Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

I’d not even heard of this but my daughter found it at the bookstore and used a Christmas gift card to buy it. She finished it before we’d even been home half an hour from the bookstore and said she loved it and I had to read it. Well, I enjoyed it very much too. I don’t know if 11 year olds will get any of the Buffy or Twilight references, but as a 40something who was a huge Buffy fan I loved it that the librarian was British and named Mr. Niles.
AJ just started middle school and has a crush on a girl he likes, Nia. His friends Hunter and Ivy seem to have no trouble at all adjusting to middle school and are very annoying. AJ knows that Nia likes vampire stories so he starts pretending to be one. At this point I had questions: is this a world where vampires are real? Is everyone play acting? Does he really think Nia will like him better? I just went along for the ride and enjoyed it very much. Stylistically I liked the drawing style and the full colors. The trees and woods made it clear we were in the Pacific Northwest (as does the Powell’s bookstore reference.)
A fun graphic novel.

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The Hidden Witch by Molly Ostertag

The Hidden Witch (The Witch Boy #2) Sequel to Witch Boy. This was a good follow up and once again I thought it was so nice how, well nice, the two main characters were. I suppose some people might find it a bit too easy, but I didn’t. I liked it that Sedge–the bad cousin from the first book-opened up about his issues and got a resolution. I loved how kind Charlie (the non witch character) was and nice about making friends with the mysterious new girl.  And I liked how the main story that was left unfinished in Witch Boy was resolved in this sequel. I’d be happy to spend more time in this world Ostertag has created and get to know many more of the characters!

Once Was a Time by Leila Sales

This was absolutely wonderful! First of all, it’s time travel (that came out 2 years ago and I just found out about it now) and it was so good and I happened to have moments in the day and was able to read it in one day. (It’s not too long.)
It starts in 1940 and I immediately liked the main character, Lottie. She’s 10 and loves to read and play make believe games with her best friend, Kitty. She’s the best. I say that because a. she’s like me b. I would have been friends with her and c. she is keenly interested in time travel.  The reason for that is because her father is a scientist who fully believes in it and is researching it. He’s signed the Official Secrets Act so he can’t actually disclose his findings or work. Then a surprising incident occurs and Lottie jumps through a portal not knowing where she will end up but certain-since her father has always said so-that she will never be able to come back. She ends up in current day Wisconsin. Most of the time travel I read involves people traveling to the past. I enjyed this take on someone from the past coming to our time. Here’s what I loved about this book: she behaves as I would if I were a time traveler and acknowledges that because she and Kitty have talked so much about it and accept its existence she isn’t going to waste time in disbelief but instead figure out where she is and what to do. The book takes some interesting turns because now she is stranded in time and needs to just continue on with her life. She’s a child so she ends up with a very nice foster family. But always, always, she is wondering if she can connect with Kitty and find her way back to her.
I loved how this ended up working out even though, as I keep dwelling on it, the crux of the time travel matter somewhat doesn’t make sense to me(even though it simultaneously makes perfect sense.) I also liked the middle grade friendship storyline. And I especially loved the role books played in Lottie’s life and libraries. I’m thinking Ms. Sales must know some librarians because she was spot on with her description of us!!

Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

This is not just lovely to read, but it’s also beautiful to look out. A handsome cover with lovely artwork and gilded letters, chapter headings decorated botanically, and both small and full page occasional illustrations. Plus it’s a retelling of a fairy tale (one I can never remember, so I made no comparisons at all while reading it.) It’s so lovely I bought it for Christmas last year for Tabby and me. And then we never read it. And it sat there accusingly. Until I said we must read it before this Christmas! And then Tabby got sick and I said “a-ha! What could be better than lying on the couch under the quilts while I read this aloud?” and indeed, it was a wonderful way to pass some time. We enjoyed this so, so much. If I was 10 or 11 I’d probably reread it many times, especially enjoying the physical quality of the book–exactly as I read my Tasha Tudor illustrated Frances Hodgson Burnett books.

Snow and Rose are beautiful sisters who have to move to a cottage in the woods with their mother after their father disappears. They aren’t afraid of the woods, but there’s definitely something there and it may or may not have to do with what happened to their father. The girls make friends with a boy who, improbably, lives underground! There’s some magical elements, some excitement, some weirdness, and a big bear.

We both loved this.

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

I already thought Hilary McKay was a marvelous underappreciated writer, and now I think even more so! (Is she really underappreciated? Maybe not, based on awards, but it seems like no one else I know reads her books. And they should.) This will immediately draw some comparison to The War that Saved My Life. It is some solid hard core historical fiction. I am pretty curious the targeted age reader because  while it has a youngish looking cover and was in the children’s section I’m not sure the 5th graders I know would stick with this. In part because she doesn’t flinch from the realities of WWI trench warfare, and in part because these characters are followed from childhood to adulthood. Reading as an adult, though, I found this very appealing and loved discovering that I would be reading about not just a few summers in childhood, but these characters’ nearly full lives.

Clarry and her brother Peter, their cousin Rupert, their friends Simon and Vanessa. Rupert, Peter, and Simon all go to a boarding school, while Clarry struggles against and upbringing in which she’s flat out told that as a girl she needs to know nothing. Fortunately Clarry finds ways around that and loving support from those outside the family.

As a keen reader of WWI and WWII fiction I assumed from chapter one that surely one of these beloved characters would die-the only question being which one? I almost didn’t want to get too fond of the characters, but of course I ended up loving them all.  Except for Clarry’s horrible hideous cold father.
I loved watching the changing relationships and growing up and just thought this was an all around terrific book. Honestly I felt like it read almost like an adult WWI book.

As always with a WWI book I ended up feeling sad at the end because all I could think was “you lived, but any babies you have will grow up just in time for WWII and you’ll have to live it all over again.”

Dreaming Dangerous by Lauren DeStefano

Well this was just a delightful sort of creepy treat just for middle grade. It reminded me a bit of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Unusual Children (is that the full title?) (with a touch of Firestarter thrown in) A large boarding school in the middle of a forest where all the children, all orphans, have exceptional powers. Plum and her friends Vien, Ardem, and Gwendle share a very strong bond. Every night they dream together and in their dreams they battle monsters.  It’s just part of their life that they record their dreams in great detail and must submit them to the director of the school. It’s also routine for their blood to be drawn regularly and to answer various questions. But the dreams become strange and different and Plum knows something bad is going to happen. When Ardem doesn’t show up in their dreams it’s up to her to figure out where he is and how to get him back.

I really enjoyed this and thought it had a marvelous ending. That said, for once I”ll say that I would like MORE! Although it was nice to be able to read this quickly and satisfyingly, it was so weird and well written and I liked the characters so much that I would like to read more about them!

The Oceans Between Stars by Kevin Emerson

I was super excited to read this having really enjoyed the first book so, so much. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this sequel as exciting or compelling as the first. For one thing, I felt it really became just too complicated and bizarre. And maybe that’s just science fiction and I don’t typically read straight up science fiction. I loved the prologue which explained events well before the events of the first book. In fact, much of this book is really about explaining why things are happening (in a word, it all comes down to just elaborate revenge plans), but then vague things like giant doorways and “the Drove” get in the way.
There were definitely a lot of things I liked about this: getting Phoebe’s point of view, Phoebe and Liam trying to figure things out, descriptions of vast space. But beyond that I just found myself a bit annoyed wading through the rest.