Review: The Immortal Boy

“Hector took the curve, tilting his body to the same side, and twisted his wrist back, accelerating. The engine hummed, and they passed between the idling buses, making obscene gestures to the drivers waiting to be dispatched to their routes.” page 93

The Immortal Boy by Francisco Montana Ibanez, translated by David Bowles.
Levine Querido, New York, 2021.
Billingual fiction, 154 pages English, 154 pages Spanish.
Not yet leveled.

Two stories in Bogota, Colombia: five siblings try to stay together in their father’s absence, and a girl left in an orphanage follows a child called The Immortal Boy.

The Immortal Boy by Francisco Montana Ibanez, translated by David Bowles.

After rejecting the overwhelming stereotypes of Villoro’s The Wild Book, I was still searching for a Latine youth fantasy novel in translation. I respect David Bowles and had seen this mentioned without a clear age range, so hoped it would work for my diverse MG fantasy booklists.

Alas, it would be a stretch to consider this MG, although it may be suitable for individual readers. The Immortal Boy is disturbing and morbid… but still good? A difficult book to put down and also an emotionally challenging read. The story is one of nearly unrelenting misery, yet paradoxically beautifully written.

Continue reading “Review: The Immortal Boy”

Review: Dream Magic

“He nocked an arrow. Their armor looked good, but there were gaps he could aim at. Except he’d never shot at a man before. He wasn’t sure he could.” page 197

Dream Magic (Shadow Magic #2) by Joshua Khan, illustrated by Ben Hibon.
Disney Hyperion, New York, 2017, my edition 2018.
MG fantasy, 340 pages.
Lexile: 580L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 12.0 points) .
NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book.
FURTHER NOTE: Pictures on this review are part of the pink posts.

Lily and Thorn are back in the gloomy sequel, with added trolls and spiders and sinister intent!

Dream Magic by Joshua Khan, illustrated by Ben Hibon

While we were teased a lot about Lily doing forbidden magic, it didn’t really have any consequences in the first book – she was easily able to pretend it wasn’t her and the focus was more on the murders and political intrigue. This time around, there’s still plenty of court politics (now with actual courting, since Lily’s assumed to be available again) and a few murders (which sort of have the edge taken off by Lily’s ability to revive the dead). But Lily is also properly studying magic, and Thorn is doing more regular squire work, and the social mores and consequences of their situations start to catch up with them.

Continue reading “Review: Dream Magic”

Review: A Festival of Ghosts

“School buses disgorged students at the front entrance. Rosa and Jasper kept to the very back of the crowd, and the crowd moved to keep well clear of them. No one wanted to be knocked over by the inhospitable door.” page 173

A Festival of Ghosts (Ingot #2) by William Alexander, illustrated by Kelly Murphy.
Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2018, my paperback edition 2019.
MG fantasy, 264 pages plus excerpt.
Lexile: 610L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 6.0 points) .
NOTE: This book is a direct sequel to A Properly Unhaunted Place and this review will contain major spoilers for that novel.
FURTHER NOTE: Pictures on this review are part of the pink posts.

The continuing adventures of Rosa Diaz, from a family of librarians who specialize in ghost appeasement, and Jasper Chevalier, native to the unhaunted town of Ingot and the son of two Renaissance Faire leaders.

A Festival of Ghosts by William Alexander, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

We enjoyed the previous book, so I was happy to continue this story, although it wasn’t immediately obvious where this one would go. After all, I felt the previous book worked well as a stand alone novel. However there was one thread left unteased, and of course that was pulled in to this new story, along with a number of new problems.

Continue reading “Review: A Festival of Ghosts”

Review: One Shadow on the Wall

“After he finished his prayers and left the mosque, he headed father away from the noise of the market. He was excited to spend the rest of the day with Oumar and his other friends, kicking the soccer ball and forgetting all he had to do – at least for a couple of hours.” page 228

One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson.
Antheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017.
MG contemporary/fantasy, 442 pages.
Lexile: 760L .
AR Level: 4.9 (worth 15.0 points) .

Orphaned Mor is a little concerned when he starts hearing the voice of his deceased father and seeing visions of his deceased mother, but he’s got bigger worries. His paternal aunt wants to take him and his two sisters away from their village and separate them, but she’s given him just three months to prove he can care for them all. Unfortunately, the Danka Boys also have their eye on him and will stop at nothing to get him to give up his family and join their gang.

One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson.

I saw this book while compiling my first diverse middle grade fantasy novel list – the synopsis caught my eye but I mistakenly assumed the author was white. When later reading a review for The Magic of Changing Your Stars, the reviewer mentioned that it was ownvoices so I gave Henderson a second look, thankfully! True, this book is light on fantasy, with only one fantastical element, but that aspect is strongly present throughout and the book as a whole is gripping.

Continue reading “Review: One Shadow on the Wall”

Review: Gloom Town

“One melancholy voice rose in the air and he smiled. It was his mum, singing a sad sea ballad, one that she had sung to him when he was a child, and he knew the tune well” page 25

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York 2020.
MG fantasy, 274 pages.
Lexile: 650L .
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 7.0 points) .

Rory’s mother has two jobs, is taking as much extra work as she can, and living cheaply, but they still have simply run out of money. With the landlord taking their last cash and still threatening eviction, it’s clear that the only choice left is for Rory to work – but town rules won’t allow him in a seafaring job for another two years. So when a position at Lord Foxglove’s creepy mansion is advertised, he doesn’t see any option but landing the position, even if it turns out to be not quite what he thinks.

I’ve reviewed just one of Smith’s books before, Hoodoo. That one takes place in the American South in the 1930s, so I was mildly surprised, and impressed, to find that this book takes place in an atmospheric near-Britain seaside town in a vaguely Victorian (but more progressive) time. Most of the women in this novel work in some form or another. Some wear skirts while others choose pants, and women are aboard ships at the harbor. In fact, while Rory is certainly capable himself, his friend rescues him from physical danger multiple times, in a pleasant turn on the normal damsel in distress storyline.

Smith has certainly worked out the bumps in his writing now – this is his fifth novel, and clearly I need to go back and read the other three. His format here is many relatively short chapters, exactly the style my sons most enjoy. While some segments understandably have more action than others, none felt slow or irrelevant.

Continue reading “Review: Gloom Town”

Review: Arcade & the Triple T Token

“My cousin is the same age as me, and we’ve been best friends pretty much since birth. And that’s another reason why I hated this move to New York.” page 48

Arcade and the Triple T Token (Coin Slot Chronicles #1) by Rashad Jennings, illustrated by Alan Brown.
Zonderkidz, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2019.
MG Christian fantasy, 254 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 3.7 (worth 7.0) .
NOTE: Despite the low AR level, there is enough peril and plot complexity that I wouldn’t generally suggest this for children below third grade.

Eleven year old Arcade Livingston just moved from Virginia to New York City and is struggling to fit in and avoid the class bullies when a woman in the library gives him a mysterious token – that lets him time travel! But his teenaged sister wants him to stop, or at least take her along.

Arcade and the Triple T Token by Rashad Jennings, illustrated by Alan Brown.

For several years I’ve been avidly seeking diverse fantasy books, but surprisingly had never heard of this series before. After reading, it was clear why – it’s Christian. (I could have figured this out sooner if I’d been paying attention; Zondervan is an explicitly Christian publisher although some of their titles appeal to a broader demographic.)

Although Narnia is probably what most people think of when they consider Christian fantasy, there’s more available. For children especially time travel stories seem to be popular. But I’ve never reviewed a Christian fantasy on this blog before because most tend to be very white.

Returning to this specific title, their family moved so Mr. Livingston can pursue a career as a set designer. It’s a big adjustment for the kids to both move to a big city and go from having a stay-at-home parent to being more personally responsible for things like getting themselves to school. Arcade handles the transition by finding the closest library and spending all his time there.

Continue reading “Review: Arcade & the Triple T Token”

Review: Sauerkraut

“Grace just looked at me and asked what I was waiting for. She says it doesn’t matter how old you are, or what you’ve learned – being a Black geek is about who you are, and what you’re interested in. Nobody gets to decide that but you.” page 75

Sauerkraut by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Paul Davey.
Knopf, Penguin Random House, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 280 pages.
Lexile: 750L .
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 7.0 points) .

A biracial Black/German-American boy clearing his uncle’s basement finds a sauerkraut urn haunted by his great-great-grandmother, who insists he help her make pickled ethnic food to enter into the county fair.  HD has to balance his own summer plans and responsibilities with his new ghostly relative’s goals.

Sauerkraut by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Paul Davey.

Reading this after the Unusual Chickens series might be unfair. We eagerly anticipate the next installment in that favorite series. Sauerkraut is a separate story with familiar modus operandi – biracial MC (white German-American and African American) lives in a mostly white, semi-rural area and has unusual hobbies (caring for goats, making things) runs into some strange magic (ancestor haunting the sauerkraut pot).

HD is established in his community, has a strong connection to both sides of his heritage (identifies more as Black), already has a best friend, and isn’t on a farm despite the goat subplot. And he’s a nerd who loves the library and comics and is very familiar with supernatural fiction, so after the original scare he copes with magic more easily.

Continue reading “Review: Sauerkraut”

Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

“The far wall of the glade exploded in a shower of broken branches and fetterlings. More butterflies took to the air as the largest fetterling I could’ve ever imagined tried to squeeze through a gap like a T. rex.” page 181

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1) by Kwame Mbalia.
Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 484 pages.
Lexile: HL680L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 15.0 points) .

Tristan Strong’s lost his first big match as a boxer and is sent to stay with his grandparents in Alabama. His deceased friend Eddie’s journal, with a mysterious glow only he can see, keeps ending up in his bag although he didn’t pack it. When a strange thief tries to steal the book, Tristan fights back… even if it means disturbing a bottle tree, unleashing an ancient evil, and falling into the land of Alke.

Confession: I liked this book very much, but didn’t love it, and can’t quite figure out why. Perhaps I’m burnt out on MG fantasy? Over the past three years, I’ve read more than a hundred, so MG fantasy has taken up a larger than normal portion of my free reading lately. So many aspects I loved, somehow didn’t quite coalesce for me. Three times I put this down to finish reading another book that felt more compelling. Yet at the same time, I kept coming back and wanting to finish. I’ll definitely get the next book in the series.

Mbalia’s worldbuilding is excellent. His villains in particular strike the perfect balance for middle grade – the stuff of nightmares but not invincible, firmly grounded in myth, history, and real fears, and many with complex backstory or growth patterns. I loved the endpaper maps of Alke and want a poster for my wall!

Also, I appreciated that he didn’t follow the RRP template. This far in to the imprint, plus reading widely in the genre, there is definitely a difference between those who write a Riordan-style series with different cultural trappings, and authors with their own unique ideas. Both are important but the latter tend to have more longevity.

Continue reading “Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky”

Review: A Properly Unhaunted Place

“Rosa said nothing. She said it loudly. Rosa was not impressed with the basement apartment, or the library above it, or the town of Ingot. She missed their old place in the city.” page 1

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander, illustrated by Kelly Murphy.
Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017, my paperback edition 2018.
MG fantasy, 184 pages plus excerpt.
Lexile: 640L  .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 5.0 points)  .

Rosa Diaz has been training her whole life to one day be a librarian specializing in ghost appeasement, so she’s disgusted when her mother moves them to the only unhaunted place in the world.  Jasper Chevalier has always lived in Ingot and never seen a ghost, so when one appears his world turns upside down.  Can these unlikely friends solve the mystery of their oddly unhaunted hometown before it turns on them?

A Properly Unhaunted Place cover resized
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander, illustrated by Kelly Murphy.

The mythology and worldbuilding of this is extensive.  Alexander has imagined an entire alternate universe where ghosts are a normal part of everyday life and always have been, outside of Ingot, at least.  The way he uses Ingot to introduce us to this world is clever – Jasper gasps at everything and Rosa is constantly annoyed or saddened by the small differences between Ingot and the properly haunted places that she’s used to living.  This then gives Alexander a reason to constantly be telling us all those little details that build up into a coherent alternate world.

Both kids have unique family situations.  As the only child of two founders, Jasper is the lead of the ren faire kid pack.  Rosa is something that doesn’t quite exist in our world, perhaps a cross of homeschooled and army brat?  She’s comfortable with every kind of ghost, but less familiar with people.  Her knowledge is excellent but scattered, based on the books she’s been reading and had interest in.  As the child of appeasement librarians, she has always lived in libraries and had a much different upbringing than Jasper. Continue reading “Review: A Properly Unhaunted Place”

Review: Shadow Magic

“The castle was darkness made solid. No natural light had entered it since the day Prince Shadow, the original lord of darkness, had built it.” page 133

Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan, illustrated by Ben Hibon.
Disney Hyperion, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 324 pages.
Lexile: 540L .
AR Level: 4.1 (worth 11.4 points) .
NOTE: First in a trilogy.

Thorn was just trying to find his outlaw father when he got caught by slavers and was sold to executioner Tyburn of House Shadow. Lilith Shadow was never supposed to rule Gehenna, but then her family was killed.

Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan, illustrated by Ben Hibon.

I picked this one up because of this review. Initially this series didn’t strike me as particularly diverse from reading the blurb, but the author’s commentary on the Middle Eastern inspiration as well as an #ownvoice Muslim reviewer’s thoughts quickly confirmed that this was a trilogy I wanted to read.

Continue reading “Review: Shadow Magic”