Love & Luck

by Jenna Evans Welch
First sentence: “Dear Heartbroken, What do you picture when you imagine traveling through Ireland?”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some sexual harassment and mild swearing. It is in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Addie has been looking forward to the end-of-summer trip to her aunt’s wedding in Ireland. Mostly because she’s going to pop over to Italy afterward (to see Lina from Love & Gelato) but also because it will get her away from the boy who dumped her after their secret summer relationship. She is planning on sitting in the sun and eating gelato and forgetting.

Except, her other brother, Ian (who was supposed to go with Addie to Italy) has other plans: he’s hooked up with an internet friend, Rowan, and they’re going to go on a band-themed road trip in Ireland ending up at the last concert of their favorite band. Addie’s WAY against this (since their parents don’t know), but is convinced to let them drop her off at the airport. But… the car breaks down, the traffic is bad, and she misses her flight. And suddenly, she’s on a road trip with a boy she barely knows and a brother she’s barely speaking to.

I expected this to be a light, fluffy romance, but Welch delivered something… different. Sure there was a small bit of romance, but mostly the book was about bad decisions and healing and forgiveness. It’s a bit much to go into here, but I liked Welch’s descriptions of the sibling relationships, and how hard it is to find out who you are in the middle of a big, boisterous (and loving) family. (It was nice that the parents were actually good parents, too!) I liked the cheesy “travel guide” that is quoted throughout the book, as well; even though it was often corny, there were some good thoughts in it, and yes, it did make me want to go see Ireland.

It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I really liked it.

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Cybils Reading Round-Up, Part 2

Frogkisser!
by Garth Nix
First sentence: “The scream was very loud and went on for a very long time.”
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Content: There’s really nothing “objectionable”, but it just feels… older. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’m sure a fifth grader who really likes quests and/or fairy tales would enjoy it too.

Anya is a princess in a minor kingdom, whose parents have died and left her and her older sister to be raised by her stepmother (who is off doing…something) and her husband (whom Anya calls her “stepstepfather”), who is trying to take over the kingdom. So, Anya is sent on a Quest, nominally to find the ingredients to make a lip balm to turn Prince Duncan back from a frog, but ultimately, for control of her kingdom.

It’s a charming little tale; I enjoyed the fairy tale references (Snow White is a male wizard, etc.) and it was mildly funny, but honestly, it was just too long. I lost interested about 23 of the way through, and skipped to the end to find out how it all finished, and I don’t feel like I missed much. I’m sure it’s enjoyable; I just don’t have the patience for it right now.

Beyond the Doors
by David Neilsen
First sentence: “Edward Rothbaum was in a grumpy mood.”
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Content: It’s a bit odd; it’s long, but there are interior illustrations, so it’s like the publisher (what’s up Random House?!) couldn’t figure out if it was for the younger or older end of the middle grade spectrum. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

The Rothbaum’s mom has been missing for years, and then a freak fire leaves their dad in a coma. So they’re bundled off to their (previously unknown) Aunt Gladys’s house, where there are no doors and nothing to eat but cereal. And Gladys is a bit… off… as well. Through some digging, the Rothbaums discover the real secret: their grandfather discovered an ability to jump into memories, and has gotten stuck there. And it’s up to the kids to figure out how to solve the problem.

This was fun. Nothing super brilliant, but I liked the kids and the idea of memory jumping is a clever one.

A Face Like Glass
by Frances Hardinge
First sentence: “One dark season, Grandible became certain that there was something living in his domain within the cheese tunnels.”
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Content: It’s long and slow moving. So, maybe not for a reluctant reader. It’s in the Young Adult section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Neverfell is an outsider in the world of Caverna, an abomination… because you can see her emotions on her face. So, when Neverfell gets caught up in court politics, the fate of Caverna lies within her hands.

I usually like Hardinge’s books, but this one just fell flat for me. I wanted to like it, and I liked parts of it, but it was just… too long. And it didn’t hold my interest. I would put it down for days and just not care enough to pick it back up. (I would have abandoned it, except for the Cybils.) It’s not that it was badly written, or a bad story… it just didn’t hold my interest. So maybe it was more me than anything else.

Dragon’s Green
by Scarlet Thomas
First sentence: “Mrs. Breathag Hide was exactly the kind of teacher who gives children nightmares.”
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Content: There are a few scary bits. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Effie Trulove’s grandfather spent time teaching her about the magical world, and even though she’s not quite sure she believes him, it was spending time. But, he’s passed on, and suddenly Effie’s thrown into situations where she comes to realize that, yes, her grandfather wasn’t making things up: there really is magic. So with the help of her trusty new friends, she can defeat the Bad Guys (who are out to steal all the magic books), and figure out her place in the magic world.

I said, once, that silly names and magic don’t a fantasy make. And I think that holds here. The names bugged me (so very much), as did the gendering of  the friends (the boys were the Warrior and Scholar, the girls were the Witch and the Healer, though Effie was the Hero). I thought it would have more of a D&D feel, and be predictable that way, but it veered a bit from that, which was nice. It just… bugged me, in the end. I’m not sure I can really put my finger on why. But this was was most definitely not for me.

Penelope March is Melting

by Jeff Michael Ruby
First sentence: “Years ago, scientists spotted a strange iceberg floating a hundred miles off the coast of Antarctica.”
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Review copy sent by the author.
Content: There’s some bullying and a couple of intense situations. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Penelope March lives a quiet, ordinary life in Glacier Cove. Her brother leaves her riddles, her father goes and works as a turnip farmer (they’re the only food that grows on an iceberg). She goes to school, but doesn’t have many friends. She reads a lot though, and wishes for an adventure. Until, one day, she goes into the ramshackle house of  the town eccentric, and learns that an evil force is trying to take over the ocean, and is planning on melting Glacier Cove. And it’s up to Penelope (and a team of ice penguins) to stop it.

On the one hand, this was a unique premise. Not many middle grade fantasies being set on a town build on an iceberg. And, the penguins were truly amusing. There was the same old dead parent (mom this time) and the grieving remaining one (out of touch father). There was the Skeptical Boy (the brother, who didn’t really get on board until the last part of the book) and the Misunderstood Friend. And the buildup to the whole evil magic thing at the end just didn’t work for me. That said, it wasn’t a terribly written book, and I think there are kids — specifically ones who don’t mind a bit of magic with their adventure — who will enjoy this one. I just found it to be a bit… too basic and banal for my tastes.

Audio book: Disappeared

by Francisco X. Stork
Read by: Roxana Ortega and  Christian Barillas
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Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There is talk of selling and doing drugs, of girls being kidnapped and sold into the sex trade and there’s violence.  It’s not explicit, but it is there. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

This one is hard to describe: nominally, it’s the after-effects of what happens to one reporter in Juarez, Mexico, when she won’t stop trying to find her friend who disappeared one night. Sara has spent the last four months trying to honor her friend, mostly through telling the stories of all the girls who have disappeared over the years in Juarez. But, she hits too close to home, and she sets off a chain of events that puts her and her family — her mother and brother — in danger.

But it’s also the story of her brother, Emiliano, who has fallen for a rich girl. The problem: he’s not. Sure, he works hard, has a small folk art business, helps out his family. But he can’t provide for this girl the way her family wants him to. Not without going into “business” in the one trade that makes money in Juarez: drugs.

I’ve not read all of Stork’s writing, but every time I read one of his books I am reminded what a powerful storyteller he is. He weaves together Sara and Emiliano’s stories in a way that they compliment each other, coming to a head at the climax. He had me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, since I was driving much of the time) wondering what was coming next. And while it isn’t a happy ending, it’s an honest and hopeful one.

And the readers were fabulous. Both of them make the story come alive, helped me connect to this tale.

Highly recommended.

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.

 

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

by Ben Hatke
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.