I may not have completed my Goodreads goal of 50 titles this year, but I did a decent job with just under 35 books, mostly from the Middle Grade shelf. I won’t bore you with copy/pasted summaries of every book I read (you can hit up my Reading Challenge page for that if you like, though) but I will share some of my highlights.
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
“For a Hero cannot triumph all the time. Sometimes he will be defeated, and how he faces that defeat is a test of his character.”
I finally completed the How to Train Your Dragon series this year. What starts out as a short and silly lower Middle Grade series quickly becomes a fast-paced adventure with a hero who can’t seem to do anything right, a naughty little dragon, and a tribe of Hooligans that will keep even the most reluctant reader turning pages eagerly. My favorite detail is the abundance of illustrations that decorate nearly every page. They’re informal, sketchy, and perfect for setting off a child’s imagination. Just be prepared for a little dragon dung humor in the first couple of books.
Favorite Book in a Series
Among the Tents by C. J. Milbrandt
Spotlights blazed, glinting off the glamstones and beads on the clingy green costumes of the Greening Dragons. The crowd cheered, and Ganix laughed and waved his banner, which was decorated with a twisting green dragon. Wouldn’t it be funny if his real brothers could see him now?
Three new Byways adventures released this year, and picking a favorite was tough because STUFF. HAPPENED. But I’m a huge fan of a circus setting, plus I adored the new cast members/creatures that were introduced in Among the Tents. I have high hopes for the next Ganix adventure now that we’ve added fabulous acrobatic twins, a mysterious ringmaster, and new ways for Ganix to disguise his runaway traveling companions.
Favorite Main Character
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
“Rhymes make me feel better when I’m down…When you say the words and the sounds match, it feels like everything in the world is in its place and whatever you say is powerful and true.”
On the whole, I was really impressed with this retelling of a classic fairytale. Rump was a fantastic character; easy to sympathize with, opinionated, funny, and often wrong. The way he handles his unusual name and unsettling destiny often ends up with Rump creating brand new problems for himself, but his charisma kept me rooting for him to pick himself back up and keep trying to piece his life back together. The quick pace and easy-to-read structure will appeal to younger boys with a short attention span, but remains intelligent through to the end, giving it the kind of all-ages appeal I look for.
The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
Piper twisted around to look at the boy. Up close, she saw two ugly scars slashed his neck just above his collarbone. His pupils dilated, flashing yellow at the edges. The change caught her off guard and she blinked, but when she looked again, they were the normal black color. She must have imagined it.
A Middle Grade fantasy/adventure that also has a really cute OTP? Sign me up. I could rave forever about the complex world building, political drama, cool alien races, action-packed scenes, strong and diverse cast of characters, and steampunk details, but I’ll focus on the couple since this is the Favorite Couple category. The thread of budding romance between Piper and Gee is subtle and nicely sprinkled in between all the other things going on in The Mark of the Dragonfly. I loved the slow pace, which gives plenty of room for shippers to get excited and start rooting for the couple to get together, but didn’t allow the OTP subplot to take over the whole story. It also resolves nicely at the end, giving you that Happily Ever After vibe.
The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
“We call the women in our family the Wildflowers. Because no matter how difficult the circumstances, and no matter where the wind carried them, they bloomed, bold and bright.”
I fell in love with Granny Blue right from the first description. I mean, who doesn’t want a grandma who wears a leather jacket, has a big old tattoo, and rides a motorcycle? Blue’s strong, full of individuality and wisdom, is a real sweetheart once you get to know her, and knows the time and place to just let go of her worries for awhile and dance. Her influence is evident throughout Emma Pearl’s narrative in The Key to Extraordinary, giving you a strong impression of not only how much Blue means to her granddaughter, but also the importance of strong, positive female role models in a young girl’s life.
The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French
This was a woman she understood, a woman after her own cold heart.
With a bewitching sorceress on the cover, you’d think Lady Lamorna would be my villain of choice. But she’s not! Surprise, surprise. The wicked winner for my favorite baddie actually goes to someone perhaps even more malicious. Because while the desperate-for-cash dame is out scaring up some funds for a new dress, our heroine, Gracie, is trying to escape her sinister step-sister, Foyce, who has some supernatural surprises up her sleeve.
Favorite First Book
School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari
Quite literally, a cloud of bug repellent lingered over Madeleine’s veil-covered head, causing strangers to cough vociferously. Madeleine plowed through the highly congested terminal without batting an eyelash. Madeleine had long ago made peace with the price of spider protection.
I raced to finish School of Fear today so that I could add it to this post because this book has everything I love. A very British-influenced writing style (dry humor, big words, and regular asides), a quirky cast, a secret-society-esque mystery vibe, untrustworthy adults, a cool old house dropped into a dangerous location, and a lady who names her pets in pairs. Perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket, I would have devoured School of Fear even without the added incentive to add it to this post, and look forward to getting my hands on the following books in the series.