Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd is a hopeful and heart-warming fantasy. Larrabee and I both really liked it.
Dust is a fact of life for twelve-year-old Mallie. It covers the sky in the town of Coal Top and makes everyone feel sad. Gone are the days when weavers used to make cloth out of starlight and the people used to sing and dream of happy things.
All the mountain families are poor, but Mallie’s is poorer than most because her father can no longer work. Although she has only one arm, she scrubs floors for a rich family to keep her little brother out of the mines.
Then, she learns about a chance to make a fortune. Mortimer Good is looking for children to ride winged horses and collect gold dust. Mallie is determined to succeed, but the challenge is even more dangerous than she knows.
This book has plenty of adventure and mystery. I love the world that Lloyd has created, and I especially love the horses, known as Starbirds. And Mallie over the Moon is a heroine who will make you cheer!
The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz is a charming and original fantasy for middle grade readers.
Twelve-year-old Clementine Morcerous is the only child of the Dark Lord Elithor. She lives all alone with her father in Castle Brack and spends her days learning dark magic and tending to the fire-breathing chickens and the poison apple orchard on the silent farm.
Then, her father is cursed by the Witch of the Woods. As he grows weaker, more and more tasks fall to Clementine. She has to keep the castle running all by herself, satisfy the Council of Evil Overlords’ Dastardly Deeds quota, and try to save her father’s life. In the process, though, Clementine makes friends for the first time in her life and starts to question whether she even wants to be a Dark Lord.
This story has many of the elements you’d expect in a fantasy, such as witches, knights, villagers, a Lady of the Lake, and a unicorn. And it has unexpected elements too. My favorite is the Gricken, the Morcerous family grimoire that has been transformed into a chicken and lays spells in the form of eggs.
Larrabee and I both recommend it!
The Size of the Truth by Andrew Smith is an (excuse me) surprising book. It’s a surprisingly funny and surprisingly touching coming-of-age story. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it.
Sam Abernathy is an 11-year-old 8th grader (having skipped both 6th and 7th grade).
When he was four years old, he fell in an abandoned well, and it took three days for him to be rescued. As a result of that experience, he still has claustrophobia. Also, he’s still recognized as the Boy in the Well everywhere he goes in his small town of Blue Creek, Texas.
Now, his parents think he’s on track to go to MIT and invent something that will change the world. But his dream is to be a chef. And his more immediate goal is to survive the school year, and in particular, to avoid a 14-year-old 8th grader named James Jenkins who was responsible (he believes) for his falling into the well.
The book alternates between Sam’s emerging memories of his time in the well (with a talking armadillo?!) and his accounts of his life as an 8th grader.
Here are some of the reasons this book is so funny:
- Sam’s descriptions of James Jenkins: According to Sam, even James’ friends are afraid of him. Here’s why: “James Jenkins walks like a murderer. He combs his hair like a murderer. James Jenkins chews Goldfish crackers for a really long time, which is something only a murderer would do.”
- Sam’s use of excuse me: Sam is not allowed to swear, so anytime he feels like swearing, he instead says, “Excuse me.”
- Sam’s accounts of his adventures with his dad. Sam’s dad, who owns a mini golf course, likes to wear kilts and take him survival camping.
- Sam’s descriptions of the horrors of middle school. From male teachers to dances to P.E., there are new challenges everywhere for a kid who was recently in the 5th grade.
Sam from The Size of the Truth is a character from Smith’s YA book, Stand-Off, but you don’t need to have read that book to enjoy this one.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia is a must-read for mythology fans. Mbalia draws characters from West African legends (such as Nyama and Anansi) and African-American folk tales (such as John Henry and Brer Rabbit) to create an exciting quest adventure story.
Seventh grader Tristan Strong doesn’t feel like a hero. He feels like a disappointment. He couldn’t save his best friend when they were in a bus accident. Now someone has taken his friend’s journal of stories.
While trying to get it back, he punches a Bottle Tree and accidentally opens a hole in the sky of MidPass. If he wants to get home, he’ll have to help repair the sky, defeat an evil haint, and bring peace to this realm.
Back home in Chicago, Tristan never had any success in the boxing ring, but here he fights with a purpose, taking out wave after wave of fetterlings with his fists. Even better, he learns that he’s an anansesum, a storyteller like his Nana. And storytelling is a true superpower in this world.
If all of that’s not reason enough to read this book, I’ll give you one more: Gum Baby. Out of all the excellent characters in this story, she’s my favorite. Her sass and her sap attacks made me laugh and cheer. Just don’t shush her!
Tom O’Donnell’s Homerooms and Hall Passes has a hilarious premise. Five young adventurers from the realm of Bríandalör meet once a week to play H&H, a role-playing game set in J. A. Dewar Middle School.
Vela the paladin plays Valerie the Overachiever. Devis the thief plays Stinky the Class Clown. Thromdurr the barbarian plays Doug the Nerd. Sorrowshade the gloom elf assassin plays Melissa the Loner. And Albiorix the wizard is the Hall Master.
It’s all fun and games until a cursed jewel sends the five friends to the realm of suburbia for real. There, they’ll have to survive a semester of 8th grade without “blowing it” (failing a class or getting more than three unexcused absences).
That’s easier said than done when they have to do it with no weapons, no poisons, and no magic in a world that doesn’t make sense. For example, in Earth Sciences, they learn that rocks apparently aren’t made by Cragnar, the god of rocks. In English class, they have to write a persuasive essay arguing either that cats are or are not good pets, but it’s unacceptable to say that cats are good because they can see ancient spirits or bad because they might be evil wizards in disguise. And Algebra is a completely baffling subject.
Homerooms and Hall Passes is fast-paced and really, really funny. Larrabee and I both highly recommend it.
I’d heard good things about Maximilian Fly by Angie Sage, but I didn’t expect that it would be my kind of book. It has a person-sized cockroach on the cover after all. Eww.
But I’ve been proved wrong. Maximillian (who is actually a person with cockroach DNA) is a gentle and charming character, and I highly recommend his story to fans of dystopian fiction, unusual narrators, and suspenseful fantasies.
Maximillian Fly is the story of how Maximillian sets out to prove to you and me (the reader) that he’s a good creature by rescuing two children who are being chased by government enforcers. It takes place in the city of Hope, which is trapped under a dome to protect its citizens from the contagion outside and which is run by an oppressive government.
When Maximillian decides to hide the children, his actions have far-reaching consequences for his own quiet life and for all of the people (and roaches) of Hope. After I got over my initial reaction to Maximillian’s carapace, I couldn’t put the book down.
Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble is a delightful fantasy full of family, friendship, magic, and baking.
Eleven-year-old Leonora Logroño is the youngest of five sisters. Her family owns a bakery, Amor y Azucár Pandadería, in Rose Hill, Texas.
Leo wants to help with the preparations for Dia de los Muertos, but her family insists that she wait until she’s fifteen. She sneaks into the bakery to see what she’s missing and learns her family’s secret. Her mother and sisters are brujas!
Not wanting to be left out, she smuggles her family’s old recipe book home in her backpack and starts experimenting with her own baking magic. When she tries to solve her best friend’s problem by baking cookies with a love spell, though, she finds that magic sometimes has unintended consequences.
The magical adventure continues in the next book in the series, Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, and another one is expected next year. Larrabee and I enjoyed the first two and are looking forward to the third book.