Anne Shirley has left Redmond College behind to begin a new job and a new chapter of her life away from Green Gables. Now she faces a new challenge: the Pringles. They’re known as the royal family of Summerside – and they quickly let Anne know she is not the person they had wanted as principal of Summerside High School. But as she settles into the cozy tower room at Windy Poplars, Anne finds she has great allies in the widows Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty – and in their irrepressible housekeeper, Rebecca Dew. As Anne learns Summerside’s strangest secrets, winning the support of the prickly Pringles becomes only the first of her triumphs.
Anne of Windy Poplars is definitely one of my least favorite Anne books. I think I like it even less than Anne of Avonlea. What I find most interesting is that Anne of the Island was published in 1915, and Anne’s House of Dreams, which is the sequel to Windy Poplars, was published in 1917, but Windy Poplars was published in 1936. Montgomery actually went back and filled in the three-year gap between Island and House of Dreams (probably due to popular demand) but it highlights that Windy Poplars is an entirely unnecessary book.
Absolutely nothing happens in Windy Poplars that is important to the rest of the series. Almost every single chapter is its own separate story. I’ll say one thing, Montgomery is good at “sound bytes,” at crafting little stories that are intriguing and funny and ridiculous all at the same time. Do the romantic troubles and obstacles get tiring after a while? Yes. But they’re at least always interesting, even when they start wearing thin by the third year. However, the overall “none of this matters” atmosphere of the book is incredibly telling and really shouts “filler book” for all to hear.
It also shows a side of Anne that I’m not really sure I like—the “this is a challenge but I shall strive forward with fortitude because I’m imaginative and dreamy and win over everyone eventually” side of her. It’s cute in Anne of Green Gables, but the Anne of Anne of the Island managed to grow past the worst of that stage, combining imagination with grown-up maturity and wisdom. Yet Anne of Windy Poplars tends to regress at times, and yes, I know, Anne is beloved mostly because of her winsome imagination, but I can’t help it—I like sensible, “I’m still imaginative but I’m got my head out of the clouds” Anne better. Luckily, she starts to come back in House of Dreams, which is more “sound bytes” but strung together with an actual plot rather than an “I have to waste three years so let’s string together a bunch of stories” plot.
Recommended Age Range: 10+ (and lower!)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
Why didn’t Lennox Carter talk? If he would, she, Anne, could talk, too, and perhaps Trix and Pringle would escape from the spell that bound them and some kind of conversation would be possible. But he simply sat there and ate. Perhaps he thought it was really the best thing to do…perhaps he was afraid of saying something that would still further enrage the evidently already enraged parent of his lady.
“Will you please start the pickles, Miss Shirley?” said Mrs. Taylor faintly.
Something wicked stirred in Anne. She started the pickles…and something else. Without letting herself stop to think she bent forward, her great, gray-green eyes glimmering limpidly, and said gently,
“Perhaps you would be surprised to hear, Dr. Carter, that Mr. Taylor went deaf very suddenly last week?”
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Tangled Webs, by Irene Hannon, from the publisher Revell. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
After a disastrous Middle East mission ends his six-year Army Ranger career, Finn McGregor needs some downtime. A peaceful month in the woods sounds like the perfect way to decompress. But peace isn’t on the agenda once he crosses paths with publishing executive Dana Lewis, a neighbor who is nursing wounds of her own. Someone seems bent on disrupting her stay in the lakeside cabin she inherited from her grandfather. As Finn and Dana work together to discover who is behind the disquieting pranks, the incidents begin to take on a menacing tone. And when it becomes apparent Dana’s foe may have deadly intent, Finn finds himself back in the thick of the action—ready or not.
Tangled Webs is a decent suspense novel, though the suspense is overshadowed by the mediocre romance. Really, this book would have been fine as a suspense novel without the predictable, boring romance—perhaps even better.
Although, the romance might have been better if Dana and Finn had been more interesting characters. But I was far more interested in the police chief than in them, and sadly, he wasn’t featured as much as those two. I found him to be an interesting character and somewhat sympathetic in that you understand why he’s doing what he’s doing and yet want to slap him over the head and wonder why he’s being so stupid. He’s relatable, which is more than I can say for cardboard Dana and Finn, Stock Characters 1 and 2, cut straight from the magazine.
Pointless romance aside, as I mentioned, the suspense was actually quite good and the whole concept of gold hiding in a lake was pretty interesting. I wish there had been a scene where everyone reads the letter the police chief left behind, but instead it’s just casually thrown out at the end—and there’s also no mention of the chief’s wife, which I found disappointing since that’s how the whole thing got started. So, overall, though the concept was good, the entire thing fell flat for me. And I’d love to read something more original than the romance portrayed in Tangled Webs, and done with more original characters. Maybe try a different magazine, Hannon.
When Will and Bet were four, tragic circumstances brought them to the same house, to be raised by a wealthy gentleman as brother and sister. Now sixteen, they appear content with the life fate has bestowed upon them. But appearances can be deceiving. Bet can experience only what society allows for a girl. Will is afforded much more freedom, but still only as society dictates. Neither is happy. So Bet comes up with a plan and persuades Will to give it a try: She’ll go to school as Will. Will can live as he chooses. But when she arrives at school, the reality doesn’t match what Bet imagined. Boys act very differently when they don’t think there’s a girl in their midst. In fact, they can be rather brutish. But brutish Bet can deal with. It’s the stirrings of attraction for her roommate that get Bet into real trouble. This is not the education Bet expected.
I can’t believe there was once a time when I thought the “girl who dresses up as a boy” trope was interesting. Bloody Jack is the only book I’ve read recently where I don’t mind it. I might have enjoyed it more in The Education of Bet if that trope wasn’t paired with the “disguised girl falls in love with roommate/best friend/person who thinks she’s a boy leading to awkward situations” as well as a completely obvious plot twist that I could see coming from the first chapter of the book.
I liked Bet well enough as a character, and the odd things she says in disguise are pretty fun, but the disguise plot with the addition of the “rebel against society” trope was enough to make me regret reading it almost as soon as I started. Luckily, the book is relatively short, and the parts at school really aren’t all that bad even if they’re a little stereotypical.
I can see some people loving The Education of Bet if they really like the premise of it. It’s a classic “girl is frustrated at lack of freedom society gives her, so she Decides To Do Something About It and disguises herself as a boy to get an “education” (although Bet is far from uneducated, so pretty much she just wants to do What The Boys Are Doing) and then falls in love with her roommate, surprise surprise” plot, and that does appeal to some people—but not me.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Bet stuffs some socks down her pants, gets groped by prostitutes, and then canoodles with her boyfriend/love interest.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“Can I get you something before I go?” he asked, at last tying his tie. Thank God! “Perhaps some plain toast or a cup of tea? I could ask Mrs. Smithers—”
“I’ll be fine,” I snapped, cutting him off. “Really, by second lesson, I’ll be right as rain.”
He studied me for a moment, as though I were a curiosity.
“Huh,” he said finally. “It must be a wonderful thing, knowing the exact moment one will be well again.”
Disclaimer: The Road We Traveled, by Jane Kirkpatrick, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.
Tabitha Brown refuses to be left behind in Missouri when her son makes the decision to strike out for Oregon—even if she has to hire her own wagon to join the party. After all, family ties are stronger than fear. Along with her reluctant daughter and her ever-hopeful granddaughter, the intrepid Tabitha has her misgivings. The trials they face along the way will severely test her faith, courage, and ability to hope. With her family’s survival on the line, she must make the ultimate sacrifice, plunging deeper into the wilderness to seek aid. What she couldn’t know was how this frightening journey would impact how she understood her own life—and the greater part she had to play in history.
Jane Kirkpatrick composes a faithful, detailed account of the “Mother of Oregon” in The Road We Traveled, depicting Tabitha Moffat Brown’s journey from Missouri to Oregon on the Oregon/Applegate Trail. The attention to historical accuracy and detail is wonderful and, as with the last book by Kirkpatrick I read (The Memory Weaver), I’m impressed and pleased at the research that went into this book. You can tell the book was lovingly crafted in order to pay tribute to a woman from history that many people probably do not know about.
However, all the lovely historical detail aside, The Road We Traveled is an uneven mess of a book. Perhaps “mess” is too harsh of a word. I’ll put it this way: there were parts of the book where I went “Hmm, this is interesting,” and then there were more parts where I wondered when the book would be over—especially towards the end, where so much time passed in so few pages that I ended up confused and detached from the book. So much was crammed into the end that I had trouble following along.
I do like the characters, for the most part, though Virgilia gets the short end of the stick, in my opinion. I do like the setting. But the pace of the book ruined it for me. It started out slow, then got mildly interesting, then trudged along with the wagons on the Oregon Trail, then finished in one large rush, dumping ten or so years of time into thirty or so pages right at the end. I think, as I mentioned in my review of The Memory Weaver, that this style of book is not really my cup of tea. I don’t particularly like stories that stretch across years of a person’s life because they often feel rushed and I don’t feel as connected with the character. I’d rather read, say, the fantastic Dear America account of the Oregon Trail (Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie) than this novel.
I appreciate The Road We Traveled for its historical detail, its wealth of research apparent in the pages, and its information on a little-known (to me, anyway, and probably to a lot of people) woman in history who went on the Oregon Trail when she was in her sixties and then founded a school. However, the style of the book itself, and other aspects such as its pacing, made it less than memorable and more than a little boring, and even confusing, to read.
At almost six feet tall, twelve-year-old Truly Lovejoy stands out in a crowd where she likes it or not. (She doesn’t.) So when her family moves to teeny-tiny, super boring Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, Truly doesn’t stand a chance of blending in. But when helping out at the family bookstore one day, Truly finds a mysterious letter inside an old copy of Charlotte’s Web and soon she and her new friends are swept up in a madcap treasure hunt around town. While chasing clues that could spell danger, Truly discovers there’s more to Pumpkin Falls than meets the eye—and that blending in can be overrated.
Absolutely Truly is a decent middle grade mystery, although I prefer mysteries to be a little more complicated and less “let me tell you about all the thinking my character is doing complete with comparison to fitting pieces into a jigsaw puzzle until it all clicks together.” Frederick relies a little too much on overused mystery tropes and the entire thing stands on very shaky ground for me. I don’t believe that an envelope survived for twenty-ish years taped to a bridge, exposed to the elements as it was (and if the bridge was covered, how did Truly fall off of it anyway?).
The family aspect of the plot was okay, although I wish Truly’s dad hadn’t been the stereotypical military dad type and that Frederick had dwelt a little more on how Truly feels about her place in the family. There are several times where she feels unappreciated and invisible, but it’s never resolved or brought up again at the end. The end bit with her dad was nice, though, if a little cheesy.
Absolutely Truly isn’t that bad of a book—it just didn’t hit the right notes for me. The mystery was too simple and unoriginal, a lot of the elements of it didn’t make sense to me from the start, and overall it felt merely average. A good book for kids, but I would give them better mysteries to read.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some implied PTSD and mentions of IEDs.
Genre: Mystery, Middle Grade, Realistic
It was sealed shut, and as far as I could tell had never been opened. Why would someone leave a letter stuck in an old copy of Charlotte’s Web? Had they meant to mail it, and forgotten? Or had they left it there deliberately for someone to find? There wasn’t an address on the envelope, or even a real name—just the capital letter B. But the envelope had a stamp on it, like it was all ready to send.
“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket was published in 2012 by Little, Brown and Company.
The adventure began in a fading town. Far from anyone he knew or trusted, a young Lemony Snicket started an apprenticeship for a secret organization shrouded in mystery and secrecy. He asked questions that shouldn’t have been on his mind. Now he has written an account that should not be published that shouldn’t be read. Not even by you. Seriously, we recommend that you do NOT ask your parents for this, the first book in his new ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS series.
As I understood before actually reading the book, “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” is a prequel of sorts to A Series of Unfortunate Events which delves deeper into V.F.D. and some of the mysteries that were left unanswered in the aforementioned unfortunate book series.
After reading the book, I’m not quite sure what to feel. On the plus side, it’s got some of the things that I loved about Unfortunate Events, such as the definition of words and the absurdist humor. On the minus side, I’m still not fond of the “every adult is incompetent” running joke because I don’t find it funny, and the answer to the “What is that giant question mark in the sea?” that rose up in The End is particularly dissatisfying and made me a little irritated, actually.
So, basically, I found “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” a middling book at best, a blatant “let’s beat this dead horse, only in a slightly different way than before” book at worst. I’m glad that it’s not a carbon copy of Unfortunate Events, but there’s enough similarities that this book pales in comparison. As I said, it’s a middling book—a forgettable, average, slightly-familiar, mysterious book that is almost not worth the trouble at all. Good for fans of Unfortunate Events, but not very welcoming to those unfamiliar with those 13 unfortunate books.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Mystery, Children’s
“This will be an easy case!” she crowed happily. “It’s not often that a client gives us the name of the criminal. You’re bringing me luck, Snicket.”
“If Mrs. Sallis knew who the burglar was,” I asked, “why wouldn’t she call the police?”
“That’s not important,” Theodora said. “What we need to figure out is how the Mallahans broke in through the ceiling.”
“We don’t know that they broke in through the ceiling,” I said.
“The windows were latched,” Theodora said. “There’s no other way they could have gotten into the library.”
“We got in through a pair of double doors,” I said.
Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett, was published in 2004 by Scholastic.
“When a book of unexplainable occurrences brings Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay together, strange things start to happen: Seemingly unrelated events connect, an eccentric old woman seeks their company, and an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no one—neighbors, parents, teachers—is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem-solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has left even the FBI baffled?”
Another fond memory of my childhood reading, Chasing Vermeer is part mystery, part clue quest, with fabulous illustrations by Brett Helquist and a rich depth of history. It’s also probably the most well-known of Balliett’s work, and for a debut novel (for children) it’s a good one.
Unfortunately, as I was rereading it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I remember enjoying it as a child. That’s only to be expected—I’ve read so many books that my tastes have expanded and I’ve gotten much more familiar with what I like and what I don’t like. And I don’t like the way Chasing Vermeer solves its mystery.
See, I do like my clue hunts to be more, well, clue hunts rather than “random thoughts and feelings and impressions” hunts. It bothered me to no end that Petra and Calder solved most of this mystery through random thoughts that popped into their head or feelings that they got as they passed through a room. I simply didn’t buy it.
Another thing that bothered me was that Balliett hides some important information inside of coded letters, and I know that it’s all the rage to include the key and have the reader decipher it for themselves, but decoding it takes up valuable reading time, and I can see many readers skipping it because they don’t want to take up the time to decode it—and then they miss out on important information (Balliett does include a summary of the contents, but it doesn’t really suffice). So the ending becomes even more abrupt and strange than it already is.
So, yes, I’m not as impressed with Chasing Vermeer as I was as a kid. In fact, I’m not impressed at all. Helquist has fantastic illustrations and I did like the history into Vermeer and the speculation behind him and his paintings, but I didn’t like the quality of the mystery nor the way it was solved. Too much “ooo, strange things happening” and not enough good solid clues.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: The last part of the novel may be scary for younger readers.
Genre: Mystery, Realistic, Middle Grade
“I was going to ask you—you see, my grandma gave me a box with that guy, I mean that painting, on the over, and I was going to try to find out who did it—and I just did some homework that describes it—that’s so strange, isn’t it?”
Mrs. Sharpe sniffed and handed Calder the check. “Well, not really. That’s a print of a Vermeer painting called The Geographer. There must be thousands of them around.”
“Oh! Who was Vermeer? I know I’ve heard his name, but—you know.” Calder, still surprised, was warming up to the situation.
“He was Dutch, and painted in the seventeenth century.” She paused, looking thoughtfully at Calder’s enthusiastic grin. “I’m sure you could find a book in your school library that told you something about him.”
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, by Liesl Shurtliff, was published in 2013 by Yearling.
In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, twelve-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold—as much gold as he wants! His best friend, Red, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse. To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.
I appreciate Rump for its attempt to retell the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin from the point of view of the titular character, since 1.) there aren’t many (that I know of) retellings of that particular fairytale and 2.) the obvious (at least, to me) would be to retell it from the miller’s daughter’s point of view.
However, Shurtliff is no Vivian Vande Velde, and I much preferred Vande Velde’s tongue-in-cheek, short retellings in The Rumpelstiltskin Problemthan Shurtliff’s more expansive yet more mediocre retelling. I hate to compare fairytale retellings, but I read Rump right after reading The Rumpelstiltskin Problem and the latter was delightful while the former was average.
Rump contains a decent protagonist, but the villain is over-the-top, the book is littered with stale tropes and mechanics, and at times the plot is incredibly obvious, even for a retelling. Perhaps it would be a better read if the reader was not acquainted with the original fairytale as much as I am.
Also, all the kiddy, immature jokes in this book put it squarely in “clearly for younger readers” territory, and I prefer books that don’t so publicly announce their audience. That, combined with the stale and obvious tropes, made Rump more of a chore to read than a delight.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Fairy Tale, Middle Grade
I gathered the straw from the ground until I had a handful. I sat at the wheel. A few pixies fluttered around my hands and the straw and the bobbin.
“Gold! Gold! Gold!”
I fed the straw into the wheel.
Whir, whir, whir.
I spun the straw.
My breath caught in my chest. I stopped, unable to believe what I was seeing. In my hand were bits of straw, but around the bobbin were glowing, shimmering threads. I brushed my fingers over the threads, smooth and warm. Gold. I had just spun straw into gold.
Scones and Sensibility, by Lindsay Eland, was published in 2010 by Egmont.
Twelve-year-old Polly Madassa is convinced she was born for a more romantic age. A time when Elizabeth Bennet walked along the stone halls of Pemberley, arm in arm with her one true love, Mr. Darcy. A time when Anne Shirley gazed out at the wild seas off Prince Edward Island with her bosom friend, Diana, beside her. A time when a distinguished gentleman called upon a lady of quality, and true love was born in the locked eyes of two young lovers. But alas…Polly was born in twenty-first-century New Jersey. This, however does not hinder our young heroine from finding romance wherever she can conjure it up. So while Polly is burdened with the summer job of delivering backed goods from her parents’ bakery to the people in her small beach town (how delightfully quaint!), she finds a way to force…um…encourage romance to blossom. Indeed, Polly is determined to bring lovers, young and old, together…whether they want to be or not.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or groan when Scones and Sensibility began and I read the Austen-adapted language of the writing. I wanted to laugh because it’s exactly what a twelve-year-old probably would sound like if she decided to speak how she thought Jane Austen sounded like, and I wanted to groan because by the end of the third chapter I was heartily sick of the word “Indeed.” I’m not sure if Eland thinks that the book is in good Austen-speak, or if she’s trying to make it sound like a twelve-year-old’s attempt, but it’s grating if it’s the latter and sort of funny but also annoying if it’s the former.
I really wanted to like Scones and Sensibility because at its heart it’s a sweet book about a girl who goes too far in her imagination. It reminded me a lot of Harriet the Spy, to be honest. But I found too many things unbelievable to be able to really enjoy the book.
First, is the bakery located inside Polly’s house, or is it in a different area entirely? I know that some people have salons and things in their house, but a bakery seems like something much more difficult to do. If it’s in their house, why in the world is it in there??
Second, I found it too hard to believe that during a certain part of the book 1.) Polly wouldn’t be able to tell a game of charades was going on and that 2.) even if she couldn’t tell, the adult she went to fetch surely should have! I’m supposed to buy that the neighbor called the police without even checking for herself? And that the police shouted from their cars with a megaphone rather than, you know, approach the house and knock on the door? Please. I was sort of going along with the book until that sensationalized bit of nonsense.
I think the trick is not to take Scones and Sensibility too seriously, because if you do, you’ll probably find the Austen-esque descriptions and language to be more grating than endearing. I liked it inasmuch as it reminded me of Harriet the Spy, but less sensationalized scenes and more things that actually made sense would have been nice.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic
Mr. Nightquist, the kindest, dearest, most well-bred older gentleman in all of New Jersey, was utterly, completely, and sadly alone.
Yet my heart leapt with hope inside me. I would find the perfect match for both Mr. Fisk and dear Mr. Nightquist!
And indeed, though I would not hand my beloved Mr. Nightquist to any woman, I could not help but think of the equally lonely Miss Wiskerton.
The Wreckers, by Iain Lawrence, was published in 1998 by Delacorte.
There was once a village bred by evil. On the barren coast of Cornwall lived a community of people who prayed for shipwrecks, who lured storm-tossed ships to crash upon the sharp rocks of their shore. They fed and clothed themselves with the loot salvaged from the wreckage; dead sailors’ tools and trinkets became decorations for their homes. Most never questioned their murderous way of life. Then upon that pirates’ shore crashed the ship the Isle of Skye. And the youngest of its crew members, fourteen-year-old John Spencer, survived the wreck. But would he escape the wreckers?
I think I would have enjoyed The Wreckers more if things had happened more slowly and made more sense. For me, there came a point in every chapter where I felt that there needed to be several more sentences of explanation. Things happened very quickly and I ended up feeling lost and had to scramble to catch up.
For example, there’s a point in the book where John is standing by his pony in the street when he hears a cart that signals Stumps is coming. There’s a paragraph about how he’s trying to get his pony’s reins untied but he fails and then he turns and runs for some reason. And Stumps, despite being some distance away still, manages to both catch up to and trap him, although there is no discernible reason for him to even want to chase after John. A couple of sentences with some sort of reminder or reason for why Stumps would want to chase John, despite the fact that John is just standing in the street doing nothing, would have been nice, as well as some explanation why John even wasted time on the pony’s reins and didn’t just run the moment he heard the cart coming.
So, basically, I found the plot confusing (the sparse description certainly didn’t help) and a lot of the character’s actions made no sense to me. John is at once both too trusting and too untrusting—he’ll think suspiciously of one character and then the next moment he’s accepting everything that character says—and many of the other character’s motives and personalities were undermined by the quick-slow-quick pacing. The Wreckers does have a nice Treasure Island feel to it and it’s cool to read the author’s note at the end about the history behind wreckers, but that’s about all that’s great about it.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Violence, death, some scary images.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
“A lot of men drownded that night,” said Mary. “And since then my uncle’s made sure that they never again used the lights.”
“But they do,” I said.
“Oh, no,” she said. “They don’t.”
“I saw them.” I turned to her, almost pleading. “I saw them from the ship.”
“It’s quite impossible, John. You must have seen stars, or maybe—”
“I saw the ponies on the cliff. They had lanterns on their backs.”