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

CYBILS graphic novels check-in

The CYBILS Round One reading goes on. I’ve read 60 of 107 nominees so far, and my shortlist… well, it’s pretty long. I’ll be going through my shortlist a few times and talking books with my other Round One judges before we can provide the next round with a shortlist to go to, but it won’t be easy. There’s been some good stuff written and illustrated this year. While I can’t go into too much detail, since these are more nominees, I didn’t want them to be missed. Enjoy.

Stepping Stones, by Lucy Knisley, (Sept. 2020, RH Graphic), $20.99, ISBN: 9780593125243

Ages 8-12

I am a Lucy Knisley fan, and I’m excited that she’s writing graphic novels, in her autobiographical style, for middle graders. This is her first middle grade book, a fictionalized story of her life when she and her mom moved to a farm with her mother’s boyfriend. In the story, Jen is not happy about leaving her life in the city to live on a farm with her mom, her mom’s bossy boyfriend, Walter, and Walter’s two daughters, Andy and Reese, who spend every weekend with their dad. Jen thinks Andy is bossy and a know-it-all, like her dad, and Reese is weepy and cries for her mom. Gradually, the three girls become friends – stepsisters, even – as they start talking and discover that they’re not worlds different, after all. An author’s note gives readers the real details about Lucy Knisley’s farm years, complete with photos. Her storytelling style makes readers feel like they’re reading her journal or diary; her artwork is cartoony realistic, perfect for Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jameson fans. You’ll love the farmer’s market scenes, where Jen finally asserts herself and owns her talent, and the nature scenes make you realize why Jen’s mother packed up and left the city for greener pastures. Pick up Stepping Stones if you’ve never read a Lucy Knisley book before, then look up her other books for yourself.

Dungeon Critters, by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250195470

Ages 9-13

If your Dungeons & Dragons campaign was made up of furry animal friends, you’d have Dungeon Critters. A group of animal adventurers are on the case to uncover a mysterious plant and a sinister plot, all surrounding Chirp – one of the adventurers, and a member of the royal family – and longtime rival, The Baron. Go on dungeon crawls, dance at fancy balls, and join the Dungeon Critters on their quests for adventure, as they figure out their complicated feelings for one another. It’s a fun adventure, cartoony, colorful artwork, frenetic energy, and tons of jokes. Gender and sexuality are fluid – Chirp, for instance, has she/her pronouns but is a prince; Rose and Juniper are two Dungeon Critters who have she/her pronouns and are crushing on each other. A positive, diverse, fun adventure for middle graders.

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

YA Suspense: Black Flowers, White Lies

black-flowersBlack Flowers, White Lies, by Yvonne Ventresca, (Oct. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510709881

Recommended for ages 13+

Sixteen year-old Ella’s dad died before she was born, but she’s always felt a connection to him. Now, her mom’s about to marry Stanley, a nice enough guy, in the process of reconnecting with his estranged son. Just after Blake – Ella’s soon to-be-stepbrother – shows up on the scene, things start getting weird for Ella. After her mom and Stanley marry, leaving Blake and Ella alone in the house together, things go really crazy. She wakes up to find bloody handprints on her wall; mossy handprints on her mirror – just like the one she left on her father’s grave. She and her best friend have a falling out, and Blake seems to be the only one who understands her… right? As Ella discovers little lies that her mother has told her over the years, she fears that she may have inherited her father’s mental illness. Is she having a breakdown, or is there something more going on here?

Black Flowers, White Lies is a good suspense novel that stumbles a bit with its characters, who are largely one-dimensional and hard to get on board with. Our heroine is s almost too neurotic to be sympathetic, and the  antagonist’s transparency comes through shortly after being introduced. Ella’s best friend is more of a classic frenemy, and her mother is seemingly too detached and self-absorbed through most of the book to notice what’s happening to her daughter. That said, the novel keeps you reading, wanting confirmation of everything you know is happening – and Ventresca ups the action in ways you may not see coming. I like the way the author paces her novels; I couldn’t put Pandemic down, and Black Flowers, White Lies keeps a similar pace, constantly building to its conclusion. books I liked the book and would booktalk this to mystery and suspense fans. A list of resources at the end guides interested readers to more information about topics touched on.

 

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen

Advice blogging goes haywire in How to Make Out

how-to-make-outHow to Make Out, by Brianna Shrum, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1510701670

Recommended for ages 14+

Sixteen year-old Renley needs to make money fast: she’s dying to go on the math club’s got a trip to New York City, and she needs to raise $3,000. She gets part of the money from her dad and – ugh – stepmother, and she decides to raise the other part of the money by blogging life advice as a “certified expert”, calling herself SweetLifeCoach. She monetizes the site and money starts rolling in, but the questions her audience asks her get more and more uncomfortable; Renley starts acting in a very un-Renley-like manner; it seems like there’s nothing she won’t do for her audience, and her best friends are worried that she’s losing herself – especially when she finds herself in the with in-crowd when she starts dating hearthrob Seth Levine. Renley eventually finds herself facing some tough decisions, not all of which involve the math club trip.

How to Make Out wasn’t really my book. I didn’t like most of the characters in the book, particularly Renley, the main character. She was vapid and one of those kids I warn my own kids against becoming: the kid who will do anything the crowd pushes her to; in this case, because she was hooked on her own blog hype. I questioned how teens would pay to read blog posts on topics that you can easily find on the Internet, including first-hand anecdotes from other teen bloggers. Renley’s father and stepmother were one-dimensional, and a potentially interesting subplot with Renley’s absentee mother was relegated to passing references and one text message. Drew, the boy next door who’s in love with Renley, had the potential to be a solid character but ended up being a sex-obsessed teen boy who’s working out his issues in the bedroom. I wish there had been more depth to the characters.

This was a relatively quick and light read – a good beach read or, for this time of year, winter vacation read for teen romance readers.

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

A modern twist on Cinderella: It Started With Goodbye

started-with-goodbyeIt Started With Goodbye, by Christina June, (May 2017, Blink Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780310758662

Recommended for ages 12+

Tatum Elsea’s not having a great summer. Accused of a crime she didn’t commit – she was trying to get her best friend away from her sleazy boyfriend, to add insult to injury! – she’s under her step-monster’s house arrest for the entire summer, AND her best friend won’t speak to her. She’s working on pulling invasive plants as a community service during the day, and at night, quietly launching a design business to keep from going crazy. Things start looking up when she gets a few nibbles for her design business, including a flirty exchange with a musician who needs a portfolio made to submit to colleges. Her stepmother’s mother is also staying with them for the summer while Tatum’s dad is away on business, and she brings got just a little bit of fairy abuela magic with her, whether it’s a little extra money from her bunco winnings to help Tatum out, or warming up the relationships in the house. Maybe Tatum’s summer will end on a high note, after all.

This is a very sweet, very fun, modern take on Cinderella. Tatum’s stepmother isn’t really evil, she’s just really, really strict; her stepsister is a ballet dancer that’s not as uppity as Tatum thinks she is; her fairy godmother plays bunco and watches Golden Girls while dispensing real talk. There’s a music fest instead of a masked ball, and a cute take on the glass slipper. I had a great time reading this; you’ll just feel better when you’re done. It’s very clean – my conservative readers and my tweens will absolutely embrace this – and the characters are all very likable, even if they are in need of some serious loosening up in the beginning.

A fun, light romance to add to your collections or pass along to teen romance readers. There’s some fun content coming down the pike from author Christina June, including a graphic design contest, playlists, and launch party in the DC area. Keep an eye on Christina’s author page and Blink’s webpage for updates.

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

Pack your bags for creepy Camp Midnight!

camp midnightCamp Midnight, by Steven S. Seagle/Illustrated by Jason Adam Katzenstein (April 2016, Image Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-63215-555-9 (Diamond ID: AUG150485)

Recommended for ages 8-12

Poor Skye is shuttled between her divorced parents – and she is NOT a fan of her step-monster, Gayle. When her mother drops her off at her father’s for summer vacation, she finds out that they’ve made plans to send her off to camp – and then they end up sending her to the wrong camp! Camp Midnight is no ordinary camp: the head counselor is a witch, and the really cute boy she likes is a werewolf. Skye is under pressure to show her “real self” from the mean girls in her cabin, but she and her new friend Mia are keeping their secrets to themselves. Skye will learn a lot this summer, especially when Mia reveals her secret and it’s up to Skye to decide whether or not it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Camp Midnight is an original graphic novel from Big Hero 6 creator Steven T. Seagle and New Yorker artist Jason Adam Katzenstein. This brilliant pairing brings a lot to the table: we have a sarcastic middle grade main character who readers will love. Skye’s in a position too many kids understand, being shuttled between two households; she has the indignity of a step-mother who makes no secret about not wanting her around, and a seemingly clueless father. Sent off to summer camp without even being asked, she finds herself the odd kid out in a big way, and reacts by rejecting everyone outright before they can reject her. Middle graders are going to love Skye’s sarcastic exterior and her vulnerable interior.

The art is a brilliant accompaniment to the story. I love Katzenstein’s rendering of the “step-monster”, with her glaring dark color and overbearing stature. Mia is drawn to be as soft and sweet as her character, with huge eyes, evoking sympathy from the get-go. The art is often exaggerated, larger than life, giving a bigness to the story that a tale with monsters deserves. Color is for overall mood, with panels in shades of orange, brown, or red, often with one color – like a blue or fuschia – to set apart a mood or action.

Camp Midnight is a fun addition to graphic novel libraries, and I already noticed the kids in my comic book group at the library circling while I was reading it (during what was supposed to be their comic book creating time). Call your distributors and pre-order it!

 

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

Pen Pals across time? Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My…

ben franklinBenjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My…, by Adam Mansbach & Alan Zweibel (Sept. 2015, Hyperion), $12.99, ISBN: 9781484713044

Recommended for ages 8-12

Thirteen year-old Franklin Isaac Saturday (call him Ike) has a really obnoxious writing assignment. He has to write a letter to a person from history, so he chooses Benjamin Franklin, his namesake. He rants and raves about the dumb assignment, the struggle of being in middle school, his jerk of a stepfather, and his crush on classmate Claire Wanzandae. He inadvertently sticks the letter in a mailbox as part of a joke, but here’s the surprise: he gets a response back. From Ben Franklin, who’s got stuff of his own to complain about! He hates his hair, Thomas Jefferson gets on his nerves, and he’s sensitive about his weight. Will these pen pals out of time somehow help one another through their rough patches, or will they cause the entire timestream to become out of whack?

Written in the first person through Ike’s eyes and through letters between Ike and Ben Franklin, this is a good middle grade read, especially for those reluctant readers. It didn’t really grow on me like I thought it would – the thought of Ben Franklin being that concerned about his stringy hair and feelings of not measuring up didn’t work for me – but I think middle graders will get a kick out of this one. The writing is conversational and witty, with plenty of snark and sarcasm. The time travel aspect of the story is a little far-fetched, but go with it.

This is a good addition to collections (both home and library) that cater to kids who are a hard sell for reading. Humor is always a good thing to have on your shelves, especially for those kids who don’t want to read, but need a book for school. I tend to fall back on humor and adventure for these kids, so this will be a helpful one to have on hand.

Posted in Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Monica Ropal’s When You Leave – a gripping YA mystery, and an author interview!

when you leaveWhen You Leave, by Monica Ropal (April 2015, Running Press), $9.95, ISBN: 9780762454556

Recommended for ages 14+

Skater girl Cass has a theory: everyone you love will leave you. Her dad left her; her best friend battled cancer and won, but it took his voice – she still feels the pain from it; her mother, remarried and pregnant, barely notices her or her younger brother, and her stepfather keeps her at arm’s distance. She sticks to her group of skater friends from Frogtown, despite living in a better neighborhood (courtesy of her stepfather) and being enrolled in a private school with the sort of kids who look at Frogtown skaters like something stuck to the bottom of their shoes.

And then, there’s Cooper. One of the popular kids, he’s someone Cass would never dream of having a relationship with – until she does. As soon as their romance begins, it ends when Cooper is brutally murdered, and one of her best friends is the prime suspect. As Cass starts her own investigation to clear her friend’s name, she starts learning more about the kids at school, what she meant to Cooper, and who she can really trust.

Cass is an outsider in her school, feels like an outsider among her own friends, once her family’s circumstances have changed, and an outsider in her own family. She even feels, to some degree, like an outsider in her fledgling relationship with Cooper, who’s not from her social crowd. Even after his death, she tries to find meaning in the relationship. She’s a great character to identify with teens, who often feel like outsiders themselves, for a myriad of reasons.

This is a story that will appeal to mystery and YA romance fans alike. There’s the whole West Side Story, secret romance between two factions to draw readers in, and the whodunit, which hits like a gut punch, and keeps going until the conclusion, where you’re yelling at the book. In a good way. Monica Ropal has created a layered story, told in the first person through a true outsider looking in.

When You Leave is in stores, so make sure you check out a copy on your next bookstore/library trip.

I’m thrilled to present my first MomReadIt author interview! Monica Ropal was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about When You Leave, fandoms, and more. Read on!

headshotmonica2 MomReadIt: Congrats on an amazing debut novel! What influenced you to write a mystery? Are you a fan of the genre?

Monica Ropal: Thank you very much! I am a huge mystery fan! But specifically my thought, from the start, was to make a very personal and very emotional mystery. Adult mystery tends to be very cerebral, and for YA, I wanted to bring the FEELS. Cass isn’t your typical sleuth. In fact, she is probably the worst person for the job because she has zero objectivity, given how close she is to both the victim and the prime suspect. I think that the fact that she struggles with finding emotional distance and that her perspective is colored by her emotions makes a very interesting point of view.

 

MRI: When You Leave looks at rival social classes, and how one’s social class affects not only how other kids look at you, but how the law looks at you. Has media coverage of current events influenced you at all when you’re writing?

MR: I think this is an age-old problem. The location in St. Paul, like many big cities, I imagine, has very different socio-economic classes within blocks of each other, and I always thought that was interesting. 

MRI: I loved the unspoken communication between Cass and Mattie. He’s kind of like a Greek chorus living in Cass’ head. What influenced your decision to make Mattie unable to speak?

MR: Mattie and Cass have an unusually close relationship. Taking away verbal communication allowed me to show their relationship through physicality and nonverbal communication. Mattie is a very sensitive and emotional person, and I think that not only does he radiate his thoughts and feelings, but that Cass’ radar is particularly in tune to him.

MRI: I was totally thrilled to find out you’re a mom (of three, just like me!) and a fangirl! What are some of your fandoms?

MR: Every day is an adventure with three kiddos. They outnumber you, so you have to plan carefully and strategize. Unfortunately, I am neither well-organized nor strategic, so we have low-key chaos on the daily.

I am heavily into the One Direction fandom, who have been rebranding and appealing to more and more adult listeners, and I predict will be holding the world’s attention this year for more than just their music. (MomReadIt note: I mistakenly thought Monica’s OTP was Harry and Hermione, and mentioned that it was a fabulous OTP – but I stand corrected, as you’ll see!) Harry Potter will always hold a very special place in my heart. But let’s be clear here, Hermione and RON are my OTP. I don’t get righteous about much, but I will get righteous about my OTPs. :0)

Thank you so much for the book love and thank you for hosting me on your blog!

 

So that’s my big first interview! Thank you again, Monica, and good luck with When You Leave! You can find Monica’s author page at MonicaRopal.com, (where I also borrowed her author picture) and connect with her on Facebook and GoodReads. Follow her on Twitter @MonicaYAwriting.

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Not a Dr. Logan’s Divorce Book – a Survival Guide for Kids Stuck in the Middle

Dr_-Logan-New-Cover-EatonNot a Dr. Logan’s Divorce Book, by Sydney Salter (2014, Character Publishing), $16.99 ISBN: 978-0-9890797-5-4

Recommended for ages 8-13

Eleven-year-old Logan’s parents have split up, turning her life upside down. Her father has already moved on and is dating; she and her mother have relocated from their house to a small apartment, and she’s feeling left behind by her friends, her father’s family – even her father, himself. Logan’s mom immerses herself in the teachings of a self-help author/TV host, Dr. Donna; Logan finds Dr. Donna quotes taped up all over her home. To combat her feelings of helplessness and frustration, Logan begins her own (Not a) Doctor Logan’s Divorce Book, part journal, part book of lists for dealing with the hurdles of being a child of divorce, all survival guide for kids.

I did not expect this book to bowl me over as hard as it did. Like half the country, I’m a child of divorce. Although my parents split when I was 18, rather than 11, I went through many of the same emotional upheavals and experienced so many of the same feelings that Logan describes – especially the feelings of anger and frustration with the parent that left. Ms. Salter covers the depression one parent experiences, and the almost teen-like personality the other parent takes on – how is a kid supposed to deal with this? She also manages to find the humor in every situation, from Logan’s botched “love magic” that she hopes will reunite her parents, to her idea that shirking her schoolwork will reunite her parents, albeit in the principal’s office. We take Logan’s journey with her, and see her through to the other side, when things just may get better after all.

The story, written in the first person, allows readers to place themselves in Logan’s shoes. Illustrations by Chelsea Eaton give firmer shape to the story, and I loved the journal entries, complete with notebook spiral rings. Different fonts help emphasize Logan’s writing versus her overall narrative.

Book discussion questions at the end are helpful to both book discussion groups and parents who may want to read this book with their kids, letting the questions lead them into deeper conversations about any life changes going on. There are also links to divorce resources for children and parents alike.

Sydney Salter dedicates the book to us readers, and to her nine-year-old self. My 40-something self thanks her for it. I’ll be getting this on the shelves at my library, where kids who need it will be able to find it.

The author’s webpage includes a Q&A, discussion questions about her other books, links to her social media, and a link to her blog.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, mythology, Tween Reads

Book Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan (Miramax, 2005)

Recommended for ages 10-13

The first book in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, The Lightning Thief introduces readers to Percy Jackson, demigod son of Poseidon, and his friends at Camp Half-Blood.

Percy, a sixth grader who’s been kicked out of several schools, suffers from dyslexia and ADHD; he’s never met his real father; and his mother, whom he adores, is married to a jerk who verbally abuses Percy and his mother. When monsters start coming after Percy and he discovers that his best friend isn’t exactly what he seems, his mother helps him escape to Camp Half-Blood in Long Island, where he finds out the missing information about his past and a great deal more. The Greek gods exist, and they have a lot of children populating the earth; Camp Half-Blood is a safe haven for them. Because he is the son Poseidon, of one of the “Big Three” – Zeus, Poseidon and Hades – he is hunted even more than the children of the other gods and goddess. He also learns that someone has stolen Zeus’ master lightning bolt and Zeus think it’s him.

 Charged with finding the bolt and returning it to Mount Olympus in just 10 days, Percy heads out on his quest with his best friend, the faun Grover and Annabeth, daughter of Athena. Getting the lightning bolt back is just part of the puzzle: Percy must also learn who was really behind the theft, and in doing so, will uncover a plot to bring down Mount Olympus.
 
The Percy Jackson series was hugely popular with middle grade readers with good reason: it’s a well-written, exciting series with plenty of monsters, mythology and quests to keep boys and girls alike turning pages. There are well-fleshed, strong male and female characters alike throughout the series and familiar monsters like Medusa and the minotaur make appearances throughout. Bringing mythology to life is a great way to make these stories accessible to a new generation, and giving these demigods learning disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia makes them relatable to a wider audience of readers who may be coping with these issues and rarely get to read about characters who also deal with them.
 
The Lightning Thief is the first of five books in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. Riordan’s newest series, The Heroes of Olympus, follows new heroes from Camp Half-Blood but has references to the original Percy Jackson characters.
 
The Lightning Thief received several honors, including designations as a New York Times Notable Book of 2005, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and VOYA Top Shelf Fiction List for 2005. It was made into a movie in 2010. The author’s website offers information about all of his books, a link to his blog, and extras including a map of the Underworld and a Greek mythology guide. A Camp Half-Blood wikia offers exhaustive information created by Mr. Riordan’s fan community on all of his books, his characters, and the mythology that breathes life into his series.