Review: Starry River of the Sky

“Just like that, Rendi became the chore boy at the Inn of the Clear Sky. He was not used to doing chores, so when he found a broom in his hand, he had to watch Peiyi to learn how to sweep.” page 20

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Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2014.
MG fantasy, 289 pages + extras.
Lexile:  810L  .
AR Level:  5.4 (worth 7.0 points) .

Runaway Rendi seems to be the only one who noticed that the moon is missing above the village of Clear Sky!  He’s aching for someone to visit this remote village so he can stow away and leave again, but while he’s stuck here, can he unravel the peculiarities of this very odd village?

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I was very uncertain about how this read would go (the first book in this series was a 2017 favorite) but Grace Lin has delivered another superb MG fantasy.  One of the fascinating aspects of this series is that so far each book focuses on a different character and has an independent plot, although set in the same world.

The previous book was all about journeys.  Both the exciting physical journey that Min-li went on, and to a lesser degree, the emotional journey that her parents take as they are left at home without her.  In contrast, this book is remarkably stable.  The cast of characters is noticeably smaller (although used to full effect) and the setting limited – most scenes take place in one small town and its bizarre surroundings.

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Review: Un Lun Dun

“A tarpaulin bulged from the bus’s roof like an enormous fungus. It inflated into a huge balloon, tethered by ropes from the upper windows.” page 55

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville.
Del Rey, Random House, Inc., New York, 2007.
MG fantasy, 578 pages.
Not leveled.

Twelve-year-old Zanna and her best friend Deeba find a secret portal that takes them from their hometown of London to mysterious UnLunDun, where the giraffes are carnivorous and Zanna is the Chosen One with a special destiny… right?

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I don’t know why this book doesn’t get mentioned more often.  Perhaps because it is so long for a middle grade read, or because Mieville isn’t known for his children’s literature.  In fact, I suspect many people don’t even realize it’s a children’s book, especially other editions that have a different cover.  The cover needs to be somewhat vague, because this is a book of many twists and turns.

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Review: The Toymaker’s Apprentice

“Just then, the massive pendulum he’d seen in the outer caverns swung into the chamber, lifting Stefan’s hair in its wake. In the light of the Cogworks, it shone like a slice of the sun.” p. 122

The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith.
Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 392 pages.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 14.0 points)  .

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By the second reading, I’d worked out how to describe this book when recommending it.  It’s a bit like a cross between Hugo and Redwall, without really being like either at all.  While this is technically a retelling of the story of the Nutcracker, I believe it could stand alone even if a reader had no previous knowledge of the stories and ballet it’s based on.

Sherri L. Smith is one of those rare authors who seems to write many genres well.  You might recall my review of her historical fiction Flygirl, and the dystopian Orleans is one of my favorite books (though I’m still struggling to review it).  She’s also written several contemporary novels that I haven’t gotten to yet, and this piece is a middle grade fantasy retelling.

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Graphic Novel Review: Suee and the Shadow

A deliciously creepy, magical MG tale set in South Korea.

Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly, illustrated by Molly Park.
Amulet Books, Abrams, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/horror graphic novel, 236 pages.
Lexile:  GN270L ( What does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  2.7 (worth 2.0 points)  .
NOTE: Although this has a low reading level, it’s recommended for middle grades.

Twelve-year-old Suee is a new student at boring Outskirts Elementary, and she’s determined to get through her last bit of elementary school with no complications.  That means no friends, no sharing information with the counselor, and no getting involved in anything weird.  Too bad a voice is calling to her from the exhibit room and her shadow is alive.

Suee and the Shadow

This book caught my eye even though it wasn’t time for a new Target pick (well I was looking for Aru Shah and it was sold out, which is great news).  Suee struck me as an unusual name, so I picked up the book and found out it’s by a South Korean author-illustrator team, and set there as well.  I suspect this will do well with fans of The Jumblies, because it has the same creepy-magical vibe.

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2017 Favorites – Fiction

Favorite fiction reads of 2017, from picture books to adult novels.

Yup, I’m not posting this until well into 2018.  In 2017 I reviewed 98 books (plus 10 board books) and so many of them were so good.  It took me a month just to narrow it down this far…  I just love all the books!

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Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

“Like you, I was brought to a family who loved me and whom I love. I cannot stop loving that family, and I don’t want to. I can only allow my love to increase.” page 377

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.
Algonquin Young Readers, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2016.
Middle grade fantasy, 386 pages.
Lexile:  640L  .
AR Level:  4.8 (worth 12.0 points)  .

Xan is the witch of the forest.  Every year, the isolated people of the protectorate leave a baby in the forest for no reason she can fathom.  Not one to let an infant die in the forest, she takes it on the perilous journey to the other lands, where the children are heralded as Star Children, and adopted into carefully chosen families.  On the way, she feeds them starlight.  Until one day the aging witch feeds a child moonlight instead…

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I enjoyed this book, but wouldn’t recommend you buy it.

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Review: The Answer

“But that was what was supposed to happen, so Sapphire didn’t mind. Sapphire had already accepted everything that would ever happen to her.” page 6

The Answer, written by Rebecca Sugar, illustrated by Elle Michalka and Tiffany Ford.
Cartoon Network Books imprint, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
Fantasy picture book, 30 pages.
Not yet leveled.

This is the story of Sapphire, a wise gem who knows the future, and Ruby, a brave little gem who fights to the end.  Sapphire would say it’s a short and sad story, but Ruby disagrees.

The Answer resized

While the Steven Universe TV show’s mythology and storyline bring some hefty worldbuilding to this picture book, you can read and enjoy it with no prior knowledge.  We rarely watch TV, so I learned about the show from writing this review.

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