nimonaby Noelle Stevenson
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Content: There’s violence and some more mature content. I’d give it to a 5th grader if they asked, though. It’s in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.
I’ve been  meaning to get to this one for ages, and being shorlisted for the Graphic Novels Cybils kind of gave me the push. That, and Alyssa over at Everead told me I wouldn’t regret buying it.

She’s right: I don’t regret it at all. It really is that good. (Well, I do regret it a little, because now I have to wait for a copy to come back in so I can put it on my recommends shelf.)

It’s hard to write about this one, though. Mostly because not knowing a whole lot is part of the fun. Know this: it’s a unique fantasy world, both high- and low-tech at the same time. It’s about heroes and villains and what it means to be both. It’s about sidekicks and friendship and Being True to Yourself.

What it’s not: Trite.

Nimona is a fantastic character, fully her own person, beating her own drum, and all the other cliches. Except this feels like the furthest things from a cliche there is. She’s incredibly compelling (though not always likable) to read about. Sir Blackheart, the villain to whom Nimona is sidekick, is also incredibly fascinating. As is Ambrosious, Sir Blackheart’s nemesis. There’s so much going on here that it’s hard to do it justice.

So, just do yourself a favor an read it. You won’t regret it.

Shadows of Sherwood

by Kekla Magoon
First sentence: “The sign on the fence said BEWARE OF DOGS.”
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Content: There’s some violence, but it’s mild, as well as some intense action. I would say the reading level is 5th grade and up, but I’d give it to a 4th grader who was interested. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Robyn has had a good life, one of luxury living in Loxley mansion. She has loving parents — one white, one black — she has everything she needs, and she even manages to sneak out once in a while to go to the dump to look for old tech so she can fiddle around.

Then, in one night her life changes: when she goes to sneak back in from a tech run, she discovers that the MPs, under the direction of Crown who has declared himself dictator of Nott City, have taken her parents. She’s on her own.

Notice anything familiar there? Yes? Good. The re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend is one of the best things in the book. It’s basically Robyn’s origin story: she flees the house, ends up in jail, escapes, and becomes a fugitive. She meets a street girl, Laurel; a mysterious boy with a pretty sweet tree house; another tech wizard, Scarlett; and a student of religion, Tucker. She even has a friend from her days in the Crown District, Crown’s niece, Maryann. I loved seeing how it all fit in with the old legends.

But this one is so much more than that as well. While it could be contemporary, it feels vaguely futuristic and distopian, and there’s a bit of Moon Lore that deals with prophecies (but no magic yet). It’s very tech-savvy with portable pads and scanners and imbedded chips that allow the government to identify everyone.

It’s a very action-packed book, with chases and near escapes. Sure, there are moments of melancholy — it takes Robyn much too long to gather her team and figure out how to work with them — and the moon lore stuff seems kind of tacked on. But I didn’t mind it so much because I was so very tickled with the Robin Hood element of the story. It made me happy to see a bi-racial girl take center stage and have her identity mean more than just the color of her skin. It also made me happy to have a range of interests and both male and female kids playing multiple roles, none of which are tied to their gender.

It definitely sets itself up for a sequel, which I am eagerly anticipating.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent

by Linda Urban
First sentence: “Milo had read about magic before.”
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Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s nothing objectionable, and the writing level is good for grades 3 and up. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Milo’s mom disappeared years ago, and his father works really hard for the Tuckerman Agency. Which means that Milo is left mostly alone with “Grandmother” (a live-in provided by the agency). Milo’s lonely, but he does his best to fly under the radar. That is, until the day that he ends up sucked in to Ogregon through his dryer.

(Yes, you did read that right.)

Once there, Milo is unprepared for the adventures: being captured by ogres, the Evil Plots by the Evil Overlord, rescue attempts, and just general mayhem.  Plus trying to figure out where his father is. It’s a lot for a kid to handle.

It was a fun little book. Nothing too great, nothing too horrible. I did have a problem with Tuck; she was pretty annoying and she never really got better throughout the book. And it was all a bit silly, but I’m not the target audience. Perhaps this is one of those that kids will like — especially those who like monsters and adventure — but for me it was just meh.

Which is too bad. I had high hopes for this one.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

The Heart of Betrayal

by Mary E. Pearson
First sentence: “
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Release date: July 7, 2015
Others in the series: The Kiss of Deception
Content: There’s violence, and a hint at sex (but none actual). It’s kind of slow moving, and complex, but it should be find for the younger end of the age range. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for The Kiss of Deception. You’ve been warned.

Lia is a prisoner in the “barbaric” country of Venda, having been kidnapped by Kaden, the assassin, and dragged there as a prize for the Komizar, Vendan’s ruler. Venda doesn’t take prisoners; their reputation for violence is well-deserved. But because Kaden has a thing for Lia, so he made an exception.

Lia regrets that now.

It doesn’t help that Rafe — the prince Lia was initially supposed to marry and whom she fell in love with when they were both pretending to be commoners — is also a prisoner in Venda, masquerading as an inept emissary. They have to keep it under wraps that they know each other (let alone that they care for each other), or they are both dead.

And that’s just the beginning.

It’s a twisty, turn-y maze of lies, double crossing, manipulation, maneuvering, and deception, and I loved every minute. Even the love triangle, which could have been trite, worked to Pearson’s advantage. Kaden and Rafe play off each other, and I truly didn’t care, really, which one Lia “ended” up with. (Honestly: the woman is her own woman, and doesn’t need either of them. You go girl!) There was complexities to the relationships that Lia had with both of them, and even though Pearson wrote that Rafe was Lia’s True Love, I never felt that that relationship defined her.

But what intrigued me most was Lia’s role in Venda, how she plays against the Komizar, trying to outsmart him, using his weaknesses (of which there are few) to her advantage. The Komizar is the primary villain, but Pearson gives him layers; he’s not simply an Evil Dictator Overlord (though there is some of that). Additionally, there was an element of prophecy to the book that could have been oppressive and lame, but I felt Pearson even worked that to her advantage. And Pearson is still ruthless: killing people right and left.

Of course, this ended on a cliff-hanger, and I have to WAIT until the next one comes out. Which is always the most difficult part.


The Iron Trial

by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
First sentence: “From a distance, the man struggling up the white face of the glacier might have looked like an ant crawling slowly up the side of a dinner plate.”
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Content: There’s some intense violence at the start, but nothing worse than, say, Harry Potter. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore. We’ll see how the series goes; it might change.

Callum has grown up believing that magic is bad, that the mages at the Magisterium only put their interests in front of the students, that his leg which was injured as a baby and never healed right was the fault of the mages. His father — once a mage himself — has told Call this among other things. So when Call gets summoned for the Iron Trial — the selection process for the Magesterium — his father tells him to throw the entry. And, because Call is only 12 years old, he tries. And fails. He gets into the Magesterium and is exposed not only to the dreaded magic, but also the story of his past that his father never told.

I’m just going to come out and say it: it’s Harry Potter. The similarities are really numerous — a boy raised as an outsider finds out he’s magic, he has a special calling, he was at the death/disappearance of the Enemy and has a connection to him (um… bit of a spoiler, there. Sorry.), the story takes place over a school year, he has two friends (a boy and a girl), there’s a rich snob bully boy, and on and on.

Except, for all the similarities, it works. I’ve been looking for a (good) Harry Potter read-alike for years, and this one — Black and Clare are superb writers in their own right — fills the bill. The world building is solid, the magic interesting. And there’s a bit of a twist that caught me off guard. So, even though there’s solid Harry Potter similarities, it’s definitely worth reading.

Ruin and Rising

by Leigh Bardugo
First sentence: “The monster’s name was Izmrud, the great worm, and there were those who claimed had had made the tunnels that ran beneath Ravka.”
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Others in the series: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm
Content: There’s some violence and lots of kissing and some off-screen sex (implied). It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) section off the bookstore.

Alina is in a bit of a predicament. She has two of the amplifiers and that enabled her to temporarily set back the Darkling. However, it cost her most of her power, turned her hair white, and has forced her underground and into the protection of the Apparate, whom she despises.

Her goal: fend of the zealots who consider her a saint, get out of the White Cathedral, hope that Nikolai is still alive (and in some sort of condition to be king), find the firebird and the third amplifier, and defeat the Darkling, once and for all.

And manage to come out of all of it alive.

My only complaint is that I didn’t reread the other two books beforehand; I really do think that this series is best read one right after another. Even so, it didn’t take me long to remind myself of the big, broad points. There’s a lot of action, and Alina is a major player in all of the decisions, including the final, heart-rendering one. There were a lot of small moments I loved, but I adored the big ones: the battles with the Darkling, the confrontation with the former king. Nikolai was fantastic, and even Mal (and the True Love between Mal and Alina) grew on me over the pages.

A fantastic way to end a series.

The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw

by Christopher Healy
First sentence: “Outlaws have too many feathers in their hats.”
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Others in the series: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your KingdomThe Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle
Content: There’s some kissing, a bit of violence (and almost violence), and it’s long for a middle-grade novel. It’d be in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore; don’t let the length fool you; it goes fast.

I don’t even remember what our Fair Heroes were doing at the end of the second book. But, honestly: it doesn’t matter. I fell right back into the silly stupidity (and I say that with all loving kindness in my heart) of this book, snorting and giggling as The League of Princes (and the Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters — or FFFF) try to save the Thirteen Kingdoms from Lord Rauber’s (who they thought they killed in the last book) evil plan to take over the world.

The point to the book, I think, is not the plot. Sure, there is a plot: The whole gang is branded as outlaws because they were supposed to have murdered Briar Rose (sure, she’s annoying, but they wouldn’t literally kill her. Only figuratively) so everyone’s on the run and trying to prove their innocence. But the point is for the guys to be dorky (ah, Duncan), the girls to be awesome (bonus: pirate captain Jerica! Double bonus: Gustav trying to flirt), and for super-silly jokes and asides (like the prisoner Val Jeanval. Get it??). Yes, it was stupid. But, I love it.

Full of action (and stupid jokes), and perfect for just about anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of fairy tale adventure.

Re-read: Graceling

by Kristin Cashore
First sentence: “In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.”
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Content: There’s some tasteful sex, a lot of violence, and you need to be somewhat more mature to understand what Leck is capable of in order for it to have its full impact. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to an 8th grader who was interested.

For June’s YAcker book, we picked Bitterblue, but one thing led to another, and we ended up making a summer project of reading Cashore’s trilogy. I’m not one for re-reading books, but since I hadn’t picked this one up in 5 years, I thought, in order to be an intelligent participant, I needed to reread it.

And, oh, it was just as wonderful as it was the first time.

I don’t have much more to say (the above link takes you to my initial review) that won’t be said when the YAckers post our discussion. But let me say this: I love Kasta. Her fierceness, her depth of emotion, her contrariness. And I love her with Po. I love their team, I love their relationship. I love how Cashore describes them together.

And I love Bitterblue. I’d forgotten that, not having reread this when Bitterblue came out. But, she’s so small and so fierce, and I love her.


by Lisa Fielder, illustrated by Vivienene To
First sentence: “The young rat prince knew he was taking a monumental risk.”
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Review copy given me by our Simon & Schuster rep, via my boss.
Content: There are some mild scary parts, and some mild violence, but really, it’s quite happy in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I have to admit that I was a little turned off by the cover. It just looks so…. I don’t know. Juvenile, maybe. Or lame, perhaps. But, either way, I was completely unprepared for the awesome found inside.

I do have to qualify the word “awesome”: if you don’t like fantasy or talking rats, you may not find this awesome at all. The thing is: usually I don’t either. I liked  The Tale of Despereaux well enough, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH okay, but I didn’t like Redwall, and I have studiously stayed away from the Warriors series. So, talking animals, not exactly my thing.

But the story of a pet-store bred mouse, Hopper, who — ends up beneath the subways of Brooklyn in the sewers — got to me. Perhaps it was his insecure optimism that won my heart over. Or the fact that his sister, Pinkie, was a bully and my mom-sense (kind of like Spidey-sense) kicked in. Or perhaps it was that he found a civilization of rats underground that has a tentative peace with feral cats. Or maybe it was the prophecy of the Chosen One, and the complications that brings.

What I really enjoyed was the way that Fiedler had the rats interact with the human world. How they taught themselves to read, and how Hopper figured out the subway system. How they used cast-off items (and some scavenged ones, too) to furnish their world. It was fantastic.

Maybe, too, I was just in the mood for a straight-up fantasy adventure with talking rats and a mouse with a heart of gold. I didn’t know that I was, but I found I couldn’t put this one down.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

by Holly Black
First sentence: “Tana woke lying in a bathtub.”
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Content: Lots of violence, some of which is graphic. Very little swearing, most of it mild, and no sex (though there is some talk of it). It’s in the teen section (grades 9 and up) in the bookstore, but I’d let a 12- or 13-year-old who was interested in vampires read it.

I’m going to start this one off by saying this is, hands down, the best vampire book I’ve read in AGES. (I’m not going to add that it’s basically the only vampire book I’ve read in ages.Oh, wait.) It’s dark, it’s gory, it’s bloody, it’s creepy and yet so very awesome. It’s everything a vampire book should be.

Tana Bach, 17, lives in a world where vampirism is a plague. It’s a disease, and there is a cure — to starve oneself of blood for eighty-eight days — but there are enough vampires running around to make it necessary to set up Coldtowns, places where vampires, and humans who are attracted to that lifestyle, can live without endangering the rest of the population.

Except that they sometimes do.

Tana wakes up on the morning after a huge party to find a houseful of corpses. Somehow she managed to sleep through a terrible vampire bloodbath, though she’s not the only survivor. She stumbles into the back bedroom and finds her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, newly infected, and a vampire chained nearby. She does the only thing she could do: saves them. Thus starts her terrifying adventure.

It’s one where she meets a lot of people, some nice — like Jameson and Valentina and Winter — most not so nice — like Gavriel, the vampire she saved. And yet, it’s not a black-and-white book. It’s wandering around in the murky shades of grey, where everyone is out to protect themselves. And Tana… oh, boy does she shine. She is AMAZING. Not in a superhero way, but in that human, flaw-filled, and yet awe-inspiring way. She faces her demons, in a most literal sense, and comes out on top.

Yes, there is a romance between a 130-year-old vampire and Tana, but, as I keep telling people in person, it’s not creepy. And while it’s there (and there’s this great sexy non-sex scene), it’s also something that’s not the focus of the book, which, perhaps, is why it’s not a creepy thing.

At any rate, I couldn’t put this one down, and having finished it, I wish it wasn’t due at the library so I could start it all over again.