Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

4 stars (I really liked it).

Tristan Strong cover (link to Goodreads)

Out of all the books I’ve read in the kid-finds-out-the-myths-are-real subgenre, including the Fablehaven, Percy Jackson, and Aru Shah books, Tristan Strong might be my favorite. I have a soft spot for Fablehaven too, admittedly. But Tristan is consistently a surprising character, and the cast of characters he encounters is interesting, funny, and cool. There’s Tar Baby, John Henry, Brer Rabbit (and his cohorts, Bear and Fox), the Bone Ships, Anansi, and more, each with an interesting spin that makes this more than just a tour through the tales.

The book is action packed. It’s definitely a book for kids, not the type of book adults want kids to read to better themselves, though I think it does that too. I plan on reading the sequels.

Review: Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

4 stars (I really liked it).

I sometimes wonder why books in verse are converted to audiobook. There’s just so much you miss listening to a poem. Perhaps if the narrator paused at the ends of lines and did a dramatic reading, it would work okay. I somehow got all the way to the end of this not realizing it had been in verse (much like Other Words for Home). I do listen to my audiobooks at 2x speed, so maybe it’s my own fault. At any rate, go get a physical copy of this one.

This is a weird little story about an unusual girl, and it grew on me. It doesn’t go to the predictable places, in a good way. The main character, Calli, has multiple problems that get in the way of her making friends: she has Tourette’s syndrome, her mom has a bad habit of moving frequently and suddenly, she’s an astronomy nerd, and she dresses a few decades out of date. Watching her make friends was incredibly satisfying eventually, but it was uncomfortable being in her head for a lot of the book because I have known kids like her, who struggle to find any friends at all.

Heck, I’ve been a kid like her. Not the Tourette’s. Anyway, I liked it. Beautifully written, and I think it’s important for kids to realize what it’s like to be the kid that everyone picks on because they’re so strange. I’m surprised this book didn’t win awards, honestly. It seems like the type of book that should.

Review: Flora & Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo

2 stars (It was okay).

Flora & Ulysses cover (link to Goodreads)

This is the sort of book a six-year-old would probably love. It’s absolutely bonkers silly. None of it makes any sense. It’s precious and cute and zany.

I’m talking: Flora’s mother ignores her, focusing instead on her romance writing career. Her father, separated from her mother, is loving but a pushover. One day, Flora sees her neighbor vacuum up a squirrel in her back yard. The squirrel survives and develops the power to fly and write poetry. Hijinks ensue.

I barely got through it. If it had been longer, I would have given up. There were moments I liked, and I generally liked the main character, but I absolutely didn’t “get” it. My favorite parts involved William Spiver and Flora’s dad. There are cute pictures and very short chapters, so I’d recommend this for an emerging reader, around the same time they might be reading Junie B. Jones or My Weird School.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

3 stars (I liked it).

Echo cover (link to Goodreads)

This book had a very interesting format. There are really four stories in this book: the framing “fairy tale” story and then three stories with three different main characters in three different historical settings, one in Nazi Germany, one in an orphanage in Pennsylvania, and one in California during Japanese internment. All are tied together with one magical harmonica and with musical themes.

I loved the musical aspect, and there were some really beautiful thoughts expressed, but I didn’t really find that each individual story caught me as much as I wanted it to. Some parts seemed far-fetched or confusing. I kind of hated how each story ended, and the very end of the book fell flat for me.

That said, the book kept my attention all the way through, and the last section (the one about a girl whose Japanese neighbors are taken away by the government) was my favorite. I loved the brave heroine.

Overall I liked it. You probably will too.

The DNFs for 2019: On to 2020 books!

I am finally done reviewing books read in 2019. Not to worry, though! I have read 15 books so far this year and am reading two others. It’s been a little harder to listen to audiobooks due to COVID-19, since now we’re all in closer quarters, and I don’t want to bug my family. I still listen when I’m in the car, when I’m in a room by myself doing dishes or folding laundry, or when I’m out in my garden pulling weeds.

I have said before that I generally don’t review books that I don’t finish, since I don’t feel like I’ve given them a fair shake. But sometimes I have so many thoughts about a book, or I think it’s good but not for me, that I have to share them anyway.

Two books that fit in this category are Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief and The Light between Worlds.

The Lightning Thief cover (link to Goodreads)

First, Percy Jackson. It’s so popular that I felt obligated to give it a try, at least so I could know what it was all about. From the beginning I knew exactly what it was that kids liked about it. Percy’s voice is snarky, funny, perfectly middle grade. The plot clipped along, and Percy was always an active player in it. So far so good.

But there were things about it that MAJORLY annoyed me, to the point where even though I was mostly enjoying the book, I had to put it down. One was the premise that Olympus moves to where the center of human advancement is. This really rubbed me the wrong way, to say that Greece was the pinnacle of humanity at the time, when China, Egypt, and the Mayans gave the Greeks a run for their money in 800-700 BC.

I was also annoyed with the fact that Percy was dealt a HUGE blow early in the book and then got swept up in mysteries and adventures and barely processed it for more than a few pages. That rang false to me.

And when all the adults in Percy’s life basically told him, “Yeah, we have big secrets, but we’re not going to tell you for reasons,” I got bored.

Abandoned a little over a quarter of the way in.

The Light Between Worlds cover (link to Goodreads)

The Light Between Worlds is an entirely different story. The premise is that two sisters have come back from a world like Narnia and are adapting to normal life, each in her own way. One sister is really, really struggling. Nothing seems to matter. She can’t connect with people who don’t know what she’s been through, and she lives in memory most of the time. The other sister is doing better but almost going too far the other direction, with university, makeup, young men, etc.

Honestly, it was beautifully written. But I read it in the fall, and I tend to struggle with seasonal blues in the fall, and it was just so, so depressing. I think that’s what Laura Weymouth was going for (an honest look at depression). But I couldn’t do it at that time. Abandoned at about the 2/3 mark.