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.

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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
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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.