Category Archives: fiction

Final frontiers and beyond. With poison.

waste of spaceOne reason I love pretty much any book by Stuart Gibbs is that he throws in interesting facts, and he’s done all kinds of research, just so he can drop a line or two in the middle of an otherwise action-packed and kind of silly story, and suddenly you’ve learned something about rocket science.  Look through his website (www.stuartgibbs.com) and you’ll see what I mean  In a world of fake news, this is – for book-loving nerds – like strawberry pie on a summer day.  I don’t really know where I was going with that.  I might just have been thinking about strawberry pie.

In any case, right in there with the mystery about who poisoned an entitled rick jerk named Lars is some cool space travel information about what life on the moon might really be like, as well as an explanation of how someone might make cyanide on the moon.  You never know what you’ll come across.

It’s the last of the Moon Base Alpha series, but I know he’ll be on to something else awesome, so it’s ok.  It’s really ok.  Really.

Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs

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When ASL + FROG = EXCELLENT

charlie and frogIf you throw in Charlie, too, it’s probably super excellent.

Charlie is just an afterthought for his globe-trotting, animal-saving parents and the tv-obsessed grandparents he’s been left with until he hops on the gondola – A GONDOLA, people! – and goes across the river to Castle-on-the-Hudson, where the Castle Family runs a school for the deaf.  The village is full of folks who can sign and/or speak, helping Charlie and his new friend, Frog, communicate and start to unravel a mystery.

The Castles — Frog’s family – are getting ready for a big school event and Charlie’s grandparents are more interested in infomercials than him, so Charlie and Frog have the freedom to roam the village, investigate the graveyard, ask questions and observe.

It’s a sweet and fun mystery, both because of the veiled references to Nancy Drew and other kid crime-fighters and because of the opportunity to see hearing and deaf characters interact so realistically in an adventure.  Signing is always an ability here rather than the result of the opposite, and that is great for both the hearing and the deaf kids who might read it.

Charlie and Frog by Karen Kane

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Why you should not mess with the nice ones

puddin

Millie has her share of burdens to carry – her weight, her parents’ fears, her own fears, obnoxious boys who think it’s funny to torment the fat girl.  But she has a secret spine of steel which she hides under her sweet smile and good manners.  The world is not going to bring this girl down.

It’s bizarre, really, that Julie Murphy managed to take such a unicorn and stardust gal and match her up perfectly with a fallen mean girl like Callie, but it works.  There are all kinds of disasters and misunderstandings and no shortage of drama, but this one’s a treat.  There might not be quite as much Dolly Parton as I’d like. (See here.)

But there’s oh so much to love.

Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

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Throw it all in a blender

The-2BParker-2BInheritance-2Bfinal-2Bcover-2B-25281-2529-202x300History, mysteries, love, friendship, sacrifice, mistakes, an homage.

I’m telling you, people, I think I’m out of superlatives for this one.  That’s why I had to start with a list.  There’s so much in it – from today’s bullies all the way back to those from the past, choices we make every day to stand up or shut up, right on down the line to lost love and finding the people who become your family.

This one’s a keeper, and its love for one of my favorites – The Westing Game – is just one more way it reached out and grabbed me.  Books like this are gateways to all kinds of things – learning about the real history that inspires them, reading other books of all kinds, asking questions about our own families and who we are – and it’s all good.  It’s all good.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

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Political turmoil & your daily life

night diaryYou wake up.  You get up.  You live your life.  Life changes. Repeat.

There are always things happening that can jolt your life right off its safe trajectory even in the middle of middle America – illness, death, losing a job.  There’s trouble everywhere, whether you’re in River City or not.

But, given that we’re citizens and  privileged in more ways than we probably realize, we don’t expect some national policy change to completely screw up our lives.  We don’t think we’ll have to move, simply because we’re one religion or another.  We don’t think we’ll lose our home and even some people we consider family.  We don’t expect to have to walk to the other side of a border and through a desert and just hope that no one kills us on the way.

Life and history is not like that, however, for all kinds of people in the world.  And that’s why this book is such an eye-opening and powerful thing.  Nisha is telling her story and the story of what happened when British rule left India and a national decision meant that millions of people had to move in one direction or the other.  She’s just a kid, but as the world swirls around her and flings people one direction or another, she has choices to make of her own.

Wonderful.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

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Parallel worlds, similar crap

an-unkindness-of-magicians-9781481451192_lgMagic and the mundane operate in the same but sometimes separate spaces.  It’s not like Harry Potter, this author seems to say.  Then again, power, revenge, and secrets are universal.

Sidney’s lived her life, if you can call it that, apart from the magical world until she’s somehow able to escape the horrors of her childhood.  Her choices will certainly upend the magical establishment and expose uncomfortable truths about what magicians have accepted in order to maintain their status quo.  And there is an evil twisting in and through the whole fabric of the magical world.  It might destroy it, unless something can stop it.  Will she be that something?

I’m not sure it matters that this book is about a magical world.  The magic is an elegant, challenging, and complicated thing, but you could translate the story into more realistic settings, and it would simply be a great story about persistence and overcoming institutionalized whatever.

But the magic adds to the beauty and horror of the story.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it–about the choices the characters make, how power corrupts, and how good people let things slide or stand up.  I can’t always remember what I read last week if I don’t check my own blog postings, so believe me when I say it’s great, people.  Don’t miss this one.  Neil Gaiman likes it, too.

(Also, even though this book’s in the adult science fiction/fantasy at our library, it would be a great one for older teens.)

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

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Dreamers and doers

reboundare your choices still bronze, not quite perfect but trying?

when you leap for an apple, do your fingers touch air?

 

do you smile at a challenge, at the roxies and cjs?

do you trust too much, when your voice isn’t clear?

 

strong women, strong men

they make up a family

you are part of that, too

young charlie, chuck bell

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Rebound, Kwame Alexander’s stellar new novel in verse.

 

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Sunny spins. Sunny shines.

sunny-9781481450218_lgWhat I know about throwing a discus could fit on a baby’s fingernail, but you know what?  It just doesn’t matter if Jason Reynolds is writing about it.  I love Sunny as much I love Ghost and Patina and the rest of the team.  They are everyboys and everygirls.  We read about them and we know, deep inside, that while they look good on the outside — just like us– and can kick butt on the track –maybe not like us– they have problems, just like we all do, and they have the power to overcome them, especially if they’ve got a team, a family, some support.

And that’s the key for me and reading Jason Reynolds.  He is not writing for me, but he’s really writing for all of us, because his stories are so universal.  The representation he brings to and the light he shines on stories for kids is so important for kids who look like Sunny on the outside, and for kids who look like Sunny on the inside, and for kids who don’t look like Sunny at all inside or out, because these stories speak to us all.

Also, I feel like the beginning is very jazz and poetic and a little wacky.  And I totally dig that.

If you haven’t read the other two in the series, don’t miss them, either:

Ghost  — liowabrary review

Patinaliowabrary review

Sunny by Jason Reynolds

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A big house with a great library and a bit of mystery…

WinterhouseColorCover.inddAnd an orphan and an almost-orphan, as well as some super creepy people, an enigmatic host, and various adventures.

With all of this, we have what we need to solve a few puzzles, uncover family secrets, and oh, maybe also raise the dead.  That last bit was a surprise, although not an entirely unexpected one.

Fortunately, the orphan has a heart of gold and something of a destiny to live out before she can find out more about who she is and who she might become.  At 370 pages, it’s hitting the upper end of my middle grade brain, but for an avid reader, this one’s a treat.

Winterhouse by Ben Guterson with illustrations by Chloe Bristol

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off + Chasing Vermeer + some bonus inheritance drama

ambrose-deceptionI am a fan of most books with puzzles or mysterious clues or codes.  Something exciting happens when your brain makes all the connections and you think, “NOW I get it.”

It’s really why I love mysteries, and if you’ve got a clever writer with a plot and some details that are just complicated enough but not so overwhelming that you can’t keep the characters straight – well, you’ve done something wonderful as far as I’m concerned.  There’s really nothing better for me than being surprised by a twist I didn’t see coming, since it doesn’t happen often.

Seeing some of the solutions in advance doesn’t always work against a book, however.  I’ve visited Chicago just often enough for some of the details and clues in this one to mean something to me, but not enough to help me solve anything.  That didn’t really bother me as a reader, however, because the characters bring you along as they’re figuring it out, and their talents and flaws are engaging, too.  The way the story is told also reminded me of several other middle grade puzzle-solvers.  After you’ve read this one, they might be the perfect follow-up.

The Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton

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