Three short books!

Last weekend, I read three books, which isn’t as impressive as it sounds. They were all under 150 pages, and two of them were middle grade. It’s not like I was reading the Stormlight Archive or something.

Anyway, since all three of these were so short, I thought I’d do another one of those rapidfire multi-review posts.

And, the usual disclaimer: all three of these books were sent to me/provided digitally by the publishers. Since these versions were just proofs and not the final versions, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.

The first book I read was The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill. This is a strange, slightly eerie story about a teenager having to care for her brother as her troublesome mother grows more and more distant, especially when her mother brings a crane home as her new partner. The daughter doesn’t trust the crane, but watches helplessly as his hold over her mother grows stronger and stronger.

I’ve never read the original tale this is based on, but it didn’t affect my understanding of this retelling. It might have even made it more enjoyable, since I didn’t know what to expect. And really, this is such a strange story, in a good way. The narrator is so sympathetic as she, still a kid herself, has to be the mature one of the family and confront the troublesome changes the crane is bringing to all their lives. I was rooting for her the whole time, and yet also felt bad for her mother. None of this is framed as her fault, exactly, but the consequences of her actions on her kids aren’t shied away from either. It’s a fine line, and Barnhill does it well. There’s some great suspense and intriguing magic throughout. The pacing is excellent, the tone dark and eerie, and the descriptions are so rich. It’s a tiny novel—barely over 100 pages in the ARC version—but it sure packs a punch!

Some content warnings, though: There is some language, but more importantly there are some instances of physical abuse between intimate partners. This is not graphic, but is also not hidden, so if you’re sensitive to that, I wanted to make you aware.

Like I said earlier, I also read two middle grade books, the first of which was The Guardian Test, the first of the Legends of Lotus Island series by Christina Soontornvat. This little book tells the story of Plum, a girl from a small island who gets the opportunity to train at the famed Guardian Academy on Lotus Island. There, kids can learn how to turn into animals in order to protect the natural world. Plum, however, starts to wonder if she’s even able to transform, and is full of self-doubt and fear that she will be allowed to stay.

This is such a charming story. Plum is sweet and bright, and you cheer for her when she succeeds and mourn when she fails. I liked the other characters too, especially Sam and Cherry. And for such a short book, there’s a decent amount of worldbuilding, which is quite interesting. This sets up for a great little series with lots of adventure, and I’m sure kids will enjoy it. It reminds me of Avatar: The Last Airbender, in fact.

Another thing I liked about this was that it’s succinct. It’ll work so well for that group of kids who are growing out of the early chapter books like Magic Tree House, but who aren’t quite ready for most middle grade novels. If you’ve seen those shelves lately, you’ll know a lot of those books are fairly long, which can be intimidating. This is a fantastic in-between sort of book, and would be excellent for reluctant readers.

The final book I read last weekend was The Battle of the Beast, the third book in the Beast and the Bethany series. And it continues to be so odd. It’s reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, which I’m sure I’ve said before, and also a little bit of Roald Dahl. This third installment finds the Beast imprisoned, memory lost. Because of this, its personality is different, as far as anyone can tell. Meanwhile, Ebenezer and Bethany are settling into their roles as good people to varying degrees. Bethany is beloved in town, but Ebenezer can’t seem to do anything right. This starts to put a wedge between them, which is exacerbated by the revelation that the Beast is being brought to them for its rehabilitation. Whether or not this turns into disaster, though, is too much of a spoiler.

Like I said, this is such an odd series, but for some reason, I am invested. I just want to see how Bethany and Ebenezer continue to grow as people, because their bond is actually pretty wholesome, if you look past the sass and insults. They’re a little family, and I enjoyed the way we got to explore the fact that even families have fights in this third book.

The Beast, on the other hand, drove me crazy. Apparently, I don’t mind this villain when it’s threatening to eat kids like Bethany, but the second it starts simpering and using weird baby talk, I’m ready to fight. It made for an effective story, though, because I couldn’t decide if its newly blank personality could be trusted because I was so distracted by my loathing for its new manner of speech. It was kind of funny.

And the end of the book had some entertaining action, wacky hijinks, and decently high stakes. I also liked that we got to explore more about the backstory and continuing actions of Claudette the bird. That storyline wove well with Ebenezer and Bethany’s, and overall, this was an entertaining book. I thought for a moment that it might be the conclusion, but then I read the epilogue. So I guess I’ll be adding the fourth volume to my TBR when it’s announced, because apparently I’m all in with this series. Go figure.

So those are the three short books I read last weekend! All were good for varying reasons, and I’d recommend all of them, though to three different audiences. Also, I seem to have said at the beginning of this post that I was going to write “rapidfire” reviews, and I’m sitting at around 1,000 words. Oops. If you’re still reading, thanks!

All three of these books are coming out in early 2023: The Crane Husband on February 28th; The Guardian Test on February 7th; and The Battle of the Beast on January 17th.

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