Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Legends of Olympus by Alane Adams: Go Questing!

I just finished both Legends of Olympus books by Alane Adams, who you may know from the Legends of Orkney series. If you have Percy Jackson/Rick Riordan readers in your library or your family, this is the next series to hand them. Let’s take a look.

Eye of Zeus, by Alane Adams, (April 2020, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684630288

Ages 9-13

In the first book in the Legends of Olympus series, we meet Phoebe Katz, foundling. She was discovered by her social worker, Carl, as an infant, in a basket at a bus stop, and she’s been through a series of foster homes and schools since. Now 11 years old, she’s the ne’er do well at school, sticking with her two friends, Damian and Angie, to get through the days. But Phoebe learns that she’s not like the other kids – it’s not being a foster kid that sets her apart, either. Maybe it’s that giant statue of Atlas in New York’s Rockefeller Center, that starts talking to her, that gives her the clue? Phoebe has just learned that she’s a daughter of Zeus, king of the Greek gods, and more: she’s the twin sister to Perseus, slayer of Medusa. Being the daughter of THE head of the Greek gods brings trouble, though, especially when she learns that a prophecy claims she will destroy Olympus. Only a quest to collect six talismans from Greek monsters will fix everything, so Phoebe, Angie, and Damian are off to Ancient Greece to set things right. An exciting adventure through Greek mythology, with smart, likable characters kids will cheer for. There are interesting conversations to be had about friendship, loyalty, and found families, all topics kids will relate to. Black and white illustrations add to the interest.

 

The Medusa Quest, by Alane Adams, (April 2021, SparkPress), $12.95, ISBN: 9781684630752

Ages 9-13

This is the second book in the Legends of Olympus series. Things have been looking up for Phoebe, but don’t get too comfortable! The three friends learn that their last visit to Ancient Greece has messed up mythology, and if they don’t go back to fix things, there’s going to be BIG TROUBLE. When they arrive back in Ancient Greece, Phoebe learns that her twin brother, Perseus, is in big danger of being turned to stone by the Gorgon, Medusa, so Damien and Angie join the quest to help Hercules get his confidence back and save Perseus. They have some help, from their friends, the Pegasuses and Phoebe’s half-sister, the goddess Athena, and they’re going to need it! The action is absolutely ramped up in this sequel, and the characters have grown from their experiences in the first book. There’s a strong emphasis on family and found family, and some particularly strong emotions running through the last quarter of the story. A sequel worth reading.

Author Alane Adams’s website has a wealth of information about her books, including book club kits and readalong videos.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Brenna Thummler’s Sheets and Delicates: Ghost friends are the best friends

Sheets, by Brenna Thummler, (Aug. 2018, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781941302675

Ages 9-13

Seventh grader Marjorie Glatt has a lot on her shoulders: still reeling from her mother’s untimely death, she’s also running the family laundromat while her father copes with his depression and grief. She’s helping care for her younger brother, and she’s trying to fend off the sleazy businessman who insists he is going to take over the laundromat and open up his “five star extravagant yoga retreat” in its place – but that Marjorie and her dad can work for him. Marjorie is just going through the motions, pushing her own grief down, when Wendell – the sheet-wearing ghost of an 11-year boy who’s trying to find his own place in ghost society – arrives at her shop and unintentionally wreaks havoc. The sheets are the only way ghosts have available in order to be visible: a pretty hefty metaphor for tweens and young teens trying to find their own way in the world. The book sensitively and masterfully handles big topics like grief, visibility, and identity. The villain is perfectly awful, the customers are believably demanding and abrasive, and add to Marjorie’s sense of being overwhelmed. Brenna Thummler’s artwork tells its own story, with interesting details in the backgrounds and a color palette that uses faded blues, grays, and whites to bring the characters to life. A must-buy for your graphic novel collections. TeachingBooks.net has some educator resources available.

Sheets has been selected by YALSA as a Great Graphic Novel for Teens (2019).

Delicates, by Brenna Thummler, (March 2021, Oni Press), $14.99, ISBN: 9781620107881

Ages 10-14

The sequel to Sheets introduces a new character, and delves even deeper into social themes like bullying, trauma, and teen suicide. Picking up shortly after Sheets left off, things are looking up for Marjorie Glatt. She and Wendell are still friends, she’s still providing a place for the ghosts to hang out and kick back, and she’s even in with theĀ  in-crowd at school: the mean girls from the last book. Marjorie’s not in love with hanging out with Tessi and her crew – they keep her around as more of a project than a friend – but she’s all about the path of least resistance. When one of their teachers asks the group to keep an eye on his daughter, Eliza, who’ll be repeating eighth grade at the school, the schism between Marjorie and Tessi; Tessi sees Eliza’s quirkiness as a target for bullying, and Marjorie, not one for conflict, tries to appease both sides until she realizes that failing to act is just as much an act of bullying. The storytelling is incredibly introspective here: Eliza emerges as a particularly brilliant character as she deals with feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal feelings. Eliza’s family is supportive and stands with her, finding her help. Brenna Thummler’s color palette is lighter, incorporating more rose-colored hues this time, speaking to the characters’ continuing journey toward happiness. A great follow-up to a superb story. I’d love to see more.

Delicates has a starred review from Foreword Reviews. Visit author/illustrator Brenna Thummler’s webpage for more information about her books and her artwork.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Great TBR Readdown Continues! Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Esme’s Wish, by Elizabeth Foster, (2017, Odyssey Books), $13.95, ISBN: 978-1925652246

Ages 10-14

Esme Silver is a 15-year-old mourning her mother, Ariane, who disappeared when Esme was 8. Her father has just remarried, despite Esme’s objection (at the wedding!). Her father takes his new bride away on their honeymoon, leaving Esme under the eye of her stepmother’s sister; not thrilled with that situation, Esme, determined to use the time to learn more about her mother’s disappearance, finds her way to a magical underwater world, where she learns more about her mother and the secret part of her life she hadn’t shared with Esme. Esme’s Wish is geared toward teens, but is more accessible to upper middle grade-middle school students. There is a lot of fantasy world-building, including dragons and mysterious pasts, a mythical history, and new friends from other lands, but sometimes gets mired in itself rather than moving forward. Overall, though, it’s a solid fantasy book, with interesting characters who aren’t merely plot devices. The world-building will appeal to fantasy readers – there are dragons! – and Esme is a likable character that kids can relate to at her heart: a girl who’s lost a parent, and coping with her remaining parent remarrying. The girl who’s considered an outsider by her town, merely because of who her mother was. A girl trying to find out why. A good additional purchase for collections where you have big fantasy readers.

The second book in the trilogy, Esme’s Gift, was published in in 2019. Visit author Elizabeth Foster’s webpage to learn more about the books and view trailers for each.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

H.E. Edgmon’s The Witch King: All Hail the Kings!

The Witch King, by H.E. Edgmon, (June 2021, Inkyard Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335212795

Ages 14+

Wyatt Croft is a witch on the run. Originally from the fae kingdom of Asalin, Wyatt – a transgender 17-year-old boy – escaped a past loaded with trauma and abuse, finding home and family in our world. That all changes when Wyatt’s fated mate, the fae prince Emyr, shows up and demands that Wyatt return with him to fulfill his role as Emyr’s husband and take the throne of Asalin. Wyatt reluctantly returns to Asalin, with his best friend, Briar, in tow, and learns that relations between witches and fae are heading toward revolution – and Wyatt, who’s trying to resolve his own conflicted feelings about Emyr – is right in the middle of it. An anti-fascist, queer fantasy with incredible worldbuilding and characters you’ll love – and love to loathe – The Witch King has it all: romance, high fantasy meets contemporary fiction, and a wicked sense of humor. There’s powerful storytelling throughout The Witch King: being trans isn’t at the heart of the hatred toward Wyatt; transgender and nonbinary characters are major characters in the story, but Wyatt’s being a witch is the issue. The abuse and abandonment of witches takes the place of being LGBTQ+ in our society here, allowing readers to both see a functioning society where diversity is embraced in theory, but in practice, it’s very different. Sound familiar? Revolution, reform, and the idea of burning everything down to rebuild make The Witch King one of the most readable, relevant novels you’ll read this year.

Posted in Fantasy, picture books

An adventure with Grandmother… We Became Jaguars

We Became Jaguars, by Dave Eggers/llustrated by Woodrow White, (March 2021, Chronicle Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781452183930

Ages 5-8

Bestselling author Dave Eggers creates a story about a boy, his grandmother, and the wild world. A young boy’s grandmother comes to visit him, with her long, white hair and her spotted black and yellow coat. When his parents leave the two alone, Grandmother suggests the two become jaguars and explore the night! The two roam the night, having adventures, until the boy decides it’s time to head home. Was it all in good fun? Eggers’s dreamlike storytelling has a childlike feel, as he blends the fantastic – “She laughed like great thunder and I laughed like lesser thunder and we jaguared on” – with the adorably kidlike – “I didn’t want to eat raw rabbit so I said I was allergic” – to create a story that will transport readers to rainforests and the Himalayan mountains. Woodrow White’s mixed media illustration opens up an incredible, exotic world. A gatefold panel begins with the boy and his grandmother transforming into jaguars, and opens to place them, fully “jaguared”, in a wild, nighttime world. The grandmother’s jaguar face looks self-assured; the boy’s, tentative, like he’s never quite sure about this whole experience. When the two drink from a lake, their blurred reflections reveal their human faces. Endpapers show the light and dark of their journey, with vines striping the pages, and bursts of color at the edges. A stunning and playful story.

We Became Jaguars has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest… yet.

No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest, by Robin Robinson, (May 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211538

Ages 8-12

Earthquakes are rocking a goblin village, causing the Midsummer Festival to be cancelled. The villagers blame the Earth Queen for the earthquakes, and young Pella decides it’s time to give the Queen a piece of her mind – but her older sister and caregiver, Bix, is determined to keep Pella home and safe, so Pella sneaks out one night and heads into the Enchanted Forest. From where no one returns. Bix discovers that Pella’s gone, swallows her fear, and heads into the forest after Pella, armed with a ball of yarn to help her out of scary situations, and hopefully, to help them back home. Robin Robinson is a wonderful fantasy storyteller; she illustrated Mairghread Scott’s City on the Other Side (2018) and created a fairy world that the protagonist discovered. Here, she worldbuilds a goblin society, and a family of paranormal Nature beings at odds with one another. No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest is a story of siblings, found families, and of being a good custodian to the world. This one will be a popular choice with fantasy fans. Artwork is colorful, filled with fantasy imagery, and expressive characters.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Kitty Sweet Tooth serves up movies and magic candy!

Kitty Sweet Tooth, by Abby Denson/Illustrated by Utomaru, (Apr. 2021, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250196774

Ages 6-10

Kitty Sweet Tooth is a cat who loves candy and movies, so when her Pop-Pop gives her the chance to realize her dream of running a combination restaurant and movie house, she is thrilled! With the help of magical candy makers, she’s off and running. But playing with magic is never easy, so when the creations start taking on lives of their own, Kitty and her viewers all get a little more than they bargained for! Manic, adorable, and just plain fun, Kitty Sweet Tooth is perfect graphic novel reading for younger readers who love a good, silly story. The artwork is bright and jumps off the page, enchanting readers with magical food like crepes that grow into waving towers, rainbow chips that give the snacker their own case of the stripes, or blooming tea and scones that grow into a veritable garden inside the theatre! Luckily for Kitty, her customers love it all! This is the first in a new series of adventures for intermediate readers. Back matter lets readers create their own candy-making magic with an illustrated recipe for rock candy, including step-by-step instructions, ingredients, and a suggestion to seek grownup help.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Chronic illness, support groups, and… werewolves? Lycanthrophy and Other Chronic Illnesses

Lycanthrophy and Other Chronic Illnesses, by Kristen O’Neal, (Apr. 2021, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683692348

Ages 14+

Priya is a 19-year-old who had her dreams laid out for her – studying at Stanford and a career in medicine – until chronic Lyme disease hit during her sophomore year of college. Now, back home and coming to terms with Lyme flareups and the possibility of her dream career falling away from her, she turns to Tumblr, where she finds friends in the chronic illness support group, “oof ouch my bones”, where the group bonds over their illnesses and shared humor. In particular, she connects with Brigid, whose snark and sarcasm, along with a penchant for morbidly interesting factoids, is just what Priya needs. But Brigid disappears for a few days, and Priya decides to drive to Brigid’s home in neighboring Pennsylvania and check on her: and discovers what may be a werewolf, and that the werewolf is most likely Brigid. Now, Priya has to figure out how best to support Brigid, whose desire to change her diagnosis and lead a “normal” life, is pushing her to desperate measures.

With plenty of dark humor and a cast of characters you’ll grow to love, this is not “Fault in Our Stars” with some hair on it. The discussions of chronic illness are real and raw, but there’s plenty of dark humor and a dive into the paranormal that will satisfy anyone who’s over “sick lit”. Priya is Southeast Asian, while the author is white; I think she was quite respectful to Priya and her family. Brigid and white, and Spencer, the comic relief from animal control who ends up being a supporting character, is Asian. Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is entertaining YA with a fun plot. My teens will enjoy it.

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses has been selected for the Spring 2021 Kids Indie Next List.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Houdini and Me – he’s back for one last trick!

Houdini and Me, by Dan Gutman, (March 2021, Holiday House), $16.99, ISBN: 9780823445158

Ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini lives at Harry Houdini’s old address, so he’s learned quite a bit about the magician. But when someone leaves him a mysterious old flip phone, and someone calling himself Houdini starts texting himself on it, Harry thinks someone has to be playing a prank on him, but the texter knows way too much about Houdini, and Harry’s current apartment… is he really Houdini, and how did he find a way to text from beyond the grave? As the two exchange text conversations, Houdini lays out his plan: he wants to come back and experience life again, and in return, he’ll make Harry famous. But there are always strings attached, aren’t there?

Dan Gutman is already a celebrity in my home and my library for books like his My Weird School and The Genius Files series, and Homework Machine. He has a way of writing that kids relate to so well; it’s like having another kid level with them, and they love it. Houdini and Me has that same first-person narration and conversational voice that kids love, rapid-fire dialogue between characters, and a solid history lesson Harry Houdini, magic, and the early 20th century, that kids will enjoy, too. It’s an interesting take on Harry Houdini – this would make a good reading group book.

Check out Dan Gutman’s author website, loaded with resources, including his My Weird Read-Aloud, excerpts, and information about virtual school visits. Houdini and Me is on the Indie Next List.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Pepper Page Saves the Universe!

Pepper Page Saves the Universe (Adventures of the Supernova, Book 1), by Landry Q. Walker, (Feb. 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250216922

Ages 8-12

What happens when a comics superfan discovers that she IS her favorite superhero? That’s what happens to orphaned Pepper Page, a high schooler who loves her Supernova comics more than anything: she can rattle off major storylines, lament retcons and canon versus headcanon and fancanon with the best of us fangirls, but imagine if you woke up one day to find a supreme being telling you that you’re really Wonder Woman, and all these comics have been chronicling your adventures? It’s a little much for Pepper to handle; thank goodness she’s got her cat companion and her two best friends to help out. When they aren’t under a supervillain’s influence, that is. Comics fans will love the nods to comics fan favorites like Peter David and the iconic Jack Kirby; there are tips of the hat to Golden and Silver Age comics throughout the story, and this is just a great new series to get in on right now. Parents and caregivers, read along with your tweens and share your comics knowledge! I know I will. Have Zita the Spacegirl fans? Get them reading this series immediately.

Pepper Page Saves the Universe has a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.