Grump

by Leisl Shurtliff
First sentence: “I was born just feet from the surface o the earth, completely unheard o for a dwarf, but it couldn’t be helped.”
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Content: It’s got a longer chapters, and some challenging words, but nothing too outrageous. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the library.

Borlen is a very unusual dwarf: he was born near the surface and is more curious about the human world than digging for gems. He carries around a pet bat, and spends his time reading about the human world and trying to go above and see it. His Fate Stone — the stone that all dwarves get when they come of age — is a mirror, which is unheard of. And so, when he’s placed as a Seventh (the worst position) on a mining team and there’s a chance for him to see what the humans are like, he takes it. 

Once above ground, Borlen stumbles into the clutches of Snow White’s power-hungry stepmother, the Queen Elfrieda Vronika Ingrid Lenore (let’s see if you get it), who unfortunately mis-interprets the word “fairest” to mean most beautiful instead of most fair. That creates a problem for Borlen, when he’s tasked with seeing Snow White killed.

The rest of the plot follows the fairy tale pretty closely, and I enjoyed it. I’m not entirely sure why giving Borlen — Grump of the seven dwarves (I recognized Sneezy, Bashful, and a couple others in the mix) — a backstory was necessary to retell Snow White, but it did make for an entertaining little book.

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The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe

by Ally Condie
First sentence: “Call tells me he sees a star and that makes me laugh.”
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Release date: March 26, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In this near-future, dystopian world, Poe is a member of the Outpost, a group of people who mine the river for gold and basically try to survive. (From what, we don’t know). They are up against the raiders, every time they take to the rivers, and when Poe is on her first voyage, the raiders kill her love, Call. So, she vows revenge. She creates an impenetrable armor for the ships as they dredge the rivers, collecting gold. And now, it’s her last voyage, the one on the biggest river, the one where she’s captain. The one where she will get revenge for Call’s death.

And then everything goes. wrong.

I wanted to love this one. I wanted it to be fierce girls taking on the patriarchy, overturning everything, breaking free from the bondage of male rule. But, what I got was one girl, grieving for a lost love, building a weapon out of revenge, and her personal journey to enlightenment. Not that it was a bad journey: I liked Poe, and I thought that (for the most part) her journey from one side of the conflict to the other was believable. Maybe a bit rushed, but understandable. Mostly I felt this book was an exploration of the anger stage of grief, and how a person gets through to acceptance and moving on. Which is fine and all, but not what I wanted out of the story. (For a much better girls taking on the patriarchy book, check out Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl)

Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid

by Marcus Emerson
First Sentence: “Sixty miles per hour.”
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Others in the series (it’s probably better if you read this first): The Super Life of Ben Braver
Content: There’s fart and poop jokes (of course). There’s also lots of illustrations and white space with short chapters. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

This is a second in a series, and for many reasons (well, time mostly) I didn’t read the first. From what I can tell: Ben Braver is a perfectly normal kid who got sent to this boarding school for kids with superpowers. And he saved them from an evil supervillain. Except no one at the school knows that Ben doesn’t have powers (well, except for the Headmaster — who’s about as reliable as Dumbledore — and his best friends). It’s the new year, and there’s a new menace — sort of — and Ben’s doing his level best to hide his lack of powers while he gets more and more popular.

Actually, this one is more about the ability of fame to go to one’s head. Ben gets SUPER obnoxious while he gets more and more attention, but (of course) everything comes crashing down around him. And when the real threat presents itself, he does what he can to save the other students, but in the end, it’s an outside person (whose appearance was explained away in a sentence) who solves the problem. (Yeah, I have a problem with easy solutions like that.)

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I think I was hoping for something fun and funny, and while there were some amusing points (humor is REALLY hard to do), it kind of all just fell flat for me. (There was one one-page comic that made me laugh, but that was it.) It’s probably great for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid crowd (I didn’t like those much either) and for those reluctant readers who want a lot of illustrations in their stories. But it really wasn’t my thing.


Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic

by Eliot Schrefer
First sentence: “What’s wrong with me?”
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Content: There are some moments of intense action. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

I picked this one up after hosting Eliot at a few school events last February. I learned SO much about the Amazon ecosystem and the animals in it, and Eliot was so charming and passionate about animals that I thought I really ought to give the book a try.

And? Well, it’s perfect for those who like prophecies and talking animals and friends who work together towards a single goal. It’s MUCH better than the Warriors books, and about as good as the Wings of Fire books (real animals instead of dragons though). Granted, I’m not a fan of talking animals, but even I liked this one. Schrefer knows how to plot really well, and I liked the small things like using “otherpaw” (for example) instead of “other hand”. You can tell, reading the book, that Schrefer knows his animals, and knows how they work together (or not) in an environment. And he knows how to write action, and how to keep the plot moving forward.

So, while this may not be my sort of book, it’s still a good one, and I’m glad I read it.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

by Carlos Hernandez
First sentence: “There’s all sorts of bad advice out there about how to deal with bullies.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s long and sometimes meandering, which might discourage reluctant readers. There are also hints of romance (but none actual) which might turn off squeamish kids. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Sal Vidón has just moved to Miami from Connecticut, and is starting his first week at a really cool performing arts and technology school. The problem? It’s the third day of school, and it’s the third time he’s landed in the principal’s office. The first two were reasonable: to meet the principal on his first day, and the second because he was eating Skittles after PE and the gym teacher was unaware that Sal is diabetic. But this time? It’s because he played a prank — put a raw, whole chicken — into the locker of a kid who was bullying him. Sure, as a prank goes it’s mostly harmless. The real catch? Sal pulled that chicken out of a different universe.

And he was being watched: by Gabi Reál, student council president extraordinaire, and puzzle figure-outer. And once she turns her sights on Sal, his life is never going to be the same.

This is one part science fiction book: with multiverses, and calamity physics (is that a real thing?) and warping the space-time continuum, with self-driving cars (I want one, please) and really advanced AI. And one part Cuban family drama: Sal’s mother died six years ago, and he’s been pulling other versions of his Mami out of other universes ever since. There’s also Gabi’s drama with an infant baby brother fighting for his life, and the bully with a bigger backstory. There’s a lot going on in this book, but it all works, and works well together. Hernandez has given us a funny, clever Cuban speculative fiction book, that kept me turning pages and wondering where he was going to go next. There are cool teachers and Gabi’s gaggle of dads (too hard to explain), and it’s all just enormous amounts of fun.

Freya & Zoose

by Emily Butler
First sentence: “There was no question in Freya’s mind that this was her last chance.”
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Review copy provided by the author.
Content: It’s short and highly illustrated, but it contains some big(ish) words. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Freya is a rockhopper penguin who has always wanted (and feared) adventure. So, when she hears about an expedition to the North Pole (by hot air balloon!) she takes a deep breath and hops on board. There, she meets the intrepid (and somewhat annoying) mouse Zoose, who becomes her unwelcome (at first) traveling companion. Together they weather the ups and downs and the hardships and joys of traveling to the Arctic, and discover that perhaps friendship is the most important part.

Because I sell books, I tend (sometimes, not always) to read them looking for the person who will like the book. And this one, I think, will appeal to one of two sorts of people: those who like talking animals, and those who like quiet books that feel like classics. It’s a charming little book, with a quiet little adventure (Things do Happen, but it’s not a mile-a-minute page-turner) that I think would make a fantastic read-aloud to a younger child. I’m not sure how much an older kid would like it — it’s firmly geared toward the younger end of the middle grade range — but I really do think that reading it aloud to a 4-6 year old is the perfect thing to do with this book.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Courting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence: “I was born in the upstairs room of an ancient roadside tavern, a group of common whores acting as midwives.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart
Content: There is violence (of course) and frank talk about sex, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the Teen Section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

  1. My kick-ass nuns of death are back! Can I tell you how happy this makes me?
  2. Don’t you LOVE the cover re-do? SO much better than the original ones (check them out for the original trilogy, too.)
  3. You don’t have to read the original trilogy (or at least that’s what LaFevers said in some material that came with the ARC), but I think it would have been helpful if I had gone back and refreshed my memory about, at the very least, Sybella and her story (that’s Dark Triumph). I missed a bit because of it.
  4. This one is mostly Sybella’s story, as she follows Britanny’s duchess to France as she marries the king. But it’s also Genevieve’s story, a girl who was sent to the convent of Saint Mortain as a child, and then sent to France to be an undercover spy. She was forgotten, however, and sent to an outlying area by the French regent. (Who is, by all accounts, an awful, manipulative person.)
  5. It took me a while to get into this one (it would have been better had I refreshed my memory by reading the others first), but once I did, I fell into the court intrigue, the sheer awesomeness of the women in the convent, and just the way LaFevers tells a story.

And now, to wait for the second in this duology.