Shelli reviews this medieval fantasy, in which a girl learns to channel her inner heroine.
Epic adventure awaits in these fabulously constructed fantasy worlds.
When a deadly fog envelopes the Earth, people take to the skies, where a ragtag bunch of scavengers is ready to risk everything for a better life. First in a series. (Middle grades)
Jaxter Grimjinx was born to be a master thief—but it turns out that with disaster bearing down on his world, he may need to become a hero instead. (Middle grades)
Moril’s witnessed his father’s murder and his brother’s imprisonment, but that’s just the beginning of his problems. First in a quartet. (Middle grades)
Russian spies, magical potions, and a mysterious book star in an adventure that begins in 1950s California. First in a series. (Middle grades)
Nix’s pirate father can sail his ship to any place, real or imagined, as long as he has a map. But the place he’s most determined to go may spell doom for his daughter. (Young adult)
Bradley reimagines the Arthurian legends from a feminist, pagan perspective in this dense volume told mostly from the perspective of the traditionally vilified Morgan le Fay. (Young adult)
Though it’s often recommended for middle grades, I think this subversive retelling of Paradise Lost is more likely to appeal to teens. (Young adult)
Another London—filled with magic and intrigue—exists parallel to the city Richard Mayhew knows—and Mayhew is about to slip through one of the cracks between worlds. (Young adult)
Spectacular world-building lights up this fantasy about a world where humans and intelligent dragons live in an uneasy truce. (Young adult)
When Owen finds out his friend Bethany is half-fictional, he can’t wait to join her next jump into his favorite books—but fictional adventure proves more hazardous than he’s anticipated. (Middle grades)
Witnessing a murder wins Oscar a seat on a magical train that travels through time and space. (Middle grades)
Addie’s always been happy in the shadow of her adventurous sister Meryl, but when Meryl catches the Gray Death, Addie must summon her own courage and set out alone to save her sister. (Middle grades
This list is reprinted from the summer 2016 issue of HSL.
In brief: Master Thief is the obvious career for a boy who no one can ever remember, but Fin dreams of finding the one person he knows will remember him—his lost mother. Instead, he meets Marrill, a school girl from our own world, who can somehow remember Fin—but who desperately needs to find her way back to her family. The Map to Everywhere holds the answer for both of them, but they’ll have to navigate the worlds of the Pirate Stream to find the missing pieces and put them back together.
What makes it a great readaloud? Fin and Marrill are smart, believable characters who forge a strong, believable friendship within their crazy circumstances. Their bond is the heart of this book—but there’s also plenty of adventure and humor to keep you reading.
But be aware: It’s not exactly a cliff-hanger, but the ending does set up the next book.
Quotable: “Magic is just the potential for creation. It follows no rules and breaks them all.”
Jamie is a curious kid. And one day, his curiosity gets him in the worst kind of trouble when he stumbles on a group of shadowy, cloaked figures playing a secret game and gets expelled from his world by them: “You are now a discard. We have no further use for you in play. You are free to walk the Bounds, but it will be against the rules for you to enter play in any world. If you succeed in returning Home, then you may enter play again in the normal manner.”
As Jamie stumbles through his new circumstances, figuring out the rules of the game as he’s pulled from fantastic world to fantastic world (Diana Wynne Jones is a genius when it comes to creating worlds) at irregular intervals by Them, he dreams of finding his way home. What he finds instead are two friends in the same position he is: Helen, a priestess with a magic arms, and Joris, an assistant to a famous demon-hunter. Together, they decide that it’s time to put an end to Their manipulative gaming and to get back to their own worlds for good. They end up in up in a contemporary version of England, where they team up with two regular people and Joris’s demon-hunter owner who’s crossed world barriers to find his assistant. But defeating Them is no easy task, and the price for victory may be greater than they anticipated.
I love Diana Wynne Jones for many reasons, but one of them is that her books are always surprising—even though she often plays with the same ideas, the same worlds, and even the same characters, you can never predict what’s going to happen next in her books. Homeward Bounders was the first of her books I read as a kid, and it stuck with me—it’s so weird and compelling, and it has one of the best and saddest last lines of any story ever. I love the way her books blend the mythology and history we know with her own made-up history and mythology, so that you’re constantly realizing connections right along with the characters in the story. There’s always an undercurrent of darkness in her books, and it’s definitely strong in this one, but I like that her happy endings are never simple. Reading level-wise, this is a middle grades book, but like so many of Diana Wynne Jones’s books, it’s hard to pigeonhole. Older or younger readers could definitely love it.
- one year ago: Stuff We Like :: 5.27.16
AMY SHARONY is the founder and editor-in-chief of home | school | life magazine. She's a pretty nice person until someone starts pluralizing things with apostrophes, but then all bets are off.
Come to this wild and weird YA historical fantasy expected a rollicking tale and lots of laughs, not historical accuracy, and you’re pretty much guaranteed an enjoyable read. Almost everyone knows the sad story of England’s nine-day queen, but this book gives her a shot an actual happy ending—if Monty Python decided to write an alternate Tudor history, this might just be the result. Fun and frothy in all the best ways.
You can't blame people for wanting to visit the magical world next door, but it's not exactly easy on that magical world's inhabitants—especially when the holiday organizer, Mr. Chesney, requires everyone to put their lives on hold and enact fantastic scenarios for his Pilgrim Parties. The natives are restless, and they're determined to get their freedom back—starting with appointing a terrifically inept Dark Lord for the latest season of tourists. You can't go wrong with DWJ, and this often-hilarious novel is an ideal summer (or anytime) readaloud.
We reviewed this eerie middle grades ghost story when it first came out: A girl who can talk to ghosts makes her first real-live friend, and they quickly bond over the fact that they both have lost parents. She's never been happier—but her ghost-talking talent has been noticed by dangerous people, and her real and ghostly friends will have to team up if they want to save her. This is definitely more spooky and atmospheric than your typical middle grades novel, but kids who like that kind of story will be entranced by the adventures of Pram, Felix, and Clarence.
Like Redwall and the Warriors series, Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole pulls readers into a complex animal society—this time, the world of the owls. Young Soren is rescued from the forest floor by mysterious owls, but instead of returning him to his nest, they take Soren to a secret school for orphaned owls where brainwashing and military training are key parts of the syllabus. But Soren, bolstered by new friendships and the stories of the legendary owls of Ga'Hoole, is determined to escape and to prevent whatever nefarious plans his captors have underway. This is the first book in the series and a great summer reading kick-off.
Terry Pratchett takes a totally different tone in this definitely-not-Discworld novel set in Victorian London. When a teenage street kid who survives by scrounging sewers rescues a damsel in distress on a rainy night, he has no idea that his entire life is about to change. The quick-witted, not-always-totally-scrupulous hero is equal to whatever adventures his curiosity puts in his way as he deals with unexpected challenges and a motley crew of invented and historical Victorians. It's a delightfully Dickensian romp, and if that's your thing, you'll want to put this one on your summer reading list.
Sometimes a curse can be just what you needed, as Sophie discovers in this delightful fantasy about a hat maker's daughter who's cursed to premature old age by the Witch of the Waste. To break the curse, Sophie will need to team up with the mysterious wizard Howl, who happens to be stuck under a curse of his own—but first, she'll have to get to his castle, which has a habit of wandering around. I love this as a readaloud, on its own, or (of course) a companion piece to the equally wonderful (though often quite different) movie adaptation.
Need a new series to sink your teeth into this summer? Here you go: Rick Riordan heads back to Greek mythology with this series, which sets a turned-into-a-human-teen Apollo (he made Zeus mad once too often) in modern-day New York City. To survive—Apollo's made a lot of enemies who are ready to take advantage of his vulnerable human form—he's going to need some help from the Camp Half-Blood gang. This series kickoff is exactly what you'd expect from Riordan: non-stop action, lots of wit and pop culture references, and plenty of mythological mayhem. And who can resist a book for less than a buck?
Honorine can’t remember anything from the time before Lord Vidalia brought her home with him to his country estate, but she knows that she’s fortunate to have found a home. Not all orphans are so lucky. Sure, the starching, dusting, and cleaning duties that fill her days as a maid aren’t intellectually stimulating, but she has Lord Vidalia’s library of curious books, and she has her mechanical inventions, and—until he left for boarding school after his father disappeared—she had her best friend Francis, heir to the Vidalia estate. It’s a perfectly fine life—that comes crashing to a halt one night when the mansion is invaded, and Honorine flees into the grounds to escape and plunges into an adventure she could never have imagined.
The constellations we know—Orion, Andromeda, Canis Major—are alive, and they’re being hunted by a mysterious Mapmaker in a fantastic, steampunk flying ship. The constellations have their own fantastic, steampunk flying ship, and Honorine’s torn between the constellations—with whom she seems to have a real connection—and their hunters, who include her old friend Francis. As she’s pulled into the adventure, she realizes that the constellations may also be able to help her solve the mystery of her parents.
The Star Thief is a middle grades fantasy novel with a premise that any star-gazer would love, and it’s full of complicated alliances and even more complicated machinery. It’s a totally fun, action-packed adventure story—it’s so fun that it may not even bother you that the characters get short shrift in this story. (Even Honorine feels one-dimensional most of the time.) The constellations’ living ship sometimes feels like it has more personality than any of the creatures inhabiting it. (The ship is pretty amazing and imaginative, so that’s maybe less of an insult than it sounds like.) If you can coast along on the plot and fantastic descriptions, you’ll definitely enjoy the ride, but if you’re looking for something deeper from a book, this one is likely to disappoint. I like a fun read now and then and I enjoyed The Star Thief, but I couldn’t help wishing for the book it might have been. I think it would be fun to do as a readaloud when you’re studying constellations or as a pool or park readaloud on a lazy summer day when you just want something with lots of ac