Thursday, November 30, 2017

Shorter Musings (MG)

Here are some shorter musings on recent MG fantasy reads.

Dragon's Green by Scarlett Thomas
This is the first book in a new series. The world suffered from a global earthquake that took out the Internet and changed everything. There is also magic, a school for special children, secret societies, and a quest. The group of kids the story centers around is wonderful. They each have a talent and a special thing to do. It reads as a real life RGP. The writing is good though a trifle stilted in some places. You can tell the author thinks she knows how one is supposed to write for/talk to children, but is a little rusty on actual practice in this area. But overall, it is a fun engrossing read. It is definitely a great recommendation for fantasy obsessed MG readers.

Ghosts of Greenglass House  by Kate Milford
Fans of the first Greenglass House book will be happy to see most of their favorite characters return here. In a many ways the plot rehashes a lot of what was done in the first book. I found myself not quite as into it as I was expecting. There are a lot of extraneous details, and at times the plot feels confused and jumbled. Milford's descriptive prose is in evidence throughout the book and it does have a very grounded sense of place.

 Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls by Beth McMullen
This is a must have for any upper elementary classroom or library. The action centers on a girl who finds herself attending a boarding school that is not quite what it seems. She learns a lot of secrets about her mother and her past. There is a wonderful team of classmates who work together on a quest to figure out where Abigail's mother has gone and what she discovered before she disappeared. It requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief for adult readers, but should be a perfect recommendation for those kids who like watching K.C. Undercover or simply enjoy the idea of adults relying on kids to save the world.

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
This is a creepy ghost story. Really creepy in some places. It is a perfect book to have on hand for kids who enjoy the scary kind of ghost stories and want to read about kids battling ghosts. It is well written with excellent world building and fully rounded characters. It is a hard book to put down. (I was forced to put it down for a little while and couldn't wait to get back to it.) The pacing and the plotting keep the reader engrossed until the very end. Also it's a sibling story so it gets bonus awesome points of that.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

The Epic Fail of  Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya is a book I found via the new arrival shelf at the library. (Yay libraries!) I am so happy I found it too. It is an excellent book about family and community centered around the Cuban restaurant Arturo's family owns.

Arturo has high hopes for the summer. He will be working in his family's restaurant earning money. His mom's goddaughter, Carmen, is visiting and suddenly he is feeling all kinds of things in his gut he is unused to. When a greasy developer tries to convince the city council that what Arturo's Miami neighborhood needs is a high rise, the restaurant his family owns and runs (but is in a building they lease) is threatened. Arturo is determined to save the day, win the girl, and make his Abuela, who pours her heart into the restaurant, community and its people, proud.

The kids in this book, with Arturo in the lead, are wonderful. I loved the entire cast of characters. Arturo is definitely going to be a favorite of mine for a while. His inner voice is perfect. Confused, frustrated, impatient, cocky, snarky, insecure-it runs the gamut of middle school emotions perfectly. His two best friends are foils for him in different ways and help the reader get to know Arturo quickly and well. The interactions between the three are amusing and realistic. Carmen is also wonderful. She and her father are staying in Miami for the summer following the death of Carmen's mother. She is still grieving, but is also a vibrant girl full of plans. She is reading poetry by Cuban revolutionary José Marti, which sparks an interest in the same in Arturo. Through this Arturo finds a connection to his Abuelo, who he discovers was a fan of Marti and even tried his hand at poetry himself.

Unlike a lot of MG novels, the adults are incredibly important in this book. The kids aren't fighting on their own. They aren't left to figure everything out and grieve and move on by themselves. There are times when Arturo takes matters into his own hands, but it isn't because the adults aren't present. And when those matters blow up in his face, he faces consequences and is loved by those adults. His entire family is wonderful and incredibly close. Several scenes take place during the family's Sunday dinners.

The plot of the book follows Arturo as he discovers what the land developer is up to and then tries to stop him. There is laughter, tears, anger, fights, and reconciliation. It is a story about friendship, first crushes, and community. At its core, it is a story about a boy who finds a connection between his present and his past. The main part of that centers on the relationship between Arturo and his Abuela, which is a beautiful story. I'm impressed by how well Cartaya was able to juggle all of this so well. He did an amazing job of balancing all these, while writing a book that is both fun and layered.

The setting of the book is crucial. The restaurant Arturo's family owns is the heart of their community. People come there to talk to Abuela as much as they come for the excellent food. Cartaya's descriptions of the restaurant bring it to vibrant life. I have to give him extra credit for describing how a restaurant kitchen works so well in a MG book. No idealization here. Another plus of this book is the untranslated Spanish it contains. The conversations between Arturo and his Abuela occur with her speaking Spanish and him responding in English. Through context, non-Spanish speakers (like me) can figure out what is being said. The inclusion of the Spanish is essential to making the book realistic and given the population of America's schools, we need more books that do this.

This book covers so many areas that MG age readers are looking for regularly in books, it is a must have for those who deal regularly with those kids.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Future Favorite Friday

This is the place where I highlight upcoming releases I'm excited for. I do it the second Friday of every month. Feel free to join in and write your own posts. Please link back to my blog and leave a comment if you do!

I enjoyed Roshani Chokshi's YA duology and was so excited to discover she has a MG fantasy coming out soon.

Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she'll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?

One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru's doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don't believe her claim that the museum's Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it's up to Aru to save them.

The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?
Intrigue. Politics. Fantasy. This month's YA choice seems to have all of them. And I can not wait to read it!!! And look at the beautiful cover.

Release Date: March 27, 2018 from Disney-Hyperion

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision. 

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Release Date: February 6, 2018 from Disney-Hyperion

What upcoming releases are you looking forward to?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Long Way Down

If Jason Reynolds writes it, I'm going to read it. Sooner rather than later. I made a special trip to the bookstore just so I could buy his latest, Long Way Down, because I didn't want to wait even a little bit for it. It was worth the trip and money a thousand times over. My only regret is that I don't have a class full of teens to read and discuss it with at the moment.

Will is 15 and his brother is shot right front of him. It's not the first death Will has seen and he knows the rules.
1. Don't cry.
2. Don't snitch.
3. Get revenge.

The next day Will sets out to find the person he knows is responsible for Shawn's death with Shawn's gun tucked in to the back of his pants. He gets on the elevator with a hazy plan in his head and a determination to follow rule three the same way he followed one and two. But the elevator stops on every floor and each time a person gets on. A person Will knows but who shouldn't be on that elevator because they're dead. And with each new person comes a story and a question:
Is the gun even loaded and do you know how to use it?
What if you miss?
What if you get the wrong guy?
And it goes on. All the way down.

Whoa this book is intense. The story is told in blank verse, which helps in ratcheting up the tension, but also works really well to move the pace along. It's a book you don't want to put down, and its format actually allows for fairly easy reading in one sitting. I did in two due to circumstances, but the second time I knew I would finish before I got up again. Reynolds has a way with creating characters and community that get under your skin and stick with you long after the book comes to an end. Will and every person who walks on to that elevator does just that. This is a book that examines family connections, assumptions, violence, and cycles. The way Reynolds uses his words is careful and precise. Each one finds a target. I felt so much for Will especially. So. Much.

And that's pretty much all I'm going to say. This is a book that needs to be experienced. It's the sort of book that is going to have you thinking long after you shut it. If you are lucky enough to be involved in a group discussion of it, it will be one heck of a discussion.

Read. It.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Young Adult Book Holiday Gift Guide: 2017 Edition

As promised last week, here is the book buying guide for those who love to read Young Adult books. I hope this is useful to you as one more resource for finding the right book for a young adult in your life.

Note: YA tends to refer to ages 13 up, but there is a lot of range in how mature the books are and the issues and situations they deal with. If you have specific questions about content, feel free to ask me. If you don't want to ask in the comments, you can always email me. (See the contact information tab for my email address.)

I did a similar guide for the 9-12 crowd last week. You can find it here.

These are mostly books published in the past three years or so. I've put the genre and year published after each.

Links are to my reviews.

For Those Who Enjoy Epic Sweeping Tales of Magic, Myth, and Journeys

 The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner (mythopoeic fantasy, 1996-ongoing)
*I don't write reviews of the books in this series because it's my all time favorite and I just can't. The most recent installment came out this year so it's a perfect time to buy a complete set of the series so some lucky someone can binge read them over their winter break.

The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier (fantasy, 2017)

 An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet (fantasy, 2015)

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (urban fantasy, 2016)
*This is also a perfect pick for the below category. I went back and forth on where to place it.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (mythopoeic fantasy, 2015)

The Story of Owen and Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston (fantasy, 2014 & 2015)
*And theses are also a perfect fit for the following category.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (mythopoeic fantasy, 2015)

For Those Who Enjoy Art and the Way it Shapes Us and Our World

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (contemporary realistic, 2017)
An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder (historical realistic, 2017)

You're Welcome Universe by Whitney Gardner (contemporary realistic, 2017)

*See above category where I've marked a couple of titles that are also a perfect fit for this category.

For Those Who Enjoy Books That Ask Hard Questions and Face Hard Truths

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (contemporary realistic, 2017)

A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (contemporary, 2017)
*My reviews of this book is coming soon, but I want to add that every single Jason Reynolds book for YA is phenomenal. Ever since When I Was the Greatest came out in 2014, he has put out amazing book after amazing book. You should check all of them out.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (contemporary, 2017)

Things I Should Have Known by Claire LeZebnik

 Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (contemporary realistic, 2016)

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (historical realistic, 2016)

Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys (historical realistic, 2016)

This Side of Home by Renée Watson (contemporary realistic, 2015)

For Those Who Enjoy the Falling, the Banter, and the Happily Ever After (or Happily For Now)

 When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (contemporary realistic, 2017)

Lucky in Love by Kasie West (contemporary realistic, 2017)
*My review for this one is coming, but if you know a teen who loves romance but isn't interested in sexual content, Kasie West's books are my go to rec for that.

 Geekerella by Ashley Boston (contemporary realistic, 2017)

Rose &Thorn by Sarah Prineas (fantasy, 2016)

The Season by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer (contemporary realistic, 2016)

Love & Gelato y Jenna Evans Welsh (contemporary realistic, 2016)

Feel free to comment with additional choices or categories!