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?

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Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Crossover YA: The Mermaid by Christina Henry

The Mermaid, by Christina Henry, (June 2018, Berkley Publishing Group), $16, ISBN: 9780399584046

Ages 16+

A mermaid walks out of the sea to live with a man she’s fallen in love with. Years later, the sea takes him away from her. That’s the beginning of the story in Christina Henry’s newest fairy tale for young adults and grownups, The Mermaid. Living in a small seafaring Maine town, most of her neighbors are respectful of Amelia’s – the name her husband gave her – privacy, but rumors have a way of spreading; this time, they spread all the way to New York, and to the ears of none other than The Greatest Showman himself, P.T. Barnum. Barnum dispatches his partner, Levi Lyman, to Maine to talk to the “mermaid” and convince her to become one of Barnum’s spectacles. Amelia, a strong, smart woman in a time when women have no voice, no property, and no agency of their own, she decides – after sending Lyman on his way – to make her way to New York and negotiate with Barnum. She wants to travel the world, and she agrees to work with Barnum on her own terms for six months, in order to be able to finance it. The partnership between the two headstrong characters is tenuous, and Lyman finds himself falling in love with Amelia. The Mermaid is amazing storytelling that has a distinctly feminist voice.

The Mermaid gives us a Barnum that isn’t quite so friendly and fun as Hugh Jackman’s portrayal in The Greatest Showman; this Barnum is concerned with money, who’s paying it out, and how much of it he can make off the back of his “spectacles”. He’s recovering from the backlash of one of his exhibits gone wrong, and trying to recover his reputation; he’s known as a liar and a “humbug” (not exactly untrue); he treats his wife and daughters shabbily, and cares little for anyone outside of himself. That’s enough about him.

Amelia is the star of this story. She’s a real mermaid who touches the lives of those who lay eyes on her. Charity, Barnum’s put-upon wife, resists believing in her at first, but later comes to treasure her friendship with Amelia, finding her own voice to stand up against her bulldozing husband. Caroline, Barnum’s young daughter, is enchanted with the idea of knowing a mermaid, and discovers her own young voice thanks to Amelia. Levi Lyman finds his scruples and love in her stormy eyes. Amelia refuses to be taken advantage of, and demands to be heard. She empowers those around her. She reminds Barnum that at any moment, she can walk away from him and he’ll never find her: she’s a mermaid, for crying out loud, and the Earth is 75% water; good luck finding her. We don’t learn about her family or her people; she is the focus of the novel and the narrative. She stands alone. An adult novel, this can easily cross over into YA/Teen for fantasy readers. There are discussion questions available at the end of the book.

Want more circus and sideshow books? Booktalk and display with Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and H.P. Wood’s Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. Want more of Christina Henry’s fairy tales? Check out her website and learn about her other books.

 

 

Water for Elephants

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet

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

What if Mulan traveled to the Underworld? Reflection tells the story!

Reflection (A Twisted Tale), by Elizabeth Lim, (March 2018, Disney Book Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484781296

Recommended for readers 10+

What if Mulan had gone very differently? What if Captain Shang was mortally wounded in his battle with Shan Yu, and was dying? In this latest Disney Twisted Tale, Mulan travels to the Diyu, the underworld, to bargain with ruler King Yama for Shang’s life. ShiShi, the Li family guardian lion, accompanies Mulan, but finding Shang is only part of the quest: they have to make their way through Diyu before dawn, and demons, ghosts, and ancestors are at every turn. Mulan is still disguised as Ping, which causes more stress as Mulan wrestles with her own identity and Shang’s trust.

This is my first Twisted Tale, but it is not going to be my last! I loved this different takes on one of my favorite beloved Disney movies. Author Elizabeth Lim keeps the essence of what makes Mulan such a strong, favorite character: her inner strength is tempered by her introspection and moments of self-doubt, making her at once relatable and inspirational; her daring and confidence and her incredible heart, make her one of the most memorable Disney women in print and on the screen. Shang is along for the ride here, but goes through his own moments of self-awareness. ShiShi is Shang’s guardian and counselor and brings some well-timed humor to the story (Mushu doesn’t play as big a part in Reflection, but he is there!). Reflection has the spectacle of a big-screen release, with the space to bring internal conflict to the fore. I loved it, and so will your Disney readers. Grab the set, if you don’t have them yet, and put them in the hands of your fantasy readers. Let them know that Ursula’s up next, with September’s Part of Your World.

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

The Sanderson Sisters are back in Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel

Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel, by A.W. Jantha, (July 2018, Disney Book Group), $12.99, ISBN: 9781368020039

Recommended for readers 10+

Does everyone know who the Sanderson sisters are? No? Okay, quick recap: they’re three awful witch sisters from the 1993 Disney movie, Hocus Pocus. They had a particular taste for children and a spell that would let them live forever, until a teen named Max, his younger sister, Dani, and his crush, Allison, with the help of a talking cat named Binx. The movie starred Bette Midler, Kathy Najimi, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson sisters, and went on to be a huge cult classic that still gets regular play throughout the year in my home. Late last year, news hit the media that the Sandersons were coming back for a sequel, and there was much rejoicing among Hocus Pocus fans. There was talk about a TV movie, either on Freeform or Disney Channel, with the working title Hocus Pocus 2: Rise of the Elderwitch, but that seems to have been squashed. However, just in time for the movie’s 25th anniversary, Disney Books has a book hitting shelves: Hocus Pocus & The All-New Sequel.

Anyway. The anniversary volume has a novelization of the 1993 movie, which is a fun, light, slightly macabre Halloween story about a boy, 2 girls, and a cat against three witches. The All-New Sequel continues the main characters’ story, 25 years later. Teen crushes Max and Allison have grown up and gotten married; they have a gay daughter, Poppy, who’s crushing on school It Girl Isabella. Max teaches at his old high school, and Allison is a lawyer. Neither are fans of Halloween, and their Salem, Massachusetts neighborhood thinks they’re crazy, because they’re super paranoid about witches – particularly the Sanderson history – and Halloween. (Why did they stay in Salem after the events of Hocus Pocus, especially if no one believes them?) Poppy, her best friend, Travis, and Isabella find themselves back at the Sanderson house, with Winifred Sanderson’s spell book and a ouija board, and end up bringing the sisters back from Hell: by swapping Poppy’s parents and Aunt Dani. They have until daybreak to locate the blood moonstone and reverse the spell, or the Sandersons will reign and Poppy’s family is doomed.

Where the original is light and fun, the sequel is darker; it’s more YA to the original’s middle grade. I like the added diversity and LGBTQ vibe that runs through the sequel, and it certainly has its moments; the sisters are fun to read, especially Winifred (Bette Midler’s character), who is as delightfully horrible as ever. It’s missing a bit of the light-heartedness that made the original such fun to watch, but its darker feel makes the humorous moments more welcome. The ending will leave readers wondering if we’re getting a third installment. It’s an additional add for fans of the original movie, and readers who enjoy a good spooky quest.

Posted in Fantasy, mythology, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The story of Midas, continued: A Touch of Gold

A Touch of Gold, by Annie Sullivan, (Aug. 2018, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-76635-3

Recommended for readers 12+

I mentioned A Touch of Gold in my Argos review last week, as part of my Go Greek! summer reading post. I was still reading it at the time, but I’m all done and dying to talk this one up. Let’s dive in!

We all know the story of King Midas, right? Has the ability to turn anything he touched to gold, which sounds pretty great at first, but try to eat a candy bar, or have a swig of water: see where I’m going? Literally everything he touched turned to gold, which was stressful enough, but when his daughter went to him and transformed into a golden statue, that was it. He begged the god Dionysus to take away the Golden Touch, but gods have a sense of humor – which is where A Touch of Gold begins.

You see, Midas needed to bathe everything he turned to gold in a nearby river. Being a loving dad, he grabbed Kora, his daughter, first. Once he saw she was okay, nothing else mattered. Except to Dionysus, who tends to be a stickler for playing by his rules. Midas didn’t bathe the other objects in the river, so Kora’s skin became gold. Not a statue again; more of a gold sheen, and Midas was condemned to keep the other gold objects nearby, or he’d be weakened to the point of death. Kora, now a teen, has been sheltered within the palace walls for most of her life; her father’s brother, Phaeus, taking on most of the day-to-day crown duties, while Midas grows weaker, needing more time close to his gold, to retain any energy. When someone sneaks in, kills a guard, and steals the gold, Kora must undertake the quest of a lifetime: find the gold and restore her father’s health. Along with her would-be suitor, Aris, and her cousin, Hettie, Kora sets out aboard a ship captained by Aris’ sometime friend, Royce. Kora quickly finds herself up against a superstitious and fearful crew, a bloodthirsty pirate who collects skulls, and someone working from within to bring harm to Kora and her family.

A Touch of Gold moves along at a good pace, building on an established story and adding new adventure, romance, and intrigue. Narrated by Kora, readers meet a heroine who is strong but vulnerable, smart but unsure, who undertakes her own heroine’s quest to grow into herself. She feels like an outcast; she’s treated like an outcast, until she believes in herself: a relatable character with a nice growth path. Readers may or may not see the villains coming, but A Touch of Gold is a good summer read that your Percy Jackson fans who are ready to take on something more will enjoy.

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

The Unbinding of Mary Reade

The Unbinding of Mary Reade, by Miriam McNamara, (June 2018, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510727052

Recommended for readers 14+

Raised as a boy to take the place of her dead brother, Mary Reade spent her formative years as Mark, mainly to get her drunken mother money from her wealthy grandmother, who would never name a female heir. Eventually, Mary took to the high seas, where her life depended on passing as male. She joined pirate Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny after they raided a merchant ship she sailed with, finding herself fascinated with the fiery redheaded Bonny, who wore dresses and wielded weapons with pride and bravado.

This could have been so much more. I found the nonbinary, bisexual Mary Reade storyline brilliant, capturing the sheer terror of living in a male-dominated, homophobic society. Mary is constantly afraid for her life because of who she is, and the men around her shove their hands down her trousers and pull up her shirt, seemingly at will, to confirm rumors. She’s powerless to say or do anything, because in this society, different equals death, and it’s always over her head. She finds relief in living as a male, yet feels uncomfortable being gendered at all – despite the fact that the novel always refers to Reade as “she”. Anne is a study in frustration, appearing as a tragic, yet scheming, woman who attaches herself to any male – or male figure – that will help her navigate 18th Century society. Is she bisexual, or is she just using her sex to gain favor? There’s a lot of slow burn relationship work here between Mary and her childhood love, Nat, and some tumultuous relationship beginnings with Anne Bonny that never quite gain footing. I wish the book concentrated more on the two pirates’ adventures together, and that Anne emerged as a stronger female character. Mary’s gender confusion and self-doubt may resonate with nonbinary and trans readers, and engender empathy in all readers. It’s an add to consider for historical fiction and LGBTQ collections.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Graphic Novels coming your way in July

Yeah, you’ve got the summer reading lists (which, thank you teachers, have been getting better!), but you have to make time for pleasure reading, too! Check out some of the cool graphic novels coming out in July – perfect for sitting in the shade (or the sun, just wear your SPF) and enjoying the day.

Cottons: The Secret of the Wind, by Jim Pascoe/Illustrated by Heidi Arnhold, (July 2018, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250157447

Recommended for readers 10-14

Watership Down was one of those novels that changed my life when I was a kid. I first read it at about 9, after seeing the animated movie a year before, and it just blew my mind with its beautiful, yet brutal, story. I’ve returned to the book and movie several times throughout the years, and it remains one of my favorite books. Reading this first story in Jim Pascoe and Heidi Arnhold’s new graphic novel series, Cottons: The Secret of the Wind, reminds me of Watership Down, taking place in a more magical world.

We meet Bridgebelle, a rabbit working in the carrot factory by day, caring for her sick aunt by night. She’s always on the watch for the cruel foxes who prey on the rabbits

To her neighbors in the Vale of Industry, Bridgebelle is an ordinary rabbit. All day long, she toils at the carrot factory. After a hard day, she returns home to care for her ailing auntie. Bridgebelle also has a secret talent: she uses cha, the fuel that powers the rabbits’ world, to create magical artwork called thokchas. Bridgebelle must keep her magic secret, lest other rabbits in power try to use her and her power to create weapons; she also has to beware of the cruel foxes who hunt her kind.

There is a lot of storytelling here that makes the story hard to follow at times, but stick with it: it’s worth the journey. Heidi Arnhold’s beautiful artwork blends realistic animal art with fantasy and magic. Jim Pascoe sets a firm foundation to his universe here, and introduces several plots that will power readers through this new series. There is some violence – the foxes aren’t known for their mercy – so I’d recommend this one for middle grade and up. This is a nice companion to the Longburrow novels by Kieran Larwood and David Wyatt (the second book is due out in August!), for fans of animal fantasy, particularly starring rabbits.

Pop!, by Jason Carter Eaton/Illustrated by Matt Rockefeller, (July 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725034

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young boy sits, relaxed, blowing bubbles on a sunny day. His favorite part about blowing bubbles is popping them – naturally! – but one bubble has other plans! The bubble takes Dewey – yes, that’s his name – on a quest that will take him to new (literal) heights via trampoline, jungle gym, even a moon shuttle. Because, like the cover says, “Every last bubble must… POP!”

This is perfect fun for a summer read. If you’re outside, break out the bubbles and let the kiddos pop them! If you’re inside, maybe just hand some out (I worry about slippery floors, but if it’s not an issue for you, go for it). The semi-realistic art gives way to shiny flights of fancy; the bubble’s sheen seems to shine right off the page. The text is simple, easy to read, and great for newly confident readers. Kids and grownups alike will enjoy the simple joy of a little boy and his quest to pop the bubble.

Geeky F@b 5: It’s Not Rocket Science! (Geeky F@b 5 #1), by Lucy & Liz Lareau/Illustrated by Ryan Jampole, (July 2018, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1545801222

Recommended for readers 7-11

Papercutz has another fun, original graphic novel for intermediate readers; this time, they’re going STEM with the Geeky F@b 5: 5 girls who love science and are using their skills to make Amelia Earhart Elementary School better. Lucy, a fourth grader, and her older sister, Marina, a sixth grader, have just moved to the area and are ready to start school. Lucy, who loves the environment and animals, gels with her classmates right away: AJ, who wants to be an engineer like her dad; Sofia, a glitter girl who loves coding and making apps; and Zara, forever on her headphones, and a math whiz. Lucy gets hurt in the school’s outdated playground that first day, and the principal and nurse shut the playground down: but the girls have plans! Together with their teacher, they come up with a great idea: put together a series of fundraisers to get the money to rebuild the playground! Every one of the girls has a job to do; now, if they could just get the bullying older kids on their side, things would be perfect.

Geeky F@b is the first in a new STEM-focused graphic novel series form Papercutz; Volume 2 is due in December. The book is easy and fun to read, with a reasonable plot and goal that can empower readers to be forces for positive change in their own communities. The characters are diverse and relatable; I enjoyed spending some time with them and am pretty sure they’ll be popular reading at my library. This would pair nicely with Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith‘s Nick and Tesla series (novels, not graphic) from Quirk, the Girls Who Code chapter book series, and the Howtoons graphic novels. Fun for summer!