Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Night Garden puts a little spark of magic into WWII-era Canada

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath, (Sept. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374304522

Recommended for readers 9-13

Franny Whitekraft lives with her adoptive parents, Sina and Old Tom, on Vancouver Island while World War II rages overseas. They live a pretty quiet life until their neighbor, Crying Alice, shows up – crying – and asks to leave her three children with them while she goes to stop her mechanic husband, Fixing Bob – stationed at a military base – from doing something dumb. Zebediah, one of the children, knows what it is, but he’s not talking, and he’s not sharing the letters he gets from their father with his brother and sister, Wilfred and Winifred. Things take a sharp turn when Fixing Bob puts his plan into action, and The Night Garden seems to be everyone’s only hope in making things right. Can a garden really grant wishes? Franny and her friends are about to find out.

The Night Garden didn’t really come together for me. There are several plotlines that kind of wander in and out of the book, like Sina’s witnessing a UFO. Narrated in the first person by Franny, there’s humor throughout the novel, but overall, the story took a little too long to get there and meandering plots may keep some readers from fully committing to the book. I enjoyed the sense of humor that kept the book moving, and the characters, on their own, were a fun bunch that I enjoyed my time with. An additional purchase for collections where you have devoted magical realism readers.

Polly Horvath is the Newbery Honor and National Book Award winning-author of Everything on a Waffle. Her author website offers more information about her books, awards, and news.

 

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

Blog Tour: Broken Circle, by JL Powers and MA Powers

Broken Circle, by JL and MA Powers, (Oct. 2017, Akashic), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-580-4
Recommended for readers 12+

 

Fifteen year-old Adam Jones just wants to be a normal teen, but the chances aren’t looking so good. He’s got a monster chasing him in his sleep, and he can tell a person’s character by seeing what kind of shadow they cast. His dad is almost never around, his grandfather is a little nuts. He’s expected to take on the family business – but his father won’t tell him what that business is. Is he a mafioso? After a couple of incidents at school, his father makes the decision to send him to a special boarding school where he’ll learn how to be part of the family business – whatever that is. Adam arrives at the school to discover that he’s part of a special group of “soul guides”: grim reapers. They’re all around us; they’re from different clans, with different territories, and there are TONS of rivalries. No wonder Adam’s dad told him not to tell anyone where he’s from. If only that were the end of Adam’s problems, right? But he’s still got the monster chasing him, he’s got some strange characters stalking him, and he’s learning about himself and his family while having to keep it all a secret from his new friends AND the ones he left behind.

I LOVED Broken Circle. It’s a first-person narration by Adam, the main character, with periodic half chapters that fill in crucial backstory, told in third person through meetings of the synod: an assembly of Soul Guide leaders. Adam’s chapters are written with a wicked sense of humor – he’s 15, and just found out he’s a grim reaper, after all – and a deepening sense of pathos and fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of the things he discovers as he moves through the book. There’s a diversity of characters in the book as we meet soul guides from different cultures and ethnicities. You won’t want to put this one down: it’s Hogwarts for soul guides, with family rivalries and developing powers aplenty. The writing flows and the characters have a rich depth to them, even with their own secrets that we may or may not find out before this volume ends. Thank goodness it’s the first in a series; I have more to look forward to and so will you. Give this to your Gaiman fans, for sure; hand it to your Potterheads that are ready to meet a new group of friends. Give it to your readers that enjoy seeing life from a different point of view.

Watch this space: I’ve got a vlog entry from the authors!

J.L. POWERS is the award-winning author of three young adult novels, The Confessional, This Thing Called the Future, and Amina. She is also the editor of two collections of essays and author of a picture book, Colors of the Wind. She works as an editor/publicist for Cinco Puntos Press, and is founder and editor of the online blog, The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children’s Literature. She teaches creative writing, literature, and composition at Skyline College in California’s Bay Area, served as a jurist for the 2014 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, and is launching Catalyst Press in 2017 to publish African writers. Broken Circle is her first novel written with her brother, M.A. Powers.

 

M.A. POWERS is J.L.’s “little” (but much taller) brother. He has a PhD in the oncological sciences from the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He is currently a stay-at-home dad and lives in Maine. Broken Circle is his first novel written with his sister, J.L. Powers.

Posted in Uncategorized

Take a trip downtown on public transportation with The Way Downtown

The Way Downtown, by Inna Gertsberg/Illustrated by Mike Lowery, (Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771385527

Recommended for readers 8-12

This fun book to public transportation introduces readers to the subway; light rail transit; buses, and ferry boats as five different characters head to a mutual venue in the imaginary city of Zoom. Robbie is a 7 year-old boy visiting the city; a secret agent, Theodore Rybka, is on a secret mission – but loves to stop for a cup of tea; the Zanies are a family of digeridoo and juggling performers; Dr. Brody is a scientist, excited about her newest discovery, and Boris is a seeing-eye dog who takes good care of his companion. Maps, facts, and a diverse urban crowd make this a good additional purchase for transportation shelves.

 

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 Realistic Fiction, Teen

Sports readers, check out the Blacktop series

Justin #1 (Blacktop), by LJ Alonge, (June 2016, Grosset & Dunlap), $15.99, ISBN: 9780399542756

Recommended for readers 12+

Justin’s a teen having a rough summer in his Oakland, CA neighborhood. His alcoholic father shows up everywhere, challenging him to a game of hoops. His stepfather and mother are boring, and have spent way too much money on a pair of sneakers that he didn’t really want, but kind of made them think he did. He took on a crazy dare and ended up destroying a local business – literally – and now he’s got to defend his neighborhood basketball court against Ghosttown, a take-no-prisoners team. He pulls together a group of players and faces the upcoming game.

This isn’t just a story about a basketball game: Justin’s got plans for himself, and this first Blacktop book is all about letting us walk through his coming of age with him. He’s got a list of goals for himself, and he’s trying really hard to achieve them. He knows he’s going to be someone, someday, and he knows he needs time to “figure it out”. The narrative is fast-paced, and the basketball descriptions will appeal to fans of the game. I’d suggest this for teen audiences; more reluctant readers. There are four books in the Blacktop series.

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.