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Peace Like a River

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my affiliate policy here.  This isn’t the first time I’ve read this book. My first encounter with Peace Like a River came almost 15 years ago. I came home from AmeriCorps*NCCC, and when my family came to pick me up from the airport, my mom—who has long read out loud to the family on long car trips—was about half-way through reading the book aloud to my dad and sisters. Even coming into the story late, I immediately fell in love with Enger’s style. His lyrical prose is like a comfortable jacket on a fall day—cozy, and yet full of the promise of something exciting. I was so enchanted that I had to stop listening so that it wouldn’t spoil the book for me, because I needed to start from the beginning. I knew it was going to be a doozy when my mother handed it to me a few days later and warned me to keep a box of tissues nearby. Peace Like a River is told through the eyes of Reuben Land, an 11-year-old asthmatic whose older brother, Davy, is controversially charged with murder. When Davy escapes from jail and disappears, the remaining Lands—including their father Jeremiah (a man of such conviction that he has been known to produce miracles) and their precocious younger sister Swede—embark on a cross-country journey to find the fugitive teen before the Feds do. Filled with an unexpected cast of characters and colored by the romantic imagery of old Zane Gray westerns, the story is at once a tragedy and a celebration of the power of faith. Evocative and charming one moment and heartbreakingly honest the next, Peace Like a River is like nothing else I’ve read. In the years since that first reading, I have returned to this book many times. This time, I shared it with my husband—and keeping with tradition, I read aloud to him whenever we sat for a long stretch in the car. It’s a magical book to read aloud—if you can. The faith of Jeremiah often made me pause to blink until I could see clearly again, and the final chapters left me hopeless in that endeavor. It filled me with no shortage of marital bliss when I turned the final page and Brett said, “That was really good.” It is really good. The best, in my opinion, even considering the stiff competition it has faced. It won’t be the last time I read this book. Peace Like a River Author: Leif Enger Genre: Fiction Rating: A very enthusiastic [clear] Don’t forget to save this book to your reading list!

What I’ve Been Reading: Prairie Stories with Willa Cather

Sunrise over the hay field

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my affiliate policy here.  “I used to love to drift along the pale-yellow cornfields, looking for the damp spots one sometimes found at their edges, where the smartweed soon turned a rich copper color and the narrow brown leaves hung curled like cocoons about the swollen joints of the stem. Sometimes I went south to visit our German neighbors and to admire their catalpa grove, or to see the big elm tree that grew up out of a deep crack in the earth and had a hawk’s nest in its branches. Trees were so rare in that country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons.” – My Ántonia So began my love of Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. Cather’s perfect, lyrical prose sweeps you into its pages and makes you feel as if you are right there on those Midwestern plains. As vastly different as this Nebraska was from my own childhood in New York and Georgia, it still made me nostalgic for exploring my own little corner of the natural world. It made me long for the landscapes I have loved and brought back the memory of scents, sounds, and sensations long forgotten. There is something so enchanting about stories where a love of Land and Place is woven so seamlessly into the narrative. Scattered across this landscape are souls as vibrant and intractable as the country that shapes them. Observant, intelligent Jim Burden. Wild and independent Ántonia. Surly Ambrosch and his proud, ungrateful mother. Sad, sweet Mr. Shimerda, for whom the new kawn-tree was just too much to bear. The Russian brothers. The Harlings. The foul Cutters and lovely Lena Lingard. And the Cuzaks, whom we only get for a chapter or two but who swept me into their family, baked me kolaches, and made me feel at home. And what a cast of strong, independent women! From loving matriarchs to survivors, entrepreneurs, adventurers, and women who dream of being wives and mothers themselves, there’s no shortage of positive role models among My Ántonia’s female players. Every one of them has a dream, and every one fights for it. In fact, Cather is no stranger to strong female characters. I loved My Ántonia so much that I immediately turned to O Pioneers!, another member of Cather’s renowned Prairie Trilogy. In it, I found the world of the Divide, with its own hardscrabble immigrants scraping away at the dirt to make a living. I also found Alexandra Bergson. Never before has a character spoken so well to my heart and made me feel like someone had taken my soul and turned it into words. Alexandra is the me I wish I could be. Smart. Resilient. Independent. Successful at farming in a world dominated by men. She does what no one else wants to do, whether that’s holding on to unfruitful land or taking in a neighbor no one else will love. And when someone does something that tears her whole world apart, she forgives. The right thing is usually just what everybody don’t do. – Alexandra Bergson O Pioneers!   I would call neither My Ántonia nor O Pioneers! romance novels, and yet each is a love story in their own right. A love story for a land of hard scrapes and possibilities. A love story for memories, communities, and the relationships that sculpt our lives. And a love story for light and color and dancing, for sitting under apple trees, and for finding your own way to the life you dream of. My Ántonia Author: Willa Cather Genre: Historical Fiction Score: O Pioneers! Author: Willa Cather Genre: Historical Fiction Score: [clear] And don’t forget to save these books to your Pinterest reading list! Thanks!

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

Book Review: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry | Jest Kept Secret

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my affiliate policy here.  Title: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place Author: Julie Berry Genre: YA Mystery Content Warning: Thematic elements (It’s a murder mystery. There are dead people.) Blurb There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce. The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings. – Goodreads My Thoughts This was FUN. This sisterhood is one I’d love to be a part of. The characters are one dimensional, but it’s by design and it works really well. The plot jumps from one crisis to the next, just like any good mystery romper should. The humor is perfectly timed and delivered, and the twist ending was a complete surprise but totally believable. It was a great ride from start to finish, and I want more. Score:   And don’t forget to save this book to your Pinterest reading list! Thanks!

Girl Online

Book Review: Girl Online by Zoe Sugg | Jest Kept Secret

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my affiliate policy here.  Title: Girl Online Author: Zoe Sugg Genre: YA Contemporary Content Warning: Mild language Blurb Penny has a secret. Under the alias GirlOnline, she blogs about school dramas, boys, her mad, whirlwind family – and the panic attacks she’s suffered from lately. When things go from bad to worse, her family whisks her away to New York, where she meets the gorgeous, guitar-strumming Noah. Suddenly Penny is falling in love – and capturing every moment of it on her blog. But Noah has a secret too. One that threatens to ruin Penny’s cover – and her closest friendship – forever. – Goodreads My Thoughts I read this book on the recommendation of a young friend of mine, and it was surprisingly cute. Is it formulaic? Absolutely. Is it cheesy? You betcha. Is it little more than teenaged chick lit? Totally. And yet, I really enjoyed it. Penny is remarkably relatable for me—she’s a photographer, blogger, clutz, anxiety sufferer, and a hopeless romantic experiencing love for the first time. I loved her family and how loving and supportive they were, and Penny’s BFF, Elliot, is adorable. And although I guessed the truth about Noah pretty much right off the bat, it was still fun to watch their relationship unfold. Maybe I liked this because I read this so close to having my own whirlwind romance, but whatever. I enjoyed it. Score:   And don’t forget to save this book to your Pinterest reading list! Thanks!

Bloody Jack

Book Review: Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer | Jest Kept Secret

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my affiliate policy here.  Title: Bloody Jack Author: L.A. Meyer Series: Bloody Jack #1 Genre: YA Historical Fiction Content Warning: Thematic elements, mild language, and war violence Blurb Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy Life as a ship’s boy aboard HMS Dolphin is a dream come true for Jacky Faber. Gone are the days of scavenging for food and fighting for survival on the streets of eighteenth-century London. Instead, Jacky is becoming a skilled and respected sailor as the crew pursues pirates on the high seas. There’s only one problem: Jacky is a girl. And she will have to use every bit of her spirit, wit, and courage to keep the crew from discovering her secret. This could be the adventure of her life–if only she doesn’t get caught. . . . – Goodreads My Thoughts I had never heard of this series before, but when I found it listed as a free-to-stream audiobook on Audible Channels, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m really glad I did—what a fun book! Jacky is quite the protagonist: saucy (yet insecure), resourceful, loyal, and funny. Her relationships with the other ships boys lead to plenty of humor, and the sailors aboard the ship provide a motley cast of mentors, bullies, creeps, and heroes. I will definitely read more of this series. Score:   And don’t forget to save this book to your Pinterest reading list! Thanks!

The Silver Mask

Book Review: The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare | Jest Kept Secret

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my affiliate policy here.  Title: The Silver Mask Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare Series: Magisterium #4 Genre: MG Fantasy Content Warning: Thematic elements and mild language Blurb A generation ago, Constantine Madden came close to achieving what no magician had ever achieved: the ability to bring back the dead. He didn’t succeed . . . but he did find a way to keep himself alive, inside a young child named Callum Hunt. Now Call is one of the most feared and reviled students in the history of the Magisterium, thought to be responsible for a devastating death and an ever-present threat of war. As a result, Call has been imprisoned and interrogated. Everyone wants to know what Constantine was up to-and how he lives on. But Call has no idea. It is only when he’s broken out of prison that the full potential of Constantine’s plan is suddenly in his hands . . . and he must decide what to do with his power. In this spellbinding fourth book of Magisterium, bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare take us beyond the realm of the living and into the dangers of the dead. – Goodreads My Thoughts The Silver Mask is as enjoyable and light as the others in this series have been, but it also starts to delve into some deeper questions like, if we could raise people from the dead, should we? Or how far should we go to help our friends? The kids are just as believable and entertaining as ever, and the villains get even more interesting. Well, some of them do. Anastasia Tarquinn is a bit flat and uninteresting—I wish we got more of a sense of danger from her. She could really be interesting if they focused more on her obsession with Call and less on her just showing up at opportune moments. I also wish we’d seen more of Alistair Hunt. His kid has been kidnapped. You can’t tell me he wouldn’t fight against the Assembly to get him back. And where was he in the final battle and the aftermath thereof? Still, despite some flat characterisation and plot holes, I’m really looking forward to the last book, The Golden Tower, which is due out this year. Bring it on. Score:   And don’t forget to save this book to your Pinterest reading list! Thanks!

The Red Queen

Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard | Jest Kept Secret

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my affiliate policy here.  Title: The Red Queen Author: Victoria Aveyard Series: Red Queen #1 Genre: YA Fantasy Content Warning: Mild language and violence (war) Blurb This is a world divided by blood – red or silver. The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. That is until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power. Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime. But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart. – Goodreads My Thoughts Whoa. I liked this. Some of the violence was a tad graphic for my taste, but the writing was decent and the story was intriguing. I liked the concept of power (superhuman abilities) being tied to blood, and I liked the creative variety of abilities that exist in this world. The villains were pretty dastardly, but I did see it coming a mile away. There were also a few plot points that felt a little forced or convenient. But it was a fun, compelling read that kept me turning the pages (well, listening). You’ll like this if you liked the Hunger Games (which I didn’t), Divergent (which I did), or Red Rising (which I didn’t). Apparently, these sorts of books are hit and miss for me. This one happened to be a hit. Score:   And don’t forget to save this book to your Pinterest reading list! Thanks!

The Bronze Key

Book Review: The Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare | Jest Kept Secret

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my affiliate policy here.  Title: The Bronze Key Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare Series: Magisterium #3 Genre: MG Fantasy Content Warning: Brief mild language and thematic elements Blurb Students at the Magisterium are supposed to be safe. Under the watchful eyes of the mages, they are taught to use magic to bring order to a chaotic world. But now the chaos is fighting back. Call, Tamara, and Aaron should be worrying about things like pop quizzes and magic contests. Instead, after the shocking death of one of their classmates, they must track down a sinister killer… and risk their own lives in the process. As Call, Tamara, and Aaron discover, magic can only be as good as the person who wields it. In evil hands, it has the capacity to do immeasurable harm, unless it is stopped in time. In this striking third book of Magisterium, bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare present us with a school where anything, good or evil, can happen, and the only way to unlock the truth is to risk everything to find it. – Goodreads My Thoughts This series is pretty much Harry Potter repackaged—three kids (two boys, one girl) form an unlikely friendship at a school of magic and team up to fight a guy who is trying to cheat death. Yep. But there is an interesting twist, which I shall not share here because SPOILERS, and it makes the series more unique than one might expect. And unlike Harry, Callum Hunt is no angsty teenager with a Chosen One complex. He’s snarky, insecure, and all too happy to let someone else take the lead. He’s a refreshing change of pace from your typical hero in MG/YA fantasy, and that’s why I keep reading. Add in some very likable sidekicks, a sassy frenemy, and some crazy cool monsters, and you’ve got a fun read for the weekend. This series would be great to read with kids. In book three, the stakes get a little higher as Callum, Tamara, and Aaron continue their fight against the Enemy of Death. We get some new antagonists who are a nice shade of gray, Jasper (my favorite) gets funnier, and the ending is a real punch to the gut. This is a great continuation of the Magisterium series. Score:   And don’t forget to save this book to your Pinterest reading list! Thanks!

The Copper Gauntlet

Book Review: The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare | Jest Kept Secret

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my affiliate policy here.  Title: The Copper Gauntlet Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare Series: Magisterium #2 Genre: MG Fantasy Content Warning: PG for some mild language and crude humor Blurb Callum Hunt’s summer break isn’t like other kids’. His closest companion is a Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc. His father suspects him of being secretly evil. And, of course, most kids aren’t heading back to the magical world of the Magisterium in the fall. It’s not easy for Call . . . and it gets even harder after he checks out his basement and discovers that his dad might be trying to destroy both him and Havoc. Call escapes to the Magisterium — but things only intensify there. The Alkahest — a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic — has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends Aaron and Tamara awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes — and get closer to an even more dangerous truth. – Goodreads My Thoughts This is the 2nd book in the Magisterium series (and I just realized I haven’t reviewed the first one, The Iron Trial, on the blog yet. I’ll fix that.) This series is pretty much Harry Potter repackaged—three kids (two boys, one girl) form an unlikely friendship at a school of magic and team up to fight a guy who is trying to cheat death. Yep. But there is an interesting twist, which I shall not share here because SPOILERS, and it makes the series more unique than one might expect. And unlike Harry, Callum Hunt is no angsty teenager with a Chosen One complex. He’s snarky, insecure, and all too happy to let someone else take the lead. He’s a refreshing change of pace from your typical hero in MG/YA fantasy, and that’s why I keep reading. Add in some very likable sidekicks, a sassy frenemy, and some crazy cool monsters, and you’ve got a fun read for the weekend. This series would be great to read with kids. As for The Copper Gauntlet itself, it got off to a slow start for me, and then I realized it was because the narrator for the audiobook talks really slooowwwwllllyyyyyy… I increased the playback speed, and voila! Much better. Pitting Callum against his own father as the antagonist made for an intriguing plot, and I liked that Black and Clare touched on the pressure Aaron (Callum’s BFF) feels as the Chosen One. And Jasper. That kid is my favorite and I can’t tell you why because SPOILERS, but geez louise, he makes me laugh. Score:   And don’t forget to save this book to your Pinterest reading list! Thanks!

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