Category Archives: fiction

International buddy road trip – Amazon style

wwoman warbringerLike the recent Wonder Woman movie, this book lets Diana Prince be Wonder Woman with no apologies.  She’s fast and strong and can whip that lasso around and deflect bullets, too.  So what?  She’s been training for this moment her whole life, even if she might not have realized it.

Instead of saving a downed pilot, she saves Alia Keralis, a rich girl who turns out to be a Warbringer, a modern relative of Helen of Troy.  In saving Alia, Diana has messed things up for a whole island of Amazons and possibly the world, too.

And this is where it gets really fun.  After landing in New York by mistake, Alia reconnects with her brother Jason, his friend Theo, and her bestie Nim.  A gala is destroyed by bombs and dudes with semi-automatic weapons, and Diana must do what she can to protect Alia long enough to get her to a place that can cleanse her of her Warbringer heritage and fast enough to beat a deadline.

If your road trips usually involve wealthy people jetting off to Greece, morphing into gods of panic, and fighting off lots of men in tactical gear in black vehicles, more power to you.  For those of us who live much quieter lives, we can still enjoy the chase, worry about possible betrayals, and be happy about the conclusion.

There’s just enough information about Greek history and myths to keep it interesting and moving along, without seeming like we’re going to be tested on everything at the end.  And Wonder Woman?  She’s awesome – smart, funny, strong, strategic, and even kind – just like we’d expect her to be.

Wonder Woman:  Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

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Fortunately these are not Florian’s glory days

vanished-9781481436335_lgFlorian and Margaret work on “special projects” for the FBI.  They’re still in middle school, though, so they also have to do things like take algebra tests and survive lunch in a Hunger Games sort of cafeteria.  But they exist on two levels – being themselves completely with each other while living in disguise with the people they’re investigating.  Stuff happens to Florian; he’s just not cool, although he’s super smart.  Florian is one of those kids who will wait it out through middle school and high school, and then set his awesomeness free without a glance back later on.  Margaret is a little more able to deflect the slights of the queen bee and school bully in the moment.

It’s a fun read and a fast read.  There are little side plots bubbling along throughout the book, and they come together well in the end.  Kids who enjoy puzzles and mysteries will like this one, especially if they liked Framed! – the first in the series.

Vanished! – James Ponti

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The grim reaper does not ruin this party

denton little 2Denton Little was supposed to die in the last book, but he didn’t.  He doesn’t die in this one, either.

Surviving is complicated when there are government agencies interested in keeping the status quo, however.  There may be false identities, strange viruses, car chases, lies, secrets, a romance or two…

There’s some behavior that might be deemed inappropriate for younger readers (drug and alcohol use, sex, etc.) but if you can get past that, you’ll love this sweet, wild ride.  The voices of the characters are among the best-written I’ve come across in books for teens and/or young adults, because they’re so honest, quirky, sarcastic and funny.

A note:  If you haven’t read the first book, get it first.  You won’t find a lot of explanation and back story in this one, which I found refreshing but might be confusing if you’re trying to read it as a stand-alone.

Denton Little’s Still Not Dead by Lance Rubin (sequel to Denton Little’s Deathdate)

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Power corrupts for young readers

4539e647-thelist-3d_0c70dk0c70di000001I love a good dystopian novel.  There’s something about worlds gone wrong that usually makes the one we’re in seem less awful. A friend currently reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood says it’s having the opposite effect on her, but I’m going to try to stay optimistic here.  Rock on, goodness!  Stay strong, light!

The List imagines a world where Noa, who has survived the chaos and ruin of the Earth’s human civilizations, has saved a group of people in a place called the Ark.  Is it creepy that this guy seems to think he knows what caused the ruin of the world and has to solve it all by himself?  Um, yes.  No democracy.  No choice.  Noa knows what’s best for everyone, and that might include some brutal behavior on his enforcers’ parts as well as some cruel and unusual punishment.

Letta goes along with a lot of Noa’s nonsense, because as apprentice to Benjamin the Wordsmith, she is a protector of words and will become someone important in the Ark.  The List, it turns out, is a list of the approved words – 500 of them or so.  All other words are forbidden, unless you are part of the ruling class, of course.

Being banished from the Ark could mean death—even if Noa’s enforcers don’t kill you—but Letta connects with some people living different lives outside and begins to see how different the world could be with more freedom.

It had kind of a slow start for me, but this would be great for fans of The Giver and other books by Lois Lowry, as well as those who love Lisa McMann’s The Unwanteds series.

The List by Patricia Forde

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Jedi mind tricks and limited tragedy

superstarLester Musselbaum has a few struggles when he starts fifth grade.  He’s only been homeschooled up to now, so he doesn’t realize his awesomeness might not be seen as such by other kids.  He’s grieving–and his mom is grieving even more–the loss of his astronaut father.  He’s on the autism spectrum, although he doesn’t know it until later in the book.  He also has a name which seems tailor-made for bullies.  (As the book shows, we pretty much all have great names for bullies – they have an impressive creativity with words when they need to put someone down.  Unfortunately, this does not often carry over to most school subjects.)

Compared to a lot of books I’ve read and not written about lately, he’s got sunshine, butterflies, and free ice cream all summer.  Maybe this is why I liked Lester and not them.  Maybe it’s why when I thought, “This is not the book you’re looking for” after reading the inside flap, I was wrong.  I am so tired of middle grade books that pile on the tragedy.  (I have written about this. You can‘t just have one dead sibling; you have to lose at least two family members, have a sibling who’s got issues, and then find out you or your best friend are going to die or be disfigured while also fighting some other injustice.  I know.  I’m exaggerating.  I do that.)

Lester would probably appreciate the Star Wars reference, although Superman is more up his alley.  Lester tells the story and does a fine job of illustrating his world and the other characters in it without trying too hard.  He makes mistakes, a lot of them, and sometimes his words just aren’t going to be understood by others as you might mean things when you operate consistently from a scientific perspective.

This is a first novel from a Midwestern former teacher now living in the state to the north of us.  Yippee!  I can’t wait to see what’s next from her.

Superstar by Mandy Davis

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Mother Goose – wannabe fairy or name-dropping gossip?

mother goose diaries“Have you noticed every village idiot with a quirk becomes national news?  Jack and Jill fell down the hill – so what?  Little Bo Peep lost her sheep – how is that my problem?”  (The Mother Goose Diaries)

Oh, Mother Goose, the secrets you know about the fairy tale world!  And now you’re visiting our reality and hanging out with everyone from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Napoleon to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I must admit that I have read none of Chris Colfer’s other Land of Stories books.  I checked the first one out and didn’t get it read in time, and then the others piled up and I was just too lazy to face the whole thing.

This one looked like more of a companion piece, and it’s short, so it was perfect for the end of summer reading brain I’ve got.  This is not serious literature, people, but it’s a fun, silly ride through a somewhat embittered non-fairy’s life, and while time-traveling and speaking her mind, Mother Goose has a way of dropping a few words on social justice in, too.  I’m good with that.

The Mother Goose Diaries by Chris Colfer

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Fangirls and glass slippers

geekerellaA fondness for Star Trek (or Starfield).  A love of cons.  A pumpkin orange vegan food truck.  A fairy god-seamstress.  Evil stepmother.  Mean stepsisters.  Glass slippers.

It’s all here.  It might sound a little clichéd at first, but Geekerella does a splendid job of mashing all of these worlds together, creating a heroine who’s more than a Disney princess waiting around for a guy and including support characters who are fully formed and seem appropriately geeky or evil, depending on their role.  Elle is an outsider in an image-obsessed family, and her Prince Carmindor has challenges of his own.  It’s a sweet, modern re-telling, perfect for a summer afternoon, especially if you are a fan.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

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3 simple reasons to give York a look

york

  1. Puzzles — also clues, ciphers, and  mysteries to solve.
  2. Quirky public transportation options and elevators that go sideways.
  3. Kids out to save their world from an obnoxious developer.

Fun, fun, fun.

York: the shadow cipher by Laura Ruby

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Blooming perfect

bloomingStevie’s parents weren’t connected to their extended families, so when they’re killed in a horrible accident, Stevie is sent to live with her not-so-welcoming grandfather at his down-on-its-luck motel.  A long list of quirky characters enter her life – an older disabled couple who still haven’t gone on their honeymoon, the handymen, a few kids, an elderly woman who becomes her tutor and a some long-distant relatives.

It’s realistic middle grade fiction at its best.  There’s not a lot of action, although there are always things happening.  The days move forward and slowly, Stevie begins to rebuild her life in this new family of sorts.  The people around her are open to loving and including her in their lives, and she begins to open up, too, even towards a grandfather who is the opposite of warm and huggy.  It’s not just the garden that begins to bloom – Stevie and everyone around her do, too.  Nicely done.

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt

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Change, loss, hope…again.

100stringsSometimes it’s enough to read a story that could take place next door to you.  No magic, no long-lost rock star parent, no spy agency looking for kids to recruit.

Steffy is that kid you know who likes to cook and is kind of quiet but a good friend.  She likes her sister, at least most of the time, and she loves her Auntie Gina who has taken care of her since her mom’s accident years ago.  Mom is living in a care facility for people with brain injuries.  Dad is gone.  Until he isn’t.

Is it a good thing Dad is back?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Lives are so complicated.  Grief and loss and change are complicated.  Cooking is simple.

I’ve started a lot of realistic fiction lately, but I haven’t made it past the first few chapters very often.  This book was different.  It’s a quick read, but not one you have to read all in one sitting.  Steffy and the other characters are people with flaws, who make mistakes and then make other mistakes while they’re trying to fix things.  Kind of like all of us. It has a happy ending, but maybe not the happy ending you expect.  Like life, I guess.  I think that’s why I liked it so much – its imperfections make it special, and it doesn’t force a predictable happy ending on what we see around us every day.

And there are recipes.  That’s good, too.

One Hundred Spaghetti Strings by Jen Nails

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