The Chicken Sisters

by KJ Dell’Antonia
First sentence: “The hit TRC series Food Wars is back!”
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Release date: December 1, 2020
Content: There’s swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

First, some background: in Pittsburg, Kansas, there are two fried chicken places: Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s. There is some bit of controversy over which is better (I’ve eaten at one, but I don’t remember which) and they’re both pretty famous. Dell’Antonia is taking that idea — of two fried chicken places in a small Kansas town — and spinning a story around it. This time, there’s a feud between the two places, going back generations to the two sisters who started the restaurants: Frannie and Mimi. The feud has gotten so bad that when Amanda, one of Mimi’s descendants, marries Frank, one of Frannie’s she’s disowned, practically speaking, from her own family. And so, when on a whim, Amanda invites Food Wars to town to judge between Frannie’s and Mimi’s she has no idea what she has unleashed.

There’s more to the story; Amanda is distant from her older sister, Mae, who has made a career in reality television as someone who can clean and organize the heck out of everything. It doesn’t help that their mother, Barbara, is a hoarder. Or that Amanda’s husband and father-in-law died in a crash about 15 years prior, and so Amanda’s basically been holding on, raising two kids on her own.

It’s a sweet little book, nothing to deep or out of the ordinary. Just two sisters and their families trying to figure out how on earth they got where they are, and maybe, just maybe, they can figure out how to fix it.

A perfect summer read. (Also, I really want some good fried chicken now!)

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy

by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo
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Content: There are some situations with bullying. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

If you can’t tell from the title, this is a modern adaptation of Alcott’s Little Women. It’s a blended family: Meg’s dad married Jo’s mom and they had Beth and Amy together. That doesn’t stop the sisters from being incredibly close. Their dad is deployed in the Middle East and their mom is working hard to make ends meet. As we follow the March sisters over the course of a year — from one Christmas to the next — anyone familiar with the original will catch all the highlights: there’s Laurie and his grandfather across the street. There’s crotchety old Aunt Cath that Jo works for. There’s Brooks that has a relationship with Meg, as well as Meg’s aspirations to be part of the rich social set. Beth shy and quiet and Amy loud and obnoxious. t

There are differences from the original, but mostly because it’s modernized. Meg and Jo are making decisions that diverge from the original, reflecting today’s society, but I felt Terciere and Indigo stayed true to the spirit of the original work.

I did feel like this one fell short a bit, but mostly because I felt it wasn’t really it’s own thing. It’s an excellent adaption of Little Women, but I’m not sure it’s much else.

That said, I really enjoyed reading it.

The Queen of Nothing

by Holly Black
First sentence: “The Royal Astrologer, Baphen, squinted at the star chart and tried not to flinch when it seemed sure the youngest prince of Elfhame was about to be dropped on his royal head.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher
Others in the series: The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King
Content: There’s a lot of violence, some mild swearing, and one tasteful sex scene. It will be in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Before I get started: if you are one of those sorts of people who like to wait until the whole series is done, then now is a good time to read this. It’s the final one in this trilogy, and it wraps the story up beautifully.

If you’ve been reading this series as it comes out, this is more of the lush yet fierce storytelling that Black has given us in the past two books. It feels tighter than the other ones; it comes in under 300 pages, and doesn’t have many side trips. Jude — who has been exiled by her husband, the High King Cardan — gets into faerie, nominally to save Taryn from the inquest involving her husband’s murder (which was brushed over… maybe Black will write a book about Taryn sometime; she turned out to be more interesting than I originally thought), but ends up in the middle of the court politics as her faerie foster father Madoc challenges Cardan for the crown.

It’s a compelling story, as Jude tries to stay a step ahead of the magic and Madoc and her feelings for Cardan, and it’s a tight ending to a fantastic trilogy. I loved the ending that Black came up with; it fits with the characters and was satisfying enough that when I finished I didn’t feel like she cheated me out of something. It’s a gorgeous trilogy and I will definitely miss spending time with Jude and Cardan and their friends and family.

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!

Summer of Salt

summerofsaltby Katrina Leno
First sentence: “On the island of By-the-Sea you could always smell two things: salt and magic.”
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Content: Lots and lots and lots of swearing, including f-bombs (which seemed really out of place to me; I don’t know why) and some teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Georgianna and Mary are twins that have grown up on the island By-the-Sea, daughters of the Fernweh line of women who have, well, magic. It usually manifests at birth, but sometimes takes longer. One of their great-grandmothers, Annabella, has turned into a bird, and comes back every summer to nest and attempt to hatch babies. Except this year.

This is the year that Georgianna and Mary turn 18, the summer before they are destined to leave the island. And everything seems to be going wrong. It won’t stop raining. Mary’s acting strange. And Annabella hasn’t shown up. And Georgianna’s magic won’t manifest itself.

This was an odd book — more magical realism than anything else — but I found myself enjoying it. I loved the matriarchal family, I loved the little island and it’s support of the weirdness that is the Fernweh women. I loved the magic, and now ordinary it was. And I just enjoyed the way Leno told the story.

It was all very charming.

The Penderwicks at Last

penderwicksatlastby Jeanne Birdsall
First sentence: “Lydia believed in dancing wherever she could — on sidewalks, in supermarket aisles, libraries, swimming pools, parking lots.”
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Others in the series: The Penderwicks, The Penderwicks on Gardham Street, The Penderwicks at Point Moutte, The Penderwicks in Spring
Release date: May 15, 2018
Content: There’s some romance (all tasteful, of course), and it has a bit of an old fashioned feel. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

When we last left the Penderwicks, Batty was in 5th grade and Lydia was two. But since a two year old would make a horrible narrator of a middle grade novel, Birdsall has fast-forwarded time again: Lydia is eleven now, and everyone else is duly older. In fact, Rosalind, the oldest, is about to get married. Which she wants to do at the place where everything started: Arundel. Lydia, Batty (who is 19 now), and the dogs (Sonata and Feldspar, who is the BEST) are the advance guard: heading to the mansion to clean and get ready and hopefully ward off (the awful) Mrs. Tifton. It’s delightful to be back at Arundel, and Birdsall weaves in all the stories from the first Penderwicks book — Lydia has grown up hearing the stories but not seeing the places — which gives the book a sense of nostalgia without just rehashing the same stories. We get to see Cagney again — he’s married with a daughter Lydia’s age — and it’s just absolutely delightful. But then, the Penderwicks usually are. And I loved getting to know Lydia who is simultaneously so very Penderwick but also different because she wasn’t surrounded by sisters the way the others were.

There are, of course, Penderwicks things: an out of control soccer game; lots of music and wandering around outside (no one EVER watches TV!); friendships and family. It’s absolutely delightful and I want to be a Penderwick. I thought it would make me cry to have to say goodbye to this lovely family, but I  didn’t. It was all so perfect, so right, so very comparable to Little Women (but no one dies!), that it just made me happy all over.

This series is such a wonderful modern classic. I’m so glad Birdsall had this story to tell.

Beezus and Ramona

by Beverly Cleary
First sentence: “Beatrice Quimby’s biggest problem was her little sister Ramona.”
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Content: It’s pretty simple text, and nothing objectionable. It’s in our classic chapter book section at the bookstore.

I adored the Ramona books when I was a kid. But, reading this, I realized I’d never read this one. I started with Ramona the Pest, and never really gave Beezus her due. Reading this — short vignettes from the year when Beezus was 9 to her 10th birthday — I realized why: Beezus is boring. She’s a Good Kid. She embroideries potholders for her aunt, she colors within the lines, she wants to read the “right” books. She’s. Boring. Ramona — with her active imagination, her loud, impulsive ways — is Fun. She’s the more interesting character to follow, and while Beezus is a great straight man (or sister, for that matter), she just isn’t terribly interesting as a character. (Yes, Ramona did steal this book from her sister.)

There is one lesson that I could have used as a kid, being the oldest and having not one but three squirrely younger siblings (though I suppose I was just as much of a terror as they were): you don’t always have to like your siblings. Sure, you’re always going to love them, and sure they’re always going to be there, but sometimes (and sometimes pretty often!) they’re going to do dumb, annoying, irritating, irrational, stupid stuff and it’s okay if you get mad at them.

(I’m Team Ramona, though. All the way.)

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.

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

by Amélie Sarn, translated from French by Y. Maudet
First sentence: “The women walk slowly, heads down.”
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Release date: Augst 5, 2014
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There is violence, some mild swearing, and some teen drinking and smoking. I’ll probably put this in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, though I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to a 7th- or 8th-grader who is interested.

Sohane Chebli is many things: 18 years old, a daughter, a sister, a scholar, French, and a Muslim. She lives in an apartment complex full of others of  Algerian heritage, and mostly she and her younger sister (by 11 months), Djelila, get along with their neighbors, schoolmates, and each other just fine.

Then, during Sohane’s senior year, a few young Muslim men take it on themselves to start harassing Djelila because she dresses in jeans and tighter shirts. Because she wears makeup. Because she smokes with her friends. And Sohane, whose path has become more conservative — she wears the hijab — doesn’t step in to defend her sister. Partially because Sohane thinks her sister is wrong for following a path away from Islam. And partially because Sohane’s been expelled from school, due to a French law banning all religious symbols, for wearing the hijab.

I’m going to spoil a bit — it’s not too bad, because from the beginning,  you know this — but Djelila is killed by the Muslim boys for her refusal to conform to their expectations. And it’s that paired with the other side of the coin: Sohane’s constant discrimination for wearing the hijab. (Not that I mean to compare murder with discrimination.) But it got me thinking: why do we feel a need to tell others how to behave? Why did these boys feel compelled to not only shame, but eventually kill a girl for not following her/their religion to the letter? Why did people refuse to see Sohane’s hijab wearing as an expression of her religion, instead interpreting it as an act of repression? It’s a thought-provoking book.

And it’s written well, in tight, short chapters. It took a bit for me to catch the rhythm of the book because it’s translated, but once I did, I was hooked. And I wasn’t disappointed, in the end.

Fangirl

by Rainbow Rowell
First sentence: “There was a boy in her room.”
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Content: There’s quite a few f-bombs, and some insinuations of sex. Plus a lot of underage (and overage) drinking. Also, it’s about college freshmen, a subject which I’m not sure younger readers want to read about. It’s rightly in the teen section (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore.

Cath and Wren are twins. Wren is the outgoing one, the pretty one, the fun one. And Cath stays home and writes Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) fanfiction. She’s really good at it: her stories get thousands of hits, and are widely talked about on the fanfiction sites.

But none of that is going to matter now that they’re freshmen at the University of Nebraska. Cath wanted to go the safe route by rooming with Wren. But, for Wren, that wasn’t an option. So Cath is forced to branch out. Experience things. Actually have a life.

In many ways, this is a love story to those who write fanfiction. Yes, Cath is an introvert, and no she doesn’t want to engage in what most people call “living”, but in no way does Rowel make Cath seem pathetic. She puts her in contrast to Wren, who spends weekends (and some weeknight) partying until we hours (the “normal” college experience) and lets us choose on our own. Perhaps some readers will see Cath as pathetic and without a life, but I never did. (Perhaps, too, that’s because I’m an introvert and I have a nerdy family who actually read — and write — fanfiction.)

It’s also a traditional love story. Cath’s roommate, Reagan, has a boy, Levi, kicking around. Cath thinks they’re dating, but eventually realizes that it’s really her Levi is interested in. And it’s their romance that made the book for me. Levi is so danged good and it was a pleasure watching the good guy get the girl. (So often it’s the “bad” one.) I loved the banter, I loved the push and pull, and I loved watching Levi draw Cath out of her shell, while simultaneously wholly accepting her for who she is.

The ending was a bit pat, I thought, and all the drama with her parents (dad’s a bit on the manic side; mom walked out on The 9/11, and Cath is understandably resistant to her attempts to reconnect) was a bit over-the-top. And while I appreciated that Rowell was reaching out to those who immerse themselves in a fandom, including pages and pages of Cath’s fanfiction was a little boring for me.

Even with the quibbles, though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.