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Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

When Louie’s dad brings home the little donkey one cold, dark winter day, Louie just knows he can save him.  Even if he hasn’t had the best of luck before, with the worms, and the fireflies, and the goldfish, and the bird, and the kitten, and all the other small creatures he’s brought home.  This baby creature with the big ears and the spindly legs?  He just knows he can keep him alive, even when nobody else thinks he’ll make it.  After all, Louie was born early too, and he made it just fine.

Naming the donkey Winslow, Louie works hard – bottle-feeding, picking up straw and other not-so-fun messes, sleeping with Winslow to make sure he’s warm and has company, and even giving him shots when he gets sick.  Along with figuring out how to be a friend to his new neighbor Nora, all his work with Winslow helps Louie take his mind off how much he misses – and worries about – his big brother Gus since he joined the army.  And slowly, with a little help and a lot of love from friends, family, and neighbors, Winslow – and Louie – begin to grow and thrive.

I’ve been looking forward to this since I heard that Newbery Award-winning author Sharon Creech was working in a new book about a baby mini donkey (so cute!), and this sweet book is everything I wanted it to be.  Heartwarming, quiet, and full of love, make sure to add this little ray of sunshine and hope to your rainy day reading pile this fall.

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Contrary, inclined to impish adventures and wild flights of fantasy, frequently to be found on clandestine evening trips to scientific lectures (quite un-ladylike, especially when one exits via bedroom window and ends the evening in a pub), uninterested in courtly manners or acquiring a titled husband, Tess Dombegh knows she is naught but a thorn in her family’s side – especially in comparison with her twin, Jeanne, a girl of almost angelic goodness.  When her nightly escapades with a young scholar (neither titled nor landed, and certainly not gentry) called Will eventually comes to a disastrous end, after a sojourn in the country with her aging grandmother, her family decides to pass Tess off as the younger twin and Jeanne the elder at court.  As such, Tess has spent the last months at the Goreddi palace as her sister’s lady-in-waiting, hoping to help snare a rich husband for Jeanne and bring relief to the family’s financial troubles.

At Jeanne’s wedding to Lord Richard (who, although madly in love with Jeanne, is in most unfortunate possession of horrible brothers and parents that are even worse), months of stuffing herself into the uncomfortable persona of a good, quiet, mannerly girl, along with years of built-up resentment at her lack of choices in life and the help of a good deal too much wine, finally explode into yet another disastrous end, and Tess finds she can take no more goodness.  Taking only her boots and herself, Tess sets off into the world and on to the road to discover what wonders there are above and below the earth – and inside herself.

If you read Rachel Hartman’s duology about Tess’s older half-sister Seraphina, you’ve already travelled the roads of Goredd and Ninysh with Seraphina on her quest for Saints.  If you haven’t, a glorious medieval fantasy world awaits you inside the covers of this marvelous book.  Dragons, castles, bandits, thieves (not the least of which is Tess), sinkholes, caverns, farmers, explorers, geologists, inventors, nuns, monks, and great mysteries wait for Tess around each bend of the road.  A powerful novel of friendship, family, and learning to love yourself and all your faults, Tess of the Road is an epic journey out and through the dark places of the world and into the light.  Don’t miss it!

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Scotland, 1938.

Almost 16-year-old Lady Julia Beaufort-Stuart is looking forward to one last summer at Strathfearn before her granddad’s estate is sold off.  One last summer walking along the river, fishing for pearls, visiting her librarian friend Mary at the Inverfearnie Island Library, and helping to catalog all the artifacts and other ancient treasures that all need to be sorted and sent off to their new homes in museums – like the pearl bracelet that was Mary Queen of Scots’ own.  But when Julie arrives home early and walks down to the river when no one is about the house, the last thing she expects to start her summer is a fierce crack on the head that knocks her unconscious.  When she wakes in the hospital three days later, she has no memory of what happened to her.

No one seems to have seen anything either – not Julie’s mum, nor Mary, who was coming back to the library from the village, and not the Traveller brother and sister, Euan and Ellen McEwan, who found her and took her to the hospital, despite the suspicious eye of the local police when it comes to Travellers camping on the estate.  When Julie realizes that the scholar working to catalog the artifacts has been missing since the day of her accident, she knows there’s more going on than just an accident.  The only clue seems to be a tiny river pearl found in an envelope among the clutter of artifacts in the library – and her own foggy childhood memories of a hoard of river pearls that no longer seem to be with the other things from the estate.  And then an unidentifiable body is discovered in the river, and the mystery only deepens.  Is it a murder?  A suicide?  An accident?  And how can she stand up for her new Traveller friends against the deeply ingrained prejudices of the police, the estate workers, and even her friend Mary?

Together with Ellen and Euan, Julie sets out to uncover the truth of what really happened to her, what became of Dr. Housman, and what became of her granddad’s pearls.

If you read and loved and wept over Elizabeth Wein’s award-winning Code Name Verity and fell madly in love with Julie like I did, you’ll love to see the beginnings of this wonderfully brave, marvelously feisty, and wickedly intelligent future double agent.  If you haven’t read that one, no worries – you’ll still love The Pearl Thief and will be thrilled to go on to the next one.  Wein is a master of historical fiction – reading her novels makes you feel like the characters are just in the next room and you could easily step through the door and into the past.  If you’ve been looking for a book to lay around with and extend these last, lazy days of summer with, look no further!