described in detail—but sometimes not until midway through the book, where it seems strange. So I didn’t love Dragon’s Blood. I have nothing against Yolen’s worldbuilding or plot; there was some neat stuff at the end and as a whole the world made sense and the plot was pretty strong, though perhaps a bit rushed at the end. I simply don’t really like science fiction.

I can’t even say I dislike Dragon’s Blood for being such an obvious tribute/imitation of McCaffrey. I have read some of McCaffrey and liked it, but I had the same problems with it as I do with Dragon’s Blood. I like my dragons in fantasy, not science fiction. I like my worlds less meticulously and strangely described, or perhaps at least more smooth integrations of infodumping. This is a genre issue, not a particular issue with characters, world, etc. In fact, I didn’t even really dislike Dragon’s Blood at all—I just didn’t really love it.

Science fiction. It’s just not my thing.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some innuendo, breeding terminology.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction

All dragons, he reminded himself with the conventional trainer’s wisdom, all dragons are feral, even though they have been domesticated for over two centuries. And especially dragons like Blood Brother.

As if hearing his name, Brother jerked his head up. Deep inside the black eyes there was an iridescent flicker, the sign of a fighter. Involuntarily Slakk stepped back. Errikkin stood his ground. Only Jakkin went forward, holding out a hand.

“Hush, hush, beauty,” he crooned, letting Brother sniff his hand. “It’s the baths for you.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2nja7oG

Standing in the Light by Mary Pope Osborne

Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan, by Mary Pope Osborne, was published in 1998 by Scholastic.

Catharine Carey Logan and her family have enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous life as the Quakers and Delaware Indians share a mutually trusting relationship. Recently, however, this friendship has been threatened by violence against the Indians. Then, Catharine and her brother are taken captive by the Lenape in retaliation. At first, Catharine is afraid of her captors. But when a handsome brave begins to teach her about the ways of the Lenape, she comes to see that all people share the same joys, hopes, and fears.

Rating: 3/5

I feel as if Standing in the Light was written for the sole purpose of portraying Native Americans in a different light than early American narratives, specifically “captive narratives” such as the one written by Mary Rowlandson. Or perhaps Osborne’s hope was to portray a captive narrative in a way that would respect both the thoughts and feelings of a captive English person and the thoughts and feelings of the Native Americans.

Osborne does a good job of showing both the Native Americans’ feelings towards the British—specifically the Lenape tribe—and the varying feelings of the British towards the Native Americans. Mention is made of William Penn’s friendship with the tribes in Pennsylvania and the treaty he made with them that was later broken by different leaders. While Osborne highlights more of the British negative treatment towards the Native Americans, she does at least mention some of the Native American aggressions towards the British—it’s good to show both sides and she handles the cause and effect nicely, showing how quickly things spiral out of control and how helpless people are to stop it.

My one complaint about Standing in the Light is that it’s rather boring. Its informational value is good, but the plot itself is predictable, even cliché. Catharine is a boring, cardboard character, solely there to be the voice of Osborne. It’s not a particularly memorable book, especially since it doesn’t cover a significant period of American history—it doesn’t take place during the French and Indian War or anything. It’s just a little “slice of life,” the story of a Quaker girl who gets captured by Native Americans. Perhaps interesting to some, but not particularly to me.

Standing in the Light does a good job of portraying both sides of the Native American-British conflict that was ongoing through the 1700s. I just wish the plot was less predictable and Catherine was a more memorable protagonist. Dear America has always been a series that stands out in its portrayals of historical events, but Standing in the Light is definitely one of its weak links.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

The Reverend wants Papa and other Quaker Friends to ride to Lancaster tomorrow and help protect the frightened Indians on their sad march to Philadelphia.

We passed the Sabbath in much silence and prayer. When Papa began to read, “The Lord preserveth all them that love Him,” he stopped and could not read further. I think his heart especially aches for the little Indian children.

You can buy this book here:

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The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, was published in 2017 by Bloomsbury.

All Aventurine wants to do is explore the world outside her family’s mountain cave. But as a young dragon, her tough scales haven’t fully developed yet, and the outside is too perilous—or so her family says. Aventurine is determined to fly on her own and prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when that human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl—no sharp teeth, no fire breath, no claws. Still, she’s the fiercest creature in these mountains, and she’s found her true passion: chocolate. All she has to do is get to the human city to find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time…won’t she?

Rating: 4/5

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is a charming story for both dragon-lovers and chocolate-lovers. I’m not a huge fan of the title, but the cover art is amazing and this book revived my interest in Burgis’s works (if you recall, I strongly disliked her Kat, Incorrigible series). Fierce girl (who is actually a dragon; hence, why she is fierce) works much better in a made-up fantasy world than in Regency England.

The plot is fairly formulaic, but Aventurine’s bumbles (and successes) as she struggles to make sense of human life rapidly endear her to the reader. Plus, there’s lots and lots of chocolate involved, which is a bonus. Perhaps some things were overdone—Aventurine wallows a little too long in self-inflicted misery, there’s one too many appearances from cruel-woman-who-sets-protagonist’s-teeth-on-edge, and it’s a little eyebrow-raising that so much drama could revolve around one little chocolate house—but the likeable protagonist, the interesting setting and the engaging plot help offset those.

I could have done without the constant reminders of Silke’s clothing, though. I really don’t understand why a girl wearing men’s clothes is supposed to be so empowering or different. I get it, in this fantasy world, women wear dresses, men wear pants, etc., so a girl wearing pants is supposed to scream forthrightness and strength and standing-up-against-the-man-ness. But all I could think about was how boring and formulaic a character Silke was, whose characterization was built on “she wears pants” and nothing else. I would much rather have a well-written female character in a dress than a boring, cliché female character in pants, but I guess the public wants the latter so that’s what authors are giving them.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has some flaws, but overall it’s a charming story with an interesting protagonist, a good plot, and a well-built world. I enjoyed reading it, despite my dislike of Silke, and the book has lifted my opinion of Burgis overall. I hope she writes more books like this one, and less like Kat, Incorrigible.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Chocolate houses were nothing like I’d expected.

When the scent of chocolate, growing stronger and stronger, led me to the open doorway of yet another yellow-and-white building, I stopped just outside it in disbelief.

Two humans nearly bumped into me from behind….I gave them both a narrow-eyed, accusing glance. “This building isn’t made of chocolate!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2j35ud3