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.
Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house. Archer B. Helmsley longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house? It helps that he has friends like Adelaide L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures to end up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps from a run-in with a crocodile. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so Archer doesn’t have to). Archer, Adelaide, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan. Well, it’s not bad, anyway. But nothing goes quite as they expect.
The Doldrums is a whimsical, light-hearted story about a boy who longs to have an adventure and, especially, to meet his grandparents. He befriends two other children, one a down-to-earth boy and the other an imaginative girl, and together they plot a way to get Archer out of his house and on his way to see his grandparents. A controlling mother who wants to keep Archer from becoming his grandparents and a strict, overbearing teacher help bring in some tension and conflict for the characters.
What really won me over in this book wasn’t the story, though that was delightful. It was really the beautiful color illustrations. I am a sucker for color illustrations, and these were perfect and fit the mood of the book so well. I also love whimsical stories at heart—stories that aren’t too absurd as to be farcical, that are light and funny and charming and interesting. That’s exactly what The Doldrums is, and it is so perfect for anyone who is in “the doldrums” because it will lift them out immediately. It’s a very cheering book, in my opinion.
The Doldrums is one of the more stand-out books I’ve read in a long time. It was delightful and charming, and the color illustrations were gorgeous. There’s absurdity in the book, but it’s more whimsical than anything. Archer learns important lessons about family and imagination, and everything is bright and cheery and lovely. The book entranced me and swept me up. It’s probably not a book for everyone, but it was a delight for me.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade
Archer opened his bag and handed Oliver a mobile made of fish.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” Oliver asked.
“Use the headband,” said Archer. “Strap it to your head.”
Oliver considered this and then, like any good sidekick, strapped the fish to his head. “Why am I strapping fish to his head?” he asked.
The Girl from Felony Bay, by J. E. Thompson, was published in 2003 by HarperCollins.
I’m not going to lie to you, the last year has been rougher than alligator hide for me and my dad. You see, he’s in the hospital in a coma since his accident a year back, wherein he was framed for a terrible crime he didn’t commit. Our home, Reward Plantation, had to be sold to pay off his debt to society, so I’m stuck living with my Uncle Charlie, who, even in the few hours a day when he’s sober, ain’t exactly your ideal parental role model. And I managed to run afoul of Jimmy Simmons, the meanest kid in the sixth grade, and on the last day of school no less. But things just got a bit more interesting. Turns out the new family that moved into Reward Plantation has a daughter named Bee, who is the same age as I am. And she’s just as curious about all the No Trespassing signs and holes being dug out by Felony Bay, in the corner of what used to be my home. Seems like someone’s been poking around a mystery that dates all the way back to the Civil War—and it just might be the same someone who framed my dad. I’m Abbey, by the way. Abbey Force. And if it takes all summer, I’m going to find out what’s happening out on Felony Bay, and maybe even clear my dad’s name.
The Girl from Felony Bay has lots of things I’m not fond of in middle grade books in general and mysteries in particular. The protagonist, Abbey, is decent enough, though she makes one too many “puzzle piece mystery” guesses for my liking, as well as ends the book with five pages of moralizing and “these are the lessons I learned” summation. I also didn’t much like the scene at the end where she gives the usual “whodunit” spiel and then all the police officers applaud her, literally, and mention how incredibly smart and wonderful she is. It’s clunky and awkward and the reader really didn’t need the reminder that Abbey can solve things quickly, since that’s what she spends the entire book doing.
I did like how Thompson brought up the idea of heir’s property, though I’m not sure how well he incorporates it into the mystery as a whole. I suppose it was relevant in the sense that it got Abbey and Bee wondering about why the property had been sold in the first place.
As for the mystery itself, it was pretty far-fetched, in my opinion, or perhaps that was simply a problem with the delivery of it. The writing really wasn’t the best. The characterization also didn’t help, with the villains being bland and one-note and their machinations unbelievable. The whole thing was simply clunky and poorly executed and developed.
The Girl From Felony Bay was pretty much a disappointment from start to finish. The mystery was slapdash and unbelievable, Abbey spent her time wavering between Action Girl and Brilliant Detective Girl, with awkward conversations from the adults around her interspersed, and the whole thing was simply far too sloppy and mediocre for me to enjoy it. The cover art, at least, is cool and intriguing (Brett Helquist!), but nothing else about the book is.
The Goldfish Boy, by Lisa Thompson, was published in 2017 by Scholastic.
Matthew Corbin hasn’t been to school in weeks. He refuses to leave the safety of his bedroom. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He knows something isn’t right, but he just wants to be left alone. So he watches from his upstairs window as life goes on without him. Matthew’s hopes for solitude are shattered, however, when a young child staying next door goes missing. Suddenly the neighborhood is swarming with police and reporters—and everyone is concerned with what Matthew might have seen from his window. He might just hold the key to solving the mystery before it’s too late. But does he even want to try, if it means exposing his own secrets in the process?
The Goldfish Boy reminded me a little bit of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, though only at the beginning. The premise of the book is that Matthew, suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder since the death of his baby brother, decides to solve the mystery of who kidnapped his next-door neighbor’s grandson. Along the way, he learns more about his neighbors as well as himself, his parents, and his disorder.
It’s the type of angsty, yet still heartwarming, read that I used to gobble up in college. Now reading these sorts of books, I get a mildly sick feeling. Luckily, The Goldfish Boy didn’t pile on too much angst, and countered the amount it had with lots of therapy and hope. As a book about what might trigger OCD, as well as what it’s like and how to deal with it, it’s very good. It also has a good message about friendship and family.
The mystery at the heart of the plot, however, is not so great. Thompson leaves all the appropriate clues and red herrings, so it’s not that the quality is bad. I just found the motive of the responsible person to be rather weak. It made no sense to me why Teddy was kidnapped at all; the ending was anticlimactic and rushed and I didn’t buy the reason the kidnapper gave. A fault of the exposition, I believe, in not developing all the characters enough so that their motivations and actions make sense.
The Goldfish Boy contains enough angst to make me uncomfortable, but enough hope and heartwarming scenes to alleviate that feeling slightly. I liked the look into a condition that the average person doesn’t really understand or know about, but the mystery itself fell apart a little bit in terms of motivation and behavior. A good book, but not necessarily one I would recommend immediately.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade
“I’ll tell you what, let’s make a deal. I’ll move if you promise to come and see Dr. Kerr tomorrow morning. How does that sound?”
She’d have been in the conservatory this morning, her bare feet padding around the cold tiles where Nigel chucks up fur balls and mouse guts. She must be riddled with germs—germs that were now escaping in their millions into my room. I gripped the edge of the door and thought about slamming it against her toes, but if I did that I might end up with blood on my carpet, and that made me feel dizzy. I didn’t look up.
Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk, was published in 2017 by Dutton.
Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift in a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow’s only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar. Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn’t until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.
Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow was one of my favorite books of 2016, so I was excited to jump into her new book, Beyond the Bright Sea. And it’s as memorable and powerful as her first book, combining a tough, yet still child-like protagonist (whose moments of “Would a child really say or do that?” are mitigated by the time period and the circumstances) with a gripping plot and an interesting historical context.
Crow learns important lessons about family, bravery, and identity throughout the book, lessons that are subtly done and are interwoven well with the plot. I do have issues with Osh’s statement of “What you do is who you are” because it too closely intertwines behavior with self, leading to the belief that if one hates a behavior, they must therefore hate the person doing that behavior, which isn’t true in the slightest. Luckily, it isn’t dwelt on very much in the book, nor does that statement seem to be Wolk’s main focus, so I was able to put aside my disgruntlement.
For people who love diversity in books, this one checks off all the boxes: both Osh and Crow are non-white; Osh is presumably a Native American (or possibly Inuit? It was very vague), while Crow is (again, vague) described as “dark,” presumably with African heritage. There’s an interesting conversation between Osh and Miss Maggie about Osh’s origins, which in comparison to, say, the extreme heavy-handedness in Rae Carson’s Walk On Earth a Stranger, was lightly critical without getting preachy. There’s also a fun scene where Crow sees someone of her own race and is both shocked and delighted.
Beyond the Bright Sea’s plot doesn’t have particularly unique or new twists and turns, but it is compelling; the story is powerful and gripping, the messages are good and executed well, and the characters are interesting. Wolk blends talking points with natural flow very well, making things less preachy, and at the end of the book her message about family stands strong.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
I pulled up on the twine and found a ring nestled in the fold of cloth. I held it up in the light and was surprised to see the gleam of a red gemstone.
It was too big, even for my biggest finger.
“Do you think I’m from Newport, then?” I whispered. “From a rich family?”
The Disappearance of Emily H., by Barrie Summy, was published in 2015 by Delacorte.
Emily Huvar vanished without a trace. And the clues are right beneath Raine’s fingertips. Literally, Raine isn’t like other eighth graders. One touch of a glittering sparkle that only Raine can see, and she’s swept into a memory from the past. If she touches enough sparkles, she can piece together what happened to Emily. When Raine realizes that the cliquey group of girls making her life miserable know more than they’re letting on about Emily’s disappearance, she has to do something. She’ll use her supernatural gift for good…to fight evil. But is it too late to save Emily?
The Disappearance of Emily H. takes a potentially interesting premise and then immediately drags it through the mud, combining teenage drama that’s just a tad too over-the-top (I feel like the author simply watched a bunch of teenage movies about high school and then based her book off of that) with a weak, unnecessary supernatural aspect. I nearly didn’t finish the book.
The protagonist, Raine, has this supernatural ability: she can sense people’s memories when she touches “sparkles.” It’s mentioned briefly at the beginning of the book that this ability of hers has been muted lately. Yet there is no explanation given as to why, nor is this problem addressed or solved later on. Anyway, she uses this ability to help unravel the mystery surrounding a local girl’s disappearance, as well as spy on the people around her and bring down a bully by resorting to bullying.
The one redeemable aspect of this book was that Summy didn’t have the final mystery behind Emily’s disappearance be the dumb reason I thought it was initially. If it had been, I would have ended the book extremely angry. As it was, I ended the book mildly disgusted instead (my exact words were, after closing the novel, “What a dumb book.”).
There’s literally no reason for Raine to have the ability to sense people’s memories; all it does is serve to alienate her so that the Mean Girl Jessica (*Jennifer) can be even more Mean. The mystery could have been solved with just a little bit of extra detective work and if Raine had paid more attention to what people were telling her. I especially didn’t like that Raine and Shirlee dealt with Jessica (*Jennifer) by being bullies themselves, basically blackmailing her into submission. That’s a great way to teach kids about how to overcome their problems.
The Disappearance of Emily H. has an unnecessary premise, a mystery that completely falls flat once motives are figured out (though it’s much more reasonable than what I initially thought it to be), boring characters, and over-the-top melodrama that is poorly described and poorly resolved. I probably would not have had the patience to finish this novel if I hadn’t read most of it on a plane without much else to do.
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.
Alis and her parents have made the long journey from England to help settle the New World. They arrive on the island of Roanoke, a beautiful land of wide-open spaces, filled with tall trees and blue sky—a far cry from the dark, dirty streets of London. Alis is astounded by the natural beauty that surrounds her, but she wishes she had someone to share it all with—a friend. Kimi has every right to hate the English. They’ve brought illness and death to her people and killed her sister. Still, while she doesn’t trust them, she observes the new settlers curiously. When she first sets eyes on Alis, the only girl among them, Kimi can’t help but to seek her out. Despite not speaking the same language, the girls become as close as sisters. But rising tensions between the Roanoke and the English threaten to pull them apart. As the unrest continues to spread, Alis and Kimi will have to risk everything to stay together.
Blue Birds is a novel in verse, and I suppose it was good going into the novel that I didn’t know it was, otherwise it’s unlikely I would have picked it up if I had known. I don’t have anything against novels in verse, but I much prefer prose. The story is about the Lost Colony of Roanoke, although the main character, Alis, is completely fictional (there were no girls in that colony). Despite this, Rose stays as close to the little historical information we have about Roanoke as she can.
I believe the most commonly accepted theory as to what happened to the colony is that they integrated with some Native American tribe, whether on the mainland or on Croatoan. Rose does not explore this aspect, per se, which I found disappointing—I would have liked to seen some speculation. She does, however, tell everything (as far as we know) leading up to the colony leaving Roanoke.
It’s an interesting book, and I liked the fact that it takes place in a setting that I don’t think is in much historical fiction, but it failed to grip me beyond its historical speculation. I found Alis’s decision at the end of the novel wildly unbelievable, and I didn’t think the bond between Kimi and Alis was as significant or as strong as the novel wants to make you think—hence the unbelievability of Alis’s decision.
Despite its interesting setting and its look at the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Blue Birds is, sadly, forgettable. The characters were bland, Alis made strange decisions that made no sense, and I didn’t feel the connection between the two main characters. I also didn’t see the point of writing everything in verse, but at least it made for a quick, if unmemorable, read.
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.”