Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A fairy tale retelling of the Japanese “Cinderella” within the Eva Evergreen universe

Alliana, Girl of Dragons, by Julie Abe, (Aug. 2022, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780316300353

Ages 8-12

In a Cinderella-inspired Japanese fantasy tale, Alliana is an orphan living with her cruel stepmother and stepsiblings, with only her Grandmother Mari providing any affection. When Grandmother Mari dies, Alliana is bereft and alone in a hostile home, until she rescues a baby nightdragon and meets Nela, an apprentice witch. Alliana and Nela become fast friends and the nightdragon, whom Alliana names Kabo, give her hope of escaping her home living the life she dreams of: attending the Royal Academy. Alliana, Girl of Dragons is set in the world of Julie Abe’s Eva Evergreen universe and is filled with rich fantasy worldbuilding and elements of Japanese culture. Fairy tale readers will recognize elements of the Cinderella tale, including references to Alliana being a “girl of dust”, a royal ball, and Alliana’s secret attendance. The story explores friendship and found families, resilience, and greed. Readers do not need to be familiar with Eva Evergreen – I wasn’t! – to enjoy this adventure. Filled with dragons and magic, Alliana, Girl of Dragons is a great book to recommend to fantasy readers, readers who enjoy new takes on classic fairy tales, and anime and manga fans, who will also enjoy the manga artwork that sets off every chapter and places readers in Abe’s world.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The new workplace: HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME

Help Mom Work from Home!, by Diana Murray/Illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld (Oct. 2021, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780316273657

Ages 4-7

With more parents working from home than ever before, Help Mom Work from Home! is a fun, rhyming readaloud that speaks to the work-life balance. A mom is working from home and her little one is right next to her, modeling everything from Mom’s hot beverage of choice to taking notes and important phone calls. Mom looks a little frazzled, though: it must be time for a break! Learning how to relax and take the chaos of home life as it comes, the story then leads into a look at making time for creative play and work – little one stacks cups as Mom packs boxes; they make deliveries together, they even straighten up their workplaces together. Endpapers show Mom’s packed schedule, with a childlike drawing of a solitary kid holding a red balloon scrawled across the calendar loaded with deadlines and meetings; back endpapers show a much happier schedule, filled with playdates, game nights, and library visits, and a drawing of Mom and child together, playing soccer. Is it an easy answer to the work/parent from home question? No, but it’s a helpful addition to the ever-increasing dialogue. A recognizable and relevant story with playful rhyme, Help Mom Work from Home! is a good addition to picture book collections. Visit Diana Murray’s author webpage for free printables including a word search and DIY desk nameplate.

Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Dust Bowl Post-Cataclysm! Elysium Girls ride to battle

When you have a cover this amazing, you need to go full size.

Elysium Girls, by Kate Pentecost, (Apr. 2020, Little Brown),
$17.99, ISBN: 9781368041867
Ages 12+

When I was at a Book Buzz where this book came up, the publisher rep said, “I love this book! It’s hard to describe, but it’s so good! It’s so weird!” And really, that was all I needed to hear: I wanted to read a book with a big steampunk horse on the cover. I was not disappointed.

Elysium Girls is Dust Bowl-era dystopian fiction. In 1935, while America is in the grips of the Great Depression, a giant dust cloud rolls over Oklahoma. The goddesses of Life and Death have taken this little chunk of America and placed it in its own space and time, a chessboard for their own game. The survivors of the storm have 10 years to maintain order and set aside a third of their crops as a sacrifice for a chance to survive. Mother Morevna, an ailing witch in charge of a settlement called Elysium, takes on Sal, a teenaged apprentice, when a stranger calling himself Asa Skander arrives with supplies and a knack for magic himself. Sal and Asa are exiled from Elysium following a duel, where they meet a group of young women who have their own histories with Elysium and beyond. Facing the final days of the contest, a rising death toll, and plummeting spirits, Elysium and the group of women – and Asa – join forces once more to face the coming Dust Soldiers and attempt to break the game in order to win it.

This book is AMAZING. A dystopian historical fiction piece placing readers in Depression-Era Dust Bowl America? It’s a great concept, and Kate Pentecost touches on the endemic racism that endures even among the survivors; her description of the Dust Sickness that eats away at the populace is so gritty and raw that you’ll want a sip of water and to clear your throat as you read. Sal emerges as a smart heroine that comes into her confidence as a magic user, and Asa, who could easily have been sidelined as a cardboard supporting character, has a good backstory and has a character arc that really develops him nicely. Supporting characters all get fleshed out nicely, and should easily get reader investment.

The shifting perspective, from Sal’s first-person narration to third-person narration, takes a little getting used to, but I feel into the rhythm pretty quickly. The action is fast-paced, and dialogue will keep readers turning pages as different plots and subplots become revealed. I loved this one, and really, REALLY, want my own metal horse now.

Give this one to your new generation of post-cataclysm readers. (I can’t believe there’s a new generation of them, but wow: Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent are all a decade old, and then some. Wow.)

 

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Holly Black’s newest fantasy series begins with The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black, (Jan. 2018, Little, Brown), $18.99, ISBN: 9780316310277

Recommended for readers 12+

I have been insanely excited about this book since I saw Holly Black talk about it during her panel with Ryan Graudin at BookExpo last year, so when the ARC showed up on NetGalley, I jumped on it. It was worth the wait, because The Cruel Prince is Holly Black at her high fantasy, intrigue and betrayal finest.

Jude is a mortal girl, raised with her twin sister, Taryn, and half-sister sister, Vivi, in the Court of Fairie. By the main that killed her parents, who also happens to be Vivi’s father. The two human sisters want desperately to belong, but are looked down upon for their mortality; the Folk use every opportunity to sneer at and humiliate them, and fiery Jude takes most of the abuse. Cruelest of them all is Prince Cardan, the youngest son of the High King. When Jude is given the chance to become part of a shadowy group of spies, she grabs at the chance, and discovers her own capacities for bloodshed and double-dealing. And that will serve her well as the Court of Faerie moves toward a big change: one that will see Jude making and breaking alliances to save those closest to her.

There is SO much to unpack here, and it’s all brilliant. The characters are as loathsome as they are amazing – and that’s said with the highest compliment. The faerie folk are beautiful, cruel, entitled, and immortal; we love them as much as we hate them. Jude emerges as a strong heroine; conflicted by loving the man who raised her as his own, yet murdered her parents in cold blood; conflicted by her desire to live among the Folk as one of them, yet disgusted by their capacity for cruelty. There are plot twists that you won’t see coming, and betrayals that will make you yelp. If you’re a high fantasy fan – or have readers who are – this is a must have for your shelves. Now, to tensely wait for the next installment. (In the meantime, pick up Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.)

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Invictus violates the Prime Directive and it’s brilliant!

Invictus, by Ryan Graudin, (Sept. 2017, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780316503075

Recommended for readers 13+

I’m a big Doctor Who fan, so when I saw Ryan Graudin talking about her then-upcoming book, Invictus, at BookExpo earlier this year – and talked about Doctor Who‘s influence on the show – I knew this was going on my TBR. I was not disappointed.

Farway Gaius McCarthy is born outside of time, the son of a time-traveling Recorder (think researcher with a video camera) and a Roman gladiator from 95AD. All Far’s wanted to do is explore history, but someone’s set him up, and he fails his final time-traveling exam. He’s contacted by a shady operation with a offer he can’t refuse: he gets his own ship, puts together his own crew, and gets to travel through history to steal treasures from the past. He recruits his cousin, Imogene, as historian: the brains of the operation, putting together costumes and researching historical eras; his girlfriend, Priya, as the medic; and his friend and game fiend, Gram, as navigator. They get a cut of the payday and vacations in between missions. It’s all good – until a mission on the Titanic puts Far up against the very woman that caused him to fail his final exam. Eliot is a woman with secrets, but she needs Far, for some reason. She cajoles her way onto his crew, leading them on a mission back in time that will have huge consequences not only for Far and his crew, but for the universe.

I loved Invictus! Not only is is loaded with amazing little Doctor Who references – don’t worry, if you’re not a fan, you won’t miss out on anything – it’s a space opera with humor, adventure, and a devil-may-care hero who could have DNA from Captain Kirk and Han Solo. Far is a brash swashbuckler who hates not having all the info, but he also knows how to play his cards right. He’s got his own demons: his mother’s disappearance haunts him, as does his expulsion from the academy, and he takes the responsibility of protecting and keeping his crew safe and happy very seriously. Eliot is a colossal monkey wrench thrown into his works, and he has no choice but to stick with her and get to the bottom of things. There are wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey subplots (that’s a Doctor Who reference) and intrigue that will keep sci-fi fans turning pages. Prime Directive? (That’s a Star Trek reference.) Pfft, what’s that? That’s for academy kids.

History-hopping, time-jumping, big drama, a sense of humor, and a diverse cast of characters make Invictus such good sci-fi reading. More, please! Invictus has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA.

Ryan Graudin is an award-winning YA author. Her Wolf by Wolf duology was a 2017 Carnegie Medal nominee and won the 2017 Sequoyah Book Award. Check out her author page for more information her books, her appearances, and sign up for her newsletter.

Posted in Fantasy, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Fire and Ice meet in Frostblood

frostbloodFrostblood, by Elly Blake, (Jan. 2017, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780316273251

Recommended for ages 12+

Ruby is a 17 year-old girl living with her mother, learning the healing arts, until the soldiers come to her village. Ruby’s also a Fireblood – she has power over heat and flame, however unrefined – and in Ruby’s world, ruled by the Frostbloods, Ruby’s kind is hunted down. Her mother is killed trying to protect her, and Ruby is imprisoned, shackled to a wall and tormented by her captors. Rescued by rebel Frostbloods, she’s trained to wield her power in the hopes that she can melt the Ice Throne that warps the king’s mind and increases her power, returning peace to the land. She has one chance to destroy the throne, or it will mean certain death for the monks who have sheltered her and the Frostblood she finds herself falling in love with.

Frost Blood is the first in a new fantasy series that pits ice wielders against fire users in an age-old conflict, and I’m on board for this. This first installment has solid world-building and creates a nice history of fire and frost for readers. I cared about the characters, I got angry at some characters, I was invested. Medieval-world fantasy fans will grab this one, for sure. Display and booktalk with Sarah Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series, and Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha (Shadow & Bone) series.

 

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

I’m a CYBILS Judge!

cybils

I can finally talk about it! I’m thrilled to be a CYBILS judge again, returning to the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category. There have been SO many great books published, and I’ll be diving into the finalists this time around, as a second round judge. Wanna see who’s up for the award? Take a look, and adjust your TBRs accordingly.

grace-lin

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, (Oct. 2016, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 978-0316125925

Inspired by Chinese folklore, this companion to the Newbery Honor Winner, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, is the story of a girl on a mission to save her kidnapped grandmother.

voyage-to-magical-north

The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers, (July 2016, Henry Holt & Co.), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1627794206

An orphan keeps house for an irritable magician and his equally obnoxious apprentice, and ends up accidentally becoming a pirate.

smallbone

The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, (Sept. 2016, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0763688059

A boy runs away from his uncle’s home, discovers a bookstore run by a self-proclaimed Evil Wizard who won’t let him leave, but calls him his apprentice.

shadow-magic

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan, (April 2016, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1484732724

An outlaw’s son is sold into slavery. A girl is the last surviving member of her family, a line of dark sorcerers. Together, they’ll break the rules.

memory-thief

The Memory Thief, by Bryce Moore, (Sept. 2016, Adaptive Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781945293030

This was published as a Barnes & Noble exclusive in 2016, but is being published in wide release this March.

Twins wander off at a county fair; Benji, the brother, wanders into a tent where he meets an old man who collects memories. He asks to train as a Memory Thief and ends up on an adventure.

goblin-puzzle

The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice, by Andrew Chilton, (Jan. 2016, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0553520705

A fantasy adventure filled with dragons, goblins, and puzzles.

firefly-code

The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, (May 2016, Bloomsbury USA), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1619636361

When a new girl moves to Firefly Lane, a girl and her friends start questioning everything they’ve known.

 

I’ll recap after we select a winner!

 

 

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Intermediate

The Dragonsitter is adorable fantasy for young readers!

dragonsitterThe Dragonsitter, by Josh Lacey/Illustrated by Gary Parsons (Sept. 2015, Little, Brown), $15, ISBN: 978-0316298964

Recommended for ages 6-10

Eddie’s got a huge problem. He and his mother agreed to watch Uncle Morton’s pet dragon, Ziggy, while he was away, but the dragon is causing all problems – the curtains are on fire, the neighbor’s cats are under attack, and let’s not even talk about the poop. Eddie’s trying to get in touch with Uncle Morton to find out what to do, but he’s not hearing back – and Eddie’s mom is getting fed up! Will Uncle Morton have any advice that can save the day? Will he even get in touch with Eddie?

Told via e-mails (mostly Eddie’s), The Dragonsitter is an adorable beginning chapter book for readers ready to graduate from easy readers. It’s a sweet introduction to fantasy, with a churlish pet dragon and a hapless young petsitter who’s doing his best. The tone of the e-mails goes from nervous to frustrated to exasperated, with more and more laughs as the story progresses, and the black and white illustrations by Gary Parsons add even more humor to the story. We get steaming piles of dragon poop, angry mom holding up receipts for the damage Ziggy’s causing, and profile photos on the emails flying back and forth that tell a lot more of the story.

The Dragonsitter is the first in the Josh Lacey’s Dragonsitter series. You can check out Josh Lacey’s author page for information about the other books in the series, including a sixth one that will come out in 2016!

Posted in Espionage, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

The League of Unexceptional Children – Be Ordinary and Save the World!

leagueThe League of Unexceptional Children, by Gitty Daneshvari (Oct. 2015, Little, Brown), $17.99, ISBN: 9780316405706

Recommended for ages 9-12

Jonathan and Shelly are average. Forgettable, even. They don’t stand out, they’re not super-genius smart, and hardly anyone remembers their names five minutes after meeting them. And that’s what makes them the perfect spies. When the Vice President of the United States is kidnapped, Jonathan and Shelly find themselves recruited into the League of Unexceptional Children to find out who’s behind the kidnapping and to save the world: it seems that the VP isn’t the strongest-willed guy around, and happens to have access to some very important codes that could bring some big problems if they were to get out. Can Jonathan and Shelly save the day?

This is a hilarious beginning to a new series by Gitty Daneshvari, who’s authored the Monster High and School of Fear middle grade series. The kids in my library are ALWAYS asking me where these books are, so I know this book is a no-brainer for my shelves. Most of the adults are as hapless as the kids, and Jonathan and Shelly have a great rapport and go at one another like a regular Nick and Nora (look it up, kids). Shelly makes grandiose boasts about her abilities, while Jonathan is a little more down-to-earth, and their back and forth will leave you chuckling and inwardly wincing with awkwardness. Boys and girls alike will love this one. Heck, build a program around it and show a season of Code Name: Kids Next Door to kick off a Secret Agent Day!

Gitty Daneshvari’s author page is loaded with great little things to do. Kids (and adults!) can contact her, check out her blog, request a Skype session for your class or library, and meet Harriet, the Literary Bulldog.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Woundabout debates the pros and cons of change

woundaboutWoundabout, by Lev Rosen/Illus. by Ellis Rosen (June 2015, Little, Brown), $17, ISBN: 978-0-316-37078-3

Recommended for ages 9-13
When their dads are killed during a bomb explosion at their capybara training camp, siblings Connor and Cordelia are sent to live with their Aunt Marigold and her driver, Gray, in the odd town of Woundabout. There are no kids in Woundabout – they all go to boarding school. They’re told that asking questions is frowned upon, there’s no Internet service, and they’re told to develop and stick to a daily routine. They meet a boy from a neighboring town and together, they start unraveling – or unwinding – some of the secrets kept by the Mayor of Woundabout.
This is a good read for so many reasons. It addresses grief and loss sensitively and with a touch of humor. Every one of the main characters is dealing with a loss of some sort, which propels not only the narrative, but the town of Woundabout itself. Sickness, injury, death, relationships: all of these areas are explored in terms of loss and moving on, and the book can lead to a great discussion about the pros and cons of change in our lives. There are no absolutes, and that’s the message here: there shouldn’t be. For good or bad, change happens and we have to move along with it.
I love that Connor and Cordelia’s parentage is so sweetly addressed. They’re the kids’ parents. That’s it. The illustrations and text show readers that there is “Dad” and “Pop”, and that they adored their children as much as they adored each other. Its very ubiquity makes it stand out as an important facet of the story.
Ellis Rosen’s black and white illustrations add a fun, quirky feel to this unconventional adventure, giving a slightly moody, unbalanced feel to the town of Woundabout.
Woundabout is fun fantasy with some very realistic fiction issues. It’s a great Summer Reading pick. It’s on sale on June 23, so make sure to get your orders in now!