From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–This story is set in the dilapidated mining town of Grubstake, CO, in 1888. Arley is a 16-year-old who, after her father's death, inherits her family's mine and boarding house where many of the town's down-on-their-luck miners live and where she cooks, cleans, and does everything except actually collect much rent. In the age-old story tradition, a stranger comes to town, and the word is that he wants to buy all of the surrounding mines to turn the area into a resort. Arley, of course, soon figures out that if he wants them so badly there must be more to the story than he's letting on, and so she corrals her fellow Grubstakians into running the greedy man out of town. They are assisted by one of the bad guy's former henchmen who makes an unconvincing turnaround and joins their ragtag group of secondary characters in their even more unbelievable, yet completely predictable, success: not only do they foil the antagonist's plans with a weak tactic that any reader who has ever been to a haunted house will find ridiculous, but there is also the timely discovery of the elusive and profitable osblindium in Arley's mine. This book has love, betrayal, orphans, and angst, and a relatively happy ending, but none of these elements makes this story successful at being either entertainingly melodramatic, like Arley's beloved penny dreadfuls, or fully realized fiction, like Ferris's previous books.–Andrew Medlar, Chicago Public Library, IL
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Gr. 5-8. A far cry from the fairy-tale world of Once Upon a Marigold
(2002), the setting of Ferris' latest novel is the bedraggled Colorado mining town of Grubstake in 1888. With the exception of a spectacular explosion that killed Arley's father and made her an orphan, nothing ever seems to change in Grubstake, a failed boomtown where she runs a boardinghouse for unsuccessful miners. When a stranger comes to town and offers to buy all the mines, suspicious Arley tries to protect her more gullible boarders while ferreting out the mystery of who wants the mines and why. Grubstake is hardly a romanticized setting, with its mud, grit, and disappointments, but the story lights it up with elements of mystery, humor, and surprise. Tough, independent, lonely Arley makes a sympathetic protagonist; the cast of eccentric characters is original and amusing; and the story of Grubstake is compelling in Ferris' capable hands. Carolyn PhelanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved