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: http://amzn.to/2HjRt5Y

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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: http://amzn.to/2EhEHHq

1957 Newbery Medal: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen

Miracles on Maple Hill, by Virginia Sorensen, was published in 1956 by Harcourt.

The war is over and Marly’s father is home—but he’s not the same. Something inside him seems as cold and dead as the winter world outside. But when the family moves to Grandma’s old house on Maple Hill, miracles begin to happen. The sap in the trees begins to rise, the leaves start to turn, and maybe, just maybe, Marly’s father will begin to bloom again, like the world around them.

Rating: 3/5

Miracles on Maple Hill is one of those books that really makes me want to move to someplace woodsy and snowy, and the cover gives me that sort of 1950s-wistful feel, because I love the 1950s and love books set in that time period. After I finished reading this book, I thought about how amazing it would be to live in Pennsylvania with all the hills and woods and snow.

So, definitely the atmosphere of this book I enjoyed immensely. The other parts of it—the important bits, like the plot and things—were all right. I didn’t quite enjoy the plot as much as I enjoyed the setting, and all the jumping around in time at the beginning was a little confusing for me. I can see, a little, why this book won a Newbery Medal, but at the same time, I wonder how. The book is slow in the middle, and there’s really not a whole lot of the sort of deep storyline you expect from a Newbery. However, I suppose they all can’t be tragic stories of parental loss—some have to be lighthearted and whimsical, like this one.

 Miracles on Maple Hill is very lighthearted, thanks in part to Sorensen only lightly hinting in areas, such as Marly’s father’s PTSD. The darkest moment of the book is at the end, and has nothing to do with Marly’s father at all, as one might expect from the blurb. And the book still doesn’t go as dark as some Newbery Medals have gone—the title is Miracles on Maple Hill, and Sorensen means it.

Miracles on Maple Hill is lighthearted fare compared to other Newbery Medals. It struggles a bit in the middle, and to be honest the whole book blurred together a bit for me, but the setting called to all the snow-loving, tree-loving, 1950s-loving bones in my body. I wish it had been a bit more memorable, but its lack of any real dark or sensitive content makes it ideal for a cheerful children’s book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

It had to be the right place. All outdoors. With miracles. Not crowded and people being cross and mean. Daddy not tired all the time anymore. Mother not worried. But it looked little and old to be all that. She was afraid, now that she was actually here, that it wasn’t. She wished that they were still on the way. Sometimes even Christmas wasn’t as much fun as getting ready for it. Maybe thinking about Maple Hill would turn out to be better than Maple Hill itself.

She whispered, “Please, let there be miracles.”

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

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, was published in 2003 by Scholastic.

Imagine it were possible to bring the characters from a book to life. Not like when someone reads a book with such enchantment that the characters seem to jump off the pages and into your bedroom…but for real. Imagine they could actually climb out of the pages and into our world! Then, imagine if those characters brought their world into ours. One cruel night, young Meggie’s father, Mo, reads aloud from Inkheart and an evil ruler named Capricorn escapes the boundaries of fiction and lands in their living room. Suddenly, Meggie is smack in the middle of the kind of adventure she has only read about in books. Somehow, Meggie and Mo must learn to harness the magic that conjured this nightmare. Somehow they must change the course of the story that has changed their lives forever.

Rating: 3/5

I read Inkheart way back in the day when it, and its two sequels, were incredibly popular. I remember liking it; I must have, since I own this book and its sequel, Inkspell. However, the only thing I remembered about it was that Mo had the ability to read characters out of books. I remembered nothing about the plot (and the things I thought were from Inkheart must be from Inkspell, since none of what I remember happening actually happened in Inkheart). So, in a way, it was like I was reading this book for the first time.

As with Dragon Rider, I thought this was a fairly well-written book. It’s entertaining, there’s suspense, there’s a plot with twists and turns. The characters are fine, though I wish they said “OK” less. Dustfinger tended to get slightly annoying, but we didn’t get many chapters from his point of view, so it was bearable. One thing I enjoyed the most is how very European this book is; it was translated from German and the setting shows its European roots, from villages in the mountains to the names used.

The main problem with Inkheart is that there wasn’t any “wow” factor with me. In fact, I thought the book was overly long; some cutting of extraneous materials would have been beneficial for quickening the pace, especially in the middle. It never got incredibly boring, but there were definitely parts that dragged more than others. I’m not actually sure why this book got as popular as it did, to be honest; it’s remarkably simple, for a book about someone who brings characters from books to life, and there’s nothing terribly exciting that happens for a majority of the book.

I decided to give Funke another chance after Dragon Rider, but now, after Inkheart, I’m not so sure that was a wise decision. Inkheart had all the same problems as Dragon Rider, but also suffered massive pacing problems and seemed way too long overall. If I get bored, I might read the sequel, Inkspell, but nothing else is compelling me to continue the series.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade

“Meggie, listen to me!” Dustfinger looked at her intently. His scars were like pale lines that someone had drawn on his cheeks: two slightly curved marks on the left cheek, a third and longer line of the right cheek running from ear to nostril. “Capricorn will kill your father if he doesn’t get that book!” hissed Dustfinger. “Kill him, do you understand? Didn’t I tell you what he’s like? He wants the book, and he always gets what he wants. It’s ridiculous to believe it will be safe from him here.”

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

Until We Find Home by Cathy Gohlke

Disclaimer: Until We Find Home, by Cathy Gohlke, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

For American Claire Stewart, joining the French Resistance sounded as romantic as the storylines she hopes will one day grace the novels she wants to write. But when she find herself stranded on English shores with five French Jewish children she smuggled across the channel before Nazis stormed Paris, reality feels more akin to fear. With nowhere to go, Claire throws herself on the mercy of an estranged aunt, begging Lady Miranda Langford to take the children into her magnificent estate. Heavily weighted with grief of her own, Miranda reluctantly agrees…if Claire will stay to help. Though desperate to return to France and the man she loves, Claire has few options. But her tumultuous upbringing—spent in the refuge of novels with fictional friends—has ill prepared her for the daily dramas of raising children, or for the way David Campbell, a fellow American boarder, challenges her notions of love. Nor could she foresee how the threat of war will invade their quiet haven, threating all who have come to call Bluebell Wood home, the people who have become her family.

My rating: 3/5 

Until We Find Home has a lot of elements that I really enjoyed: a protagonist that I found interesting, two romances that ran gently underneath the main plot and weren’t too sensual, an interesting setting and conflict, and a good incorporation of Christian elements.

First, the protagonist. Claire had just enough flaws to make her interesting, and her slight anxiety over her faults wasn’t drawn out long enough to become annoying. Her development is believable, and by the end I was whole-heartedly cheering her on. Things didn’t go quite so far in certain areas as I was hoping, and I felt that there were definitely some areas where things were resolved too quickly (especially at the end, where something in particular was glossed over, which really needed its own scene or more explanation, I felt), but overall, Claire’s characterization was great.

The two romances were good, too. I’m glad that David didn’t become the typical male protagonist of Christian romance novels. In fact, he wasn’t around too much at all—this is very much a book much more focused on Claire’s (and Miranda’s) development than romance. I do wish he didn’t seem quite so perfect—there’s multiple times when the characters think, “He always knows exactly what to do and say!”—but his role makes sense, at least. Both of the romances in the book revolve around growth, which is nice.

I always enjoy a novel set during the time of World War II, so of course I enjoyed the setting and conflict of this book. I’m torn as to how I feel about Gohlke’s approach to Judaism in the book—it’s respectful and accurate, but Gohlke seemed unwilling to even try to broach some of the more major differences that would undoubtedly have arisen between Jewish and Christian people living in the same household. Beyond that, I loved the inclusion of C. S. Lewis in the book, and Gohlke gets his voice exactly correct.

The things I didn’t like about Until We Find Home are relatively minor, but overall reduced my rating of the novel. I thought the book was slightly too long and dragged in places. I thought much more could have been done with Claire and her mother, and especially her mother and Miranda. In addition, while the setting and conflict were good, I thought the final bit of tension at the end of the novel was almost too much—a little cartoonish and dramatic.

Until We Find Home has many things going for it: good character development, subtle romance, and an interesting setting. The Christian elements are also done well. However, I thought there were too many missed and wasted opportunities, and occasionally the book’s pace was too slow and the action too clunky.

You can find a Q&A with the author here.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2DNa6xC

Look to the Hills by Patricia C. McKissack

Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, a French Slave Girl, by Patricia C. McKissack, was published in 2004 by Scholastic.

In acclaimed author Patricia McKissack’s latest addition to the Dear America line, Lozette, a French slave, whose masters uproot her and bring her to America, must find her place in the New World. Arriving with her French masters in upstate New York at the tail end of the French-Indian War, Lozette, “Zettie,” an orphaned slave girl, is confronted with new landscapes, new conditions, and new conflicts. As her masters are torn between their own nationality and their somewhat reluctant new allegiance to the British colonial government, Zettie, too, must reconsider her own loyalties.

Rating: 3/5

Look to the Hills describes a period of time not too often depicted in historical fiction, at least from what I can tell—the French and Indian War. Or at least, the time period between that war and the Revolutionary War. McKissack deftly describes the tension between the colonists and the Indians, and the struggles of those who try to keep the peace. There’s also a good balance between the two opposing sides: the characters who want to drive off the Indians and the ones who want to let them be, or even integrate into their society.

Lozette Moreau is an interesting protagonist, in that she’s a slave, but a French one, so that she has to deal with the inevitable clash when she arrives in the colonies, where slaves are treated much differently than in France. McKissack does a good job of describing Lozette’s relationship with Ree and Lozette’s frustration with feeling like an object rather than a person. It’s a good thing to remember that cruelty towards the slaves, exhibited in places such as Haiti and the Southern United States at the time, is not what makes slavery so terrible. McKissack emphasizes how it’s the mere act of “owning” another human being that is wrong, regardless of how well that human is treated.

Look to the Hills was a bit long and boring in places; the middle, especially was something of a trudge to get through. That’s the problem with the Dear America books in general, I feel—in order to fit all the events they want to fit in that meet that historical time period, the authors have to waste some time with fiddly things, like chores and random conversations and sometimes one sentence entries. The ones that can grab you from start to finish are the ones that stand out, in my opinion. Look to the Hills is almost there, but loses ground because of the middle.

Look to the Hills is a unique, and rare, look at the aftermath of the French and Indian War. It also has an interesting look at different forms of slavery and the tension that can result when different forms meet and clash. I like the perspective and the historical information, but the middle of the book is too slow to make it a particularly engaging read.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“What’s a companion do?” Sam asked.

“Compan,” Sally answered, shrugging. We all laughed in good spirit.

In a short while we were talking like old friends. I shared my story from my birth on Captain Moreau’s ship to the adventures that had brought me to Fort Niagara.

“You’re lucky,” said Sally. “Being a companion isn’t like being a slave.”

“A slave is a slave,” I said. “I want to be free.”

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

1937 Newbery Medal: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer

Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer, was published in 1936 by Viking.

A year on roller skates! A whole year when Lucinda was free to stop and chat with Patrolman M’Gonegal, and make friends with old Rags-an’-Bottles the junkman, and even play with Tony, whose father kept a fruit stand down the street. That was Lucinda’s year in New York City in the 1890s, when her family went to Europe and left her—not, thank heaven, with Aunt Emily and her four docile, ladylike daughters, but with the Misses Peters, who understood that a girl of ten wanted to roller-skate to school, and who weren’t always worrying about a little lady’s social dignity!

Rating: 3/5

Despite the fact that Roller Skates has the protagonist-type that I can’t stand (the breaks-propriety, too-wild-to-handle type), I actually enjoyed reading the book. I’m not fond of New York City as a place to live, but I really enjoy stories about old New York, the New York of the 1800s and early 1900s. Sawyer portrays both the glamourous bustle and the peaceful parks of the city, and also includes a small glimpse of a slightly seedier underbelly. Though it’s not focused on so much as to make it a prominent theme, there’s definitely class tension in the novel as well—Lucinda runs into many characters that function on different social levels than she, whether it be Tony at the fruit stand, Rags-an’-Bottles the junkman, her rich uncle, or the mysterious “princess.”

Though Lucinda is supposed to be ten, she sounds, especially in her journal entries, much more like fifteen, and I imagined her as such throughout—which made for sometimes quite jarring scenes when Sawyer reminded me that Lucinda was younger than how I imagined her. Perhaps it’s due to the time period and the culture gap, but Lucinda says and does a great many things that I can’t imagine a ten-year-old articulating or doing today.

The book is a little bit wild and all-over-the-place (much like Lucinda) in terms of pace and development. There’s a few odd events scattered throughout that I sort of blinked and shook my head at in confusion, such as what Lucinda discovered on her last visit to “Princess Zayda,” which was so unexpected and strange that I’m not sure why Sawyer felt the need to include it (unless it was to illustrate the seedy side of New York). I also shook my head a bit when Trinket got sick, because Sawyer was so vague and mysterious about her treatment that I’m not sure even Sawyer knew what illness Trinket had. It works because Lucinda is ten and knows nothing about medicine, but still, it was an odd scene to me.

I can’t say I loved Roller Skates, but I did enjoy most of it. I thought there were some odd scenes here and there, but there were some amusing moments and I do really like the setting. I just wish I had enjoyed the protagonist a little bit more. I found her voice older than her age, and I don’t like her character type at all. However, I suppose a nice little girl who follows the rules wouldn’t make for such an adventurous book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

“What’s your name?”

“Trinket,” said the little girl.

“Caroline Browdowski,” said the woman, “but she is our very own trinket. It’s a pet name.”

“Oh! I never had a pet name. I’m called Lucinda, and sometimes severely—Lucinda Wyman! And I never had curls, either.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2Fy2Zd2

 

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm by Betty MacDonald

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm, by Betty MacDonald, was published in 1954 by Harper. It is the sequel to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic.

How do you cure a Fraidy-Cat or a Pet Forgetter? What do you do with someone who has become Destructive or Not Truthful? Send them to stay with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! The delightfully wise lady with the sparkly eyes now lives on a farm, where she performs her amazing cures for the well-known ailments that drive other grown-ups to distraction. With the help of her exceptional animals—Penelope the parrot, Lester the pig, Trotsky the horse, and the rest—Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle uses her practical wisdom, common sense, and love of children and large quantities of hot gingerbread and fresh sugar cookies, to help her young friends get rid of some bad habits. Each cure is an entertaining adventures, as well as a chance to visit a farm as the guest of the inventive, lovable, incomparably hospitable Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

Rating: 3/5

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm is a bit of an odd Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book, in that it’s not at all like Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle or Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic, but it’s also not like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, either.

Basically, Farm doesn’t have either the magical cures present in Hello or Magic, or the slightly-more-realistic parenting techniques of the first book. In fact, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle doesn’t even seem to do much in this book, beyond providing a little bit of discipline and a farm where the kids can get rid of their behavioral problems through hard work.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle doesn’t give any advice in this book, nor does she dispense any cures. All she does is invite the child into her home, give them chores to do, and lets the circumstances of farm work cure them of bad habits. A kid who forgets to feed her pets? Take her to a farm where the cost of not feeding pets is much higher. A “scaredy-cat”? Take her to a farm where scary things are everywhere and add in enough danger that she has to act despite her fear. The cures of this book are much more plot- and situational-based than the previous ones; MacDonald has never shown herself more so than in this book, where she uses Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a thin veneer to cover up her own ideas.

I actually like the idea that responsibility and hard work will cure a lot of bad behavior, but after one book of modestly realistic cures and two books of magical cures, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm stands out as the forgettable, weak link of the book—which is a shame, because I feel as if the cures in this book are perhaps the most realistic of them all.

Also, as a side note, the names of the parents in these book, especially the husbands, are hysterical. I lost it at “Hearthrug Phillips.” I also enjoyed MacDonald’s subtle tongue-in-cheek commentary of ladies’ societies and the food they serve.

I’ve enjoyed reading this book series again, and I may even pick up the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book I’ve never read, just to see if it has the same “feel” as these.

Recommended Age Range: 6+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s

“[Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle] is a dear little woman who adores children and knows just how to handle them. Really she has cured almost every child in this town of faults.”

“But how does she cure them?” asked Mrs. Harroway beginning to cry again as visions of Fetlock locked in a dark cellar and being beaten with chains floated in front of her eyes.

“Oh, she has many ways,” said Mrs. Workbasket. “Some magic and some not. But I’ll tell you this, Helen, every single child in this town adores her and she has cured most of them of faults. Actually the ones she has cured love her the most of all.”

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

Holding the Fort by Regina Jennings

Disclaimer: Holding the Fort, by Regina Jennings, 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.

Dance hall singer Louisa Bell has always lived one step from destitution. When she loses her job at the Cat-Eye Saloon, she has nowhere else to go but to her brother, a cavalry soldier stationed in Indian Territory. But he’s run afoul of his commanding officer. Unsure what she can do to help him and desperate for a job, she doesn’t protest when she’s mistaken for a governess at the fort. How hard can teaching really be? Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno, especially raising tow adolescent daughters alone. If this new governess doesn’t work out, his mother-in-law insists she’ll raise the girls herself—far away from the fort. Miss Bell bears little resemblance to Daniel’s notion of a governess—they’re not supposed to be so blamed pretty—but he finds himself turning a blind eye to her unconventional methods. Louisa has never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough to help her brother and to secure the respectable future she’s sought for so long?

My rating: 3/5 

Holding the Fort tells the story of a woman pretending to be a governess and the difficulties she has to overcome as a result of her own lack of education. There’s a little more to it than that, but that story is the one I enjoyed the most. In fact, I wish there had been a little bit more bumbling in regards to Louisa’s ability to teach—there is a little bit at the beginning, but then it gets brushed aside in favor of the romantic plot. Jennings excellently portrayed Louisa as someone pretending to be something she’s not—saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, etc.

Louisa herself is a more controversial character for me, as she is the sort who every other character seems to like immediately, or at least very soon after meeting her. I also thought the romance plot would have been better if she and the major hadn’t met prior to her traveling to the fort, and if she hadn’t been the only woman at the fort (which is far more realistic than the alternative, I know). But I enjoyed her journey, even as I predicted most of it, and the romance between her and the major was done well, too.

There were humorous moments scattered throughout the novel, which really served it well—I hope Lieutenant Hennessey comes back in future novels because he was a delight, as was Bradley. Those two were really the only fleshed out characters besides the daughters and, of course, Louisa and Daniel—and Hennessey barely. The rest were simply faceless extras.

Holding the Fort is an enjoyable historical romance. It has a few bobbles here and there, especially in regards to Louisa’s portrayal, but overall the pacing was good, the romance was good, and it held my attention throughout. I would have preferred if it hadn’t been quite so much of a “you’re the only woman around and therefore I will fall in love with you” and I think the book would have been more interesting if there hadn’t been a shared moment between Daniel and Louisa before she comes to the fort, but it’s one of the better novels I’ve read from Bethany House.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2Dyq8ue

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.”

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