Liesl and Po

4 stars (I really liked it)

Liesl & Po cover (link to Goodreads)

I’m not sure what to call the subgenre that Liesl and Po fits into, but I recognized it immediately. It’s a stylized Victorian England where everything is sooty, adults are self-centered and horrid, and children are suffering but still full of wonder and goodness. Sometimes there’s magic or other supernatural elements. The movie The Box Trolls is a classic example:

Both child leads in Liesl & Po are being abused, but Liesl befriends a ghost named Po, who begins to change her life, and meanwhile Will (a delivery boy) accidentally ends up in possession of the most powerful magic in the universe, and when the three of them (Liesl, Po, and Will) team up, they find a way to defeat the villainous adults in their lives and achieve their own happily ever after.

A bit dark for my tastes (I feel like that was the theme of 2020, which makes me wonder if dark books are the problem or if it was 2020 that was too dark for me to want more dark in my books). I recommend this for kids who like things a little spooky and/or gritty. I’m thinking fans of Roald Dahl or Coraline (or Box Trolls).

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: 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.

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.

Review: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

5 stars (It was amazing!)

Wundersmith cover (link to Goodreads)

I honestly liked this one even better than the first in the series, which I also loved enough to put it right into the hands of my 11yo son. It has just as much magic, wonder, and fun as the first, but it starts asking some important questions about destiny, good and evil, the obligation to teach someone who might be dangerous, loyalty, etc.

I continue to love the giant talking cat, and the supporting characters just keep getting more interesting. Really, really good series. I can’t wait to read the third.