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.”
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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.

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A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting

by Joe Ballarini
First sentence: “‘Hush little baby, don’t say a word.'”
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Content: There’s some scary moments, and monsters. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Those monsters under your bed? They’re real. And they want to eat you. You knew that. Right? But what if there was a secret society of babysitters (yes, you read that right) who are super martial arts fighting awesome people who keep the monsters at bay (literally) and protect their charges (especially those kids with “special” abilities) from the Evil Lurking out there.

Such is the society that Kelly fell into when she accepted a babysitting job for Jacob, who then gets kidnapped by the Bogeyman. She has Halloween night to find him and bring him back, or the whole world will be destroyed.

This was so much fun! If Adventures in Babysitting and Labyrinth and Goosebumps all had a baby, it would be this book. It’s scary, but not overly so, and I loved the idea of a secret cool babysitters society. It really just read like a movie, which isn’t always what I want from a book, but it works perfectly here. This is definitely one to hand to the kids who like scary stories.

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

by Ruth Lauren
First sentence: “Valor!”
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Content: There’s some violence and intense situations. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

What lengths would you go, in order to save your sister?

Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, has been tried and convicted for stealing an important item from the palace, and sent to Demidova, a harsh prison made out of stone and ice Valor knows she can’t leave Sasha there; and so she gets arrested and sent to Demidova, with the sole purpose of escaping with her sister.

Of course it’s not as easy as walking in and waltzing out, and Valor will have to use every ounce of her skills of observation and archery, plus rely on the help of other prisoners in order to pull this off. If she even can.

So, I thought this book was a lot of fun. Great main character, and lots of interesting supporting characters. I’m not 100% sure on the diversity (I’m writing this several days after I finished it…); it may be a bit more white than it needed to be. But, I liked the loosely Russian feel of the book, and I especially liked the ending (which I won’t give away). It wrapped this one up nicely, but allowed for an opening for the sequel.

Solid middle grade fantasy.

Reread: The Scorpio Races

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “It is the first day of November, and so, today, someone will die.”
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Content: It’s violent. But, if there’s a kid, say, 11 years old or so, who is interested in dark fairy-type tales, I’d give it to them. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up again after Maggie visited the store on her All the Crooked Saints tour, and I took pictures of fans for her, and listened to her chat them up. She said, over and over, that Scorpio Races was her favorite. And so, I decided that while I’d read it before, it had been a while, and I should revisit it.

And it was everything I thought about it and SO MUCH MORE. I don’t think, six years ago, that I was prepared for the awesomeness that is Maggie’s writing. Now, after Raven Cycle and Saints, I think I’m beginning to appreciate how wonderful a wordsmith she is. She captured a place — granted it doesn’t really exist — and a mythology so well, it could be real. And she made me FEEL so much that I cried during the last couple of chapters. Maybe this isn’t the best place to start with Maggie’s writing, but it’s definitely a truly breathtaking book.

She really is one of my favorite authors.

Daughter of the Pirate King

by Tricia Levenseller
First sentence: “I hate having to dress like a man.”
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Content: There’s some violence, some mild swearing, and references to torture. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Pirate captain, and daughter of the pirate king, Alosa is on a secret mission to retrieve a part of a map from one of her father’s enemies. Which means, she is deliberately captured in order to search the ship. This is not a pleasant experience for her; Alosa is used to 1) commanding her own ship and 2) besting everyone around her. She knows her father is placing his trust in her, though, and she’s determined to succeed. At whatever cost.

Oh heavens, this was fun. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good pirate book (and this IS a good pirate book) where the girl gets to be awesome (and gets to do it mostly on her own terms; the ship Alosa captains is made up mostly of women, and it’s just amazing. She’s just amazing!) AND gets to have the guy (oh the banter was delightful). It was well-written, well-paced, and just OH so much fun.

And the bonus? The sequel’s coming out soon. (In fact, that’s entirely why I picked this one up: I got an ARC of the sequel at work.)  I can’t wait to dive into that!

Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power

by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated Brooke Allen
First sentence:”It was a gorgeous day.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild adventure. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

The Lumberjanes are back! And when they find a mysterious mountain, of course they have to climb it. But what happens when they get stuck at the top?

I wanted to like this one, because I love the Lumberjanes. But. Something is missing in the translation from graphic novel to novel. The humor tried to be there, but fell flat (for me). All the characters were there, and I enjoyed interacting with them, but they were… off… which made me sad.

This one would be a good introduction to Lumberjanes, for those who don’t like graphic novels or haven’t read them yet. But, honestly? Get the graphic novels. They’re better.

Audio Book: Wonder Woman Warbringer

by Leigh Bardugo
Read by Mozhan Marino
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some violence and several instances of mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’ll admit that I’m on board with anything Wonder Woman right now, so I probably would have read/listened to this whether or not it was any good. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about that, because in Bardugo’s capable hands, it was definitely worth listening to.

It’s a bit of a Wonder Woman origin story, starting with Diana on Themyscira and dealing with feeling like an outcast with the Amazons because she was born rather than earning her spot among them. So, when she inadvertently rescues a mortal from a shipwreck which sets off a chain of events — since the mortal is no ordinary mortal — Diana is forced to leave the island and head out into the mortal world to save her life, her island, and the world from impending war.

Okay, there’s more to it than that; the mortal, Alia, is the daughter of scientists who died in a tragic accident, and who is trying to find her place in the world, out from under the long shadow of her brother, Jason. Her friends, Theo and Nim are fantastic and definitely worth rooting for. There’s a lot of fantastic action (Bardugo knows how to plot a book), as well as some fantastic reflective moments (plus a wee bit of romance).

And Marino is a stellar narrator. Seriously stellar. She had me enthralled, glued to the narrative, anxious to hear what will happen next.

I really can’t ask for anything better.