Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race—and wins—the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he tries to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?
Ghost is a book I wasn’t sure I would enjoy, but ended up loving. Ghost has a great voice as the first-person narrator, and it’s easy to get swept up in the book. It’s a fast read, but the pacing is good and the balance of light and dark is perfect: there’s angst, but there’s enough healing and light-heartedness to cut through it.
Ghost is the main character, but it’s Coach who’s the real star of the show: he pretty much becomes Ghost’s much-needed father-figure, helping him own up to his mistakes, but also showing compassion when necessary. He’s also not afraid to share weakness or past hardships, which makes him the best sort of adult character. Ghost himself, as I said, has a great voice, and everything he does is completely believable, to the point where I’m so caught up that I can’t even get annoyed at the dumb teenage things he does sometimes. And I love how all the chapter titles mention world records until the last one, to especially highlight how important it is.
Speaking of the last chapter, I do wish that there had been more resolution to the ending. And I know that it’s not really important who won the race, and that the point is that Ghost got there and he’s ready to put the past behind him, but…I kinda wanted to see the race unfold! That’s pretty much my only complaint about the novel: the ending could have been better, in my opinion.
Ghost stars an endearing protagonist, a fantastic adult figure in Coach, and several other fleshed-out side characters (who, I believe, will star in their own books). It’s a fast-paced, fast-read of a book and it’s mostly perfect, except for the ending. Still, I’m ready and willing for the next books to fall into my lap.
Five months after the events in The Creeping Shadow, we join Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly, and their associate Quill Kipps on a perilous night mission. They have broken into the booby-trapped Fittes mausoleum, where the body of the legendary psychic heroine Marissa Fittes lies. Or does it? This is just one of many questions to be answered in Book Five of the Lockwood & Co. series. Will Lockwood ever reveal more about his family’s past to Lucy? Has their trip to the Other Side left the two of them changed forever? Will Penelope Fittes succeed in shutting down their agency—and does she threaten something deeper still? The young operative smut survive attacks from foes both spectral and human before they can take on their greatest enemy in a climactic and chaotic battle .And to prevail they will have to rely on some surprising—and shadowy—allies.
The Empty Grave is a satisfying, suitably big ending for the Lockwood & Co. series, delivering on character development and the usual mix of action, tension, and downtime that is especially distinctive in this series with its formulaic sequencing that manages to avoid being repetitive.
I loved the double meaning of the title in The Hollow Boy, and this title, too, has a double meaning, one which manages to communicate both essential plot elements and character development. Speaking of plot, while nothing in this book totally surprised me, I can’t say anything negative about the buildup or delivery or anything. Perhaps some of the details at the end could have been made clearer—who, exactly, was Ezekiel?—and the final battle was almost anticlimactic in its ending (though there’s no reason why it should have been, knowing what we know about ghosts in these books), but it was also satisfying and thrilling and lots of other good things. The resolution between Lucy and the skull was fantastic—in fact, the entire development of the relationship between the two of them was great, and far more interesting than Lucy’s other significant relationship with Lockwood—and the ending, though not as clear-cut as it possibly could have been, made sense and fit with the overall “feel” of the books.
I really enjoyed these books, so much so that I want to reread the Bartimaeus trilogy again (though I do feel that Lockwood & Co. is a superior series). The balance between horror and levity was spot-on, and Stroud’s writing made me enjoy a story about ghosts, a genre I usually stay away from. The Red Room scene from the first book still stands out in my mind as one of the creepiest scenes in any book I’ve read, yet it hooked me rather than scared me away.
The Empty Grave is a fitting end to the series, with resolution from all corners (no dangling plot threads! Yay!), the satisfaction of knowing that the characters grew and changed throughout the series and weren’t just cardboard throughout, and a slightly ambiguous, but ultimately hopeful ending that was a fitting end. I’m going to miss this series, but I’ll be looking forward to whatever Stroud puts out next.
A few hours after nine-year-old Garnet Linden finds a silver thimble in the dried-up riverbed, the rains come and end the long drought on the farm. The rains bring safety for the crops and the livestock, and money for Garnet’s father. Garnet can’t help feeling that the thimble is a magic talisman, for the summer proves to be interesting and exciting in so many different ways. There is the arrival of Eric, an orphan who becomes a member of the linden family; the building of a new barn; and the county fair at which Garnet’s carefully ended pig, Timmy, wins a blue ribbon. Every day brings adventure of some kind to Garnet and her best friend, Citronella. As far as Garnet is concerned, the thimble is responsible for each good thing that happens during this magic summer—her thimble summer.
I don’t think Thimble Summer is quite as strong as Enright’s Melendy Quartet or Gone-Away Lake (which must have had much stronger competition when it was published, as it only received a Newbery Honor and it’s arguably a stronger book than this one), but that’s understandable since this is one of Enright’s first books. It still has all the lovely Enright charm to it—she can make descriptions of one girl’s summer sound more exciting than a book about pirates and stolen treasure.
You can see the shaping here of what Enright really loved to explore in her books—the day-to-day, the small adventures that take place over the course of a day or a summer, the boundless joy of children, their desire for new things battling with their desire to keep things the same. Things never get too dark or too scary in this book, yet there are times when even Enright recognizes the need to express when things are serious. One of my favorite moments in the book was when Garnet goes off to a neighboring city without telling anyone where she’s going, and when she gets back she’s confronted by her neighbor, who gently chides her and reminds her that she has people who care about her and who worry if she disappears, and that what she considered an adventure was not felt that way by other people. It’s delivered in such a way that readers can definitely tell that Garnet did the wrong thing, but it’s done gently and woven well so that the story still keeps its lightheartedness and its joy.
Thimble Summer simply highlights how much better Enright will get in her writing: the good things in this book are amplified and better developed and executed in her later works, the flaws and weaknesses in this book are better reined in or gotten rid of altogether in later books. This is not my favorite Enright book, nor do I think it is her best, but it’s still charming, and so full of joy and life that you can’t help but read it with a smile.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
Garnet saw a small object, half-buried in the sand, and glittering. She knelt down ad dug it out with her finger. It was a silver thimble! How in the world had that ever found its way into the river? She dropped the old shoe, bits of polished glass, and a half dozen clamshells she had collected and ran breathlessly to show Jay.
“It’s solid silver!” she shouted triumphantly, “and I think it must be magic too!”
Valley of the Moon: The Diary of María Rosalia de Milagros, by Sherry Garland, was published in 2001 by Scholastic.
María Rosalía is a Mestizo servant in a Spanish home. Orphaned years ago, she and her brother Domingo work on a ranch run by the stern Señor Medina. María’s writing captures the intense tradition and culture of the Spanish as she observes the war that Alta California ultimately loses to the Americans.
I love the time period of Western Expansion and the pioneering age, but I’ve rarely gotten to read about what it was like in those territories before people from the East started moving there. Valley of the Moon fills in some of that missing information. I knew from my American Girl doll books growing up (Josephina) about the strong Mexican/Spanish culture that stretched from Texas to California, but it’s not really something I consider when I read books about the Gold Rush or whatever. This Dear America book fills in all those gaps, and also addresses the plight of the Native Americans to an extent.
María is half-Indian and half-Spanish, and although most of the book depicts the Spanish culture, some aspects of it address the declining Indian population. The book is vibrantly, unapologetically Spanish (what today we would call Mexican, but that term is never used in the book—Spanish is the word used to describe the californios). That may seem like an exaggeration, and maybe it is, but I haven’t read many books set in that time period that really describe the Mexican culture of the time, especially not for this age group.
This is a long Dear America book, but for the most part I didn’t notice the length. Garland does a good job of interspersing tension, historical information, and continuation of plot so that the pace is even throughout. While most of the book is dedicated to everyday activities (a combination of cultural and religious events and María’s own development), a bit of it is dedicated to the moment when California, briefly, became a republic and then was claimed by the United States. That part may be the weakest part of the book, actually, although the revelation of María’s father is also pretty weak, in my opinion, if only because of how convenient it is.
I’m not sure if Valley of the Moon is the best book for describing how California became part of the United States, or even if it’s a good book for describing the Mexican-American War. However, it’s a great book for describing the way the Mexican way of life infused the culture of California at the time, how the Indian population dwindled because of the settlers, and is a great starting point for a discussion on what aspects of the Mexican culture we can still see today, and what has been lost over time.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
Lupita does not trust the norteamericanos. She says they are supposed to become loyal Mexican citizens, learn to speak Spanish, and become Catholics in exchange for land. But not all of them do as they agreed. She especially dislikes the foreigner Johann Sutter, who encourages other foreigners to come to California illegally without permission from the Mexican government. There are already squatters on Señor Median’s lands. Lupita thinks they will take over Alta California before long.
A Line in the Sand: The Alamo Diary of Lucinda Lawrence, by Sherry Garland, was published in 1998 by Scholastic.
In the journal she receives for her twelfth birthday in 1835, Lucinda Lawrence describes the hardships her family and other residents of the “Texas colonies” endure when they decide to face the Mexicans in a fight for their freedom.
Having lived in Texas for the past 4 ½ years, I’ve come to a better appreciation of the history of Texas, especially the Alamo. And it was nice to read A Line in the Sand and be able to identify the landmarks and visualize the basic area in which the story takes place.
As the topic might suggest, this is not, at its heart, a happy story. It’s a retelling of a time when families struggled to live off the Texas land, struggled to reconcile their Tejano neighbor with their Mexican enemies (which Garland conveys superbly, by the way, by detailing how intermingled the cultures were and how Mexicans fought alongside “Anglos” to repel their own leader, whom they feared), and struggled to hold back the Mexican forces at the Alamo—a fight they failed at, with devastating loss of life.
The end of the book cannot be described as happy. It does depict the final victory of the Texans over Santa Anna at San Jacinto, but the news comes after the horrifying details of the Texans’ flight across Texas in front of the advancing Mexican army. If anything, the ending of the book is a bittersweet resolution as the Texans realize the fight is over, but realize how much they’ve lost. It’s a survivor’s ending, basically.
A Line in the Sand does a great job of depicting the culture of the time as well as the various tensions and opinions of the people. The buildup is slow, and the ending is quick, but it matches the bewilderment that the settlers must have faced when they heard the news of the Alamo and had to flee for their lives—a flight which cost many more lives. It’s not a happy story, but it’s sorrow is countered by the hopeful note sounding at the end in the determination and relief of the Texans. This is one of the Dear America books I had never read growing up, and I’m glad that I got to finally read it now, especially as someone living in Texas now.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
This evening, about one hundred and fifty Texians crossed the river by ferry. They decided they would not wait for Mexican soldiers to attack Gonzales, but would find them and attack first. With heavy hearts we said farewell to Willis and Uncle Henry. I think every woman was silently weeping, though we cheered and tried to show courage and act like ladies. It is eerily quiet now. After she fed Papa, I saw Mama go behind the smokehouse to Baby Mary’s grave. That is where she always goes to be alone with her thoughts and to have a good cry.
It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him: He has his own suitcase full of special things. He’s the author of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers advertising Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!! Bud’s got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him–not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.
While watching the film Coco, about ten minutes into the movie I thought, “Wow, this movie is a little bit like Bud, Not Buddy.” Don’t worry, I won’t spoil Coco, or this novel, but both function around the same premise: boy searches for lost family member tied to music.
Basically, Bud runs away from an abusive foster home to search for his lost father, who he believes is connected to the posters his mother had of a jazz band. Along the way, he runs across a “redcap” who is trying to help spread unionization, and gets involved in the world of jazz. There’s also references to Hoovervilles, as well as racial tension at the time.
It’s a book I read as a child, and one I remember quite well. Bud is a plucky, courageous protagonist, whose politeness is a breath of fresh air after reading books with rude main characters. The story is heartwarming, but also very bittersweet, especially the ending, or at least I thought so. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but this book has the capability of hitting readers very hard with Bud’s circumstances as well as what he finds out about his family. It’s a happy book, or at least it has a happy ending, but there’s still a note of poignancy that makes it far more reminiscent of reality than a stereotypical happy ending.
Bud, Not Buddy, is bittersweet, with an ending that’s almost too sudden, yet somehow fits perfectly with the overall mood of the book. Bud is a great protagonist, and he reads more like a real person than most protagonists do, in my opinion. The message is powerful and poignant and the best part about the book. It’s a memorable Newbery, one that stuck in my mind for years after I first read it.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
“Where’s your momma and daddy?”
“My mother died four years ago.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“It’s OK, she didn’t suffer or nothing.”
“So where’s your daddy?”
“I think he lives in Grand Rapids, I never met him.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Shucks, she held right on to my hand when she said that. I squirmed my hand a-loose and said, “That’s OK too.”
Deza said, “No it’s not, and you should quit pretending that it is.”
“Who said I’m pretending anything?”
“I know you are, my daddy says families are the most important thing there is.”
Alcatraz Smedry has successfully defeated the army of Evil Librarians and saved the kingdom of Mokia. Too bad he managed to break the Smedry Talents in the process. Even worse, his father is trying to enact a scheme that could ruin the world, and his friend, Bastille, is in a coma. To revive her, Alcatraz must infiltrate the Highbrary–known as The Library of Congress to Hushlanders–the seat of Evil Librarian power. Without his Talent to draw upon, can Alcatraz figure out a way to save Bastille and defeat the Evil Librarians once and for all?
It was a little bit strange starting off this book because the format of it was so different. Tor completely revamped the series, giving them much better cover art as well as illustrations, and the style fits the books really well—but the change was still jarring to me.
However, once I got used to it, I was able to enjoy all the usual Alcatraz nonsense. The footnotes were hilarious, especially the detailed list of deaths he never wants to die, and the book itself takes a drastic swing towards the dark as Alcatraz recounts his final tale. The change in atmosphere is abrupt, as the book is much more of a downer story than the first four, but I thought the bleak nature of it balanced well with the humor.
It’s actually quite hard to fully talk about this book, as the ending is quite surprising and saying too much would be a spoiler. It might be the best Alcatraz book in terms of mechanics (meaning it’s less formulaic), and Sanderson really upends and even makes fun of the prior books and what goes on in them. I appreciate authors who deviate from formulas, especially those who are willing to poke fun at what they wrote. And the illustrations really help the overall “serious-but-not-so-serious” nature of the books themselves—they are a great addition to the series.
The Dark Talent takes the series into a darker, bleaker place, but is almost arguably the better for it. The new look to the series adds to the overall atmosphere, and this novel in particular is the perfect balance of funny and serious. Sanderson is particularly devious in his plot mechanics in this book, though saying more would be spoiler-ific. This may be my favorite book in the Alcatraz series.
The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, was published in 1983 by Doubleday (1979 in Germany).
This epic work of the imagination has captured the hearts of millions of readers worldwide since it was first published more than a decade ago. Its special story within a story is an irresistible invitation for readers to become part of the book itself….The story begins with a lonely boy named Bastian and the strange book that draws him into the beautiful but doomed world of Fantastica. Only a human can save this enchanted place—by giving its ruler, the Childlike Empress, a new name. But the journey to her tower leads through lands of dragons, giants, monsters, and magic—and once Bastian begins his quest, he may never return. As he is drawn deeper into Fantastica, he must find the courage to face unspeakable foes and the mysteries of his own heart.
The Neverending Story is a movie that I’ve heard referenced many times, especially in college. I’ve never seen it, and I had forgotten that the film was based off a book until I saw it at the library. I like fantasy, so I decided to give it a try.
The Neverending Story is a story-within-a-story, cleverly written with different colors of ink to represent two different worlds, and solely designed to have the reader imagine that they, like Bastian, are able to participate in Fantastica. Even the cover art was carefully chosen to match the description given in the book. It was quite clever, one of the more creative uses of the story-within-a-story trope that I’ve read. I feel like this is what Cornelia Funke was trying to get Inkheart to be like, except reversed (characters coming into the real world rather than humans going into the fantasy one).
I always enjoy protagonists who fluctuate a bit in likeability—like Johnny Tremain in Esther Forbes’s book of the same title. Bastian starts out as the passive protagonist, then switches to the active one—and along the way experiments with villainy as his power gets away with him. Ende does a remarkable portrayal of the corruption of power, as well as the way living too much in your imagination results in your real life slipping away from you.
There is some grand message to the whole book, of course, but I feel like it’s done rather well, without being laid on too thick. Either that, or it’s interwoven well enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s too much. Ende has a lot to say about imagination, and the role that the reader has in participating in the fantasy world, and the way readers shape stories.
The Neverending Story gets a little bloated at times—it’s a long book—but I enjoyed the character development, the way Ende visualizes the writing process and the role of the reader, and the adventure feel to the whole thing. Now, I guess I’ll have to watch the movie!
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“My life belongs to you,” said the dragon, “if you’ll accept it. I thought you’d need a mount for this Great Quest of yours. And you’ll soon see that crawling around the country on two legs, or even galloping on a good horse, can’t hold a candle to whizzing through the air on the back of a luckdragon. Are we partners?”
“We’re partners,” said Atreyu.
“By the way,” said the dragon. “My name is Falkor.”
Disclaimer: Phoebe’s Light, by Suzanne Woods Fisher, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Phoebe Starbuck has always taken care of her father—worrying enough for both of them, as he chases one whim after another. Now, for the first time, she’s doing what she wants to do: marrying Captain Phineas Foulger and sailing far away from Nantucket. As she leaves on her grand adventure, she takes two gifts from her father, but desires only one: her great-grandmother’s journal. The second gift? A “minder” in the form of cooper Matthew Mitchell (sic), a man she loathes. Phoebe soon discovers that life at sea is no easier than life on land. Lonely, seasick, and disillusioned, she turns the pages of Great Mary’s journal and finds a secret that carries repercussions for everyone aboard the ship, especially the captain and the cooper.
I wasn’t fond of the first book I read of Fisher’s, Anna’s Crossing, but to my pleasant surprise, Phoebe’s Light was a unique, interesting read. It tells two stories concurrently, that of Phoebe’s in 1767 and that of Mary’s in 1658 (through to 1661). The book gives much historical information about the founding of Nantucket, whaling, and the early history and beliefs of Quakers.
Mary’s story read a lot like a Dear America novel, which is perhaps why I was drawn to it over Phoebe’s story. It’s not that Phoebe’s story was uninteresting, it’s just that Mary’s did a much better job of drawing me in. It’s also the much more historical of the two, as it depicts the first settlers to Nantucket, their struggles, and their interaction with the natives on the island. I also appreciated Mary’s struggles and romantic plights more than I did Phoebe’s.
Phoebe’s story was also good, though again, I didn’t like it as much as Mary’s. I liked its uniqueness of plot, and while the romance was a little conventional, Fisher dealt with it in a very good way. There’s a tad too much time of Phoebe being sick at sea, but otherwise I thought the pacing was good, the mystery compelling, and the characterization well-developed.
My only major complaint is that Fisher falls into the same sort of pickle that Christian authors fall into when they’re trying to portray a complicated romance situation. I’ll try not to be too spoilery here, but, basically Phoebe’s situation makes it hard for Fisher to deliver the sort of “pure and innocent” vibe that a lot of Christian authors put on their female protagonists, so in order to keep that vibe, Fisher finagles and excuses and puts plot armor all over Phoebe so that by the end of the book, she still has that vibe. Fisher does it more realistically than some, but I think that sort of machination overall isn’t realistic, or true to what a lot of people experience today.
Beyond that, Phoebe’s Light lifted Fisher up in my eyes as an author. It was a compelling story, with an even more compelling “story-within-a-story,” the characters were good and well-developed, and it is one of the more unique books I’ve read from Revell.
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, was published in 2009 by Yearling.
By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message bringers her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.
When You Reach Me is a book that, after I finished it, I was surprised to look back and find that I liked it. I mean, while reading it, I was engaged in the story, and I had this overall positive impression throughout the book. So I suppose it’s not really so surprising that I enjoyed the book. But it is surprising that Stead could include such a strange turn of events in the plot and the entire premise and I still wound up enjoying the book despite its oddball reveal.
I don’t want to say too much, because it is such a strange and random revelation that saying it might make the novel seem cheap. It’s not—it’s a Newbery winner, after all—but a simple description or summary really doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know how I felt about the reveal, but Stead incorporates it in such a way that by the time it is revealed, I cared enough about the characters that I could roll with the punches.
Without the “surprise” of the novel, the story itself is delightful—a simple story about a girl growing up, trying desperately to fit into a changing environment and dealing with changing friends, rivalries, and odd and scary neighbors. Stead portrays nicely the changing dynamics of friendships as people grow older. Even though not too much development is given to the secondary characters, Miranda’s friends and family, they’re still interesting enough that her time spent with them seems meaningful. It’s also nice to see a rivalry story that isn’t over-the-top dramatic.
When You Reach Me has a bizarre reveal that actually works with the story as she developed it, so that even as strange as it was, it somehow seemed to fit with the story. It’s a unique sort of novel, and the main story itself, without the twist at the end, is good enough to warrant the Newbery medal, in my opinion. The twist doesn’t make the book better, but it certainly makes it stand out more.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Children’s, Realistic, Science Fiction
I was named after a criminal. Mom says that’s a dramatic way of looking at things, but sometimes the truth is dramatic.
“The name Miranda stands for people’s rights,” she said last fall, when I was upset because Robbie B. had told me during gym that I was named after a kidnapper.