The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn

The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn was published in 2004 by Viking.

Damiana is Safe-Keeper in the small village of Tambleham. Neighbors and strangers alike come one by one, in secret, to tell her things they dare not share with anyone else, knowing that Damiana will keep them to herself. One late night, a mysterious visitor from the city arrives with an unusual secret for the Safe-Keeper—a newborn baby. Damiana, who is expecting her own child, agrees to take the foundling. She names him Reed and raises him side by side with her daughter, Fiona. As the years pass and the two children grow in to teenagers, they must come to terms with who they are—and who they may be.

Rating: 5/5

I was not expecting to be so caught up in The Safe-Keeper’s Daughter as I was while reading. Looking at the cover, I thought it looked interesting but might ultimately end up being contrived or disappointing or any other number of things to make it less than appealing to me. Starting the first chapter, I thought it seemed interesting but might end up becoming a trudge.

And then I became completely enthralled.

I’m not even sure what it was. Something about the characters, the world, and the conflict caught me up. I had a hard time putting the book down; not because it’s particularly gripping, but because I wanted to know what happened next. I was fascinated by the “magic” of the book, by the Safe-Keepers, the Truth-Tellers, and the Dream-Makers. I was struck by the tight bonds between the characters and the way those bonds shone through in their gatherings together. And I was intrigued by the mystery of the book, of the question of fathers and mothers and familial ties.

Of course, I guessed correctly halfway through the book, if only because I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if this turned out to be true?” and lo and behold, I turned out to be right. It was not a surprising reveal, but it was a satisfying one, and there was another reveal that I did not guess that fulfilled the “shock factor” (if also the “okay, I think that’s stretching it a little bit” factor).

The Safe-Keeper’s Daughter was neither a trudge nor a disappointment. I ate up every word, even after I had figured most of the plot out, and I’m glad that a book that at first glanced seemed like another poor fantasy turned out to be so appealing to me. I like it when books surprise me. I hope Shinn’s novels continue to do so.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some dark secrets are told in the book. Beware of hints and tellings of murder, infidelity, abortion and incest.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Fiona gave him a sharp glance, then took the whistle from his hand. Putting her mouth against the blowhole and her fingers on the openings of the pipe, she breathed in.

But no sound came out.

She tried again and again, each time blowing harder, but the whistle would issue no music. “I don’t understand,” she said at last. “Why doesn’t it work? Is it broken?”

Thomas shook his head. He was still standing with his hand against the trunk of the tree, watching her with his shadowed eyes. “Because a kirrenberry tree won’t make a sound,” he said. “You can cut its branches to make two sticks that you hit together along with the beat in a reel—but they make no sound. Hit it with an ax and the tree yields up no ringing noise. Fell it in the forest, and you will not hear it toppling to the ground. A whistle makes no music. Birds who land in its branches forget their own songs.”

Now she was frowning. “That makes no sense.”

He nodded. “That’s why the kirrenberry tree is planted in front of the house of every Safe-Keeper in every village from her to the Cormeon Sea. Because a kirrenberry tree signifies silence.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2lupq7U

The Black Stallion’s Courage by Walter Farley

The Black Stallion’s Courage, by Walter Farley, was published in 1956 by Random House. It is an indirect sequel to The Black Stallion (by which I mean it’s number twelve in the series).

When Hopeful Farm burns down, Alec’s dreams for the future go up in smoke. How can he get the money to rebuild? To make matters worse, a strong young colt named Eclipse has taken the racing world by storm, threatening to replace the Black in the hearts of racing fans. Against all odds, Alec sets out to save the farm and prove that the Black is still the greatest race horse of all time!

Rating: 5/5

Normally when I read a series, I prefer to go in chronological order. However, my plan for doing so with Farley’s Black Stallion series was foiled when I discovered that my library simply doesn’t carry them all. So, I have to jump around and review them randomly. Luckily, only a few books in the series really need to be read chronologically—the rest stand alone and can be read in any order.

The Black Stallion’s Courage, the twelfth in the series, is not technically a stand-alone book, since it’s a direct sequel to the events of The Black Stallion’s Filly, but it’s not entirely necessary to have read that book before this one. I chose this book because it’s the Black Stallion book I remember liking the most beyond the original—and now having reread it, I might even like it more!

One of the things I like the most about the Black Stallion books is that they’re so predictable—of course the Black will win the race!—but Farley delivers on the tension and the obstacles so that in the moment, you’re feeling the anxiety of the characters enough that the predictability flies to the back of your mind. The race in The Black Stallion’s Courage is fantastic, as are all the races before the grand finale.

These books also teach a lot about horse racing and Courage spends a great deal of time stressing the nature of handicap races. And Farley does it well enough that when the time comes, we know why the different weights carried by the different horses is so important and we feel the tension with Alec and Henry about the weight the Black has to carry versus the rest of the field’s. It’s a quality of writing that I love, that ability to communicate something and get the audience to feel with the characters as they experience it. Farley is not necessarily the best writer in terms of style, but he is an effective one.

Simply put, I eat up The Black Stallion’s Courage every time I read it. I think I like it even more than I like The Black Stallion. To put it in perspective, I’ve read this book four or five times, whereas I’ve read the “prequel,” The Black Stallion’s Filly, maybe twice. It’s a fast-paced, heart-racing adventure and even with the number of times I’ve read it and its predictability, I still wonder, every time, if the Black, with all that weight, can beat the two best horses in a race.

(Also, funny story to end: I wondered while reading if Eclipse was really fast enough to beat Secretariat’s record (described as the Preakness/Belmont record in the book)—then realized this book was written some twenty years before Secretariat raced. Oops.)

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

One of the reporters touched Henry Dailey on the shoulder as the small procession neared the long green-and-white sheds. “How come you didn’t let the Black finish out the season at Hopeful Farm?” he asked.

“It seems we need a good handicap horse more than we need another sire,” Henry answered. “Satan’s there.”

“Then you think you can win again with the Black?”

“Sure. Why not?”

The reporter laughed. “Well, I can think of a lot of reasons, but I’d rather listen to you. As far as I can remember there was only one older horse that was ever able to come back after being retired and that was Citation.”

“That’s your quote, not mine,” Henry said. “I’m not worryin’ about the Black bein’ able to make a comeback, so don’t you worry, either.”

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

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley, was published in 1941 by Random House.

Published originally in 1941, this book is about a young boy, Alec Ramsay who finds a wild black stallion at a small Arabian port on the Red Sea. Between the black stallion and young boy, a strange understanding grew that you lead them through untold dangers as they journeyed to America. Nor could Alec understand that his adventures with the black stallion would capture the interest of an entire nation.

Rating: 5/5

I attribute my love for horse racing when I was younger (that still lingers slightly today) completely to The Black Stallion and its sequels. I think the only series on horse racing I read more was Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred series. The Black Stallion is equal parts shipwreck story, animal-bonding story, and horse racing guide. It might not be as monumental or memorable as Black Beauty or other famous horse books, but this book will always hold a near and dear place in my heart.

The Black Stallion is the reason I was so moved by Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. That “wild horse that only one person can tame” aspect resonated with me when I read The Black Stallion when I was young, and it resonated again reading Stiefvater’s work. I’m not going to compare them beyond that, but they’re both special to me for that reason.

Walter Farley may not be the best writer, and stereotypes abound in the areas Farley clearly is not familiar with, but The Black Stallion is a dear book from my childhood, and I love it for that reason—and for many of its sequels, which are even more informative about horse racing and at times even more exciting and suspenseful than the original shipwreck story (and then there are the last couple of books, but we won’t talk about those). It’s not the best horse story, but it holds a special place in my heart all the same.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

That night Alex lay wide awake, his body aching with pain, but his heart pounding with excitement. He had ridden the Black! He had conquered this wild, unbroken stallion with kindness. He felt sure that from that day on the Black was his—his alone! But for what—would they ever be rescued? Would he ever see his home again?

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

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks in Spring, by Jeanne Birdsall, was published in 2015 by Alfred A Knopf. It is the sequel to The Penderwicks at Point Mouette.

Springtime is finally arriving on Gardam Street, and with it comes all the joyful chaos of the Penderwicks. The brood has grown to six with the addition of Lydia, the new youngest sibling, and there are surprises in store for all. Some surprises are just wonderful, like neighbor Nick Geiger coming home from war. And some are ridiculous, like Batty’s new dog-walking business, which has resulted in her spending an inordinate amount of time with Duchess, a very fat dachshund, and Cilantro, a wrinkled shar-pei with a bark like a lovelorn tuba. Batty is saving up her dog-walking money for an extra-special surprise for her family, which she plans to present on her upcoming birthday. The timing is perfect: Rosalind will be home from college, Skye and Jane will put their bothersome teenage worries aside to celebrate, and Jeffrey, honorary Penderwick and Batty’s musical mentore, will be visiting from Boston. But when an unwelcome surprise arrives, the best-laid plans fall apart. Filled with all the heart, hilarity, and charm that have come to define this beloved clan, The Penderwicks in Spring is about fun and family and friends (and dogs), and what happens when you bring what’s hidden into the bright light of the spring sun.

Rating: 5/5

Full disclosure: I cried shamelessly while reading this book.

Birdsall did the absolute best thing for the Penderwicks series when she decided to make The Penderwicks in Spring take place several years after The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. We’ve had our Rosalind, Jane, and Skye stories—now it’s time for Batty to take the limelight, and oh, boy, does she. Every single aspect of this book—from the sorrow and angst of Batty’s hidden worries and guilt to the fun and humorous interactions between the characters—was perfect.

To be honest, this book left me a little speechless, and even trying to find something to say beyond “perfection” is a struggle at the moment. I love how the exact timeframe the books take place in is never narrowed down. It’s definitely modern, yet the kids don’t have cellphones, don’t really use computers, and there is no mention of video games or television. There is a mention of a war but it’s never called by any name. It might very well take place in the 80s, but what makes this book (and the others) so great is that it doesn’t matter what decade they take place in because the heart of the books reach beyond that.

The Penderwicks in Spring reads very much like a last book to me. There’s a decisive finality to it, even more so than the previous books. The past is finally cleared, the way forward for the Penderwicks is apparent (and it will end with Skye/Jeffrey, thus I declare), and, to be honest, I doubt another Penderwick book could ever surpass the pleasure and emotion I experienced while reading this one. If Birdsall decides to write another book (about Lydia, maybe?), then I will gladly snatch it up and read it—yet TPS is such a perfect way to end the series that I might feel disappointed if another book did get published.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

And then it happened—her sprite tried to sing. Batty clapped her hand over her mouth and hoped Ben hadn’t noticed.

He’d noticed. “What was that sound?”

“What sound?” is what Batty said, except that it sounded like whu sohn because her hand was still over her mouth.

“That sound you just made.”

“Maybe your stomach was growling.”

He stared at her suspiciously. His stomach hadn’t’ growled. “There it goes again!”

“Maybe it’s my stomach!”

She started to push him toward the door, but he resisted. “If it’s your stomach, why is your hand over your mouth?”

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

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall, was published in 2011 by Alfred A Knopf. It is the sequel to The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.

When summer comes around, it’s off to the beach for Rosalind…and off to Maine with Aunt Claire for the rest of the Penderwick girls, as well as their old friend Jeffrey. That leaves Skye as OAP (oldest available Penderwick)—a terrifying notion for all, but for Skye especially. Things look good as they settle into their cozy cottage, with a rocky shore, enthusiastic seagulls, a just-right corner store, and a charming next-door neighbor. But can Skye hold it together long enough to figure out Rosalind’s directions about not letting Batty explode? Will Jane’s Love Survey come to a tragic conclusion after she meets the alluring Dominic? Is Batty—contrary to all accepted wisdom—the only Penderwick capable of carrying a tune? And will Jeffrey be able to keep peace between the girls…these girls who are his second, and most heartfelt, family?

Rating: 5/5

I was a little disappointed with The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, but I am happy to say that The Penderwicks at Point Mouette was lovely, a return to the joy and heartfelt times captured in the first book. Point Mouette also did wonders to improve upon Skye, who I didn’t particularly like as much as the other girls in the first two books, but who really blossoms in this one (as being the OAP would do.)

Jane continues to be the girl after my own heart, and one paragraph of her thoughts perfectly encapsulates my entire pre-teen and teenage years. I do like how each Penderwick sister has their own distinct voice, as sometimes families in books can get muddled together until one sibling is virtually the same as the next. But Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty are so distinctly individual, yet also have a great unity that shines in the little family jokes and the heartwarming moments—and boy, were there plenty of those.

My one, teeny, tiny quibble is that the plot is a little convenient—but at the same time, it created such heartfelt and poignant moments that even while I was thinking, “What are the odds?” I was also sniffling and tearing up and too engrossed in the moment to care much. And that’s the best sort of thing an author can do when the plot is convenient: suck the reader in so deeply that he or she no longer cares about things like mechanics and simply loves the story at the heart of it all.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is a lovely, beautiful book about the joys and stresses of summer vacation, all captured with near-perfect voice and unforgettable characters. These books make me happy to read them, and I come away from them with a smile on my face. I am very, very pleased that I decided to pick up Jeanne Birdsall’s books.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

“Blow up,” she read. “I wonder what that means. Maybe that Batty could blow up, with hives or something?”

“We’re sure to find out, since we can’t read what we’re supposed to do or not do about it! This is a nightmare. What was everyone thinking, Jane? I make a terrible OAP.”

“Daddy thinks you’ll grow into it. I heard him tell Iantha so.”

Skye looked like she’d been thrown a lifeline. “He really said that?”

“Yes, he really did.” Jane was telling the truth—she had heard him say that. She’d also heard him say he wasn’t sure exactly when Skye would grow into it. But Skye didn’t need to hear that part.

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

Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery

Anne of the Island, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was first published in 1915. For those interested, I read the 1970 Grosset & Dunlapp edition. It is the sequel to Anne of Avonlea.

New adventures lie ahead as Anne Shirley packs her bags, waves good-bye to childhood, and heads for Redmond College. With old friend Prissy Grant waiting in the bustling city of Kingsport and frivolous new pal Philippa Gordon at her side, Anne tucks her memories of rural Avonlea away and discovers life on her own terms, filled with surprises…including a marriage proposal from the worst fellow imaginable, the sale of her very first story, and a tragedy that teaches her a painful lesson. But tears turn to laughter when Anne and her friends move into an old cottage and an ornery black cat steals her heart. Little does Anne know that handsome Gilbert Blythe wants to win her heart, too. Suddenly Anne must decide if she’s ready for love…

Rating: 5/5

I love Anne of Green Gables for what it is, but I resonate with Anne in Anne of the Island: with her college goals, her confusion over her feelings, her feelings of loneliness and isolation as her friends fall in love and get married and move on in life, and her stick-to-itiveness. Anne of Anne of the Island is so much more relatable and sympathetic to me than the growing-up Anne of Anne of Green Gables.

I do think Anne of Green Gables is much more iconic, but Anne of the Island is probably my favorite of the series. Anne’s relatability is one reason. Some might think the romance aspect is a little contrived or goes on for too long, but I find it rings true for the most part. And the message about how doing something because it’s your idea of what it should be like or it’s how you imagined it to be is an important one. Anne still gets carried away with her imagination, but this time it’s disguised as something more “grown up”, as it were—romance.

For all my good things to say about it, I do think one or two chapters were unnecessary. The part where Anne goes off to teach, the random interlude with Mrs. Skinner and the romantic interlude with Janet and John seemed unnecessary to me and dragged the book on a teensy bit too long. But the parts that came after that were wonderful, so perhaps I can forgive Anne of the Island for not being entirely perfect.

Recommended Age Range: 10+ (and lower!)

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Do you like Billy?” asked Jane bluntly.

“Why—why—yes, I like him of course,” gasped Anne, wondering if she were telling the literal truth. Certainly she did not dislike Billy. But could the indifferent tolerance with which she regarded him when he happened to be in her range of vision, be considered positive enough for liking? What was Jane trying to elucidate?

“Would you like him for a husband?” asked Jane calmly.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2cY0O7V

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk was published in 2016 by Dutton.

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. Soon, she will need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Rating: 5/5

I am always wary of books compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, but for the first time, I think Wolf Hollow actually deserves it. The story did remind me of a much tamer version of the classic, and while it’s not as startlingly honest or as foundational as Harper Lee’s classic, Wolf Hollow still communicates much of the same message that can be found in To Kill a Mockingbird, and in a way that’s more suitable for children.

I think the choice of a veteran as the target for another’s malice was a good one. Too often, veterans are forgotten or ignored, and highlighting the awfulness of World War I and how that affected many soldiers who went home only to be shunned because of their inability to cope made a good focus for the novel. Annabelle was also a great protagonist: indignant when she should be, kind when she should be, and conflicted when she should be. Her feelings about Betty were done extremely well; Wolk could have easily went too far in either the “she’s terrible” category or the “let’s completely excuse everything she’s done” category, but she doesn’t. Annabelle’s feelings are exactly what a conflicted young girl’s might be if she doesn’t like someone, but is also aware of how awful that person’s situation is and feels bad for her.

I think Wolf Hollow would be a great precursor to To Kill a Mockingbird, a way to introduce some of the ideas and messages raised in Lee’s novel without also having to deal with the more serious content. It’s not anywhere close to becoming as foundational a classic, but Wolf Hollow strikes all the right notes, gets across some very important messages, and would be a great book to discuss with a younger reader.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Some graphic imagery, death.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“This is the only thing I’m going to give you,” I said, holding the penny out on a tight palm, the way I knew to feed a dog. “Don’t ask me for anything more. I don’t have anything else.”

Betty looked at the penny, picked it up with her fingertips, peered into my face. “A penny?”

“You can get two pieces of hard candy for that,” I said.

“I don’t want two pieces of hard candy,” she said. She tossed the penny into the undergrowth. “Tomorrow you bring me something better than a penny.”

“I don’t have anything else to bring you, Betty. And I think it’s just mean of you to be like this. We could be friends, you know,” I said, quite aware that I sounded pretty dubious as I said it. “If you would stop being so mean.”

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

Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge

Fly Trap, by Frances Hardinge, was published in 2011 by HarperCollins. It is the sequel to Fly by Night.

Having barely escaped the revolution they had a huge (if accidental) part in causing, sharp-eyed orphan Mosca Mye; her guard goose, Saracen; and their sometimes-loyal companion, the con man Eponymous Clent, must start anew. All too quickly, they find themselves embroiled in fresh schemes and twisting politics as they are trapped in Toll, an odd town that changes its entire personality as day turns to night. Mosca and her friends attempt to fend off devious new foes, subvert old enemies, prevent the kidnapping of the mayor’s daughter, steal the town’s Luck, and somehow manage to escape with their lives—and hopefully a little money in their pockets.

Rating: 5/5

Unlike Fly by Night, I was much less distracted while reading Fly Trap. This might have affected the way I feel about both books, but that can’t be helped. As it stands, I loved Fly Trap much, much more than Fly by Night. The worldbuilding was much less complicated (all I had to remember was that Locksmiths=bad things and Mandelion=rebellion) and the setting of the book itself fascinated me. I loved the concept of Toll, the wooden town with the sliding doors and completely different personalities at day and at night. I loved the stubbornness of Mosca, the glibness of Eponymous, the delight of new characters like Paragon and Midwife Leap, and the wild shenanigans that occurred (the four Clatterhorse parade was probably my favorite part of the book, along with anything involving Saracen).

Fly Trap isn’t as focused on the written word and books as Fly by Night was, and so some of the beautiful language that was in Fly by Night didn’t seem as apparent in Fly Trap. But there were delicious bits of imagery here and there, and overall I enjoyed the characters, setting, and plot of Fly Trap too much to care that some of the beauty of the writing wasn’t as stand-out as it had been in the first book.

It did take me a little bit to fully get into and enjoy the book, but once I did (pretty much once Mosca & Co. got to Toll), I could barely put Fly Trap down. I wouldn’t mind reading about another adventure of Mosca and Eponymous and Saracen, but I loved this one so much that I think it would be hard to top.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: A small amount of violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Did you see its face?” The doctor was craning his head to one side, perhaps in an attempt to see whether the pie-hatted man’s head was bulging strangely.

“There was no time for that, sir. One minute it was swooping at me, then it grabbed hold of me and tried to drag me to hell with the might of a hurricane.”

“You actually felt it?” The doctor seemed fascinated.

“Well, yes, sir. You don’t think my nose is this color naturally, do you?” the feature in question did indeed seem to be unusually raw looking.

“It…tried to drag you to hell…by your nose?”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2d29Nmw

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was first published in 1908. For those interested, I read the 2004 Sterling Publishing edition.

Anne of Green Gables introduces Anne Shirley, the outspoken, impish, and fiercely independent girl who has been an endless source of fascination for millions of readers, young and old. We first meet Anne at age eleven, an imaginative, fiery, red-headed child sent by mistake from the orphanage to Mathew Cuthbert and his sister, Marilla. The Cuthberts, who had requested a boy to help with the work around the farm, were not at all pleased by this “freckled witch” of a child, with her constant chatter, outlandish ideas, and outspoken ways. But soon her indomitable spirit, her bright intelligence, and her high-spirited idealism win over Matthew and Marilla, even as these same traits lead Anne into mishap after mishap. Joining Anne in her exploits are her best friend, the beautiful and bookish Diana Barry; her nemesis, Gilbert Blythe, who insults her “Carrot” tresses on the first day of school; and the other colorful and quirky residents of the remote village of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Rating: 5/5

I have mixed opinions about Montgomery’s work in general, but I love, love, love Anne of Green Gables. As a child, it was my go-to book to get at the library if I didn’t know what else to read. I fondly remember the raspberry cordial, the lost amethyst broach, and, of course, the “carrots” incident. And on this reread, there were some things in the book that I had forgotten, such as the large timespan of the novel (Anne is 11 when the book starts and 16 when it finishes) and the Queens chapters.

I don’t know why reading about a fictional character’s life growing up in early 1900s Canada is so endearing and timeless, but Montgomery has written a classic here. The best part is that the book is funny. Montgomery both praises and chides Anne for her imagination, and reminds us all the way imagination can shape someone’s life—and what a benefit it can be to use your imagination properly.

Anne of Green Gables is much longer than I remember it being, yet it never drags and never stops being anything but charming. It’s a sophisticated book for a child to read, depending on their reading level, but it’s one that should absolutely be read for its look at imagination alone. And if you want to visualize it on the screen, I highly recommend the 1985 film starring Megan Fellows as Anne.

Recommended Age Range: 10+ (and lower!)

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“I shall never forgive Gilbert Blythe,” said Anne firmly. “And Mr. Phillips spelled my name without an e, too. The iron has entered my soul, Diana.”

Diana hadn’t the least idea what Anne meant but she understood it was something terrible.

“You mustn’t mind Gilbert making fun of your hair,” she said soothingly. “Why, he makes fun of all the girls. He laughs at mine because it’s so black. He’s called me a crow a dozen times; and I never heard him apologize for anything before, either.”

“There’s a great deal of difference between being called a crow and being called carrots,” said Anne with dignity. “Gilbert Blythe has hurt my feelings excruciatingly, Diana.”

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

A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jagears

Disclaimer: A Heart Most Certain, by Melissa Jagears, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Lydia King knows what it’s like to be in need, so she joins the Teaville Moral Society hoping to help the town’s poor. But with her father’s debts increasing by the day and her mother growing sicker by the week, she wonders how long it will be until she ends up in the poorhouse herself. Her best chance at a financially secure future is to impress the politician courting her, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that his mother is the moral society’s president. Lydia’s first task as a moral society member—to obtain a donation from Nicholas Lowe, the wealthiest man in town—seems easy…until the man flat-out refuses. Despite appearances, Nicholas wants to help others but prefers to do it his own way, keeping his charity private. When Lydia proves persistent, they agree to a bargain, though Nicholas has a few surprises up his sleeve. Neither foresees the harrowing complications that will arise from working together, and when town secrets are brought to light, this unlikely pair must decide where their beliefs—and hearts—truly align.

My rating: 5/5

A Heart Most Certain balances a decent romance with a gripping plot that strikes that fine balance between too preachy and not preachy enough—criticizing what it should criticize, showing flaws and improvements in characters, gently persuading and convicting but not being too heavy-handed either way.

The plot is mainly able to accomplish this because of the characters, who are flawed but manage to a.) be likeable despite their weaknesses and b.) improve on their flaws. Both Lydia and Nicholas are wrong on several occasions, sometimes while they’re both criticizing the other. There is no “pick a side” presented—Jagears smoothly shows how both Lydia and Nicholas are flawed in their thinking, and also shows how they improve by seeing things through each other’s eyes.

Also, while the plot itself gets slightly over-the-top at times, the message itself is delivered quite well and only gets heavy-handed very briefly. Like I said, Jagears is not too preachy, but also not so lax on delivering any message that the book seems meaningless as a result. There’s definitely something to get out of A Heart Most Certain, and the choice Jagears made to depict something that historically has been difficult to swallow was a good one. We don’t necessarily treat prostitutes the same way as we did in 1905, but there’s still something that rings true in this book that might match our attitudes towards certain things today more closely than we might think.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Heart Most Certain and its rich plot, likeable (and flawed) characters, and even the romance, for all its hints of insta-love and “this woman is beautiful therefore I love her” trends. I tend to like it when romances get a little angsty (as long as they don’t get melodramatic), and this one had a pretty good balance to it. But its main appeal comes from the excellent way Jagears presented a difficult topic, making A Heart Most Certain stand out from the rest of its peers.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

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