Monstress: Awakening

by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
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Content: Lots of f-bombs and graphic violence and some nudity. It’s in the graphic novels section of the bookstore.

I really had no idea what to expect when going into this one; I just knew that Liu had won the Eisner for writing and I figured I should give the story a try.

It’s… a lot.

It’s set in this world where humans have been at work with Arcanics, who are a human/animal mix. It’s a racial war: the humans feel the Arcanics are sub-human and are trying to wipe them out. Throw into the mix the Cumaea — witch women who aren’t on anyone’s side, but use the Arcanics for their own purpose (and who I kept calling chimera) and you’ve got a hot mess of violence. Maika Halfwolf is our main character, possibly an Arcanic, but also possibly something else, who breaks into the Cumaea stronghold and (after killing pretty much everyone) absconds with a mask that awakens a demon she barely can control, in hopes to sway the tide of this war.

I think.

As I said, it’s a lot. I’m not entirely sure if I got all the plot or even the people straight. I don’t know if I liked it, but I’m not sure this one is meant to be liked. It’s super feminist — a ton of female characters of all shapes and sizes and stripes and in positions of power and not, and there are very few male characters at all. And it’s super pretty to look at; the art is gorgeous and elaborate and incredible. There is a lot to think about: it’s dealing with slavery and power and racism and seclusion and what circumstances can do to individuals.

But…

I don’t know. I’ve thought about it quite a bit over the time since I finished it, so that’s definitely something. It’s definitely one of the more unique and challenging graphic novels I’ve read recently.

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Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter

by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor
First sentence: “The Academy announced that another monster is on the loose.”
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Content: There’s some precarious situations, but not much else. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a graphic novel that was this fun. Scarlett Hart is the daughter of two former monster hunters, who died in the line of duty. Even though she’s underage, and could lose her home to the Academy if they find out, she is a talented monster hunter, and with the help of her trusty butler, Napoleon, has been taking on the monsters in London.

There has been an uptick in monsters lately, though, and the dastardly (which really is the best word) Count Stankovic is out to discredit Scarlett (and get her permanently banned from the Academy). However, treachery lies deeper than that, and soon London is under attack. Can Scarlett stop it before everything is destroyed?

Seriously. This is just so much fun. It’s got a great steampunk feel, with cars and some other great inventions. It’s got a lot of humor — Napoleon and his relationship with his car! — as well as some great action sequences as well. It was just a delight to read. And I wouldn’t mind revisiting Scarlett and her world again!

York: The Shadow Cipher

by Laura Ruby
First sentence: “The true story of any city is never a single tale; it’s a vast collection of stories with many different heroes.”
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Content: It’s long, and there are some challenging vocabulary words, as well as a few intense moments. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to any adventuresome 4th grader and up.

I’ve been looking at this book since before it came out in May, thinking, “I really need to get to this one.” And so I was overjoyed that it ended up on the Cybils list. Even so, I put it off… perhaps thinking it wouldn’t live up to the hype I’ve heard surrounding it.

Boy, was I wrong! This is a difficult one to describe: it’s an alternative New York City, one in which there were genius twins — the Morningstarrs — in the 19th century who invented steampunk-like machines (many of which are still in use “today”), and then, when they disappeared mysteriously, left behind a Cipher to be figured out. Except in the intervening 160 years, no one has figured it out. That is, until a different set of twins, Tess and Theo Biedermann, and their friend Jaime Cruz, get a mysterious letter and set about following a whole new set of clues, in the hopes of saving their apartment building. Following the clues leads them on an increasingly dangerous path, full of wonders and betrayals, all the way to the end. Or perhaps: just another beginning? (Yes, it’s a first in a series.)

I was talking about this to A the other day, and trying to explain it, and she looked at me like this was crazy. And in a way, it is. But it’s SO very good. The characters are fun (Cricket needed a larger role!) and Ruby keeps the plot moving along. I have heard some say that it’s complicated, but I think she manages to mesh the mystery and the steampunk elements (plus good, if distracted, parents) quite seamlessly. I’m definitely on board for their next adventure!

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.

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
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.