#FlashbackFriday: Favorite Childhood Reads

I was in middle school when The Hunger Games series (which I loved) and Twilight saga (which I hated, despite never reading any of the books) gained popularity, distinctly remember being let down by the Eragon and Percy Jackson movies, and devoured comic strips—such as Baby Blues—like they were going out of style. I was

Photo of a young person in a red dress being lifted up by an older person in all black.
born the year the first Harry Potter book was published, and got the preorder notice for the seventh book as a tenth birthday gift.

(Right: This photo of me to was taken in 2007, the year Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published.)

There's a lot of nostaglia packed into those books and movies for many people, young and old, but there were hundreds of other books that I devoured as a child and young teen. Of the ones that I could remember, I've compiled ten books/series below for you to check out yourself. And, as it turns out, I seem to have mostly read and enjoyed fantasy novels, something that is still true to this day.

Please do take my reviews with a grain of salt; in many cases, it's been over a decade since I last read the books, and time is not always kind to memories. And while these books may not be perfect, they all have aspects that make them wonderful nonetheless.


The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott

Book 1: The Alchemyst

Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris on 28 September 1330. Nearly seven hundred years later, he is acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of his day. It is said that he discovered the secret of eternal life. The records show that he died in 1418. But his tomb is empty and Nicholas Flamel lives. The secret of eternal life is hidden within the book he protects—the Book of Abraham the Mage. It's the most powerful book that has ever existed. In the wrong hands, it will destroy the world.

And that's exactly what Dr. John Dee plans to do when he steals it. Humankind won't know what's happening until it's too late. And if the prophecy is right, Sophie and Josh Newman are the only ones with the power to save the world as we know it. Sometimes legends are true. And Sophie and Josh Newman are about to find themselves in the middle of the greatest legend of all time.

My review:

I received the first book of this series as a gift in elementary school, but it took me several tries to actually read it. The beginning might be a bit slow to start, but if you stick with it, you'll find yourself in a hidden world of magic, immortals, and plots to destroy the world. Sophie and Josh grow so much over the course of the series, and they're aided (or hindered) by perhaps the most colorful cast of historical characters that I have ever encountered in a series.

Be sure to check out the rest of the series: The Magician (#2), The Sorceress (#3), The Necromancer (#4), The Warlock (#5), and The Enchantress (#6).


Incarceron duology by Catherine Fisher

Book 1: Incarceron

Incarceron -- a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology -- a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber -- chains, great halls, dungeons. A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here.

In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison -- a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists. But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device -- a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn's escape is born...

My review:

It's been so long since I read this one that I can hardly remember the plot of these books, but what I do remember is how alive the prison felt, and the breatheless suspense as Claudia and Finn tried to save themselves. Incarceron is a living thing, and it doesn't give up its secrets easily. Outside of the prision, the Realm is frozen in time, and full of political machinations that draw Claudia in despite her best attempts otherwise.

And make sure to check out the sequel, Sapphique.


Graceling Realm series by Kristen Cashore

Book 1: Graceling

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s brutal enforcer.

Until the day she meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, and Katsa’s life begins to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away... a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

My review:

I technically read Fire first, but Graceling is where it all started. Graces are enhanced skills that normal people can't hope to match, and Katsa's has left her isolated for most of her life. This is the story of a young woman coming to understand herself and her place in the world, and it is achingly sympathetic. Katsa is fierce and unyielding, and precisely the type of character I love to see in fiction.

Be sure to check out the rest of the series: Fire, Bitterblue. And you can expect a fourth book to be published in the near future, this one called Winterkeep.


Inkworld series by Cornelia Funke (translated by Anthea Bell)

Book 1: Inkheart

One cruel night, Meggie's father reads aloud from a book called INKHEART-- and an evil ruler escapes the boundaries of fiction and lands in their living room. Suddenly, Meggie is smack in the middle of the kind of adventure she has only read about in books. Meggie must learn to harness the magic that has conjured this nightmare. For only she can change the course of the story that has changed her life forever.

This is INKHEART--a timeless tale about books, about imagination, about life. Dare to read it aloud.

My review:

I wanted Meggie's world—and her ability as a silvertongue—to be my world as a child. The idea of reading characters and items out of books is as incredible to me now as it was when I was a kid; though, as Meggie soon learns, this is not always as positive as it first sounds. Meggie's journey into a hidden world unlocks universes unknown, and it still delights me to no end.

The story continues in Inkspell and Inkdeath. According to Goodreads, there could be a fourth book coming soon!


May Bird series by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Book 1: May Bird and the Ever After

Most people aren't very comfortable in the woods, but the woods of Briery Swamp fit May Bird like a fuzzy mitten. There, she is safe from school and the taunts and teases of kids who don't understand her. Hidden in the trees, May is a warrior princess, and her cat, Somber Kitty, is her brave guardian.

Then May falls into the lake.

When she crawls out, May finds herself in a world that most certainly does not feel like a fuzzy mitten. In fact it is a place few living people have ever seen. Here, towns glow blue beneath zipping stars and the people -- people? -- walk through walls. Here the Book of the Dead holds the answers to everything in the universe. And here, if May is discovered, the horrifyingly evil Bo Cleevil will turn her into nothing.

May Bird must get out.


My review:

The May Bird series capivated me to no end when I discovered it in elementary school, and I still have a soft spot for her and Somber Kitty. Briery Swamp is nearly a character in its own right, and May's struggles to return to her home are something many of us can relate to. This world of ghosts and omniscient books that she finds herself in is equally intriguing—and entirely deadly—and you'll find yourself swept away with May and Somber Kitty as they fight to go home again.

The trilogy is rounded out by these titles: May Bird Among the Stars and May Bird, Warrior Princess.


The Looking Glass Wars series by Frank Beddor

Book 1: The Looking Glass Wars

Alyss of Wonderland?
When Alyss Heart, newly orphaned heir to the Wonderland throne, flees through the Pool of Tears to escape her murderous Aunt Redd, she finds herself lost and alone in Victorian London. Befriended by an aspiring author named Lewis Carrol, Alyss tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Alyss trusts this author to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere will find her and bring her home. But he gets the story all wrong. He even spells her name incorrectly!

Fortunately, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan knows all too well the awful truth of Alyss' story - and he's searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland, to battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

My review:

My fifth grade teacher handed me this book when I ran out of things to read in his classroom. It was both one of the first YA books I ever read and the one that cemented my love of worlds that mixed science fiction and fantasy. Alyss's story—and the ways in which Lewis Carrol changed it—are utterly novel and entirely captivating. And I've always been a sucker for loyalty and devotion between characters, which this book has in spades (hah).

Check out the sequels—Seeing Redd and ArchEnemy—as well as the Hatter M graphic novels.


Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Book 1: Peter and the Starcatchers

In an evocative and fast-paced adventure on the high seas and on a faraway island, an orphan boy named Peter and his mysterious new friend, Molly, overcome bands of pirates and thieves in their quest to keep a fantastical secret safe and save the world from evil.

This riveting adventure takes readers on a journey from a harsh orphanage in old England to a treacherous sea in a decrepit old tub. Aboard the Never Land is a trunk that holds a magical substance with the power to change the fate of the world - just a sprinkle and wounds heal; just a dusting and people can fly. Towering seas and a violent storm are the backdrop for battles at sea. Bone-crushing waves eventually land our characters on Mollusk Island - where the action really heats up.

Peter and the Starcatchers is brimming with richly developed characters, from the scary but somehow familiar Black Stache and the ferocious Mister Grin to the sweet but sophisticated Molly and the fearless Peter.

My review:

This was another book that my fifth grade teacher recommended I read, and to this day I am still enchanted with the story. This is the Peter Pan origin story that the original book did not include, and the powers of stardust dazzled me. And while Molly may seem like a new character, her connection to the characters we know and love in the Disney Peter Pan movie becomes apparent throughout the rest of the series.

Peter and Molly's stories continue in the sequels: Peter and the Shadow Thieves (#2), Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (#3), and Peter and the Sword of Mercy (#4).


Princess Academy series by Shannon Hale

Book 1: Princess Academy

Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.

Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.

My review:

I won this book as part of a reading contest in elementary school, and I was instantly entranced by Miri, her home, and the quarry in which her village makes their living. The girls' struggle in learning how to act "properly," for one person's definition of proper, is one I think we can all relate to. The importance of education is clearly apparent throughout the book without being heavy handed, and Miri's desire to help herself and her village is inspiring.

I never read the sequels, but I've heard they're equally wonderful! Check them out: Palace of Stone and The Forgotten Sisters.


Sea of Trolls series by Nancy Farmer

Book 1: The Sea of Trolls

The year is A.D. 793; Jack and his sister have been kidnapped by Vikings and taken to the court of Ivar the Boneless and his terrifying half-troll wife; but things get even worse when Jack finds himself on a dangerous quest to find the magical Mimir's Well in a far-off land, with his sister's life forfeit if he fails.

Other threats include a willful mother Dragon, a giant spider, and a troll-boar with a surprising personality -- to say nothing of Ivar the Boneless and his wife, Queen Frith, a shape-shifting half-troll, and several eight foot tall, orange-haired, full-time trolls.

My review:

This is another story that I don't remember many details about, but Jack's tenacity and his journey throughout the series have stuck with me over the years. His devotion to his little sister and the people he meets during his adventures has stuck with me for a long time, as well as his resolve not to harm others. Jack's world is based on ours, with a healthy dose of magic and mythical beings who will get what they want, even if people like Jack stand in their way.

And check out the rest of the trilogy: The Land of the Silver Apples and The Islands of the Blessed.


Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale

Book 1: The Merchant of Death

BOBBY PENDRAGON is a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy. He has a family, a home, and even Marley, his beloved dog. But there is something very special about Bobby.

He is going to save the world.

And not just Earth as we know it. Bobby is slowly starting to realize that life in the cosmos isn't quite what he thought it was. And before he can object, he is swept off to an alternate dimension known as Denduron, a territory inhabited by strange beings, ruled by a magical tyrant, and plagued by dangerous revolution.

If Bobby wants to see his family again, he's going to have to accept his role as savior, and accept it wholeheartedly. Because, as he is about to discover, Denduron is only the beginning...

My review:

The first time I picked up the Pendragon series, I was blown away by the complexity of the universe and how interwoven all of the worlds are (and I still am). We see the places that Bobby travels through his journals, which he sends back home to his best friend, as well as the perspectives of the people he's left behind on Earth. He meets so many people throughout his journey and they're all so different, and it's absolutely fascinating to experience this ever unspooling universe through Bobby's eyes.

Clocking in with a final count of ten books, this is a long series. But it can be well worth it! If you enjoy book one, be sure to check out the rest: The Lost City of Faar (#2), The Never War (#3), The Reality Bug (#4), Black Water (#5), The Rivers of Zadaa (#6), The Quillan Games (#7), The Pilgrims of Rayne (#8), Raven Rise (#9), and The Soldiers of Halla (#10).

By Rin on August 27, 2020