Category Archive:Fantasy Fiction

“It is a known fact that the most extraordinary moments in a person’s life come disguised as ordinary days.” ~opening sentence of The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd.

Key to Extraordinary is a lovely, luminescent, literary lodestone of a novel. Okay, so my attempt to write in the style of Natalie Lloyd isn’t exactly great, but this story is beautiful. It’s got heart, and a vivid setting, the Boneyard Cafe in Blackbird Hollow, Tennessee, and a compelling plot, all about buried treasure and finding one’s destiny and saving the cafe.

“Fear is just a flashlight that helps you find your courage.”

The narrator of the story, Emma, is the youngest in a long line of Wildflower Women who fulfilled their destinies by doing something extraordinary to make the world better. Emma is waiting to have her own Destiny Dream and find out how she fits into the heritage of her ancestors.

“You don’t have to go looking for stories across the world. You only have to look out your window.”

Embedded in the story are lots of what I call “nuggets of middle grade wisdom” —proverbs, maxims, and bits of truth that don’t sound too preachy when they’re part of the story. I love that middle grade authors are “allowed” to include these little tidbits of advice and admonition in their stories, and when it’s done well, it makes the story so much more rich and meaningful for me to read.

“Believe your words have power. And use them.”

As Emma goes on a crusade to save her family cafe from the evil, rich developer, Warren Steele, she learns more about the meaning of friendship and family and courage. Yes, the mean developer who is about to take the family business is a trite and over-used plot device, but go with it anyway. I just had so much fun spending time with Emma and her ex-boxer grandmother and her chef-brother and her friends, Cody Belle Chitwood and Earl Chance. The story felt authentically Tennessean and country and as one reviewer wrote (negatively), sort of like a Hallmark special. But I like Hallmark movie specials.

“Sometimes even doing the right thing will leave you with scars. But beauty comes from ashes, too.”

There are so many good quotes from this book that I’ll just leave you with a few more. I’m including these here because there are so many, but look for a second installment of Middle Grade Book Wisdom soon with more quotations from this book and other 2016 middle grade fiction books. Collecting these wisdom quotes is a sort of hobby of mine.

“Everything wonderful is possible.”

“Some books are so special that you never forget where you were the first time you read them.”

“Every lifetime, no matter how long it lasts, is a gift. And to love, and be loved, even by one person during your lifetime . . . that is a treasure no one can take from you.”

“Doesn’t a little part of you want to be involved in a secret, high-risk plan that’ll have disastrous consequences if it fails? Everyone needs to do that at least once in his life.” ~The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson.

“You must step inside a world to see it honestly. A passing glance won’t do.” ~Furthermore by Taheri Mafi.

“The first step in the path to knowledge is very simple: open a book.” ~The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant.

“If you don’t forgive yourself for making a mistake, then you get so that you never want to admit that you made one.” ~This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans.

“Lots of things are impossible, right up until they’re not.” ~Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson.

“It’s always better to be in rooms you can get out of easily, if you need to.” ~The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet.

“You should be polite to people on general principle, of course. But if you happen to be wandering through a magical land, and a little old lady asks you for help, you should be extremely polite to her, just in case. Otherwise you may well wake up with earthworms falling out of your mouth whenever you talk, or various other suitably awful fairy punishments.” ~Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic by Ursula Vernon.

“When thoughts wiggle their way in, sometimes it can be very difficult for them to wiggle out again.” ~A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff.

“Sometimes things work out differently than you expect, and sometimes that’s when the best things happen. And sometimes a jumble straightens everything out in the end.” ~The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels.

“To have power without the proper vision of how to use it makes one blind. Greed makes one blind. Fear makes one blind. It is difficult to see when you walk in darkness.” ~Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance.

“. . . if you only try the things you believe you can do, you’ll only accomplish the things you already knew you could do. But if you give yourself permission to fail, you’re free to try the things that seem completely beyond your reach. And that’s when magic happens.” ~Gears of Revolution by J. Scott Savage.

“Hope is an excellent and necessary thing to have in this world. Hope and bread and good friends.” ~Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman.

“Some mistakes need to be made. Sometimes we have to fall down before we can stand up.” ~Red by Liesl Shurtliff.

” . . . you should never give up. Unless, of course, you’re doing something wrong, in which case you should give up entirely.” ~Red by Liesl Shurtliff.

“Magic is not the answer. Magic may be convenient, brilliant, even dazzling, but it is not the answer.” ~Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman.

“It is hard for a goblin and a human to be friends. Goblin honor and human honor are so very different.” ~The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton.

Fiction. . . That’s another word for lies. Like stories about jellyfish and the Olympics.” ~The Lost Compass by Joel Ross.

“Remembering is a powerful thing.” ~Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce.

“You have to be careful of men who love danger.” ~The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence.

“Being a writer is not easy, you know. It is, now that I think of it, either full of sorrow or full of joy.” ~The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan.

“Sometimes the burdens we lay on others’ shoulders remain long after they are free to drop them.” ~The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach.

“Perhaps you have heard the famous bit of wisdom about how the breaking of an omelet requires the breaking of eggs? This philosophy, while technically true, does not account for the fact that omelets are universally disappointing to all who eat them—equal parts water and rubber and slime. Who among us would not prefer a good cobbler or spiced pudding?” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“It is lamentably common among chivalrous sorts that they are more intent on defending a woman’s honor than listening to the wishes of said woman.” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“A world without stories is a world without magic.” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“There are ways forward, and then when those ways are closed, there other ways around, and when the trail breaks off or fades out, there are still other secret ways, always.” ~The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet.

“Stories [are] much more than words on a page. Stories [live] inside those who read them.” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“Should you ever be so lucky as to encounter an author in your life, you should shower her or him with gifts and praise.” ~Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world. Yet, latterly, the utmost endeavors of mankind have been directed towards the dissipation of that wonder . . . Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Lancelot in shining armor on a moonlit road. But what is the use of living in a world devoid of wonderment?” ~Kenneth Grahame, epigraph at the beginning of Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” ~Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers, quoted in My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

“[I]t is our actions that determine who we are. Not our genes. Not who our parents may or may not be, but our own choices.” ~Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones.

“Follow your own heart! People always say that. They mean well, I’m sure. But sometimes, we need to overrule our hearts. We need to be brave. We need to be kind because we should, not because it’s easy.” ~Every Single Second by Tricia Springstubb.

Stay tuned for the second installment of “Middle Grade Book Wisdom, 2016”. It wouldn’t all fit into one post.

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz.

I hate books that seem to say, “Oh, kids like gross, nasty, slimy stuff. Let’s take the really loathsome parts of this tale and make them the centerpiece of the narrative because that will draw the kids in.” That’s what I wrote about Mr. Gidwitz’s book, In a Glass Grimmly, and it applies to this story, too. It’s a shame that this author has such a penchant for poops and farts and crude humor because otherwise he’s a good writer. The scatological attempts at humor aren’t usually very funny, and they just don’t add to the story at all.

The story: On a dark night in the year 1242, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions, William, an oblate who is half-Saracen and half French, and Jacob, a Jewish boy with a gift for healing. These children may be saints, or they may be using evil magic to do wonders that will deceive the faithful. And the dog, Gwenforte, who once saved a child from a deadly serpent, may be resurrected, but can a dog really be a saint? The children’s adventures take them from a farting dragon to a meeting with the king to a plot to save the illicit, mostly Jewish, books that are scheduled for burning by Good King Louis and his mother, Blanche of Castile.

So, Louis IX and his mother were real people, and so were several of the other characters in the novel. The three children are composite character, partly taken from the hagiographic stories of medieval saints and partly from Mr. Gidwitz’s fertile imagination. Other real medieval characters in the book include: Chretien de Troyes, a late 12th century poet and trouvère, Francis Bacon, the late medieval (1561-1626) scientist and philosopher, Rabbi Rashi of Troyes, an 11th century Jewish scholar, and various other minor characters imported from the pages of medieval French stories and poems. In addition, the girl, Jeanne, bears an affinity to Joan of Arc, the storytelling reminds one of Chaucer, and the burning in Paris of some 12,000 manuscript copies of the Talmud and other Jewish books actually took place in 1243.

So, as he did in his other series of books based on Grimm’s fairy tales, Mr. Gidwitz took the elements from several French, and even British, lives and tales of the middle ages and stirred them into a stew which turned out to be something completely different. And it could have been a delight. Instead, it’s sort of a mish-mosh of good scenes and bad, crude and insightful, funny and flat. If I could extract the bad parts and leave in the good, I would recommend it.

The illustrations, or illuminations, that adorn the pages of this medieval tale are a delight.

Cutting-edge and in touch with contemporary concerns (Creepy Clown Craze), this book needs its own trigger warning. Zozo, the villain of this piece, is a Creepy Clown, and his trashy flunkies, made of random toy parts, are rather sinister, too. Coulrophobics, this book is NOT for you.

Zozo, the clown king, and his toy henchmen, the Creeps, have sworn to steal and imprison “Faves” (favorite toys) in their subterranean lair beneath a defunct carnival. When Billy’s favorite toy, Ollie, is stolen, Billy sets out to rescue Ollie. Will they ever be able to find each other again? Or will the hatred of the heartless Zozo triumph?

Ollie’s Odyssey is precious, very, very precious, Velveteen Rabbit precious. Toy Story precious. In fact, if either of those stories is your favorite, then Ollie’s Odyssey is a sure bet. Otherwise, you may overdose on the sweetness—or get scared silly by the evil clown. There are a few internal inconsistencies, mainly having to do with how or why or by what logic things come to life or don’t. A lot of normally inanimate objects—junk from the junkyard, old toys, carnival paraphernalia, tin cans–come to life in this odyssey, but it was never clear how or why some things could move and communicate while others couldn’t. Or some things could move around by themselves sometimes, but not at other times.

Otherwise, the story is well told, like a movie, complete with memorable characters and movie-ready accents and speech patterns. I could imagine this story with computer animated or claymation characters, and I would guess that the author was imagining it that way as he wrote. From the creator of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, one would expect no less, and the beautiful illustrations add to the movie-effect. (Fantastic Flying Books “was created using computer animation, miniatures and traditional hand-drawn techniques.” And according to Wikipedia, “Joyce created conceptual characters for Disney/Pixar’s feature films Toy Story (1995) and A Bug’s Life (1998).”) I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about the movie version of Ollie’s Odyssey sometime in the future.

In the meantime, since it’s written about a six year old, but the almost 300 pages will be a little too much for most six, or even seven and eight, year olds to handle on their own, I would suggest Ollie’s Odyssey as a read-aloud book. Or just wait for the movie.

The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones.


The “wrinkled” or magical mountain village of Lourka where “stories have a way of coming true.”

A twelve year old girl named Linny who breaks the law and makes her own musical instrument, also called a lourka.

Linny’s best friend and almost twin, Sayra, who pays the price for Linny’s rule-breaking.

Add in the apprentice, Elias, a wrinkled half-cat, and the city of Bend at the foot of the mountains where the people are divided between wrinkled and plain, magical and logical, tradition and progress. Linny must find the medicine in Bend that will cure Sayra, but she also runs into numerous other obstacles and diversions that take her into danger, conflict, and finally, a very hard decision. Will she be able to take the medicine back to Lourka to cure Sayra, or is she the prophesied Girl With the Lourka who must stay in Bend and save everyone?

I found this story slow going, and by the time the action picked up in the middle, I still didn’t really care about the characters. And the ending was . . . weird, probably a set-up for a sequel. Which I probably won’t read. However, if the synopsis of the first part of the novel sounds like something you would enjoy, you might get more out of it than I did.

Time Stoppers features another magical village in the mountains where magical creatures like elves and dwarfs and hags and witches go to be safe. They are protected by a garden gnome. Yes, a magical garden gnome statue protects the village of Aurora until it is stolen by trolls. And little Annie Nobody is the child who is destined to be a Time Stopper, find the gnome, bring it back to Aurora, and defeat the evil Each Uisge and the Raiff. With her friend Jamie, the dwarf fighter Eva, and the elf Bloom, Annie does manage to complete some, but not all, of those tasks, leaving plenty of room for Time Stoppers, Book Two.

The action in this one was non-stop, but the whole thing was an outlandish caricature from the beginning. The bad guys, trolls, are horribly, outrageously bad. They eat children, but also before they chow down, they abuse them, refuse to feed them, send them out to sleep with the dogs/wolves, make them smell underwear(?), cackle at them, insult them, etc. The trolls are ridiculously bad, almost laughable, but then they’re not really funny because they are abusive in ugly, bad-parent ways. And the good magical beings of Aurora also behave in outsized, but stereotypical ways. Eva is a loudmouthed, battle-hungry, boastful, warrior maiden. Bloom is quietly strong and spends most of his time annoyed with Eva, which is understandable. Annie and Jamie are bewildered and timid, just happy to find themselves in Aurora where the trolls can’t get them, until the trolls, and other creatures even worse, invade. Then, Annie and Jamie are told that they must be brave.

The Wrinkled Crown felt dream-like (Alice in Wonderland) and over-wrought, with too many directions for Linny to follow and too many tasks to complete. Time Stoppers felt grotesque and buffoonish, slapstick but not very funny. Kirkus says about The Wrinkled Crown: “With hints of a sequel to come, this agreeable adventure introduces an appealing, spunky heroine and sets the stage for more conflict and compromise to come.” And SLJ called Time Stoppers: “”An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters.”

I just don’t think either of these is the best middle grade fantasy has to offer.

The author of The Mysterious Benedict Society brings to middle grade readers (at least to those who like LONG books) a standalone story of secrets, lies and hiding places.

Reuben is a loner, a poor boy and an only child who lives with his single mother in a small apartment on the wrong side of the city. He spends his days in solitary exploring, finding hidden nooks and crannies in the crumbling city of New Umbra. He spends his evenings watching TV or designing dream mansions with his mom. Then, one day he finds a hidden object, an object that bestows great power on its owner, but also an object that is sought for by a lot of very, very bad people, including the arch-villain of New Umbra who is known only as The Smoke. Can Reuben unlock the secrets of his newfound magical powers before The Smoke finds him and takes his discovery away?

Reuben comes to realize that he must destroy the Ring of Power, but in order to do he must enter into The Smoke’s lair. And he must give up the only thing that has ever made him feel special and protected and powerful. Whoops, not a ring, but you get the idea; there are definitely echoes of Lord of the Rings here, at least plot-wise, although the setting is completely different. No hobbits, no elves, no dwarfs, no wizards. Instead, the setting is darker and grittier than Middle Earth, in a fear-ridden city ruled by a crime lord whose influence stretches into the most hidden and secret sectors of New Umbra.

Borrowed plot notwithstanding, The Secret Keepers was a fun ride. It will appeal to the kind of kid who likes finding secret hiding places, concealing buried treasures, and designing dream mansions with trap doors and secret passageways. The book is 500 pages long, so if you can’t take 500 pages of secrets and pursuits and getaways and traps and puzzles, this book isn’t for you. But if that sort of thing appeals to you, as it does to me, The Secret Keepers is just as much fun as The Mysterious Benedict Society was.

The first question you must ask yourself before you decide to read this book: can you accept the premise of the cremated ashes of his deceased father speaking aloud from the funeral urn to a twelve year old boy? Second question: do you like golf? If you answer both of these questions in the affirmative, this book is for you. If you can deal with the talking ashes, but you’re not much of a golf fan, you might still want to go along fro the ride. (I did.)

Ben Hogan Putter (get the pun, “putter”, as in golf?) just lost his dad to cancer. Now Ben has a permanent lump in his throat that he believes is an actual golf ball, and his barbecue-loving, golf-loving daddy is speaking to him from beyond the grave, asking Ben to take his ashes to Augusta, Georgia, home of the most famous golf course in the world. That’s where Ben’s daddy, Bo Putter, wants his ashes to rest: Augusta National Golf Club.

On the journey from his home in Hilltop, Alabama to Augusta, Georgia, Ben Putter acquires a traveling companion, a girl named Noni. The two of them beg, borrow, and steal their way across country to get to Augusta in time for the Masters Tournament. Both children have secrets, and both have daddy issues. The suspense in the story is tied up in whether or not they will be able to get to Augusta in time for the Masters, but also in how the two will resolve their respective relationships with their fathers. It’s a tearjerker, very emotional.

Almost too emotional. Ben Putter works out years of grief, anger, estrangement and misunderstanding over the course of a few days. And Noni has a deep-seated trauma of her own to work though. There are several very sentimental and pathos-filled scenes in which Ben Putter talks to his dad, in which the two children take a stand against the segregationists of the early 1970’s, in which Noni forgives and reconciles with her father, in which Ben says good-bye to the father who never really understood him. Much Sturm-und-Drang. Father issues. Tears and trials.

But it’s not a bad little Mississippi, golfing, and dealing with death story.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Shakespeare’s Hamlet, epigraph to My Diary From the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson,

“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” ~Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers, quoted in My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

Twelve year old Gracie didn’t know that when her mother gave her a diary for her birthday, the coming year would be the most exciting and momentous of her life. Garcie lives in the prosaic town of Cliffden, Maine where “nothing terrible or exciting ever happens.” Baseball games, science lectures, school, watching Extreme Witches on TV, playing in puddles after a rain, collecting fallen dragon scales—these are the rather mundane things that make up Gracie’s life with her mother, a professional violinist turned homemaker, her father, an abstracted and absent-minded meteorologist, her older sister Millie, the beautiful, graceful one, and her little brother Sam, nicknamed the Mouse.

Gracie lives in an alternate universe version of Planet Earth. Gracie’s Earth is flat, and it is home to lots of creatures that are only mythological on our Planet Earth. Witches, dragons, (destructive) mermaids, pegasi, sasquatches, ghosts, and other myths are all real in Gracie’s world. And Dark Clouds come for people when they die.

When it looks as if a Dark Cloud has come for Sam the Mouse, Gracie’s family decides to outrun fate (or death) and try to escape to the Extraordinary World where dragons and ghosts and Dark Clouds don’t exist. Gracie’s dad is the only one she knows of who actually believes that the Extraordinary World really exists and that it might be possible to to get there from the edge of their world, but anything is worth trying to save Sam.

Okay. So “quirky” and “weird” are appropriate descriptors for this middle grade fantasy that is more of a family in crisis story than an adventure story. Gracie’s family crosses the continent in an old Winnebago, and they encounter monsters and wonders beyond imagination. They also learn to trust one another and to forgive each other. I thought the book was poignant and emotional at times, and the story was intriguing. However, the use of (fallen) angels as just another mythological-but-real-in-this-world set of characters marred the book to some extent. I wish the author had chosen some creatures other than angels to be her guardian protectors in this otherworld, since “one of these things is not like the others.” Angels may be mysterious, but they’re not mythological in the same way that witches and ghosts are.

Gracie’s world is also beholden to or ruled over by “the gods”, like Zeus(?), but they are barely mentioned in the story. At one point in the diary when Gracie and her family have been saved from certain doom by the quick thinking and action of a good friend and by fortuitous circumstance, Gracie writes, “‘Thank you,’ I whispered to no one in particular. ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.'”

It reminds me of this song by Andrew Peterson:

Anyway, Gracie and her family are looking for a savior, a place of refuge, and maybe even for Someone to thank. You’ll be intrigued, if you read the book, to see whether or not they find what they’re looking for.

I read Ms. Johnson’s The Mark of the Dragonfly, the first book set in the World of Solace, and I enjoyed it. I called it “techno-steampunk fantasy science fiction.” This book fits into the same genre and is set in the same world, but it’s a companion novel, not really a sequel. Either book could be read on its own terms and appreciated with or without the other.

The Mark of the Dragonfly features a super-cool train, and this new Solace book has a sentient airship. Both books feature feisty, adventurous female protagonists with kind and supportive male friends. In The Secrets of Solace, Lina Winterbock is an archivist apprentice in the Archivist stronghold of Ortana. The war between the Merrow Kingdom and the Dragonfly Territories is bringing many refugees and difficult decisions to the mountain strongholds of the Archivists, who are trying to remain neutral in the war.

Lina herself must make some hard decisions about whom to trust when she discovers a valuable artifact in the depths of a secret cavern in the mountain. Can she trust Ozben, a refugee boy with his own secrets? What about her teacher and mentor, Zara, who has been too busy to pay much attention to Lina for a long time now? Can anyone other than Lina herself be trusted with a secret that might change the course of the war?

Although the pacing and the balance between action and explication felt “off” to me as I read, children who are really interested in this sort of thing might not mind or even notice. It takes a long time to get to the climax of the plot, and then all the political stuff is hurriedly explained and within two chapters, resolved. Lina and Ozben develop a good strong friendship, but Lina’s mentor has a rather lame excuse for her neglect of her ward. If this sort of book interests you, I would suggest The Mark of the Dragonfly first because I think it’s the better book. Then, if you like that one, you might like this one, too.

Lisa Graff’s A Tangle of Knots was a National Book Award nominee in 2014, and it was highly recommended by many people I trust. However, I never did manage to read it. If 2016’s sequel, A Clatter of Jars, is any measure, then I missed out and need to go back and pick up a copy of A Tangle of Knots.

A Clatter of Jars is an intricate, multi-layered story of giftedness and ordinariness and sibling jealousy, the suffering it can cause, apology, reconciliation, and forgiveness. The story, told from six different viewpoints of the campers in Cabin Eight at Camp Atropos for Talented Children, weaves in and out of the lives and magical talents of these campers to produce a sometimes confusing, always fascinating, tale of how family and community can grow strong if only we give up our place in the spotlight for the sake of others and ask forgiveness for our selfish and impulsive misdeeds.

I did like the characters and the complexity of this fantastical story. Lily can levitate objects by concentrating her mind on them. Chuck and Ellie, the Frog Twins, can identify the species of any frog within croaking distance. Renny is famous for reading minds, and his brother Miles may have his own secret Talent. All of the other children at the camp have Talents, too, and the way the talented children learn to work with, and sometimes against, one another makes for a wild ride of a story.

BUT. I was repeatedly thrown out of the story by two plot issues, one major and another minor. Am I behind the times? I know things are changing fast, but does any summer camp for middle schoolers—ages eleven, twelve and thirteen—house boys and girls together in the same cabin? Really? Lily, Renny, Miles, Chuck, and Ellie are assigned to Cabin Eight at Camp Atropos–two boys, brothers, and three girls. Really? This cabin assignment was just weird. There’s no boy-girl attraction, no crushes, in the story; it’s all about sibling rivalry and brothers and sisters trying to work out their sibling relationships. BUT. I kept wondering whether the author had any specific camp in mind when she wrote the book. I even looked it up. Coed camps for this age group are a thing, fine, but all of the ones I found on the internet separated boys and girls into different cabins. I can only begin to imagine the possible problems a camp would run into if boys and girls this age were assigned to share cabins. (The minor problem was the swimming policy. I don’t think camp administrators would allow children, even talented children, to just jump into the lake, anytime, and go for a swim by themselves, either.)

If you can ignore those two mistakes(?) or plot decisions(?), then you might just enjoy A Clatter of Jars quite a lot. You don’t have to read A Tangle of Knots to understand the sequel, but it might work better if you read the first book first. Or you can read them as I will be doing, backwards.