Tag Archive: fantasy


Baba Yagas Assistant by Marika McCoola

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll

A modern teen meets the legendary Baba Yaga in this graphic novel that mixes traditional Russian folklore with modern-day mixed families. Masha was raised primarily by her grandmother who told her stories of her own time with Baba Yaga in her house that walks on chicken legs as well as stories of other children who lived with the old witch. So when Masha sees an ad in the paper for an assistant, she sets off to take the job with some confidence, a lot more than she feels about her father’s new girlfriend and her daughter. Baba Yaga sets Masha through a series of tests like outwitting a huge bear, cleaning the filthy house, and even getting inside in the first place. But when the daughter of her father’s girlfriend shows up as one of the children ready to become Baba Yaga’s dinner, Masha intervenes and saves all of the children, even if they don’t want her help. But that act alone may have cost her the assistant position and her adventures with Baba Yaga.

McCoola’s story is a dark and dangerous tale, one that does not laugh at the legends of Baba Yaga, but instead makes her all the more frightening. Still there is a great sense of humor throughout. The story closely relates to other tales of Baba Yaga and her house. In fact, the characters refer to other tales, other adventures and use that knowledge to escape their situation. It’s a clever use of traditional stories to create a robust modern tale of adventure and magic.

The illustrations by Carroll embrace the darkness of the story. My advanced reader copy was entirely in black and white, so I can’t speak to the colors of the final version, but the drawings have a modern edge to them that makes them exciting and fresh. A different style is used when there are flashbacks to the other stories, making sure that readers know that it is a different tale. The final pages of my copy contain some character studies for the illustrations that make for fascinating reading too.

Dark, dramatic and great fun, this graphic novel is a memorable mix of old and new into something amazing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

Night Children by Sarah Tsiang

The Night Children by Sarah Tsiang, illustrated by Delphine Bodet

When night starts to come and replace daytime, you should run home quickly before the night children come out. They wear the shadows and chase the fireflies. They are the ones who etch the frost on your windows into delicate designs. They can be carried on the wind high above the rooftops and disappear when you try to glimpse them out your window. They scatter leaves on the yards and stretch webs across the doorways. They are the ones who steal parts of the moon each night too. But you, you awake at dawn just as they are disappearing. And you bring the light of the day with you. If you try hard too, you will see the last of the night children as you head off to school.

Tsiang’s prose here reads like poetry. She uses such strong imagery throughout that she creates a nighttime world filled with magical moments. In her gathering darkness “light spills in puddles on the pavement” and the leaves the night children scatter are “like toys on the lawn.” Each page has some special phrasing on it that adds to the wonder of this book. The writing is rich and surprising, just like the night itself.

Bodet’s illustrations take Tsiang’s imagery and brings it fully alive. The art is filled with a play of light and dark. The puddles of light glow on the pavement as actual puddles catch the last of the sun’s rays. Stolen pieces of the moon glow in small hands as the night children dance across the roof with their prize. When the day comes, the light is warm and bright, glowing on the page and filled with bright color. The night colors contrast with that, more rich and deep and mysterious.

A poetic and lovely book, this is a luminous bedtime story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Annick Press and Netgalley.

Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki (InfoSoup)

The award-winning Jillian Tamaki returns with a collection of comics that she has been serializing online for the last few years. Set in a boarding school for magical mutant teens, this graphic novel is filled with an engaging mix of fantasy, science fiction and teen angst. Various characters appear in different strips. There is the self-absorbed lizard-headed Trixie who mourns her lack of a modeling career. Marsha is unable to speak about her crush on Wendy, her best friend. Everlasting Boy continues to both escape to death but also embraces what makes life amazing. Other characters appear with moments of touching nuance juxtaposed against others that produce laughter because of how real they are.

Tamaki completely captures what it feels like to be a teenager, magical or not. She twists in the superhero and magical tropes, cleverly playing against the Avengers and Harry Potter experiences into something more realistic and heartfelt. Even in her most fantastical moments, she creates universal themes. Riding brooms becomes a chance to look up someone’s skirt. Magic wands are the key to removing pimples. It’s all a beautiful mix of reality and fantasy.

I deeply appreciate a book that embraces gay and lesbian characters this clearly. Not only is Marsha a main lesbian character grappling with how to come out to her best friend, but there are two male friends who are clearly attracted to one another and act on it. Throughout there is also a sense of connection to the world, the deep depression of high school, and capturing fleeting moments in time.

Teens will love this book and those who play D&D will find a world where they fit right in effortlessly. This graphic novel was love at first sight for me and I’m sure it will be for many kids who are outsiders in high school. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Mad Scientist Academy The Dinosaur Disaster by Matthew McElligott

Mad Scientist Academy: The Dinosaur Disaster by Matthew McElligott (InfoSoup)

Released July 7, 2015.

In this graphic novel for elementary-aged children, facts about dinosaurs mingle with a great adventure. A new class of young monsters are enrolled at the Mad Scientist Academy. On their first day of school, they meet Dr. Cosmic, a teacher at the academy who has managed to lose the school pet, Oscar, a dinosaur. The children are sent to find Oscar and set off on an adventure through the various exhibits that Dr. Cosmic has been working on. The focus of the exhibits is dinosaurs and there are mechanical dinosaurs throughout who are set to be tame. Unfortunately, their setting is accidentally set to live mode and all of the dinosaurs start acting as if they are real. It is up to the students to figure out how to escape the rampaging T-Rex and find Oscar too.

McElligott has a great feel for pacing and humor in this graphic novel. There are small touches of humor throughout the book, from one students stinky lunch to the out-of-control exhibits that have too much lava and are a bit too effective in showing meteors. The book is thoughtfully designed too with each monster character having characteristics that come into play in the story line. The lizard boy uses his long tongue to reach something, the insect girl uses her wings to remove smoke from the room, and much  more. The insertion of the dinosaur information is done in a light way and includes plenty of illustrations to keep the information accessible and fun.

The art is very effective throughout the book. The characters are diverse enough to be recognizable even in images where they are smaller. Double-page spreads of the full exhibit show the largeness of both the exhibit and the dinosaurs too. Dramatic moments are nicely captured and the timing of funny events is done very effectively.

Get this into the hands of children growing out of Magic School Bus books. The mix of graphic novel, information and fantasy elements will find lots of young fans. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Crown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (InfoSoup)

Sierra is working on a huge mural on the wall of an abandoned tower in her Brooklyn neighborhood when she notices that many of the other murals in the area are starting to fade. Then she sees one of the murals weep with a tear starting in his eye and rolling down. Sierra’s Puerto Rican family has clearly been hiding a secret from her. One that explains why her grandfather is bedridden and why her mother and aunt refuse to discuss anything with her. As she follows the clues that her grandfather is able to leave her, she discovers that her family are shadowshapers, people with the ability to see spirits and put them into their art. No one in her family will train her in her shadowshaping skills, so Sierra starts to learn things from a boy in the neighborhood. But when dead bodies start coming back to life and Sierra is attacked by a shadow made up of thousands of mouths, she knows that something bad is happening in their neighborhood, something that only she can stop.

Older has created a very interesting blend of fantasy and art in this book. I love that the protagonist is a girl of color, something we see all to rarely in fantasy novels. Even better, it is her Puerto Rican heritage and the art of the urban city that she uses for her powers. This book is rooted in her culture and her community, making her background an integral part of the book. The same can be said of her Brooklyn neighborhood which is thoroughly explored as Sierra and her friends try to save the world. This is a book connected closely to a real place, one that is woven into the fabric of the story so tightly that it could not be set anywhere else.

Sierra is a great heroine. She is vividly drawn, a girl who does not back down and whose art is a natural part of her life. Her issues with her family are drawn clearly, as is her anger at being left out of the family heritage simply because she is a girl. Her powers make sense and the connection between powers and art is fully realized on the page and the limits of her power also make the book more interesting too. The pacing is swift and the world building is well done and creative.

I’m hoping we see more of Sierra’s world and her signature style of magic and art in future books that celebrate diversity and urban life. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

cuckoo song

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Triss wakes up feeling very strange, surrounded by her worried parents and a doctor. As she starts to feel better, she struggles to recognize even family members and her own home. Everything seems strange, even herself. At night, Triss finds herself ravenously hungry and eating windfall rotting apples off of the ground outside. Her younger sister Pen is terrified of her and her parents are worried. Cutting their vacation short, the family returns home but Triss doesn’t get any better. She does start to investigate other strange things happening at their home. There’s a desk drawer filled with letters from her dead brother that seem to be written after his death. There’s Pen making calls on the phone that leave no trace with the operator. Triss follows Pen to a strange movie theater where she discovers a man called The Architect who has made a dark deal with Pen with promises to save her family. Triss has to piece together her own role in what is happening to her family and see what she can do to save them all.

Hardinge writes with such strength and beauty. Her prose is lush and exquisite even in her descriptions. She manages to tell readers about the setting with details that expose the horrors happening right below the surface, the result is unsettling, eerie and gorgeous. Here is how she describes The Grimmer, a waterway that Triss was rescued from at the beginning of the book:

With every step the Grimmer grew closer and clearer, black as perdition and narrow as a half-closed eye…Over its waters the willows drooped their long hair, bucking in the gusts as if with sobs. Against the dark surface she could make out the white waterlily buds, like small hands reaching up from beneath the surface.

Readers know immediately that they are in a horror book, one that nods towards gothic but also stands firmly in faerie land too. At the heart of the book is Triss, a sickly girl with a younger sister who despises her. She focuses mostly on her own hunger, her own desires, but as things reveal themselves so does Triss’ real character and she grows into a gutsy and selfless heroine. The transformation is less about Triss changing and more about revealing what was already within her but hidden. It’s a book of slow reveals, layers being removed, truth being exposed. And it is vicious, dangerous and treacherous to the extreme. In other words, it’s a dazzling dark read.

Wild, terrible and hauntingly beautiful, this children’s fantasy novel is a delight thanks to its dark heart and strikingly unique heroine. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

Dragons Beware by Jorge Aguirre

Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre, illustrated by Rafael Rosado

Released May 12, 2015.

Join Claudette on her second quest as a warrior. This time it is Claudette’s father who heads out alone into battle, attempting to get his sword back from the dragon who swallowed it along with his legs and one of his arms. But Claudette is determined not to be left behind in town and heads off with just her dog with her. Her best friend Marie and her little brother Gaston join her a little later. Together they are all captured by the evil wizard Grombach and his army of stone gargoyles. Grombach has encased the entire town army in amber, using his ability to turn things to stone. When he is distracted by the Apple Hag, the children rescue people along with the Apple Hag who in turn is the one who finds the Gaston could be a magic user. The children continue on toward to dragon’s lair, managing to sneak past the dragon’s offspring and deep within the mountain. There they discover Claudette’s father trapped by the dragon and set out to rescue him. But it will take more than the power of the sword and fighting to get them out alive.

I adore Claudette, a girl who wants to be a warrior and never shrinks away from any battle no matter how outnumbered she is. She is entirely herself, proud to be the girl she is. At the same time, I love that she has Marie as her counterpoint. Marie is a girl who loves pretty dresses and worries about her hair, but she too heads into battle in her own distinct way, this time with diplomacy. Then there is Gaston, the boy who loves to cook but also wants to make his father proud so he’s working on warrior skills like creating swords. He’s not very good at it.

These three protagonists make this book a marvelous adventure. It is filled with their large personalities, laugh-out-loud funny puns and one-liners, and lots and lots of adventure, danger and battles. Claudette’s father fights despite being in a wheelchair and characters of all colors appear in the story. This is a celebration of diversity on the page thanks to the art by Rosado which ranges from completely silly to blazing fight scenes.

A very strong female protagonist is the center of these books and she will thrill children with her bravery. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and First Second.

lumberjanes

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and illustrated by Brooke Allen

The Lumberjane scout camp is for “hardcore lady types” who celebrate “Friendship to the max!” Five friends are spending their summer together here and they are in for unexpected adventures as they earn their badges. When they head out to get their nighttime badge, they encounter the first of the supernatural monsters, a pack of three-eyed wolves. Luckily the friends, Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley, are also elite fighters so they manage to defeat the wolves. Back at camp, their counselor marches them to the office for discipline, but the head of the camp seems more intrigued than surprised by their find. As the summer progresses, the girls face hipster yetis, polite boy campers with a dark side, stone statues that come to life, and plenty of traps. Summer camp has never been this full of wild creatures and epic battles, all done by a group of amazing girls.

I first heard about how wonderful this comic book was when it was not yet a graphic novel, and I am so thrilled that the first four comics have been turned into this novel that is perfect for libraries. I had high expectations for this comic and was still dazzled by it and rather twitchy to get my hands on the next one. The characters are phenomenally well done, each girl having her own distinct personality and style. Add in the delight of finding a budding lesbian love story and it’s pure magic. I love kick-ass heroines, and this series has FIVE to fall for.

The art is well done too with its own vibe. It has the friendly feel of a Telgemeier combined with more edge that make the battle scenes really work. There is plenty of action and humor to make the book race along. I love the addition of extra art at the end done in a variety of styles. It invites fans of the characters to draw them and create their own stories about these great girls.

This is a graphic novel to devour in one sitting and immediately turn to the beginning and start again. Pure girl-power perfection. Appropriate for ages 12-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

winners crime

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski (InfoSoup)

This second book in The Winner’s Trilogy continues the story of Kestrel and Arin. In a strategic choice, Kestrel has given herself into an engagement to the prince of Valoria, never revealing to Arin that she did so to save him and his country from destruction. Now Kestrel is in Valoria, being treated like a princess, but her heart is still with Arin. The emperor is impressed with his son’s new fiancé, and works to hone her into his pawn. But Kestrel has her own political plans that include continuing to try to help Arin from her new position. At the same time, she works to keep Arin at a distance so that he never finds out the sacrifice she is making. But this fragile set up cannot be maintained forever, something must give, and it may end in complete destruction for them all.

Rutkoski’s second book keeps the political thrills of the first and continues to stir in romance and deception. As with the first, the reader and Kestrel really don’t know who they can trust or even if they can trust anyone at all. As with any second book in a series, this book is as much a bridge to a conclusion as anything. Rutkoski plays nicely with pacing throughout the book, allowing things to maddeningly slow for the reader as Kestrel is caught in a trap of her own making. She picks the pace up at the end as tension mounts, creating a book that is captivating to read.

Kestrel is one strong female protagonist. She works against the entire society she lives in to try to set her own course and to be in charge of her own destiny, even if her heart calls for her to do something else. Arin too is a finely drawn character, a romantic figure who is also thoughtful and while he may realize that Kestrel is not telling him the truth cannot force her to give up her game. It’s a dance of two people against an empire, embroidered in romance and dazzling with political intrigue.

This strong second book in this series will have readers desperate to read the third and final book to find out what happens next. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus and Giroux.

Review: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

bone gap

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (InfoSoup)

Finn and Sean had been abandoned by their mother years ago, leaving Sean taking care of Finn. Finn is called Moonface and Sidetrack by people in Bone Gap because he never makes eye contact and is often day dreaming. But things changed for the brothers when Roza appeared. Beautiful Roza lived with them, cooked them Polish food, and fell in love with one brother. Then Roza disappeared. Finn witnessed her being abducted but could not give a full description of the man who took her. The people of Bone Gap had always assumed that Roza would leave, people leave Bone Gap and never return. Now Finn has fallen for a girl who keeps bees and who is known in town as a homely girl, but Finn just sees beauty when he looks at Petey. Finn will need to figure out things about his family, himself and the unique way he sees the world before he can set out to rescue Roza and everyone he loves.

Ruby has created a unique and amazing read. Her world shifts under your feet, seemingly something solid at first and then changing on you, revealing itself and exposing both wonder and horror in the same breath. It is a challenging read, one that puts you on a journey of discovery about all of the characters and about the town itself too. As the book peels open and you see deeper inside, it will surprise you with what it shows. And you will question whether this book is a new genre, one that is not clearly fantasy or horror or reality fiction, though it may read as more real than most of that. it’s a genre bender, one that needs no classification to be great.

The characters in this book are complex and detailed. Each one, even the secondary and tertiary characters have backgrounds and histories. They have all witnessed things and reacted to their pasts in ways that turned them into who they are today. Ruby reveals many of these details while others are untold but also richly displayed. The main characters of Finn, Roza and Petey all have great details and histories. They are thoughtfully shown, moments captured in crystalline details that shimmer and sparkle.

A stunningly beautiful and amazing teen novel, this unique book will impress and delight readers who make the journey to Bone Gap. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

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