August 18, 2018
The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
Such a perfect middle school graphic novel! (I must admit I loved it, too.) The “cardboard kingdom” is a small one–approximately a neighborhood block. But this kingdom (population: 16 kids) is peopled by knights, monsters, rogues, robots, not to mention an inner demon or two. The cardboard of the title is the substance (cardboard boxes) that creates the costumes that drive the make-believe play of this imaginative kingdom. The introductory story is worlds, as we view the pectoral story of an evil Sorceress and her minion torturing a captive princess. But wait! It’s siblings creating an adventure for themselves. They are embarrassed to be discovered by their neighbor, especially the Sorceress, who we are led to infer is initially ashamed to be seen dressing up as a feminine character. With the little sister’s encouragement, the Sorceress comes back better than ever.
This is a delightful and important book, filled with stories of adventure, heroism, imagination, and joyful play. Who wouldn’t want to take these stories as inspiration to create their own cardboard costumes? As an adult reader, it brought back memories of neighborhood creative play and building forts, hanging out with friends, and enjoying the summertime together. Highly recommended!
August 12, 2018
War Storm by Victoria Aveyard (The Red Queen, Book 4)
All the characters you have come to know and care about are brought to life in the conclusion of the series.
When we last met with Mare, she was broken-hearted over Cal’s decision to be the King rather than overthrow the monarchy, and join in her struggle. Though his decision alienated her, in her hearts she still cares. But her commitment is to Newbloods like her and securing freedom for all Reds. Cal, with his army of loyal Silvers, joins with Mare and the Scarlet Guard to secure the kingdom of Norta.
The quest is full of danger, intrigue, surprises, pain, and loss. Not to mention, an understanding of the rival forces as they tell their stories in their own voices. Surprising conclusions for all, including Maven, Cal, Mare, and her family members, too. I found the ending to be satisfying and rich, though there is some debate out there. . .(No spoilers!) Read the conclusion, and add your voice and opinions to the conflicting opinions!
August 4, 2018
Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir
Tahir’s writing just gets better and better. It’s hard to stop reading as the characters are drawn deeper into the engrossing adventure, learning more of their pasts as well as impacting their present situations. The oppression and fear are there–how could they be missing with the plots including the horrors of genocide and on-going wars among factions–but the characters find new emotional depths as they explore possibilities for hope amidst the dystopian world events. There is bravery and love at the heart of the novel, even as the searing pain of death and loss echoes through the pages. I was drawn to Laia’s story and her new connections to the memories of her mother, (and more surprises there). Elias struggles to maintain his humanity yet keep the faith of The Waiting Place to serve both the alive and the dead. Helene’s story continues to be both conflicted and heroic, and she struggles to balance her oaths with her loyalty to her sister and the kingdom they both love. The ending is surprising, difficult, and hopeful all at the same time. I cannot wait for Book 4! (You can also check out our review of book 2, An Ember in the Ashes )
July 29, 2018
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
There’s been a lot of buzz about this year’s newest West African YA fantasy novel. I didn’t get my hands on it until this week, and I am so glad I finally found the time. As a big fan of magic and fantasy, and other world creations in novels I read, this one found its mark. And of course, it’s always good news to know it is the start of a series. I love that the story is told from multiple points of view, and it’s impossible not to be captivated by Inan and Amari (children of the hard-hearted king) and Zelie and Tzain (who have been victims of the king’s cruel reign). The heart of the story is a quest, a magic-filled journey for power. Adventure abounds, not to mention friendship, magic, violence and themes that resonate for today’s readers, socially and politically. I also appreciate the strong women at the center of the story, and how the relationship between Zelie and Amari develops. I don’t want to give away any of this gripping plot, so I’ll just say: Read it! You won’t be disappointed.
July 21, 2018
Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
One of the delights of immersing yourself in a magical reading experience is the feeling of becoming a part of a whole new world. And the pleasure is extended, of course, when that world continues with further adventures with the same characters you have come to love and appreciate–and the awe of filling in more details of this rich other world. That is definitely the case with Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor’s sequel to the award-winning Akata Witch (see our recent post for a review). As her apprenticeship with her intimidating mentor, Sugar Cream, progresses, Sunny finds herself at the center of a mission to save the world from an apocalypse. Fortunately, she is not alone and has her Leopard Society friends and colleagues (Orly, Chichi, and Sasha) to help and support her. Not to mention, her powerful spirit face, Anyanwu. Together they travel through worlds both visible and invisible, I was hooked by this sequel, and couldn’t stop reading as Sunny boldly traveled to fulfill her destiny. A captivating read!
July 14, 2018
How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy
What it is like for a baby elephant to grow up on the African savanna? It’s certainly not easy for her to learn all the necessary skills (like projecting her voice across a 10-octave range or using the 100,000 muscles in her trunk to stay hydrated). Fortunately, her family herd is there to teach her and to protect her. This amazing non-fiction book is written and illustrated by the wonderful author/illustrator Katherine Roy, who created her drawings during a field-based study in Kenya. Her detailed diagrams and gorgeous watercolors bring to life the latest scientific research on elephants. Despite the detailed attention to facts, the book still reads like a fascinating narrative. Readers of all ages will appreciate this celebration of the wonders of the family of elephants.
July 7, 2018
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Sunny Nwazue, the Akata Witch, has become one of my favorite protagonists. Born in New York City, she now lives with her native Nigerian family in West Africa. Though she is a tremendous athlete, she isn’t able to enjoy her talents because as an albino, she can’t bear the rays of the sun. A classic “outsider,” she struggles to find her place in her family, community, and the larger world. As the story unfolds, Sunny discovers she has magical abilities, and has a lot to learn to keep up with her new peers: four other magic students who together are studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. Enter an evil magician the magical authorities ask the four apprentices to track down and the adventure takes off. I have rarely read such original work, with aspects of science fiction as well as fantasy, page-turning adventure, thrilling plots, and deep, intriguing writing. Can you tell I am enthusiastic? Middle school and older teens will be drawn in to this exciting novel. And adults will enjoy the adventure as well and look forward to deep and rich discussions. Happy Reading!