Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

New fantasy YA brings a together a group of Royal Bastards

Royal Bastards (Royal Bastards #1), by Andrew Shvarts, (Jun 2017, Hyperion), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484767658

Recommended for ages 14+

This new fantasy series follows a group of Royal Bastards – illegitimate children of royals – as they try to save a royal princess’ life and prevent a war. Sixteen year-old Tilla is the bastard daughter of Lord Kent of the Western Province; she lives in comfortable accommodations, but her father has held her at arm’s distance ever since his legitimate wife bore him two daughters. Tilla’s half brother, Jax, from a different father, lives on Kent’s lands as a stablehand. While Jax is happy with life as it is, Tilla longs for legitimacy and a better relationship with her father; two things he’s withheld from her thus far. She’s invited to her father’s banquet honoring the visiting royal princess Lyriana, and sits at the bastard table with Miles, a bastard from neighboring House Hampsted, and Zell, a trueborn son-turned-bastard from the warrior Zitochi clan of the North. Lyriana insists on sitting with them and getting to know them, and ends up tagging along on what was supposed to be an evening out between just Jax and Tilla. While out at the shore, the group stumbles upon a horrific and treasonous episode that puts every one of their lives in danger: in Miles’ and Tilla’s cases, even from their own parents.

The group of teens is on the run, hoping to make it back to Lyriana’s kingdom before the combined forces of Lord Kent, Lady Hampsted, and the Zitochi clan can catch them. The bastards have to stay alive, prevent a mage slaughter, and a civil war that will claim thousands of lives – can they get along long enough to survive the journey?

There’s a lot of story to unpack in this first book. The biggest stumbling block for me was the contemporary language used in the high fantasy setting. It’s off-putting and took me out of the flow of the novel. Vernacular aside, Royal Bastards is a fast-paced adventure, loaded with intrigue, betrayal, and teen romance. I like the world-building: a fantasy world where bastards are recognized and can gain legitimacy if their parents choose to bestow it upon them; a major coup in the works, and plenty of intrigue and betrayal to keep things interesting. There’s rich character development, particularly in the relationship between Jax and Tilla and Tilla’s growth throughout the novel. There’s some diversity in the characters, although some fantasy tropes pop up here; most notably, the clueless royal who wants to meet “the little people” and the brooding, fur-wearing savage.

YA fantasy fans will dig in and enjoy this one. I’d booktalk Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules as an interesting counterpart that looks at the relationship between royals and their children and war. Talk up the Game of Thrones books to readers that may be familiar with the HBO series. Give a copy of Joshua Khan’s Shadow Magic and Dream Magic books to younger siblings who aren’t ready for this one yet.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Nocturnals Return in The Fallen Star

The Nocturnals (Book 3): The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (May 2017, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020057

Recommended for readers 8-12

The lovable group of Nocturnal sleuths is back in their third adventure, this time with high stakes: the forest’s pomelos have been poisoned, and the flowers that cure the sickness are disappearing! As the group watches a star fall one evening, they meet a mysterious aye-aye, Iris, who declares that the forest is being invaded and monsters from space have poisoned the pomelos! Dawn, ever the thoughtful and skeptical fox, is suspicious, and seeks a more down-to-earth reason, but things become more tense when they discover that animals in the forest are getting sick, including poor Tobin, who’ve all eaten pomelos. The blue flowers that help cure the sickness are disappearing, and a strange blue glow shows up right before the flowers start disappearing. This sounds like a job for the Nocturnals!

This third book in the animal friends series takes no prisoners: things are tense, with the friends racing against time to help their sick friends and find out the truth behind the poisoned fruit and disappearing cure. Bismark is in full narcissist with a heart of gold mode, proclaiming he speaks alien (and then slipping and admitting it was gibberish) and wooing Dawn every chance he gets. Dawn is still the most focused and perceptive member of the group, and sweet, gentle Tobin is the source of possibly the greatest fart joke in the history of children’s literature, giving readers much-needed comic relief throughout the white knuckle moments The Fallen Star is filled with.

We also meet some more animals in this book; most notably, an Aye-aye named Iris, and the woylies, a group of small marsupials who pitch in to help the Nocturnals. You can find more information about Aye-ayes at Zooborns.com, and Whiteman Park, a conservation center in Australia, has a downloadable fact sheet available on the endangered woylie.

This Aye-aye has its eyes on you! (source: Zooborns.com)
Woylie: Now say it with an Australian accent! (Source: whitemanpart.com.au)

Teamwork, friendship, and determination sees the friends through this latest adventure, and there’s a lovely message about tolerance that is especially important reading.

Things have started taking off for Nocturnals since the first book published last year!  The Nocturnals World website offers Boredom Busters, face painting tips, and a wealth of educational resources for classrooms and libraries, and the New York Public Library, in conjunction with Fabled Films, launched a read-aloud writing program in New York City public schools.

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

Everything can change in One Moment

One Moment, by Kristina McBride, (Jan. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510714557

Recommended for ages 14-18

Maggie is looking at the best summer of her life. She and her group of best friends are heading into their senior year of high school, and she’s made a big decision about her relationship with her boyfriend of almost two years, Joey. But things change in an instant when the friends head out to the gorge to kick off their summer; Joey, the charismatic daredevil of the group, dives off a cliff, and the next thing Maggie remembers is her friend Adam coming to get her and seeing Joey, unmoving, on the ground. As Maggie and her friends mourn Joey’s death, she also discovers that Joey kept so man secrets – secrets that Adam and her friend, Shannon, seem to be privy to. As Maggie struggles to regain her memory of that fateful day, she learns that Joey may not have been everything she thought he was.

Part mystery, part coming of age heartbreaker, One Moment looks at the hole left when a loved one dies, and the confusion and anger that step in when they leave behind secrets. Maggie is at times sympathetic and at times frustrating; the author leads readers to figure things out long before Maggie does, and more often than not, she falls into a classic victim role. She finds her strength by ultimately letting Joey go in her own way, but getting there can be a battle. The story does speak to the

Teen romance and realistic fiction fans will enjoy this one. Booktalk this with Julie Anne Peters’ Lies My Girlfriend Told Me; it’s a strong readalike from an LGBTQ perspective.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Meet The Kelly Twins!

Second graders Arlene and Ilene are The Kelly Twins: twins with two different birthdays! (One was born at 11:55 pm on July 17th, the other at 12:03 am on July 18th.) They look alike and they dress alike; they even share a bedroom. They’re in two separate classes at school, but otherwise, they’re always together.

In Arlene and Ilene’s first book, The Two and Only Kelly Twins, the twins get matching identical pet ferrets, which they dress alike (naturally), get a little jealous when a set of triplets arrives at their school, and learn that being an identical twin, wearing an identical Halloween costume, isn’t the greatest thing for trick-or-treating. They also learn what it’s like to be separated, when Arlene has to be hospitalized with appendicitis – and that makes them not exactly alike anymore!

Double or Nothing With the Two and Only Kelly Twins is the newest Kelly Twins story. In Double or Nothing, the twins continue exploring what makes them different, from getting a haircut to learning that friends with siblings look forward to time on their own, away from their sisters and brothers.

Fans of Johanna Hurwitz’s Monty series will be happy to see that he shows up in the Kelly Twins books. The Kelly Twins books are perfect for fans of Ivy and Bean, Judy Moody, Anna Branford’s Violet Mackerel books, and Cherise Mericle Harper’s Just Grace. I’d include some diverse chapter books, like Hilary McKay’s Lulu series, the Katie Woo and Ruby Lu books, Monica Brown’s Lola Levine series, and Karen English’s Nikki and Deja books. There are so many great chapter books that boys and girls love that you can feature here, this is just a smattering! (I may have to do a longer book list on this…) Parents and educators can download a curriculum guide here!

 

Tuesday Mourning’s black and white illustration are adorable and really give each twin her own personality, highlighting subtle differences between the two. She also puts ferrets in sweaters and skirts: who wouldn’t love that?

The Two and Only Kelly Twins, by Johanna Hurwitz, (Sept. 2013, Candlewick Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0763656027

Double or Nothing with the Two and Only Kelly Twins, (Apr. 2017, Candlewick Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0763688080

Recommended for readers 6-9

Double Fun Giveaway!
One lucky winner has a chance to receive both books featuring the Kelly twins–The Two and Only Kelly Twins AND Double or Nothing With the Two and Only Kelly Twins! (U.S. addresses only, please). Check out this Rafflecopter giveaway to enter!

Johanna Hurwitz is a former children’s librarian and the award-winning author of more than seventy books for children, including The Two and Only Kelly Twins and four books about Arlene and Ilene’s friend Monty, who lives on their street. Ms. Hurwitz divides her time between Great Neck, New York, and Wilmington, Vermont. To learn more, visit her website: johannahurwitz.com.

 

 

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

A young girl finds One Good Thing About America every day

One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, (March 2017, Holiday House), $16.95, ISBN: 9780823436958

Recommended for readers 8-12

At home in the Congo, nine year-old Anaïs is the best English student in her class. She loves spending time at her grandmother’s home. She loves her family: her father, her older brother, Olivier, and younger brother, Jean-Claude, and her mother. But now, her father is in hiding, her older brother, stayed in Africa with their grandmother, and Anaïs, Jean-Claude, and their mother are living in a shelter in Crazy America. Nothing about the people or the language makes sense to her – why would anyone eat chicken fingers? Why do vowels change sounds with every word? – and she misses her home, her life before.

Written in the form of letters from Anaïs to her grandmother, One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, a teacher who works with English Language Learners. Motivated by her students’ determination and their stories, this is her tribute to them as much as it is a chance to create an understanding of the immigrant experience in America. Anaïs, her family, and her classmates and neighbors develop through the course of the story; experiencing sleepovers, mac and cheese dinners, Halloween, and even a frightening emergency room trip. We never get the full story behind Anaïs’ father’s trouble with the mining company, but readers understand the urgency of the situation: her father is in hiding, on the run, and no one that associates with him is safe. While Anaïs longs for her family to be whole again, she has the added challenge of learning a new language and making a new life in a strange country where nothing makes sense. She has good days and bad days; goes from hopeful to frustrated, and every reader will appreciate and understand where she’s coming from. Little doodles throughout the book illustrate new things Anaïs encounters, from the crunchy fall leaves that “make the sound of eating toast” to ice cream and pizza.

A list of English words Anaïs struggles with – what she hears, as opposed to what she learns – also helps readers understand the challenges our language and colloquialisms present to English language learners. Words in French, Anaïs’ native tongue, introduce readers to some new vocabulary.

One Good Thing About America is a good book for all communities. In our current socio-political climate, I daresay it should be a summer reading selection for middle graders (and their families). I suggest booktalking with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again for excellent discussions about the differences within the refugee experience.

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

The Principal’s Underwear is Missing!

The Principal’s Underwear is Missing, by Holly Kowitt, (May 2017, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250091321

Recommended for ages 8-12

Ordinary sixth grader Becca Birnbaum accidentally power slams a volleyball right into eighth grade It Girl Sloan “Selfie: St. Clair, setting off a chain of events that end up with the principal’s new, very large bra missing – and with the girls being the last ones to have it in their possession

The Principal’s Underwear is Missing (originally titled The Principal’s Bra is Missing) is one of those middle school tragi-comedy of errors that middle graders love. Ordinary Girl ends up with the In Crowd, but for how long, and is everyone happy with the arrangement?

I wasn’t in love with the two main characters. Becca is the run of the mill Nerd Girl who doesn’t stand out preferring to blend in with her small group of fellow nerd friends. Sloan, called “Selfie”, thanks to her habit of shooting selfies at all the lavish parties and locales she attends, is self-absorbed to the point of mania. When Becca, desperate to make up for the volleyball accident that left Selfie in a cast, tries to retrieve a confiscated shopping bag from the principal’s office, she grabs the wrong bag and sets the story in motion. From there, Becca takes the responsibility for the whole incident, while Selfie just meanders through the novel, alternately shooting selfies and crying about being in trouble while letting Becca do all the work. Becca never makes Selfie take responsibility for her own actions, preferring to drag Selfie along on their adventure.

Look, I’m reading this as a 40-something year old Mom who worries about my kids standing up for themselves. Are middle graders going to get a kick out of this book? Yes. It’s funny, it’s got underwear humor, and a kinda-sorta unlikely friendship between two school social classes. It’s a quick read, and perfect for a beach bag take-along. But if you’re book-talking this one, talk about Selfie, taking personal responsibility, and stereotyping in middle grade books. Please.

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

Secret Societies, Angels, and Demons: Toward a Secret Sky

Toward a Secret Sky, by Heather Maclean, (Apr. 2017, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-75474-9

Recommended for readers 12+

Seventeen year-old Maren Hamilton is an orphan; her father dead for years, her mother, the recent victim of a freak accident. Sent to Scotland to live with grandparents she’s never met, she discovers much more about her parents than she could ever have realized. They weren’t systems analysts, as she’d always thought; they were members of a secret organization that fought demons. Real demons. Now that she’s discovered her mother’s secret journal, she’s a target for the demons – and so is everyone around her. Luckily, she’s got Gavin, her literal guardian angel, to help her, but against all the rules, she finds herself falling in love with him and is pretty sure the feeling is mutual. When Maren’s friends and grandparents find their lives in danger, it’s up to Maren and Gavin to save them all.

I thoroughly enjoyed Toward a Secret Sky. There’s some DaVinci Code-level action, with secret societies, code-breaking, and angels fighting demons over the United Kingdom skies. It’s also got a solid set of characters and good world-building, and an ending that left me excited for another installment. YA romance fans will love the burgeoning forbidden love between Maren and her angel, the gorgeous, Scottish, Gavin (and I don’t even have to feel like a cougar because he’s over 200 years old). The book teases us, giving little hints about not only The Abbey; the secret organization Maren’s connected to, but about Maren’s own heightened abilities. It’s the perfect amount of information to keep us guessing and reading. It’s a fast-paced, wild ride that YA fans will love, and it’s a solid book to put in your more conservative readers’ hands, too.

Definitely add this to your Summer Reading TBR, and match it with proper romances like Duels & Deception and Jacob Gowans’ A Tale of Light and Shadow duology. There’s also a good 2016 article from Bustle with YA DaVinci Code readalikes that fit nicely with this one.