Orbiting Jupiter

Author: Gary D. Schmidt. Summary: When Jack meets his new foster brother, he already knows three things about him: Joseph almost killed a teacher. He was incarcerated at a place called Stone Mountain. He has a daughter. Her name is Jupiter. And he has never seen her. What Jack doesn’t know, at first, is how desperate Joseph is to find his baby girl. Or how urgently he, Jack, will want to help. But the past can’t be shaken off. Even as new bonds form, old wounds reopen. The search for Jupiter demands more from Jack than he can imagine. (Published Summary). My Thoughts: A story of bad decisions and worst consequences, told through the straight-forward, simple voice of a boy. Or, more optimistically, a story of love and responsibility and overcoming prejudice. Joseph made a very bad choice or two – at the age of thirteen, with only an abusive father to support him – but his response is multiple levels above many real-life men in similar situations. The moment he finds out that he’s a father, his one goal becomes finding his baby daughter, to love and care for her. Jack, his foster brother, must find bravery in a…

Dandelion Fire
Middle Grade / Juvenile / February 7, 2018

100 Cupboards #2. Author: N.D. Wilson. Summary: Henry York never dreamed his time in Kansas would open a door to adventure, much less a hundred doors. But a visit to his aunt and uncle’s farm took an amazing turn when cupboard doors, hidden behind Henry’s bedroom wall, revealed themselves to be portals to other worlds. Now, with his time at the farm drawing to a close, Henry makes a bold decision–he must go through the cupboards to find the truth about where he’s from and who his parents are. Following that trail will take him from one world to another, and ultimately into direct conflict with the evil of Endor. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: The cupboard series went from 1 to 100 just like that! In the first book, we have a fun, lighthearted portal fantasy, which starts out with Henry meeting his cousins, exploring Kansas, getting some backstory. Kind of a slow opening. Then we move onto exploring the cupboards that open out into different worlds. I didn’t think it was amazing, but it was nice. It’s all pretty mysterious, very obviously a setting-up book, but the main villain seems to be an evil witch Henry accidentally wakes up….

100 Cupboards
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 24, 2018

  100 Cupboards #1. Author: N. D. Wilson. Summary: Twelve-year-old Henry York is going to sleep one night when he hears a bump on the attic wall above his head. It’s an unfamiliar house—Henry is staying with his aunt, uncle, and three cousins—so he tries to ignore it. But the next night he wakes up with bits of plaster in his hair. Two knobs have broken through the wall, and one of them is slowly turning… Henry scrapes the plaster off the wall and discovers doors—ninety-nine cupboards of all different sizes and shapes. Through one he can hear the sound of falling rain. Through another he sees a glowing room—with a man strolling back and forth! Henry and his cousin Henrietta soon understand that these are not just cupboards. They are, in fact, portals to other worlds. My Thoughts: Hovering right between 2.5 and 3 stars. The story takes a while to get going, and while Henry is fairly interesting as a withdrawn, sheltered protagonist his behavior also seems inconsistent. Sometimes he’s totally shy and polite, sometimes he’s scared stiff of adventure, and sometimes he strips the wall of his borrowed bedroom apart without a second thought? He seems like…

Ghosts of Greenglass House
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 8, 2018

Greenglass House #2. Author: Kate Milford. Summary: Welcome back to the irresistible world of Greenglass House where thirteen-year-old Milo is, once again, spending the winter holidays stuck in a house full of strange guests who are not what they seem. There are fresh clues to uncover as friends old and new join in his search for a mysterious map and a famous smuggler’s lost haul. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: I really love the author’s voice, which stays consistent from the last book. It’s straight-forward but well-crafted prose, with the third person view point sticking close to Milo, our protagonist, so everyone else is characterized through what he would notice first, then second, and on. Although Milo came to grips with his adopted identity last time, it’s not a struggle that can be resolved through The Power of Friendship or any such thing, and Kate Milford recognizes this. Milo is still very much working on growing up, and that includes such wide-ranging pursuits as learning to balance his emotions, learning to understand other people’s blunders, learning to retain his confidence in his own identity and background even when other people don’t understand. Spoilers for the previous book, Greenglass House: A solid,…

House of Many Ways
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 4, 2018

Howl’s Moving Castle #3. Author: Diana Wynn Jones. Summary: Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle William’s tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few. By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind? Of course, with that magical family involved, there’s bound to be chaos—and unexpected revelations. No one will be more surprised than Charmain by…

Castle in the Air
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 3, 2018

Howl’s Moving Castle #2. Author: Diane Wynn Jones. Summary: Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, there lived in the city of Zanzib a young and not very prosperous carpet dealer named Abdullah who loved to spend his time daydreaming. He was content with his life and his daydreams until, one day, a stranger sold him a magic carpet. That very night, the carpet flew him to an enchanted garden. There, he met and fell in love with the beauteous princess Flower-in-the-Night, only to have her snatched away, right under his very nose, by a wicked djinn. With only his magic carpet and his wits to help him, Abdullah sets off to rescue his princess…. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Hm… it’s okay. I’m not sure if my reaction of “meh” is actually from the book, or just because I’ve read a lot of Aladdin retellings, and Aladdin isn’t even one of my favorite stories. The insta-love is a strike, even in middle-grade. But on the plus side, Abdullah is an engaging main character, and the magic carpet is always good. Always. The story’s mostly set in “the Sultanates of Rashpuht”, a land far…

The Knights of Crystallia
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 1, 2018

Alcatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians #3. Author: Brandon Sanderson. Summary: In this third Alcatraz adventure, Alcatraz Smedry has made it to the Free Kingdoms at last. Unfortunately, so have the evil Librarians–including his mother! Now Alcatraz has to find a traitor among the Knights of Crystallia, make up with his estranged father, and save one of the last bastions of the Free Kingdoms from the Evil Librarians. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Alcatraz has a few moments of seriousness for once. (Only a few. No worries.) They’re so quick, almost throwaway, that how you take them is entirely up to you: ignore them because he’s just messing with you, consider them to reveal a deeper side to Alcatraz, take them as morals – you can do anything. It’s very non-preachy, despite the bits on “the dangers of fame” and all that, which is great. I love the self-aware narrator trope. And Alcatraz is one of the best. With his evil manipulations of chapter breaks, which he’s not at all shy of explaining to us, his wandering monologues – how dare he malign fish sticks, by the way, what a flaw in my hero – and his overt, blatant foreshadowing, he becomes…

Howl’s Moving Castle
Middle Grade / Juvenile / December 31, 2017

Howl’s Moving Castle #1. Author: Dianne Wynn Jones. Summary: Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye. My Thoughts: My younger siblings aren’t that much into reading – not as much as we wish they were – but when we got this trilogy for Christmas both of them (ages 12 and 10) devoured all three books in a matter of days, very nearly quarreling over who got which book. And, yes, I had to steal the books in the evenings too, to see what all the fuss was about. They’re great fun. I think the charm lies…

Silksinger
Middle Grade / Juvenile , Young Adult / October 26, 2017

Faeries of Dreamdark #2. Author: Laini Taylor. Summary: One faerie, the last of her clan, must fight to complete her sacred duty Whisper Silksinger is the last of the secret guardians of the Azazel, one of the powerful Djinn who dreamed the world into being. Relentlessly pursued by bloodthirsty devils, she flees to the city of Nazneen to restore the Azazel to his temple. At the same time, Hirik Mothmage is also on a secret quest, to find the Azazel and restore his disgraced clan’s ancient honor. And behind them all flies Magpie Windwitch, first champion of the new age of faeries, desperate to rescue Whisper and the Azazel alike before they fall in the clutches of a sinister hidden enemy. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Much more dynamic and fast-paced than the first one! When multiple new point-of-views were first introduced, I was confused and none too pleased. Who are all these random people, and why am I watching them mess about when Magpie obviously has important things to do? As it turned out, Whisper Silksinger and Hirik Mothmage turned into my two new favorite characters. (There aren’t even that many characters, but trust me – I really, really like…

Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race
Middle Grade / Juvenile / October 14, 2017

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library #3. Author: Chris Grabenstein. Summary: Everyone’s favorite game maker, Mr. Lemoncello, is testing out his new FABULOUS FACT-FINDING FRENZY game! If Kyle can make it through the first round, he and the other lucky finalists will go on a great race–by bicycle, bookmobile, and even Mr. Lemoncello’s corporate banana jet!–to find fascinating facts about famous Americans. The first to bring their facts back to the library will win spectacular prizes! But when a few surprising “facts” surface about Mr. Lemoncello, it might be GO TO JAIL and LOSE A TURN all at once! Could Kyle’s hero be a fraud? It’s winner take all, so Kyle and the other kids will have to dig deep to find out the truth before the GAME is OVER for Mr. Lemoncello and his entire fantastic empire! (Published Summary) My Thoughts: I loved the first two books, enough that I almost feel bad saying this… but the Great Library Race is distinctly mediocre. It feels like Grabenstein had a good thing in the first book, so he just kept writing, but at this point he doesn’t have enough new material for the book to stand out. There was none of the fast…