First Impressions by Debra White Smith

Disclaimer: First Impressions, by Debra White Smith, 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.

In an attempt to get to know the people of London, Texas—the small town that lawyer Eddi Boswick now class home—she tries out for a local theater group’s production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’s thrilled to get the role of lively Elizabeth Bennet…until she meets the arrogant—and eligible—rancher playing her leading man. Dave Davidson chose London, Texas, as the perfect place to live under the radar. Here, no one knows his past, and he can live a quiet, peaceful life with his elderly aunt, who also happens to own the local theater. Dave doesn’t even tryout for the play, but suddenly he is thrust into the role of Mr. Darcy and forced to spend the entire summer with Eddi, who clearly despises him. Sparks fly every time Eddi and Dave meet, whether on the stage or off. But when Eddi discovers Dave’s secret, she has to admit there might be more to him than she thought. Maybe even enough to change her mind…and win her heart.

My rating: 3/5

I was excited when I found out this book was a Pride & Prejudice retelling. I figured I would enjoy it even if it turned out like many of the other mediocre romances I’ve read. I did get a bit of a scare when I reached the second chapter and had a “who thought this way of writing was a good idea?” moment when Smith described a tornado as a “beast,” a “devil,” a “demon,” a “gyrating monster,” a “funnel,” a “ghastly specter,” and, my personal favorite, a “capricious adolescent,” all in the span of three pages. Trust me…I almost stopped reading then and there.

However, I shouldered on, and I’m glad I did. Smith manages to keep a lot of the main characterization of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy and transfers them to her modern characters, Eddi and Dave. I don’t think she quite understands Darcy, but at least her presentation was better than the 2005 Kiera Knightley “shy romantic soul” movie interpretation. A lot of the same issues were addressed, at least in terms of their relationship, and in that regard I quite enjoyed it.

My main quibble was simply the shape of the retelling itself, especially how Smith chose to reinterpret some of the elements. It’s difficult to retell a Regency novel in a modern world, so I can say that Smith did a good job trying to find an equal equivalent to things that happen in the book (though none have done it better than “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” in my opinion). I do think she takes it a bit too far, though, especially in terms of Linda, this story’s Lydia. The Lydia of Pride & Prejudice is naïve and silly, but not worldly. I suppose the closest modern interpretation would be a sort of wild party girl, as is portrayed here, but I still think Smith could have done something a little better than what she does with the Lydia plotline. And I get that Christian novels love redemption stories, but redeeming Wickham (or this story’s Wickham, anyway) was too much. I did like the changing of Georgiana to a boy, though, and the way Smith modernized that event.

Some of the other elements were a little all over the place, such as the Chari/Charlotte and and Conner/Mr. Collins plotline, which seemed thrown in purely for the sake of the retelling as opposed to the plot. To be honest, they could have been cut out completely with nothing lost at all. I also was thrown by the early Catharine de Bourge/Davidson’s aunt scene, and I felt the effect was ruined because of it.

Basically, I enjoyed the main plotline of First Impressions, the barebones Pride & Prejudice romance retelling, but I had more serious problems with the writing and the side characters, as well as some of the ways Smith chose to retell and reinterpret the original. I liked it, but if I want a good Pride & Prejudice retelling, this won’t be the book I turn to.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Realistic

You can buy this here:


The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

The Goldfish Boy, by Lisa Thompson, was published in 2017 by Scholastic.

Matthew Corbin hasn’t been to school in weeks. He refuses to leave the safety of his bedroom. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He knows something isn’t right, but he just wants to be left alone. So he watches from his upstairs window as life goes on without him. Matthew’s hopes for solitude are shattered, however, when a young child staying next door goes missing. Suddenly the neighborhood is swarming with police and reporters—and everyone is concerned with what Matthew might have seen from his window. He might just hold the key to solving the mystery before it’s too late. But does he even want to try, if it means exposing his own secrets in the process?

Rating: 3/5

The Goldfish Boy reminded me a little bit of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, though only at the beginning. The premise of the book is that Matthew, suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder since the death of his baby brother, decides to solve the mystery of who kidnapped his next-door neighbor’s grandson. Along the way, he learns more about his neighbors as well as himself, his parents, and his disorder.

It’s the type of angsty, yet still heartwarming, read that I used to gobble up in college. Now reading these sorts of books, I get a mildly sick feeling. Luckily, The Goldfish Boy didn’t pile on too much angst, and countered the amount it had with lots of therapy and hope. As a book about what might trigger OCD, as well as what it’s like and how to deal with it, it’s very good. It also has a good message about friendship and family.

The mystery at the heart of the plot, however, is not so great. Thompson leaves all the appropriate clues and red herrings, so it’s not that the quality is bad. I just found the motive of the responsible person to be rather weak. It made no sense to me why Teddy was kidnapped at all; the ending was anticlimactic and rushed and I didn’t buy the reason the kidnapper gave. A fault of the exposition, I believe, in not developing all the characters enough so that their motivations and actions make sense.

The Goldfish Boy contains enough angst to make me uncomfortable, but enough hope and heartwarming scenes to alleviate that feeling slightly. I liked the look into a condition that the average person doesn’t really understand or know about, but the mystery itself fell apart a little bit in terms of motivation and behavior. A good book, but not necessarily one I would recommend immediately.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade

“I’ll tell you what, let’s make a deal. I’ll move if you promise to come and see Dr. Kerr tomorrow morning. How does that sound?”

She’d have been in the conservatory this morning, her bare feet padding around the cold tiles where Nigel chucks up fur balls and mouse guts. She must be riddled with germs—germs that were now escaping in their millions into my room. I gripped the edge of the door and thought about slamming it against her toes, but if I did that I might end up with blood on my carpet, and that made me feel dizzy. I didn’t look up.

“Okay, okay, I’ll go. Now can you move? Please?”

You can buy this book here:

1953 Newbery Medal: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark

Secret of the Andes, by Ann Nolan Clark, was published in 1952 by Viking.

Cusi, a modern Inca boy, leaves his home high in the Andes mountains to learn the mysterious secret of his ancient ancestors. Accompanied by his pet llama, Misti, he slowly discovers the truth about his birth and his people’s ancient glory—now he must prove himself worthy to be entrusted with the fabulous secret from the past.

Rating: 3/5

Secret of the Andes tells the story of an Inca boy, Cusi, and the adventure he goes on to learn the history of his people. It’s a gorgeously detailed book, describing the majesty and beauty of the Andes, the way of life and culture of the Incas, and the history of the Incan Empire and their conquest by the Spanish. The main plot is loosely based on history, and though Clark does take some liberties, she does a fantastic job of conveying her main message: the preservation of one’s culture.

The one thing that stood askance to me, amidst all the descriptions of Incan/Andean ways of life, was the continual reference to the Inca as “Indians.” Cusi calls himself and other Incas “Indians,” though there’s no reason for him to be using that name at all. Clark is clearly using that name as one that would be familiar with her audience, but it’s still jarring to hear Cusi, who given his circumstances would probably never have heard the word “Indian” in his life, call himself one.

Fun fact about this book: it beat out Charlotte’s Web for the Newbery Medal. Apparently one of the judges picked this book over E. B White’s because she hadn’t seen any good books about South America, a case where uniqueness, rather than quality (Charlotte’s Web is much more memorable and lasting than this book, and, arguably, a better book), won the day.

Secret of the Andes reveals the secret of the title slowly, and isn’t all together clear, either, about it, though the ending did a much better job of explaining things than I initially thought. The book itself has a quality that I can only describe as “majestic” and Clark does a great job of briefly, but clearly, explaining the way the Spanish conquest of the Incas has left them as a people. It’s a rich book, though its lasting power and memorability is not as strong as some others.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

Cusi was left to entertain the visitor. “Our mother llamas never carry loads,” he told the minstrel importantly.

“I know,” the man answered. “You keep them for shearing.”

“And to have their babies,” Cusi added.

The minstrel nodded. “That Misti fellow of yours is a good one,” he said. “Did you know that in the days of the Inca Kings a black llama like yours was always the first to be sacrificed to the Sun?”

You can buy this book here:

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

Lily’s Crossing, by Patricia Reilly Giff, was published in 1997 by Delacorte.

This year, as in other years, Lily has planned a spectacular summer in Rockaway, in her family’s cozy house on stilts over the Atlantic Ocean. But by the summer of 1944, World War II has changed almost everyone’s life. Lily’s best friend, Margaret, and her family have moved to a wartime factory town, and worse, much worse, Lily’s father is on his way overseas to the war. There’s no one else Lily’s age in Rockaway until Albert comes, a refugee from Hungary, a boy with a secret sewn into his coat. Albert has lost most of his family in the war; he’s been through things Lily can’t imagine. But when they join together to rescue and care for a kitten, they begin a special friendship. For Lily and Albert have their own secrets to share: They both have told lies, and Lily has told a lie that may cost Albert his life.

Rating: 3/5

I don’t know why, but I’ve always associated Lily’s Crossing with someone drowning. I’ve never read the book before, and I don’t know why I thought the book involved drowning, but there you have it. That’s why, reading the book, I kept bracing myself for the dreaded sad ending, the drowning of one of the characters. Spoiler: no one drowns. Spoiler: The ending’s not that sad.

I adore World War II stories; that time period is one of my favorites to read about. Lily’s active imagination and the lies she tells the people around her is directly related to the world war going on overseas: the random boat in the sea is German; the man looking at the boat is signaling it and is a German spy; Lily’s aunt is in the Secret Service. The presence of Albert, though perhaps a trifle convenient, is realistic to the time period, as many children were sent overseas to escape the Germans (just as British children were sent to the countryside to escape bombings). And, of course, there’s much talk of Hitler and the terror gripping Europe.

Lily’s relationship with her grandmother was another great thing about the book. Lily, upset about her father and chafing against her grandmother’s rules, slowly comes to see her grandmother as a person and not just as a Debbie-downer. I liked how Giff portrayed Lily as confident in some things, yet self-conscious in others. Lily’s lies, and why she keeps telling them, make more sense if you realize that she’s overcompensating for a slight lack of self-confidence. She’s making herself look exciting because she doesn’t feel as if she is very exciting.

Lily’s Crossing is not as immensely mesmerizing, beautiful, or powerful as other World War II novels I’ve read, but it’s a good book for its audience, especially in terms of introducing the concept of World War II and its effect on people. Its ending is perhaps a bit too convenient, but the message is good—realizing that the lies you tell can hurt people, even after you’ve admitted to the lie—and it describes a lot of the culture of the time in ways that aren’t too shockingly in-your-face (for children) or too negligently small.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

“The army needs engineers,” Poppy said.

For a moment she felt as if she couldn’t breathe. “Who’s going to take care of me?”

“Gram,” he said. “Gram, of course.”

Gram. She closed her mouth over the word, didn’t want to hear it. She and Gram all alone in St. Albans this winter, the wind rattling around the house.

You can buy this book here:

Homer Price by Robert McCloskey

Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey, was published in 1943 by Viking.

Homer Price lives two miles out of Centerburg, where Route 56 meets 56A, but most of his friends and relatives live in town. They include Aunt Aggy and Uncle Ulysses, the Sheriff and the boys, Miss Terwilliger, Miss Naomi Enders, great-great-great granddaughter of Ezekiel Ender who founded Centerburg and who owned the precious formula for making Cough Syrup and Elixir of Life Compound. While Centerburg is not exactly nosey, precious little happens that the good citizens do not know. In six preposterous tales, Robert McCloskey takes a good look at the face of mid-western America with humorous and affectionate eyes. No matter how old or young the reader, the strange skullduggery of the Sensational Scent, the extravagant affair of the Doughnuts, the breathtaking suspense of “Mystery Yarn,” the doleful defeat of The Super-Duper, the puzzling problem o Michael Murphy’s musical Mousetrap, and the Great Pageant of One Hundred and Fifty Years of Centerburg Progress Week, will reduce him to helpless laughter.

Rating: 3/5

“Preposterous,” as the jacket summary states, is a good word to describe Homer Price. “Absurd” is perhaps a better one, and also describes the genre of the book itself. The wacky tales in Homer Price are absurd, but carry a great deal of humor (and fantastic illustrations) and the sort of shenanigans of a small town that are exaggerated just enough to make it absurd, but not enough to make it lose its down-to-earth, realistic feel.

Tales such as these can really only take place in a small town, and Homer Price gives us all the small town feels you can ask for: the tight-knit community, the small businesses, the plausible scenarios that are exaggerated for effect, but have their foundation in reality. I especially loved the story of the Mystery Yarn, where Miss Terwilliger pulls a fast one on two men competing for her affections—and McCloskey gives you just enough information to figure out how she did it, but doesn’t straight out say it. I also liked his tongue-in-cheek commentary on comic books and plot tropes.

The reason I didn’t rate it higher is that the book was slightly too random and gimmick-y for my tastes. I could have done without the sheriff’s spoonerisms and some of the more absurd scenarios. It was a fun book to read, but Homer Price didn’t hold the nostalgia other childhood books have held for me (yes, I read this book when I was younger) and my adult self wasn’t satisfied.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None

Genre: Children’s

“Gosh, Freddy, these Super-Duper stories are all the same,” said Homer.

“No, they’re not!” said Freddy. “Sometimes the Super-Duper smashes airships and sometimes he smashes ocean liners. Then, other times he just breaks up mountains.”

“But he always rescues the pretty girl and catches the villain on the last page,” said Homer.

“Of course!” said Freddy. “That’s to show that crime does not pay!”

You can buy this book here:

Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren

Disclaimer: Keturah, by Lisa T. Bergren, 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.

In 1772 England, Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson and her sisters find themselves the heiresses of their father’s estates and know they have one option: Go to the West Indies to save what is left of their heritage. Although it flies against all the conventions, they’re determined to make their own way in the world. But once they arrive in the Caribbean, conventions are the least of their concerns. On the infamous island of Nevis, the sisters discover the legacy of the legendary sugar barons has vastly declined—and that’s just the start of what their eyes are opened to in this harsh and unfamiliar world. Keturah never intends to put herself at the mercy of a man again, but every man on the island seems to be trying to win her hand and, with it, the ownership of her plantation. She could desperately use an ally, but even an unexpected reunion with a childhood friends leaves her questioning his motives. To keep her family together and save the plantation that is her last change at providing for them, can Keturah ever surrender her stubbornness and guarded heart to God and find the healing and love awaiting her?

Rating: 3/5

I’m going to spend most of this review talking about the historical aspect of Keturah and my thoughts on Bergren’s presentation, and less time talking about what I normally talk about (plot, romance, and characterization). To me, the historical setting was the most interesting part of the book.

Keturah is unique in that it’s one of the first historical fiction I’ve read in a while where the main character is involved, in some way, in plantations and slavery. Commonly, historical fiction (especially of the YA and middle grade variety that I read) set in the South during the Civil War or before all have main characters that eschew slavery, even those that live in the South. It’s almost as if authors believe that they are condoning slavery if their main characters own slaves, so instead they have their protagonists be vehemently against it. There’s nothing wrong about that, obviously, but it stretches the bonds of historical setting a little bit to have a Southern protagonist be so opposed to slavery (obviously there were people in the South who opposed slavery, but since the majority supported it, it makes logical, historical sense that the average person would also support it).

Bergren, however, does not shy away from the topic at all. Keturah keeps slaves and buys slaves, and though she treats them well enough, they’re still slaves. Keturah herself has some unpleasant moments where she clearly views herself as superior, especially in regards to Mitilda, the housekeeper of her father’s estate (there’s other factors influencing her behavior and thoughts towards Mitilda, but it’s still a little shocking how quickly her mind turns to race and class in that moment). Yet, she’s disturbed at the sight of a slave market and is quick to want justice when her slaves are terrorized by the neighbors. She’s abhorred at the violence towards and ill treatment of slaves, yet owns slaves herself.

There’s clearly a difference between Keturah and her neighbors, as she neither harms her slaves nor, in general, views them as “other.” She hires a free black man (who himself owns slaves—something that’s historically accurate) as her overseer, despite the island’s censure of the act. Her actions are clearly true to history (Frederick Douglass was taught to read by the wife of the person who bought him; there were slave owners who were kind to their slaves), and I was fascinated by Bergren’s decision to frame it this way.

It did bother me, however, that despite the strength of Keturah’s Christianity, especially towards the end, there was never a moment when Keturah even thought about the idea of freeing her slaves. Obviously, in terms of setting, that wouldn’t have worked very well. Yet all she does is think about how she should be nicer to Mitilda. I’m not going to argue the fact that Christians owned slaves, and excused it with (terrible) interpretations of Scripture, but it galled me that Bergren would try and show that being a good Christian (or being a good person) means simply that you’re nice to slaves that you own, with no thoughts about freedom, equality, or equity.

The historical setting of Keturah is fascinating, and might be incredibly divisive due to the main character’s ties with slavery. As for the rest of it, the pacing dragged a lot in places (they were at sea way too long), the romance was average, and Keturah was a mediocre protagonist. The merits of discussion for this book, though, are golden.

Warnings: Some violence, death, slavery, leering, very subtle hints at domestic abuse and possibly rape.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here:  

1964 Newbery Medal: It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Neville

It’s Like This, Cat, by Emily Neville, was published in 1963 by HarperCollins.

Dave Mitchell is fourteen and growing up in the midst of the variety and excitement of New York City. In this quiet, reflective, and humorous story of a boy’s journey toward adulthood, Emily Neville captures the flavor of one kind of New York boyhood—the sights and sounds of Gramercy Park, Coney Island, the Fulton Fish Market, the Bronx Zoo, the stickball games played in city streets, the fascinating mixture of nationalities and eccentrics that give the huge metropolis so much of its flavor and excitement. But most of all the author tells a realistic tale of Dave’s affection for a stray tomcat, his comradeship with a troubled nineteen-year-old boy, his first shy friendship with a girl, and his growing understanding of his father as a human being and not just a parent.

Rating: 3/5

It’s Like This, Cat captures the 1960s feel perfectly (as one might expect, given that it was written then…so, okay, maybe not the best way to describe it), along with the sights and sounds of “old” New York. It’s funny…I really don’t like NYC (not a city fan, especially huge cities), but reading about it in the past makes me feel incredibly nostalgic. Of course, I also love stories that take place in the 1940s-1960s, so maybe that also has to do with it.

The book is “slice of life,” though not as isolated as these sorts of book can sometimes get. The book is united with the thread of Cat and of Tom, the teenager Dave stumbles across with the troubled home life. Meeting Tom causes Dave to think about his own home life and, specifically, about his father. The book is a superb story about a father/son relationship—and there’s also lots in there about family, too, and how not all families are alike (even if a child might think so).

Perhaps the biggest flaw, for me, was that there wasn’t anything truly remarkable that stood out to me. I enjoyed the story and I enjoyed Dave’s growth as a character. However, there wasn’t anything in particular that made me stand up and say, “Yes, this is why this book should be read.” That doesn’t mean I think it shouldn’t be read; it simply means this isn’t the first book that would immediately jump to my mind if I wanted someone to read a book set in 1960s New York.

It’s Like This, Cat has some delightful moments, and overall I enjoyed the father/son relationship as well as all the family moments. However, the book was lacking in memorability and “stand-outness.” I’m not sure I would remember it in a month, to be honest.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

“Take care,” [Mom] says. “No fights.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll stay out of fights,” says Tom quite seriously.

We go down the stairs, and Tom says, “Your mother is really nice.”

I’m sort of surprised—kids don’t usually say much about each other’s parents. “Yeah, Mom’s O.K. I guess she worries about me and Pop a lot.”

“It must be pretty nice to have your mother at home,” he says.

That kind of jolts me, too.

You can buy this book here:

The Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens (republished title The Shattered Lens), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2010 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia.

Alcatraz Smedry is on a mission to save the day! The boy with all the wrong Talents has a lot to prove and, as always, little time in which to do it. Ib this final adventure, Alcatraz faces an army of librarians—and their giant librarian robots—as they battle to win the kingdom of Mokia. If the Librarians win the war, everything that Alcatraz has fought so hard for could end in disaster. With his incredibly Talent for breaking things, some explosive teddy bears, and the help of his friends, Alcatraz must face the glass-shattering gigantic robots, an entire arm of evil librarians, and even his ow manipulative mother! But will he be able to save the kingdom of Mokia and the Free kingdoms from the wrath of the librarians before everything comes crashing down?

Rating: 3/5

Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens is a step-up from the too-short-yet-too-long Knights of Crystallia. The conflict is decently long, important things happen throughout the book, and the ending is suitably intriguing.

I like the deeper look at the Talents that Sanderson gives us in this book, starting with Aydee’s math Talent and ending with Alcatraz manipulating the Smedry Talents to fit his plan. It also makes one of the main events at the end that much more important. The Talents are the most interesting thing about the Alcatraz series, in my opinion, so I’m glad we got to explore more of their mechanics in this one.

Something I found interesting about the background of this book is that you can sense Sanderson’s rift with Scholastic coming. Not only does the blurb say that this is Alcatraz’s final adventure, even though the series has stated that there will be five, but the fifth book is published by a different publisher. Not to mention Sanderson’s dig at the ridiculous cover art of the series (probably my favorite joke besides the Wheel of Time inside joke). (By the way, I’m displaying the republished art in these posts since it’s so much better). I’m not sure of the details behind Sanderson’s break with Scholastic, but I know that at least the cover art issue is fixed with the fifth book (thank goodness), so the change is likely a good one.

I still wouldn’t say this series is my favorite of Sanderson’s; it’s funny, but lacking in depth, with shaky plot mechanics at times. However, I’m looking forward to seeing how Alcatraz manages in the next book, given the revelation at the end of this book, and Sanderson has never yet disappointed me in the long haul (perhaps in the short, but never the long).

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

A clanking sound came from behind us. I glanced over my shoulder.

No fewer than fifty Knights of Crystallia were rushing down the hallway in our direction.

“Gak!” I cried.

“Alcatraz, would you stop saying—” Bastille looked over her shoulder. “GAK!”

You can buy this book here:

Hearts Entwined: A Novella Collection

Disclaimer: Hearts Entwined 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.

My rating: 3/5 

Hearts Entwined is a collection of four short stories/novellas by four different authors—hence why there’s no blurb or authors up top like usual. The four stories are all from each author’s “universes,” as it were, and I was familiar with two of the four. For this review, I’m going to tackle each story separately and give a little mini-review of each, starting with the story I liked the most and ending with the one I liked the least.

“Bound and Determined” by Regina Jennings:

To be honest, I think I liked this one and “Tied and True” about equally, but “Bound and Determined” had camels in it, which is wacky and memorable and probably my favorite part of the story. Bradley Willis—the brother of the protagonist of Holding the Fort—has to escort a retired officer, his daughter, and his herd of camels to Texas. I wish the romance had been less love at first sight (I am so sick of that trope in these historical romances), but the addition of the camels was great and I liked that I was familiar with the setting and some of the characters already.

“Tied and True” by Melissa Jagears:

“Tied and True” is part of the Teaville Moral Society series, of which I’ve read two books, so, just like with Jennings’s story, the familiarity of the characters and the setting helped me enjoy the story more (this story actually takes place during A Love So True). I really enjoy the “I love you, but I can’t pursue you” trope, probably because it’s a refreshing trope to read after all the usual, same-old same-old romances (like the one in “Bound and Determined”). It’s a bit too moralizing in places, and Marianne is the wrong type of naively perfect, the kind that makes you turn your head and go, “Would that really have worked out for you?”, but the story is enjoyable and it’s a nice addition to the Teaville series if you’re invested in those.

“The Love Knot” by Karen Witemeyer:

“The Love Knot” was a bit of an odd one. It uses the other overused trope common to these historical romances, the “we broke up a long time ago and now we meet again, reminisce, and then almost immediately get back together” trope. The setting is interesting, and so is the plot device that brings Claire and Pieter back together, but my unfamiliarity with the characters and the series led to lots of confusing moments for me. There’s also a lot of soul-searching and moralizing that could have been done more subtly, in my opinion.

“The Tangled Ties that Bind” by Mary Connealy:

This was my least favorite story, and not just because I think the title is terrible. Connealy is found of writing in sentence fragments, which is one of my biggest writing pet peeves. The plot also was incredibly chaotic—it utilizes the same sort of trope as Witemeyer’s, but the plot ping-pongs between romance and some sort of doctor procedural story, with a whole bunch of girl power preaching thrown in at the end. Connealy is definitely the weakest writer of the four, in my opinion, and it showed in her fragment-laden story and her melodramatic dialogue. 

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here:

2013 Newbery Medal: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, was published in 2012 by Harper.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living in a shopping mall, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Rating: 3/5

The One and Only Ivan is apparently based on a true story. The real Ivan, like the one in the story, was in a circus-themed mall for twenty-seven years before enough information circulated about it that he was transferred to Zoo Atlanta. As an animal fantasy, The One and Only Ivan crawls into the head of book-Ivan and explores a similar story from the perspective of the gorilla.

It’s a very sentimental story, and it would be especially heartwarming if you really loved animals and don’t mind good zoos. For me, I found the whole thing a little bit too sentimental for my tastes. I also had a hard time accepting the point of view of a gorilla. I get it, it’s an animal fantasy, but it still rang false in my view.

That’s not to say the story isn’t good. Applegate does raise awareness of inappropriate and unsafe conditions for animals, and she does emphasize that good zoos are beneficial for animal welfare. The story, as a story, is lovely and heartwarming and has a good happy ending. It has a good lesson about treating animals correctly. But, at times, its sappiness sours the story. I’m glad it’s not all gloom and doom like some Newbery Medals, but the overt sentimentality of this book is almost as bad, in my opinion.

The One and Only Ivan is a good story, perfect for children who love animals, and has some good things to say about taking care of animals, but I found it to be too sentimental throughout. I’m not calling for Newbery Medals to be full of darkness and sorrow, but I would prefer a balance, and this book, though it has some sorrow in it, goes too far in the sappiness category for me to really like it.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy, Realistic

When the Big Top Mall was first built, it smelled of new paint and fresh hay, and humans came to visit from morning till night. They drifted past my domain like logs on a lazy river.

Lately, a day might go by without a single visitor. Mack says he’s worried. He says I’m not cute anymore. He says, “Ivan, you’ve lost your magic, old guy. You used to be a hit.”

It’s true that some of my visitors don’t linger the way they used to. They stare through the glass, they cluck their tongues, they frown while I watch my TV.

“He looks lonely,” they say.

You can buy this book here: