The Star Thief

by Lindsey Becker
First sentence: “Honorine realized it was going to be a difficult night when she stepped into the east parlor to do a bit of light dusting and found it on fire.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: April 11, 2017
Content: There’s some action-related violence, but nothing graphic. And some of the names might be tricky to pronounce for the younger kids. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Honorine has been a main in Lord Vidalia’s for as long as she can remember. Lord Vidalia took her in when she was orphaned, and then promptly disappeared. Honorine didn’t think there was anything unusual about her life — sure, she had a knack for inventing and she got along with Lord Vidalia’s son, Francis really well — until one night when a couple of steampunk-y airships arrived, weird creatures called Mordants appeared, and Honorine found out she wasn’t who she thought she was.

On the one hand, this hits all the middle grade fantasy buttons: magical creatures based on constellations, pirates, an evil overlord (of sorts), mythical creatures, action and adventure. And yet… well, it kind of felt that it was going through the paces. Maybe it was me, and where I was when I was reading this, but nothing stood out as, well, unique. I don’t know what I was hoping for, but it fell flat. Oh, I’m sure kids will eat this up, and I’m glad I read it.

But, I guess I was hoping for something… more.

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The Falconer

by Elizabeth May
First sentence: “I’ve memorized every accusation: Murderess.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a lot of violence, and some “improper” situations. It would be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

A year ago Lady Ailena Kameron witnessed her mother’s death at the hand of the Faerie Queen. It changed her life forever, not only because of the death of her mother, but because she was wearing a special Scottish thistle that allowed her to see the faerie… not just that night, but always. Bent on revenge, she found a fae — 3,000-year-old Kieran — to train her in the art of killing. Little does she know, though, that the problem is much, much bigger than simple revenge: the seal that has kept the fae at bay for 2,000 years is breaking and she’s the only one who can fix it.

On the one hand: awesome cover, fierce girl, steampunk. evil faeries. On the other hand: it didn’t quite work. I wanted it to. I really did. I even finished it, hoping that it would turn fantastic. But, it… didn’t. It was set in 1844 but felt off with the steampunk-ish-ness: both too progressive with the technology and too regressive with the way that society treated Aileana. It was a weird mix. And I disliked the love story — it just didn’t work. I did like the action sequences and I loved Derek, Ailena’s pixie friend. But other than that, there wasn’t much to, well, recommend it.

Which is really too bad.

Audiobook: Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince

woodenprinceby John Claude Bemis
Read by Ralph Lister
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Content: There are some scary parts, but not many. I don’t know how it is as a book, but the story is good for 3rd grade and up.

In this magical steampunk retelling of Pinocchio set in a Renaissance-like Vienna, Pinochhio is an automaton, Geppetto is a alchemist, and there are chimera and a magical kingdom ruled by an immortal ruler. All the elements of the story (or at least the Disney movie; I’ve never actually read the story) are there — the blue fairy, the carnival master, the whale (it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie) — but in an entirely new, and fantastical form.

I think this is one I would have liked better reading than listening to. The narrator was fantastic; it often sounded like an ensemble rather than just one person. But, there were sound effects added in, and they drove. me. nuts. They were super distracting and sometimes gross (really, do we need a sound effect for throwing up?), and sometimes made it hard for me to understand the dialogue.

And, to be fair, I kept fading in and out of the story, so I missed a bunch of the story line. Though, it didn’t really seem to matter. I was a bit disappointed it was a first, as well. I wanted it to be a wholly contained story, but it seems a stand-alone speculative fiction isn’t something that is often written anymore.

It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t the best experience, either.

Newsprints

newsprintsby Ru Xu
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: January 31, 2017
Content: The story line is a bit complex, but nothing that a 10+ year old could handle. It’ll be in the Middle Grade Graphic Novels section of the bookstore.

Blue is an orphan girl who disguises herself as a boy to deliver newspapers. There’s a war going on, and she loves working as a newsie for the Bugle, but she worries that once people find out she’s  a girl she’ll be out of a job. Then, she discovers an absent minded inventor and a boy that’s a lot more than he seems, and all of a sudden people discovering she’s a girl is the least of her worries.

It took me a while to get into this (possibly because it was an advance copy and in black in white; I’ve discovered I like graphic novels better in color), but once I did, I was hooked. Blue’s a great character, and the world that Xu has created is this futuristic-retro thing. There’s a war between fictional countries, and there are robots and flying ships and super fast trains, and… newsies. It’s weird and wild and fun.

And I liked the friendship between Blue and Crow, the boy she meets, and how Blue’s willing to do just about anything to defend him. Also, the underlying feminism: Blue’s questioning of the way the system is, why she needs to disguise herself, and wanting the system itself to change.

It’s definitely only a start of a series, but it’s a strong start and a series I’ll definitely be paying attention to.

 

 

The Fog Diver

fogdiverby Joel Ross
First sentence: “My name is Chess, and I was born inside a cage.”
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Content: There’s some intense moments, and it’s a bit difficult to follow plot-wise, but it’s great for grades 4 and up. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

It’s the distant future, and the nanites that the world had designed to clean up the smog went crazy and created a fog that is inhabitable for humans. They’ve moved up to the tops of mountains to survive and have developed a whole society up there. Chess and his friends are at the bottom of the totem pole, being junk divers: they troll the Fog in their airship and it’s Chess’s job to dive in the fog to find relics of the lost age. The reason why Chess is so good at this is because he was born in the fog and his eye is swirling with nanites. He’s in hiding, somewhat, from the evil Lord Kodoc, who will take Chess and work him to death if he ever finds out he exists.

Huh. I’m not sure if that does this justice. (Probably not.) It’s a fantastic, wild weird world that Ross has created. My favorite part? The obscure references to pop culture. Harry Otter, or the X-Wing Enterprise or skycatchers (instead of skycrapers), all made me smile. It’s was a wink to current times without being too trendy and it was perfect. I also loved the supporting characters. Chess was pretty great, but so was the captain Hazel, the pilot Swede, and the gear girl (who had shades of Kaylee from Firefly) Bea. They worked well as a team and I ended up loving all of them equally.

I do have to admit that this took me a bit to get into. It’s slowish to start, but once it gets going, it’s a LOT of fun. And fun is just what I needed right now.

The Inventor’s Secret

by Andrea Cremer
First sentence: “Every heartbeat brought the boy closer.”
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Content: There’s a couple of intense romantic moments, and the characters talk of “wanting” each other, but no actual physical contact takes place other than kissing. There is talk of an affair a character’s dad had, and there is quite a bit of violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8th) but I wouldn’t blink at giving it to a savvy 5th grader.

It was the cover that caught my eye. The steampunk dragonfly with the explosion in the background promised really cool things. And since I hadn’t read any Cremer before (she of the Wolf series), I wasn’t really expecting anything.

So, I was more than blown away when I was pulled into an alternate history where the American Revolution failed, Boston converted to a maximum security prison, and the “traitors” were hanged for their crimes against the crown. And they were the lucky ones. In the years since the failed revolution, the Empire has just become stronger and more stratified. The elite live in the Floating City, New York City, in levels rising up into the sky. The lower you are, the worse off. There’s still a rebellion, out in the woods outside of the city, where the adults are trying to topple the Empire. And the children? They’re in the Catacombs, underground, safe from harm until they turn 18 and go to join the rebellion.

The Catacombs is all Charlotte remembers. She and her older brother, Ash, have been there since they were 5 and 7, respectively. And now, at nearly 18, Ash is in charge. This is where the plot gets a bit tricky to describe. Too much, and it sounds silly. And maybe it is.  I do know there was more romance than I was expecting, and it was a bit hackneyed and overwrought as well. But I loved the world. I loved the combination of history and mythology and technology. I loved how the class issues were at the forefront. I loved the imagination that Cremer put into the book, the cool little things — like mice bombs, or Pocky the gun — she littered everywhere.

No, it’s not perfect. Far from it. But it IS fun. And that’s exactly what I needed right now.

Mark of the Dragonfly

by Jaleigh Johnson
First sentence: “Micah brought the music box to her on the night of the meteor storm.”
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Review copy handed to me by one of my bosses, who told me to “get on it”.
Content: There’s some violence (none of it fatal), and a bit of an innocent crush. But no language. The reading level is probably a confident 3rd grader/4th grade level. It’s happily in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section at the bookstore.

Piper is a scrapper. She lives in a scrap town at the edge of the Meteor Fields, and runs out after storms, looking for salvageable items — things that have come through from other worlds to hers — in order to sell for pennies. She wants more from her life, especially after her father’s death in the Dragonfly Terrritories’ factories, but she doesn’t quite know where to start.

Then, after a particularly violent meteor storm in which her best friend, Micah, is seriously injured, Piper finds a girl. She’s not-quite-dead and bears the Mark of the Dragonfly, which means she’s protected by the king. Piper revives her, and when a sinister man (whom the girl, Anna, calls “the wolf”) comes looking for the girl, she and Piper escape. Only to find themselves on the 401, the main train connecting the northern Marrow kingdom with the southern Dragonfly one.

Once on the train, though, Piper’s and Anna’s problems don’t go away. They meet a whole host of characters and are being chased by slavers and raiders (and the wolf) on their quest to figure out who Anna is, and what Piper’s budding powers can do.

I know I didn’t do the book summary justice. I’m not sure, however, if anyone can. There’s a lot going on in this book. It does have things going for it: Piper is a complex heroine, stubborn and intelligent, a combination of drive and pluck that made her very likable. My only complaint is that Johnson chose to introduce a romance element (however slight) with a boy. I felt it was unnecessary to the whole story, and it didn’t add anything. However, I thought the relationship between Piper and Anna was incredibly well-written. It became a sisterly bond and one that was very realistic and interesting. And the world — from the objects falling from the sky, to the cool train — was fascinating. The book did feel incomplete — is it the first of a series? — and there were many threads left hanging, but it was a good, solid contribution to middle grade fantasy.