The Shattered Vigil by Patrick W. Carr

Disclaimer: The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. Carr, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Their victory over the dark forces during the feast of Bas-solas should have guaranteed safety for the continent. Instead, Willet and the rest of the Vigil discover they’ve been outsmarted by those seeking to unleash the evil that inhabits the Darkwater. One of the Vigil has gone missing, and new attacks have struck at the six kingdoms’ ability to defend themselves. Worse, a deadly new threat has emerged—assassins hunting the Vigil, men and women who cannot be seen until it’s too late. To thwart the perilous new risk, the church makes the drastic decision to safeguard the Vigil by taking the surviving members into protective custody. But there are secrets only the vigil can unearth, and so Pellin makes the heat-wrenching choice to oppose the church in a race to turn back the evil that threatens an entire continent.

My rating: 4/5

While I remembered very little from The Shock of Night, I only found The Shattered Vigil hard to understand at the beginning. Then, Carr gave enough reminders and my memory of the first book came back just enough that I was able to cross that initial divide of “Oh my goodness I don’t really remember anything that happened; who are these people again?” and go back to familiar territory.

The Shattered Vigil is an improvement over the first book, in my opinion. I found the plot more interesting, the confusing parts less prominent, and the pace quicker. And although it was a little jarring to keep switching from 1st to 3rd person, I also liked the character switches as well, especially those involving Toria Deel and Bronwyn. Carr has definitely seemed to settle into his stride here, getting the shaky and weak bits over with the first book. Perhaps some of my praise here comes from the pure refreshment of a decently written fantasy as opposed to the normal historical romance that I receive from Bethany House, but I’m also not a frequent reader of adult fantasy so I don’t know enough to compare.

I also really enjoyed both of the ending twists—the one I guessed right as it was unveiling itself before my eyes and the other was a pretty delightful way to end the book, even if it did make it a cliffhanger. But Carr manages to wrap up enough of the loose ends of the plot that the book doesn’t feel as if it stopped in the middle of the act. It’s not a stand-alone, but it’s more of a stand-alone than a book that only shows the first part of a two-part plot.

The Shattered Vigil, to me, was better than The Shock of Night, and I really enjoyed it reading it. It did have its dull moments, and there were times when I was a little confused, but those moments were few and far between to the overall interest and appeal of the book. I’m quite looking forward to the next book, especially after the ending of this one.

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

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Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall

Disclaimer: Larger-Than-Life Lara, by Dandi Daley Mackall, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

‘This isn’t about me. The story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up. At least htat’s what Mrs. Smith, my teachers, says.’ But the story is about ten-year-old Laney Grafton and the new girl in her class—Lara Phelps—whom everyone bullies from the minute she shows up. But instead of acting the way a bullied kid normally acts, this new girl returns kindness for a meanness that intensifies—until nobody remains unchanged, not even the reader.

My rating: 4/5

Dandi Daley Mackall wrote some of my favorite book series growing up: Winnie the Horse Gentler and Horsefeathers, back in the day when stories about horses composed 80% of my reading. Seeing another book of hers pop up on the Tyndale Blog Network intrigued me, even if this book is technically a republication (Larger-Than-Life Lara was originally published 10 years ago, in 2006).

Larger-Than-Life Lara is a short, but wholesome, book. Laney is a wonderful protagonist, and the hints at her home life never reveal too much or hide too little. Her voice is funny and the crafting of the story is smart—as a teacher, I found myself reading and thinking, “This is a perfect book to read to help explain story elements.”

It’s also a perfect book to discuss with a younger audience. Lara’s actions, Laney’s feelings, and the entire attitudes and behaviors of the class, are rich for discussion. The story is poignant, sweet, and heartbreaking in turns, and it’s just as much about Laney as it is about Lara and her effect on the fourth-grade class.

My favorite aspect of the book, though, is that Larger-Than-Life Lara communicates so much of the Christian message without even mentioning God once. Lara’s actions are beautifully Christ-like, with her capacity to forgive, her willingness to take fault when she herself did nothing, and the transforming effect her actions have on her classmates. There’s so much there for young readers to think and talk about. Larger-Than-Life Lara was a joy to read, and it’s nice to see that even if the works I read by Mackall as a child have worn old over the years, there are still some of her works that delight me.

Warnings: Alcohol abuse, hints at a bad home life, bullying.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

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House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones, was published in 2008 by Greenwillow. Fun fact: it’s marketed as the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, but really it’s a sequel to Castle in the Air (the true sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle).

Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle Williams’ tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few. By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizards, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a Lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind? Of course, with that magical family involved, there’s bound to be chaos—and unexpected revelations. No one will be more surprised than Charmain by what Howl and Sophie discover.

Rating: 4/5

House of Many Ways is, in my opinion, more fun than Castle in the Air, but sacrifices some plot intricacies and worldbuilding in the process. The plot is just one step shy of being fully developed; some revelations feel too fast and too out-of-nowhere to feel like a tightly-crafted plot. I felt it a bit strange and contrived that a lot of the conflict revolved around one solitary creature that was revealed to have his fingers in many of the character’s pies, but I suppose for a short fantasy novel for middle graders it’s an acceptable plot to use.

I do love Howl, though, and he’s in top form for this book. Sophie, however, is nagging and irritated at Howl every time we see her, so that’s a disappointment. Yes, I do realize that she spends most of her time in Howl’s Moving Castle doing that, but we’re in her head then and we get to see other “faces” of Sophie at the same time. In House, there’s only the one and it’s disappointing to see Sophie reduced to a “Howl! Stop doing that!” broken record.

Charmain is also a decent protagonist and I like that she’s the lazy sort who has some flaws to overcome. It gives her something else to do besides “figure out the mystery” and it’s fun to see her and Peter struggle to figure out the house’s magic.

House of Many Ways is still nowhere near as good as Howl’s Moving Castle, and though it’s a fun, decently-developed book, it nowhere reaches the height of intricacy and development that earlier Jones’ books have. I felt that some things came a bit out of nowhere and I was sad to see some great characters sidelined to one-dimensional sidekicks. The problems I had with the plot are probably why I prefer her older books to her newer ones, actually. But in any case, House of Many Ways is a decent sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, as was Castle in the Air before it. The only real problem with it is that it’s not nearly as good.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Charmain jumped to her feet and smiled terrifically, so broadly and welcomingly that she thought she might have sprained her face. “Oh, hallo!” she said. “I didn’t hear the door.”

“You never do,” said Aunt Sempronia.

Mrs. Baker peered at Charmain, full of anxiety. “Are you all right, my love? Quite all right? Why haven’t you put your hair up properly?”

“I like it like this,” Charmain said, shuffling across so that she was between the two ladies and the kitchen door. ‘Don’t you think it suits me, Aunt Sempronia?”

Aunt Sempronia leaned on her parasol and looked at her judiciously. “Yes,” she said. “It does. It makes you look younger and plumper. Is that how you want to look?”

“Yes, it is,” Charmain said defiantly.

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The Runaway Dolls by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin

The Runaway Dolls, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, was published in 2008 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Meanest Doll in the World.

Best friends Annabelle Doll and Tiffany Funcraft have stumbled upon an unexpected visitor, a new doll named Tilly May. She’s arrived in a mysterious package…but she looks so familiar. Could she be Annabelle’s long-lost baby sister? It’ll take a runaway adventure to find out for sure. Are the dolls ready for life on the road?

Rating: 4/5

The Runaway Dolls is the best Doll People book so far—miles better than The Meanest Doll in the World and even better than the original The Doll People, at least in my opinion. For one thing, it’s much longer, so a lot more time can be devoted to development of characters and world. For another, it gets Annabelle and Tiffany out of the Palmer’s house and into some new adventures. It’s the most Toy Story-ish of all the Doll People books so far, too.

While Annabelle has some frustrating moments in the beginning, for the most part I like her much better than in Meanest Doll. And the grand scale of the adventures help detract from her attitude problems, too. Again, getting away from the Palmer’s house was the best decision to make on the part of Martin and Godwin. And the best part of the book was Brian Selznick’s fabulous illustrations, and for fans of his, yes, his story-telling-through-pictures can be found inside the pages!

There were a few rough patches to the book; I felt that the beginning, the incentive to get the dolls in “runaway” mode, was forced and the entire scene with the author note of “Skip this if you’re scared!” preluding it was a waste of time, in my opinion, since it established virtually nothing and brought back an annoying character for no reason.

But despite the little bumps, The Runaway Dolls is a grand adventure, and in many ways even better than the first book. It has a wide cast of characters, but there’s never too much going on at one time, and you get to see how harrowing the life of a doll can be away from the safety of home (again, think Toy Story). The Meanest Doll was a rough book to get through, but this book was worth it.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

They searched up and down the bank for more than an hour, but didn’t spot a single track or footprint.

“Finding the wagon tracks was the first step toward going home,” said Annabelle dully. “We’re not off to a very good start.”

“And now it’s almost dark,” said Bailey.

“I think,” said Tiffany, “that we’re going to be spending the night in the woods after all.”

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Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell

Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell was published in 2016 by Atheneum.

High on a cliff above the gloomy Victorian town of Withering-by-Sea stands the Hotel Majestic. Inside the walls of the damp, dull hotel, eleven-year-old orphan Stella Montgomery leads a miserable life with her three dreadful Aunts. Stella dreams of adventuring on the Amazon River—or anyplace, really, as long as it isn’t this dreary town where nothing ever happens. Then one night Stella sees something she shouldn’t have. Soon she finds herself on the run from terrifying Professor Starke and his gang of thugs. But how can one young girl outwit an evil stage magician, much less rescue his poor, mistreated assistant? Perhaps with the help of a mysterious maestro and his musical cats, not to mention a lively girl named Gert…

Rating: 4/5

Withering-by-Sea was a surprisingly charming book. Surprising because I wasn’t expecting the turn it took but I liked it anyway. I especially liked the ordinariness of it amidst the more fantasy elements, like Stella walking around with a book on her head. It’s got just the right combination of normal and odd, and manages to be cheeky and funny at the same time.

Perhaps my biggest complaint is that I wish the ending wasn’t so clearly a hook to get you to read the next book. I would have liked some answers about Stella’s past and to me it didn’t seem necessary to make Withering-by-Sea a starting point rather than a stand-alone novel. Maybe a peek at some of the unanswered questions might have made me like the ending better, but the novel ends very abruptly and that was probably the most jarring part of the whole book.

Also, Withering-by-Sea’s pictures and words were done in blue and I have no idea why.

However, despite the weakness of the ending, Withering-by-Sea is quite a pleasant book, with some charming characters, a great interweaving of fantasy with ordinary, and a lovely underlying humor. I was surprised and pleased by it, and even the slightly worn-out trope of “theater troupe” seemed fresh and new. Maybe I’ll pick up the next book when it’s published and find out more about Stella.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Some scary scenes and images.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Middle Grade

There was a shout and an enormous crash from the other end of the conservatory. The Chinese urn lay smashed on the tiled path. Two of the masked men dropped to their knees and scrabbled amongst the broken pieces.

“Go, go, child,” whispered Mr. Filbert. He raised himself up on one elbow. “Go now. Hide it. Keep it safe. Promise me.”

Stella nodded. “I will.”

“Remember…” He started to say something more, but then he collapsed and his eyes closed.

Stella crept out of her hiding place.

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The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall, was published in 2005 by Alfred A Knopf.

Meet the Penderwicks, four different sisters with one special bond. There’s responsible, practical Rosalind; stubborn, feisty Skye; dreamy, artistic Jane; and shy little sister Batty, who won’t go anywhere without her butterfly wings. When the girls and their doting father head off for their summer holiday, they are in for a surprise. Instead of the cozy tumbledown cottage they expected, they find themselves in a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon the girls are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the most wonderful discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures. The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble.Which, of course, they will-won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderick’s will never forget.

Rating: 4/5

The Penderwicks reminded me of Elizabeth Enright and Gone-Away Lake and The Saturdays, which is another way of saying that I absolutely loved it. I’ve mentioned before how I love books that have children exploring and playing outside and this book is full of that. The only mention of technology is a computer that Jane uses to type up her story and print it out. The Penderwicks is a charming, fun novel that manages to cram in life lessons for all five children into a relatively short book.

It’s almost perfect, but not quite. I thought some things were a bit too obvious and unoriginal (and slightly contrived, such as Jeffrey’s description of the military academy), although certainly they happen all the time in real life. I did guess some of the plot just from what was happening, and was slightly disappointed when exactly what I guessed happened, but The Penderwicks is a lovely book all the same—especially for children.

The Penderwicks doesn’t quite reach the belovedness of Elizabeth Enright for me, but it’s very close—which basically means that it’s a fantastic children’s story in its own right. I wasn’t quite sure about the realisticness of a few things, and some things felt a little contrived to me, but overall, it’s a beautiful story about, well, four sisters, two rabbits, and a very interesting boy.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

“JEFFREY!” It was Mrs. Tifton’s voice again, and she sounded very close now.

Skye put her hand over the boy’s mouth and whispered, “Shh, trouble. That’s snooty Mrs. Tifton and she’s a real pain. If she caught us in her gardens, she’d—”

The boy jerked away from her hand and struggled to sit up. He was even more pale than before, so pale she could count every freckle on his face.

“Are you all right? You look like you’re going to be sick,” she said.

“JEFFREY! Where are you?” came Mrs. Tifton’s voice again.

Then Skye finally understood. “Oh, no.”

“Excuse me,” said the boy with great dignity. “My mother’s calling me and you’re in my way.”

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Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

Fly by Night, by Frances Hardinge, was published in 2005 by HarperCollins.

Twelve-year-old Mosca Mye hasn’t got much. Her cruel uncle keeps her locked up in his mill, and her only friend is her pet goose, Saracen, who’ll bite anything that crosses his path. But she does have one small, rare thing: the ability to read. She doesn’t know it yet, but in a world where books are dangerous things, this gift will change her life. Enter Eponymous Clent, a smooth-talking con man who seems to love words nearly as much as Mosca herself. Soon Mosca and Clent are living a life of deceit and danger—discovering secret societies, following shady characters onto floating coffeehouses, and entangling themselves with crazed dukes and double crossing racketeers. It would be exactly the kind of tale Mosca has always longed to take part in, until she learns that her one true love—words—may be the death of her.

Rating: 4/5 

My enjoyment of Fly by Night was marred by the slow pace at which I read it; work and other “real” things made it so that I was only reading a small portion at a time, and when I was reading, I was either busy thinking about other things so I wasn’t completely focused on the book, or I was falling asleep while reading (not because the book is boring but because I was tired), or I just did not have enough time to enjoy it properly.

As a result, the book didn’t fit into a cohesive unit for me. I had trouble remembering the world building and what was going on in the plot and who the numerous characters were. All of this, of course, has nothing to do with the quality of the book itself; I’m merely sad that I couldn’t focus more properly on reading this book—because what sunk in and what I remember of it, I really liked. So, I can’t say much about the plot or the world, because as I explained above, a lot of details flew out of the window because of my state of mind and because I read it in much smaller sections over a much longer period of time than I usually read. I did find the world a little confusing, and keeping track of all the characters was hard—but that could be my distraction speaking.

But, distraction and forgetfulness aside, Fly by Night revels in delicious imagery and enjoying words and creating scenarios that seem so strange yet fit right into the world. Hardinge is a fantastic, unique writer and the focus that is placed on the written word—in a book where the written word is heavily restricted, if not banned outright—is detailed and precise. The reader becomes Mosca, enjoying the words that she hears and sees. It’s a beautiful book and I can see why a lot of people make a fuss over Hardinge. For a debut novel, it’s fabulously, beautifully original.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: A small amount of violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“I am a writer of ballads—I value gestures. I understand them. I know what I can do with them. Let us suppose, for example, that you allowed this young woman to stay in her carriage, handed her back her money, and wished her and her people godspeed back to Mandelion so that she could find a physician who might save her life—ah, what I could do with that!”

Blythe’s eyes asked silently what Clent could do with that.

“I could write a ballad that would make proverbial the chivalry of Clamoring Captain Blythe. By nightWhen you rode the cold cobbles of a midnight street, you would hear it sung in the taverns you passed, to give you more warmth than that thin coat of yours. When you were hunted across the moors by the constables, hundreds would lie sleepless, hoping that brave Captain Blythe still ran free.

“And when at night you lay on your bed of earth under your dripping roof of bracken, with no company but the wind and your horse champing moss near your head, you would know that in a glittering banquet hall somewhere, some young lady of birth would be thinking of you.

“That is what you stand to lose.”

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The Caller by Juliet Marillier

The Caller, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Raven Flight.

Just one year ago, Neryn had nothing but a canny skill she barely understood and a faint dream that the legendary rebel base of Shadowfell might be real. Now she is the rebels’ secret weapon, and their greatest hope for survival in the fast-approaching ambush of King Keldec at Summerfort. The fate of Alban itself is in her hands. But to be ready for the bloody battle that lies ahead, she must first seek out two more fey Guardians to receive their tutelage. Meanwhile, her beloved, Flint, has been pushed to his breaking point as a spy in the king’s court—and is arousing suspicion in all the wrong quarters. Confidence is stretching thinner by the day when word of another Caller reaches the rebels: a Caller at Keldec’s side with all of Neryn’s power and none of her benevolence or hard-earned control. As the days before the battle drop quickly away, Neryn must find a way to uncover—and exploit—her opponent’s weaknesses. At stake lie freedom for the people of Alban, a life free from hiding for the Good Folk—and a chance for Flint and Neryn to finally be together.

Rating: 4/5

The Caller is a satisfying finish to the story started in Shadowfell and continued in Raven Flight. Though the end is a little vague in explanation (how did all those soldiers get into the fort to fight?), it is suitably awesome and although I wished for Neryn to have a little more struggle, her accomplishment is warranted and reflective of her training and discipline.

My favorite part of the book was Neryn’s impulsive “I need to go infiltrate the king’s court” because it broke up the “travel to see Guardian, get trained by Guardian, rinse and repeat” formula that was starting to develop and I enjoyed the opportunity to see a side of Neryn that we saw in the beginning of Shadowfell before all the Caller-training started.

I do wish that the feelings of the fey from being called by Esten to being called by Neryn were a little more varied. I don’t know…I feel as if a group of people who had been controlled by a Caller for months would be resistant to another Caller, at least at first. Neryn didn’t get the opportunity to build up a lot of trust with that group, so their response to her call (especially after the group’s angry response to Flint’s “betrayal”) seemed a bit unrealistic, at least in my opinion. The Master of Shadows did say that Neryn called well, so maybe a bit of her nature seeped through, but I still thought it was a little too easy.

I enjoyed The Caller, although I thought the ending was parts cheesy, confusing or a little unrealistic in turns, but I loved the time Neryn spent in Keldec’s court and I still love her and Flint (and the ending, I thought, was particularly good with the two of them going away together). I also enjoyed the moments in the novel when we got to see Flint’s point of view. Marillier, though sleepy at times, has written a grand story here, told a bit more quietly than most but with its own charm and excitement.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“The news that came to you may not have mentioned a Caller. That is what I am. I’m seeking the White Lady in the hope of receiving some wisdom. I’m hoping she will teach me the better use of my gift.” I could hardly make it plainer than that.

The invisible presence said nothing; instead, a rippling sound came from the tiny beings. I interpreted it as mocking laughter.

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The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, was published in 2016 by Algonquin.

In the center of the verdant Monarchy lies Dreadwillow Carse, a desolate bog the people of the land do their best to ignore. Little is known about it except an ominous warning: If any monarch enters Dreadwillow Carse, then the Monarchy will fall. Twelve-year-old Princess Jeniah yearns to know what the marsh could conceal that might topple her family’s thousand-year reign. After a chance meeting, Princess Jeniah strikes a secret deal with Aon, a girl from a nearby village: Aon will explore the Carse on the princess’s behalf, and Jeniah will locate Aon’s missing father. But when Aon doesn’t return from the Carse, a guilt-stricken Jeniah must try and rescue her friend—even if it means risking the entire Monarchy.

Rating: 4/5

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is quite a different book from Farrey’s Vengekeep series, which I liked. I like it when authors branch out and do different things. While a little obvious in places and a little over-the-top in others, Dreadwillow Carse discusses the importance of emotions in bringing people together. The book reminded me a lot of Inside Out, actually, since the emphasis was on sadness.

Farrey outlines very well what it would be like to live in a place where the people are only capable of one emotion. Because we are seeing things through Jeniah’s and Aon’s eyes, two people who can feel the whole range of the emotional scale, we see just how shallow and empty those people’s lives are and how important Jeniah’s choice at the end of the book is (and we know why her choice is the correct one).

It’s a simple book, but Dreadwillow Carse discusses a lot of important things, such as the burden of guilt (and other things) and its effect on people; the role of sadness, worry, etc. in a person’s life; and the nature of sacrifice.

That’s not to say it’s not without its flaws: as I mentioned above, the book is fairly obvious in terms of plot and some of its scenes are a little over-the-top, such as the letter exchanges. The message also tends to get a little heavy-handed in places, but not overbearingly so, thankfully.

However, in this case, I think the benefits of The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse outweigh its flaws. The ideas are communicated well, the book is gloomy and enchanting in all the right places, and even for all its obviousness at times, it held my interest and I found it an enjoyable read.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“I don’t believe,” she said, eying the falcon above, “that animals are allowed in the library.”

“And why not?” the man demanded, scratching his thick beard. “Gerheart up there? He has as much right to learn as anyone.”

“But he can’t read.”

“Reading,” the man said, pulling up a chair, “is just one way of learning. For example, my name is Skonas. There, you learned something by hearing. True?”

Jeniah found herself gripping the sides of her chair tightly. What sort of tutor was this? “My mother said you would teach me how to be queen,” she said, sitting up straight.

“Did she? I don’t recall that being in the job description.”

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Eden Hill by Bill Higgs

Disclaimer: Eden Hill, by Bill Higgs, was provided by Tyndale in exchange for an honest review.

Nothing seems to change in Eden Hill, Kentucky, and that’s just fine with Virgil T. Osgood. He’s been content to raise his family and run the only service station in town. But when a new station is set to open right across the road from Virgil’s pump, he suddenly faces obstacles in his career, his marriage, and his self-worth that he’s never even dreamed of. Cornelius Alexander wants his new Zipco station to succeed and help establish a strong foundation for his growing family. As long as he flows the company’s manual, he’s sure to be a success-and not an embarrassment. However, Zipco’s aggressive guidelines my not fit with the real-life challenges facing Cornelius in Eden Hill. Reverend Eugene Caudill wants to be a conduit for grace in his town, but that grace is challenged by the changes sweeping through in the early 1960s. For the sake of this small town, Virgil and Cornelius must learn to get along, but how do you lose your neighbor when his very presence threatens to upend everything you hold dear?

My rating: 4/5

There’s something about “small town” novels that gives them a unique charm and feel, especially ones set in the twentieth century or earlier. Eden Hill is no exception, and it manages to be charming without having some of the typical shenanigans that “small town” novels tend to portray. The plot is fairly simple, but there’s a richness to it that is really nice, and some big issues are tackled in this straightforward story.

That’s not to say that Eden Hill is perfect; a few things could have been done much more neatly and the middle of the book drags a little as the simple plot struggles to keep up with the page length. But it is charming, the attention to detail is great, and the characters manage to be memorable and stand out amongst each other.

I do think more could have been done with Cornelius and JoAnn, especially involving their relationship which I felt needed more development, and occasionally things got a little too preachy or felt a little too rushed, but I applaud Higgs for handling his characters well. Eden Hill is not an exciting book, nor is it a book I would read over and over again, but it is a good book and one that’s thoroughly drenched in charm and loving nostalgia.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

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