Don’t Call Me a Hurricane

by Ellen Hagan
First sentence: “‘Grab your board,’ Isa shouts, throwing open the screen door letting sunshine and cool breeze into our living room.”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at work
Content: There is mention of teenage drinking and some intense moments with a natural disaster. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Eliza’s life hasn’t been the same in the five years since the hurricane hit her island off the Jersey shore. Sure, her family’s still living there, still scraping by, but the island itself has changed. Developers have come in, and bought up houses, knocked them down, in the name of progress. The latest example? They want to build out the marshland. And Eliza – and her friends – don’t want to lose that much of their island.

It also doesn’t help that a new boy – Milo – is from New York City, is one of those rich summer-only island visitors and that Eliza seems to be falling for him.

This one had all the elements I like: it’s about the ocean and island living! It’s got a strong female character! It’s a novel in verse! There’s a strong environmental message! But it fell completely flat. Not so flat that I didn’t finish it, but flat enough that I found myself skimming the chapters, just enough to get the information. I wanted to like this one so much more than I actually did. Not sure where it went wrong: Eliza is a good character and Hagan does a good job of showing the trauma after a natural disaster (though she did amp up the stakes by almost killing Eliza’s brother in the storm), but I just didn’t connect with 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.

The Leak

by Kate Reed Petty and Andrea Bell
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Content: It’s got one kiss and some talk of making out. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Ruth Keller is 12 years old, and wants to be a journalist when she gets older. She runs a little newsletter, reporting on stories in her middle school and town. And then one day, she is out fishing at the town lake with her friend Jonathan, and she sees something weird: a mysterious sludge and a dead fish on the shore. Ruth sees a story — local companies must be polluting the lake – and runs with it. The problem is that she’s only 12, and adults aren’t listening to her. Well, that, and she kind of jumps to conclusions before she gets her facts right.

This is a really great little story not just about youth activism and awareness, but also about facts and truth and how stories can be affected by perspective. There were a couple of subplots that I didn’t care for — one involving Ruth’s older brother hand his girlfriend (who is a mentor to Ruth), and the other involving Ruth and Jonathan “liking” each other — but that didn’t take away from the charm and message of the main story.

A solid middle grade graphic novel.

Audiobook: Instant Karma

by Marissa Meyer
Read by: Rebecca Soler
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Or listen at
Content: There is some kissing, and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore (though it’s LONG and may turn off some of the less enthusiastic readers).

Prue Daniels is one of those students who is always on top of things. Punctual, efficient, responsible. Her lab partner, Quint Erickson, is not. Which absolutely infuriates Prue. And so, when they get a C on their end-of-the-year biology project, Prue is LIVID. She wants a redo. But, Quint is not letting her get one. Except, through a series of weird coincidences (including a sudden mystical ability of Prue’s to give instant karma — both good and bad) Prue ends up volunteering at the Sea Animal Rescue Center that Quint’s mom runs. Which gives her ample opportunity to convince Quint to redo their project.

But what starts out as a simple thing to get a better grade slowly turns into a passion of Prue’s. And maybe, just maybe, Quint isn’t that bad either.

Oh this was cute! At first, Prue was a bit insufferable, but she grew on me over time, and I really enjoyed her dynamic with Quint. I also enjoyed that this was about MORE than a romance (which I didn’t mind; it was cute). Meyer went heavy on the environmentalism and the animals are wonderful, and I didn’t mind that at all. It added a layer to the story and made it more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

And the narrator? She was amazing. I might have liked this well enough reading it, but I LOVED it listening to Soler read it. She absolutely made this book for me. She made it absolutely delightful.

Definitely worth reading.

5 Worlds: The Red Maze

by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeler, and Boya Sun
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: The Sand Warrior, The Cobalt Prince
Content: There is some fantasy violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section at the bookstore.

Oona failed to light the blue beacon, mostly because there’s an order they need to be lit, and red comes before blue. So, it’s off to Moon Yatta, where the red beacon has been harness to power the world. It’s the most technologically advanced of the five worlds, but harnessing the power of the beacon is also draining the world faster. Ooona, Jax, and An Tzu need to find their way through the maze of pipes and machines surrounding the beacon in order to light it, but the Nanotex corporation — who basically run Moon Yatta — is against them.

There’s a nice subplot, too, about the shapeshifters who have been collared so they can’t shapeshift or else they’re banished to the desert to live in isolation and Jax’s role as a starball superstar comes into play as well. The authors are dealing with a lot here: capitalism, and the hero worship of celebrities, as well as the prevalence of misinformation through the media. But, mostly, it’s still an engrossing story that kept me entertained and captivated as Oona and her friends figured out the next step in their overall goal to light the five beacons and save the universe.

It’s a smart, fun series, one that readers of Amulet and Zita are sure to love.

Me and Marvin Gardens

by Amy Sarig King
First sentence: “There were mosquitoes.:
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Content: There’s some bullying, a kiss, and a lot of talk of scat. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Obe (pronounced like Obi-Wan Kenobi) Devlin’s family has lived on their land for generations. But his great-grandfather was an alcoholic (never explicitly stated, but heavily implied) and mortgaged their land away to support his habit. Years later, the land is no longer being farmed but has been sold to developers, and it was then that Obe, now in 6th grade, began losing the life he’d always known.  And it isn’t just the change in landscape; with houses come new kids, who have different priorities and tend to tease (nay: bully) Obe. And with housing, comes pollution.

Obe’s really concerned about the environment (as is K; she’s the one I thought about most while reading this) and on one of his trips to clean up the creek by his house, he finds this creature. A creature that eats plastic. Maybe this is the solution to the Obe’s environmental concerns? It’s not that simple (it never is), but Obe’s finding of this creature, whom he names Marvin Gardens, changes his life.

It was a nice, quiet little book, this.  A bit about being conscious about how you treat the world. A bit about friends. A bit about toxic masculinity. A bit about science. A bit about history. And maybe, in the end, that was why I didn’t connect terribly well with it: it was trying to be too many things. New species (is it an alien? Where did it come from?), friendship, neglectful parents, history…. Decide already.

I can see some people — K, among them — really liking this one, though.



by Maria Dahvana Headley
First sentence: “I breathe in.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a bunch of swearing, including several f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) but I wouldn’t be adverse to giving it to an 8th grader as long as they knew about the language going in.

Aza Ray has spent the nearly sixteen years of her life struggling to breathe. It’s a miracle she’s even lived this long, since she’s got a weird disease (named after her, unfortunately) that basically renders her allergic to air. She’s managed okay, with the help of her family, and her BFF, Jason. But, now, on the eve of her 16th birthday, things are getting weird. Jason maybe wants to be more than BFFs. It’s getting harder and harder to breathe. And weirdest of all? She’s seeing ships in the sky.

There are spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned. Because, for better or for worse, this is about to get REALLY trippy.

See: Aza Ray is seeing ships in the sky because there’s a country of bird people up there, called Magonia. And Aza is one of them. (Which is, duh, why she’s having trouble breathing regular earth air.) She was kidnapped as a baby and placed in a human home; whether it’s to punish her mother (according to her mother) or to save her (according to the bird-person who kidnapped her) remains to be seen. It’s really because Aza has this super-singing power that will either save Magonia or destroy the world. Or both. The problem is that she just can’t give up her human life (even though she DIED), and she just can’t quite kill off the humans.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, except that there’s a bit quote from Neil Gaiman on the cover and that everyone (at least on Edelweiss) is loving it. I completely — pun intended — missed the boat on this one. Seriously. I thought the premise was at best a drug-induced fantasy and at worst stupid. I thought the conversation was trying to hard to be John Green-esque and it sounded forced. I thought the plot was lame, even though it wrapped up nicely, and that the romance between Jason and Aza was forced. And even though I love fantasy, this just was NOT my thing.

But, as I said: it’s getting tons of love, so that may just be me not getting it.

Nuts To You

by Lynne Rae Perkins
First sentence: “One mild day in early November, I took my lunch down to the waterwheel park.”
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Content: There are short chapters, lots of illustrations, and it’s pretty basic vocabulary-wise. Which means it’s perfect for the younger readers as well as those who struggle. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

The book starts out inauspicious enough: the author having lunch on a picnic bench. But then, a squirrel comes up and, after a bit, begins talking to her. He tells her a fantastic story of adventure, of friendship, and of bravery.

Jed the squirrel was minding his own business, really, when he was picked up by a hawk. He manages to escape with some quick thinking (and the ancient squirrel martial art of Hai Tchree), he manages to escape, falling into an unknown part of the forest. Meanwhile his two best friends, TsTs and Chai, have seen Jed’s daring escape, and they head out into the forest to find him.

It sounds horribly corny, doesn’t it? I’ve been putting this book off for months just because 1) talking squirrels?? 2) really??? But trust me: it’s adorable. The squirrels talk to each other, true, but the only reason they talked to the “author” was because they’ve learned English over the years. No magic. Promise. Even so, the way Perkins has imagined the forest is charming, believably true to the animals she portrays, and just delightful.

There are a couple of reasons why. First, it’s the friendship between Jed, Chai (who’s a delightful character in his own right), and TsTs is a wonderful one. They will do just about anything for each other, and they work better together as a team. Second, the footnotes and asides had me cracking up. The voice Perkins chooses to tell this story is part of what makes it so perfect. Third, the illustrations help give the text just the right boost from weird and corny to adorable and fun.

Sure, there are some downsides: the environmental message at the end is a bit tacked on and heavy-handed. And the jokes and asides will probably drive those who dislike intrusive narrators bonkers. But I was completely won over and just wanted to hug the book in the end.

Skink No Surrender

by Carl Hiaasen
First sentence: “I walked down to the beach and waited for Malley, but she didn’t show up”
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Content: Even though the reading level isn’t very difficult, the nature of this book solidly lands it on the YA (grades 6-8) shelves. Not for the young or the faint of heart.

Richard has grown up in a little beachside town in Florida his whole life. And it hasn’t been a bad life; even though his father died in a freak accident a few years ago, Richard has his mother, older brothers, an okay stepfather, and his best friend — his cousin Malley.

Richard and Malley had a long-standing nighttime ritual on the beach: walking and looking for turtle nests. Then one night, two things happen: Malley doesn’t show up, and Richard meets former-governer-turned-ecoterrorist Clint Tyree, otherwise known as Skink.

It turns out that Malley has run away with a guy she met online in a chat room. And even though it started out okay — there was video of her willingly getting in his car — it took a turn south. And the people on tap to rescue her? Richard and Skink.

I wanted to like this. And sometimes, I did. I really did laugh at the oddness of Skink, at the adventures that Richard found himself in. But I couldn’t get past the whole SHE RAN AWAY WITH A GUY SHE MET IN A CHAT ROOM problem. And it’s corollary: SHE NEEDED A GUY TO RESCUE HER. Aren’t we past all this? I do have to give Hiaasen one bonus point: when the guy tried something on Malley she punched him in the nose, breaking it. She also said that he needed to be caught and punished because the next girl might not be as strong as her. So, she’s not completely helpless. And Richard rescued her not as part of some macho thing, but because he truly cared for her. So, there’s that as well.

And I did like the environmental trivia that Hiaasen threw in, as well; he really does make Florida come alive. So, I didn’t hate the book in the end. I just wish there was a better premise for it.

Landry Park

by Bethany Hagen
First sentence: “Two hundred years ago, America found itself at a crossroads.”
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Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There’s some talk of violence, though it’s all offscreen; a few mild swear word; and an illusion to an affair. It’s in the YA section (6-8th grade) of the bookstore, but I’d have no problems giving it to a younger child if they were interested.

Madeline Landry has grown up in a luxurious world: she’s the only child of an elite family and surrounded with opulence. She’s not particularly happy: she has struggles with her father over her education. She wants to got to university; he (and his will, not to mention the law) wants her to stay home, get married, run the estate, and pop out an heir. But she’s not entirely unhappy either: she loves her family and her home and the life. That is, until David Dana — the un-landed son of a gentry — comes into her life. Then, the things that have been skirting around her life — the class issues, the environmental concerns, especially with the lowest class, the Rootless — come front and center. Not to mention that David’s pretty dreamy.

In many ways, Hagen is treading the same ground as every dystopian book before her. America falls to the Eastern Empire, only managing to hang on by a thread. In the aftermath, a class system is formed — not based on race, as Hagen is so careful to point out — based on money and influence. And at the bottom are the Rootless, who handle the nuclear charges the gentry’s energy — and much of the wealth, especially the Landry wealth — comes from. And they’re getting restless. Where Hagen’s dystopian diverges from the pack is in the focus: Madeline is one of the elite, not the underclass. And when she has her eyes opened, she stands to lose everything. And I respected that.

I also really loved the world Hagen built, even though she never really gave us an explanation why the women were corseted and shoved into ball gowns and paraded around like it was Victorian England. I’m sure I could come up with some hypotheses — fancy dresses are synonymous with wealth? the women are as shackled as the Rootless? — but they are just that. No matter: Hagen is tackling issues that aren’t (readily, I think) usually seen in dystopia. Also, she doesn’t have a Romeo & Juliet love story going on here: both Madeline and David are from the gentry, and have to come to terms with their increasingly dissenting opinions.

It’s not a perfect beginning, but it is an intriguing one. I’m going to be curious to see where the rest of this series goes.