Hey friends. It’s that time again, time for another reading roundup. September was kind of crazy. I was sick for the first week of the semester, and then I was trying to catch up plus doing all my class reading, working at Analytical Space part time, and applying for jobs for after I graduate. Not to mention everything going on in the news, which was a horrible kind of bonkers. By the end of the month I was feeling pretty frazzled. Who am I kidding? I still feel frazzled (it’s taken me half the month to get this post up). But I’ve gotten all my job applications in, and I’ve eased back on the hours I’m working at Analytical Space, and I’m kind of pretending I don’t have the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam in a month, and things are better because of it.
And despite all the craziness, I read ten books last month. If I was feeling kind of meh about last months books, this month was great. I finished one series, continued a couple others, and started some new ones. I read some great stand-alone books too, including a couple that I really want to become series because I didn’t want to leave the world. Three of the books I read were in Braille, but no nonfiction this month. So here’s what I read and what I thought. As usual, no spoilers.
First, I finished the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series with The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. War with the Titans has come, the gods are in the Midwest fighting the big storm thing Percy unleashed in an earlier book, and it’s up to Percy and his friends to defend Manhattan. Oh, and Percy finally gets to hear the big prophecy made about him, and it isn’t going to be pretty. This book was absolutely everything I wanted it to be, and then some. It was basically my perfect end to the series. Really I loved the whole series, and I know I’m way late to the party on this, but if you haven’t read the Percy Jackson books and you like middle grade fantasy, go read them now.
After that, I read the next book in The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis. Remember I’m reading them in chronological order, not publication order. In this book, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are on their way to boarding school when they are whisked back to Narnia to help Prince Caspian reclaim his throne from his very evil uncle. This was a pretty good book. I liked the idea of the kids going back to Narnia but things have changed so much. I also really liked Caspian. There were some things that bothered me. First, Susan is such a wimp for no apparent reason. I know there’s a lot of scholarship out there about Lewis’s treatment of Susan, and once I finish rereading the series, I intend to dive into it. Second, the animals are supposed to be as smart as humans. Throughout the whole series it’s thanks to the animals that the humans get almost anything done. And hey, the god of this world is a lion. But the animals are convinced that Narnia has to be ruled by a human. This could be a social commentary, but I’m skeptical. Whatever it is, it bothered me.
Last year, I read Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. The sequel recently came out, and I’m on the waitlist to get that from the library, so I reread Flame in the Mist so it would be fresh in my mind. In ancient Japan with magic, Mariko is on her way to marry the emperor’s son when her convoy is attacked and everyone is murdered. Mariko is left for dead, but she escapes and sets out to find and take revenge on whoever tried to kill her. My thoughts on this are pretty much identical to what they were last year. It was a pretty good book. I really liked the world and the political intrigue, and the characters were really intricate. Something about the descriptions in the writing didn’t quite draw me in, though, and I generally found the writing more telly than I like. But on the whole, this was a good book, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the sequel goes.
Next, I read The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox. I sort of stumbled onto this book. I was looking at a list of top upper middle grade fantasy books in the last ten years, trying to find similar books to compare to my own upper middle grade novel that I’m currently querying. I ran across this book, and while it isn’t a comp title, I had to read it, because it’s an upper middle grade World War II book, and I’m still looking for those. In this book, three siblings are sent to boarding school to escape the London blitz, but something creepy is going on at their new school. The other students keep disappearing. Also, there may be a German spy lurking around. The atmosphere in this book was delightfully creepy, and the characters were well-developed. I kind of wish we didn’t have so much of the bad guy’s point of view, because it undercut some of the mystery, but I also respect that it enhanced the creepiness, so on the whole I was okay with it. What I really liked about this book is that while it was fantasy (or maybe horror?), we don’t completely lose the real world and the war like we so often do in children’s fantasy set in World War II. Remember that spy I mentioned? Yeah that spy is kind of important. Janet Fox is working on a companion novel to Rookskill Castle, and I can’t wait. So if you like World War II and spooky stories, I definitely recommend this one.
Next, I read Rose by Holly Webb. This was another middle grade book I found on that list I just mentioned. And it turned out to be a reasonably good comp for my own novel, so I liked it even more. In a world where only the super rich can afford magic, orphan Rose is hired as a maid in an alchemist’s house, and while she and her new friends try to figure out who is kidnapping children, she discovers she might just have some magic of her own. There were moments when I wanted more emotion from this book, but I really like the idea of magic as a class thing, as well as Rose’s ambivalence about her powers (these are the parts that are similar to my own book). The bad guy was super creepy, and the world was so vivid I felt totally drawn in. I’m really looking forward to picking up the next book, and I’m really hoping that Rose isn’t the long lost daughter of some rich family because that would make me mad.
After that, I read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon. The minions of Castle Hangnail are looking for a new evil master. They get Molly, a twelve-year-old wicked witch. Or so she says. This book was absolutely delightful. I loved every single word. Go read it now. Now now now. This was another book that I want there to be a sequel, even though it stands fine on its own, because I just loved it so much and don’t want to let it go.
Next, I read Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Hazel and Jack were best friends until one day they weren’t. Everybody tells Hazel these things happen sometimes, but Hazel is convinced something else is going on. And when Jack disappears into the forest and everybody keeps saying he went to stay with a great aunt, Hazel is the only one who can go after him. I was really intrigued by this book, but it was kind of a let-down. Yes, the feelings were absolutely one hundred percent on the money. This book gave me feelings, guys. But the plot didn’t really measure up. It was kind of weirdly half contemporary middle grade and then half fairy tale, and it didn’t work for me as much as I wanted it too.
Then I read Matilda by Roald Dahl. Matilda is so smart she can make things move. That’s the best summary I got. I know I read this book when I was kid, but I have very little recollection of it. And I am kind of horrified that I read this book when I was seven or eight or whatever, because this is a horrifying book. Really good, but horrifying. just goes to show that Madeleine L’engle was right, yet again, when she said that if a story is too difficult for grown-ups, write it for children.
After Matilda, I read the fourth book in The Dark Is Rising series, The Grey King by Susan Cooper. Will is continuing to follow the instructions to collect the magic items and prevent the Dark from rising. I really liked a lot about this book, particularly the side characters. But I had the same problem with this book that I did with the previous book in the series. There just weren’t really any stakes, because Will is basically all-powerful. The friend who recommended this series says it’s better in the final book, which I have now and will likely be reading next. If the final book can pull it off, the whole series will have been worth it. If not, I’m probably doomed to disappointment. I’ll let you know when I post my October reading roundup, probably.
Finally, I read The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas. This is another orphan discovers he has magical powers book. This orphan not only has magic, he has some pretty special magic that no one really knows what to do with. also, someone is stealing the magic that the city depends on to live. It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. There was some really cool world-building. I liked the idea that no one knows what exactly magic is and how it works, and everything is all theories. I also like the two halves of society—the rich and the poor—and how they interact. The voice of the narrator didn’t quite work for me, but I’m okay with that, at least partly because now I understand those agents who say the voice of my narrator doesn’t work for them. On the whole, a good book, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second one and seeing what comes next.
And that’s it for September. Hopefully I’ll be back next week with that post I’ve been promising some of you about my culinary adventures—the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the meantime, let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them. Also, if you can think of any recent middle grade books about orphans with magical powers fighting rebellions, do let me know. Bonus points if the book isn’t set in medieval Europe or if the rebellion isn’t black and white. I’m still looking for good comp titles.