“Up until now, we hadn’t told anyone about the Sight – at least not anyone who hadn’t already known about it.” page 59
Double Cross (Twintuition #4) by Tia and Tamera Mowry. Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2018. MG fantasy, 202 pages. Lexile: 600L . AR Level: 4.2 (worth 5.0 points) . NOTE: Review will contain spoilers for previous books in the series.
The final installment of a quartet about tween twins with visions of the future.
I’m glad I persisted with this series as this last book was definitely the best of the four. Honestly, if the social hijinks of sixth graders don’t highly interest, an older reader could probably skip ahead and read just this book without missing too much. All the major plot points important to this finale are summarized within the text somewhere anyway.
“Haroun noticed that old General Kitab himself, mounted on a winged mechanical horse very like Bolo’s, was flitting from Barge-Bird to Barge-Bird to keep in touch with the various discussions; and such was the freedom evidently allowed to the Pages and other citizens of Gup, that the old General seemed perfectly happy to listen to these tirades of insults and insubordination without batting an eyelid.” page 119
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. Granta Books London, Penguin Books, New York, originally published 1990, my edition 1991. MG fantasy, 216 pages. Lexile: 940L . AR Level: 6.9 (worth 7.0 points) . NOTE: This is longer than my usual review, as I had much to say about this book. The final paragraphs will contain content warnings and my overall thoughts as usual.
Twelve year old Haroun’s father has fallen into a pit of deep despair and he himself can’t focus for longer than eleven minutes at a time. This causes a problem when Rashid Kalifa the Ocean of Notions is expected to speak at a politician’s rally and can’t perform. Catching a Water Genie uninstalling the tap from the Sea of Stories makes Haroun question if his father’s stories might actually have an element of truth to them, and he is determined to set his family right.
I wanted to love this book but did not. Rushdie has good elements in an increasingly frustrating telling. The Biggest Thing for me, this Reviewer, were the Lots of Unnecessary Capitals (LUC) and the Frequency of Pointless, Unclear, Initialisms (FoPUI). Was that sentence nearly unreadable for you? Now imagine an entire book. If I wanted all the nouns to be capitalized, I would read it in German.
It was difficult to finish this book because of the random unneeded capitalizations in particular. If I had not already purchased this and the sequel, I would probably have given up. Eventually I pushed through by rewarding myself with a different book after every two chapters read. It is one of the few fiction books reviewed here that I have not fully read twice.
“I could still feel my sister glaring at me. But I forced a smile as Ms. Xavier patted my shoulder, thankfully without bringing on a vision this time. I mean, what was I supposed to do?” page 75
Double Dare (Twintuition #3) by Tia and Tamera Mowry. Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2017. MG fantasy, 204 pages + excerpt. Lexile: 610L . AR Level: 4.4 (worth 5.0 points) . NOTE: This review may contain spoilers for previous books in the series.
Twins Cassie and Caitlyn Waters can see into the future, but they never anticipated a surprise grandmother showing up or a classmate taking on a life-or-death prank. Can they balance foretelling training, using their visions to prevent disasters, and their schoolwork without becoming social pariahs?
Finally some action. Although some MG fantasy novels appeal to a wide range and can be enjoyed by older readers or read aloud to younger children, this is definitely meant to be read alone by the target audience.
After being teased about the family legacy for two whole books, there are finally some answers (and more questions, there’s still another book). The future visions this time were showing a legitimately dangerous possibility and had real consequences while also feeling like something that could happen in middle school.
This book ends on what I’d normally consider a pretty heavy cliffhanger… if the result hadn’t been so heavily foreshadowed that it’s inevitable.
“Ling goes into a bookstore. She looks at all the books. She sees a book that she wants to read. / ‘I will buy this book for Ting,’ Ling says. ‘Maybe she will share it with me.’ ” page 12
Ling & Ting: Share a Birthday by Grace Lin. Little, Brown, and Co., Hachette Book Group, New York, 2013. Early chapter book, 48 pages. Lexile: 320L . AR Level: 2.0 (worth 0.5 points) . NOTE: This is part of the Ling and Ting series.
Six birthday short stories from the life of Chinese-American twins Ling and Ting.
My children were so enamored with the first book in the Ling and Ting series, and read it so many times, that I went ahead and purchased the rest of the books. There isn’t really a clear indicator of order in this series, and I don’t think that the order really matters to most readers, but I like to know.
So extrapolating from the publication date the series is:
Again, you could easily read these out of order though, as there is no numbering to the series. Some books do make reference to others, but there definitely isn’t a strict chronology to this particular series, which is great for young readers who tend to pick things up randomly, or teachers who would like to break students up into groups that read different-but-similar materials.
“The dinner hour started, and Hon never came. Sitting next to Mother, Li ate her mushy rice and vegetables in silence. An uneasiness washed over her. It wasn’t like Hon to miss out on food.” page 45
Li on Angel Island (Smithsonian Historical Fiction) by Veeda Bybee, illustrated by Andrea Rossetto. Stone Arch Books, Capstone, North Mankato, Minnesota, 2021. Elementary chapter book historical fiction, 72 pages. Lexile: 600L . AR Level: 4.3 (worth 1.0 points) .
In 1921, a ten year old Chinese girl is traveling with her mother and brother to join their father in San Francisco.
I ordered this book for two reasons: I’m trying to read at least one book from a variety of historical fiction series for an upcoming project, and have been looking for more Asian American read alouds (we’ve been enjoying Laurence Yep, Grace Lin, and Andrea Cheng but would like more variety).
“Tonight’s stranger had worn a suit like that, one of plain, darkest jet, but also unmistakably a uniform, along with smoked-glass spectacles. The sandy tone of his skin had been not quite the same as the tan burnish all sailors got from the sun. There had been something slightly off, slightly unnatural, about the way he’d moved.” page 41
The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Square Fish, Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan, New York, 2016, my edition 2017. MG alternate world historical fantasy, 378 pages. Lexile: 810L . AR Level: 5.8 (worth 16.0 points) . NOTE: This book is a direct sequel to Bluecrowne and the review will necessarily contain spoilers for that plot.
Finally back to her ship even if unfortunate circumstances brought them there, Melusine Bluecrowne (call her Lucy, please) and family are on a particular mission of discovery for a young philosopher, but studying science in the midst of war is dangerous. Teen Maxwell Ault is that natural philosopher, determined to carry out his deceased father’s mission. Oliver Dexter is a new midshipman determined to prove his mettle on his first command… even though he’s only just turned twelve. As their three paths cross, well they be able to assemble the war-stopping engine? And if so, who will gain control of this dangerous weapon?
Well, we’re four books deep into the world of Greenglass house as far as blog reviews, and while the series as a whole continues to be more diverse-adjacent than diverse (with the exception of the twobooks on Milo), I’m sort of committed to reading them now and also happen to love interconnected novels that aren’t necessarily a series, so I suppose I’ll go on reviewing them.
I wrote a bit in my review of Bluecrowne about how I accidentally purchased and read this book first, not understanding that it is indeed a direct sequel to that book. The publisher has done their bit to confuse readers by trying to promote Bluecrowne as the third book in the Greenglass House series (when really it’s more of a prequel and stands separately from the Greenglass books), and then initially promoting Thief Knot as a standalone (when really it’s quite dependent on knowledge, characters, and such from the two Greenglass books and reads like a continuation of that series with a different protagonist and slightly different setting).
Returning to this particular volume, The Left-Handed Fate takes a different tack to any of the other books I’ve read so far. First, while they do make landfall at times, the majority of the book takes place on the boat where Lucy’s made her home most of her life. Second, it’s rather more historical than any of the other books. Bluecrowne also was set in the past, and Milo’s books delve into Nagaspeake’s history, but this book is set around the War of 1812, which is an actual historical event that gives the story a somewhat different feel.
“It was like every single fear I’d ever had had gotten tangled into one huge knot. I wanted to hide under my bed and explode at the same time.” page 21
Xander and the Dream Thief (Momotaro #2) by Margaret Dilloway, illustrated by Choong Yoon. Disney Hyperion, New York, 2017. MG fantasy, 330 pages. Lexile: not leveled AR Level: 4.1 (worth 10.0 points) . NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book in the series.
After his surprising victory, Xander is now fully the Momotaro. Having magic powers is great and all, but also means oni attack constantly, his mother had to stay away from him, he’s got a new foster sibling, and has so many nightmares he can’t sleep. So Obachan gives him a baku charm, warning to only use it on the worst nightmares lest the creature take all his dreams.
I enjoy stories of antiheroes or deeply flawed heroes or heroes who don’t want the power. Xander is definitely that in this book, but it’s entirely reasonable that a 12 year old who just inherited unlimited magical power (and is much better at using it than his father) might have that go to his head. Of course, oni are constantly testing him and watching for these kinds of slip-ups.
Luckily, the reckless energy and exuberant imagination that got him into this might also help him get out – with assistance from friends old and new, and if he can manage to get his dreams back. I’m not sure the target audience will be as interested in reading about a not-so-heroic kid as I am, but it’s refreshing when the legendary chosen one is all too human (and a person of color besides).
Dilloway’s second novel again follows a Riordan-ish plot, but full of references to Japanese mythology and culture. Kintaro, Fudo-Myoo, Daruma, and Kaguya-hime are among the featured characters. He also learns/remembers a tiny but crucial bit about his Irish heritage.
“I got to thinking that poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just didn’t get – and never would get.” page 29
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Simon & Schuster BFYR, New York, 2014 (originally published 2012). YA novel, 360 pages. Lexile: HL380L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? ) AR Level: 2.9 (worth 8.0 points) . NOTE: This book is intended for mature teens despite the reading level.
Two loner Mexican-American boys meet at the local swimming pool and strike up a friendship in the late 1980s. Dante is secure, if not always happy, in who he is, and has many talents while Aristole (or Ari) is struggling with the secrets and silence in his family – including those around his brother in prison and those he’s keeping himself. This novel takes place over two years.
I’ve owned this book for at least five years now. It came highly recommended and has won many awards. The majority of reviews rave about it, yet I DNF’d it over and over. Finally read it all the way through… and still didn’t love it. So the poor thing went on my shelf of books that have been read but will be reread, reviewed, and generally dealt with later. Well “later” in this case is 2022, since clearing off that shelf is one of my main goals for the year.
So I had to reread it with an eye for why possibly this wasn’t the book for me, even if it was so clearly beloved by many other readers. Perhaps then a review could be useful even for those who adored this story. As there is already so much written about this novel elsewhere, I’m going to break from my usual formats somewhat and focus mainly on how this particular novel very much didn’t work for me – as perhaps that might help some people decide if it might be a good fit for them or not.
“A man named Mr. Adams was the only one who didn’t shake Daddy’s and Mr. Tucker’s hands. I hoped he wasn’t about to spend the next six months hating us for being Negro.” page 31
Sarah Journeys West: An Oregon Trail Survival Story (Girls Survive) by Nikki Shannon Smith, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio. Stone Arch Books, Capstone, North Mankato, Minnesota, 2020. Elementary historical fiction, 112 pages including back matter. Lexile: 610L . AR Level: 3.9 (worth 2.0 points) .
During the California Gold Rush, twelve year old Sarah’s family is venturing West on first the Oregon Trail, and then the California trail. But the 1851 trail is difficult and hostile even without facing prejudice from other party members – can Sarah and her family survive the trip?
I like the premise of this as a series for elementary readers. With the title Girls Survive, we always know that at least the main character will make it through the difficult events, which keeps it from being too scary. That doesn’t mean these are necessarily great for sensitive readers, though – in the books from this series I’ve read so far, at least one side character always dies and many get into some life-threatening peril. The characters tend to be aged older but act a bit young, so it could also work for some middle grade readers too.
It’s also really nice to see this series working to use #ownvoice authors and highlight characters of color, which has been a problem with Capstone in the past. In this particular volume, I was also impressed by Shannon Smith’s sensitivity towards recognizing that westward expansion, even by settlers who have no desire to stop on tribal lands, was a negative for the peoples whose land they passed through (and eventually settled on after all).
“It wasn’t that the Forest was a perilous place so much as it was utterly unpredictable.” page 29
Forest of Wonders (Wing & Claw #1) by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by James Madsen. Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2016. MG fantasy, 332 pages + excerpt. Lexile: 700L . AR Level: 5.3 (worth 9.0) .
At twelve, Raffa Santana is already a gifted apothecary and finds himself increasingly frustrated with his father’s strict rules. First he can’t make his own herbal cures or enter the forest unsupervised, then his father doesn’t want him to go to the city of Gilden, and of course experimentation is not allowed. But treating a severely injured bat leads Raffa to a series of discoveries about his family, his country, and even the natural world around him that soon have him making his own choices… and dealing with the consequences.
It wasn’t until trying to review this book that I realized just how many characters and how much plot Park manages to fit into this standard length fantasy -she does it so seamlessly. I’ve read and enjoyed several of her novels before but they were all historical fiction, which made me nervous about how she would do in a fantasy novel. Luckily her experience creating an immersive world in the past translates well to fantastical worldbuilding.