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.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

More graphic novels to add to your shelves and your TBR

I have been reading a metric ton of graphic novels over the last year. I mean, I’ve been reading comics and graphic novels forever, but I found them comforting this past year in a whole new way. When my mind couldn’t focus on words and putting thoughts together, graphic novels were there to guide me through, with artwork and words coming together for storytelling. And there are such great books coming out now! My Kiddo and I are reading them together (most of the time… there are some that aren’t appropriate for him just yet) and sharing laughs and talking about big things, little things, lots of things. Here are a few of the books I’ve read over the last couple of weeks: these are a little less appropriate for littles, much better for teens and young adults.

Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel, by Andrea Grosso Ciponte, (Feb. 2021, Plough Publishing), $24, ISBN: 978-0-87486-344-4

Ages 12+

In 1942, a group of students joined together to oppose Hitler and the Nazi Party. They questioned the system and distributed leaflets encouraging their fellow Germans to do the same. The White Rose engaged in passive resistance in a time where speaking against the government carried a death penalty; by the time  the short-lived movement came to a halt in 1943 when the core members were arrested and sentenced to death by guillotine by the Nazis, their actions set a resistance in motion. Freiheit! chronicles the story of the key members of the White Rose: siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst. The narrative was tough to follow at moments; more of a collection of memories than a cohesive, linear narrative. That way of storytelling works for some, so keep that in mind when considering it for your library. The moody, often murky artwork gives heavy atmosphere to the pacing.

If you’re interested in further reading on the White Rose, the National WW2 Museum has an article on Sophie Scholl, the Jewish Virtual Library has an essay on the group, as does Smithsonian Magazine. There are lesson plans on the resistance available online: ELT-Resourceful has a lesson plan on Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, geared toward ESOL students; Study.com has study aids, and A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust has a detailed lesson plan for grades 6-12 complete with Sunshine State Standards.

 

Windows on the World, by Robert Mailer Anderson & Zack Anderson/Illustrated by Jon Sack, (June 2020, Fantagraphics), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-68-396322-6

Ages 17+

Based on the screenplay from a 2019 film, Windows on the World is, on the surface, a story about a young man searching for his father in the aftermath of 9/11; upon reading, you realize that it’s also a blistering commentary on America and its treatment of undocumented people. Fernando is a young man living with his family in Mexico, watching September 11th unfold on TV; for his family, the terror hits hard: Balthazar, Fernando’s father and the family patriarch, works at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. Fernando’s mother refuses to believe he’s a casualty of the attack, a belief seemingly confirmed when she swears she sees him on a newsreel, escaping the Towers. Fernando heads to New York to learn his father’s fate, but discovers a very different America: He must pay coyotes – predatory smugglers who take immigrants across the US/Mexico border – to sneak him into the country. When he arrives in New York, he discovers that his father, undocumented, working in the States and sending money back to Mexico to support his family, has disappeared into the morass of people. Because he was undocumented, he isn’t on any of the employee lists, as he didn’t “officially” work in the Towers. Fernando has no money and no place to stay, so he takes to the streets, encountering racism and danger as he desperately tries to locate his father. A strong commentary on how America, as Solrad magazine states, went from “9/11 to Build The Wall”, Windows on the World is a hard, necessary, relevant look at racism in America.  Content warnings for younger readers.

Windows on the World has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

The Cloven, by Garth Stein/Illustrated by Matthew Southworth, (July 2020, Fantagraphics), $24.99, ISBN: 9781683963103

Ages 13+

Garth Stein, better known as the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain and co-creator of the TV series Stumptown, released his first graphic novel; number one of a planned trilogy. James Tucker is a young man who’s different: he’s a genetically modified science project, created in a lab, and he’s a cross between a human and a goat, a species called The Cloven. Tuck just wants a normal life, but he’s on the run and searching for answers. Flashbacks flesh out Tuck’s story and the story of the Cloven project, which reminded me of the Weapon X program that created Wolverine’s offspring, X-23/Laura Kinney.  Artwork makes great use of moody lighting and shadows to help tell the story. A skillfull mix of science fiction and thriller, teens will love this book and want to see where Tuck’s story takes him.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Disney Noir: City of Villains

City of Villains, Book 1, by Estelle Laure, (Jan. 2021, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781368049382

Ages 12+

Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior and a police department intern for the Monarch City Police Department. Magic, once part of the populace’s lives, has seemingly left the world and taken countless lives with it, leaving denizens of magical families called The Legacies left to fend for themselves against the up-and-coming Narrows families, who seek to gentrify the neighborhood now known as the Scar.  A victim of horrific loss, Mary Elizabeth is Legacy, as are her friends, many with recognizable names: Mally, the withdrawn teen whose pet raven is the only thing who brings her comfort; Ursula, Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend, James and his best friend, Smee. When Legacy teens start disappearing from the Scar, Mary Elizabeth is put on the case, along with detective Bella, but they are in no way ready for what they find once they start digging into what’s really going on in the Scar.

Gritty, with memorable Disney characters and a taut, well-paced storyline, City of Villains is the first in a new YA series that acts as a new origin point for Disney villains. There’s a gritty feel that makes for a perfect noir setting; our favorite villains are goth without being over the top, and I loved every second of their complex backgrounds. The subplot of magical families versus gentrifiers who want magic by association is brilliant fantasy writing that takes storytelling in a fresh direction, and Mary Elizabeth’s traumatic family history sets the stage for bigger reveals in future books. Give this to your teen Disney fans that are ready for some new stories about their favorite villains. Talk this up to any of the teens you’ve been feeding the Twisted Tales books to – they will thank you.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Black Canary’s YA novel starts the new year off with a Canary Cry

Okay, 2021. Let’s see what you’ve got. Please be gentle with us, we’re still reeling from 2020. Thankfully, there were books. So many great books. And 2021 is shaping up to have just as many great books – seriously, look at the upcoming Latinx titles, and lists from Here We Read, Brightly, and Beyond the Bookends, for starters. And let’s dive into the first book I finished this shiny new year.

Black Canary: Breaking Silence (DC Icons #5), by Alexandra Monir, (Dec. 2020, Random House Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593178317

Ages 12+

I’ve been a Black Canary fan for a while now (thanks, Arrow!), and getting an email inviting me to read the new Black Canary YA novel sent me over the moon. The fact that it takes place in a dystopia where Gotham City has been taken over by the Court of Owls – some of the best storylines in the Batman universe –  made me salivate. The Court of Owls, in the comics, is a secret society that quietly oversees the machinations of Gotham City, always looking out for the wealthy founding families’ interests. In Breaking Silence, the Owls have taken on a fundamentalist-type role, sending women back into the home and relegating them to second-class citizens in the name of “decency” and “morality”. Penguin, the iconic Bat-villain who sided with the Owls during their takeover 20 years prior to the events in Breaking Silence, engineered a toxic gas that stole the singing voices away from women in Gotham; finding a way to silence them while still allowing them to function. The overthrow of Gotham and Silencing, the culminating event that stole women’s singing voices, was sparked by the death of Bruce Wayne – Batman – who died of old age; the revolt also saw the deaths of Commissioner James Gordon and superheroes at the hands of the Owls and their enforcers, the Talons. Dinah Laurel Lance has grown up under the boot of the Owls. Her father, Detective Larry Lance, works for the Gotham City Police Department and treads lightly between the Owls and his duties for the GCPD, while raising his daughter as a widowed father. Now a high school senior, Dinah listens to forbidden music in private and is already on the Owls’ watch list. Between a cautious romance with new student Oliver Queen and discovering the hidden truth about her mother, Dinah’s heading into strange new territory. The Owls had better be ready, a revolution is coming.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Breaking Silence. Smashing the patriarchy and literally finding one’s own voice? Sign me up! Dinah Laurel Lance comes right off the pages; her frustration and fear are palpable and serve as a motivator and a hindrance; it isn’t all black and white here. Alexandra Monir gives us a smart teen heroine who navigates family secrets, a secret society, and the frustration of being a woman in a male-dominated society with skill. Her father, her male friend Ty, and the super-handsome, mysterious rich boy Oliver Queen all lament the current circumstances with her, but they don’t – can’t – get it: they’re men. They have freedom and privilege that they just can’t comprehend not having. There’s a DC cameo or two that made my heart sing, too… Read this book, add it to your booktalks, and get it into the hands of other readers. Then, go read Black Canary: Ignite and get some Birds of Prey trade paperbacks! (Psst… Gail Simone’s run is unparalleled).