Death at Thorburn Hall by Julianna Deering

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

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

My rating: 3/5 

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

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

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

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

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

Warnings: Some violence.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction, Mystery

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

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Standing in the Light by Mary Pope Osborne

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

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

Rating: 3/5

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

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

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

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

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

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

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

You can buy this book here:

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Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, by Betty MacDonald, was published in 1957 by Harper. It is the sequel to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

Have you ever heard of Leadership Pills? Or Crybaby Tonic? Or Whisper Sticks? You won’t find them in your corner drugstore. The only way to get these magical medicines is to call Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. When Phillip Carmody turns into a Show-off, and Nicholas Semicolon acts like a Bully, and Harbin Quadrangle becomes a Slowpoke, their desperate parents pick up the phone and consult Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. She has an old sea chest full of magic cures for children (left to her by her husband the pirate) and can supply the perfect remedy every time. Of course, although they’re very efficient, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s cures have some comical consequences, too…making these remarkable adventures of her young friends a cheerful prescription for just about anyone.

Rating: 3/5

Let me confess something here: Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is not technically the sequel to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. It’s actually the sequel to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm, the third book in the series, and thus actually the fourth book. But growing up, I read Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as if it was the second book, not the fourth, and, to be honest, I think it makes much more sense to do so. One reason is that in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has relocated to, well, a farm, whereas in this book she is apparently back in her old house.

Of course, reading the books out of order like this does make for an odd juxtaposition. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was full of “cures” for poor behavior, but those cures were sensible things: labeling all of your selfish kid’s things, letting your messy child get away with not cleaning his room, letting your kids who don’t want to go bed to stay up as long as they want. The only cure not particularly “realistic” was the Radish Cure. Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, however, does away with sensible cures and makes the cures completely magical instead. It’s an odd switch, but I’m guessing the actual second book, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic is thus named so as to let you know that things would be taking the turn for the fantastic.

The only reason I can think of for making Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s cures magical is that Betty MacDonald was afraid parents would actually prescribe her cures to their own children, so she made them magical so as to gainsay that. Or she thought it would appeal to children more if there was magic in there. Whatever the case, I thought some of the delight and charm from the first book became a little bit lost in Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, if only because magical cures are a little more banal to me than ones that are more realistic. Of course, I could also be still affected by my childhood, where Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was my least favorite book (although I still know this book basically by heart). Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic was my favorite, though, so we’ll see if I still feel that way when I read that one next.

Even though I thought that the magical cures were an abrupt, strange departure from the first book (perhaps as a result of me purposefully reading the books out of order), Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle still carries a tremendous amount of nostalgia for me. I read these books so many times growing up that even now, after not having read them for ten or more years, I still practically know them by heart—they feel familiar and comforting to me. Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is not my favorite Piggle-Wiggle book, but it’s still a good book for children, and a dearly loved book of my childhood.

Recommended Age Range: 6+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s

Phillip took the broom, held it up over his shoulders and began making loud zooming noises. “Hey, Mom,” he yelled, “watch me, I’m a jet plane. Here I go for a take-off.”

As he said “Watch me,” he began to disappear—with “take-off” he was gone.

Humming contentedly his mother took the lid off the steam and poked the brown bread.

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

2005 Newbery Medal: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata, was published in 2004 by Houghton.

Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people’s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare. And it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Kati to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family beings to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering—kira-kira—in the future.

Rating: 3/5

Kira-Kira is all Newbery Medal—the “slice of life” plot, the heartbreaking incidents, and the slight philosophical/poetical angle encompassed by the word “kira-kira.” It’s a good story, although I found it perhaps a little too disjointed at times. The problem with “slice of life” stories is that they jump around from event to event and sometimes do not do a good job of connecting them enough, leaving a particular scene feeling random.

Katie is a typical “Newbery” protagonist—a middle child who feels slightly out of place in her family, with the older sibling that she feels she can’t live up to. Nothing is really surprising in this book, least of all Katie’s development. I don’t want to seem that I’m putting down “slice of life” books, because many of them are done well and they are very effective at what they do when they are done well, and Kadohata does portray Katie’s life effectively—the alienation of being one of only a few Japanese people in the community, the effect on her parents of their long, hard hours at a factory, the difficulty of having an ill sister and the emotions that come with that. Some of the events described just seem haphazardly placed.

I am surprised that Kadohata did not portray anything about the aftereffects of World War II on Katie’s family. Perhaps that was supposed to be implied in the community’s treatment of the Kadohata’s, but this was a country that was fresh from having Japanese internment camps. I don’t know—perhaps things were as mild as they seemed in the novel. I obviously was not alive during that time. One comment by a girl in their classroom, however, seemed a bit of an understatement. Or, again, perhaps she meant it more to be implied in the alienation as a whole, and the factory jobs of Katie’s parents.

Kira-Kira ticks off all the “Newbery Medal” boxes: a “slice of life,” coming-of-age novel with some sort of sad plotline attached. I felt as if some of the scenes in the book were jarring and random, and nothing really stood out to me as particularly memorable, but it’s a decent enough book that does a good job of showing aspects of a different culture.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: Death.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

We sat cross-legged on the floor in our room and held hands and closed our eyes while she chanted, “Mind meld, mind meld, mind meld.” That was our friendship chant.

She gazed at me solemnly. “No matter what happens, someday when we’re each married, we’ll own houses down the block from each other. We’ll live by the sea in California.”

That sounded okay with me. “If y’all are going to live by the sea, I will too,” I said. I had never seen the California sea, but I imagined it was very pretty.

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

Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier

Child of the Prophecy, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2002 by Tor. It is the sequel to Son of the Shadows.

Magic is fading…and the ways of Man are conspiring to drive all the Old Ones to the West, beyond the ken of humankind. The ancient groves are being destroyed, and with their loss the land will lose an essential core if nothing is done. The prophecies that were foretold so long ago say that there is a way to prevent this horror and it is the Sevenwaters clan that the spirits of Eire look to for salvation. They are a family bound into the very lifeblood of the land…and their promise to preserve the magic has been the cause of great joy—and sorrow—to them. For in truth, the ways of prophecies are never easy…and there are those who would use power for their own ends. It is left at last to Fainne, daughter of Niamh (the sister that was lost to the clan so long ago), to solve the riddles of power among the gods. A shy child of a reclusive sorcerer, she finds that her way is hard. For she is the granddaughter of the wicked sorceress Oonagh, who has emerged from the shadows of power and seeks to destroy all that the Sevenwaters have striven for…and who will use Fainne most cruelly to accomplish this fate. Will Fainne be strong enough to battle this evil and save those she has come to love?

Rating: 3/5

Child of the Prophecy is a satisfying end to the Sevenwaters trilogy, though perhaps not as enthralling or lovely as the first two. Everything is sorted out; characters from the previous two books return and have decent roles to play; we get resolution in many different quarters. Fainne is a fine protagonist; her inner turmoil gets a little hard to bear at times but at least it’s understandable considering her situation.

I think where the book fell the most flat for me was the ending, which was an “arena battle” (two or more characters face off and battle it out while the crowd looks on and gasps) and dragged on a little too long. It started to feel too melodramatic and cheesy after a while; it’s hard to keep tension like that going without the scene starting to feel like a script. I mean, it was satisfying in that it neatly resolved the book and all the plot threads, but it felt a little clumsy at times.

Another thing that I felt was a step down from the previous two books was the romance. I adored Liadan and Bran in Son of the Shadows (and they steal the show again here), so Fianne’s romantic arc was a little disappointing.  I don’t really have anything against her love interest as a character, except that he’s much more underdeveloped than either Bran or Red were. To be honest, I thought Marillier did a better job of explaining Eamonn’s feelings than Darragh’s—not that I wanted Fainne with Eamonn, but I understood Eamonn as a character better than slightly-boring Darragh. I’m also really sick of characters denying that they like someone when they clearly do, which is what Fainne did the entire novel.

I know that there are three more books after this one, but Child of the Prophecy wrapped up the plotline of the first three books neatly. I didn’t think it was as good as Daughter of the Forest or Son of the Shadows, but it was still engaging, compelling, and satisfying despite its flaws. It’s hard for me to find adult fantasy that I like, but Marillier has crafted a beautiful world and her talents as a writer are clearly seen in her works. I may or may not pick up the other Sevenwaters books, but I’ve enjoyed the time I spent reading the first three.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, death, sensual/sexual (non-explicit) situations.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale

I stood in the doorway, watching, as the old woman took three steps into my father’s secret room.

“He won’t be happy,” I said tightly.

“He won’t know,” she replied coolly. “Ciarán’s gone. You won’t see him again until we’re quite finished here, child; not until next summer nears its end. It’s just not possible for him to stay, not with me here. No place can hold the two of us. It’s better this way. You and I have a great deal of work to do, Fainne.”

I stood frozen, feeling the shock of what she had told me like a wound to the heart. How could Father do this? Where had he gone? How could he leave me alone with this dreadful old woman?

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

1959 Newbery Medal: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, was published in 1958 by Houghton.

Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean islands she has left behind. She is like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world. And in the stern Puritan community of her relatives, she soon feels caged as well, and lonely. In the meadows, the only place where she can feel completely free, she meets another lone and mysterious figure, the old woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond. But when their friendship is discovered, Kit faces suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!

Rating: 3/5

The Witch of Blackbird Pond was an interesting book to read. I thought, with all the talk of witches on the back cover, that it would be connected to the Salem Witch Trials, but it’s not—Speare merely runs with the old idea of “Puritans thought there were such a thing as witches and accused women of witchcraft all the time” and builds a story around it. And, I get that, the Salem Witch Trials were obviously A Thing That Happened, but it’s a really cliché plot device to use and a little bit lazy, in my opinion.

Speare does deal quite fairly with Kit’s family members, though. She never shows us enough of the village to get an idea of the community, beyond the Reverend and the bitter woman who dislikes Kit from the beginning, but Judith, Mercy, and Kit’s aunt and uncle are all well-developed, particularly the uncle. She also shows a lot of difference in characters, which is something that some authors can forget when they are trying to portray certain people certain ways (The Scarlet Letter, for example, which has zero redeemable or relatable characters and every Puritan in that book is gray and stern). She doesn’t paint everyone with the same brush, basically.

For a children’s book, Kit is rather an old protagonist, and the book reads much more like a young adult novel, in my opinion, with the romance plot lines. I’m not a huge fan of “outsider comes in and shakes up community with new, “scandalous” ways” plots, and Kit did one too many stupid things for me to really like her, but I didn’t completely hate her, and I enjoyed seeing her grow throughout the novel. I liked what Speare did at the end, too, with her character because it matched what we know of Kit. She’s not one to be tied down, nor is her life with her Puritan relatives ever quite believable as a life for her.

I didn’t think The Witch of Blackbird Pond was a great book, but I didn’t think it was terrible, either. I liked the development of the characters, and even though Kit was annoying most of the time, she had her moments, and I liked that Speare was true to her character throughout. The plot aspect was underwhelming and I thought the overall tone of the book was slightly too old to really be a children’s book. A bit of a mixed reaction all around, but I went into it expecting to hate it and I didn’t, so there’s that.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: There’s some intense scenes at the end of the novel.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s (though it’s really more Middle Grade)

“Don’t the servants do that?” [Kit] inquired.

“We have no servants,” said her aunt quietly.

Surprise and chagrin left Kit speechless. “I can help with the work,” she offered finally, realizing that she sounded like an overeager child.

“In that dress!” Judith protested.

“I’ll find something else. Here, this calico will do, won’t it?”

“To work in?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2zsZN2w

A Journey to the New World by Kathryn Lasky

A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 1996 by Scholastic.

The Pilgrims, as they came to be known, traveled in a small cargo ship, the Mayflower, for two miserable months of bad food, unfit drinking water, vicious storms, and sheer boredom on a leaky old vessel that had never been intended for human cargo and lacked even the most basic amenities. Mem, one of the 34 children among the 102 people on board, tells the story in diary entries. Almost as bad as the journey was what the travelers found when it was over. Mem’s story is one of incredible courage in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, but it is also a story of real people with all their foibles, who refuse to give up no matter what happens. In the course of these inspiring events, Mem herself almost gives up, but a sense of humor and her hopes for the future carry her through the worst of them.

Rating: 3/5

My new reading project (because I clearly like setting myself massive reading goals) is to read all the Dear America books in chronological order. Dear America (and its spinoffs) is a series that is near and dear to my heart. I own several of the books and I read them over and over again. I’m excited to see if my favorites back then are still my favorites now.

A Journey to the New World starts this chronological journey off, with Mem, the Pilgrim girl, stepping foot onto the New World and Plymouth. The book vastly understates the sort of trials the Pilgrims must have gone through in that first winter, a winter that killed off half of the population, but, of course, this book is targeted for children and so must gloss over things like that. Lasky does get across that people die (including people near and dear to Mem), so perhaps it’s not so understated. Things aren’t as chillingly tragic as in other Dear America books, though (I’m looking at you, Across This Wide and Lonesome Prairie), or perhaps that’s just the narrator’s fault.

Some of my favorite Dear America books really breathe life into the protagonists so they are not just a vehicle for getting across information about the time period; unfortunately, Mem is not particularly memorable (ha! “Remember” is not memorable…okay, I’ll stop). She does seem to be just a mouthpiece for telling the reader about the first year of the Pilgrims in America; there’s some personal aspects to the story but nothing deep enough to establish more than just a peripheral connection. Some parts of the book seem mechanical, which make the more heartfelt parts seem awkward and disjointed, creating an uneven pace for the entire book.

A Journey to the New World is definitely informational, which was, I believe, the initial point of the Dear America series in the first place, but it lacks heart and depth. Mem is not a particularly interesting protagonist, and the trials of the Pilgrims are slightly understated—though the dedication to depicting the relationship between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims is admirable. However, I do think that this book, though shallow, perhaps, to an adult, would be just the right sort of thing for a child.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Land ahoy!” The call from the crow’s nest cracked the dawn. Hummy’s and my eyes flew open…we all hurried out. Unable to believe the words, our eyes wide in the half-light of dawn. Several of us crowded along the rail. The sailors saw it first, the faint, dark line against the horizon…..But within minutes of searching the horizon with our eyes, Hummy and I began to see the same….’Twas not a wisp of dream but real. It had taken us all of 65 days but finally we are here. This be the New World and it doth fill my eyes for the first time.

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

1935 Newbery Medal: Dobry by Monica Shannon

Dobry, by Monica Shannon, was first published in 1934 by Viking.

A Bulgarian peasant boy must convince his mother that he is destined to be a sculptor, not a farmer.

Rating: 3/5

Dobry is the story of a young boy growing up in a Bulgarian village. His grandfather tells him stories and teaches him the ways of the Bulgarian life; his mother shows him farming and the qualities of a hospitable adult. As the tiny blurb suggests, Dobry faces the tension of leaving the “family job” of farming to become a sculptor, though that aspect of the book does not come into play into nearly two-thirds of the way through.

Dobry, like Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, is mainly a cultural piece. The Bulgarian culture is brought to life in this book, a fine example of how reading takes you to different places and times and allows you to experience people and cultures that you may otherwise never experience. Dobry is fascinating not because of the strength of its plot, but because of the richness of the setting, the glimpse into another country and the things they emphasize and celebrate.

It’s not my favorite book or my favorite Newbery Medal so far, but Dobry highlights the aspects of these award-winning books that I love: the cultural and historical. I suppose I wasn’t expecting so much variety as I started the challenge to read all the Newbery Medal winners. And I especially wasn’t expecting it in the earlier winners. But the glimpses into other countries, other cultures, other ways of life, other worldviews, that this journey is giving me is wonderful and beautiful and so much of what I love about reading.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

The grandfather leaned over and announced to the mayor, “Michaelacky, I am going to serve up a little of the wine made the October our Dobry was born. We must drink to the good harvest—nothing frozen.”

The mayor stood up and instead of using his everyday voice used the deeper, ringing tones he kept only for state occasions:

“Let us drink to Now, this very moment!” he called out. “Now! The harvest is in, the storm is over!”

“Na lay! Na lay!” everyone laughed, shouted, and got on his feet to sing the old gypsy melody. And once the music got into their blood, nothing in this world could have kept these peasants from singing.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2yscKt0

The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

The Royal Ranger, by John Flanagan, was published in 2013 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Lost Stories.

Will Treaty has come a long way from the small boy with dreams of knighthood. Life had other plans for him, and as an apprentice ranger under Halt, he grew into a legend—the finest Ranger the kingdom has ever known. Yet Will is facing a tragic battle that has left him grim and alone. To add to his problems, the time has come to take on an apprentice of his own, and it’s the last person he ever would have expected. Fighting his person demons, Will has to win the trust and respect of his difficult new companion—a task that at times seems almost impossible.

Rating: 3/5

The Royal Ranger is a good, albeit not entirely necessary, ending to the Ranger’s Apprentice series. It has a tight plot, the same memorable descriptions and hijinks (although toned down a little bit), lots of character development, and introduces a female Ranger. Starting with plot, the main thread of the story was clear and developed well. It perhaps wasn’t as epic in scope as the stand-alone plots of Erak’s Ransom or The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, but since the book is massive, there’s quite a lot of meat to it. It’s convenient that the person Will was looking for just so happened to be so heavily involved, but let’s chalk that up to Flanagan being reluctant to leave things uncertain (and prevent even more page length).

I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t find it particularly necessary. It’s nice to see the old heroes “all grown up,” but since Madelyn’s training is practically the same as Will’s (though Flanagan realizes this and does a few things differently) and since this is clearly not a reboot of the series I don’t really understand why Flanagan felt the need to tell this story. Unless fans were begging him for a female Ranger and this was the result. I really don’t feel like a continuation was necessary; The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was a fine finale and the series really didn’t need a “20 years” later addition. (Also, how does Will have “steel-gray” hair? Assuming he was 20 in Emperor, that would make him 40 in this one, which is normally not a time when someone has completely gray hair. And his dog is still alive, which seems to say it’s been less than 20 years, which would put him in his 30s.Unless he prematurely grayed because of all the stuff he’s done. Or he was way older in Emperor than I thought).

I also found myself missing certain characters. The book focuses only on Will and Madelyn, with the other familiar characters only showing up at the beginning and end. The absence of Horace and Halt really stood out, as there was much less humor and verbal sparring.

I liked The Royal Ranger, but I found it unnecessary and a bit of a setback. After 10 books, I really don’t need Ranger training and technique explained to me again. There was also less humor and I really missed Horace and Halt. Madelyn was a good character, but as Flanagan doesn’t seem to be planning to reboot the series, she’s also an unnecessary one.

I’ll be reviewing more Flanagan, and I haven’t decided if it will be the prequels to this series (The Early Years) or if it will be Brotherband. I think I might take a break from Halt and Rangers and hang out with Skandians. Brotherband will be a nice change of pace.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“[Will] needs to take on an apprentice,” [Halt] said.

They all turned to look at him. The idea, once stated, seemed so obvious. Both Horace and Pauline nodded. This was what they had been getting at, without realizing it.

Gilan looked hopeful for a few seconds, then shook his head in frustration.

“Problem is,” he said, “we have no suitable candidates at the moment. And we can’t offer him someone substandard. He’ll simply refuse to take on someone who’s not up to scratch and he’ll be right. I won’t be able to blame him for that.”

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

An Inconvenient Beauty by Kristi Ann Hunter

Disclaimer: An Inconvenient Beauty, by Kristi Ann Hunter, 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.

Griffith, Duke of Riverton, likes order, logic, and control, so he naturally applies this rational approach to his search for a bride. While he’s certain Miss Frederica St. Claire is the perfect wife for him, she is strangely elusive, and he can’t seem to stop running into her stunningly beautiful cousin, Miss Isabella Breckenridge. Isabella should be enjoying her society debut, but with her family in difficult circumstances, she has no choice but to agree to a bargain that puts her at odds with all her romantic hopes—as well as her conscience. And the more she comes to know Griffith, the more she regrets the unpleasant obligation that prevents her from any dream of a future with him. As all Griffith’s and Isabella’s long-held expectations are shaken to the core, can they set aside their pride and fear long enough to claim a happily-ever-after?

My rating: 3/5 

An Inconvenient Beauty is the sequel to An Uncommon Courtshipand the last book (presumably, since there’s no one left to marry off) in the Hawthorne House series. This book follows Griffith in his logical, rational quest to find an appropriate bride. And, of course, since this is an obvious trope, nothing about his quest turns out as he thought it would.

I feel like this book, in particular, is much more humorous than the previous ones that I’ve read. I could, of course, be misremembering, but An Uncommon Courtship had all that awkwardness between Trent and Adelaide and An Elegant Façade had Georgiana angsting over her dyslexia (I don’t mean that in a negative way, simply that she spent a lot of time agonizing over it, for good reason). I don’t remember much humor in those books. An Inconvenient Beauty, however, has lots of funny moments—as much as the trope is overused, Griffith’s preconceptions about “the perfect wife” being completely overturned by Isabella is fun. There’s also some amusing interaction between characters, especially Griffith and his family.

The things that prevented this book from getting a 4 out of 5 rating are Isabella’s beauty and the length of the book. I am so sick of beautiful romantic leads (and not just “beautiful,” but “incomparably beautiful”). I started heartily wishing that Frederica had been the protagonist, instead. I mean, at least Hunter pokes some fun at the idea of “the beauty” and also utilizes Isabella’s beauty as a plot device, but still. I also thought the book went on for slightly too long; the last third of it dragged on and stalled a little bit in terms of plot advancement. At that point, I started getting sick of all the back-and-forth between Griffin and Isabella and started wishing that they would just get together, already.

I also didn’t like how inconsistent the Christian elements were. It’s like Hunter thought she should throw in some mentions of what the characters believed about God, but then never followed through on any of it, particularly Isabella’s. The Christian elements also added nothing to the book and the same message could have been gotten across without them.

An Inconvenient Beauty is a good end to the Hawthorne House series. I think my favorite is still An Elegant Façade because it’s the most unique in terms of plot, but I enjoyed reading all of them. I found it hard to put this book down, even if the last part of it dragged on and I kept wishing that Isabella wasn’t so pretty.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2xZRue2