These all fall into a roughly similar category: books I enjoyed enough to finish but not enough to wax enthusiastic about.
Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve: Oliver and his explorer parents return home only for his parents to be taken out to sea by things that look like islands but move. Oliver heads off to rescue them. It’s all very silly, in a way that will probably appeal to some kids. There’s just not much meat here, though.
Grave Images by Jenny Goebel: Bernie’s family owns a gravestone engraving business, but when her dad hires a mysterious new employee, things are not at all what they seem. I liked the Southern Gothic atmosphere, the way religion is part of the story, and (for the most part) Bernie herself. I am less convinced about the portrayal of Bernie’s mother, Michael, and–unfortunately–the central conceit itself. This one never quite settled into a tone and kept trying to be both spooky and over-the-top silly.
Winterfrost by Michelle Houts: This was my own nomination for my category, mostly because I myself wanted to read it. It’s quite a nice story. Bettina’s parents have gone off to visit relatives, leaving her in charge of her little sister. But in the confusion, they forgot to put out the rice pudding for the farm’s nisse, and the nisse isn’t happy. This would be a great one for the child that grew up with the Tomten’s Farm picture books, or anyone who likes a slightly old-fashioned story.
The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass: I really appreciated that the main characters of this one are all African-American. No tokens here! And it’s a niceish enemies-to-friends story, with a subplot of Bakari’s grandfather that seemed very true to life. However, there’s basically no plot. Definitely one to hand to reluctant readers (of any skin color) but more than a bit grating as an adult.
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier: Lots of other people have loved this one and they’re not wrong, exactly. Auxier does a nice job of creating atmosphere, in the sourwoods and the creepy house. But for me as a reader, I was never quite fully engaged by it. This is definitely a personal reaction, and at the same time, I think there’s something a little too easy in all the portrayals of the characters.
Almost Super by Marion Jensen: This is kind of a Savvy-like idea: kids in the Bailey family who are 12 or older get super powers at 4:23 on February 29th. They use their powers to fight the villainous Johnsons. But Rafter and his brother get the weakest superpowers ever. This was pretty solidly middle-of-the-road for me: an okay read, but not one I got excited about. Kids who are looking for fairly light superhero books, however, will probably love this! I’ve seen it as a readalike for fans of The Incredibles, and that’s just about right.