Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic

by Eliot Schrefer
First sentence: “What’s wrong with me?”
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Content: There are some moments of intense action. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

I picked this one up after hosting Eliot at a few school events last February. I learned SO much about the Amazon ecosystem and the animals in it, and Eliot was so charming and passionate about animals that I thought I really ought to give the book a try.

And? Well, it’s perfect for those who like prophecies and talking animals and friends who work together towards a single goal. It’s MUCH better than the Warriors books, and about as good as the Wings of Fire books (real animals instead of dragons though). Granted, I’m not a fan of talking animals, but even I liked this one. Schrefer knows how to plot really well, and I liked the small things like using “otherpaw” (for example) instead of “other hand”. You can tell, reading the book, that Schrefer knows his animals, and knows how they work together (or not) in an environment. And he knows how to write action, and how to keep the plot moving forward.

So, while this may not be my sort of book, it’s still a good one, and I’m glad I read it.

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5 Worlds: The Cobalt Prince

cobalt princeby Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeler, and Boya Sun
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Others in the series: The Sand Warrior
Content: There is some fantasy violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Picking up where the first book left off, we get more of Oona’s backstory as she tries to figure out how to light the rest of the sand beacons and change the fate of the five worlds. The Cobalt Prince is the leader of the blue planet, Toki, which conquered the sand planet, and destroyed the sand castle. Turns out, though, that he has been taken over by the Mimic, an evil spirit that wants to gain control of the universe. Oona finds her sister there, working with the Cobalt Prince. Can she figure out her past, and save her sister and stop the mimic?

I put off reading this but honestly, I shouldn’t have. This is such a great series. I like the art, and while there’s a huge cast of characters, I think the authors juggle everything incredibly well. I also like how each individual one has it’s own arc while being a part of the larger whole; it makes it so each can be read as a stand-alone, which is nice.

Here’s to waiting for the next one!

Reign the Earth

reigntheearthby A. C. Gaughen
First sentence: “There was a scorpion in my tent.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s violence, including spouse abuse (both verbal and physical). Also, though the main character is 17, she marries a man 10 years older than her. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The basic plot: a desert girl, whose nomadic country has been at war with a bigger, more powerful, oppressive country, is married off to the king of the country in order to achieve peace. Said peace is only tentative as long as the king is happy (and he’s not often happy, for many reasons) and as long as desert girl keeps her magic powers a secret from her husband.

There’s more to it: including a prophecy and a resistance and a secret love, but really, that’s it.

I’m being a little snarky, but I did like this enough to finish it. I did have a big issue with this: the main character is married to an abusive man. It starts out with him raping her on their wedding night (he kind of couches it in “I don’t want you to be uncomfortable” but he doesn’t really take her comfort into mind) and it just escalates from there. Granted, our main character does, eventually, stand up to him (and he is the “bad guy” of the story), but I couldn’t help but wonder: is this really a book for teens? I don’t mind darkness in books, or even dealing with issues like abusive relationships, but this one felt more… adult than usual. I know the marriage has something to do with it, but I’m not sure that’s all. I don’t know if I can put my finger on it exactly.

Also: I feel like this one could have been better if it were an own voices story. Again, I’m probably nit-picking, but I felt like it was just “desert girl saves white oppressed culture” and not much else.

So, while I liked it enough to finish it, I didn’t love it.

The Traitor’s Game

traitorsgameby Jennifer Nielsen
First sentence: “The truth of where I’d been for the past three years wasn’t what anyone believed.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some intense situations and violence. It’s in the young adult (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Kestra Dallisor is the daughter of the second most powerful person in the land. Which makes her highly valuable. She survived a kidnapping attempt three years ago, and has been in exile ever since. Now, as she is summoned back to Antora by her father, she is faced, yet again, with an impossible situation: she’s been kidnapped by rebels, her beloved guard held hostage, and they’ve laid before her an impossible challenge: recover the Olden Blade, the only thing that can kill the immortal dictator of Antora. And do it in three days.

She complies, of course, but not willingly. And the things she discovers as she searches for the Blade are going to turn her world upside down.

I thought this one was a lot of fun! I enjoyed Kestra’s determination and stubbornness and her desire to receive affection from her father. She’s smart and capable and it was quite delightful reading her banter with the other characters (no one was safe from her sarcasm). And there were a couple of twists in there that caught me off guard (happily so) and led the story in interesting directions. It’s the first in a series, so while it has a conclusion, it leaves it open for the story to take off in intriguing directions.

Highly recommended.

Gregor the Overlander

by Suzanne Collins
First sentence: “Gregor had pressed his forehead against the screen for so long, he could feel a pattern of tiny checks above his eyebrows.”
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Content: There are a couple of battles and some tense moments. It is in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

First a story: M read this when she was about 10 or 11 years old, and told me that it was SO good and that I needed to read it. I balked: Gregor goes underground and goes on a quest with talking cockroaches?! Ew. (I loathe cockroaches. Ugh.) She finally, after years of bugging me, gave up and moved on. However, when I saw it on the list for the science fiction/fantasy module in my children’s lit class, I remembered M’s urging and I picked it up (finally!).

And you know what? She was right. (Not the first time.) The basic premise is that Gregor, whose father has been missing for 2 years, falls into the Underland, a world where there are some humans who live in an uneasy peace with giant spiders, cockroaches, and bats, and whose mortal enemies are the giant rats. (And yes, all the animals talk.) Once there, Gregor finds out that he may be/is the Warrior who would fulfill the prophecy, perhaps bringing peace between the humans and the rats. And, oh by the way, the rats have his dad, so maybe they can rescue him, too.

Yeah, it sounds trite: there are talking animals and a prophecy (they’re all the rage!) but Collins is quite masterful in telling a story. She keeps the action moving, she makes us care about Gregor and all the other Underlanders and she even gives us a nice twist at the end that careful readers will see coming (I didn’t guess, but I wasn’t surprised). And she included Gregor’s 2-year-old sister, Boots, who is literally the best character ever. She’s funny and charming, and provides a humanity to the other characters that otherwise wouldn’t be there.

Oh, and this is a bit of a spoiler: I cried when one of the cockroaches died.

It’s just that good.

Module 4: The Grey King

Cooper, S. (1975). The Grey King. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Genre: Fantasy, Newbery winner. Definitely fantasy, as it pulls from mythology and uses magic. And a good example of a Newbery winner.

Book Summary: Will, who in an earlier book in the series realized he was an Old One, and tasked with protecting the world from the rising forces of the Dark, is convalescing in Wales, recovering from a bout of hepatitis. While there, he meets Bran, a strange local boy who helps Will fulfill part of a prophecy by stopping the Grey King from garnering his forces and waking the Sleepers in preparation for the final battle.

Impressions: This is the fourth in a series, so reading it as a stand-alone probably isn’t recommended. However, I routinely re-read the second, The Dark is Rising (which, incidentally, does work as a stand-alone), so I felt comfortable dipping into this world out of order. However, for those who approach this as a stand-alone will probably be lost. There is a lack of character development, especially with Will (because you’re already supposed to be familiar with him), but also Bran, though he has a greater character arc. Cooper is a master storyteller, deftly weaving personal concerns — the neighbor who is convinced that Will’s uncle’s dogs are killing his sheep — with a greater sense of menace and tension. There is a moment when Bran’s dog is killed, and the tension between Bran and Will is palpable, especially because, as a reader, you can relate to Bran’s frustration with being a player in a higher plan and struggling with a sense of a loss of freedom because of that. Cooper’s writing is tight and elegant as well, accessible enough for younger readers (though probably not as young as eight), but smart enough to keep an adult turning pages. My only issue is that in spite of the “lesson” on speaking Welsh, I know I still don’t pronounce the names right in my head. But that’s a minor quibble. It is also one of those Newbery winners that not only deserves the award — it really is an excellently written book — but has held up as a timeless story over the past 40 years.

Review: The School Library Journal wrote that, in spite of lacking in character development, the book added much to the high fantasy genre, with the  most intriguing thing being the dichotomy between the plain lives of the Welsh sheepmen and the higher, mythical role the land — and Will — plays around them.

Wilton, S. M. & Gerhardt, L.N. (1975, October). Book reviews. School Library Journal, 22 (2). 104-105.

Library Uses: I would put this one on a display of fantasy books, series books, or older Newbery winners that are still great to read.

Readalikes:

  • Before I give other recommendations, I ought to recommend the most obvious and suggest reading the rest of this series: Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; and Silver on the Tree.
  • The Prydian Chronicles, beginning with The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander: While not specifically set in Wales, this series is probably the most like Susan Cooper’s books. It has the Welsh feel, the struggle between Dark and Light, and a male main character who finds out he is More than he originally thought.
  • The Raven Cycle, beginning with The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater: This one is loosely based on Welsh mythology, though Stiefvater says that Cooper’s books were an inspiration for it. A group of four boys and one girl, the daughter of psychics, set out looking for a dead Welsh king in the hills of Virginia. Conflict, magic, and epic writing follow.
  • The Merlin Saga, beginning with The Lost Years, by T. A. Barron: I found there is a lack of Welsh fantasy books for kids (though there is more for adults), so I tapped into the Arthurian side of Cooper’s books. Barron’s series is the definitive works for kids interested in Merlin and Arthurian legend. The books follow Merlin as he becomes a powerful wizard.

5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior

by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, Boya Sun
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 2, 2017
Content: There’s some intense action moments. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This came into the store, and I passed it off to K, since she’s the graphic novel aficionado in the house. She took it, read it, and came home raving about it. Made me sit down and read it (while she read it again over my shoulder!) pretty much right then.

And she’s right: this one’s a winner.

Oona is a sand dancer on one of the five worlds. She’s learning to control the sands, and perhaps see the Chosen One, the one who will fill the prophecy and light the beacons. (Though lighting the beacons is a source of contention: not everyone in the worlds thinks that will save the dying worlds…) Oona’s not a star student by any means; she finds she can’t control the sands. And so when Oona receives a letter from her sister who left a year earlier, she decides, on the eve of Beacon Day (when they choose the Chosen One), to ditch everything and see her sister.

And that’s where the adventure starts. Through a series of accidents, she meets An Tzu, a boy from the slums who has a knack for getting out of tough situations and Jax Amboy, a famous starball player who has a couple  of secrets. Together, the three of them set out to figure out the prophecy and find someone to light the beacons.

That doesn’t do it justice, really. It’s fun, it’s packed full of suspense and adventure, and I love the mythology and lore that the authors have created. I also really liked the different worlds and creatures they’ve created. It’s a inventive story while retaining a sense of familiarity (I mean, how many times have we read a Chosen One story, after all?).

It’s really one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in a while, though.