Book Review: Wings of Fire

Hopefully the birthday boy will take time out from reading Wings of Fire to eat some cake!

In honor of Larrabee’s 9th birthday, I decided to read and review the first book in the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland: The Dragonet Prophesy.

Larrabee is a big fan of this epic dragon saga. He devoured the first eight books in the past few months, and he’s eagerly waiting for the next two. He talks all the time about the characteristics of the different types of dragons: MudWings, SeaWings, SandWings, SkyWings, IceWings, RainWings, and NightWings.

I figured I’d borrow The Dragonet Prophesy so I could see what all the fuss was about… Well, now I’m hooked. I’m still a little behind Larrabee, having only read the first five books, but I can see what he likes about them.

Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny are the Dragonets of Destiny. These young dragons from five different tribes have been raised in a secret cave by the Talons of Peace in the hope that they will grow up to fulfill the prophesy and end the war raging in Pyrrhia. The trouble is that no one can tell them how they are meant to do it.

Three things I like about these books:

  • The dragon characters. Each book is told from the point of view of a different dragon, each of whom has a distinct personality. Larrabee often laughed out loud at the humorous banter among the dragonets.
  • The prophesy. I’ve written before about how much I like an intriguing prophesy that comes true in unexpected ways.
  • The action. These stories are action-packed as the dragonets try stay one step ahead of all the dragons who want to capture and control them. I’ll warn you, though, that these stories are not for the faint of heart. The dragons fight to the death. But kids who’ve enjoyed the Warriors or Shark Wars series will like these books too.



Book Review: Tumble & Blue

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 3.19.43 PMTumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley is a terrific story about friendship and fate.

According to legend, when a red sickle moon rises over the Okefenokee Swamp, a golden alligator will grant a great fate to one brave person. Two hundred years ago, though, two people reached the center of the swamp at the same time and split the fate. Ever since, half of their descendants have had great fates, and the other half have had terrible fates. And now it’s time for the next red moon.

Twelve-year-old Blue Montgomery has one of the terrible fates. He always loses–at everything from tiddlywinks to foot races. And now his father (a race car driver who always wins) has dumped him at his Granny Eve’s house in Murky Branch, Georgia with all of the other cursed Montgomerys hoping for a new fate.

Eleven-year-old Tumble Wilson wants to be a hero like Maximal Star–or like her older brother Jason. But her attempts at heroing don’t always work out so well, and she often ends up being the damsel in distress. After a lifetime of traveling the country in an RV, her parents have brought her to Murky Branch, Georgia for a fresh start.

Some of the things I like best about this book:

  • The friendship between Tumble and Blue. They’re not exactly “friends at first sight” and they don’t always agree, but the two of them are everything a genuine friend should be.
  • The extended Montgomery family. From the manipulative Ma Myrtle to the wise Granny Eve to all of the cousins with their crazy gifts and curses, there’s never a dull day in the Montgomery house.
  • The Georgia setting. One of my favorite details is the local restaurant that serves “Universally Adored Swamp Cakes” a.k.a. green pancakes.
  • What it has to say about talent vs. the rewards of hard work. Everyone thought Granny Eve had a talent for gardening until it became clear that she was cursed to lose her husbands. But, as she says, “Back when I thought it was all a result of magic… well, back then I didn’t enjoy gardening half as much as I do now.”

I read this book aloud to Larrabee. It’s a long, satisfying read, and we both recommend it.

Book Review: One Shadow on the Wall

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It’s rare to find a work of contemporary, realistic middle grade fiction that gives my kids a glimpse into a whole different world. Leah Henderson‘s One Shadow on the Wall is such a book.

Set in Senegal, it’s the story of Mor, an eleven-year-old orphan. He’s determined to keep the promise he made to his dying father: to take care of his two younger sisters. It won’t be easy, though. His aunt wants to take the siblings to the city and split them up. His father’s former employer doesn’t have a job for him. And a gang of older boys threatens him at every turn. Luckily, he has his sisters, his neighbors in the village, and the spirits of his parents on his side.

This book is one that rewards your patience. I read it aloud to Larrabee, and it took us several chapters to get hooked by the story. But overall, we found it to be both engaging and eventful.

Henderson paints a vivid picture of Mor’s village–the colors, the foods, the sounds. And she immerses us in Mor’s daily life, which is so different from Larrabee’s. Mor lives with his sisters and a goat in a one-room hut. He works all summer to feed his family and to save money for his sister’s school tuition. He hardly ever has time to play soccer with his friends–and when he does, they play with a ball made out of plastic bags. His nine-year sister owns just one book and has to fetch water from the well and cook the family’s meals.

While we were reading, Larrabee and I thought often of our friend Rachael who served in the Peace Corps in Senegal. We plan to lend her our copy and ask her how to pronounce all the Wolof words. And then we’ll say, “Jërëjëf (thank you)!”

Book Review: Greenglass House

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 12.22.59 PMGreenglass House by Kate Milford is the perfect book to read on a cold winter evening. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it–although he read it last summer and I read it during this unusually warm California winter.

It’s a mystery set in an old smuggler’s inn called Greenglass House in Nagspeake, British Columbia. Twelve-year-old Milo is the innkeepers’ adopted son. Normally he and his parents have the inn to themselves during winter vacation, but not this year. Guest after guest arrives, each more peculiar than the last. With the help of Meddy, the only other kid in the house, Milo will have to figure out what secrets they’re hiding and what brought them all to Greenglass House.

I love a lot of things about this book: the stories that the characters tell each other by the fire at night, Milo and Meddy’s role playing game, and the relationship between Milo and his parents. Most of all, I love the setting: an old house with stained glass windows, creaky stairs, and treasures in the attic.

Now there’s a second book in this same awesome setting: Ghosts of Greenglass House. I can’t wait!

Book Review: See You in the Cosmos

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 3.22.59 PMSee You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng is an interesting story told in an interesting way. The protagonist and narrator is eleven-year-old Alex Petroski. He sets off from his home in Colorado to attend a rocket festival in New Mexico, but then his quest morphs into a search for his “maybe dad” in Nevada.

Along the way, he records the details of his journey along with his observations and musings on a golden iPod that he intends to launch into space so that aliens can know what life on Earth is like. The novel is a transcript of these audio recordings. That fact, as well as Alex’s unique way of looking at the world, give the book an unusual style. Once I got used to it, I enjoyed it, and I expect it would be even more fun as an audiobook.

I would recommend this book more to adults than to kids, though. Because the story is told through Alex’s innocent point of view, the reader is left to infer what’s really going on in his life (for example, that his mother is suffering from a mental illness).

Book Review: The Boy From Tomorrow

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 2.24.55 PMThe Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis is a time travel story with a twist. Josie and Alec are both twelve years old. They both live at 444 Sparrow Street in the same small New York town. They communicate with each other all the time, but they’ve never met in person.

The reason: Alec lives in 2015, while Josie lives in 1915. They originally make contact through a ouija board belonging to Josie’s mother, a famous psychic medium, and they find a good friend in each other just when they need one the most.

I loved this book and read it in one sitting. I enjoy time travel stories and historical fiction, and this books has aspects of both.

Like the best time travel stories, The Boy from Tomorrow is intricately plotted with present events affecting past events. For example, Alec finds a letter from Josie hidden in his house and tells her about it, causing her to write the letter in the first place… Also, although Josie and Alec never travel to each other’s times, the books has fun time travel moments in which they get glimpses into each other’s worlds. For instance, Alec can use the internet to find New York Times headlines from 1915 (“magic” to Josie and “just technology” to Alec).

Like the best historical fiction, this book brings a past era to life. My favorite parts were the scenes featuring Josie, her little sister Cassie, and her tutor in 1915 New York.

Thank you to Amberjack Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is May 8.

Book Review: Captain Superlative

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 2.08.20 PMWho would be brave enough to come to middle school dressed as a superhero–with a silver bathing suit, blue wig, red mask, and homemade cape? Who would be weird enough to call herself Captain Superlative? And who would be crazy enough to think that she could make all troubles disappear?

Jane doesn’t know. She herself tries to stay as invisible as air. Especially since the death of her mother four years earlier, she’s found that it’s safest not to stand out, not to be noticed, not to get involved.

But Jane is intrigued by Captain Superlative. She wants to know who she is. More importantly, she wants to know why she does what she does. The answers she finds, though, pull her out of her comfort zone.

Captain Superlative by J.S. Puller is a coming of age story–sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and sometimes sweet.

My favorite things about this book are:

  • Jane’s point of view. Jane starts the story as an observer and bystander, and she only reluctantly takes on an active role. I love her description of Captain Superlative’s first visit to her home: “It was more like another story had just crashed into my book and the style of illustration was completely different. It was a surrealist drawing in the middle of my still life.”
  • The relationship between Jane and her father. At school, she may be Plain Jane, but at home with her dad, she’s Janey! The two of them play a game where they think of synonyms that start with the same letter, and he provides her with gentle advice and support. The glimpses the reader gets of her at home make her public transformation more believable.
  • Its message about empathy and kindness. Although the book depicts some bullying, Captain Superlative sets the example of reaching out to both the bully and the victim. The book shows that everyone has a story, and that treating others with thoughtfulness makes a difference.

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is May 8.