Race to the Bottom of the Sea

33799086by Lindsay Eagar
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars

I’ve been looking forward to her next book since Hour of the Bees, so I was so excited to get my hands on this! It’s completely different, but I enjoyed it and it showcased the same great writing and layered characters.

When Fidelia’s parents die in a submarine accident, her life falls apart. Her family, her future, her love of the ocean, her dreams of scientific discoveries, gone. Then she’s kidnapped by the devilish pirate Merrick the Monstrous to use her knowledge and inventions to help him find some lost treasure. Treasure that will easily outlast the gravely ill pirate. Fidelia isn’t sure about anything anymore, especially her ability to perfect her one failed invention–an underwater breathing device–but she has to find some answers fast if she ever wants to see her home again.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story’s balance of grief, guilt, and humor, but there were quite a few aspects I enjoyed! Fidelia is a charming protagonist, a girl with a love for sharks, and a passion for science and invention. She is used to proving her worth to overcome her youth, and I liked how she awkwardly interacted with adults as she tries to grieve and grow into the person she’s meant to be. Merrick’s backstory is one filled with darkness and sympathy, and we are left to form our own thoughts on him, which I liked. The world is our world turned on its head (nine seas, different countries) during a time when exciting new discoveries are happening every week (circa the early 1900s). Fidelia’s determination to make her mark on the world is contagious and inspiring. The subject matter is heavy but dealt with as lightly as possible. In contrast to her debut novel, science is the magic here, making everything turn and come together and pushing Fidelia toward answers.

In short, I loved this! The threads of this story tie up nicely, but the bones of the book are strong enough to support that.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Race to the Bottom of the Sea is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary – After accidentally cursing her family during Obon, Saki Yamamoto has just three nights to undo it with the help (and mischief) of the spirits. See my review here.
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt – When her sister disappears, Jules is left to wonder how to pick up the pieces of her old life, while a fox in the forest watches her, knowing it is meant to help the sad girl. See my review here.
  • The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell – When her mother is taken, Feo and her trio of half-domesticated half-wild wolves go on a journey to rescue her. See my review here.
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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

15881by J.K. Rowling
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars

As a 13-year-old I just wanted Harry to make Dobby tell him the truth (I was pretty impatient as a kid!) but of course that wouldn’t be any fun! It’s so hard to be objective about these books…

Harry’s second year at Hogwarts is much darker than the first, with a mysterious monster attacking the students and petrifying them. Draco Malfoy is even more horrible in this book, and the mysterious Chamber of Secrets defies Hermione’s library researching skills. Harry is about to learn just how much the past repeats itself in the present (which feels more relevant now that I’m older). The themes of identity here are broken down from many angles–not just Harry’s fears about being a good fit for Slytherin. The students are learning what it means to be in different houses, what it means to Muggle-born or not, and if any of it truly matters. I like to think that Malfoy has some introspective moments off-page, but who can say. All we really know is that Lockhart is the only one who manages to leave this story less self-aware!

29241319Reading this again after a few years was so much fun! Harry is still adorably concerned about rule-following and making friends. He and Ron still do homework! Probably the weirdest magic in this book is Dumbledore keeping the school open while all these terrible things are happening.

The illustrations in the newest edition are charming though not as interesting as the first book’s adaptation. Admittedly, taking the whole series into account this one doesn’t rank as a favorite-favorite but it’s still magical!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty – Serafina and her father secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore Mansion. When Serafina finds a creepy man with a Black Cloak sneaking around down there stealing visiting children, she’s determined to unmask him. See my review here.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – Coraline’s family moves to a new house, and she has fun exploring it. Then she finds the Other Mother, who is determined to keep Coraline forever if Coraline can’t outsmart her trap.
  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke – Meggie is an avid reader who learns her father is able to read aloud and bring characters from books into our world–and accidentally transport humans into novels.

Some Kind of Happiness

13260524by Claire Legrand
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars

This was recommended to me last summer and this book impressed me with every page! The writing breaks your heart or makes you laugh with each chapter!

Finley Hart is facing the worst summer of her life. Her parents are sending her to her father’s estranged side of the family while they “work things out.” (Finley knows what that means.) Meeting her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all at once and then staying with them for three months is not her idea of fun. Her only escape is the Everwood–stories she’s been writing about a magical forest for years. But she didn’t expect the Everwood to be real, and right behind her grandparents’ house. And she didn’t expect her cousins to be knights or the neighbor boys to be pirates. Suddenly her summer of adventure might be fun! If the secret darkness inside her doesn’t destroy it all.

Finley’s struggle to hide her anxiety and depression is just heartbreaking. The girl who reads all the time, who does crossword puzzles with her father, still doesn’t have words to understand the heavy sadness inside her that can make getting out of bed feel impossible. She knows she’s lucky, she has family, a place to live, food to eat–she should feel happy! Everyone else does, what is wrong with her? So she writes and writes and writes trying to find out.

Understanding herself through her stories is such a cathartic experience and it doesn’t present everything as “fixed” in the end. There’s new truths, and hope, and ways to help herself get through her “blue days” but the blue days aren’t going away. For anyone facing these feelings, it’s a good reminder that you aren’t broken.

All of this is the underlying theme of the book, but the main story is about Finley finding her family, and uncovering dark secrets in the past that led to the rifts in the present. How bringing these things to light is the only way to heal, even if it’s painful. There are so many moments of warmth and just as many arguments that hit your vulnerable parts in the way only family members can.  An emotionally messy portrait of the only kind of family there is: an imperfect one.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Some Kind of Happiness is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – Emmaline is one of many sick children staying in the countryside during the war. But she is the only one who can see the winged horses in the manor’s mirrors. When the Horse Lord sends an injured white horse named Foxfire to her world for protection, Emmaline must brave her fears to keep it safe. See my review here.
  • Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm – This illustrated story features children dealing with serious adult situations and how they can learn to cope with them. Sunny’s determination to know the full truth leads her to uncover many family secrets as she spends the summer at her grandfather’s retirement community. See my review here.
  • Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes – After surviving several terrible accidents, Maguire is convinced that she is bad luck and a danger to others. But when her mother mentions a family trip to Ireland to see their family’s roots, Maguire knows it will require getting on a plane–and decides maybe it’s time to stop isolating herself. With the help of a new therapist and a new friend also trying to complete some “therapy challenges” Maguire might be able to let go of the past to save her future. See my review here.

Serafina and the Black Cloak

23507745by Robert Beatty
Children’s Fiction
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: July 14, 2015

I bought a bunch of MG books last year and this one has sat on my shelf the longest. I wasn’t sure what to expect (especially given my limited experience with the Disney imprint) but it was not the “safe” adventure I expected!

Serafina and her father secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore mansion. Her father is the estate’s head engineer, and Serafina does not exist, as far as the Biltmores are concerned. But when children start disappearing from the estate, Serafina reveals herself to the Biltmore’s nephew, Braeden, and they try to save the children before it’s too late.

What surprised me is just how dark this story got when it came to tracking down the Man in the Black Cloak! Not only is the Cloak super sinister, the things Serafina encounters as she hunts him down made me squirm with the creeps. (I read it on a plane and actually squirmed, several times). Encounters with various bloody remains and dark places in the Forest had me cringing in the best way! Serafina is a tougher girl than I am, and could grit her teeth and keep going.

It’s not the subtlest in terms of Serafina’s mysterious past and such, but it was fun and pretty satisfying. Gothic vibes made for middle-grade readers!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Serafina and the Black Cloak is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – The other gruesome MG book I have read. Coraline’s family moves to a new house, and she has fun exploring it. Then she finds the Other Mother, who is determined to keep Coraline forever if Coraline can’t outsmart her trap.
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi – A girl’s quest to locate her father in a neighboring magical realm goes horribly wrong. This is an interesting blend of total lighthearted whimsy and the darker depths of human nature. Enjoy this journey through two realms who use magic very differently! See my review here.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Definitely YA, but with that same creepy, country vibe. Three unreliable narrators tell you what they think happened one dark night at the haunted house. See my review here.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

29417336by Kelly Barnhill
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this middle grade adventure! The narrative style is cute (featuring stories within stories) and the chapters flew by.

There are several protagonists of varying ages who take up parts of the tale. The old Witch, Xan, who lives in the Bog. Antain, a conscientious objector to the village’s tradition of sacrificing one child a year to the Witch to keep everyone else safe. And Luna, one of the abandoned babies. Xan decides to raise Luna as her own–accidentally feeding her moonlight and filling Luna with magic.

These three stories converge and piece together the history of the sorrowful town and the Witch. Themes of when someone must grow up, what protection truly is, and each person’s responsibility to uphold human rights are deftly illustrated through the tragic and tumultuous lives of families in the town.

The magic is unpredictable, emerging in energetic, vibrant ways which I loved!Characters like swamp monster Glerk and Fyrian the Simply Enormous Dragon provide insight and comic relief as we explore the world.

I found myself connecting a lot with all these characters torn between wilfull ignorance and knowledge that brings a demand for action, and I liked how this was given so many facets. The journey sticks in your mind long afterward!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Girl Who Drank the Moon is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary – Saki accidentally unleashes a death curse on her family and has just three nights to undo it with the help of mischievous spirits. See my review here.
  • Risuko by David Kudler – Risuko is just a girl who loves to climb, until a woman realizes her skills might be put to use for her country. This historical fiction highlights an interesting group of women determined to change history. See my review here.
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi – Alice journeys to the strange land of Furthermore with her nemesis, Oliver, hoping to find her missing father. It’s told in a similar style to “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” with tangents, adventures, and strange magic. See my review here.

Not Quite Narwhal

30312747by Jessie Sima
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 14, 2017

This little story is everything I could want in a picture book! Colorful, adorable, and full of narwhals and unicorns. I literally gasped out loud three times while reading this book, because of how adorable it is!

Kelp has never really fit in with his narwhal family and friends. His tusk isn’t as long, and he’s not a great swimmer. But then one day a current takes him to a beach where he sees strange creatures that look a lot like him!

This sweet story of acceptance is just delightful! There are some fun details tucked away on each page. A welcome escape for me that I’ll enjoy many times! I don’t often pick up picture books and definitely wanted to give this one a plug. I’m excited to see what the author/illustrator does next!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Not Quite Narwhal is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Percy and TumTum: A Tale of Two Dogs by Jill Hen – When floofy TumTum arrives in Percy’s home, he is not happy about everyone fawning over the new dog. But maybe Percy’s dislike is misplaced. This story is adorable, of course!
  • The Poet’s Dog by Patricia McLachlan – A dog saves two children in a snow storm and they spend a few days snowed in getting to know each other. Emotional and insightful, a cozy read! See my review here.
  • Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman – An illustrated adventure about one dad’s quest to get milk for breakfast and the mayhem that ensues along the way (including aliens).

Furthermore

28110143by Tahereh Mafi
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars

“Color my life with the chaos of trouble…” I knew right away this is the type of strange and beautiful that I love! This is a cute, modern fairy tale about a girl on a quest to save her father.

Alice Alexis Queensmeadow is the only girl in Ferenwood who lacks color—and presumably magic, since magic is color. When her father vanishes she is naturally distraught and her family becomes dysfunctional. And then three years later, Alice’s nemesis Oliver shows up, declaring he is tasked to save her father, and he needs her help. The two of them go to Furthermore—a dangerous neighbor of Ferenwood where magic is wild and aggressive rather than constructive.

Although the pacing is a bit odd, I enjoyed this story so much! Alice is a charming but flawed heroine and her determination to press on even when Furthermore makes no sense at all is endearing. She and Oliver must confront a variety of dangers at work against them, and their own relationship is fraught with lies and manipulation. Their journey through Furthermore depends on learning to trust each other, and the two of them make progress with wariness and humor.

This is a fast read with enough twists and turns to keep you starting with surprise—and yet the world of strangeness and unpredictability follows undeniable rules. A whimsical delight that was a nice break at this dreary time of year!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Futhermore is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – The original Alice to explore a strange world of magic and mayhem! Young Alice follows a white rabbit and quickly finds herself dealing with all manner of strange creatures and customs as she tries to find her way back home.
  • The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – Emmaline’s quiet life with other invalid children is interrupted by a quest to save a white winged horse named Foxfire by shielding her with color to prevent the Black Horse from finding her. See my review here.
  • The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary – When Saki accidentally invokes a death curse, she must use the help of three spirits to save her family before the Night Parade is over. Her dangerous journey in the spirit world is both dark and funny.  See my review here.
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – For beautiful language in a land of magic and mystery, look no further! This YA fantasy based on Indian mythology captivated me from the first chapter. Maya’s horoscope of death and doom makes her a pariah, until a mysterious prince sweeps her away from the harem and offers her a kingdom unlike any she has imagined. See my review here.

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