Witty, competent daughters enjoy just enough danger as they learn useful lessons.


Two sisters stumble upon the plans of an evil witch and her minions in this middle-grade fantasy debut.

In the kingdom of Highcynder, 12-year-old Emily Daring watches her younger sister, Elizabeth, practice archery. Their father is Duke Daring, the hero of Highcynder, whom Elizabeth hopes to impress. After Elizabeth accidentally hits their neighbor Nathan Wormington with a practice arrow, the duchess puts her daughters’ energy to use by sending them to the market. The girls visit Annie Whipperpeel’s Sweets Shoppe to buy “sweetberry” pie. Tragically—in their view—the bakery hasn’t had any sweetberries in a week. Annie believes that mischievous forest gnomes took them all. Unsure of Annie’s theory, the siblings decide to sneak into the Enchanted Forest to investigate. They follow gnome prints to a cave—however, it’s goblins they find. As the adventurous duo defends against an armed, beady-eyed enemy, gnomes arrive to give the girls backup. The leader, Randolph, explains that the goblins have been working with the ogre king to horde sweetberries. Further, a witch is commanding the creatures, adding the berries to what may be a sleeping potion. When Elizabeth suggests they sneak into the ogre’s lair, Emily argues. Harsh words cause the sisters to separate, but they soon realize that teamwork is the only way to survive their adventure, one of the valuable lessons the story holds for its young readers. Unlike nearby kingdoms—Dublari, for example, which is built on slavery—Highcynder prizes an individual’s skills above parentage or status. Yet the girls behave in suitably childlike ways when they fib to their mother about going off to the Enchanted Forest; the duchess is just happy to see her daughters getting along. The witch’s goal, to remove a measure of people's freedom “to be utilized for the greater good,” should make sense to children, though it does step toward larger philosophical and political conversations. The garden gnome Periwinkle, who travels in Emily’s backpack, provides occasional comedic relief. Depictions of violence are always brief and not too gory (“The ogre king was...run through by the iron spikes”). Ferchaud’s (Princess Yellow Boots Finds a Friend, 2019, etc.) excellent black-and-white pencil illustrations greatly enhance the novel.

Witty, competent daughters enjoy just enough danger as they learn useful lessons.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9967232-0-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: KECELJ Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2020

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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