Review: The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

mystery-black-hollow-laneBook: The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane (2019)
Author: Julia Nobel
Genre: MG, Mystery
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Emmy gets sent over to England to attend a boarding school while her mother travels for work. But before she leaves, Emmy discovers a mysterious box and note. It all has something to do with the death of her father, something that Mom refuses to discuss. At the new school, Emmy makes friends with two outcasts… she also makes plenty of enemies. Not to mention the fact that the mystery of her father remains out of her grasp until it’s might be too late. That’s when Emmy discovers a secret that might just lead to her own demise.


1) Boarding schools! What is it about the magic of boarding schools. I’m not sure I’d actually want to live at one, but I sure like to read about them. Not to mention there are secret passages and underground lairs.

2) Emmy outcast friends are the kind of friends I’d love to have. Jack and Lola really do have her back. They make quite a team.

3) I liked the little twist about who Emmy could and could not trust. I thought it was set up nicely.

4) I liked the bit about the priest. It was a nice memorable scene. I suspected something, but it turned out to be a little different than I thought.

5) The door is left open for a sequel, but it is a stand-alone novel.

6) The cover of the novel fits in very well with the style and “flavour” of this book.


1) I thought Julia Nobel missed an opportunity with the different words “soccer” vs. “football”. In the book, Emmy’s American mom makes her promises not to play soccer. I was convinced she’d somehow get past this by saying she was playing “football” not “soccer”. But, that didn’t happen. Not a huge deal…


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – If you like dark secrets and mysteries, then this is the book for you! Emmy’s a likeable protagonist along with her new friends at the school. And she’s up against some shady dealings.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: Elephant Secret

elephant-secretBook: Elephant Secret (2018)
Author: Eric Walters
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Sam and her dad run an elephant sanctuary where they care for a herd of misfit elephants. Just as one abused elephant arrives, another is born to an elephant of the herd. But the new baby elephant has a secret… one that Sam and her father have yet to find out. A secret they won’t know about until they  meet their mysterious benefactor… Or should we call him “partner”?


1) Sam (Samantha) is an elephant girl. She knows elephants better than anything. In fact, she has such as strong bond with the elephant herd that it’s fun to watch (i.e. read about) her doing her thing. I love how she ends up leaving her eighth grade dance (in full formal-dress mode) to go be with the elephants when the new baby is born.

2) I loved the elephants in this book! I thought Walters did an amazing job of letting us get to know the herd. This isn’t always an easy thing to do for authors since the elephants never talk. They act like… elephants. And yet, we as readers get to know them and their personalities. I loved the matriarch, Trixie. And the younger ones, Raja and, of course, Woolly (who is adorable). I think my favourite elephant is the rescue one: Burma.

3) Jimmy was an interesting character. He’s portrayed almost as if he were a kid who never grew up. He’s also one of those characters that you’re not sure if you like him or hate him.

4) I really liked Sam’s dad, especially with his relationship to his daughter and to the elephants. Joyce (the lawyer girlfriend) is an interesting addition to the cast of characters. It was nice to see her relationship grow with Samantha, especially toward the end when the “girls” stand together after Dad gets upset over the incident with Burma.

5) (**SPOILER) The scene where Burma gets out of the cage was probably the best scene in the book. I found this scene quite emotional. Sam is completely crazy in that scene, but it all makes sense since she’s the elephant girl. Every step she took with those apples was tense. (End Spoiler)


1) We never find out what happens to Burma in the long run. I was really rooting for him so I want to know what happens!!

2) There is an element on cloning in this book. It’s actually the Elephant Secret. (**SPOILER) It all has to do with cloning animals. Think: Jurassic Park. Although, not with dinosaurs, but with woolly mammoths. I wasn’t too crazy about they concluded things. I don’t think cloning is a good thing. THAT was the lesson of Jurassic Park! (End Spoiler)


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I loved the elephants in this book. And I enjoyed reading about the inner workings of an elephant sanctuary. This book has some great discussion points. I would definitely recommend this to animal lovers.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: Gone Away Lake

Gone Away Lake // by Elizabeth Enright

gone-awayNewbery Honor Book (1958)
Genre: MG, Contemporary (Historical)
Rating: 2.5 Stars*

(Note: *Sorry, Elizabeth Enright, I usually LOVE your books, but I just couldn’t love this one. Although, I think that I’d probably have given it a higher rating if I were a kid reading it.)

Basic Plot: Portia and Foster are a sister and brother, who along with their cousin, Julian, discover secrets of a forgotten lake-side community called Gone-Away Lake.


Gone-Away Lake and the old houses are uber-cool! As a child, I would have really liked this and as an adult I did. Bonus points! I liked Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Payton who were a little like Miss Havisham, but in a good way. I enjoyed the old stories about the people who summered at the lake. Rescuing the cats. The Philosopher’s stone. These stories in themselves are worth the read.

However, I wasn’t crazy about the main characters. I didn’t hate them, but I didn’t love them either. Then when the grown-ups come in, some of the magic disappeared. (And I’m not talking about the Gone-Away grown-ups).


Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows’ walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death.

“Now who would go and build a lot of houses on the edge of a mosquitoey old swamp like that?” inquired Julian. But the next time he spoke it was in a whisper. “Porsh! Those houses are empty! They’re all deserted, Porsh! It’s a ghost town.”

(Chapter 2)


This book was published in 1958. I hate to say that I don’t think it has aged very well. I love, love, love this author’s The Saturdays (and its sequels). I wish I could say the same for this book. That said, I do think I probably would have loved reading it as a child, just because of the old, abandoned ghost town. However, the mark of a truly great children’s book is for an adult to pick it up and love it (despite not being a child anymore). Did I just read this book too late??


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Did you read this a kid? Did you love it? Am I being too harsh on this book? Let me know in the comments!

Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal, or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Review: Full Ride

full-rideBook: Full Ride
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Genre: YA Fiction, Suspense
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: When Becca’s father is sent to prison, Becca and her mother must rebuild their lives in a small town in Ohio. To protect themselves, they have to keep that deep, dark secret hidden. Three years later, Becca applies for a full-ride scholarship to college. Suddenly, the past is revealed and Becca’s whole future is at stake.


1) Becca is well-portrayed. I definitely felt for her, not only in losing her daddy to prison, but the fear she lives with trying to hide her true identity.

2) I liked Becca’s group of friends. It’s nice when she realizes she can trust them.

3) The mystery surrounding the fate of Whitney (of the scholarship fame) was done well. We get hints what happened, although it’s a nice, slow progression to the ultimate reveal.

4) I thought Haddix did a good job in her set-ups, leadins to the pay-offs later in the book. I loved the little details, like the u-haul switch before they move. And the essay switch-up was good.

5) The chapter headings were interesting. Basically telling us if it were “Then” or “Now”, often hinting at Becca’s state of mind. For example: “Now (Why, oh, why aren’t I in a different now?” or “Now—and things can get worse”.

6) I like how Becca’s father is portrayed. We’re able to feel the disgust and the sympathy, and all the emotions in-between that Becca feels toward her daddy. For a character that is hardly in the story, he has a very real presence.


1) [*Minor Spoiler] I thought the “sting” at the end of the novel a tiny bit unrealistic. Or rather, it didn’t seem it fit in with the rest of the story. It was like watching Hollywood suddenly take over.

2) The trip near the end of the story also felt a little forced. Like why is it that all of a sudden Stuart’s parents can’t make the trip? And then they only agree to the young people going is if Becca (the good student) is going?… How do they even know Becca? It’s very clear in the book that Becca never goes to the homes of her friends. So, that just seemed a tad too convenient to the purposes of the plot.


My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed the suspense of this book. It kept me guessing just enough to keep me reading. Overall, a good read.

ARC Review: Surprise Me

imagesSurprise Me // by Sophie Kinsella
Genre: Adult, Chick Lit
Release Date: February 2018
My Rating: 3 Stars

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: When Sylvie and Dan find out that (medically speaking) they’re going to live into their 100s, they begin to worry about what that will mean for their marriage. In order to combat what they fear will be a life-sentence of boredom, Sylvie comes up with a game where they each try to outdo one another with surprises. But surprises have potential to bring dark secrets into the open…


1) The story is told through first-person narration (the voice of Sylvie). Sophie Kinsella tends to do this quite well and I felt Sylvie comes across as very sympathetic.

2) I love Sylvie’s workplace at the historical society! I love the quirkiness of her boss, and even the nephew who comes in to upset the balance of things. (I’m still not quite sure, though, why she doesn’t want to stay on with them by the end of the book. Why?! This didn’t make sense to me.)

3) Sylvie definitely grows up during the course of the story. She’s so proud of how she and Dan finish each other’s sentences. (Yes, they’re that couple!) But the book is about how she matures. As a person. And I love how this is symbolized by her long “princess hair”.

4) I loved the friendship Sylvie has with her neighbour, Tilda. There was a nice mentor-thing going on there. Tilda warns Sylvie about the whole “Surprise Me” idea. And she’s right. But she doesn’t rub it in when so many of the surprises turn out badly… (Many are quite relate-able, like the one involving the lunch with Claire.)

5) The secrets and surprises revealed in the book definitely keep us reading. I had my suspicions about a few things. Although, there were some twists I didn’t predict.


1) I didn’t understand why Dan and Sylvie keep freaking out about 68 years of marriage. As if the doctor is a fortune teller or something. Why are they worried that they’ll become bored with each other?

2) I didn’t understand the apparent need of the subplot regarding the other neighbour, John. It seemed unnecessary to the story. Like it was thrown in because “you have to have a gay couple in the book.” Why??

3) Warning about the foul language. This is one thing I hate about these types of books. It’s no better/worse than in other Sophie Kinsella books (although, for some reason, I don’t remember this from the Shopaholic books). I just glaze over these words.


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, this book is a fun and engaging read. It has some delightful moments. But it also touches on the real need for communication in relationships.

Review: The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones

28814927Book: The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Lincoln Jones is the “new kid” and that makes him a bit of a loner and outcast at school. What makes it worse is that he spends his after-school hours at an old folks home. He tries to hide this from his peers, but one particular girl won’t leave him alone before she finds out his secret life.


1) I like the kid’s voice. He’s interesting. I felt I’ve met him. I also was drawn to his relationship with his mom.

2) I like books that bring the generations together… Where young kids get to know “old people” in a real way. It’s nice to see Lincoln’s viewpoint change on “oldies”.

3) The ending was cool (**SLIGHT SPOILER HERE) with how it ended where it began. END SPOILER

4) **SPOILER: Lincoln and his mom are hiding from an abusive boyfriend and home life. While this is a heavy topic, I felt it was dealt with in a real, yet age-appropriate way. It didn’t gloss over such situations, but it doesn’t dwell on them either. END SPOILER


1) There’s very little I did not like. The pickiest thing I can say is that one character, Isaac, suddenly appears at the Old Folks Home and I didn’t remember who he was. I had to go back in the book and find how I’m supposed to know why he matters. But that wasn’t a huge problem.


Yes! My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I’d definitely recommend it!