The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

by Stephanie Burgis
First sentence: “I can’t say I ever wondered what it felt like to be human.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some fantasy action moments, and a few intense scenes. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Adventurine is a young dragon, up in the mountains with her family, who longs for something… more. She’s supposed to find her passion — it was philosophy for her brother, and being amazing for her sister (there’s a lot of sisterly comparison by Adventurine, which is something I noticed, because of my daughters) — but she mostly just wishes she could fly around without an escort. So, she does what most rebellious dragons will do: she sneaks out. And subsequently gets turned into a human by a food mage’s magical cup of hot chocolate. The upside: she’s discovered her passion in chocolate. The downside: she’s a human.

Thus begins an adventure that is chocolate-filled and so much fun. Burgis captured Adventurine’s confusion at being a human as well as her lack of knowledge about human culture so well. But Adventurine never slid over into being annoying. She always remembered she was a dragon at heart, and while that sometimes put her in awkward situations, it also meant that she was able to make the most of her situation. Additionally, her family is fantastic! They’re a bit over protective (but she’s not a fully formed dragon!), but in the end, their love of her is part of both the conflict and the solution and it’s quite sweet. Actually, that’s a great word for the book as a whole: sweet. It’s sweet and charming and a delight to read.

Advertisements

Pashmina

by Nidhi Chanani
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: The main character is in high school, and there is some references to sex. I’m not 100% sure if it’d put it in Middle Grade Graphic Novels, but it doesn’t feel like it fits in with the Teen Graphic Novels either. Hm.

Priyanka Das has a decent life: she and her mom live in America, and whileshe has unanswered questions about her father, or why her mother left India, she has a pretty good life. That is, until Pri’s curiosity about India gets sparked by a magical pashmina Pri finds in her mother’s suitcase. The pashmina gives Pri a glimpse of India, and she desperately wants to go. And she does, eventually. But when she gets there, it’s nothing like she expected, and yet everything she wanted.

On the one hand, this is written by an Indian, and it very much embraces the “India as amazing homeland” narrative that so often comes up in Bollywood movies. The narrative that one can find oneself in India is not a new one, and yet it still is something that resonates. It works here, primarily because it’s not a white person co-opting that (says the white person), but because Pri’s does actually need to go to India to see what it was her mother left behind. I liked that part of the story. The magical pashmina, though, didn’t do much for me. It does have a good reason to be there — it specifically helps women take charge of their lives — but it felt, well, forced. That, and Pri felt younger than she was in the book, which was a slight disconnect.

Even with those (slight) criticisms, it was a good story about family, and about how learning about your family’s past helps accept and understand your present. It was also nice to “visit” India for a bit.

A good debut novel.

Replica

replicaby Lauren Oliver
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 4, 2016
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some violence, all off screen, and about a dozen f-bombs scattered throughout. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Gemma has spent her whole life feeling like a freak: she’s overweight and her parents are over-protective and yet distant, all of which leads others at school to make fun of her. So, when a rock tied around a Frankenstein mask gets thrown through the window of her house, she figures it’s the school bullies picking on her again. But, she overhears her parents arguing late at night and suddenly everything takes on a new meaning: it’s not HER the mask was meant for, but her father.

See, her father was co-owner of this super pharma business, which had some dealings with Haven, a super-secret island off the coast of Florida. No one knows what they do there, but her father had enough complaints that he got out. But that got Gemma curious: what is Haven, and why all the secrecy?

All that leads Gemma to sneaking off to Florida for spring break, to get answers to figure out what is going on with her parents and why this whole Haven thing is so secretive (and somehow, important).  What she finds out will change her life forever.

In some ways, this is a fascinating novel, playing with the ideas of humanity and just how far science will go to justify the ends it wants. I’m not entirely sure it justified the two-part story, however. I read Gemma’s version first, on a whim, and by the time I got to Lyra’s I wasn’t sure how much I cared. And yet, in retrospect, it’s possibly Lyra’s story that’s more important. Imagining that replicas have thoughts and feelings, that they are individuals, is fascinating thing to think about. And yet, I felt like something was lacking. Perhaps the ending was too abrupt? Maybe I hoped for more understanding or perhaps retribution. It all felt so… tidy.

Even so, I was thoroughly engrossed by the book. I wanted to know Gemma’s (and Lyra’s, as well) story, and the horrors of what the characters were going through was enough to keep me turning pages.

The Best Man

bestmanby Richard Peck
First sentence: “Boys aren’t too interested in weddings.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 20, 2016
Content: There’s some bullying and it’s not really action-heavy. But I’d give it to a 4th grader and up. It’ll be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Archer Magill is just trying to figure things out. As a 5th (and then 6th) grader, he’s kind of clueless. About girls, about friends, about life. And so, he’s looking for role models and he’s found three: his dad (who’s a really great dad), his grandpa (who’s pretty awesome), his Uncle Paul (who’s incredibly cool). And then, a student teacher, Mr. McLeod comes into his life.

Actually, this isn’t a book about an awesome male teacher, thank heavens. Event though there’s an awesome male teacher. No, it’s more about Life, and Figuring Things Out, and Friendship. And how other people’s lives intersect with ours. And the Chicago Cubs.  It’s a Slice of Life novel, one that is full of charming characters and a great family. And one that, refreshingly, treats a LGBT relationship as something that’s to be celebrated. No, our main character isn’t gay, it’s not a coming out book for kids. There’s no angst in this book. It’s a story where the LGBT relationship is a part of who the people are, and that’s okay.

It’s a funny, sweet, refreshingly charming novel, and I adored it.

And the Winners Are….

(Or the reason February 14th Isn’t Horrible.)

The Cybils winners are announced! Go here for all the awards, but the one I’m most invested in (though none of my three nominations that made it to the finals won…) is the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction winner is:

And honestly, if they had picked anything else, I’d be incensed. It really was the best book we read.

And, because they turned out so awesome, here are A and K’s valentine’s boxes for their parties today.

OH! It’s also International Book Giving day! Find/buy a book to pass on to a child. I think I’m going to finally take those bags of books to our local children’s home. Seems like a much better thing to do today than to eat overpiced chocolate. (Now tomorrow, the chocolate will be discounted. I’ll eat it then.)

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Christmas!

“And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!” 
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”  ― Andy Rooney

Happy Holidays from my blog to yours!