Audiobook: The Sun is a Compass

by Caroline Van Hemert
Read by Xe Sands
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s some swearing, including several f-bombs. It’s in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore.

I picked this one out of my audiobook stash primarily because I’m a sucker for travel books, and this one — in which Caroline and her husband Patrick traverse from Bellingham, Washington to the Arctic Circle entirely on foot and boat over the course of six months –seemed to fit the bill.

A biologist by trade, Van Hemert also grew up in Alaska, and has had a need for adventure — or to at least be in the outdoors — her whole life. And she found a kindred spirit in Patrick, who (if I remember right) built his own cabin in Alaska (though he grew up on the East Coast) and lived in it for a year between high school and college. They are the sort of people to decide to spend six months trekking 4000 miles and then write a book about it.

I don’t mean to sound bitter (if I do); they are amazing people. And I’m glad that there are people like them out there. I’m not sure this one worked entirely in audio; while I was transfixed with the story, I was a bit frustrated I didn’t have a map. The places she was talking about (aside from Bellingham; I know where that is) were foreign to me. Sure, I could have stopped the book and Googled it, but I listen while I drive, and it wasn’t practical. That said, I did enjoy her story, the ups and downs of six months of backwoods hiking, and the reminder that the world is a big, wild place that has been here (and will be here) a lot longer than we humans.

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The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Carey Pietsch
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Content: It’s violent, but not overly so, and there are multiple instances of f-bombs. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In an interesting twist on things, this graphic novel is based on a podcast, in which the McElroy family gets together and plays Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve never listened to the podcast, though I did dip into it a little bit just to see how much like the podcast the graphic novel was, but I thought this one sounded interesting. What they did, essentially, was pull out the threads of the story from their game, and make it into a straight-up story. (For the most part. Griffin, who’s the dungeon master, shows up as the DM on occasion to direct the action.)

And for the most part, this was fun. It holds up as a story of three adventurers — and elf, a dwarf, and a human — who are on a rescue mission which turns into something bigger than they thought. They interact with wild and weird (and often hilarious) characters, like the bad bodyguard Barry Bluejeans, or the boss gerblin, or the female orc that has a bigger, more encompassing purpose.

It’s silly, and I think it’ll especially resonate with people who have either listened to the podcast or played a lot of D&D. But it still worked for me.

This Was Our Pact

by Ryan Andrews
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Content: It’s a bit on the longish side, which might intimidate readers. There’s nothing objectionable, content-wise. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Every year, on the Autumn Equinox, Ben’s town lights lanterns and set them floating on the river. There are stories about what happens to the lanterns, but no one really knows. Most times, the kids who follow the lanterns, turn back at the bend. But this year, Ben and his friends — the Cool Kids — have made a pact to follow the lanterns all the way to the end.

Except there’s Nathaniel. Ben’s dad wants him to be friends with Nathaniel, but he’s a dork, and awkward, and Ben’s friends don’t like him. So, when Nathaniel starts following Ben and his friends, Ben does his best to ignore him. But, Ben’s friends pull off one by one, abandoning the Quest, and soon it’s just down to Ben and Nathaniel. And that’s when the adventure REALLY starts.

Oh my goodness, this graphic novel is so gorgeous. It’s whimsical and fun and beautiful and so very magical. I liked the evolution of Ben and Nathaniel’s friendship, and the way the whole adventure went. I adored Andrews’ use of color — its mostly in blue tones, because the book takes place at night, but with pops of yellow and pink and red. The whole book is just a gorgeous, fantastic adventure.

Absolutely recommended.

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl

by Ben Hatke
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita, The Return of Zita, Mighty Jack, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
Release date: September 3, 2019
Content: There is some fantasy violence. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the boosktore.

Jack thought he closed the door to the world of the giants. Zita’s been home from her adventures for a while. They’ve met, and they’re hanging out (well, Zit and her friends have pretty much moved in, much to Jack’s mom’s dismay) and Jack is way enamored with Zita’s stories, which makes his friend Lilly kind of angry. But then the giants start breaking through the final door, and suddenly Zita, Jack, Lilly, Maddie, and Joseph (plus assorted robots, space creatures, and goblins) realize that they have to work together to save the world from the impending giant invasion. So, they do.

I adore these books and think they’re great fun. And this one is no exception. I loved the theme of friendship through it all, and how that even though you meet someone new, that doesn’t mean you give up your old friends. And how the sum of many is greater than the strength of one. It gave me everything I’ve come to love about Hatke’s work: adventure, heart, and humor. And it’s a satisfying end to the series.

I’m just really sad this series is ending.

Sea Sirens

by Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some intense moments, but the language is actually pretty simple. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section, but I’d give it to the younger end of that set.

Trot is a California girl through and through. She spends the days (when she’s not in school!) at the beach with her grandfather while her mother works — he fishes, she surfs. Except there’s a problem: her grandfather has the beginning stages of dementia and doesn’t always remember where he is or that he’s supposed to be watching Trot. After one experience where her grandfather goes missing, Trot’s mom grounds them both to the house. So, Trot sneaks out with their cat, Cap’n Bill, and they go surfing. Except, they end up in the underwater world of the Sea Sirens. The are mortal enemies with the Sea Serpents, and Trot and Cap’n Bill help defeat them. So, they’re taken in as heroes for an underwater adventure with the Sea Sirens. (And Grandpa comes too!)

As I mentioned in the content, this is almost a beginning chapter Graphic Novel (does it belong with the other beginning chapter books? Perhaps.) — the language is basic, there are a lot of illustrations and not a lot of text, and the adventure is pretty simple. I think it serves the same function as the Babymouse books: it’s there to help beginning readers find a footing in the world of graphic novels. It’s fantastic that the main character is Vietnamese-American, and that her grandfather sometimes slips into Vietnamese when he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. It’s a cute book — I bet the full-color finished is quite gorgeous — and it’s a start of a series of adventures that Trot and Cap’n Bill will have. It’ll be a good one to put into the hands of those 1-3rd graders who are looking for something fun to read.

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth

by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third
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Content: There are some scary images — all based in folklore. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section.

First off: this is a second book in a series, so I felt like I was missing a bit of origin story, but it really does work okay as a stand alone.

Three friends: Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), Lupe Impala (an impala, the animal not the car), and El Chavo Flapjack Octopus (again, self-explanatory) have noticed that their friend, Genie (the cat!) has gone missing. They decide to go looking for Genie, and soon discover that he’s been taken captive by Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the underworld. Not to be outdone by some god, the three friends take their car into the underworld to get Genie back.

On the one hand, this is a super cool graphic novel. Ancient gods, huge fights, and who doesn’t love a trip into the underworld? They met all sorts of mythical creatures, from the jackal to La Llorona, and even celebrated Dia de los Muertos. If you know Texas, too, you’ll recognize some landmarks.

I’m not a huge fan of the art style, it’s tri-color pen-and-ink, but it just reinforces the busy-ness of the book to me. I get why the author was using that style; it kind of looks like tattoos, and it is reminiscent of doodling on pages, but it didn’t work for me. And while I appreciated the use of Spanish mixed in with the English, the fact that they provided footnoted translations (which, again, I understand why) really ground my reading to a halt. It worked better once I figured out I could just gather the meaning of the Spanish from the context.

I’m not sorry I read this one, though. It’s clever and fun, and even if the art wasn’t my favorite, I think it was worth the time. Maybe start with book one, though.

The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson

by Quinn Sosna-Spear
First sentence: “‘Walter’ is no kind of name for a boy.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s death, including one Really Tragic One, as well as some kissing. It was in the middle grades (3-5) section, but I decided that that age group doesn’t want to read about kissing so I moved it to the YA (grades 6-8) section.

I picked this one up after the first line was chosen as the best of the week a couple weeks back. I was intrigued (I love the cover!). It’s the story of an imaginative boy with an overbearing mother and a dead father in a dreary town and his search for Something More. Walter’s dead father was an inventor (his mother is a mortician) and he desperately wants to follow in his footsteps, so when he gets an invitation to join a famous inventor on his island, he takes his mother’s hearse (a 13 year old knows how to drive?!) and runs away with the girl next door.

It’s less about Walter and Cordelia’s adventure though, and more about forgiveness and acceptance between Walter and his mother. See, Walter and Cordelia retrace the path that his parents took when leaving the island and coming to their boring, dreary town, and in doing so Walter Learns Things about his parents, particularly his father, which he never knew before.

It wasn’t a bad book; I did finish it, though by the end I was skimming (it may have been me). In the end, though, it seems to me the kind of kids books that adults would like rather than kids. I’m not sure many kids are wanting to explore their relationships with their overbearing mothers (on the other hand, there are overbearing mothers who need to read this) and not many kids are interested in heteronormative relationships either. There just wasn’t enough adventure and too much moody musing. Maybe they wanted to be all Dahl-esque, but it just kind of fell flat for me. Which is just too bad, since the premise is pretty great.