Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson was published in 2012 by Shadow Mountain.

Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she’ll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry. From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will Marianne be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke.

Rating: 4/5

You would think, with Blackmoore being so enjoyably bad, that I would avoid more books by the author. There’s only so much enjoyable nonsense I can take, after all. However, something compelled me to pick up another book by Donaldson (maybe because I saw that my library carried it). And, I must confess, I ate up Edenbrooke and its angsty romance even more than I love-hated Blackmoore.

Plain and simple, I enjoy romances like Edenbrooke’s. I delight in the angsty “I love him but he couldn’t possibly love me” type of self-denial that’s found in this book. I mean, it does tend to make the heroine seem a little dense at times, but there’s something about this particular romantic archetype that I enjoy every time I encounter it. And it doesn’t matter how poor the rest of the book is—I would read it simply because of that one element.

To be honest, though, Edenbrooke really isn’t all that bad. It was actually much better than I was expecting, and it lacked a lot of the contrivance that Blackmoore had, though there were some random parts that stretched the bounds of believability a little. I highly enjoyed every minute of it—I even teared up a time or two. It’s certainly not classic literature, but it’s far from the sort of trashy romance novel you’d be embarrassed to be seen reading. Edenbrooke was good enough that I might keep my eye on Donaldson to see what else she has up her sleeve.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction

I lifted my chin, feigning dignity. “I was hiding so that I would not be seen wet and muddy.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You were wet and muddy? Before you fell in the river?”

I cleared my throat. “I fell in twice.”

He pressed his lips together and looked off in the distance, as if trying to regain his composure. When he looked at me again, his eyes were brimming with laughter. “And may I ask how you came to fall in the river the first time?”

My face burned as I realized how silly I had been, how childish and inelegant. Of course, he already knew those things about me from my actions at the inn last night. Singing that song! Laughing, and then crying! And now falling into a river! I had never been more aware of my faults than I was at that moment.

“I was, er, twirling,” I said.

His lips twitched. “I cannot imagine it. You must demonstrate for me.”

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The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

The Battle for Skandia, by John Flanagan, was published in 2006 by Philomel. It is the sequel to The Icebound Land.

For Will and Evanlyn, freedom has never felt so fleeting. Still far from their homeland after escaping slavery in the icebound land of Skandia, the Ranger’s apprentice and the princess’s plan to return to Araluen are spoiled when Evanlyn is taken captive by a Temujai warrior. Though still weakened by warmweed’s toxic effects, Will employs his Ranger training to locate his friend, but an enemy scouting party has him fatally outnumbered. Will is certain death is close at hand until old friends make a daring, last-minute rescue. The reunion is cut short, however, when they make a horrifying discovery: Skandia’s borders have been breached by the entire Temujai army. And Araluen is next in their sights. If two kingdoms are to be saved, the unlikeliest of unions must be made. Will it hold long enough to vanquish a ruthless new enemy? Or will past tensions spell doom for all?

Rating: 4/5

The Battle for Skandia might be one of my favorite Ranger’s Apprentice books. Part of the reason might be because it comes right after the disappointing, unresolved The Icebound Land and is so action-packed that it makes up for that slow pace. Or maybe it’s just because The Battle for Skandia is a thrilling read. I never knew I could be so gripped by descriptions of a battle.

I think one thing I like about Flanagan is that he writes battle scenes well. They’re descriptive, but he doesn’t use so many terms that someone unfamiliar with weapons or fighting would be lost. They’re also not so descriptive as to be tedious or read like an action movie script. He explains the mechanics and strategy well enough that the reader is swept up in the action rather than confused by everything going on. It reminds me a little bit of how Brian Jacques wrote his fighting scenes in the Redwall series, but Flanagan does it better.

The humor is still on point and Flanagan does a good job of balancing the tense fighting with light humor scattered throughout. I also appreciate how he makes the characters interesting and fresh, and gives the ones that appear less often memorable and distinctive traits so that when they do show up again they are remembered through what they do and say.

The Ranger’s Apprentice series might not be for everyone, but for me, The Battle for Skandia is a testament to what I love about the series: great action, humor, and interesting characters. It more than makes up for the disappointing book that comes before and makes me excited to read more.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“What ‘what’ are you asking me?” he said. Then, thinking how to make his question clearer, he added, “Or to put it another way, why are you asking ‘what’?”

Controlling himself with enormous restraint, and making no secret of the fact, Halt said, very precisely: “You were about to ask a question.”

Horace frowned. “I was?”

Halt nodded. “You were. I saw you take a breath to ask it.”

“I see,” said Horace. “And what was it about?”

For just a second or two, Halt was speechless. He opened his mouth, closed it again, then finally found the strength to speak.

“That is what I was asking you,” he said. “When I said ‘what,’ I was asking you what you were about to ask me.”

“I wasn’t about to ask you ‘what,’” Horace replied, and Halt glared at him suspiciously.…

“Then what, if I may use that word once more, were you about to ask me?”

Horace drew breath once more, then hesitated. “I forget,” he said. “What were we talking about?”

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2016 by Henry Holt. It is the sequel to Six of Crows.

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend to Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets—a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Rating: 4/5

I went into Crooked Kingdom knowing something big happens at the end, since people were screaming in Goodreads reviews about it, and I also had a fairly good idea about what that something bad would be. But before we talk about that, let me talk about my overall thoughts of the book.

I was pretty impressed with Bardugo in the Grisha trilogy, but she has clearly improved since then. Her writing is better, the plot is better, the characterization is hugely improved (except for one character, but I’ll get to that) and I thoroughly enjoyed this duology. Ruin and Rising let me down in the end, but Crooked Kingdom did not. My favorite moment of this book was the unexpected, small plot reveal made right at the end of the book, where I said “What?” out loud and then giggled in delight. I love authors who can so deftly weave a complex plot right under your nose and leave things hidden until the very end.

That being said, let’s move on to that Something Big that devastated most everyone who read the book—at least according to Goodreads. To be honest, I don’t know if the knowledge that something was going to happen ruined the moment for me, or if I would have felt as ambivalent about it even without knowing. And now I’m going to mention spoilers, so beware.

*SPOILERS BELOW*

Frankly, Matthias’s death didn’t affect me all that much because Matthias was probably my least favorite character. He was probably the blandest, most boring character of the bunch—and I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but as I said about the first book, Nina/Matthias was never my cup of tea.

Also, looking back, his death was incredibly telegraphed—there’s only so much “we’re going to be awesome and I’m going to change the minds of my people and everything will be roses and daisies” talk that can happen before you start thinking “this person is totally not going to fulfill this, probably because he’s going to die.” And Matthias also made the most sense as to which character would die; Kaz and Inej are too important and Bardugo probably would never dare to kill off either Jesper or Wylan, so it made sense that either Nina or Matthias would die. And since Nina gets a new power to struggle over, that left Matthias.  So, I’m inclined to think his death would not have surprised me even if I hadn’t been spoiled.

Bland Matthias aside, I really did enjoy Crooked Kingdom. It wasn’t quite as heist-centric as Six of Crows, but there was still a great capers plot and enough compelling and surprising twists to satisfy and surprise until the very end. Bardugo has definitely improved since the Grisha trilogy, and I would have to say that this duology is the stronger of the two series.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Homosexuality, violence, mentions of drugs and prostitution, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“This is good for us,” said Kaz. “The Shu and the Fjerdans don’t know where to start looking for Kuwei, and all those diplos making trouble at the Stadhall are going to create some nice noise to distract Van Eck.”

“What happened at Smeet’s office?” Nina asked. “Did you find out where Van Eck is keeping her?”

“I have a pretty good idea. We strike tomorrow at midnight.”

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An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

Disclaimer: An Uncommon Courtship, by Kristi Ann Hunter, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

When her mother’s ill-conceived marriage trap goes awry, Lady Adelaide Bell unwittingly finds herself bound to a stranger who ignores her. Lord Trent Hawthorne, who had grand plans to marry for love, is even less pleased with the match. Can they set aside their first impressions before any chance of love is lost?

My rating: 4/5

An interesting and unique take on a marriage of convenience, An Uncommon Courtship returns to the familiar setting of the previous books in the Hawthorne House series (though explains enough that newcomers will not be lost), this time telling Trent’s story.

Perhaps not every reader will enjoy the shy, shrinking Adelaide, but I thoroughly enjoyed her—I’m tired of confident, “I know what I want” female protagonists who are as interesting as a brown paper bag. Adelaide is both as insecure as her upbringing would create and as assertive as her new situation would start her to be, in a good display of character development overall. Trent, with all of his questions and lack of confidence, was also a good character. Oftentimes male characters in these sorts of books seem a little too wise; Trent’s confusion was a nice change of pace.

I also appreciated Hunter’s take on the convenient marriage plot; while perhaps being a little too obvious about giving marital advice, some good questions and answers were raised in a context where a majority of people are often curiously silent. Marriage in books like these tends to be treated as the ultimate destination, the ultimate summation of happiness, and maybe it is, but Trent and Adelaide’s journey seemed to me to show the hidden side of it, with its struggles, conflicts, and emotions. So, kudos to Hunter for changing it up from her first two books (and the novella) and showing something that I, at least, have never really seen before.

There’s one last unmarried Hawthorne left, and I’m curious to see if Hunter will write a final book for Griffith. That would be an interesting read, I think, so I hope she does.

An Uncommon Courtship, while not as fascinating or as gripping as I found An Elegant Façade, is a unique take on the marriage of convenience, dealing with marital guidance and how to communicate with someone you barely know, among other things. Adelaide and Trent had good characterization, and while I wish some of the other characters weren’t so underdeveloped and one-dimensional (such as Adelaide’s mother and sister, who started out the series as gossiping golddiggers and remain so three books later), I have really enjoyed Hunter’s Hawthorne House series despite that.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2kc4uGh

Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler

Baker’s Magic, by Diane Zahler, was published in 2016 by Capstone.

41llhj91h5l-_sx353_bo1204203200_Bee is an orphan, alone in a poor, crumbling kingdom. In desperation, she steals a bun from a bakery, and to her surprise, the baker offers her a place at his shop. As she learns to bake, Bee discovers that she has a magical power. When a new friend desperately needs her help against an evil mage, Bee wonders what an orphan girl with only a small bit of magic can do. Bee’s journey to help her friend becomes a journey to save the kingdom, and a discovery of the meaning of family.

Rating: 4/5

I wasn’t impressed by the first work of Zahler’s I read, The Thirteenth Princess, but the title of Baker’s Magic is what drew my eye. I can’t resist magic done through baking (my favorite part of the overall disappointing A Pocket Full of Murder), a so-far underused trope (at least in what I’ve read), so I decided to give Zahler another go. And, luckily, Baker’s Magic is a pleasant read, full of whimsy and charm.

Bee herself is a good protagonist, full of a balanced mix of both passive and active actions that combine to make a fairly capable character. I also like that her skill lies in baking, a traditionally female role, and how she uses that role to accomplish what she desires. I’m a big fan of female characters accomplishing things through the roles they are given rather than overcoming or subverting those roles, so I liked Bee and her baking magic.

Speaking of subverting roles, Captain Zay was clearly the character filling the “non-traditional role because we have to show that anyone can do anything,” but she was also great. Her vernacular was amusing, and she was funny enough and understated enough that it helped bring another aspect of whimsy and charm to the novel. Also bringing humor through language was the princess, another good character. Honestly, there weren’t any characters that I absolutely hated or thought were unnecessary—a nice change from recent reads.

So, overall, I was pleased by Baker’s Magic. There were a few little bobbles here and there, as with any book, and I didn’t like absolutely everything that was done in terms of plot, but I liked the characters, the world, and especially the magic. This might have redeemed Zahler in my mind, enough to read something else by her perhaps.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

The princess giggled. “That was the sorriest curtsy I’ve ever beheld,” she said. “Take care—you don’t want to drop those pastries!”

“They’re—they’re for you, Your Highness. Your Majesty. Your Ladyship.”

The princess laughed again. “Anika will suffice. And you are…?”

“Bee. I’m Bee.”

“What a superlative name! Perhaps I should be A for Anika, then?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2jgB5tL

“Shouldn’t You Be in School?” by Lemony Snicket

“Shouldn’t You Be in School?” by Lemony Snicket was published in 2014 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the sequel to “When Did You See Her Last?”.

Is Lemony Snicket a detective or a smoke detector?
Do you smell smoke? Young apprentice Lemony Snicket is investigating a case of arson but soon finds himself enveloped in the ever-increasing mystery that haunts the town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea. Who is setting the fires? What secrets are hidden in the Department of Education? Why are so many schoolchildren in danger? Is it all the work of the notorious villain Hangfire? How could you even ask that? What kind of education have you had? Maybe you should be in school?

Rating: 4/5

“Shouldn’t You Be in School?” is another good addition to the Wrong Questions series, a series that I’m enjoying more with each book. It almost makes me want to reread “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” because I might enjoy it more than I did the first time.

Beyond cameo appearances and explaining more about VFD, this book really cemented in my mind the fact that the Wrong Questions series is really just to show how incredibly clever and resilient Lemony Snicket is. It’s a wonder he never caught up to the Baudelaire children at all (except for possibly The Penultimate Peril, if you believe the theory that he was the taxi driver and took the sugar bowl away from Hotel Denouement) because as a thirteen-year-old he’s outsmarting, in some way, his enemies and his friends. The whole blank-book-library at the end kinda blew my mind a little, even if it didn’t really accomplish anything in terms of giving the protagonists a leg up on Hangfire.

This book also brings back some old, tried-and-true issues: who can you really trust? How far will someone go to protect/find someone they love? How incompent are the adults, anyway? I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how meaty these books have been, despite their silliness. And the mysteries in them are good, as well.

I’m still a little worried that the series will end without complete resolution in terms of the Bombinating Beast, Hangfire, Ellington Feint’s missing father, and all the other numerous little mysteries (Kit! The secret in the library! Ink! The music box! Books!), but I think at this point I’m too invested (and too aware of how these books go) to ultimately care much if it happens. I simply hope that the last book is as fun and as enticing of a mystery as I found “Shouldn’t You Be in School?”

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Children’s

“The arsonist is a moth-hater, all right,” Sharon said, sipping limeade, “and my new best friend Theodora was telling me that she knew just who it was.”

“We saw him this morning,” Theodora said, “swatting moths as usual.”

“You can’t be serious,” I said. “Dashiell Qwerty is a fine librarian.”

“I’m as shocked as you are, Snicket,” Theodora said. “In our line of work we’ve learned to trust, honor, and flatter librarians. But Qwerty is clearly a bad apple in a bowl of cherries.”

“Dashiell Qwerty wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Moxie said.

“You’re not listening, girlie,” Sharon said. “He’s hurting moths.”

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

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi, was published in 1990 by Orchard/Scholastic.

In 1832, thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle is returning from her school in England to her family in America. Charlotte’s voyage takes place on the Seahawk, a seedy ship headed by a murderously cruel captain and sailed by a mutinous crew. When Charlotte gets caught up in the bitter feud between captain and crew, she winds up on trial for murder…and is found guilty!

Rating: 4/5

I read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle once more than ten years ago and it stuck pretty well with me all these years. Though some of the details were muddled in my mind, I remembered very vividly one of the last lines in the book and the overall gist of the story.

It’s not that this book is particularly complex or amazing, which is usually the sort of book I remember well these days. It’s incredibly straightforward and simplistic, and Avi doesn’t leave a lot of time to develop much of the other characters beyond Charlotte. We don’t know much about anything about Charlotte’s family except that they’re pretty stereotypically Victorian upper-middle-class, which means they’re prim and proper and gasp in horror at their daughter’s adventures, and we don’t know or learn much about any of the crew members that Charlotte meets, except for Zechariah.

Yet somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter. There are no frills, no bells and whistles attached to this book. It is, as Charlotte herself will tell you, a detailed description of what happened to her—and it works, or at least it did for me. Though things happen quickly, they happen realistically. They make sense. Charlotte’s trust in Jaggery at the beginning of the book makes sense, as does her increasing unease, her heel-face-turn (and, subsequently, the crew’s), and her ultimate loyalty to the ship. I don’t even mind how it ends, because everything that came before it made sense.

I also think that Zechariah’s character is a pretty interesting one, in that he’s not the (stereo)typical portrayal of a black man in Victorian England or America. He’s the most eloquent, which I think is a good contrast for a lot of black characters we see in historical fiction that speak in dialect. It shows a different side and I like that.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a simple story, but it’s one that’s stuck with me as I grew up, and one that I expect will continue to stick with me in the years to come.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“Begging your pardon, miss,” the man murmured, his look more hangdog than ever. “Barlow’s the name and though it’s not my business or place to tell you, miss, some of the other’s here, Jack Tars like myself, have deputized me to say that you shouldn’t be on this ship. Not alone as you are. Not this ship. Not this voyage, miss.”

“What do you mean?” I said, frightened anew. “Why would they say that?”

“You’re being here will lead to no good, miss. No good at all. You’d be better off far from the Seahawk.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2hW2FfY

Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

Magic Marks the Spot, by Caroline Carlson, was published in 2013 by Harper.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors. She particularly enjoys defying authority, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags. Girls belong at Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies, learning to waltz, faint, and curtsy. But Hilary and her dearest friend, the gargoyle, have no use for such frivolous lessons—they are pirates! (Or very nearly.) To escape from a life of petticoats and politeness, Hilary answers a curious advertisement for a pirate crew and suddenly finds herself swept up in a seafaring adventure that may or may not involve a map with an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a rogue governess who insists on propriety, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas. Will Hilary find the treasure in time? Will she become a true pirate after all? And what will become of the gargoyle?

Rating: 4/5

Despite the dreaded “girl defies propriety and runs away” plot trope, I really enjoyed Magic Marks the Spot. It has a tongue-in-cheek humor to it that’s quite funny (if a tad hard to swallow at times) and Carlson has a deft enough hand that I enjoyed the atmosphere of “not-quite-taking-itself-seriously” that the book displays. Sometimes those are hard to get right, but this book does it quite well.

I did find the plot a little predictable, though, and while some of the reveals may be surprising to younger readers, I doubt they would surprise older ones. I’m also disappointed at the way Hilary and Admiral Westfield’s relationship was handled—I would have liked a little more nuance and depth there rather than the ho-hum, apathetic approach we got. I doubt any girl would be able to so casually accept the things that happened as Hilary did, although maybe the tongue-in-cheek nature of the book has something to do with it.

So, even though I find the main plot trope used in this book stale and annoying, I did enjoy Magic Marks the Spot, mostly because of its humor, its cleverness (though the plot overall was predictable, there were some clever bits), and its ability to make me not care so much about the obviousness of some of the tropes used. This is a series I would like to come back to.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Miss Greyson smiled for the second time that day—the world was getting stranger and stranger by the minute—but Philomena didn’t smile back. “I’m terribly sorry,” said Philomena, “but Miss Pimm doesn’t receive visitors. You can leave Miss Westfield with me, and the porter will collect Miss Westfield’s bags.” She raised her eyebrows as the carriage driver deposited the golden traveling trunk on the doorstep. “I hope you have another pair of stockings in there.”

“I do.” Hilary met Philomena’s stare. “I have nineteen pairs, in fact. And a sword.”

Miss Greyson groaned and put her hand to her forehead.

“Excuse me?” said Philomena.

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

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2015 by Henry Holt.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone….A convict with a thirst for revenge; a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager; a runaway with a privileged past; a spy known as the Wraith; a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums; a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes…Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Rating: 4/5

Six of Crows is a little bit like Ocean’s Eleven crossed with Bardugo’s Grisha universe and some romance mixed in. It’s not necessary to have read Shadow and Bone or the other two books before reading this one, but they do help to fill in some of the gaps in the worldbuilding and some of the information about Ravka in this book is easier to understand and grasp the significance of if you’ve read the Grisha trilogy.

I loved the action and the complexity of Six of Crows, though it did get a bit tiresome at the end when Bardugo pulls the “here’s what a character did but oh, wait, you don’t know the full story and the ingenious thing they just pulled off until a little bit later.” I do like a limited narrator, so it was only the repetitiveness that grated at me a little, not the concept itself. The ending of the plot was a little obvious, but the reveals were good and even the parts that were obvious were gripping and suspenseful.

I do wish the romance would have been a little bit better, and I say that knowing that many people (according to reviews on Goodreads) loved it. I felt that it was a little predictable (six characters=an obvious three pairs of couples) and though the fan-favorite couple seems to be Nina and Matthias, I must admit that theirs was the most cliché, overused romance in the book, in my opinion. I’ve read maybe thirty different variants of the “I hate her but I love her” romance in various young adult novels. I much preferred the romance of Kaz and Inej, which is, if not less overused, at least less obvious about it.

I really enjoyed Six of Crows, flaws of predictability in romance and in some aspects of the plot aside, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in store for Kaz and his crew. Maybe an appearance by another character from the Grisha trilogy? One can only hope!

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, mentions of drugs and prostitution, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Twenty million kruge. What kind of job would this be? Kaz didn’t know anything about espionage or government squabbles, but why should stealing Bo Yul-Bayur from the Ice Court be any different form liberating valuables from a mercher’s safe? The most well-protected safe in the world, he reminded himself. He’d need a very specialized team, a desperate team that wouldn’t balk at the real possibility that they’d never come back from this job.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2iq7mhA

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, by Laura Amy Schlitz, was published in 2006 by Candlewick.

On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” That is the day that Maud—“plain, clever and bad” girl of the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans—is adopted into a real family, surprising even Maud herself. The elderly Hawthorne sisters, led by the charismatic Hyacinth, think that Maud Flynn is absolutely perfect, and Maud follows them eagerly into a brand-new life, expecting to be pampered and cherished beyond her wildest dreams. Once she settles in with Hyacinth, Judith, and Victoria to live out an orphan’s fantasy, however, Maud learns that “perfection” has more to do with the secret role she can play in the high-stakes and eerie “family business” than with her potential as a beloved family member. Not one to give up easily, Maud persists in playing her role in the hopes of someday being rewarded with genuine affection. But the burden of keeping secrets and perpetuating lies grows heavy even for Maud, and she must ultimately decide just how much she is willing to endure for the sake of being loved.

Rating: 4/5

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is a heartwarming novel about a girl who just wants a family and the lengths she will go to in order to feel loved. While the plot was obvious, it was well-written and I didn’t mind so much that I knew how the novel was going to end.

While I found Schlitz’s other novel, Splendors and Glooms, strange and unlikeable, this one, while containing some slight supernatural elements, was much more subtle about it and everything was integrated nicely into the plot. In addition, Maud is not the character type that I tend to like, but I liked her—Schlitz shared just enough of her feelings and of her past that I understood her and I appreciated the time spent in the characterization of Maud, as well as the other characters, especially Victoria, Anna, and Mrs. Lambert.

I also appreciated that Schlitz shows how Maud has an accent without actually writing out the dialect. Writing in dialect sometimes doesn’t come across very well, so I’m glad that the improper English was implied rather than directly stated whenever Maud opened her mouth. A strange thing to appreciate, I know, but dialects can very quickly become too over the top and Schlitz avoids that all together.

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is sweet, at times sad and a little disturbing, and ultimately heartwarming. I enjoyed reading it and I’m glad that the somewhat cheesy subtitle (A Melodrama) does not take away from the novel in the least bit.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

Hyacinth squeezed her again. “You really are a darling girl,” said Hyacinth Hawthorne. “Isn’t she, Judith?”

Judith didn’t answer. The elder Miss Hawthorne had turned to face the window. Her profile was hawklike, with its sharp eyes and Roman nose. Maud had a feeling that Judith didn’t talk about “darlings” very much. A little daunted, she glanced back at Hyacinth.

Hyacinth was smiling faintly. Maud relaxed. It was Hyacinth who mattered, after all—and Hyacinth thought she was a darling girl.

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