Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne

flights Ten-year-old Jack Foster has stepped through a doorway and into quite a different London. Londinium is a smoky, dark, and dangerous place, home to mischievous metal fairies and fearsome clockwork dragons that breathe scalding steam. The people wear goggles to protect their eyes, brass grill insets in their nostrils to filter air, or mechanical limbs to replace missing ones. Over it all rules the Lady, and the Lady has demanded a new son—a perfect flesh-and-blood child. She has chosen Jack. Jack’s wonder at the magic and steam-powered marvels in Londinium lasts until he learns he is the pawn in a very dangerous game. The consequences are deadly, and his only hope of escape, of returning home, lies with a legendary clockwork bird. The Gearwing grants wishes—or it did, before it was broken—before it was killed. But some things don’t stay dead forever.

Although I’m not usually a fan of fantasy, this dark middle grade read was a wonderful exception.  The gorgeous cover featuring clocks, steam, gears, and goggles peaked my interest in this steampunk adventure.  Set in a mysterious alternate version of London, readers can expect portals, dragons, airships, mechanical faeries, and villains. Trevayne’s imaginative descriptions of this parallel world and the characters in them were well written.  A few black and white illustrations were spread throughout and enjoyed; minus the image on page 192 (I have no idea what it’s supposed to be).  My other critique is regarding The Lady.  All we know is that she desperately wants a human child. But why?  I think her character left some unexplored potential.

Overall, I could easily see this book being adapted to the big screen. The unique premise and the steampunk world building, create a page-turning fantastical adventure that would have high appeal to middle graders.

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza #5) by Jack Gantos

The fifth and final book in the groundbreaking Joey Pigza series brings the beloved chronicle of this wired, wacky, and wonderful boy to a crescendo of chaos and craziness, as everything goes topsy-turvy for Joey just as he starts to get his feet on the ground. With his dad MIA in the wake of appearance-altering plastic surgery, Joey must give up school to look after his new baby brother and fill in for his mom, who hospitalizes herself to deal with a bad case of postpartum blues. As his challenges mount, Joey discovers a key that could unlock the secrets to his father’s whereabouts, a mystery that must be solved before Joey can even hope that his broken family might somehow come back together—if only it doesn’t pull him apart first.

joey

I picked up this character driven, middle grade book after continually reading about its starred reviews.  I hadn’t read the previous four titles in the series, so I didn’t have that long term connection with Joey.  I found the book really dark and depressing.   There is family dysfunction, mental illness, poverty, child abandonment, and a depressed blind girlfriend who needs Joey to buy her panties.  I’m astonished that Joey could have such a “paw-si-tive” outlook surrounded by such drama.   The ending could be interpreted two ways.  Some may see the ending as optimistic, but sadly, I find it hard to believe that things will be OK.  There are too many unresolved issues for his family to deal with on their own.  The Pigza family is in need of serious help.  Although Joey does have a distinct voice, this book was a little too depressing for me.

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