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

Beep and Bob bring the fun to intermediate sci-fi

I’m always on the lookout for good intermediate books (and good easy readers). There’s such an importance to good chapter books to develop that initial love of books into something really special; some kids can be a little scared by the leap from easy reader to chapter book, so you want to make sure you find that magic combination of artwork and story that will draw readers right in. When a publicist friend of mine sent copies of the first three Beep and Bob books by Jonathan Roth, she knew I’d love them and want to booktalk them. And what can I say? She was right.

Beep and Bob: Too Much Space! (Beep and Bob #1), by Jonathan Roth, (March 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481488532

Ages 6-10

Here we have Beep and Bob’s origin story and first adventure: Bob is a kid who goes to school in space; he’s the new kid at a school called Astro Elementary, and space is apparently terrifying. Thankfully, he has a little alien friend named Beep at his side Beep’s a little guy who lost his 600 siblings while playing hide and seek in an asteroid field; he knocked on a door at Astro Elementary, Bob answered, and a friendship was born. Beep has bonded to Bob and thinks of him as a mother, even calling him “Bob-mother”. Luckily for the duo, the teachers let Beep stick with Bob throughout the school day. Bob’s got some other friends, including Lani, a supersmart girl who carries three supersmart pet spiders in a jar; and Blaster, kind of a bully, who likes to raise Bob’s hand and volunteer him for class missions: like being the first on the field trip to explore Pluto. Or exploring near the event horizon of a black hole. Which is where we find Beep and Bob in this first adventure: trying to escape, and save Lani’s spiders, from being sucked into the black hole (or, as Professor Zoome puts it, “the bye-bye-forever zone”). Can they make it out safe? (Hint: it’s the first book in a series, you tell me.)

Too Much Space! is a fun start to a new series. There’s a little bit of science fact tossed into the fun to give kids an idea of what exactly a black hole can do (bye-bye forever is certainly a clear explanation to me), and Beep’s observations are hilarious and even sweet. Extra-Credit Fun Space Facts gives drops some non-fiction knowledge related to the adventure: in this case, the discovery of Pluto , it’s downgrade to a dwarf planet, and the fact that it is seriously cold. Pair even pacing, fun writing, and outrageous scenarios with black and white artwork throughout, and this is the start of a beautiful friendship between Beep, Bob, and your readers. I started this one with my first grader last night, and he’s getting a big kick out of Beep and the whole Astro Elementary idea – but he’s not quite ready to jettison off into space just yet.

 

Beep and Bob: Party Crashers (Beep and Bob #2), by Jonathan Roth, (March 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481488563

Ages 6-10

The second series of Bob’s Splog entries (space log entries – that make up each Beep and Bob adventure) starts off with a similar story: Bob introduces himself, Astro Elementary, and Beep’s origin. Rather than space being terrifying, though, this time, he asserts that “SPACE IS STUPENDOUSLY BORING”! This time out, things perk up a bit when Lani invites Beep, Bob, and the other Astro Elementary gang to her birthday party aboard the Starship Titanic! (Douglas Adams fans, this is where you chuckle.) It’s got everything: gravity, for starters, which is pretty fantastic; water parks, amusement parks, and 12 million hypershow channels on TV! What doesn’t it have? Ahem… escape pods. Because it’s indestructible. Where have you heard that before? Oh, and there’s a jewelry thief running around the ship, too. It’s up to Beep and Bob to save the day again!

Party Crashers ups the ante from Too Much Space by bringing the laughs and the crazy situations. We have the Titanic parallels, including the captain, a descendant of the original ship’s captain, who doesn’t know how to pilot his ship because everything is pretty much done for him. He spends most of his day in the amusement park! Throw in a little Agatha Christie-type whodunit mixed with some Star Wars humor, and laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book, and Party Crashers is a strong follow-up to Too Much Space. The Extra-Credit Fun section is all about Neptune, the planet posing a danger in this installment. Black and white artwork is plentiful and adorable.

 

Beep and Bob: Take Us To Your Sugar (Beep and Bob #3), by Jonathan Roth, (Sept. 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481488594

Ages 6-10

Oh NO! Not only is space alternately terrifying and boring, now there’s a problem with THE FOOD! The artificial sweetinizer is broken, and Mr. DaVinci – the school maintenance man, whose genius goes unappreciated – is taking his sweet time fixing it. Bob needs sugar, and he needs it fast, so he decides to come up with his own holiday: Astroween! You see, Astro Elementary doesn’t celebrate Earth holidays, because they’re in space, so Bob and Lani form a secret club called S.C.A.R.E.S. (Society of Candy Addicts who Rely on Energy from Sugar) and employ some quick thinking to create an entirely new holiday and convince Principal Quark to let the school celebrate Astroween. It’s a success but as the kids are planning their costumes and waiting for the candy rush, Beep convinces Bob to send a message out into space, hoping to attract some of his own kind. The message ends up attracting a bunch of sugar-crazy aliens who want to convert all the candy into power for their fleet! Beep and Bob are going to need to do some fast thinking and talking to get out of this one.

Take Us to Your Sugar is a sweeter (no pun intended) adventure in this series, as Lani and Bob start thinking of how lonely Beep feels as the only one of his kind aboard the ship. It’s no less amusing, especially with the addition of the long-suffering Mr. DaVinci, who can’t seem to believe that human race has progressed to the stars and yet… we’ve stayed relatively simple. The Extra-Credit is on Earth holidays and planetary years.

Jonathan Roth has created a smart, humorous series with heart for intermediate readers. Have readers who aren’t quite ready for Diary of a Wimpy Kid but want something funny to read? This is the series for them. There’s a fourth book coming – Double Trouble – next  month, so invest in this series now and get your readers in at the beginning. Beep and Bob was named one of Scholastic Teacher Magazine’s “50 Magical Books for Summer”. Jonathan Roth’s Beep and Bob webpage has loads of info about the author and his series, including scans of his artwork from childhood on – he’s an elementary school teacher, so he knows how to talk to kids! – and there’s an adorable, free PDF available to teach readers how to draw Beep.  Absolute cuteness.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

October graphic novels have something for everyone!

There are some solid graphic novels hitting shelves in October: LGBTQ+ positive stories and a dystopian adventure for tweens and teens, and for tweens and teens, Art Baltazar’s adorable artwork for kids are just a few of the books you can look forward to. Let’s dive in!

 

Gillbert, Vol. 1: The Little Merman, by Art Baltazar, (Oct. 2018, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781545801451

Ages 6-10

If you have readers who get a kick out of Joey Weiser’s Mermin books, they’ll love Art Baltazar’s Gillbert: The Little Merman! He’s the son of King Nauticus and the prince of Atlanticus, and he’s surrounded by cool friends, like his turtle buddy, Sherbert, and his starfish buddy, Albert. One day, he meets playful mermaid named Anne Phibian, who takes him to a rocking party at WeWillRockTropolis. Meanwhile, aliens invade Earth, but quick action by Queen Niadora and her alien friend, Teeq, save the day.

Art Baltazar creates art that kids love: Tiny Titans; Grimmiss Island; DC Super Pets, and countless more comics have his signature bold, bright artwork and zest for zany adventure. He’s got kid-friendly artwork, storylines, and humor that kids eat up. When my library kids are too young for the DC comics on “the other side of the library” (the teen collection), but still want superheroes, I give them Art Baltazar’s books, and they’re thrilled.

Gillbert’s first outing looks like it’s the start to a fun new under-the-sea series. Papercutz won’t steer you wrong; add this one to your graphic novel shelves.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace, by Maggie Thrash, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $18.99, ISBN: 9780763694197

Ages 13+

Acclaimed Honor Girl author Maggie Thrash’s latest book is a continuing memoir with a touch of fiction. A year and a half after the events of Honor Girl, Maggie is spiraling into a deep depression. She’s failing 11th grade; her stuffy, image-consumed mother is baffled, and her workaholic father, a federal judge, pays no attention to her. The only thing Maggie cares about is her cat, Tommi, who seemingly disappears in her rambling home. While searching for Tommi, Maggie discovers a ghost named Tommy, who leads her to peel back layers of her father’s life and see him through new eyes.

Maggie Thrash beautifully captures the tedium and angst of adolescence and the hopelessness of depression. The feeling of shouting into the void is poignantly captured when she opens up about coming out… and being ignored, regardless. She maintains a bitter sense of humor through her journey, making her likeable and relatable, and her watercolor artwork intensifies the feeling of being not-quite-there.

Lost Soul, Be at Peace is a beautifully thoughtful graphic memoir and a must-add to upper middle school and YA collections. Download an author note (also included in the back matter) and Maggie Thrash’s Top 10 Songs for Lost Souls playlist here; view a sample chapter here. Lost Soul, Be at Peace has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

 

Last Pick, by Jason Walz, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728912

Ages 10+

Last Pick is the first in a new dystopian trilogy. Three years ago, aliens invaded earth, taking everyone between the ages of 16 and 65: everyone they deemed “useful”. The survivors left behind live under cruel rule. Too young, too old, too disabled, they’re seen as worthless, receiving slim food rations and living under constant threat. But Sam and Wyatt, a twin brother and sister, are about to change all that. Sam’s the rebel, distributing food and fomenting revolution; Wyatt, her special needs brother, is the brains of the operation: he’s cataloging the aliens, and knows how to work with their technology. They start disrupting the aliens’ plans and making themselves a general nuisance until the aliens decide they’re too much of a threat, right on the eve of their 16th birthday.

Last Pick is SO GOOD. I tore through this one during a lunch hour; it’s compulsive reading with a tight storyline and characters you want to root for. Aliens appear to be enthralled with earth culture and are played in part as comic relief, from the overlord who seems to be influenced by American Westerns, affecting a cowboy-type flavor of speech, to the gooey creature that shares a love of Ultraman with Wyatt. There’s some intrigue going on among the aliens, too; I’m looking forward to learning more in the next installment. Sam and Wyatt are a solid sister-brother unit; Wyatt’s special needs appear to place him on the autism spectrum, and Sam acts as his partner and protector. An underground radio broadcaster, a Latinx who refers to herself as La Sonida, offers moments of retrospection and I hope we get more of her, too.

Adventure, science fiction, and dystopian fans are going to love this. If you have readers who love Spill Zone and Mighty Jack, hand them this one. Last Pick has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden, (Oct. 2018, First Second), $21.99, ISBN: 9781250178138

Ages 14+

Eisner Award winner Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam collects all the installments of her webcomic. It’s a science fiction adventure in a universe that embraces all relationships. Mia is a young woman on a reconstruction crew that travels through space, restoring buildings and structures. The narrative shifts between the present and Mia’s past, where she fell in love at boarding school with a girl named Grace; a girl who was taken away by her family before Mia could say goodbye. Mia learns more about her crewmates and their own stories as they travel through space, ultimately creating a family of their own.

The cast is incredibly, wonderfully, diverse. There’s Char, the co-captain; she’s an African American woman who shares captain duties with her Caucasian wife, Alma: “Char may have the degrees, but Alma knows how to yell”, according to one character, Jules. Jules should know: she’s Alma’s niece, taken in when her mother – Alma’s sister – died. Jules seems to be the youngest member of the crew; she’s most likely a teen, loves playing games, and is the happy optimist of the crew. Ell/Elliot is a Caucasian nonbinary person who prefers they/them/their pronouns – and the crew vociferously defends their right to those pronouns, as Ell is nonverbal. Grace, Mia’s lost love, is African American.

As the narrative shifts between Mia’s past and present, we see Mia and Grace’s relationship develop, right up until Grace’s departure from the school. The color palette shifts with the narrative: cooler colors like blues and purples dominate the flashbacks, while warmer colors creep during the present day. Mia is the central character, but every character in this novel has a story to tell. This is a book I had to move back and forth with during the first few chapters; not having read the webcomic, I wasn’t altogether sure I was reading a connected story until I got the hang of the shifts, and of Mia’s place in them. Stick with the story: it’s an wonderful work of queer speculative fiction that deserves a spot on your shelves. On a Sunbeam is good for young adult/new adult readers.

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

Mecha Samurai Empire – Crossover YA/Adult SciFi!

Mecha Samurai Empire (United States of Japan #2), by Peter Tieryas, (Sept. 2018, Berkley Publishing Group), $16, ISBN: 9780451490995

Ages 14+

This is a fantastic crossover novel for any sci-fi/fantasy fans, manga and anime fans, and alternate history fans out there.  I did NOT want to put this one down!

The backstory: The AXIS powers (primarily Germany and Japan, for purposes of this novel) won what we know as World War II. America is now known as the United States of Japan, and Germany shares control to some degree, of the American territories. It’s an uneasy alliance between Japan and Germany, and the terrorists known as the George Washingtons are always ready to fight.

Now: Makoto Fujimoto is a young man born and raised in California, orphaned by war and raised by an abusive foster home, now a student with one goal: to attend the Berkeley Military Academy and become a mecha pilot. His awful grades threaten his dream, but a chance to work as a civilian mech pilot gives him a chance to get into shape and learn some skills. When his squadron comes under attack by Nazi bio-mechs, he and his surviving squadmate land two spots at the Military Academy, just in time for tensions between the USJ and Nazi Germany to hit an all-time high. There are traitors everywhere… maybe even among Makoto’s old friends.

I LOVED this book. I haven’t read the first book, United States of Japan, and you don’t need to – this adventure takes place in the same universe, but Makoto’s story is entirely his own. (You can bet that I’ve just requested it for myself, and put both books in order cart for the library, though.) There’s fantastic action and world-building; gratuitous mech battles; intrigue, and strong characters. Peter Tieryas creates some wonderfully strong, intelligent female characters and gives his male characters empathy and feeling. Pacific Rim fans, Harry Turtledove fans, and Man in the High Castle fans will dive right into this series, and so will your anime and manga fans. I’ve already booktalked this one to a teen at my library; he fully expects this to be waiting here for him when it hits shelves on September 18th.

Get your geek on and booktalk/display with Garrison Girl and some gundam manga.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Garrison Girl: YA in the Attack on Titan universe!

Garrison Girl: An Attack on Titan novel, by Rachel Aaron, (Aug. 2018, Quirk Books), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-68369-061-0

Ages 12+

Humanity lives in walled cities while giant titans roam the earth. They’re without sense, without intelligence, motivated by a ravenous hunger for human flesh. The military guards the walls, always watching, always waiting. Rosalie Dumarque is the daughter of a wealthy, prominent general; her only purpose in life is to marry well and bring honor to her family, but that’s not going to work for Rosalie. She graduated from military school with honors, and she wants to fight titans, not get married. She convinces her father to let her serve for the six months before her wedding; he sends her to the Wall Rose Garrison in the hopes that she’ll be scared off. With titans wandering too close to the wall, death is always a possibility; under the command of Jax Cunningham, it’s more of a certainty. But Rosalie, along with new friends Willow and Emmett, are determined to stick it out and improve. At first, Rosalie is looked down on as the rich girl, but her commitment to the wall and Rose Garrison quickly makes her part of the team. She even manages to get through to Jax, who starts seeing her as more than a spoiled rich girl. The specter of her engagement looms as a romance blooms between the two, and when Rosalie decides that six months isn’t enough for her, she risks losing her father’s respect and her family’s support. BUT WHO CARES? THERE ARE TITANS, MAN!

Garrison Girl is a YA novel set in the Attack on Titan universe. Look, I’d never seen an episode or cracked open an Attack on Titan manga in my life before Ivy at Quirk sent me this book; I had a vague notion of what the story is about, so that was good enough for me. I finished the book in a day and a half. I refused to put it down, it was so good. These are original characters in a familiar universe, but if you’ve never set foot in that universe before, fear not! The book gets you up to speed pretty quickly with everything you need to know, and the action hits fast, hard, and brutally. I turned to my 14 year-old, who watches anime and reads manga, and said, “HE ATE A GUY!” My son sagely nodded and said, “Yup. Like a carrot.” I threw the book down on the couch in the break room at work and yelled at the end, and had a coworker comment, “You read books like people watch movies”. Well, yes, I do, and if you read this book, you will too. There are characters you will love and want to shield with your own body, and there are characters you will want to punch until a titan walks by and munches on them like potato chips. The book moves fast, the characters are well-thought out and written, and the action and tension are equally high. Fantasy fans, add this to your TBR. Put this on your Attack on Titan displays.

And, Rachel and Ivy? We’re getting more of this, right? RIGHT?

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

Art takes on a new dimension in The Maker

The Maker, by D.F. Anderson, (Jan. 2018, Underdog Books), $14.95, ISBN: 9780991800346

Recommended for readers 9-13

Thirteen-year-old Nate loves to draw. It’s one of his lasting connections with his father, who’s been gone for months, with no word. His mother’s boyfriend, Ted, goes at Nate whenever he gets a chance, insulting his artwork and attacking his grades; his mother is no comfort. Things change rapidly for Nate when a group of aliens show up at his window one night, telling him that he and his father are Makers: artists with the talent to bring their drawings to life. Nate’s father hasn’t abandoned them, he’s been kidnapped, and the aliens from the planet Meer are relying on Nate to help them save his father and the other kidnapped Makers before a cruel alien race wipes them out – and then heads for Earth.

The Maker has a great concept: using living beings as 3-D printers, when you think about it. By channeling their talents, Makers can give life to their drawings to create starships, cities… the sky’s the limit. The Makers connect with an energy source, mica, to give shape to their ideas; they can collaborate on large projects, or work individually to create small, detailed pieces. Readers will get into the sci-fi adventure story and relate to Nate, a kid who’s been put down to the point where he doesn’t believe in his own talent until put to the test – and then exceeds his wildest dreams. The evil parent/boyfriend situation is addressed in a neatly wrapped-up plotline. There are warring alien races, planet-eating machines to stop, and strong relationships that sci-fi and fantasy fans will enjoy, plus some moments of humor, including an evil alien who can be tortured… by pulling on his toe. Made you smile!

Add this to collections where you have sci-fi readers. Display this with some maker titles, and have a booktalk ready when kids come over and ask why it’s there.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Stories of Fearless Females – First Second’s got you covered!

First Second consistently puts out great graphic novels for readers, no matter what age. Fiction or non-fiction, kids, teen, or adult, if it’s coming from First Second, I read it, love it, and get it on my shelves. This spring, there’s something for everyone, with some amazing ladies taking the reins and heading up their own books – plus, a nonfiction collection profiling women who broke the rules and beat the daylights out of the mold-maker, while they were at it.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu,
(March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626728691
Recommended for readers 12+

First up is Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World; profiles of 29 outstanding women from across time, across the world. We know many of their names, but did you know their accomplishments? Did you know that Margaret Hamilton, who defined Wicked Witch with her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, embraced her terrifying alter ego  – and used her as a bargaining chip for higher pay in Hollywood? How about Temple Grandin, whose research on farm animals led to major changes in the factory farming industry and a push toward animal well-being? Not bad, for someone whose father wanted her institutionalized when she was diagnosed with autism as a child.

I could gush on and on about Brazen. It’s a must-add to your collections; display and booktalk right next to Sam Maggs’ Wonder Women, Jason Porath’s Rejected Princesses, and National Geographic’s Book of Heroines. Bagieu creates perfect, bite-sized biographies of these phenomenal women, making readers want to know more. A list of 30 more rebel ladies who rocked the world whets appetites at the end of the book, and we even get a little bio on our author/artist, Pénélope Bagieu. I’ve enjoyed her previous graphic novels, Exquisite Corpse (for grown-ups) and California Dreamin’, the story of musician Mama Cass. Don’t pass up putting Brazen in your teen space.

 

Star Scouts: The League of Lasers, by Mike Lawrence,
(March 2018, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626722811
Recommended for readers 8-12

The much-anticipated sequel to 2017’s Star Scouts is here! Avani Patel is rocking the Star Scouts, so much that she’s been invited to join a secret society of elite scouts: The League of Lasers. Sounds awesome, right? But there’s a catch: she has to survive her initiation challenge. While on her way to the planet where she’s supposed to undergo her challenge, her ship throws her off course and crash lands onto a strange planet. With a methane atmosphere. And she’s stranded with Pam, her nemesis. Together, the two Scouts have to figure out how to survive – and to do that, they need to put their differences past them.

I love this series for so many reasons: there’s a child of color leading the pack; there are messages about resilience and teamwork; and most importantly, it’s just so much fun! Mike Lawrence’s dialogue between characters is never slow and never dull, and always believable. He tackles middle grade situations like disagreements and jealousy between friends, but always makes sure to bring things to a resolution through talking and mutual understanding. The humor is smart and the artwork is engaging. Give this to all your Zita the Spacegirl fans and tell them to make space in their hearts for the Star Scouts.

 

Scarlett Hart, Monster Hunter, by Marcus Sedgwick/Illustrated by Thomas Taylor,
(April 2018, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626720268
Recommended for readers 10-13

YA author Marcus Sedgwick (Saint Death, Ghosts of Heaven) writes for middle grade with the start of a new series about a teenage monster hunter following in her parents’ footsteps. Scarlett Hart is the orphaned daughter of legendary monster hunters, determined to carry on the family business. The only thing is, she according to the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities (just call it The Academy), Scarlett’s underage, and hunting monsters is against the law. Luckily, Scarlett’s manservant, Napoleon, is there to help, driving Scarlett around London and acting as the face for her kills so they can get paid on hang onto their family estate. The sticky wicket is Count Stankovic, her parents’ – and now Scarlett’s – archrival, who always manages to show up and take credit for her work while threatening to rat her out to the Academy. Naturally, the monster situation gets out of control, and Scarlett roars into action, danger and the law be darned!

Scarlett Hart is a fun monster-catching adventure romp, with a dieselpunk feel and a spunky young heroine. Thomas Taylor is the original illustrator of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and knows fantasy art. There’s humor, adventure, and fun to be had; a nice start to a new graphic novel series. Give these to your Delilah Dirk readers, and consider re-introducing readers to Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack.

 

The City on the Other Side, by Mairghread Scott/Illustrated by Robin Robinson,
(April 2018, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626724570
Recommended for readers 9-13

It’s early 20th-century San Francisco, and Isabel is bored. Her high-society mother expects her to be quiet, well-behaved, and flawless – clean, pressed, clothes in perfect repair. She’s shuttled off to her artist father for the summer, but he’s too wrapped up in his work to pay much attention to her, either. Taking matters into her own hands, Isabel explores the woods by her father’s home and stumbles into a fairy world: a world where two kingdoms are at war! She receives a magical necklace to keep safe, and, with the help of some new companions, sets off to end the war before it destroys the fairy world and our own world.

 

The City on the Other Side is high fantasy mixed with historical fiction, making for an exciting adventure for middle grade fantasy fans. The heroine is a girl of color, of Spanish origin; she’s smart, determined, and sick and tired of being treated like she’s an object for someone’s mantelpiece. She’s a good role model for readers who enjoy Zita, Avani from Star Scouts, and Maddy from Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Bayou Magic.

 

Crafty Cat and the Great Butterfly Battle, by Charise Mericle Harper,
(April 2018, First Second), $13.99, ISBN: 9781626724877
Recommended for readers 8-10

The third Crafty Cat comic book has Birdie – whose alter ego is crafty superheroine Crafty Cat – ready to take the lead role in her school play about bugs. The problem is, everyone wants the role: it’s a butterfly! Anya is back, and she wants to be the butterfly, too – and Anya always seems to get her way. Looks like a job for Crafty Cat!

I really enjoy the Crafty Cat series, and so do my library kids. Birdie is a likable character who always manages to find a way to make the best of a lousy situation; she uses crafts – and by extension, her superhero identity as Crafty Cat – to help her focus and see different possibilities. Crafty Cat is an optimistic book with an upbeat character, and it’s great fun for kids to have as a go-to on the shelves. This volume comes with five butterfly-related crafts, including a butterfly with moving wings, a hair clip, and a bookmark.

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, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

An Unkindness of Ghosts is sci-fi worthy of Octavia Butler

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon, (Oct. 2017, Akashic Books), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-588-0

Recommended for readers 16+

The HSS Matilda is a massive spaceship, carrying what may well be the last of humanity through the stars, in search of a new, promised land in the wake of Earth’s ruination. Over time, the decks have become segregated by race and wealth, with the lower decks living with and suffering under abysmal conditions and treated like workhorses. Aster is a curious, angry young woman determined to find out what happened to her mother – why would she commit suicide when Aster was born? She also assists the ship’s Surgeon General, Theo, with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of medicine and herbology. All the while, she’s waiting and planning for a day when rebellion will come – and with a tyrannical Lieutenant about to rule, that day will come soon.

If you’ve read Octavia Butler, you will love An Unkindness of Ghosts. Rivers Solomon examines gender, sexuality, and social class using a starship and a narrative that moves smoothly between the third person and first person, giving us deeper insight into the characters and Matilda’s society. Aster is abrasive and inconsistent, yet surgically logical; almost detached, but passionate, all at once. Her friend, Giselle, is given to bouts of anger and aggression. Theo, the Surgeon, turns to religion to cope, yet struggles with his own sexuality and his family line. An Unkindness of Ghosts is a fascinating study of our own society and an exciting new work of science fiction. Solomon has created an intense, brutal world within the walls of the Matilda. I’m excited to read more from them.

An Unkindness of Ghosts received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Foreword Reviews.

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

The Vault of Dreamers Trilogy closes with The Keep of Ages

The Keep of Ages (The Vault of Dreamers #3), by Caragh M. O’Brien, (Aug. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439429

Recommended for readers 12+

The conclusion to The Vault of Dreamers trilogy sees Rosie on the run from Dean Berg and Ian, the vault of dreamers technician that took care of her while she was kept in the vault in the previous book, The Rule of Mirrors. When she discovers that Dean Berg has hold of her family, she follows clues to an abandoned amusement park to save them and bring down the vault of dreamers. It’s more complicated than even Rosie realizes, though – she discovers her sister is among the dreamers and that bigger plans are in motion for viewers of The Forge Show. Rosie has to risk everything to save her family and keep Thea – her seeded consciousness, now suffering migraines – safe while making sure Dean Berg can never harm anyone again.

 

There is a real sense of urgency running through The Keep of Ages, but the execution gets bogged down in multiple subplots. One character, Lavinia, is almost too good to be true: the theme park designer, offers access to a place to hide, serves as a conduit to connect Rosie with her family, and is a font of information on the secret network of tunnels beneath the Keep, where the dreamers are held. The final resolution neatly ties everything up, but left me wanting a little more. Get it if you need answers to questions left in the previous book.

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

The Kaitan Chronicles #1: Shadow Run

Shadow Run, by Michael Miller and AdriAnne Strickland, (March 2017, Delacorte Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399552533

Recommended for readers 13+

Nev is the newest crew member aboard the starship Kaitan Heritage, a ship that “fishes” for Shadow, a volatile energy harvested from space. The crew is a ragtag collection of misfits, and their captain, a teenage female named Qole, is the youngest ever to pilot her own ship – she’s hard as nails because she has to be. She’s from a desolate world where Shadow poisoning killed her family, except for her brother, Arjan, a member of her crew. Nev has his own secrets: he’s a prince from a world that wants to examine how Shadow binds to organic material, ostensibly to make the galaxy a better place – and help their own interests, naturally. But Nev has to get close to Qole first, before he can reveal who he is and convince her to come back to his homeworld with him.

Nev isn’t the only one who knows about Qole and her ability to channel the Shadow inside her, though. A rival royal family is onto them, and they’re not nearly as concerned with the greater good as Nev is. As Nev tries to win Qole’s trust, and the trust of everyone aboard the Kaitan, he must navigate the rough and tumble spacefaring world and the world of privilege he’s grown up; he may also learn that not everything on his home world is what it seems to be, and his own family’s intentions may not be as honorable as his are.

Shadow Run is the first book in the science fiction series, Kaitan Chronicles. There is a lot of solid world-building here, but the first half of the book just didn’t catch me. Once the story hit its stride, though, it was a solid pulse-pounder, loaded with diplomatic intrigue, betrayal, and action. The characters are well thought out; revelations happen throughout the course of the book, so it’s worth sticking with it.

Shadow Run‘s been compared to both Firefly and Dune. I see more Firefly than Dune; the rivalry between the royal families is the only facet tying it to Dune. This is more space opera/western, like Firefly, with a diverse crew of characters that have much more going on than meets the eye. I liked the chemistry between Qole and Nev, and I liked the relationships that each of the supporting characters had to Qole. Their reactions to Nev were honest, visceral, and I appreciated that; no “magic friendships” or melodrama popped up here and I respect the writers for it. There’s gender fluidity that truly brings this novel into the 21st century and beyond, too. Stick with Shadow Run: you’ll be happy you did.