Matt’s Weekly Reads, October 29, 2022


Erak’s Ransom (Ranger’s Apprentice #7), John Flanagan (2007)

It seems strange to highlight a fifteen-year-old seventh book (fifth in the internal chronology) in a middle grade fantasy series in a space like this. But, even as I’ve been singing the praises of the Ranger’s Apprentice series all summer, I was blown away by this installment and feel it deserves some attention.

Set in between the events of The Battle for Skandia and The Sorcerer of the North, this story follows our wonderful band of heroes and heroines into a distant desert land in an attempt to free their friend Erak, the Skandian leader, who has been taken captive there during a failed raid.

The things I loved about this book served to highlight for me what makes the series so special. Unlike so many fantasy stories, our heroes are often beset by bad luck and experience setbacks, whether because of a lack of information or being outsmarted by their adversaries. The antagonists are always intelligent and generally honorable, worthy opponents, and the plots take surprising turns involving unlikely but believable alliances and friendships across battlelines. To my mind, the series is a wonderful antidote in our world where contempt for and demonization of one’s opponents seems to be carrying the day.

If you want a simple hero’s journey story in a simple, black-and-white world, there are plenty of other places to look. But, if you want a middle grade fantasy series with compelling stories and lovable characters that also leans into the complexity of the world and advocates respect and coalition building, I can’t recommend the Ranger’s Apprentice enough.

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • Middle Grade
  • Fantasy
  • Found Family
  • Adventure
  • Teenagers Doing Espionage

My Rating, 10/10

Weekly Roundup

  • Paris Daillencourt Is about to Crumble, Alexis Hall (2022 – NEW RELEASE – November 1, 2022), 7.5/10: This sequel to Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake features an unlikely and fraught romance between two contestants on the next season of everyone’s favorite baking competition show, one a privileged but lonely grad student living with a severe but undiagnosed anxiety disorder, and the other a proudly queer Muslim man. There is a lot to love here: As expected from Alexis Hall, the comedy part of the ‘romcom’ here is genuinely funny, the lead character experiences a tremendous journey of personal growth, and the book is filled with wonderful secondary characters. The only thing keeping me from a rave review is that Paris’s difficulties for most of the book came off to me as more insufferable than relatable or endearing. And, while the book includes some welcome representation rarely seen in popular fiction, I feel like it could have engaged with questions of intersectionality, privilege, and marginalization in a more robust way. (LGBTQ2S+, Own Voices, Mental Health, Anxiety, Social Media)
  • All the Quiet Places, Brian Thomas Isaac (2021), 7/10: This 2021 release has been nominated for several major awards, but while I recognize the skillful writing and the effectiveness of what the author does here, it did not work for me. I struggled with what seemed to be to be a lack of plotting; it’s just a series of horrible things happening to the protagonist. This is, I think, the point the author is making. But, for me as a reader, I need more than just a sequence of tragedies to keep my interest. (Indigenous Perspectives, Interior Salish Peoples, Canadian History)
  • A Spindle Splintered, Alix E. Harrow (2021), 10/10: On the eve her twenty-first birthday, Zinnia’s days are numbered, due to the lasting impacts of in utero environmental poisoning. But that night she finds herself sucked into a fairy-tale universe where she meets another young woman cursed from birth and discovers new paths and possibilities beyond her imagination. Feminist retellings of fairy tales are everywhere these days and generally I find them to be pretty mediocre, but I absolutely loved this re-imaging and critical reassessment of the Sleeping Beauty Trope. I also appreciated the novella’s reflections on the impact of chronic illness on families, friendships, and the whole idea of what love means. (Fairy Tales, Feminist Retellings, Chronic Illness, Families, Friendship, Sleeping Beauty)
  • The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, Matson Taylor (2020), 7.5/10: It’s 1962 and Evie Epworth wants to be a modern woman in her traditional Yorkshire town. But, her dad’s live-in housekeeper — and now girlfriend — has other ideas for both her and her father’s lives. This is a very cleverly written book, with its tongue planted firmly in cheek. I also appreciated the particularity of the picture it painted of early 1960s northern England. It did veer at times too far into snark for my personal tastes, but it was still a fun ride. (Historical Fiction, 1960s, Mid-Century Britain, Family, Friendship, Coming of Age)
  • Seoulmates, Susan Lee (2022), 6/10: At the start of what was supposed to be the Best Summer Ever, Hannah is broken up with by her boyfriend, Nate. Then, to make matters worse, her childhood best friend Jacob, who cut off contact with her when he moved to Korea three years earlier, suddenly returns — but now as an international famous K-drama star. Can she salvage her summer? And will she get a second chance with either — or both — of them? Both YA and romance novels require a fair bit of suspended disbelief, but this one just felt a bit too contrived for me in its premise, characterization, plotting, and dialogue. So, I can honestly say it didn’t work for me. (YA, Romance, Korean American perspectives, Own Voices, Celebrity, Second Chance Romance)
  • I Hope, Monique Gray Smith (2022), 10/10: This is a really beautiful children’s picture book with a wonderful message of hope, belonging, and resilience. Love it! (Indigenous Perspectives, Children’s Picture Books)

3 responses to “Matt’s Weekly Reads, October 29, 2022”

  1. […] Mended, Alix E. Harrow (2022), 7/10: In this sequel set five years after the events of A Spindle Splintered, Zinnia is pulled into a Snow White story, where she finds that the fairy tale is quite different […]


  2. […] stories in a way that prevents them from feeling a little creepy or even just depressing. (That was my main criticism of All the Quiet Places; rather than having a plot, it just felt like a never-ending stream of horrible life experiences.) […]


  3. […] compelling, but these characters are so wonderful I cannot complain. And, yet again, these books stand out by allowing our heroes to be fallible and their enemies smart and skilled, so even a […]


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