Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, was published in 1961 by Delacorte.

Rating: 4/5

Starting out right from the gate with spoilers, so be warned! I always knew Where the Red Fern Grows as “the one where the kid falls on an axe and dies.” I didn’t know it was a dog book, since I never actually read the book. But I’ve heard it compared to Old Yeller, so perhaps that should have been my first clue.

My fourth-graders read Old Yeller, and I have to say, I think Where the Red Fern Grows is far superior—so it baffles me that it doesn’t have any kind of award. The book is poignant and sweet, with a determined, likable protagonist and a gritty realism that is only lightly coated in nice things.

It also presents an attitude that is far underrepresented in children’s literature today, which is, of course, the prominence of religion and its role in someone’s life. Billy prays a lot, and his family talks about God a lot, and while there are a couple of inaccuracies (“God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible), it helps give a realistic tone to an area and a time that would have said and done those things. And it combines the religious aspect with a more superstitious, “legends of the hills” aspect, which also makes sense for the area and the time.

Since this is a dog book, yes, it is sad, and yes, the dogs do die, but this is a story about love, first and foremost, and even the death of the dogs shows that. This book has a lot to say about purpose and meaning and why things happen and love and sacrifice, which is why I think it’s superior to Old Yeller, which doesn’t have much of that. Where the Red Fern Grows is poignant and powerful and I’m sad that I never read it sooner.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Little Ann, one of the dogs, is called a “bitch” at one point, which is, of course, the word for a female dog.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2Wfs08a

2001 Newbery Medal: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck, was published in 2000 by Dial.

Rating: 4/5

A Year Down Yonder is technically a sequel, but luckily it’s not at all necessary to have read the book that comes before it—which is good because I didn’t. The book is about Mary Alice, who goes to live with her grandmother for a year during the Great Depression, due to the financial situation of her family. It’s pretty much a “city girl goes to the country” type of a book, except with less school drama. Instead, Mary Alice learns the ins and outs of the town, including all the small-town shenanigans you might expect. There’s secret family histories, women’s committee drama, and, all right, a small amount of school drama.

But the star of the show is, of course, Grandma Dowdel, who is a fierce and formidable woman. She manipulates the people around her so that she gets the results she wants, but she also shows a soft side when it comes to her family and friends. The story revolves more around her than Mary Alice, for better or for worse.

Peck manages to expertly capture the oddities and charms of small-town, country life. Though the scenarios are often outrageous, there’s an undercurrent of believability underneath them that makes them that much more appealing. Grandma Dowdel steals the show with her boots and her shotgun, though Mary Alice has her moments, too. A Year Down Yonder is a charming read, and what it lacks in memorability and depth, it more than makes up for in good, plain fun.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2LSgT0T

1980 Newbery Medal: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos

A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832, by Joan W. Blos, was published in 1979 by Atheneum.

Rating: 4/5

A Gathering of Days reminded me quite a lot of Dear America, if Dear America dedicated itself a bit more to accurate writing style and language. It’s a collection of journal entries detailing Catherine’s life at school and home, and while it’s a simple book at its heart, there’s a lot of charm and character hidden in each entry.

The book doesn’t have too much action in it; the action is developed through character rather than through plot. There’s a runaway slave, along with some abolitionist talk, a new mother and brother, and lots of school and home activities. Through it all, Catherine shares poems, little bits of her thoughts, and other things that help her shine as a character. The novel does a great job of showing how hard life was in those days and how much work everyone had to do, and it also does a great job of giving the appropriate amount of balance between religion and daily life that was in those times.

To be honest, I think I only would have given this book a 3 rating if it hadn’t been for one line towards the end of the book: “Trust, and not submission, defines obedience.” What a great theme to end the book with, and such an important one to discuss even today. While I wouldn’t say A Gathering of Days was as interesting as some of the better Dear America books I’ve read, some of the themes that Blos develops are far more profound and important.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2JdSQq8

Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Beastly Bones, by William Ritter, was published in 2015 by Algonquin. It is the sequel to Jackaby.

Rating: 4/5

Beastly Bones continues the oddball, eclectic fun that I loved so much about the first novel. Central to that fun is, of course, Jackaby, who’s basically a nicer Sherlock Holmes (at least in the Sherlock iteration), but various side characters also contribute. Abigail Rook, though portrayed as the serious, “let’s bring this back down to earth” type of partner, also has her moments, especially in her awkward moments with Charlie Barker.

This book has a much better mystery than Jackaby did, though once the revelation came, I realized that I probably should have figured it out sooner. I didn’t, though, so I was delightfully surprised. And I liked the introduction of a Shadowy Figure, as it gives a united goal and an arc for the books, though I honestly wouldn’t mind if each book was separate and only united in characters and other minor details (like Jenny’s backstory).

These books have been really fun so far, and I’m hoping the quality of mystery improves without ruining the fun of the characters and the quirky nature in general. I like mysteries just a little more detailed and involved, but that might mean not having as much fun in general. And these books were clearly written to be fun.

Also, the covers of these books! To be honest, if it was just the silhouette and the title, it would be perfection. The picture in the middle kind of ruins it a little, but they’re still very pretty. I don’t gush about pretty cover art enough, in my opinion.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2GPCr8s

2016 Newbery Medal: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña, was published in 2015 by Putnam.

Rating: 4/5

It’s difficult to write reviews of books as short as Last Stop on Market Street, so, fair warning, this review will most likely be almost as short as the book.

Last Stop on Market Street is a children’s book for younger readers: mostly pictures, with a few lines of text on each page. It tells the story of CJ and his grandmother on the bus on the way to serve at a soup kitchen, and his grandmother shows him how to be satisfied with the things he has and how to see beauty in the ordinary.

Simple books like this are adored by many people, and I get the appeal: beautiful pictures, a relevant, straightforward message, and a nice tone and style throughout. Yet these types of books (not quite a picture book, not quite a plain story) don’t really appeal to me unless I’m reading them to children and get to see their faces.

I can at least appreciate the book, and I do see why it won a Newbery Medal—though I’m baffled as to how it beat The War That Saved My Life. There is beauty in simplicity, though, and that’s why this book is beautiful in both pictures and message. I am just unable to appreciate it for all of its worth, I guess.

Recommended Age Range: 6+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Realistic

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2KOuwgP

Across the Puddingstone Dam by Melissa Wiley

Across the Puddingstone Dam, by Melissa Wiley, was published in 2004 by HarperTrophy. It is the sequel to The Road from Roxbury.

Rating: 4/5

Across the Puddingstone Dam, the last Charlotte Years book, is the best one. Dealing with issues of death, loss, family, change, and maturity, it’s the most serious of all four books, but there are still moments that are heartwarming and uplifting. One of those is the reunion of Martha and Duncan. The benefit of Wiley having written both the Martha Years and the Charlotte Years is that there’s no retconning or mistakes made—stories and characters and situations are true to what was revealed earlier.

This book is the last Charlotte book, but it’s also so closely related to Martha that it’s almost as if it’s a continuation of the Martha Years. We learn much more about Martha in this book than we ever did in the first three Charlotte books. Perhaps this book was written with the knowledge that HarperCollins was killing the series, so Wiley wanted to give as much information about her characters as possible. The book is still definitely about Charlotte, but there is a strong focus on Martha—even to the extent of sacrificing the characterization of Charlotte’s brothers and sisters.

I’m really not sure how historically accurate Wiley’s books are (in terms of the real-life people they depict, not the events), but if there’s one thing I can appreciate about this book, it’s the love and dedication Wiley clearly has for these characters, particularly Martha. And while the maturity of this book is quite a step up from the previous titles, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, as it shows that Charlotte is growing up, too. The Charlotte Years were not my favorite, but Across the Puddingstone Dam was a highlight.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Death, mentions of attempted suicide.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2XsRf3N

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes

The Moffats, by Eleanor Estes, was published in 1941 by Harcourt.

Rating: 4/5

I am a huge fan of continuity and chronology, so when I saw that Ginger Pye was on the list of Newbery Medal winners, I knew that I would first have to read the Moffat books that came before it, if only to familiarize myself with the characters. (Note: I now of course realize that Ginger Pye is a completely separate book, but in the moment I forgot!)

I have, of course, read The Moffats before—they were right up there with the Melendy family as my favorite childhood “family.” And even now, after all these years, this book is familiar to me—the hitching post, the sailor’s hornpipe, and the Salvation Army truck were all things that I remembered. Then, of course, there were the things I didn’t remember, like the ghost, the For Sale sign, and the adventurous trip to get coal.

I’m not sure why I enjoy books that are so centered on childhood adventures. Perhaps it’s because I love books that focus on family. Perhaps it’s because the adventures are usually things that are so close to what could actually happen, and yet seem as if they would never happen to anyone. It’s that dance between reality and fiction that I like, I think. It matters that I can see it happening, even if I know it probably would never happen.

I feel as if I am much more familiar with some other Moffat books than this one, but some I have no recollection of at all, so I’m excited to revisit them. I think, perhaps, I enjoy Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy family more—Enright is a better writer—but I can tell that I will really enjoy the Moffats.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2XhjJNI

The Edge of Mercy by Heidi Chiavaroli


Welcome to the Blog Tour and Giveaway for The Edge of Mercy by Heidi Chiavaroli, hosted by JustRead Publicity Tours!


Edge of Mercy final large fileTitle: The Edge of Mercy
Author: Heidi Chiavaroli
Publisher: Hope Creek Publishers
Genre: Split Time/Women’s Fiction
Release Date: April 9, 2019

Two women, three hundred years apart, must face the devastation of all they hold dear…

Suspecting her husband is having an affair, Sarah Rodrigues fights to appear unbroken while attempting to salvage her family. Though distracted by her own troubles, Sarah is summoned to an elderly friend’s deathbed for an unusual request—find a long-lost daughter and relay a centuries-old family story.

Determined not to fail her friend, Sarah pieces together the story of her neighbor’s ancestor, Elizabeth Baker, a young colonist forced into an unwanted betrothal but drawn to a man forbidden by society.

While Sarah’s family teeters on the edge of collapse, her world is further shaken by the interest of a caring doctor and a terrible accident that threatens a life more precious than her own.

Inspired by the unconditional love she uncovers in Elizabeth’s story, Sarah strives to forgive those who’ve wounded her soul. But when light shines on the dark secrets of her neighbor’s past and the full extent of her husband’s sins, will looking to a power greater than herself rekindle lost hope?

PURCHASE LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the author. All opinions are my own.  

My rating: 4/5

The Edge of Mercy, by Heidi Chiavaroli, is a bit deceptive in its cover art. All right…a lot deceptive. The cover art implies a Regency or Victorian-era setting. However, instead the book is predominately contemporary, with the journal entries of a Puritan woman running throughout. So, it took me a little bit to reconcile my expectation of the book from the cover with the actual content.

However, I must say this book exceeded my exceptions by a large margin. I wasn’t quite sure what to think with the opening pages. I was worried about the writing style, and confused about the setting. It only took twenty pages, though, for me to get swept up in the story of Sarah, Matt, and Kyle.

I wasn’t expecting this to be a Christian book, but it is. And it’s actually really well done. Chiavaroli deftly describes the relationship between Sarah and Matt and it’s easy to see where things are falling apart. What I liked best was how Sarah feels realistic, seesawing between anger at Matt and guilt about her own actions, so that it paints a clear picture that the crumbling marriage is in large part due to failure on both ends. I also really liked how even though Matt went further than Sarah in terms of rebellion and breaking down the ties between them, it’s clear that Sarah did things that were equally as damaging (if different in action). There’s blame placed on both sides, and Chiavaroli handles it with nuance and skill.

I’m not sure how I feel about the subplot. To be honest, Elizabeth Baker’s journal entries were the least exciting part of the book. I practically shuddered when I discovered that the journals were about Elizabeth’s relationship with a native. It’s such a romanticized, overdone stereotype. I must admit, though, that I was pleasantly surprised when things took a different direction, even though I was already checked out in terms of enjoyment of that particular story. I found myself rushing through the journal entries to get back to the story I was actually interested in.

Misleading/terrible cover art aside, I really enjoyed The Edge of Mercy. It was much better than I expected it would be, and I was way more invested than I thought I would be. Chiavaroli manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of Christian novels and produces a compelling, emotional story of a failing marriage and the effort Sarah puts in pulling it back together. The ending is, perhaps, a bit rushed—I felt that Matt’s turnaround was too abrupt and wasn’t explained very well—but I had trouble putting the book down, which is one of the highest praises I can ever give a book.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian


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the edge of mercy blog giveaway


(1) winner will win this beautiful prize pack from Heidi Chiavaroli, including:

  • Rustic Metal Lantern
  • Bordeaux Journal
  • Country Potholder
  • Colonial-Inspired Hand Glazed Mug
  • Simple Life Notepad
  • Be Still and Know Magnet
  • Plymouth Rock Bookmark
  • Fresh & Clean Goat Milk Soap
  • Handmade Rustic Book Decor
  • Signed Copy of The Edge of Mercy

Enter via the Rafflecopter giveaway below. Giveaway will begin at midnight April 9, 2019 and last through 11:59 pm April 16, 2019. US Mailing addresses only, due to shipping costs. Void where prohibited by law. Winners will be notified within 2 weeks of close of the giveaway and given 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen.

Giveaway is subject to the policies found here.

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1991 Newbery Medal: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli, was published in 1990 by Little, Brown and Company.

Rating: 4/5

Maniac Magee, though told in as quirky and fast-paced of a tone as its protagonist, is a delightful story about Jeffrey Magee, who, after running away from his aunt and uncle, continuously crosses cultural and social barriers as he lives in and around a segregated town.

The story is told in 3 parts: the first part details Jeffrey’s arrival in Two Mills, where he upsets the status quo, accomplishes a number of near-legend things, and lives with a black family. Once he upsets both sides of the segregated town, he leaves, which is where the second part starts. The second part describes his relationship with a former baseball player, Grayson, and shows more of Jeffrey’s longing for a family and a home. The third part is his return to Two Mills and his ultimate conquering of societal norms through his former enemies, Mars Bar and John McNab.

The writing style is a bit odd, and not something I normally would enjoy, but it fits this book to a tee. There’s a fast-paced rush to it, helped by the frequent short sentences, “ands,” and “buts.” It perfectly fits the always-moving Maniac Magee, and I suppose a lot of the charm comes from the style of writing, though I’m personally not much of a fan.

Maniac Magee deals with segregation in a completely unconventional way, and in a way that really works. I liked the way Jeffrey’s innocence and, in some case, lack of knowledge of societal norms, really helped him in developing relationships. It just shows how a combination of innocence, persistence, and kindness can go a long way in breaking down barriers. I’m not a huge fan of the writing, but it fits the overall mood of the novel. The only thing I knew about Spinelli before this was Stargirl, so I’m glad that I got to see more from him than just that one book.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Realistic

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2I3ove8

Wolf Tower by Tanith Lee

Wolf Tower, by Tanith Lee, was published in 1998 by Dutton.

Rating: 4/5

I first read Tanith Lee’s Claidi Journals around ten years ago. Though my memories of the last three books have faded, except for the odd bits and pieces (including what’s probably an important plot point of the second book which has stuck with me), the first book has always been the one I remembered the most. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of the first books I read with a proper twist ending. Or maybe the fantasy was strong enough, memorable enough, to stay with me.

That being said, I did forget quite a bit. Claidi’s voice, for one.  I love her character: brave, yearning for adventure and freedom, yet at times doubtful, hesitant, unsure. I love my characters with a dash of uncertainty—it makes them feel more realistic. And while for most of the book she’s more of an observer, soaking in all the new sights and sounds, she never feels passive. And towards the end, she becomes pretty fierce.

I also forgot various sights, sounds, and plot points. Though I’m not a huge fan of the world—big, empty, waste-y, with scattered villages and cities with different governing systems and no sense of scale—I did enjoy seeing it as Claidi saw it—as she is experiencing it for the first time just as we, the readers, are.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but I remember the plot twist blowing my teenage mind a bit when I read it. Now, of course, I spotted it much more easily and was able to enjoy the lead-up more. I also really like the idea of Claidi being torn between the dazzling stranger who rescued her and the stranger who takes his time to get to know her, as it seems pretty close to human nature: we feel indebted to the people who rescue us (I know Claidi rescued him, technically, but I don’t really mean “rescue” in the “saving” sense. More in the “opened up the world” sense), but we come across people who are more genuine and heartfelt, we feel torn because of our sense of loyalty to the first set of people.

Anyway, I enjoyed re-reading Wolf Tower very much. I’m looking forward to seeing how much of the other three books I actually remember, and how many plot points I know, and how surprised I will be if I don’t know them.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2FmxxPK