Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Crossover potential: Fan Club by Erin Mayer

Fan Club, by Erin Mayer, (Oct. 2021, Mira), $16.99, ISBN: 9780778311591

Ages 16+

A young woman falls into obsessive fandom in this novel with YA/new adult interests. Fan Club follows a first-person narrator who’s bored with her life working at a women’s lifestyle website until the night she hears a new song by pop star Adriana Argento. The song speaks to hear like nothing she’s heard before, and becomes obsessed with the star, ultimately falling into an online fandom where fans obsess over Argento’s every Instagram post, song lyrics, and appearances. A coworkers invites her to join her group of Adriana superfans who call themselves “The Ivies”; a group of young women who gather to listen to her music and talk about the star, her life and career, with eerie, almost cult-like devotion. As she becomes more mired in the group, the narrator discovers a horrible secret about the women – but is she too far gone to pull away?

Fan Club is so timely in its depiction of our celebrity-obsessed society and social media, toxic, and obsessive fandom culture. It’s not a character-driven book; readers may recognize character archetypes, but this read is purely about the big picture. Acerbic, dark humor takes aim at pop culture and makes this a read your teen and young adult/new adults will devour. Display and booktalk with Megan Angelo’s Followers and Goldy Moldavsky’s Kill the Boy Band.

 

Posted in geek, geek culture, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

Fandom, friends, and the real world: Zoe Rosenthal is Not Lawful Good

Zoe Rosenthal is Not Lawful Good, by Nancy Werlin, (Apr. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536214734

Ages 13+

High school senior Zoe Rosenthal is a planning machine, bullet journal set for stun. She and her boyfriend, Simon, are the definition of power couple: they’re researching college choices to attend together (so many color-coded spreadsheets); she’s working to save money while he volunteers for a local politician and envisions a socially just career in political science, and then they’ll marry, have their 2.5 kids, and live happily ever after. All she has to do is sneak off to Dragon Con for a season premiere of her secretly favorite show, Bleeders. It’s great science fiction, which Simon poo-poos as “ridiculous”. She should be watching Very Serious Documentaries, not wasting time on genre “garbage”. But once at DragonCon, she falls in love with fandom and meets a group of “Bloodygits” – the Bleeders fandom – that may just be the best thing that ever happened to her. A story of how fandom is always there to catch you when you fall, Zoe Rosenthal is Not Lawful Good is filled with great little pop culture and fandom winks and nudges. Zoe and her fellow supporting characters are all pretty well realized, and encompass a diverse cast. Author Nancy Werlin is a National Book award finalist, Edgar award winner, and NYT bestselling author who not only gets fandom, she enjoys it; she sees how it brings people together. Give to your fandom fic fans; the readers who loved The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love  by Sarvenaz Tash (2016), Ashley Poston’s Once Upon a Con series, and Jen Wilde’s Queens of Geek (2017).

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Graphic Novels check-in: CYBILS and some new books!

The TBR catch-up continues. Wow, did I overextend myself over the quarantine, but who can blame me? The books have been AMAZING. I know I’ve been light on the middle grade novels, but I promise you, they are coming, too. For now, here are a couple of CYBILS nominees, and some new books for you to investigate.

 

Black Heroes of the Wild West: Featuring Stagecoach Mary, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons : A TOON Graphic Novel, by James Otis Smith/Introduction by Kadir Nelson, (Sept. 2020, TOON Graphics), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943145515
Ages 8-12
This is a MUST buy for your nonfiction and graphic novel shelves. The New York Times calls Black Heroes of the Wild West “Comics That Dismantle the Cowboy Myth”, and I couldn’t put it any better. Three profiles: Stagecoach Mary Fields, a woman who ran her own business, was a stagecoach driver, and played cards and chomped cigars with the best of the boys; Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves, the first black deputy US marshal west of the Mississippi, who was charming and caught the bad guys with style; and Bob Lemmon, a Texas horseman who calmed wild mustangs by making them believe he was one of their own. Incredible lives, told in small moments in this book that will whet kids’ (and adults!) interests with stories of life in the Wild West. I loved the stories, the artwork, and the incredible history lesson that unfolds in the back matter. It’s time to recognize the diversity of the Old West, and it’s time to celebrate the Black Lives that helped build the U.S. TOON has free, downloadable lesson plans, videos, and teachers guides for Black Heroes of the Wild West, and the book received a starred review from Booklist. One can only hope there’s a second volume in the works. Black Heroes is a CYBILS graphic novels nominee.
Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables, by L.M Montgomery/Adapted by Crystal Chan/Illustrated by Kuma Chan, (Nov. 2020, Manga Classics), $19.99, ISBN: 9781947808188
Ages 12+
I’ve been happy to have Manga Classics available for my tweens and teens who struggle with reading the classics, but devour manga. This latest one gave me the chance to sit down again with Anne of Green Gables, the classic story of the orphan reluctantly adopted by older siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, taking place on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. The artwork will immediately draw in manga readers, and the story is faithfully adapted here. Anne’s melodrama is wonderfully translated from words to pictures, and Marilla’s ice queen exterior is softened considerably by the artwork, which shows the struggle to keep herself at a distance as this quirky red-headed girl wins her heart. Manga Classics has been doing justice by my library kids for a few years now; I’ll make sure to keep this one handy, too. If you have readers who are interested in diving deeper, display and booktalk author LM Montgomery’s illustrated biography, House of Dreams; Anne’s life is heavily influenced by the author and will make for a wonderful author study for middle and high school students. Anne of Green Gables is a CYBILS graphic novels nominee.
Last Pick: Rise Up, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728950
Ages 12+
The third book in the Last Pick series is finally here! Last Pick is a sci fi trilogy where Earth has been taken over by a cruel alien race; they’ve taken countless humans as slave labor across the universe, but the disabled; the elderly; the too young are left behind. These “last picked” have banded together to fight the alien menace, and Wyatt – a teen boy with autism – is at the head of the revolution. His sister, Sam, has been sent off into the stars, but she’s been fomenting revolution, too, with her new girlfriend, Mia; an underground freedom radio broadcaster. In this final chapter of the trilogy, everything that’s been put into motion over the last two books is coming together, and the aliens won’t know what hit them. The artwork ad action explode off the page while the very human story of resistance, family, and burgeoning romance keep the reader turning pages. This is one of the best sci-fi series in recent years, with intense, smart portrayals of characters who are left behind and how take charge to save a planet. I recently took part in a graphic novels panel, Librarians Love Comics!, and one of my colleagues mentioned how much he liked this series, so don’t just take my word for it. Last Pick is librarian-approved.
The Challenger Disaster: Tragedy in the Skies (History Comics), by Pranas T. Naujokaitis, (Oct. 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250174291
Ages 8-12
It’s the year 2386, and the students on Space Station Sagan are celebrating Challenger Day. The students begin their presentations, and through the magic of AI and holograms, meet the seven members of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger crew, hear about their selection and training for the Challenger mission, and what went so horribly wrong that day in January 1986. Written as nonfiction within a fictional setting, The Challenger Disaster creates fun, engaging characters and lets them interact with actual people from US history to deliver a narrative that is great for history and STEM readers, and graphic novel readers alike. Each member of the 1986 Challenger crew is developed and invites readers to meet the people behind the legend, behind the headlines. Back matter includes an afterword from the author about growing up in a post-Challenger world and additional Challenger facts. The artwork introduces a fun science fiction feel while solidly addressing the nonfiction portion of the book. Sketches and diagrams throughout will help readers gain an understanding of the many moving parts it takes for a space shuttle to come together, and the discussion on the story behind the disaster is sobering and, quite frankly, chilling. It’s a mistake that should never have been made, and it brings home the risk of stepping outside our front doors.
Fangirl: The Manga (Volume 1), by Rainbow Rowell/Adapted by Sam Maggs, Illustrated by Gabi Nam (Oct. 2020, Viz Media). $16.99, ISBN: 9781974715879
Ages 12+
The manga adaptation of one of Rainbow Rowell’s most beloved novels is here, and written by a force in fandom, no less. Sam Maggs has written comic book storylines for Star Wars, Star Trek, Captain Marvel, and more; she’s written Geek Girls Guides to the Galaxy and the Universe; she’s even written an original middle grade novel, Con Quest, which takes place at a thinly veiled facsimile of San Diego Comic Con. So of course she’d be the person to adapt a love letter to fan fic, fandom, and finding your own way. Cath and Wren are twin sisters heading to college. Wren is ready to make changes and become her own person, but Cath is more of an introvert, holding onto her fanfiction and her fandom for Simon Snow, a Harry Potter-esque type of story about magic and vampires. As Wren branches out and gains new (and sometimes dubious) experiences, Cath finds herself inching out of her own comfort zone thanks to her roommate and her boyfriendish friend and a classmate who’s a little too stuck on himself but so good-looking. At the same time, Cath worries about their dad, who’s alone for the first time in years, and frustrated with her professor, who doesn’t see fanfiction as a legitmate form of writing. This is only Volume 1, but its so well-adapted that the Rowell fans are going to be howling for more. The subtle shifts from “real” life to Cath’s magnum Simon Snow opus, Carry On, are wonderfully placed throughout the book, and seriously – were two characters ever better suited for a manga interpretation than Simon and Baz? The artwork is perfect; readers will love seeing their favorite characters with life breathed into them. A manga interpretation of Fangirl is going to bring new fans to Rainbow Rowell’s fanbase as the manga readers discover this series – I hope there are plans for a Carry On manga next.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, geek culture, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Reading Rundown, Reading Challenge!

There are SO many great books coming out over the next few weeks, WOW. My reading mojo came back with a vengeance, thankfully, about a month ago, and I have been working on the TBR; everything I pick up has been really good stuff. I’m also starting to come out of an overall blue period (like Picasso, but not as talented), so I’m hoping my blogging can keep up with my reading habits. Let’s give it a whirl.

Con Quest, by Sam Maggs, (June 2020, Imprint), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250307279

Ages 9-13

The first book is Sam Maggs’s middle grade novel, Con Quest. If you already know Sam Maggs, I welcome you, my geek friend. If you don’t, this is a great place to start. She’s a geek girl who’s written comics, nonfiction about fandom, and awesome women in history, but this is her first middle grade novel. And what a novel it is. It’s a love letter to fandom and con life; to Supernatural fans and quests for charity; to friendship, family, and that first blush of a new crush. If you dig fandom, are in fandom, or are fandom-adjacent, you’ll recognize the players here. At a con that’s remarkably similar to San Diego Comic Con, twin siblings Cat and Alex are competing in an intense quest, run by one of their fave celebs, to benefit a charity. The big prize is getting to meet the celeb, but first, they have a gauntlet of geeky challenges to complete, all while dodging their older sister, who is SUCH a drag. There are great, realistic characters here – con life is truly stranger than fiction, friends – and moments you’ll recognize and love. The characters are fun and diverse, with a diversity in gender identity and culture; one of the main characters, Alex, is autistic and Sam does a good job at describing how he experiences things, as opposed to his slightly intense (and sometimes frustrating) sister, Cat.

Introduce Cat and Alex to your readers, then get a (virtual) library con up and running to introduce them to the joy that is fandom. Hey, Free Comic Book Day is running for most of the summer!

 

Diana and the Island of No Return, by Aisha Saeed, (July 2020, Random House Children’s), $16.99, ISBN: 9780593174470

Ages 9-13

All hail the middle grade superhero novels! We are – hopefully – getting our long-awaited Wonder Woman 1984 movie this October, so TALK THIS UP. Our tweens and teens have Tempest Tossed, a phenomenal Wonder Woman original graphic novel; middle graders and tweens now have Diana and the Island of No Return, by Aisha Saeed. Here, Diana is a tween herself, a princess forbidden to learn to fight, despite living on an island of warrior women. She’s hoping to persuade her mother, Queen Hippolyta, this year… maybe during the festivities, when her best friend, Princess Sakina arrives, they can plan an approach? Before the festivities begin, Diana discovers a stowaway – a BOY – on Sakina’s mother’s ship, and learns that the entire island of Themyscira has been put under a sleeping spell. Diana and Sakina, the only two awake on the island, must travel with this boy to his island, where a demon lies in wait, wanting to capture Diana.

This is the first in a Wonder Woman trilogy, and Aisha Saeed wastes no time getting to the action. Diana and Sakina’s friendship is well-written and realistic; she creates larger-than-life figures and makes them very human; the girls are giggly best friends who plan to sleep in the same room so they can stay up all night, and yet also ready, at a moment’s notice, to go on a dangerous mission to fight a demon and free their mothers. It all comes together beautifully, with great world-building, pacing, and storytelling. I can’t wait for the next book.

Follow the DC Comics Kids Twitter and Instagram for DC Kids Camp activities. There are coloring sheets, videos, and crafts that everyone will love: you know you want to color, too.

 

Rise of Zombert (The Zombert Chronicles), by Kara LaReau/Illustrated by Ryan Andrews, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536201062

Ages 8-12

This first book in a new middle grade series is a good one for kids who want to read something creepy, but not TOO scary. In a corporate town where everything is owned and run by YummCo Foods, a black cat escapes a lab. He’s found by a girl named Mellie, who discovers the filthy, ragged cat in a dumpster and takes him home to nurse back to health. She names him Bert and decides that he’s going to be the pet she’s always wanted… but Berg wants blood. He has a taste for heads, in particular; after decapitating Mellie’s stuffed animals, he heads out for less stuffy game. As cats would do, Mellie discovers Bert’s version of sharing a meal with her, when she keeps finding headless birds and mice left for her. Mellie’s best friend, Danny, is convinced the cat is a zombie, and readers will get the feeling that there’s a lot more going on at YummCo than the oh-so-friendly representatives will let on. And Bert? Well, he can’t really understand why Mellie isn’t appreciating his gifts, he still feels something for the girl, but nothing can stop him from his mission: revenge and freeing the other animals in the lab.

I loved how this book built and built up the suspense, but it ended so abruptly, I had to check and make sure I wasn’t reading an excerpt. It’s a fast-paced read, and will definitely invest readers right away. The black and white sketches add to the moody atmosphere of the book, and the ending will leave everyone waiting for the sequel. Kara LaReau is the author of the Infamous Ratsos series, so she knows how to write for a younger audience and get things moving along quickly. Ryan Andrews illustrated another book I love, The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.

 

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781536207613

Ages 9-13

I LOVE a good creepy book, and this one is amazing. If you’re a Mary Downing Hahn reader, run to your computer and request or buy The Mulberry Tree. Ten-year-old Immy (Imogene) and her parents have moved from Australia to the English countryside as her father battles depression. They decide to rent an adorable thatched English cottage, but the realtor – and the town – have their misgivings about anyone living there. You see, there’s an cursed mulberry tree in the backyard; a tree that’s rumored to have stolen two girls away on the eves of their 11th birthdays. People cross the street rather than walk by the tree, and when Immy’s father speaks out on the ridiculousness of a tree kidnapping girls, Immy finds herself even more of a pariah at school. But when she starts hearing a strange song in her head, and seeing the tree move, she begins to wonder whether the rumors may be true after all. What’s the story of the tree? Immy’s going to have to do some investigating to find out, and she’d better hurry… her 11th birthday is coming.

This book hooked me from the first page. It deals with depression and grief, and how it can drive a wedge into a family; a spooky tree with a cursed history, and mean girls. If you have readers who love a bit of the creepy, with some supernatural thrown in, give them this book. I read this one in one night, because I refused to put it down until I was done. The setting, the pacing, everything built at such a wonderful pace, and the resolution… chef’s kiss good. One of my favorite Quarantine Reads so far.

Allison Rushby wrote 2018’s The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery; an historical fiction ghost story. It’s a good one; pick it up if you haven’t had the chance yet.

 

Last but not least, a reading challenge! What better way to keep track of all of the great books you’ve been reading with your kids (you are reading with them, aren’t you?) than by working through reading challenges together? I just received an email with seven printable challenges, all free, all downloadable, through Redbubble. There’s Book Bingo; a Cross-Genre reading list; a Habit Tracker; a Create Your Own Reading List; and my favorite, a Reading Coloring Sheet where you can color in books on a bookshelf as you read (and, if you’re like me, try to write itty bitty names on the spines). These add a little bit of color to the same old boring reading logs the kids get sent home with every summer, so try one or two out. You can view all the reading challenges here.

As always, I received eArcs of all the books I talked about in exchange for reviews. Thanks for reading, and go get some books!

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Once Upon a Con: Bookish and the Beast keeps the magic going

Bookish and the Beast, by Ashley Poston, (Aug. 2020, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683691938

Ages 12+

The third Once Upon a Con book is coming! I’ve been enjoying this series since picking up Geekerella back in 2017. Remixed fairy tales, updated to take place in a fandom world? Yes, please! In this third installment, we’ve got some returning characters, some new faces, and a familiar storyline with a little fandom magic.

Rosie Thorne is a high school senior, living with her widowed dad, and mourning her mom, who happened to be a huge fan of… you know it, Starfield, the sci-fi series introduced in Geekerella. She’s also stuck on her college application essays and on the memory of the masked General Sond cosplayer she met at ExelsiCon. While trying to do a good deed, she inadvertently stumbles into a house where Vance Reigns – actor, Hollywood bad boy, and Starfield’s very own General Sond – is hiding out from the paparazzi after a major scandal hit the tabloids. He’s predictably beastly (see what I did there?) to Rosie, who’s so taken aback that she ruins a rare book in the house’s gorgeous library. She offers to work off the cost of the book, which means she’s now spending every day in Vance’s presence. As the two get used to one another, literal and proverbial masks come off, but they’re both hurt and vulnerable people: can Rosie and Vance let their guards down enough to fall in love?

Bookish and the Beast has all the elements that make Ashley Poston’s Once Upon a Con series so readable: great dialogue and pacing, fun characters that you want to fall in love with and hang out with, and most importantly, the genuine love of fandom. Her characters’ fandoms – in this case, Starfield – have passed on through generations, from parents to children, and it’s here that the heart of fandom lies. Fandom is a community, with its good, bad, and ugly, and Ashley Poston respects that community by creating characters that inhabit that space in her books and the readers who love them. Each character goes on their own personal journeys here, and so many relatable, enjoyable characters.

Rainbow Rowell readers, this series is for you. Check out Ashley Poston’s website for an FAQ, links to her social media, and more information about her books.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Life imitates art in Girls Save the World in This One

Girls Save the World in This One, by Ash Parsons, (Apr. 2020, Philomel Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780525515326

Ages 13+

Okay, imagine you’re going to a con where the cast of your favorite zombie-ridden post-apocalyptic show is appearing. You’ve hit the exhibit hall, taken pictures with the cosplayers, and are just sitting down to a panel with the whole cast… and the zombie apocalypse happens. For reals. That’s how it goes down for teens June, Siggy, and Imani, attending ZombieCon! in their little hometown. They’re sitting in on a panel with all the stars of their favorite zombie show, Human Wasteland, when all hell breaks loose. The girls have to put their zombie apocalypse skills to the test to survive, and June has to cope with the indignity of having her ex-BFF, Blair, who’s also at the con and on the run from the undead. DRAMA.

Girls Save the World in This One is FANTASTIC. I loved every single page of this hilarious action-adventure story, with relatable teens who are sick and tired of friendship drama, dumb boyfriends, and all of these freaking zombies! June, Imani, and Siggy are quick-thinking, smart, and their friendship bond is #squadgoals. June, in fabulous teen fashion, takes time to agonize over her damaged friendship with Blair while figuring out how to escape zombies and put up with obnoxious cable TV celebrities, and Blair – the friend on the outside looking in – is proof that desperate times can bring people closer. Fans of the other zombie show on cable TV will recognize some characters, and I love the fangirl’s dream come true that evolves throughout the book. Who will survive? You MUST read this to find out. Strong female characters, the power of friendship, and a burgeoning romance amidst the zombie apocalypse make this a must have.

Posted in Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

New Year, New Nonfiction!

There’s some great nonfiction coming up in just a few short weeks. From fandoms to crafting, freaky animals to an unusual pen pal, there’s a little something here for everyone.

Outrageous Animal Adaptations: From Big-Eared Bats to Frill-Necked Lizards, by Michael J. Rosen,
(Jan. 2018, Lerner Publishing), $37.32, ISBN: 9781512429992
Good for readers 10-15
Animals with unusual adaptation take center stage here, from the frill-necked lizard that runs across the desert on two legs to a vampire squid, who uses its bioluminescence to startle predators. Outrageous Animal Adaptations is loaded with full-color pictures and facts; each featured animal has callouts on its adaptation, curious facts, and a box with classification information. At only 96 pages, though, the price is steep for my wee budget, so if this isn’t a centrally purchased book for my collection, I have to be honest; I’ll probably see where I can find a more reasonably priced option.
Fandom: Fic Writers, Vidders, Gamers, Artists, and Cosplayers, by Francesca Davis DiPiazza/Illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn,
(Jan. 2018, Lerner Publishing), $37.32, ISBN: 9781512450491
Good for readers 12-16
What a time to be a fan! Fandom has gone behemoth; New York Comic-Con is the new San Diego, and people are writing their academic theses on fanfic. I feel like my tweenage self has finally been vindicated; now, if only my Wookiees Need Love, Too t-shirt still fit. Fandom: Fic Writers, Vidders, Gamers, Artists, and Cosplayers is a great, in-depth look at some of the most-loved facets of fandom: fan fiction, cosplay, vidding, gaming, and fan art. There are color photos and input from fans; tips and advice, and a nice history of fandom for newcomers and old guard alike. There’s a strong emphasis on the communities we build as fans, and extra attention paid to the more recent Cosplay is Not Consent movement taking place at fan conventions and meetups. The book looks at the positive aspects of fandom – there’s been a lot of ink spent on the in-fighting and “fake geek girl” foolishness out there – and it’s nice to read an upbeat book about fan communities. The big sticking point here is the price. At over $37 for this book, I can buy two copies of Sam Maggs’ Fangirls Guide to the Galaxy – a great readalike and an awesome book, but I’d love to have both on my shelves, you know? It’s a hard call, because this really is a good book, well-written and well-presented, and readers will definitely be drawn to it. If you’ve got the budget, go for it.
The Craft-a-Day Book: 30 Projects to Make with Recycled Materials, by Kari Cornell/Photos by Jennifer S. Larson,
(Jan. 2018, Lerner Publishing), $39.98, ISBN: 9781512413137
Good for readers and crafters 12-16
Written with an eye toward high school and college students, crafter Kari Cornell talks about finding inspiration and repurposing everything from old tin cans to mismatched socks to create new crafts. She’s big on thrift store shopping and materials swaps with friends, and she’s all about reduce, reuse, and recycle. There are 30 projects, with varying degrees of difficulty and skill, for teens to take on and make their own. Step-by-step instructions help crafters navigate projects. The crafts are fun and I love Kari Cornell’s ideas for inspiration, but there wasn’t a lot of new craft ideas to be found. I’d rather stick with books like Generation T, Sophie Maletsky’s Sticky Fingers duct tape book, and Quirk Books’ craft line of books, all of which have similar projects and… yup, they’re more affordable.
Dear Komodo Dragon, by Nancy Kelly Allen/Illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein,
(Feb. 2018, Arbordale Publishing, $17.95, ISBN: 9781607184492
Good for readers 4-9
A story about a girl with an unlikely pen pal – an honest-to-goodness, real Komodo dragon, gives kids loads of facts and teaches environmental awareness.  A young girl named Les writes to a Komodo dragon who goes by the name Komo (fair enough). She and the dragon learn about one another through fun dialogue; Les wants to know if he breathes fire, Komo is amused and corrects her knowledge with facts. The dialogue is often humorous; very tongue-in-cheek, and we see Les go from a girl dressed like a knight and ready to fight a dragon to someone who understands the threats Komodo dragons live with, be it from other, bigger dragons or from man. The artwork is soft, yet realistic; the letters appear on each spread, over the artwork, almost scrapbook-like in format. Kids will enjoy learning through the dialogue between dragon and human. As with all Arbordale books, there is a For Creative Minds session with additional facts and information. There will be a Spanish translation available.
Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant, by Jennifer Keats Curtis/Illustrated by Phyllis Saroff,
(Feb. 2018, Arbordale Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781607184508
Good for readers 5-10
Based on a true story, Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant is the story of Maggie, an elephant living at the Alaska Zoo with an older elephant named Annabelle. When Annabelle dies, Maggie is left alone and becomes despondent. Elephants are social animals; with no other elephant to befriend, and living outside of her own habitat, Maggie spends years holding onto a tire. Zookeepers ultimately make the decision to send Maggie to live at the PAWS Sanctuary, where she now lives with a herd of elephants. Maggie’s story is heartbreaking; the realistic artwork beautifully and achingly conveys emotion, from Maggie’s joy with Annabelle to her despondence, clinging to her tire, alone in her pen. This is a strong story about making good decisions and making the decisions that benefit others; putting others first, and living with empathy. The Creative Minds section includes a Q&A with elephant keeper Michelle Harvey, and touches on Maggie’s care at PAWS; the PAWS website has several videos available, including Maggie’s arrival from Alaska in 2000, and Maggie joining the herd of elephants. I’ve become an Arbordale fan since encountering their books at KidLitCon this year; they put out consistently good nonfiction for younger readers and have extra resources available online to extend learning.
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Things That Surprise You is touching, funny… giggles and tissues needed!

Things That Surprise You, by Jennifer Maschari, (Aug. 2017, Balzer + Bray), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062438928

Recommended for readers 10-13

Best friends Emily and Hazel are about to start middle school. They’ve done just about everything together, and Emily just wants things to stay the same. You can’t blame Emily; she’s had too much change over the last year, with her parents’ divorce and her sister , Mina, being treated for an eating disorder. But Hazel is changing. She’s already in with a new crowd at school – a crowd that isn’t into Emily at all – and she wants to be different. While Emily is still into their fandom, The Unicorn Chronicles, and crafting, Hazel is into lip gloss, clothes, and getting boys at school to notice her.

Things That Surprise You is a compulsively readable novel about growing up and moving on; negotiating change; making new friends, and most importantly, discovering oneself. Emily is so likable, you just want to defend her and comfort her. Older sister Mina is on her own painful journey; she could easily have become a bitter antagonist, but is written with care and compassion that will encourage readers to root for her, too. Their mother is doing the best she can with what she has, and their father just can’t cope, so he doesn’t. Each parent’s actions illustrate to kids that adults may not have all the answers, and that we make lousy decisions, too. I enjoyed reading about every character in this book, including the mean girls, who are vapid and awful and make us want to see Emily succeed even more.

This is a great book for discussion groups, because the subplots that support the main plot are all worthy discussion topics on their own: going with or against the crowd, eating disorders, self-acceptance, and navigating family relationships are just some of the things that come up. I’d love to see this on summer reading lists for next year. Nudge, nudge, teachers!

Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price and Things That Surprise You. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, and to download a free guide, visit Jennifer’s author website.

GIVEAWAY!

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Things That Surprise You… PLUS, one grand prize winner will receive their very own Crafty Unicorn Kit! The prize includes a fun craft kit, a copy of Things That Surprise You, unicorn stickers, and puzzle cards! Enter here – don’t miss out!

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Geekerella gave me feels!

Geekerella, by Ashley Poston, (Apr. 2016, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1594749476

Recommended for readers 12+

The short story: Geekerella is Cinderella for geeks, starring a fangirl and fanboy.

The slightly less short story, but short enough for review purposes: Elle is a devoted fan of the science fiction show, Starfield. Its got a fandom right up there with Star Trek and Star Wars, with conventions and cosplay, online forums and blogs. Elle’s still feeling the loss of her father, who introduced her to the love of Starfield as a child, and the mother that died when she was little. She’s living with her awful, social climbing stepmother and her vapid, beauty vlogger stepsisters and working in the vegan food truck, The Magic Pumpkin.

Darien Freeman is a teen sensation. Half-British society, half Indian, he lives with his Dadager (dad manager), who will sell Darien and his insured abs at any opportunity. Darien’s claim to fame came on an OC-type teen soap opera, but playing Federation Prince Carmindor is going to make him a star – and since he’s a Starfield fanboy, it’s kind of a dream come true. Too bad he’s miserable: his best friend sold him out to the paparazzi, he’s under fire online for taking on the role of Carmindor, and his father is a social climber who uses his son as his stepladder. And now, his dad has him going to this Starfield convention where he just knows he’s going to get eaten alive by the fandom.

Told in shifting perspectives between Elle and Darien, this is the fangirl adaptation of the Cinderella story, complete with cosplay masquerade ball, a magic pumpkin and a punk lesbian fairy godmother in the form of Sage, who works the Magic Pumpkin truck, has a fantastic eye for dress design, and quotes Lord of the Rings at will.

Geekerella hits all the feels for me. I’m a 46 year-old fangirl; a fangirl nurtured by my dad, my uncle, J.R. R. Tolkien, and the kind creators of Star Trek and Star Wars. Unlike Elle, I’m still lucky enough to have my parents, but the story and feelings resonate. Do you know how it’s going to end? Of course you do, but darned if you don’t love the journey. There’s something for every fan in here: Firefly references join hands with Lord of the Rings, Supernatural, Avengers, Trek, and Star Wars winks and nudges. You’ll embrace the characters like longtime friends (I’m partial to Sage and Frank the dachshund), because Ashley Poston’s writing to her tribe: the fans, the cosplayers, the fanfic writers, those of us who have looked beyond the ordinary and dared to see more.

Give this to your fangirls, fanboys, gamers, and geeks. Display or pair with other fandom fic like All the Feels, Queens of Geek, and The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love.

Follow Ashley Poston’s Tumblr for great fandom musings and pictures of amazing cosplay (Yuri on Ice fans, get over there now). Her website has more info about her books and an FAQ.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Kill the Boy Band takes aim at fandom

boyybandKill the Boy Band, by Goldy Moldavsky, (Feb. 2016, Point), $17.99, ISBN: 9780545867474

Recommended for ages 14+

Four super fangirls stalk their boyband favorites with disastrous results in this insanely funny dark comedy.

The Ruperts are the boy band of the moment, and our narrator – who takes on the names of ’80s teen movie heroines – and her three (mainly online) friends have a plan to be near them, securing a room in the same hotel as the boys. When one of the girls encounters her favorite Rupert (they all have the same first name) at the ice machine, she overreacts and the girls find themselves with an unconscious boy bander in their hotel suite. And things get crazier from there. Each girl has a different agenda, and before the day is over, there are going to be some ugly revelations and even uglier circumstances.

Kill the Boy Band is at once a laugh-out loud black comedy in the vein of Pulp Fiction and Fargo and a scathing look at fandom and fangirl culture. Ms. Moldavsky takes aim at the culture that expects us to destroy our idols, even as we worship them. She looks at the long-established culture of loathing popstar girlfriends, celebrity stalking, and what happens when you find out that the man behind the curtain really isn’t Oz at all.

As a Duranie who was a teenager during the social media-bereft ’80s, Kill the Boy Band made me laugh and cringe, often at the same time. With boy band and fandom culture at an all-time frenzy now, teens will recognize themselves (hopefully, not too much) or laugh in recognition of someone they know. There’s a great whodunit that will keep readers guessing until the very last page – and maybe even after. You’ll laugh, and you’ll think – it’s a great book to have a discussion group with.

Great addition to collections with a thriving teen population that’s plugged in. This should be a good summer read. For older teens, consider introducing them to Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band for a look at pre-online fandom culture.

Kill the Boy Band has been selected as an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.