Swing It, Sunny

by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Sunny Side Up
Content: There’s some teen smoking (offscreen mostly) and some difficult issues with a troubled sibling. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Picking up where Sunny Side Up left off, Sunny’s older brother has been sent away to military school. Which means things are different around the house. Quieter, sure. But also… weirder. Sunny misses Dale, misses having him around. But, when he comes home for Thanksgiving, he’s changed. And not for the better. Sunny has to figure out who this new Dale is, and how she fits in his life. If she even fits at all.

I really do love the Holm siblings, and they way the can balance the darker parts of life with humor and just plain silliness. I loved visiting the 70s (historical fiction!), with all the pop culture references. I liked Sunny’s inner conflict about Dale; it felt very real and honest. (Not that I had that problem, being the oldest in my family.) And the art fits the story. It’s not super-fantastic-amazing-blow-your-socks-off, but it suits Sunny and her family and the 1970s.

A really good sequel.

 

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Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

by Ben Hatke
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Release date: September 5, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher
Others in the series: Mighty Jack
Content: There’s some intense moments, but otherwise it’s good for the Middle Grade set. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novels at the bookstore.

Picking up where Mighty Jack left off… Jack and Lilly have followed the monster who took Maddy up the beanstalk and through the portal to another world. One where there are giants who eat little children, and goblins who are hiding from the giants. Jack and Lilly get split up: Jack heads up to the giant’s lair to try and save Maddy, and Lilly ends up with the goblins. Both have adventures, both do amazing things, and the story is fantastic. There’s even a few Easter eggs for Zita fans, which is fun.

I don’t really have much more to say about this. I still love Hatke’s work, it’s still a LOT of fun, and I still find it funny, and sweet, and thoroughly entertaining. Here’s hoping for more of Jack and Lilly!

Spill Zone

by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland
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Content: It’s got several swear words, including at least one f-bomb. It’s in the Graphic Novel  (the teen graphic novels got absorbed by the regular graphic novels) section of the bookstore.

Addison is living on the outskirts of the Spill Zone, what used to be the city of Poughkeepsie until something happened  that turned it into a wasteland. She’s taking care of her younger sister, Lena, who was one of the kids that got out of the Zone right when it happened. Unfortunately, their parents never made it.

Addison supports the two of them by venturing into the Zone, which is illegal, and taking pictures of the weirdness that goes on there. She has a bunch of rules — never interact, never get off her bike — and she never, ever takes pictures of the “meat puppets”, the people who are still in the Zone.

That is, until a wealthy benefactor pays Addison to go get something from in the hospital…

This is a weird, trippy book. That’s not to say it isn’t good. The world that Westerfeld and Puvilland have created is incredibly compelling. And the art is fantsatical, especially the parts when Addison is in the Zone. It’s (unfortunately) a start of a series (there will be at least a sequel!) so it creates more questions than it answers (like: why does the doll talk to Lena? Why does the doll need to be recharged? What was the “accident” that created the Zone? Why is there a flying North Korean kid? I need answers!). But it’s an incredible start.

See You in the Cosmos

seeyouinthecosmosby Jack Cheng
First sentence: “Who are you?”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some illusions to difficult situations, but they’re pretty vague. I’m waffling between putting this in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) or YA (grades 6-8) sections of the bookstore, because it could go either way. I’d definitely say it’s for 5th grade and up.

Alex, age 11 (but 13 in “responsibility years”), has a passion for science and rockets and Carl Sagan, the scientist. He wants to send his Golden iPod up into space in a rocket he built, which is why he’s headed out to SHARF (Southwest High Altitude Rocket Festival) in New Mexico. It’s where It’s All Going to Happen. And it does, though not in the way Alex thinks it will. He meets some broken and incredibly nice people, and that leads him to Las Vegas where he finds he has a half sister. Which leads him to LA before heading back home again. It’s part road trip, part family story, part musings on Life, the Universe, and Everything. And entirely delightful.

The best thing about this book was the voice. The chapters are a series of recordings that Alex does as he goes on his trip, talking to the aliens to whom he’s intending on sending the iPod. Cheng captures the uncertainty of being eleven, Alex’s passion for his family and his dog without much exposition at all. It was the perfect way to tell Alex’s story, to experience all the crazy serendipitous things that happen to Alex. (Seriously: he’s a magical being, Alex. It’s like he wills good things to happen to him, and they do.) Cheng captured the heart and soul of the book and reminded me that there are Good People out in the world.

And that, perhaps, is the best thing about this book.

Caraval

caravalby Stephanie Garber
First sentence: “It took seven years to get the letter right.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 31, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some domestic abuse and an almost-rape. If the reader is sensitive to those topics, then this probably isn’t for them. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I will say this straight up: this one is a hard book to sum up. There’s devoted sisters, the older — Scarlett — of which will do anything for the younger — Tella. There’s a controlling and abusive father who uses the sisters’ devotion against them. There’s a traveling game, Caraval, that is invitation only and that Scarlett has wanted to attend for years. There’s a history between Caraval’s master, Legend, and Scarlett’s grandmother. And then there’s Scarlett’s impending marriage.

And then Scarlett and her sister get invited to the game, the week before her wedding. And it turns out that finding Tella is the POINT of the game. One in which Scarlett must be prepared to risk everything to win.

I loved this. Seriously. No, it’s not lyrical and the writing isn’t the grandest, but it’s good, solid storytelling with an epic story to be told. I loved that the stakes were high. And the chemistry between Scarlett and Julian? When it was on, it was ON. I liked the use of magic in the game and the way it kept me in suspense about what was real and what wasn’t

I liked that the story wrapped up, mostly suitably, even though there was a bit left undone for a sequel. Definitely worth reading.

Audiobook: Three Dark Crowns

threedarkcrownsby Kendare Blake
Read by: Amy Landon
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Content: There’s some off-screen sex, and lots and lots of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The premise of this one is weird and awesome: on the island of Fennbirn, every generation there is born a set of triplet queens. They are fostered out, according to their “powers”, and each one has an equal chance at becoming queen. The catch? The one who becomes queen has to kill her sisters.

Our queens are Arsinoe, a naturalist, said to have power over nature; Katharine, a poisoner, who can ingest the most lethal poisons and not die; and Mirabella, an elemental, who has control over the weather. Except, things aren’t always as they seem. And those who the queens have been fostered to have much more power than the queens.

It had a really slow start to it; there was a lot of exposition about the magic (which I didn’t mind) and the characters (I liked some better than others). There were a couple of love stories, and a love triangle (of sorts). (I kept rooting for one of the queens to be lesbian; I think one is, but not the one I suspected.) It took a long time to get going, and the only thing that kept me listening was the narrator, who was quite spellbinding. For one, there’s a lot of weird names of people and places in this, and it was nice to have someone else pronounce Arsinoe (ar-sin-oye) and Katharine (cat-er-eene), instead of trying to figure it out on my own. I think Blake tried to balance all three queens’ stories, but she ended up focusing more on Arsinoe more than others. (Or at least I felt she did.)

It wasn’t a stand-alone, as I had hoped. And I called one of the major twists fairly early on. But were a couple of things that surprised me, and I have hopes for the direction that the sequel should go (we’ll see). It wasn’t the best fantasy I’ve read, but it wasn’t bad either.

 

Jacob Have I Loved

jacobhaveilovedby Katherine Patterson
First sentence: “As soon as the snow melts, I will go to Rass and fetch my mother.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s slow (it won the 1980 Newbery Award), and there’s not a lot of action. It’s perfect, though, for those 12 or 13-year-old kids who are trying to figure out themselves. And who like historical fiction.

A quick side note: it’s my 12th blogiversary today! I’ve fallen out of the habit of celebrating these, but I carved out this little corner of the internet 12 years ago today. Hard to believe, but there it is.

I wasn’t feeling much like reading new stuff the past couple of weeks, so I turned to a couple of rereads. One was The Blue Sword, which I’ve already given its own review. But the other, I only mentioned briefly, 12 years ago, so I thought it deserved its own post.

Sara Louise has spent her whole life on the small island Rass in the Chesapeake Bay. Her father works the water, crabbing in the summer, and harvesting oysters in the winter; her mother was a former schoolteacher and currently runs the house. Louise is mostly content, except… her younger twin, Caroline. It’s not that Caroline is mean or awful; in fact, it’s the opposite. Caroline is beautiful, Caroline is talented, Caroline is kind. Caroline is the joy of everyone on the island, and Lousie just can’t compete. She knows she should be supportive of her sister, proud of her sister. And she is. But she’s also jealous: she wants to be Noticed. But she’s not. She’s the backbone. The work horse. The awkward child.

There isn’t much of a plot; it’s Louise’s experiences growing up, and her (finally) figuring out what she wants out of life as an adult (which is nice). I spent this reread (it’s been a while) trying to figure out why this moved me as a pre-teen, why I have such a powerful attachment to it. I think it’s because everyone (well… me) can connect to being left out. To being looked over. To working and working and working and never feeling appreciated. To always being on the outside. And Patterson captured that feeling so very perfectly. She captures the awkwardness of the pre-teen years (I really don’t think anyone ever has things together the way Caroline does in the book; I’d love to see this story from Caroline’s point of view. It’d make her more human), the way they Want but don’t quite know how to articulate that want. The up and down feelings, the drama of just Living. It’s a perfect portrait of those years, and I think that’s what resonated.

Does it hold up as an adult? Yes, it does. It’s definitely historical fiction; it’s a picture of a small island in the 1940s, during World War II, and I found that interesting. I wanted to smack Grandma. Seriously, the woman had issues. I wished there was more about Louise’s mom; I would have loved to hear her story. I did enjoy it, even if I didn’t connect to it as deeply as I did when I was a pre-teen.

Definitely still worth reading, though.