Tag Archives: fiction

Why you should not mess with the nice ones


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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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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A creepy one, if you like that kind of thing

hazel woodThere’s a moment in this book when I gasped and slammed the book shut.  Is that a good thing?

Shutting the book didn’t change the ending, of course, or what Alice was going to have to endure before the last page.  Melissa Albert masterfully weaves fairy tale storytelling with modern life, action movie visuals and the twists and turns of a thriller.  And maybe you can consider it a compliment that I had bad dreams a few nights while reading it.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

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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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I love Roz and I cannot lie

wild robot escapesShe’s back!  You might not have been waiting with quite as much excitement as me, but SHE’S BACK!

This is how much I love Roz, the Wild Robot…

When the first book came out, I told almost everyone I knew about it more than once, even some people who don’t read middle grade.  We need to get out of our boxes sometimes, right?  Well, that was a book you should do that for!

I bought a copy to give to a teacher friend.  When she didn’t read it right away, I admit I was a little annoyed.  BUT this year, she read it as a read-aloud in the golden after-lunch “literature” time, and all the kids in her completely nuts third grade class loved it.  They loved it so much that when I mistakenly said the new book was called The Wild Robot Returns, someone corrected me, because she had already been bugging her mom about getting the new book, which you can see is The Wild Robot Escapes.

So I pre-ordered a copy of the book for the class. Kids who are that excited about a book really need the sequel. And I put myself on hold for both the paper and electronic copies at the library, just to be sure I would be getting it close to its release date.

Because the e-book copy was released before either paper copies could arrive, I read it in the middle of the night – thank you, insomnia – and finished it by 7 a.m. on its book birthday.

Would you be surprised to find out I love it?  Probably not.  But loved it I did.

In the first book, Roz survived and adapted and thrived when she was the only surviving robot shipwrecked on an island.  She became a parent, a leader, a builder, and a community member.  She learned to speak with animals and worked with them to create a safe environment for all.  Then those awful retrieval robots appeared and forced her back into human society.

She’s just been reformatted and sold to farmer at the beginning of The Wild Robot Escapes, and even though her life is one of repairing buildings and hanging out with dairy cows, you just know she is going to have a big adventure soon.  Will she escape?  Will she reconnect with her animal family?  Can she outsmart a vindictive wolf?  Will she be changing lives again?

I love Roz.  She’s the perfect example of how what some people see as “defective” is really just different in a super wonderful way.

And if you’ve got a minute, check out the author’s blog post on creating Roz and the sequel – it’s pretty cool, too!  Click here.

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

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That whole big world outside your window

frances pauleyFrances Pauley, a.k.a. Figgrotten, mostly lives in a world of her own, although she moves through what passes for the real world.  She’s created a rocky living room outside her house, and she prefers to be there – rain, snow, or shine – over most other places in the world, even though she’s got a loving family and an awesome teacher and all.  Well, most of her family is loving.  Teenaged sisters can be wild cards when they live in an uncharted swirl of anger and drama.  Figgrotten also has a best friend, her bus driver, who makes her think about things in new ways and exposes her to a kinder way of interacting in the world.

Reality has a way of intruding on routines, though, and when things start to upend Figgrotten’s life in uncomfortable ways, it’s stressful and sad and upsetting.  Recognizing the good around her might bring her some awareness, some peace, something new to think about.

This is a wonderful book about a quiet and thoughtful kid.

Recently, there’s been a bit of an uproar in northwestern Iowa over some folks who’d like to have more control over what’s accessible to everyone at their public library.  They seem to think that removing or labeling the materials that fall under their umbrella of someone else’s agenda will make it better for everyone because they think they know what’s better for everyone.  They apparently haven’t read the Library Bill of Rights.

This book is an example of what they might want to label or remove.  Why?  Because it mentions a male teacher maybe having a boyfriend or husband.  It’s one conversation towards the end of the book, and it actually shows the character’s growing empathy for others.  She wants her teacher to have love in his life, like most of us want for our friends and families and teachers.

We all live in the same world, people.  You can live your life.  I can live mine.  If you don’t want your kid to read that book, you’re the parent.  Parent.  I don’t believe stopping your kids from seeing it will make it not exist,  It won’t mean they don’t seek it out on their own later, but go for it.  That’s your right as a parent.  It’s not your right to make that choice for me or my kid or anyone else, however.

And by the way, you’d be missing out on a whole lot of wonderful lessons about community and caring and family if you missed this book.  That’s what I want my kid to learn.  Sigh.  Rant over.

The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley by April Stevens

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Dive in

love hateMaya’s life is full of all the usual teenage stuff – figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life, navigating changes in your family, friends, and romantic life, and dealing with jerks who range from stupid to mean to dangerous.  And she’s got some added challenges in her immigrant parents who want her to stay close to home for college (while she dreams of New York) and are already planning to marry her off to a suitable boy.  And she’s Muslim, too, in a predominantly white community, with some people who are quick to label people who are “different” terrorists.

Love, Hate & Other Filters diverges a bit from similar stories by adding a window into the mind of the terrorist who’s planning an attack which might upend Maya’s life.  His thoughts break into the flow of Maya’s busy life, poisoning the happiest moments a little, but doing it in a way that reminds us all of how fragile life and love really are.

There are many windows into lives here, and many reminders that whatever the choices in front of us, there’s a whole history spreading behind us, too.  Does it weigh us down so much that we can’t keep moving forward?  Do we let it change us, or do we choose to leave it behind?  Can we forge a different path?

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Not much of a review – more of a rant

truly dYou’ve been warned.

Fortunately I didn’t read the inside flap of this book until I was halfway through it.  The first of a murder-mystery trilogy?  Grrr.  I am so tired of trilogies and duologies and sequels right now, mostly because they mean I have to wait!  Grrr.

And then when the new book comes out, I have to decide if I’m going to reread the previous one or just trust that the author can whip together something to remind me of all the important stuff without weighing the first five chapters down with explanations.  Not many people can do that well, you know.  And then there are the cliffhangers, which sometimes don’t age so well during the wait.  Maybe a character escapes or disappears towards the end – are they dead or just plotting an evil return?  Who knows?  Do I care?

Is this delicious and wonderful to someone?  I sometimes end up feeling like I’m just being played, and not in a brilliantly twisty, sneaky way.  It doesn’t really make me inclined to gush about a book and wait enthusiastically for the next one.  Honestly, this is the whole reason I quit reading Rick Riordan’s myth-inspired books.  The afternoon my son binge-read one of his newer books and came out annoyed about the obvious ploys to set up the next book – well, that was the day I quit reading them.  I like those books; really, I do.  But the author lost me as a reader when I understood I wasn’t the only one who felt completely and obviously manipulated.

But this is not about Rick Riordan, is it?

Truly Devious will apparently be a trilogy, and if it were all out now, I’d just charge ahead and read the next two.  Why?   Despite everything I said up above, it sort of won me over.  It’s a wonderful homage to classic mysteries – the isolated location, the quirky characters with lies and secrets strewn behind them, an imperfect but brilliant detective,  a creepy rhyme or two, and oh, so many twists and turns.  I read the whole thing in less than a day, and I loved it, right up until the point when someone conveniently disappears through a secret passageway, and one final big surprise is cast at our feet.  But will either of those things bother me?  I guess I’ll have to read the next one to find out, won’t I?

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

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