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

Gamer Squad takes on video game monsters in the real world!

Gamer Squad: Attack of the Not-So Virtual Monsters, by Kim Harrington, (Aug. 2017, Sterling), $6.95, ISBN: 9781454926122

Recommended for readers 8-12

Bex is a gamer, and her game of choice is Monsters Unleashed: an augmented reality game where you hunt and capture monsters using your smartphone and the game app. (Pokemon Go players, you got this.) She and her best friend, Charlie, love playing the game until a mishap with a strange machine at Charlie’s grandfather’s place causes a WiFi gitch and empties Bex’s monster catalog… into the real world! Now, it’s up to Bex, Charlie, and a frenemy Willa to track them all down and get them back before the monsters overrun their town.

Gamer Squad is one of those series you just know the kids are going to swarm when you get them on the shelves. It brings handheld gaming to middle grade fiction with fun and adventure, and author Kim Harrington manages to give us a strong female protagonist, a story about friendship, and addresses bullying all at once. It’s a fast-moving story with likable characters, excitement, and leaves you ready for the sequel, which in this case, released on the same day.

Gamer Squad: Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind, by Kim Harrington,
(Aug. 2017, Sterling), $6.95, ISBN: 9781454926139

A no-brainer for your gamer kids and a nice fiction-y wink to add to your STEM program displays. I’ve just ordered both for my library; the third book hits shelves this Fall.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Meet two new middle grade heroines with big imaginations

Ruby Starr, by Deborah Lytton, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $7.99, ISBN: 9781492645771

Recommended for readers 8-12

Ruby Starr loves getting lost in a good book. She even has a lunchtime book group with her BFFs at school: The Unicorns! Things change when Charlotte, the new girl in school, shows up and starts making big changes: she scoffs at reading and wants to make The Unicorns a drama club, and she’s spending more and more time with Ruby’s best friend, Siri. Ruby needs to dig deep into her imagination to help bring things back to normal again.

Part Secret Life of Walter Mitty, part Dork Diaries, Ruby Starr is a lovable new protagonist for middle grade readers. She daydreams scenarios to help her cope with the everyday frustrations – or imagine exciting outcomes for upcoming events – and zones out while she’s doing it, making for some giggleworthy moments throughout the story. The imagination sequences are illustrated, letting readers in on the joke. The stress of friendship – and losing it – will resonate with middle graders, as will the fear of being the outsider in the group; Ruby handles these challenges with humor and style, even reaching out to her frenemy and offering a helping hand. I loved seeing a nice librarian-student relationship, too; maybe the author can give us a Ruby Starr/Unicorns reading list to promote to our kids!

Ruby Starr is a fun entry into the humorous journal fiction sub-genre. Give this to your Dork Diaries, My Dumb Diary, and Frazzled (by Booki Vivat) readers. Ask them to draw an imaginary scenario for themselves! There’s a reader’s guide on Deborah Lytton’s author webpage, along with an author Q&A and link to her blog.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen, by Catherine Lloyd Burns, (Aug. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374300418

Recommended for ages 8-12

Cricket Cohen has a big imagination. Sometimes, it gets away from her – especially when she wants to impress someone, or just make a boring autobiography school assignment a little more exciting. After all, it’s fun when she and her grandmother pretend, right? Well… wrong, at least according to her schoolmates, who are tired of her making up stories, and her teacher, who wants her to redo her autobiography assignment with the truth this time. When her parents leave her alone with her grandmother, Dodo, while they go summer house-hunting in the Hamptons, Dodo convinces Cricket that they’re going to run away and have an adventure; Cricket’s all too happy to go. But Dodo starts becoming confused, and Cricket finds herself having to bail herself AND Dodo out of hot water when she’s the only one who knows what’s fact and what’s fantasy.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen is much more than a novel about a kid who likes to embellish the truth. It’s a story about grandparents and grandchildren, and it’s a story about what happens when children find themselves with the responsibility of caring for an adult: something that today’s kids sometimes find themselves managing.

Cricket finds herself disappearing into her imagination to deal with her boring classmates who prefer talking about clothes, shoes, and crushes to geology and stuffed animal brain surgery, but you can also argue that it’s an attention-seeking response to her parents, who are consumed with their nonprofit fundraising for the city’s public schools. They live above their means, and her mother – a control freak and perfectionist – treats her own mother like an inconvenience. Artsy free spirit Dodo pushes back against her daughter’s rules and regulations, and Cricket embraces her kindred spirit; but Cricket, previously unaware of her grandmother’s health struggles, finds herself in the position of being responsible for herself and her grandmother when her grandmother’s failing memory causes a problem in a department store.

The New York setting is fun – it’s got a touch of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to it. The story handles big issues like family relationships, aging grandparents, and embellishing the truth with a shot of fun and adventure. At the same time, the Dodo is the one character that remains truly likable throughout the story. Cricket and her family may be living above their means, but they are still an upper middle class family, living on New York’s Upper West Side and renting summer homes in the Hamptons. Her parents border on neglectful, putting the welfare of New York City’s public school children ahead of their own daughter’s. Cricket’s actions are understandable in the bigger picture, and she becomes a more sympathetic character as the story progresses.

Have The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen available, along with Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart, and There Will Be Bears, by Ryan Gebhart, for readers who may be coping with an aging grandparent. Booktalk it with Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Kay Thompson’s Eloise, Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under the Egg, and Nadja Spiegelman’s Lost in NYC graphic novel for a fun New York reading theme.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A spooky Book Birthday to Spirit Hunters!

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062430083

Recommended for readers 9-13

Harper Raine is not happy about her parents’ decision to move them from New York to Washington, D.C. She can’t stand the creepy house they’ve moved into, especially when she hears the rumors about it being haunted. When her younger brother, Michael, starts talking about an imaginary friend and undergoes a radical personality change, Harper knows she has to act, even if no one else believes her. The thing is, some of Michael’s behaviors ring familiar bells for Harper, but she can’t put her finger on why. She’s missing chunks of memory from a previous accident – can things be connected?

Ellen Oh’s the founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Spirit Hunters gives readers a wonderfully spooky story, rich in diversity. Harper and her siblings are half Korean; as the story progresses, subplots reveal themselves and provide a fascinating look at Korean culture, and the conflicts that can arise between generations. Harper’s new friend, Dayo, and a helpful spirit named Mrs. Devereux are African-American; Mrs. Devereux in particular provides a chance for discussion on race relations, and how racism doesn’t necessarily end with one’s life. Told in the third person, we also hear Harper’s voice through her “stupid DC journals”; journal entries suggested by her therapist, to help bridge her memory gaps, that show up between chapters. The characters are brilliant, with strong backstories, and two mystery subplots emerge that come together, with the main story, to give readers an unputdownable story that will dare them to turn the lights off at night.

I can’t say enough good things about Spirit Hunters, and neither can other reviewers: the book has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Aleks Mickelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well reunites Zaria Fierce and friends!

Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well, by Keira Gillett/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (July 2017), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750086

Recommended for readers 9-13

Keira Gillett couldn’t leave us hanging after Zaria Fierce’s last adventure, Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Slippers. And thank goodness! The friends have reunited for a new adventure, but this time, Aleks, a changeling approaching his 16th birthday – and the deadline to decide whether to embrace his human family or retain his fey abilities – is the star of the show. It all starts on a crazy morning: Aleks’ mom loses her car keys, which he finds in the fridge. It’s only the first in a series of increasingly chaotic events that culminates in his unpleasant fey sister, Nori, making an appearance; she tells him that Fritjof, a chaos dragon, is trying to escape and wreak havoc on the world and that he and his friends must help stop him. Aleks finds himself pulled into an adventure that he really didn’t want to be on, dealing with a sister he really doesn’t want to know in this latest installment.

I have wanted to know more about Aleks since I first read that he was a changeling – and that his grandmother is, too! Readers won’t be disappointed; we learn more about Aleks’ origin here, and I love the inner conflict raging with Aleks as he realizes that there is no black and white situation: he initially thinks it’s not a big deal at all to give up his fey gifts, but learns that not only can his ability to find things be a huge help, he learns that his fey side is very much a part of him. Don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone? Aleks may just have to learn that lesson that hard way. I loved seeing how the group of friends has matured – crushes are a big part of the story now! – and how new friends from the previous series are now part of the group, like Hector, the Hart of the Forest. Big plus: my favorite wyvern, Norwick, is back, as is my favorite curmudgeon, Mr. Brown(ie). Take a look at this graphic, from illustrator Eoghan Kerrigan’s DeviantArt page:

A fellow blogger, Brenda at Log Cabin Library, put it perfectly when she said, “There’s just something so comforting about returning to Zaria and the gang”. I couldn’t agree more. Keira Gillet’ts writing gently draws you into a fantasy world via modern-day Norway; the group of friends are as familiar to me as they are to one another. I enjoy reading their back and forth teasing, and catching up with what they’ve been up to since I last spent time with them. When the action starts, I’m ready to join the group on their new adventure. Eoghan Kerrigan has outdone himself with his beautiful fantasy illustrations, and fantasy cartographer Kaitlin Statz provides a map that really helps make this world more real; there’s a lovely Narnian/Tolkienesque feel to a book that starts off with a good map.

You don’t need to have read Zaria’s trilogy in order to jump in with Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well – there’s enough exposition throughout the book to update you – but if you want to feel more a part of things, I’d highly recommend it. A nice addition to middle grade fantasy shelves. Ms. Gillett had a midnight release party for her latest book that I, sadly, had to miss (I was so close, too… darn need to sleep); if you missed it, too, you can watch it right here, thanks to the magic of YouTube. Sign up for Keira Gillett’s author newsletter and get 10 free downloads of Eoghan Kerrigan’s work, too!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A Dash of Dragon introduces readers to monster cuisine

A Dash of Dragon, by Heidi Lang, Kati Bartkowski, (July 2017, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481477932

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lailu Loganberry is a 13 year-old master chef, newly graduated from the Academy. Her mentor, Sullivan Slipshod, used to be one of the greats, and Lailu won’t listen to anyone who has a bad thing to say about him – including her best friend, Hannah. But Master Slipshod has accepted a loan from Mr. Boss, an unscrupulous loan shark, whose terms are dire: if they don’t pay back the loan in time, they not only forfeit the restaurant, but they are stuck working for Mr. Boss for the rest of their lives. Lailu’s determined to beat the odds, cook the perfect monster cuisine – which she has to hunt AND prepare – for her customers, protect Hannah from the Elven mafia that’s out to get her, AND navigate the delicate balance she’s found herself walking between Mr. Boss and Elister, the king’s assassin. She also has to join forces with Greg, her obnoxious fellow Academy graduate and rival restaurateur.

A Dash of Dragon is a fun, fantasy middle grade read. Lailu is a strong, smart heroine who keeps her wits about her when everyone else seems to be losing theirs. There’s some mystery, some humor, lots of adventure, and there’s monster cuisine. I love that the Academy trains chefs to hunt their exotic prey – krakens, dragons, and batyrdactyls all make an appearance in the novel – in addition to preparing the cuisine; it adds a nice touch of adventure to the fantasy and fun. Hannah is Lailu’s foil; she’s flighty and seemingly skin-deep compared to Lailu’s determination and focus, but the two have a strong bond that keeps them there for one another. There’s intrigue, double-dealing, and the age-old magic vs. science conflict is alive and well thanks to a rivalry between elves and scientists. The characters are well thought-out and the pace of the book will keep readers turning pages. There’s a somewhat Asian influence in the overall storyline, with references to cookery gods, altars, and dragon cuisine, but Lailu and her friends are not specifically described as such.

 

A fun and different fantasy selection to add to your collections.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

How many words will stay on The List?

The List, by Patricia Forde, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492647966

Recommended for readers 10-13

A post-cataclysmic society called Ark is led by a fanatic who believes words are at the heart of the problem. After all, words can stretch the truth, can bend, can lie, just like the politicians did before The Great Melting. Letta is apprenticed to Ark’s wordsmith, Benjamin; the community is allowed only 500 words, which Benjamin and Letta curate. Benjamin saves words for a time when man will be able to handle more – or so Letta believes. When Benjamin disappears on a word-finding mission, and Letta meets a boy from a neighboring community of free-thinkers and artists, she discovers that their leader, the leader she put her trust in, is working on a way to rob the people of Ark of language forever.

The List is similar on many levels to The Giver: an enclosed, guarded society, quiet removals of dissidents, and hidden truths waiting to be revealed. As an apprentice wordsmith, Letta sees more than the average Ark citizen; saving the life of a Desecrator – a member of a neighboring group of artists and musicians – opens her eyes to even more goings-on within Ark and its surroundings. It’s up to her to act on the information she receives, and she struggles with the burden of responsibility. There are strong themes for discussion here: the power of words, free thought and speech, and art as resistance. This is a great book to give readers who are ready for something beyond The Giver, but not yet ready for Fahrenheit 451. This novel can easily stand on its own, but readers may want to see what lies in Ark’s future.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

A rogue 3-D printer and a young artist unleash monsters at school!

Monsters Unleashed, by Jon Kloepfer/Illustrated by  Mark Oliver, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062290304

Recommended for ages 8-10

Freddie Liddle is anything but. He’s a big guy, bigger than the average fifth grader, and that makes him stand out: right where the bullies can see him. His best friend, Manny, always has his back. In fact, the two buddies were about to create a monster movie based on the bullies; Freddie drew monster versions of each bully, and they used the 3-D printer at school to make models for filming. Holy maker meltdown, though: this printer makes REAL MONSTERS. They’re alive, they’re mean, and they’re GROWING. It looks like Freddie and Manny may need to team up with the very bullies that inspired their monsters in order to take them down and save their town!

Jon Kloepfer’s already got a huge fan following with his Zombie Chasers series; this new series, Monsters Unleashed, is a fun romp that brings a little maker fun into the mix. Freddie’s monster sketches turn into real-life terrible monsters that grow when they get wet, and are even meaner than the bullies they’re modeled after. Bullies get a second chance at redemption when they join Freddie and Manny in the fight, proving that some bullies take a little nudging, but may not be all bad (monster invasion notwithstanding). There’s lots of humor and action here, with fun black and white illustrations to keep kids interested.