Things Are Not What They Seem — Reviews

KIRKUS REVIEW — February 9, 2017

A middle-grade adventure finds a Central Park pigeon who can talk in the care of precocious youngsters.

On a hot July morning, 12-year-old Jennifer Tindal and her brother, 11-year-old James, visit Central Park. While Mrs. Tindal studies at home for the bar exam, Jennifer watches James and his allergy-prone friend, Seth (nicknamed Sleepy because he takes a lot of medication), at the playground. It’s here that a pigeon speaks to her in a British accent. His name is Arthur Whitehair, and he’s tied to a fence by balloon string (“Oh, for a pair of hands!” he cried dramatically. “My kingdom for a pair of hands!”). “Give me a break,” Jennifer mutters, trying to ignore what she assumes is a prank. Eventually, she unties the string rather than see the bird hurt himself. Then a hawk attacks, yelling, “Give me that pigeon!” Jennifer, James, and Sleepy escape with Whitehair through the vast park, learning that the hawk, Malman, has been after his quarry for 180 years. Can this bizarre situation have anything to do with the dreams Jennifer’s been having about a monk who speaks to her in Latin? After all, Omnia causa fiunt means “Everything happens for a reason.” In this raucous jaunt through Manhattan’s canopied centerpiece, Rothman-Hicks and Hicks (Kate and the Kid, 2016, etc.) educate and entertain. Younger readers learn facts about birds, such as they “are safe in a flock because the whole group of them moving…at once confuses the predator.” The authors’ trim prose often captures the loveliness of specific Central Park areas, like the Ramble, “famous for its many trees and bushes and hills, and trails that twisted around like over-cooked spaghetti.” As the narrative opens up to include Jennifer’s wealthy classmate Kaytlyn and a kind, homeless man, Mr. Bags, the audience benefits from the exploration of as many perspectives as possible. Scenes involving Malman’s awful partner, Drescher, are just menacing enough. The mystery surrounding Whitehair and his nemesis receives a quirky buildup and a heartwarming resolution. Readers should welcome sequels.

A learned, laugh-out-loud New York City fantasy for all ages.

March 3, 2015 — Bookworm for Kids, Tonja Drecker

This starts out in a calm and peaceful park. Jennifer (not quite thirteen) encounters the strangest thing while baby sitting her brother James and his best friend Sleepy – a talking pigeon. The pigeon, Arthur, needs Jennifer’s help to free him from a dire situation, but she can’t believe the bird is really speaking. From here, the adventure launches and a fantastical journey speeds along until the very last page.

There’s a wonderful cast of characters in this story, which not only include the pigeon, Arthur, Jennifer, James,their friends, and the evil Malman (a hawk), but also Jennifer and James’ parents. All characters are woven into the story with their strength and weaknesses, not only giving extra depth, but a  nice sense of reality. Jennifer, James and their friends work well together, while the parents offer a background of wisdom and caring, which keeps everything well rounded.

The plot itself is fast paced and is full of magical twists and turns. But this isn’t only about the fantasy and tension. There’s a great sense of love and several important messages wrapped up behind it all. Jennifer discovers more about herself, while helping Arthur, at the same time, to see the man he wants to be. There’s trust and friendship, and looking out for others. And all of this is still peppered with humor too.

The story itself is well-written. We jump from one scene into the next with enough description to let the reader visualize the surroundings without feeling bogged down with information. In other words, kids will stay glued to the pages. The dialogue is simply fun. Especially Arthur and James spice it up with a bit of sarcasm and clever humor, which simply put a smile on the face. The word usage is not always simple – something I was really glad to see – and there are a few terms that kids will need to ask about. But there’s never anything wrong with expanding the vocabulary, especially since it by no means distracts from the story.

February 28, 2015 — Sweet Little Pretties

Things are not what they seem is such a touching chapter book, an adventure like no other. The world is not what it seems to an individual and Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks takes you on an amazing adventure with fantastic characters who you will love by the end of the book.Things are not what they seem is perfect for children of all ages whether they read it by themselves or it is read to them over a few nights, the story is perfect for all ages.

What would you do if you were sitting on a park bench and a pigeon came and spoke to you?

February 26, 2015 — Icefairy’s Treasure Chest
This book excels in its original storyline and kid-friendly language enhanced with humor and vitality. The authors invite you to unleash your wildest imagination and watch the characters come to life through their magical, adventurous experience. The story is easy to follow, fascinating, and entertaining. Positive messages about friendship, courage, and kindness are cleverly delivered throughout the book. It is an incredibly fun read for fantasy lovers of all ages, and a perfect pick for book clubs or summer reading programs targeting tweens and teens.
February 25, 2015 – Beach Bound Books

Things Are Not What They Seem is a captivating adventure that takes readers on an exciting adventure through Central Park as the characters try to undo an ancient spell and thwart and evil plan before it’s too late.Jennifer and her brother James are spending the day in Central Park. As James plays with his friend Jennifer watches from a park bench. A seemingly average day takes a turn when a pigeon begs Jennifer for help. She’s convinced it’s some sort of joke designed to make her look like a fool, but the annoying bird just won’t quit. Against her better judgment she interacts with the bird and this is when things get really weird. Jennifer and James learn that the bird’s name is Arthur. Whitehair and that he is actually a man transformed by a spell gone wrong. But, there’s no time to chat as his arch enemy, also transformed by the spell, swoops down in an attempt to capture Arthur. This coupled with the odd dreams Jennifer has been having are almost more than the kids can take, but Arthur won’t give up. Can Jennifer and James find a way to reverse the spell and make things right?

This imaginative fun-filled tale is well-written and brimming with excitement. There is also a lesson to be learned and I like how the authors use Jennifer to set a good example for readers. Jennifer displays kindness to those around her and struggles with helping Arthur because at times it causes her to deceive her parents. She reminds us, through her thoughts, that trust is something difficult to mend once broken and her heart aches when she sees the disappointment in her parents’ eyes. Arthur starts out with selfish motives, but through Jennifer he rediscovers the person he used to be and yearns to make things right.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and read it in one day, as it was difficult to put down. I highly recommend picking up a copy.

February 24, 2014 — Kate LaLone
My Review:  Fun characters. Things are not what they seem especially when Jennifer is at the park and a pigeon talks to her. But the pigeon is not just a pigeon. Jenifer and her brother are swept into a wild adventure when they decide to help this pigeon. Danger and mystery kept me reading.
February 23, 2015 — Karatheredhead, on the Sher A Hart blog

First of all, I loved the talking pigeon in Central Park. As you start the book, you quickly find out his name is Arthur Whitehair, and he is actually a man trapped in a pigeon’s body. I don’t know if it is because I love all things British, but I found him enchanting. Arthur was witty, never crass, and also a good role-model. Jennifer was also a great character, she is smart and a good sister/friend. She gets involved in this very complicated situation when she takes her brother, James, to the park. James has a lot of personality, and is very different from his sister. James often gets them in more trouble than they began to be in. Sleepy, one of James’ friends,  is also one of my favorite characters. Sleepy reminded me of Piglet, a bit scared to be involved in anything, but cute and endearing at the same time. I really loved Mr. Bags, the homeless man in the story. He speaks in rhymes but unlike many people think, he knows exactly what is going on. There were even more characters but these were some of my favorites.

This story had an incredibly well thought out plot, there were so many twists and turns. I couldn’t put this book down and it was action packed once Malman got involved in the story. Malman is the arch-nemesis of Arthur Whitehair.

I loved the mystery, time-traveling, magic, friendship and moral story in this book. Also at times this book was laugh out loud funny. The moral story taught honesty-not lieing to your parents, manners, and friendship.

Children: Children will love this book!  It is considered a middle grade book, so it would probably be best for children 8+, also great for tweens, teens and young adults.

Parents: Despite this book being action packed, there is very little violence. I enjoyed this book immensely even as an adult. This book maintained a good moral story while being full of action and plot twists.

I look forward to reading more of the books in this series! This would make such a great animated movie for kids, and could help get children involved in reading more.

February 21, 2015 — Darlene Cruz, Mother Daughter Reviews

Wonderful book for all ages.  A delightful entertaining middle-grade fiction and what is so funny?  Feeding pigeons of all places in Central park and a talking pigeon to boot!  Nothing wrong with that.  I found the story moving along with humor page after page.  The main characters, Jennifer and her brother James provides cute side kick comic entertainment when the banter happens between the two, and the immortal talking pigeon.  I can’t keep from smiling.  Now they team up with other characters and the adventure takes off.  There’s a bit of magic and a spell and visions, oh …..wait a monk, wait….. eternal life?  Revenge, who and why?  So much to read and so much to know.  “Fallaces sunt rerum species.”  What pray tell does that means?  Just so happen Jennifer can decipher it.  What is the title of this book?  Oh right, “Things are not what they seem.”  Love New York, well the authors wrote a descriptive picture of the streets of New York City.  I felt I was in Central Park racing around Park East Drive to the very center of East Meadow.  The story pushed forward with a rich flair of imagery.  Writing style had high energy, very creative, clear and direct.  I enjoyed every aspect of this wonderful tale, did I say wonderful again?   I received a free digital download for a review and this is my honest review, from Mother Daughter Book Reviews.  Thank you, Darlene Cruz.

February 20, 2015 — Renee, Mother Daughter Reviews

My Thoughts:  Things are very unusual indeed in Central Park where we meet 12-year-old Jenny Tindal who is babysitting her brother, James and his friend Sleepy when a pigeon speaks to her requesting her help.  The more she ignores him, the more urgently he impresses on her the danger he is in from a vicious hawk, hot on his tail.  The children soon discover that the pigeon is actually a 19th Century Englishman named Arthur Whitehair who was transformed into a pigeon after he misread a spell granting eternal life; and, the hawk is, in fact, Malman – an evil man who was also transformed by the spell.

Arthur enlists the help of Jenny, James, Sleepy, and a friend of Jenny’s, Kaytlyn to reverse the spell which he hopes will transport him back in time to when he first uttered the words so that he can destroy the original manuscript, thus preventing his transformation into a pigeon with eternal life.  But they soon run across malevolent forces who also want to benefit from the magical powers of the manuscript. The children must rely on each other as well as their unique strengths to help their new friend return to the past.

The authors have created a wonderful cast of memorable, sympathetic and relatable characters, beginning with responsible and compassionate Jenny; her smart-talking, but dependable younger brother James; Sleepy, the overprotected but loyal friend; Kaytlyn, Jenny’s popular, rich, and gregarious friend; and finally Arthur (the talking pigeon) who is largely impatient and sarcastic, but whom you can’t help but feel sorry for as his back story is revealed.  It is only through each character’s individual strengths that the mission is achieved, thus making for a great ensemble of characters.

Aside from the children and the pigeon, there are a number of other unique secondary characters who really help bring the story to life.  I loved Jenny and James’ parents and their side story in particular.  Mr. Tindal left his lucrative job as a computer software engineer to become an NYC public education teacher which he finds more fulfilling.  To fill the gap in income, Mrs. Tindal went back to school to become a lawyer and in the story, she is just studying for and taking the bar exam.  The parents aptly demonstrate the balance between setting boundaries while letting their children have their secrets and explore their world.

Also worthy of mention, is the character of Mr. Bags, a homeless man who speaks in rhyme who has befriended Jenny.  Jenny and Mr. Bags’ friendship is a great example of how to treat people with compassion and it was very touching to see the way they interacted, literally having each others’ backs.  Without revealing too much of the story, I loved how the children took it upon themselves to raise money for such a great cause arising simply out of their friendship with Mr. Bags.  All this to say that the story contains so many important life lessons around family, friendship, compassion, and materialism.

The main plot itself moves along very quickly with the action unfurling at a brisk pace.  There are elements of fantasy, magic, and time-travel peppered with comedic relief provided mostly from the dialogue between Arthur and the children (James in particular). But there are also many poignant moments as Arthur reflects on what is important in life, or when Mr. and Mrs. Tindal share nuggets of wisdom with their children, and when we see the strong bond of friendship between Mr. Bags and Jenny.  There is so much depth and so much to love about this story.

My Bottom Line:  Things Are Not What They Seem is a wonderful story featuring a stellar cast of well-developed and relatable characters, which merges fantasy, magic, and time-travel with poignant lessons about friendship, compassion, and loyalty.  I highly recommend this fast-paced, funny, and charming story for tweens, teens, and even adults.   Ages 8+.

February 16, 2015 –Cat Michaels 4 Stars

Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks have penned a page-turner for middle-grade readers who enjoy a touch of fantasy with their fiction. “Things are Not What They Seem” follows the escapades of four New York City children who bring new meaning to feeding pigeons in Central Park.

The authors’ created a quartet of characters that pop off the page. Their protagonist, almost-twelve-years-old Jennifer Tindal, is a city-savvy girl who’s bothered by weird dreams of a red-haired monk speaking in Latin. Her brother, James, sticks up for her and pals around with wimpy, sheltered Sleepy because James’ “real” friends are away at summer camp. Fashionista/Valley-Girl-talking Kaytlyn Easterly brings her wealthy family’s clout and learns to help her friends by being clever and courageous.

I loved the secondary characters in this story, who are portrayed with humor and understanding. Jennifer’s parents are wise and loving but firmly set boundaries. The authors write with great empathy about the homeless Mr. Bags, who speaks in rhymes and aids the children despite great risk to his safety. Several bad guys populate this tale, too, and give kids that extra frisson of danger to keep them interested in the plot.

And well, there’s that talking pigeon, Arthur Whitehair, who is literally and figuratively is a hoot and has a wry backstory.

The City of New York is almost a character to itself in this book, and the authors write with obvious insider knowledge of natives. You’ll feel as if you’re in Central Park with Jennifer or chasing Arthur along the city streets.

Narrative and Dialogue:
The story reads seamlessly and its plot moves briskly with plenty of kid-pleasing banter:
“Hello, fat-boy,” the pigeon said.
“Whitehair,” James yelled. “You lard-butt! ”

I like the way the story dips into history to bring Arthur Whitehair to life. It also has a cute plot point about James pretending to be a ventriloquist in order to disguise Arthur’s identify. The climax, which I won’t spoil for you, was spot on and an ingenious way to conclude the book while leaving room for a sequel.

Unique Feature:
What sets this story apart for me is its gentle, unobtrusive life lessons Jennifer and James discover, such as this advice from their mother when they feel discouraged in their failed attempts to help Arthur:
“Lots of things in life are hard. Raising children is hard. Being married is hard. I don’t think you should quit something just because it’s hard.”

These gems aren’t preachy, and they’re not always delivered by adults:
“But I wasn’t brave, Jenny,” Sleepy said in a very small voice. “I was scared the whole time.”
“That’s what courage is,” Jennifer said. “When you do something even if you are very frightened.”

I highly recommend “Things are Not What They Seem” for children in grade 4 and up. It’s an action/fantasy tinged with humor, and it delivers messages about courage and friendship that resonate with young readers.

I was provided with a free pdf version of this book in exchange for an honest review

February 16, 2015 — Read Around Sue (Susan Gesing) 4.5 Stars

Jenny and her brother, James become acquainted with a pigeon who suddenly spoke to Jenny and they become embroiled in trying to help him escape this curse which turned him from man to pigeon one hundred and eighty years ago.

They get into all sorts of trouble and accidentally drag their friends Sleepy and Kaytlyn into the whole mess which turns dangerous with the death of their homeless friend, Mr. Bags.

Arthur, the pigeon, needs to get a certain document to help him undo the spell he put himself under and he is convinced that Jenny and James are the ones to help him.  Jennny keeps having visions of Semprus, the man who created the spell that tell her to remember that things aren’t always what they seem and everything happens for a reason.

The quest ends in a frightening climax and the children are left to wonder if this really has ended.

The kids were written very well in this story.  They were smart and enterprising.  They were caught up in this magical mess and they used all their strengths to work their way through it.  Jenny was introduced as a good student and an intelligent girl so her understanding of Latin seemed believable.

James was no dummy either.  He spent most of the book convincing people that he was a ventriloquist when the talking pigeon got out of hand which frankly happened frequently.  Some of their interactions made me laugh out loud.

Their friends found their own hidden strengths too.  Sleepy found his inner courage and Kaytlyn found out she was more than a pretty rich girl.  I liked the dynamic between the four of them.I never thought I’d come to like a pigeon quite so much but I did indeed.  Arthur was funny and spirited and a little sneaky because who likes a perfect pigeon, right?

The authors spun quite a tale but at no time did they talk down to children or have their characters behave rudely or crudely.  They were pretty believable kids telling an outrageous story to the reader which they made seem possible.

I really liked this story and I think kids in the 8 to 12 year age group would find the story engaging and the characters likeable.

February 4, 2015 — Ashley Howard — Four Stars

Jennifer and her brother James discover a talking pigeon in Central Park New York. Of course that is not what it seems. The pigeon is actually Arthur Whitehair and Englishman from the 19th century who turned into an immortal pigeon when he misread a spell. Now he needs the help of these two kids to reverse his curse.
They team up with some unlikely friends and go on an amazing adventure. This book is definitely not what it seems. It is fun, exciting and full of mystery. It is a great book for the more fluent readers looking for a challenge.

July 4, 2014 — Ladybug Lin Reviews — Five Stars

One of the things I most love about my job as a book reviewer is the anticipation I feel all the way down to my toes when I first call a book up to the viewing portion of my Kindle.

Sometimes I have extra layers of anticipation if the cover is a visual lure…or the title plucks at my funny bone, or sense of quirkiness.

The title…?…well of course it teased and pleased my sense of humor BIG TIME!

The cover, done by Cover Artist Charlotte Volnek is rich and has your eyes happily moving around the many images Ms. Volnek gave us…

BUT there is so much more for me to stand on my tip-toes and with eager quivers tell you all why this is an exceptional book.

Written by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks, I could not believe the smiles that spread throughout me as I read it.

I grew up during a time Catholic students HAD to learn Latin so we could respond IN Latin during the mass.

This story of fantasy, magic, friendship, and adventure reminded me of that time…and the infrequency of Latin being used with such a richness.

An enchanted, talking pigeon, and an equally enchanted, but evil hawk right here, in CENTRAL PARK of all places…

Anne and Ken have woven a story any age will happily read and enjoy being captured in the journey very bright, with a history of magical ancestry Jennifer has been chosen to embark on.

What a rich treasure this book is.

For teachers, if you’re looking for a story that will grab your students and become a rich core for your lesson plans, this book is a WINNER!

Therefore it is with ease, excitement, and pleasure I award this book, it’s title, its CA and its gifted authors FIVE STARS… and and a request you hurry up and give us the NEXT Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks winner.

May 24, 2014 — Heather Brainerd — Five Stars

This delightful story is fast-paced and entertaining. Almost-thirteen-year-old Jennifer and her younger brother James, along with some friends, get caught up in a mysterious, magical adventure stemming from a visit to New York City’s Central Park. Can you believe it all starts with a talking pigeon!?The characters are well-developed and fun. The story moves along at a brisk pace. Lessons on love, friendship, kindness, and finding your inner strength shine through. And the humor is plentiful! Great for tween readers, as well as a quick, fun read for adults.

October 19, 2014 — Granny’s Hill– Five Stars

Things Are Not What They Seem is a well written story and a joy to read. I was hooked from the start.We meet Jennifer who is babysitting her younger brother and his friend at the park. Jennifer is pestered by a talking pigeon and, understandably, thinks it’s some kind of joke. The injured bird is very persistent but matters become more tangled (excuse the pun) when another talking bird enters the foray.Jennifer’s encounter with the talking pigeon, Arthur, envelops the children in a great adventure. There is wonderful mix of old English and modern New York culture. One thing that stood out for me was that the authors didn’t overuse the magic / fantasy element too much. I think that adds to the books authenticity and for me made it a more enjoyable read.Anne Rothman and Kenneth Hicks use humor very well. I really enjoyed the banter between Arthur and James. I like Jennifer. She’s a sensible, intelligent young lady who knows how to handle herself. She’s a great role model for young readers too. After all, who wouldn’t admire a young lady who dreams in Latin and is haunted by a monk and is still sensible and responsible?I highly recommend this story. I’m sure readers from a diverse range will enjoy it. Definitely a five star book!