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!

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

ER for the weird: Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures

Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures, by W. Stone Cotter, (Jan. 2018, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627792578

Recommended for readers 9-13

Twelve-year-old Chance Jeopard digs a giant hole, cracks a pipe, and discovers a mysterious letter with an urgent message. He never knew that there was a hospital for magical creatures right underneath him until that moment, but St. Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures – a 955-year-old underground infirmary with over 6,000 levels and 1.8 million patients – is in grave danger if he doesn’t get this letter delivered. There’s a human down there, ready to unleash a deadly virus, and this letter details the cure. The only problem? No. Humans. Allowed. Chance and his science-minded sister, Pauline, along with her best friend, goth girl Mersey, are on a mission to save the day, as long as they avoid getting sniffed out by the current inhabitants. They’ll encounter ghouls, vampires, Deviklopts, Geckasofts, and more as they race against time to save the Infirmary.

Saint Philomene’s is madcap, crazy fun. Chance is an earnest, likable character who finds himself tossed into the middle of a crazy mission, when he really just wanted to be the messenger. Pauline is a pragmatic realist, and her friendship with goth Mersey make them wonderful foils for one another, especially once they find themselves pulled into the madness of Saint Philomene’s. While the frenetic pacing may overwhelm some readers, fantasy fans will get a kick out of this one.

 

 

first chapter https://www.saintphilomenes.com/

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

Aleks Mickelsen brings us back to Enchanted Norway!

Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven (Zaria Fierce #5), by Keira Gillett, (April 2018, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750093

Recommended for readers 10-14

The second Aleks Mickelsen adventure – and the fifth book in the Zaria Fierce series – is here! Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven continues the adventure started in last year’s Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well. Aleks, a changeling raised by his human family, has to work with his fae sister, Nori, and his best friends to stop the chaos dragon Fritjof from wreaking havoc on the fae and human worlds. This time, Aleks has to negotiate with his treacherous fae relations and undergo a series of tests – Harry Potter fans, you’ll love this – to save his friends. Thank goodness he’s getting better at working with Airi (pronounced eye-riii), his white raven.

Everything you love about the Zaria Fierce books is here: the strong friendships, the nonstop adventure, the magical creatures, and the hero’s quest are all here, waiting for fantasy lovers to join them. There are increasingly complex relationships to navigate, with a little love triangle brewing between Filip, Henrik the Stag Lord, and Zaria emerging as a continuing subplot; Aleks continues to have an up-and-down relationship with his fae family, particularly Nori, whose own quest to reunite the fae courts under her family puts the two at odds throughout the book.

Keira Gillett’s at the height of her storytelling here; she starts off the book with fun and friends, easing us back into the fantasy world of Niffleheim, where the group is camping on their quest to find and stop Fritjof. Don’t get too comfortable, though; the action starts quickly and takes you right along for the ride. Keira’s storytelling is rich in imagery and fully realized characters who have grown with each book in the series. She lets her characters retain the essence of who they are, while letting them be formed by their experiences. She understands that they’re now firmly in their teens, and takes that into account by navigating complex feelings and relationships with one another. Alex’s own stress about the potential loss of his unique changeling abilities is at war with his lifelong desire to be “normal”, and if that isn’t the story of being a teen right there in a nutshell, what is?

Eoghan Kerrigan’s illustrations are as breathtaking as ever, giving this series classic fantasy artwork to engage our imaginations; fantasy cartographer Kaitlin Statz’s maps guide us along a wonderfully secret tour of Enchanted Norway. Hmmm… it may be time to consider a scavenger hunt for my Summer Reading program… how about Find the Water Wyvern? (I could never get through a Keira Gillett review without mentioning my beloved Norwick in some form!)

Take your time, treat yourself, and enjoy Aleks Mickelson and the Call of the White Raven, and get ready for Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War, due later this year.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

What memories does YOUR door hold?

Beyond the Doors, by David Neilsen, (Aug. 2017, Crown), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-101-93582-8

Recommended for readers 8-13

Four siblings have the weirdest, worst day of their lives when they’re pulled out of class to learn that their father is in a coma after a fire consumed their home. As their mother disappeared years ago, there’s a sobbing social worker, ready to split them up to horrors unknown, until a mystery aunt is located. Janice, Zack, Sydney, and Alexa Rothbaum are quickly shuttled off to this mysterious, scatterbrained aunt. Once the kids start exploring and settling in, they learn the bizarre secret behind their aunt’s fortress home: she’s got a machine that allows her to use doors to access the memories contained within them, and she’s searching for her father: their grandfather.

Remember Monsters, Inc? How the Monsters would go through different doors to reach different kids’ rooms? Think of it like that, but instead of using the doors to get into kids’ rooms, you stepped into the memories of the person most identified with the door. If you stepped through the door to my room from 1986, for instance, you’d see me, sprawled on my bed reading a copy of Bop! Magazine, in a room papered with Duran Duran posters, and talking to my best friend on the phone. The memories are sepia-tinged, and while you can interact to a degree with the memories, too much interaction has… consequences.

It’s a madcap adventure, with a wacky aunt, an off-the-walls social worker with a penchant for the melodramatic, and loads of family secrets to discover, but character development and world-building aren’t as rich as I’d have enjoyed. There’s quite a bit of humor and a climactic battle that’s both gruesome and thrilling, and readers will never look at a bowl of Cheerios without groaning again. Black and white illustrations keep readers invested in the story. Beyond the Doors will appeal to Series of Unfortunate Events and Mysterious Benedict Society fans; display and booktalk with The Problim Children for some fun discussions about weird siblings and families. Ask kids what doors they would like to wander into – or what their doors would have to say. It’s a great creative writing or art exercise!

Posted in Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

Reign of the Dead – YA fantasy with an LGBT twist

Reign of the Fallen, by Sarah Glenn Marsh, (Feb. 2018, Penguin), $17.99, ISBN: 9780448494395

Recommended for readers 13+

In the land of Karthia, death isn’t always final. Necromancers cater to the Dead, bringing their souls back from the Deadlands and allowing them to move among society, even rule their lands. They must, however, remain shrouded; if their shrouds should fall off, they will become Shades – essentially, ravening zombies – and have to be put down before they can cause harm. Odessa is a master necromancer, as is her lover, Evander; they work together to discover the death of their mentor at the hands of a Shade until another Shade attacks leaves Evander dead and Odessa grieving. In the midst of her grief, Odessa and one of Evander’s sisters stumble onto a plot to overthrow the kingdom of the Dead; it’s a conspiracy that will leave her home in chaos. As Odessa works with Evander’s sister to untangle the mystery, she finds herself drawn to this young woman – as she was to Evander.

There’s a lot going on in Reign of the Fallen, and Sarah Glenn Marsh puts some nice worldbuilding into her story. She’s created a society where the dead can still be as productive as they were in life, but this causes strife among those who feel that it’s time for the dead to step aside and let the living rule. She’s created a world where sexuality and gender are fluid; it’s a part of the fabric of their society. To refer to this an LGBT novel is, however, a bit premature, at least to me; the main character spends a good part of the storyline in love with or mourning her lost, cis-male, love, and only just starts to notice and act on her attraction for another female fairly late in the book. Other same-sex relationships are referred to, but this is a society where love is love, and neither gender nor sexuality changes the rules. There are sex-positive LGBT themes; I’m just not sure that having a bisexual character who only seems to discover her bisexuality 2/3 through the novel qualifies it as an LGBT book, rather than a well-written, immersive fantasy.

Overall, Reign of the Fallen is a nice add to fantasy collections and will satisfy fantasy readers that enjoy intrigue and worldbuilding. The book has a starred review from School Library Journal.

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

Put The Serpent’s Secret at the TOP of your TBR.

The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1), by Sayantani Dasgupta, (Feb. 2018, Scholastic), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1338185706

Recommended for readers 9-12

Kiranmala is an ordinary 12 year-old girl, living in New Jersey, with her totally embarrassing parents who keep calling her “Princess” and telling her stories about Indian mythology: so annoying. The thing is, they’re not telling stories. Kiranmala is a real Indian princess, she’s from a secret fantasy world, and she’s a totally awesome demon slayer. And she discovers all of this when she gets home from school, on her 12th birthday, to find her parents gone and a gross, slobbering, rhyming rakkhosh demon coming for her. While she’s trying to figure out what is going on, two princes show up to help out, bring her back to the secret world where she’s from, and help her rescue her parents. Oh, and save the world. No pressure.

This book is un-put-downable. Sayantani Dasgupta packs so much action into this story, yet gives us wonderful character development and a fabulous introduction to Indian mythology (black and white illustrations throughout help). Seriously! I tweeted at NatGeo Kids while I was reading The Serpent’s Secret, because I think it’s high time we got an Indian Mythology compendium to join their Norse, Greek, Egyptian, and Roman Mythology volumes. Rhyming demons? Talking birds? They have flying horses, too? There’s so much I need to know here! To be fair, Ms. Dasgupta does give us a bit of an introduction at the end of the book, but with all these wonderful Southeast Asian books hitting shelves (looking at you, Aru Shah and the End of Time), it’s time to join the party. There is a wealth of rich storytelling that readers are gaining access to; let’s give them the context, the origins, of these stories.

I know I’m gushing, but I’m not even sorry. Kiran is a fun, sarcastic, tween heroine, and she’s surrounded by a hilarious, exciting, and straight up gross cast of characters. And this is only the first book of a new series? Sign me up. I want more! Give this to any of your fantasy fans; especially those Rick Riordan readers who have already demonstrated their love of Greek, Egyptian, Norse, and Roman mythologies. Give this to the kids in your library who want heroes and heroines who look like them. Give this to the kids in your library who need to understand that there are heroes and heroines who don’t look like them.

The Serpent’s Secret has starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

Sayantani Dasgupta has an author website and a list of appearances and events.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Holly Black’s newest fantasy series begins with The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black, (Jan. 2018, Little, Brown), $18.99, ISBN: 9780316310277

Recommended for readers 12+

I have been insanely excited about this book since I saw Holly Black talk about it during her panel with Ryan Graudin at BookExpo last year, so when the ARC showed up on NetGalley, I jumped on it. It was worth the wait, because The Cruel Prince is Holly Black at her high fantasy, intrigue and betrayal finest.

Jude is a mortal girl, raised with her twin sister, Taryn, and half-sister sister, Vivi, in the Court of Fairie. By the main that killed her parents, who also happens to be Vivi’s father. The two human sisters want desperately to belong, but are looked down upon for their mortality; the Folk use every opportunity to sneer at and humiliate them, and fiery Jude takes most of the abuse. Cruelest of them all is Prince Cardan, the youngest son of the High King. When Jude is given the chance to become part of a shadowy group of spies, she grabs at the chance, and discovers her own capacities for bloodshed and double-dealing. And that will serve her well as the Court of Faerie moves toward a big change: one that will see Jude making and breaking alliances to save those closest to her.

There is SO much to unpack here, and it’s all brilliant. The characters are as loathsome as they are amazing – and that’s said with the highest compliment. The faerie folk are beautiful, cruel, entitled, and immortal; we love them as much as we hate them. Jude emerges as a strong heroine; conflicted by loving the man who raised her as his own, yet murdered her parents in cold blood; conflicted by her desire to live among the Folk as one of them, yet disgusted by their capacity for cruelty. There are plot twists that you won’t see coming, and betrayals that will make you yelp. If you’re a high fantasy fan – or have readers who are – this is a must have for your shelves. Now, to tensely wait for the next installment. (In the meantime, pick up Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.)