The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Will found his first adventure when he headed out into the wilderness on a train to see his father after the transcontinental railroad was completed. Will not only got to witness the final golden spike being driven but got to finish driving it in himself! After the ceremony though, disaster struck with an avalanche that took Will and his father along with it. They survived despite the large amount of snow and being attacked by sasquatches. Now a few years later, Will and his father are aboard the Boundless, the most amazing train ever created. Will’s father is no longer a laborer, instead working as an engineer aboard the train where Will will be riding first class. The train carries with it a circus as well as thousands of people riding in different classes. But there is also danger aboard the train and it’s headed right for Will.
Oppel, the author of Airborn, has created a great adventure aboard a marvelous train. The train itself is incredible from its sheer size to the number of people aboard. The descriptions of each class of the train are done with an attention to detail and to the feeling of each area, each one significantly different from the others. This setting is richly drawn and used as a clever device to keep the plot moving and also to isolate Will and the others from help.
Will is a fine protagonist. He is brave, somewhat bored, artistically gifted and living a surprising life. Through it all he shows a spunk and willingness to throw himself into life, exactly the thing that his father despairs of him ever having. The other characters are also well drawn: the villains are horrifically awful, Will’s companions are complicated and have their own motivations that are revealed as the book progresses.
This is top-notch adventure writing set on a moving train traveling across a world filled with monsters, many of which are human. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove
Released June 12, 2014.
The first book in a new fantasy trilogy by a debut author, this novel features incredible world-building and an amazing young heroine. The world changed when the Great Disruption happened in 1799. When the Disruption occurred different points of time were merged together into a single world. Now almost 100 years after the Disruption, Sophia lives in Boston which is part of New Occident. She lives with her uncle after her parents disappeared while exploring other eras when she was a child. Her uncle is one of the best map makers and map readers in the world, a skill that become necessary when the world changed. But then her uncle is kidnapped and their home ransacked. Sophia finds herself journeying to Nochtland with a boy she just met following a clue her uncle left her before he was taken. Her journey will lead her to different times and different places in the company of many different characters. Little does she know, but it’s a journey to save the world.
Grove’s novel brims with details about this new world she has envisioned. The world is a unique one, unlike anything I have ever read before. It’s a mix of historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction and adventure. The addition of the different eras in time makes for a book that is surprising and great fun to read. It also offers all sorts of new and varied adventures for the subsequent books in the trilogy.
I must admit to not being a huge fan of books with lots of traveling and quests, but Grove maintains the brisk pace of the novel throughout and the travel is an important part of the story itself. Grove brings her world fully to life, making sure to fill it with characters that readers will embrace and enjoy spending time with. Sophia is a girl with lots of brains and plenty of bravery, but one who has been sheltered much of her life. My favorite character though is the villain of the story, Blanca, who steals memories from people using sand. She is incredibly creepy and frightening, yet has her own motivation and goals beyond just stealing memories.
Get this into the hands of fans of complex fantasy like The Golden Compass, they will find a whole new world to love here. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Battling Boy by Paul Pope
This is the first book in a new graphic novel series. Monsters are attacking Acropolis but they are protected by the hero Haggard West, until he is killed. Now their fate is in the hands of a young twelve-year-old sent from outer space. He has powers of different animals that he accesses by wearing different t-shirts. He can fight, but the monsters are cunning and strong. Teens from his planet go rambling, but few return. Battling Boy must not just save Acropolis, he has to prove his worth, make a cunning plan, fight epic battles, and survive.
The reader is quickly thrown into the story in this graphic novel which lays very little background at all. That approach is perfect for this fast-paced storyline where everything is explained on the fly and the reader has to pick up on clues to put it all together. Even as the reader is wondering about some things, the action has picked them up and moved them onward. The result is a brawling book that is a surprisingly engaging read.
Pope’s art has a wonderful vintage comic feel. The storyline also has its vintage moments but also bursts of surprises. The melding of steampunk, deities, outer space and monsters makes for a fresh read.
Young fans of graphic novels will find a lot to love here: big battles, a young hero and a mashup of genres. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Perry’s Killer Playlist by Joe Schreiber
This second book in the Perry & Gobi series continues Perry’s story. After surviving a wild night with Gobi, an assassin who disguised herself as a foreign exchange student, Perry’s band is doing very well and is now touring Europe. He is dating a new girl, an older girl, who is sophisticated and completely out of his league. But when the band travels to Venice, Perry can’t help but visit Harry’s Bar, the place the Gobi said she would meet him someday. Gobi does show up, but once again she brings trouble with her. Perry is once again drawn into her world of narrow escapes, bullets, guns, murder, trust and betrayal.
Schreiber excels at creating books that are superbly readable. This sequel is only a couple of hundred pages long and reads so quickly, the pages blur. The pace is breakneck and wild, it’s a book that sweeps you up and you just have to know what happens next to these two characters. The setting of Europe lends a new vitality to the book as well. It’s a pleasure to romp through Europe with these two.
The focus is on the action in this book and less on the characters, but I was pleased to see that we got to know Perry and particularly Gobi better in this book. While she continues to be a mysterious figure, we are also shown tantalizing glimpses of what her life must have been like. Perry serves as her perfect foil, reacting humanly to all of their escapades while Gobi remains cool and calm. It probably helps that she is the one with the gun most of the time.
For fans of the first book, they will not be disappointed with the continued mayhem and action of this sequel. This is a great series to hand to reluctant readers who will appreciate the fast pace and short length. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
Broxo by Zack Giallongo
Princess Zora has traveled from her clan of the Granitewings to find the Peryton Clan and convince them to join the trading alliance that is being formed between the different clans. When she reaches Peryton Peak though, she does not find the bustling clan that she expected. Instead, it is a bleak and empty place. Broxo is one of the few who still live there, a young warrior who survives alongside his huge furry pet. There are others on the Peak too: a witch with a sordid history, the monster Gloth who hunts for flesh, and the hordes of undead who haunt the lake and the area around it. This graphic novel takes classic fantasy tropes and adds zombies, making for a thrilling read.
Giallongo is a newcomer to graphic novels, but has created one that will have you looking for all of his previous work. His pacing is a nice mix of quieter character-rich moments and wild dashes of action that leave readers breathless. The slow realization of what has happened on the Peak also makes for intense reading, leading the reader to want to figure the puzzle out.
The combination of a strong female lead and a strong male lead without any romantic entanglement is also refreshing. The theme here is about pride, family and redemption rather than heartbreak or just hearts.
A great graphic novel pick for middle school readers who will relish the zombies, the battles and the depth of the storyline. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
A companion novel to A Tale Dark & Grimm, this book continues to celebrate the darkness and horror that is part of real fairy tales. This time the focus expands beyond The Brothers Grimm to also include Hans Christian Andersen and Christina Rossetti among others as inspiration. This is the story of Jack and Jill and their adventures. Yes, there is a broken crown and also a beanstalk to climb. There is also a talking frog to be kissed, a goblin market to explore, and monsters to either battle or befriend. There is plenty of blood, anger, misery, hunger and torment too. Sound like the sort of book you’d enjoy? I thought so!
Gidwitz has continued with his narrator who warns readers about what is about to happen, most of the time. There is a wonderful playfulness in this approach that lightens the sometimes very grim storylines. The interwoven tales, some of them original and all of them slightly twisted, make for a great read. The writing is strong and vibrant and a joy to read.
The characters of Jack and Jill are both wrestling with different issues, but both come down to the same thing. The two of them need to focus more on what they themselves think and not about what others think of them. Jill struggles with her mother’s focus on beauty, resulting in her walking the street naked in a spin on The Emperor’s Clothes. Jack wishes he was a leader rather than a follower, and is tormented by the other boys. He’s even mocked with a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The two children start out very likeable and relatable but turn out to be true heroes in the end.
This engaging story and pair of books is one that will get reluctant readers reading with its promises of gore and disgusting content, but is will be most enjoyed by children familiar with the original tales. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Children’s Books.
The Giant Seed by Arthur Geisert
This follow-up to the charming Ice continues the story of the community of pigs. One night, an enormous seed landed near the homes of the pigs. The pigs immediately set to work planting it, watering it, and caring for it. It grew into an enormous dandelion. Just as the flowers were blooming, a volcano near their village started to erupt. Hot ash fell onto their homes and the pigs were forced to flee. They found the solution in the dandelion seeds, riding them to a new island filled with trees and fresh water.
Geisert’s pig stories are told entirely through pictures. The long, narrow format of the book allows for a series of panels, one picture on each page, or a lovely long image that takes up the entire spread. Geisert uses all of these formats for his images. His illustrations are done in etchings with fine lines and small details. The mystery of the real size of the pigs continues with one wondering if they are either very tiny pigs or the dandelions are truly larger than trees.
As readers face another disaster alongside the pigs, they will enjoy the whimsical solution and the impressive art. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.