If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.
The Ashtown Burials series by N. D. Wilson
In Book 1, The Dragon’s Tooth, Antigone and Cyrus Smith live in a dilapidated hotel with their older brother Daniel. No one ever checks in, until the night a strange man requests a specific room. By morning, the man has died, the hotel has burned to the ground, and Daniel has disappeared. Informed that the only way to save their brother is to join a mysterious order of explorers dedicated to preserving the world’s treasures and imprisoning the world’s monsters, Antigone and Cyrus find themselves racing against time to find the order and swear their loyalty. Not everyone in the order, however, welcomes the new initiates. Surrounded by enemies, the two will have to prove their skill and bravery if they want to reunite their family. The series continues to follow the Smith family as they fight an enemy determined to unleash some of legend’s most fearful monsters upon the world.
Atlantis Rising by T. A. Barron
T. A. Barron explores the roots of Atlantis’s legendary greatness in this book dedicated to celebrating the rise of the island rather than chronicling its fall. In his version, a thief named Promi joins forces with Atlanta, a girl with natural magic, in order to decipher a prophecy that seems to indicate the end of all magic. The gods, however, have separated themselves from mortals and no hope seems left for those who would save the land from ruin.
The Theodosia Throckmorton series by R. L. LaFevers
Eleven-year-old Theodosia Throckmorton practically lives in London’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities where her father works as curator. Only she, however, can detect the ancient curses that linger on the artifacts her mother brings back from Egypt, and only she knows the rituals that will render the curses innocuous. Adults may not believe her stories, but she nevertheless devotes her gifts to saving the British Empire.
The Goddess Girls series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
This series features the Greek gods as adolescent students attending Mount Olympus Academy. The first book in the series is Athena the Brain.
The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott
Fifteen-year-old twins Sophie and Josh Newman find themselves embroiled in a centuries-long battle between alchemist Nicholas Flamel and his foe Dr. John Dee. Flamel and his wife need a book called known as the Codex in order to continue making the elixir of life or they will both die–Dee, however, plans to use the Codex to destroy the world. The Alchemyst is the first of six books in the series.
Series: Spellbinder #1
Summary: Belladonna is used to seeing ghosts. In fact, she’s been living with her dead parents since their unfortunate car accident. So when ghosts start disappearing, Belladonna starts worrying. She and another unlikely hero embark on a quest through the land of the dead to save them—where they learn they might also be responsible for saving the living of the living.
Review: Spellbinder is a fun and slightly quirky novel that brings readers on a romp through the world of the dead in order to save the land of the living. Some of the elements and the characters are standard fantasy fare, but the writing is solid and the overall premise imaginative. It is not a surprising read, but it is an enjoyable one perfect for anyone who likes middle grade fantasy adventures.
The two protagonists are a loner girl (Belladonna) and a troublemaker boy (Steve) who, predictably, become “unlikely” friends. Stringer fleshes them out from being mere types, however, and their relationship, as it evolves and grows, is fun to read about. The two develop a lively dynamic that aids them in their quest to save their world.
Many of the other characters are drawn in the same way. There is the insanely organized aunt, the strict principal, the crazy apothecary, the quirky grandmother. They, like Belladonna and Steve, walk the border between character and stereotype. Their existence, however, does mean there is a strong adult presence in the novel. These no-nonsense adults are generally responsible and caring, meaning both that adults are not the bad guys—as can happen in middle grade—and that their reluctance to let children into danger allows Belladonna and Steve to take very active roles in their own story. They do not just save the world; they have to take matters into their own hands, secretly, to do it. Rule breakers are always exciting in literature.
The book’s greatest flaw is a plethora of loose ends. Stringer fails to address so much: specifics about the role of a spellbinder, what exactly some characters know and how they came to know it, and whether some of the theories presented about ghosts are fact or simply character speculation. The quick pacing of the novel keeps these matters from being distracting during reading, as one will probably assume such details will be addressed later in the novel, but they become obvious once the book ends and there are still questions. There are sequels, but there is no obvious set-up suggesting any of the questions I personally had will be answered.
Spellbinder is a fast, pleasurable read. It explores the concept of death creatively and quirkily, imagining ghosts not as monsters but simply people who are now living in an alternate world, one similar to our own. This, along with a smattering of mythological facts, makes the book a nice blend of entertainment and light education. Great for readers who like magic, myth, and spunky kids.
Goodreads: Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris
Series: Theodosia Throckmorton #2
Summary: Eleven-year-old Theodosia Throckmorton loves nothing more than to explore London’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities, where her parents work. She spends her days battling curses brought back on ancient artifacts and researching ancient Egypt. However, when mummies start walking the streets of Britain even Theodosia finds herself stumped. She will have to outwit not only the Serpents of Chaos but also a host of newly-hired governesses if she wants to save the Empire from disaster once more. Preceded by Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos.
Review: With her spunk, wit, and insatiable curiosity, Theodosia positions herself as the type of friend any young girl would love to have. She has an irreverent sense of humor and an unfortunate penchant for making astute observations the adults around her would rather not hear. Armed with a library of books on ancient Egypt and a pair of gloves, she sallies forth through Edwardian England to protect her family, friends, and country from the evil forces that threaten them. Though danger lurks everywhere, LaFevers keeps the adventure light with a host of quirky characters and a keen sense of the ridiculous.
Though the story contains many elements found in similar books—caring but absentminded parents, a strict grandmother, an unladylike girl determined to scheme her way out of having a governess—LaFevers seems to utilize them knowingly, sharing a wink with her readers over the predictable nature of her character interactions. Readers stay with the story not because they have never seen its components before, but because all those components thrown together at once are just too funny to resist. Dickensian caricatures travel through a world all too aware of its own extreme Britishness and the result is a mixture of ludicrousness and charm.
The second installment in the series lives up to its predecessor by compounding the ridiculous. Previously Theodosia fought a secret organization headed by German spies. One such group may have seemed a bit much (after all, are we really still writing German spies?), but by the end of this book Theodosia has encountered not less than three secret societies. She herself remarks on the improbability and seems a little disgruntled that her life could turn out so very odd. Her self-awareness disarms any readers annoyed at what could have seemed an inability to come up with a new plot twist and allows them to laugh with her.
A combination of fantasy and mystery with the flavor of an Edwardian novel, Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris has cross-genre appeal. Its fast pace, sense of humor, and likable heroine will delight and entertain readers and keep them coming back for the sequels.
Summary: Aphrodite has chosen Psyche, the most beautiful woman in the world, to be her daughter. She offers to Psyche her own son Eros as a husband, but Eros still suffers the pain of a previous romance and treats the proposal with contempt. Insulted by Eros’s rudeness, Psyche rejects the match, angering Aphrodite and bringing down upon herself the wrath of the goddess. The Oracle at Delphi predicts that, as punishment, Psyche will fall in love with a hideous monster. Even as she awaits her doom, however, Eros realizes that he may have been wrong to reject her. A retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth.
Review: Any retelling of a well-known story invites comparison not only to the original tale but also to the other variations published over the years. Destined faces the formidable task, then, of not only proving to readers that it contains a good story told in compelling manner, but also of proving that it possesses an originality and a depth that justifies its addition to the number of retellings already available. Ultimately, the book fails to do either as it never rises above the level of a superficial romance.
The title itself suggests the book means to position itself as an insightful commentary on the nature of love and, yes, destiny, but the plot never delivers. Harrell repeatedly tells her readers how things are meant to be, but her characters and their actions never exemplify the traits ascribed to them. For example, Eros informs his friend that he means to get to know Psyche and that he wants Psyche to get to know him, so that they two will have a solid basis for their relationship. However, Eros has the power to read souls, and thus understands everything about Psyche at a glance; Harrell has written “instalove” even as she claims she wants to avoid it.
One might assume that Psyche will give some perspective to the relationship and rescue it from the trap of “instalove,” but the girl sadly fails to exhibit any behavior that will make readers sympathize with her, even if they cannot look up to her. She initially rejects the physical advances made by Eros (advances he makes the first time he comes to her, despite his professed intent to get to know her), but succumbs within days. Psyche knows nearly nothing about Eros at this point, though she suspects he is evil. Even so, she finds herself “falling in love” with the god because she enjoys his embraces and kisses.
The story is generally morally ambiguous, but the problems created by its uncertainty become even more pronounced at this point. Normally Eros and Psyche are assumed to be married and the marriage is consummated. However, Destined makes no mention of any marriage, not even a future one to be held if Psyche can be wooed. Eros’s intentions toward Psyche remain unclear. Psyche does not seem worried about this, even though one would assume that her status as princess means she learned a certain code of conduct pertaining to men. She readily accepts all Eros’s advances, however, and does not seem inclined at any point to tell him that he might be going too far or to request that they talk about their relationship and where it might be going.
Psyche’s actions are particularly odd because Venus eventually accuses Psyche of having inappropriate relations with her son, and Psyche angrily denies this. However, Psyche and Eros came very close to that point—and were only prevented from reaching it by an unforeseen interruption. Both women seem to accept a certain kind of behavior as moral and virtuous, and Psyche is supposed to be vindicated at this point because she upheld that behavior. The problem is, she didn’t. Not really. So are readers supposed to accept the verdict of the narrative or the verdict given by the actions of Psyche herself?
Psyche’s character remains problematic throughout the book. Eros, who looks into her soul, describes Psyche as a kind, loving person concerned for her family and desirous of doing right. Readers, unfortunately, never see this side of her. Readers see instead a girl who proves secretive, headstrong, impulsive, irrational, and angry. She lashes out at her parents for doing what they perceive as their duty to preserve their kingdom, insults guests in her home, and emulates behavior she had previously deemed underhanded. Eros apparently is looking at a different Psyche.
Looking, in fact, is what Eros does best. He gives a sentence or two to his beloved’s personality, but far more words are spent on what she looks like and what she’s wearing. A good deal of Psyche’s day seems to be spent in getting dressed and otherwise grooming for the appearance of Eros. He even designs dresses for her. Admittedly the story rests on Psyche’s status as the most beautiful woman in the world, but since Psyche acts as the narrator, one would think more of her intelligence and charm would come out.
In the end, characterization proves almost irrelevant to the story. The focus is on the romance; the characters could have been anyone and their flirtations and embraces would have remained the same. Destined does not add anything new to the story of Cupid and Psyche and does not live up to its promise to comment on any themes of importance.
Goodreads: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
Series: Theodosia Throckmorton #1
Summary: Eleven-year-old Theodosia Throckmorton practically lives in London’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities in which her father works as curator. Only she, however, can detect the ancient curses that linger on the artifacts her mother brings back from Egypt, and only she knows the rituals that will render the curses innocuous. Unfortunately, when her mother returns with the legendary amulet known as the Heart of Egypt, Theodosia learns that it bears a curse so extraordinary that it will cause the destruction of the entire British Empire unless returned to its resting place. Along with her brother and a friendly street urchin, Thedosia will brave German spies, secret agencies, and dark magic in order to save her country.
Review: Theodosia draws readers immediately into her story with her clever observations and irreverent remarks. Feisty yet sympathetic, she proves a strong heroine with whom young girls should be able to relate, for she possesses an extraordinary intelligence that mirrors the astuteness often found in readers. Even if the readers admit they do not possess Theodosia’s spirit and bravery, they will surely admire her willingness not simply to think, but also to act. Her desire to do right despite the cost makes her a decent role model, notwithstanding her tendency to dismiss adult authority.
The world Theodosia inhabits, though not drawn in detail, still evokes the spirit of Edwardian England and will surely please fans of period novels. The book has a whimsical air, slightly reminiscent of Charles Dickens. The tendency toward stereotypes or caricature in many of the characters heightens the resemblance; the helpful pickpocket, the absentminded intellectual, and the evil Germans all make an appearance. These do nothing to diminish the story, however, which takes readers on an exciting adventure full of nonstop action. Rather, the stock characters add to the general atmosphere of the tale, which knowingly utilizes its components to create the feeling of genre fiction; both the readers and the author know Theodosia reads very much like a Victorian mystery* and that it is supposed to—that is part of its charm. People do not stop reading fairy tales simply because they have seen the characters before or they know the end. The very familiarity comforts them. In the same way, the feeling that readers know all these characters proves soothing; the presence of these elements lets readers know they are about to experience an adventure/mystery of the most exciting kind. Read the rest of this entry
Summary: The mysterious death of a professor draws together three strangers from Oxford, John, Jack, and Charles. Informed by a friend of the professor’s that they are now the Caretakers of an atlas of imaginary lands called the Imaginarium Geographic, the three set sail for the Archipelago of Dreams, where all the places of myth and literature exist. Chaos threatens the Archipelago, however, as the throne remains empty and a man called the Winter King covers the lands with shadow, turning the people into his slaves. To defeat the darkness, the Caretakers will have to battle not only legendary monsters, but also the monsters within themselves. The first in the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica.
Review: Owen’s story rests on a brilliant premise—that somewhere a world exists with all the lands and creatures and characters from myth and legend, and that men and women from our world have traveled there. Those who feel the need to describe their adventures do so by disguising their experiences in literature. This concept allows Owen to bring together the best elements of some of the world’s greatest stories, creating an air of playfulness even as unfolding events make the outcome look grim for the protagonists. Some readers may find it difficult to accept the explanation that their favorite authors did not truly invent everything in their books and plays, and that they only based these on the true people and places found in the Archipelago, but, if one can get past this (after all, I would argue that the “true” characters are generally less exciting and original than their portrayals in other fiction), the Archipelago proves a magical and wondrous place where just about anything can happen. Read the rest of this entry
Summary: For many years the portal to the magical land of Annwn has remained shut, trapping some of its peoples in the English countryside. However, only their world contains the substances they need to sustain their lives. Now the dryads have begun to die, leaving the trees empty shells. A prophecy foretells that a brave boy will save them all, but the chosen one must first learn to believe in himself. The first in the Adventures of Jack Brenin.
Review: The Golden Acorn has a fantastic premise, promising that magic exists all around us, but it ultimately does not distinguish itself among the many wonderful fantasy books available. Cooper fails to create a world either compelling or believable as the origins, natures, and powers of the various mythological creatures remain largely unexplained. The protagonist, however, walks into this world all too readily, barely questioning the phenomena he witnesses, though no evidence exists that he has an active imagination or a propensity to believe in the fantastic. Read the rest of this entry