Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalai is a juvenile fiction book, steeped in myth and folklore, probably best for 5-7th graders.

“Strong’s keep punching.” Is the family motto of the Strong family and seventh grader, Tristian Strong, feels like doing anything but punching after he losing his first boxing match, while dealing with the death of his best friend, Eddie. In the hopes of “getting his mind off of things,” Tristan is sent to live with his grandparents for the summer, working in the fields and getting away from any reminders of Eddie.

All Tristan has left of Eddie is a beaten up journal where he wrote down old stories. On his first night in Alabama, a sticky little doll sneaks into Tristan’s room and snatches to doll. When Eddie chases the creature down, he and it let loose an evil spirit and they all fall into another world–Midpass.

Burning seas, bone ships, mechanical monsters and more greet him, along with black American gods like John Henry and Brer Rabbit. In order to get home Tristan must ally with these gods and save Midpass, but what can one lost teenager do?

I enjoyed this book a lot and I think it will have a lot of appeal to fantasy fans of myth and legend. The book gives you glimpses into folklore and myth from West Africa and these samples make you want to go out and learn more about the original tales.

Although Tristan is a great character and will be relatable to many, I think the side characters really shine in this book. Gum Baby, John Henry, High John and the others were so fun to read. I loved “seeing” glimpses of them throughout the story and hope the come in to play more in the next book.

It’s hard to believe that this is a debut book for Mbalai because it has memorable characters, a storyline that pulls you in and some pretty good worldbuilding. Overall, I think this will be a great read for kids who are looking for something similar to the Riordan books but with a new feel. This one gets 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown is the first book in a fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore.

Solstasia is an event that happens every fifty years. It is a both a celebration and ritual. For Malik, Solstasia is a chance to start fresh with his siblings and forge a new life for his family away from the war-torn shambles of his home. When a malevolent spirit kidnaps Malik’s baby sister, he makes a deal to kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, in exchange for her life.

But Karina isn’t so easy to kill and she has her own designs when it comes to Solstasia. Determined to resurrect her murdered mother, the Sultana of Ziran, Karina turns to dark magic, requiring the heart of a king.

Malik and Karina’s fates are tied together and as evil stirs within the city of Ziran both will find that price of their tasks, may be higher than the thought.

I don’t know if it was the audio book or what, but I had a hard time getting into this book. It wasn’t until the Solstasia contest actually starts that my attention was grabbed. And then it seemed like things moved almost too quickly to make up for the slower beginning.

Karina is an emotional character, whereas Malik lives more in his head and I found their narrative observations of one another interesting in how differently they seem themselves versus the way the see one another. And Malik’s chosen side at the end of the story is surprising and out of character with what we witness throughout the story.

I’m actually surprised to find out that this is going to be a duology instead of a series of three because it felt like Brown introduced a lot of elements at the end of the story, maybe too many to wrap up in just one book?

This one gets 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is an adult fiction novel about live, the decisions we make in the moment and the regrets that follow.

If you could live forever, unaging and unchanging, but never making a lasting impression on anyone, what would you do? When Addie LaRue, desperate to be more than a wife and mother, makes a deal with the dark to live forever, she wasn’t ready for the consequences of that wish.

It is France 1714, and with one foolish wish, Addie is destined to walk the earth forever but be forgotten by everyone she sees. She becomes a ghost, stepping in and out of peoples lives without being “seen” by anyone. Taunted by the Dark throughout the centuries.

In over 300 years, no one has been able to remember her until a boy named Henry catches her stealing a book and everything changes.

V.E. Schwab always creates such wonderful worlds and dynamic characters and that is just what she does with Addie LaRue. Addie starts out as this lost girl wanting to escape the domestic role the times demand but from the moment she makes a deal with the darkness to live, she begins to transform into this complex creature. Even the Darkness, or Luke as Addie calls him, has a depth to him and I love Addie and Luke’s tête-à-têtes throughout the novel. The back an forth jabs and the evolution of their relationship was great.

I wasn’t, however, overly impressed with Henry’s character. His curse was interesting but the chapters where he took over the narrative, especially that long bit in the middle, weren’t as captivating for me.

But that ending! Loved it!

This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carols Hernandez is a juvenile fiction book best for 5-7 graders.

Sal Vidon is the new kid at school and a budding magician, but it wasn’t magic that landed him in the principles office for the third time in three days, it was for allegedly putting a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker… a raw chicken that has since mysteriously disappeared.

In steps Gabi Real, student council president and editor of the school paper. With her keen eye, book smarts and unwavering task oriented personality, Gabi soon realizes that Sal Vidon is hiding something big.

After getting off on the wrong foot, Gabi and Sal become fast friends and it’s a good thing too because Sal is going to need all the help he can get if he doesn’t want to irreversibly break the universe for good.

I really enjoyed this middle grade read. It was light hearted and serious at the same time. Sal is a fun kid and everyone knows at least one Gabi in their own life. There’s something charming about the book even though there is a lot going on.

Much of this book includes Spanish culture, vocabulary and phrases. This is really neat but, for someone like me who doesn’t really know any Spanish, was a smidgen frustrating at times. It did make me want to go look up what I didn’t know, which is always a great learning opportunity. And bilingual children will just love reading a book that embraces booth English and Spanish.

A bit unrealistic in my opinion but I loved the adults in this book. Especially the Gabi-dads. At first you are wondering how this works… Was the mother married that often? Is Gabi in foster care? What is going on here? But, by the end you realize that being a “dad” isn’t necessarily something ruled by blood; the definition of what makes a family is a broad thing and we all have “aunts,” “brothers” and “sisters” that aren’t related to us, so why not dads too?

This is going to be a fun one to discuss with my book club. It gets 5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Silvered Serpents

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi is the second book in The Gilded Wolves series. 

Severin and his fellows are back after their disastrous first run in with the Fallen House but things are definitely not the same. Severin is distant and cold and his desperation to make amends by harnessing the power of the Gods has become all consuming. 

Severin and his crew follow the clues from Paris to Russia in the hopes of finding the Fallen House’s treasure before the Winter Conclave. But things aren’t as they seem and soon everything will change. 

Overall, I enjoyed this second book in the trilogy but I will admit, I was much more invested in the first book. 

Second book syndrome at its best. The first, introduces the characters and plot, the second builds more on the plot/world building and the third is the action and wrap up. And often, I find the second book lacking the draw of the first and third. 

One thing I did like about this one is the development of the relationships in this book. We see a different side of each of the characters and it is darker and less hopeful than the first book. 

We still get that steampunk, magic, Victorian mix that I liked in the first book and it looks like we are going to get a chase to the finish in the final. This one gets 3.5 stars from me. 

That’s all for now!

-M-