In this month’s Between the Bookends, Sophie and Scott share four books they read during February including some middle-grade fiction, a rare YA fantasy standalone, and a non-fiction look at the aviation industry and working as a pilot in the 2020s.
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This is Your Captain Speaking by Doug Morris
For someone who considers herself a nervous flyer, Sophie is mildly obsessed with commercial aviation and happily spends her summer days sat by the fences of local airports photographing planes and logging down their registration numbers. That’s why This is Your Captain Speaking by Doug Morris appealed to her.
In this book, Captain Doug Morris—a pilot with decades of flight experience—answers dozens of questions about being a pilot. He covers everything from how to get your wings in the first place, how pilots are assigned routes, and what they do during layovers. The vast majority of the pages, however, are dedicated to technical questions you’ve probably thought about yourself while thousands of feet in the air. Do airplanes have speed limits? How do they navigate when there are no roads to follow? Is turbulence dangerous? And just how does a jet engine actually work? All these and more are answered in a friendly and easy-to-understand way, giving you a look at what it means to fly a plane today, as well as how the aviation industry itself works, with more than a few barbed comments throughout about things that need to change or that simply make no sense.
Sophie thoroughly enjoyed this tour through the world of aviation and raced through it in less than a day—although she was a bit baffled about the inclusion of what is apparently an excerpt from the author’s forthcoming fictional book that was stuffed into a section focused on flight simulators. Her favorite moment was in reference to the five-letter codes used to denote GPS waypoints used for navigation. The sequence of these codes for the approach to the airport at Portsmouth, New Hampshire reads: ITAWT, ITAWA, PUDYE, TTATT, IDEED—can you spot what brought a grin to her face? The answer is below if you can’t spot it.
Anyone with an interest in aircraft, aviation, or simply hearing from those with interesting jobs (few jobs can be as varied and well-traveled as that of a pilot) will love this one.
Answer: Read the codes again thinking about Tweety Bird’s famous catchphrase, “I tawt I taw a puddy cat, I did!”
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee
Trigger Warnings: Racism, Xenophobia
Sophie is always down to read a new cute middle-grade and the cover for Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee sucked her right in.
Eleven-year-old Maizy Chen has just been uprooted from her home in LA to spend summer in the tiny town of Last Chance, Minnesota. Her grandfather is ill, perhaps a lot more ill than her mother had been led to believe, and so the pair have driven back to help Maizy’s Oma run their family’s Chinese restaurant. Tensions are high because Maizy’s mum has been estranged from her parents for many years; Maizy only remembers meeting them briefly once and is now expected to spend her days with her Opa, helping to keep him occupied.
As Maizy and Opa settle into a strange friendship, he begins to recount the story of how the Chen family came to be the only Chinese people in Last Chance. Maizy quickly becomes besotted by the story, wanting to know every last detail of her great grandfather Lucky’s journey to America, even knowing about the constant racism and tragedy he faced. Over the weeks, Opa relates the story to her but he is also growing increasingly frail. Making her own friends in town, Maizy helps Opa to repair some old wounds and investigates when the family restaurant is targeted in a racist attack of the type she believed were only found in the distant past, all the while helping her family to heal.
This was an incredibly sweet yet sad story that is primarily about the connection between a young girl and her grandparents but also covers over 100 years of Chinese American history in a way that young readers will be able to take in and appreciate. Sophie learned a lot about this part of history that she had never been taught at school, and also learned a ton about Chinese food and culture along the way! There are a few difficult moments here—the racist attack on the family’s restaurant isn’t glossed over nor is the language the attackers choose to use (the author explains her decision to include this in a detailed note at the end) but nothing feels gratuitous, rather simply honest and eye-opening.
Attacks against Asian Americans have been on the rise for the last few years, and so Sophie can’t imagine a better time to pick up this book with your kids and share Maizy’s perspective with them as she learns about her heritage.
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
Trigger Warnings: Stillbirth, pregnancy horror, child death.
When she was growing up, one of Sophie’s favorite fairy tales was the 12 Dancing Princesses, and so when she learned about House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig—a dark retelling of the story—she immediately added it to be TBR, where it sat for 18 months until she finally got around to reading it last month.
Annaleigh Thaumas is the daughter of the Duke and lives on the remote island of Salten, one of the five Salann islands on the border of Arcannia with her father, step-mother, and sisters. Once there were twelve daughters, but four of Annaleigh’s elder siblings have died tragically—a plague, a fall, a drowning, and a plunge from a cliff—leaving Annaleigh now second in line, the family trapped in perpetual mourning, and the locals increasingly convinced that the Thaumas family is cursed.
In an attempt to bring some joy to the younger girls, the sisters and their lifelong friend Fisher attempt to locate a mythical secret door once used by the gods to visit the island, a door that can transport them anywhere. Having located it surprisingly fast, the girls find themselves invited to a ball and sneak out to the glamorous event. Soon, they are disappearing through the door every evening to attend endless balls, parties, and masquerades, wearing through their shoes in the process. However, at the same time, Annaleigh has started to see visions. Her little sister Verity is drawing haunting and grotesque images of her dead sisters, even the ones she’s too young to remember and Annaleigh is becoming increasingly convinced that the deaths of her elder sisters might not be as innocent as everyone thinks.
With the help of the handsome Cassius, Annaleigh attempts to investigate and save her remaining sisters, but Cassius seems to have secrets of his own and she begins to wonder who she can trust, and who exactly her sisters are dancing with every night.
Sophie ended up enjoying House of Salt and Sorrows much more than she feared she might, given she rarely reads fantasy. The world-building is superb and Sophie found herself easily picturing the looming stone hallways of Annaleigh’s home Highmoor and the sumptuous balls the sisters attend each night, along with their beautiful dresses. The story is filled with traditional gothic elements as ghosts seem to wander the rooms at night and young women run along stormy clifftops in flowing gowns. There are also plenty of twists and turns meaning that Sophie didn’t spot the true villain until they were revealed at the end and also didn’t spot many of the other things that were going on—she wants to go back and read this one again soon knowing the truth about many of the goings-on across the Salann islands!
House of Salt and Sorrows has all the makings of a true gothic horror combined with a YA romance, while fans of The Selection will love its focus on gowns and balls. This one should be a YA classic and Sophie can’t fathom why it seems to have been largely ignored.
Children of the Flying City by Jason Sheehan
Middle-grade books about orphans who have a hidden, secret history or lineage are ten-a-penny so it takes something special to stand out. After reading the premise to Children of the Flying City by Jason Sheehan, Scott was intrigued to see if the author could elevate this book above the multitude of orphan-child-who-is-more-than-they-seem stories out there.
Milo Quick was brought to the flying city of Highgate when he was five years old and sold into slavery. After numerous escape attempts from various owners, 13-year-old Milo leads a gang of street urchins of various ages alongside his best friends, Jules and Dagda; trying to survive using the wit, speed, and skills Milo has learned the hard way over the years. One day, a mysterious airship Captain comes to Highgate looking for Milo to collect a significant bounty on the boy’s head. However, this is not the only unsavory character looking for Milo Quick. All this is set against the backdrop of an airship armada blockading Highgate with the increasing threat of attack and war hanging over the city, all because of a centuries-old secret that the massed forces must have at any cost.
Children of the Flying City is a fast-paced adventure romp that rarely lets up. Clues and hints to the overall plot and big secret are drip-fed throughout but not all is what it seems as the author drops in twists and deceptions to keep the reader guessing and frequently surprised. Jason Sheehan paints a stark, gritty picture of the life Milo and his gang lives—danger, hunger, and starvation are ever-present—within a crumbling city that is far past its glory days. Indeed, much like the author/narrator warnings given in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sheehan tells the reader several times that things will not turn out well and warns you to stop reading if you would rather believe the story ends happily. And he’s not wrong. Scott was surprised at several points by the cruel and blunt actions of some characters toward others, which is not to say they are graphic or inappropriate, although perhaps unexpected by a younger audience used to stories where everything turns out alright in the end for all the children. This is definitely not the case here and the author’s warnings are valid.
There are a lot of characters to follow but Sheehan manages to give enough backstory and character to each to make them interesting and compelling within the story. Whether you root for certain characters or pantomime hiss and jeer at them will be down to personal preference, but by the end, not everyone has the history or motivation you may think at first.
Children of the Flying City is an exciting, high-energy, and gritty book that pulls no punches and has enough within the plot, characters, and richly crafted and imaginative setting to raise its head above other similar novels. With an inevitable cliff-hanger ending, most readers will be eager for the next installment to come along soon. Scott certainly is.
More GeekMom/GeekDad Book Reviews from February
- Star Wars The High Republic: The Fallen Star by Claudia Grey
- The Violet Veil Mysteries: A Case of Misfortune by Sophie Cleverly
- The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway Edited by Una McCormack
- No Man’s Land by Joanna Nadin
- Scary Monsters by Michelle De Kretser
- Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez
- Escape Room by Christopher Edge
- Stack Overflow: Savoring Series
- Stack Overflow: Art, Math, and Science
GeekMom received copies of these titles for review purposes.