Audiobook: Whiteout

by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon
Read by Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Dion Graham, Imani Parks, Jordan Cobb, Shayna Small, A.J Beckles & Bahni Turpin
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Others in the “series” Blackout
Content: There is some mild swearing and one almost on-screen sex scene. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Much like Blackout, this book has an overriding premise: a snowstorm has hit Atlanta and has shut down everything (which, to be honest, I’ve experienced. It’s not fun.). People are stranded all over town, from the airport to the stadium to the local music venue. And everyone has a purpose: to help their friend apologize to her girlfriend and win her back.

It’s kind of a silly premise, but then this is not only a YA romance, but it also is a Christmastime/holiday YA romance, so of course, it’s a bit implausible. Everyone ends up with their happily ever after, though the authors do leave you guessing for a bit as to whether or not it will actually happen. It’s a whole lot of spectacle, though not a whole lot of falling in love. Instead, the authors chose to focus on established relationships: whether they are friends looking to level up, or old flames, or making up after a fight. It made the whole story smoother, knowing that these teenagers all had a past together. Additionally, there was so much gay in this book, it was wonderful.

On top of that, the full-cast recording made the whole book just a pleasure to listen to. I really loved this one.

EMG Graphic Novel Round-up 4

Invisible
by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, illustrated by Gabriela Epstein
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Content: There is some disrespect for elders. A lot of it is in Spanish (it’s translated) and I can see that throwing some non-Spanish speakers off it.

George (Puerto Rican, but doesn’t speak much Spanish) is short his community service hours at his middle school, and won’t finish up if he doesn’t get them. So the principal assigns him to the cafeteria first thing in the mornings with four other Latine students: Sara (who is in America from Mexico because her dad has a job here; speaks English but likes to pretend she doesn’t), Miguel (from the Dominican Republic, speaks a little English), Dayara (she’s Cuban, speaks a little English) and Nico (who is here on his own from Venezuela, speaks no English). Together, they discover a woman and her daughter living in their car just off the school grounds. They decide to help her, and because the lunch lady (who is a white, older woman) gets all upset at them for “stealing” the school’s food, they get in trouble. It doesn’t end badly, even though it could have.

There was so much to like about this one. I loved that the book was mostly in Spanish (it was translated, but I kept trying to see how much I could understand) which makes it quite representative I liked how the Latine students were not all one monolith; at one point they make fun of the principal and others for thinking they were all the same. They’re from different countries; of course, they’re not. I liked the conflict between the newer immigrants and George, who is really Anglicized. And i really liked the story of them helping the unhoused woman find a job and a home. It really was a delight to read.

Anne of West Philly
by Ivy Noelle Weir illustrated by Myisha Haynes
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Content: There’s really nothing It’int eh middle-grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

If you have read Anne of Gren Gables or seen the show (whichever version you like), then you know the plot of this one. Its only changes are that Anne is a Black foster kid in the system and lives in Philidelphia instead of Prince Edward Island. Otherwise, the book gets the story pretty much beat for beat.

This means it is a pretty cute adaptation of the classic story, updating it with cell phones and robot clubs and making Gilbert and Anne work together to get into an elite high school. Marilla and Matthew are in the story, as is Diana – and the part where Anne gets Diana accidentally drunk). It’s a sweet book because Anne of Green Gables is a sweet story, but it’s a good way to introduce new kids to the story.

Two-Headed Chicken
by Tm Angleberger
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Content: It’s full of silly humor. It’s a bit harder than the Dog Man books but is in the same vein. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

There’s not much of a plot to this one: the Two-headed chicken is being chased by an evil green moose, not just in this reality, but in all realities and dimensions. They have a hat that will switch them through the different multiverses and if they can stop the moose in one, they stop him in all of them.

What this book is: a lot of laughs. I thought it was going to be kind of annoying when I started, but I found myself giggling at the dumb jokes (let’s hear it for the fish with a mustache who is asking about everyone’s feelings, and more importantly: Duckter Whooo) It’s supremely silly in all the best ways. I can see myself handselling this one through the holidays to kids who have either outgrown or finished Dog Man and are looking for something else. It’s got everything: cultural references, multiverses (they’re in right now), and lots and lots of poking fun at everything.

And stick around for the world’s longest knock-knock joke. You won’t regret it.

Batman Robin and Howard
by Jeffrey Brown
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Content: Batman goes missing for a few days and leaves his kid alone, but there’s Alfred, so all’s good. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Damian Wayne is starting yet another new school. He’s had to leave his most recent school for Reasons. Additionally, his dad (yes, that Bruce Wayne) has sidelined Damian from being Robin. So Damian is forced to make friends at his new school. One of those people is Howard, the school’s smartest, nicest kid, who doesn’t like Damian because he thinks Damian is a show-off (well, Damian is). But then Batman goes missing, and Damian can’t go out and find him on his own. So, he tells Howard who he and his dad are, and enlists Howard’s help in finding Batman.

This is Batman LIte. It’s Batman for the kids who like Batman but can’t read the superhero comics yet. It’s for the people who like their Batman safe and nice, and kind of like the 1960s TV show. Don’t ask too many questions about this Batman or his origin or his kids (Batman had kids?). It’s enjoyable, though, and I liked how Damian and Howard became friends. But it’s not my kind of Batman.

Didn’t finish: Ghoster Heights, Speak Up

YA Graphic Novel Round-up 3

M is for Monster
by Talia Dutton
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Content: It’s raising a body from the dead, and dealing with issues of identity. it’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

M is Maura, Dr. Frances Ai’s sister, brought back to life. On the one hand, M wants to continue living, so she pretends to be Maura. (Dr. Francis is so desperate to get her sister back that if this didn’t work, she would take M apart and try again. For obvious reasons, M doesn’t want that.) On the other hand, M is bad at being Maura; she doesn’t care about science, hates Maura’s clothes, and doesn’t laugh at Francis’s jokes. She wants to explore fashion and sewing, and just be herself.

This is a really clever twist on Frankenstein, looking at the monster’s point of view, and an exploration of identity and what it means to be a “person”. It’s sweet and charming and absolutely delightful.

Piece by Piece
by Priya Huq
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Content: There is a hate crime to start the book, and Islamaphobia, as well as some abusive statements by an adult.

Nisrin is attacked on the way home from school – she was wearing a head covering, part of a Bangladeshi traditional costume. She is told that she needs to go back “where she came from”, and that “her kind” are not welcome. She is injured in the attack. The summer passes, and she can’t leave the house. But when school starts again in the fall, Nisrin decides to wear hijab to school, which doesn’t sit well with her mother and grandparents. They don’t understand her decision, and she has some challenges dealing with it. She does, however, find her tribe, and makes up with her best friend, who she had a falling out with after the attack.

It’s a good story, one that I think needs to be told. I appreciated that Nisrin was Bangladeshi, because isn’t a usual nationality for stories about Islam. However, while I felt it was important, I felt like it was missing something I’m not entirely sure what, but it wasn’t quite,, something. Still, I’m glad that it’s out there.

Himawari House
by Harmony Becker
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Content: There is some smoking and drinking, but the kids are all of age. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Nao was born in Japan but basically is raised in America. She learned to fit in, but she has often wondered what it would be like to find her roots, and go back. So, she takes a year between graduating high school and going to college, and heads to Japan to find out. She moves in to Himawari House and meets Tina – a young woman from Singapore – and Hyejung – a young woman from Korea – who are both learning to find their way in Japan. There are two boys in the house as well, though they are Japanese. The three girls become close friends, ashring in their successes and sadnesses, ads they figoure out who they are and what they want for their future.

Oh, this one was delightful. I loved that Becker captured the challenges and joys of learning to live in a foreign county, and the challenges of being biracial and trying to a way to fit in. Becker gave us the inner lives of all the characters, which was delightful. I also liked that she pulls illustrating styles from manga – there were many frames that strongly reminded me of the manga I’ve read. It was a smart story, compelling, and beautifully drawn. I loved it.

YA Graphic Novel Roundup 1

Fly by Night
by Tara O’Connor
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Content there is some swearing, and acts of violence (offscreen) against women. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Dee has come home because her twin sister – whom she hasn’t seen in years since their parents split – has one missing. Dee holds out hope that her sister is still alive, but the adults are hopeless. A Cold trail is a cold trail. Additionally, a local corporation wants to chopd won the New Jersey Pinelines and sent an oil ipile line trhough. Are the two event s connected? And wat is that weir creature that Dee has seen in teh woods?

I liked the environmental side of this story, the way the kids stood up against corporate greed, and their blatant disregard for the land. I did feel that the mystery side of the story got resolved too soon and very quickly (although it made sense, in the end). I liked the supernatural elements and the way O’Connor wove them into the story. Really very good.

Pixels of You
by Anath Hirsh and Yuko Ota, illustrated by J. R. Doyle
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Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the near future, AI is just a part of everyday life. They are workers, and drivers, and have begun “reproducing”, creating their own offspring. Indira, a human, has an internship at an art gallery, and the person she is supposed to work with is Fawn, a human-facing AI (an AI in a human-like body). They don’t want to work together at first, but the more they work together the stronger their friendship comes.

This one looks at the ideas of art and identity and friendship, all through the lens of the relationship these two young women have. i have to admit that I didn’t love the last panel; I didn’t think it was warranted with the relationship they had built throughout the book. But that said, I really like the world that these authors have created, and think it wa an interesting one to read.

Girl on Fire
by Alicia Keys and Andrew Weiner, illustrated by Brittaney Williams
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Content: there is swearing including f-bombs and violence. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

When Lolo Wright is with her brother when is he jumped by police for a crime he didn’t commit, she gets superpowers. She learns how to use those superpowers for good, and to help her friend Rut get away from local gang leader Skin’s influence.

File this one under “important but not good”. I wanted it to be good since it is dealing with important themes of racism and police violence. But, friends, it’s…not. It’s got too much in it, it’s not developed enough, and as much as I wanted to like it, I just didn’t. There are better examples of this story what don’t have a celebrity’s name on it. I’m going to go find one of them.

Two Graphic Novels about Belonging

Huda F Are You?
by Huda Fahmy
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Content: There are instances of racism and Islamaphobia. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

In this loosely autobiographical graphic novel, Fahmy tells of the time in her childhood when her parents moved the family to Dearborn, Michigan just so they could be a part of a bigger Muslim community. Huda went from being the only Muslim to one of many hijab wearers. She talks about the struggle she had to figure out who she was, in relation to her friends, her family (and sisters), and her religion. There is an incident with a teacher who grades Muslims harsher after 9/11 and a slight bomb “scare” at the high school, that brought Huda’s conflicts within herself to a head. Can she stand up for herself, especially in the face of Islamaphobia?

I adored this one. I think everyone can identify with the feeling of being an outsider, but I can empathize with identifying with a religion where you are in a place where your religion (mostly) is in the minority, and then moving somewhere where it is the majority religion. It messes with your head and identity. I loved the humor of this book and the way it treats religion as something that can be a big part of a teenager’s life, without it seeming all-encompassing or something the teen needs to “grow out” of.

Smart, fun, and worth reading.

The Tryout
by Christina Soontornvatillustrated by Joanna Cacao
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Content: there are some instances of racism and bullying. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Also loosely autobiographical, Soontornvat reflects upon 7th grade and the way trying out for the cheer team affected her. She grew up in a small town in Texas, and her parents – a mixed-race couple (her mom is white, her dad is Thai) – ran a Chinese restaurant in town. She reflects on how har it is to make and keep friends in middle school, and the ups and downs of friendship. But the central challenge is Christina’s desire to try out for the cheer team. It’s a challenge becasue her best friend Megan is trying out as well and Christina fears that it wil negatively affect their friendship. They encounter racism (Megan is Iranian) at their small-town school – none of the teachers can pronounce Christina’s last name, and some kids are blatantly racist to her and Megan. Christna works hard, though, and finds value in trying out for the team, and along the way, makes and strengthens friendships.

This is another good one about finding where you belong. Middle school is rough, and I think Sontornat recognizes that. THis one reminde me a lot of Real Friends, centering navigating female friendship in the heart of the book. But I also like how it debunked some of the cheer stereotypes and reminded me (again) that cherlieading isn’t just a fluff thing that popular girls do. I really appreciated the author’s note at the end.

Really soild.

Bloodmarked

by Tracy Deonn
First sentence: “My veins burn with the spirits of my ancestors.”
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Others in the series: Legendborn
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

We pick up where Legendborn left off, so spoilers for that, obviously.

Bri has been chosen as the Scion of Arther, Pendragon, who has woken up after 250 years. The problem is, though, that she’s an outsider (read: black) and the (white, racist) Order doesn’t accept her as what she is: their King. Instead, they gaslight her, drug her, and kidnap her, institutionalizing he. But, her friends are awesome, and they break her free and they all set about doing what needs to be done: training Bri how to better use her powers. This involves meeting new people, facing new dangers, and unraveling a bit more of the corruption behind the Order. Also (and I think we knew this was coming) – there’s a nice love triangle between Nick, Bri, and Sel (the Kingsmage), which is very fitting for an Arthurian tale.

Oh, I love this series. I love the way it plays with race, expectations, and magic. I love the characters (I would do anything for Alice!), and I love the way Deonn has woven different elements – from Bloodwalking, to being marked by demons, to rootcraft, to the aether of the Order – together so effortlessly. The only thing I don’t like is that I have to wait at least a year for the final book in the series.

So much great here.

Audiobook: Counterfeit

by Kirstin Chen
Read by Catherine Ho
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There was some swearing. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Ava Wong has lived a safe life: the daughter of Chinese immigrants, she chose the safe occupation (lawyer), married well (he’s a doctor) and has a child (he’s two), and is living a “good” life. Except, she’s supremely unhappy. Enter Winnie Fang, Ava’s former roommate at Stanford. She is a woman of the world and has developed a counterfeit scheme where she buys knock-off designer bags from China, purchases the same designer bag and returns the counterfeit to the store, selling the original on eBay for a discounted price. It’s made her, well if not millions, then at least a good living. She sees Ava’s unhappiness, and invites her into her world. The whole book is framed as Ava’s confession to a dective, having been caught out in the scheme, and is taking the fall. Except: is she?

To be honest: I wasn’t all that invested in Ava or Winnie’s story. I liked parts of it, and Ho kept me entertained, but I didn’t really feel connected to the story. It’s not that it wasn’t enjoyable (stick around: part 2 makes part 1 worth it), but in may ways, I felt like it was Rich People Problems, which are very uninspiring right now. . So while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t all that great either. At least it helped fill the hours at work.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

by Axie Oh
First sentence: “The myths of my people say only a true bride of the Sea God can bring an end to his insatiable wrath.”
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Content: There’s some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Mina is just a girl in a village, one who was never supposed to be given as the Sea God’s brie But when her brother’s beloved, Cheong, was chosen for the sacrifice, Mina knew she must do something to save her brother’s happiness. So, she jumps into the sea, sacrificing herself in Cheong’s stead. what she finds in the Sea God’s kingdom is a whole world of gods and demons, of betrayal and friendship, and a puzzle as to what will wake the Sea God.

This is not something I would have picked up on my own, but a customer I really like gave it to me, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. It was a bit too formulaic for my tastes (I guessed the twist ending) but Oh’s writing was evocative, and it wasn’t a bad story. There were some genuinely tender moments, and I did like the tales that Oh spun.

Give this one to kids who like fairy tales.

The Door of No Return

by Kwame Alexander
First sentence: “There was even a time… many seasons ago… when our people were the sole supplier of the purest and most valuable gold in the world…”
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Release date: September 27, 2022
Content: There is some violence, some of which is kind of graphic. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In this novel in verse, Alexander follows, Kofi, a young man in an African village in Western Africa. He has a good life: he goes to school and is being taught English, even though he doesn’t think he needs it. He has a girl he likes and a cousin with who he’s antagonistic. It’s not a bad life. Things start going badly when Kofi’s older brother accidentally kills the prince of a neighboring village in a contest. He didn’t mean to, he feels bad about it, but his village elders absolve him of any wrongdoing. But, the neighboring village doesn’t see things that way and eventually men from the village take Kofi and his brother hostage.

This is the first of a trilogy, following Kofi (I assume through his experiences. So, it’s slow to start. We get to know Kofi and his family and village, all the better to feel it when Kofi is captured. It’s historical, so you can guess that where Kofi ends up is on a slave ship. it’s laying the groundwork to show that those who were enslaved were people, with lives, dreams, and desires, and Alexander does a fantastic job showing that. It’s showing the slave trade as less simplistic, not to say that there are any White saviors here (there aren’t), but that it wasn’t as simple as White people kidnapping Africans and taking them from their home and family. LIke much of what Alexander does, it’s done excellently with short poems that are evocative so that a reader gets an emotional punch when Kofi is taken.

It’s excellent, but I wouldn’t expect anything else.

Audiobook: The Charm Offensive

by Alison Cochran
Read by: Vikas Adam, Graham Halstead & Cassandra Campbell
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a bunch of swearing, including multiple f-bobms. There are also some steamy scenes. It’s in the Romance setion of the bookstore.

Dav is a producer on this reality Bachelor-eque reality TV show, Ever After. he’s still pretty into the premise: finding that magical fairy tale love. But, when he’s suddenly switched from being the handler for the women to being the handler for their newest “prince, ” Charlie, Dav starts to wonder a bit about this whole “Truve love” thing. Wealthy, tech-giant Charlie is everything Dav is not: sophisticated, handsome, awkward, intense, and on the show just to get a job in tech again. Things start out on the wrong foot between the two fo them, but as the season goes on, they find out that maybe they have more in common than they thought.

I think my favorite trope is when the thing is commenting on the thing while being the thing. In this case, Cochrun comments on the toxicity and overall hetero-ness of reality-TV love shows, while the story is set on a reality-tv love show where two gay men absolutely fall in love. It’s sweet, it’s fun, it’s smart, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The narrators are brilliant and propel the whole book forward, definitely keeping me engaged the whole time. I couldn’t put it down!