Category: Book Reviews

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross by Marie Lu (9780399547966)

Warcross is an international obsession, augmented reality and a video game world combined into something that everyone uses every day. Emika though has troubles in the real world making ends meet, paying her rent. She works as a bounty hunter, finding the criminals that the police don’t have time to trace. Then in Warcross, she uses a hacked account to make quick money there. But when her hack accidentally makes her visible in the middle of the Warcross Championships, her life changes. She gains the attention of the enigmatic Hideo, the man who created Warcross. There is someone else hacking into Warcross and threatening the games, Hideo hires Emika to trace the intruder. To gain access to the games, Emika is given a wild card slot and moved to Tokyo. In the middle of comfort and ease for the first time, Emika finds herself on a team for the first time, falling in love and playing an illegal game alongside the legal one. Now she has to race time to find her prey and stop their plot.

Writing novels about video games is difficult. It’s hard to figure out how to make hacking and video game code concrete enough for readers to be able to follow. Cleverly, Lu uses her augmented reality subject to allow readers to visualize hacking, code and the dark web. The video game subject is strengthened by the mystery and bounty hunting in both the virtual and real worlds. It also plays beautifully against the romance that Emika discovers, heightening the pressure she is under and giving her someone to truly care about.

Emika is a great protagonist. Smart and savvy, she is not one to make mistakes that anyone else would make. Still, she is wonderfully flawed in her lack of trust of others and her isolation. As she makes her mark on both the real and online worlds, her fame grows but never really touches Emika. This is not a book about video game fame or even playing video games. Rather it is about the power of virtual worlds, the temptation of technology and how it changes us as humans.

Powerful and timely, this novel will be enjoyed by gamers of all types. Appropriate for ages 12-16.

ARC provided by Putnam.

 

3 Picture Books Filled with Empathy

These three picture books all look at empathy in different ways and all are worth exploring.

Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee

Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee, illustrated by Pascal Lamaitre (9781524739058)

Seeing the news about anger and hate in the world, a little girl wonders what she can do to help. So each of her parents take the little girl out in their diverse and urban community. They are kind to others on the subway. They greet their neighbors and shop at stores owned by people of different races and faiths. Then the little girl asks to walk the dog on her own. Will her parents be brave enough to let her leave fear behind and head into the world on her own?

Told simply and with great kindness, this picture book shows children and families exactly the small steps they can take to bring love and joy back into their lives during these stressful fear-filled times. The illustrations are simple, showing the diversity of the community with clarity. Families looking for ways to get beyond worry and fear will embrace this picture book. It is exactly what our world and our children need. (ARC received from Penguin.)

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui (9781479597468)

Written and illustrated by two Vietnamese-Americans, this picture book captures the author’s experience as a child accompanying his father to a local fishing pond. The two of them are up early since his father has to head to second job that he just got. They stop at the bait shop and pick up minnows. Then head to the pond, where the boy’s father fishes and the boy builds a fire for them. It’s cool during this Minnesota dawn. The two share sandwiches, a small memory from Vietnam about fishing, and catch fish for dinner. When they return home, the extended family is there and that evening they all feast on the fish together.

Phi’s prose is filled with the skill of a poet. He stitches the past and present together into a richness that is poignant. He welcomes young readers into the life of a refugee family in Minnesota. The illustrations have a modern edge to them, sometimes framed like a graphic novel and other times soaring to the sides of the page. Bui uses her format skillfully and enlivens this quiet tale of fishing and new lives. Told with grace and strength, this picture book is wondrous. (Reviewed from library copy.)

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin (9781406348613)

A boy is now far from his Italian home and only one thing in this new place reminds him of Italy and where he used to live. It is Mr. Evans’s pigeons and their cooing that reminds the boy of Rome. The boy spends time with Mr. Evans and the pigeons. Mr. Evans gives him one as his own, a gray pigeon with a white head that the boy names “King of the Sky.” But the pigeon is slow to return home as the pigeons train, though Mr. Evans insists the bird will be a champion. Finally, the bird gets the perfect long distance race, flying back from Italy. But will he make it or will he stay in Italy like the boy would long to?

Davies is a masterful writer, inviting the reader into the pain of a boy who has left the country he loves and hasn’t found a place that feels right in his new country. It is a book about loneliness and finding your way forward. It’s a book about connection with your neighbors and community to find that way. The illustrations by Carlin are quirky and beautifully layered. They have a dreamlike quality to them, filled with soft edges and even softer light. This is a picture book that invites readers to understand what home really is. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Graphic Novels with Girl Power

33517044

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (9780525429982)

The author of the popular Roller Girl returns with a book about Impy, a girl who has been homeschooled until this year. Impy has grown up with her parents working at the Renaissance Faire and this year she is also starting work as a squire at the faire for the first time. Public school though is different than Impy thought and though she quickly makes friends, they may not be the right group for her. As Impy starts to make bad decisions at school and at home, her life starts to fall apart. Still, Impy is a knight in training and has people around her to help put her back on the path to being a hero! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Dials Books)

30238178

Spinning by Tillie Walden (9781626727724)

This memoir graphic novel shares a look at a girl’s life in ice skating, moving to a new city and discovering oneself as an artist. It is also a look at knowing that you are gay and finally coming out to those around you. But most of all, it’s about loneliness and the need to connect and find people around you who love and support you. Throughout the book there is an aching loneliness that pervades the story. The memoir is beautifully unstructured, events passing the way that days in a life do. They are filled with moments, some small and some critical. Walden shares them all, showing an incredible skill for storytelling and art as a young author. Get this into the hands of Lucy Knisley fans. Appropriate for ages 12-15. (Review copy provided by First Second)

Swing it, Sunny

Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9780545741705)

Sunny is headed for middle school in this graphic novel that shows her returning home after her summer with Gramps in Florida. Her older brother Dale is now at boarding school and Sunny can’t figure out how to connect with him at all even when he comes home to visit. Set in the mid-1970’s, the book is filled with the pop culture of those times like Jiffy Pop popcorn, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Gilligan’s Island and TV dinners. This second book in the Sunny series tells the story of a family struggling with handling drug abuse but also the small moments that make up a life. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Scholastic.)

 

 

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (9780062398512)

Billie lives in a small town where each year a worthy woman wins the “Corn Dolly.” Billie knows she will never be chosen to compete for it, since she is not the type of girl or woman who gets picked. She is the preacher’s daughter, but she’s also part of the group of teens, the Hexagon, that started her father’s church on fire. Billie loves her friends, taking comfort in their ease with one another. Still, when her best friend Janie Lee confesses that she has a crush on Woods, Billie is devastated. Billie isn’t quite sure what she wants though, could it be that she loves Woods too? Or maybe Janie Lee? As Billie wrestles with her sexuality in a small town, she discovers unexpected allies, new friends, and the power of being yourself.

As someone who grew up outside of a small town, Stevens captures small town life beautifully, from the comfort of knowing everyone to the suffocating nature of everyone knowing you. The micro-world of the small town is so well drawn, demonstrating why one would never leave at the same time showing why some run as soon as they can. This tension plays throughout the book, offering a scaffold for Billie’s questioning of her sexuality that is supportive and evocative.

Billie is exactly the heroine we need right now. She is strong beyond belief, a clear anchor for those in her life. Still, she wrestles with so much, from what it means to be a girl and be feminine to what it means to be in love with a person but not want to “be” with them. There is nothing easy about Billie, she is complex and wondrous. She’s an artist, an inadvertent activist, a hard worker, one-of-the-guys and clearly unaware of her own appeal and beauty. She’s incandescent on the page, a fire to be warmed by.

Complicated and incredibly poignant, this novel for teens rocks. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

3 Scary-Good Picture Books

 

Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds

Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown (9781442402980)

Jasper returns for a second gently-scary story. In this picture book, Jasper needs some new underwear. He decides to get one pair of green creepy underwear, because he is big enough for them. When he wears them to bed, he finds out that they glow with a green light. Jasper quickly changes to plain white underwear, hiding the creepy underwear in the bottom of the hamper. Waking up the next morning, he realizes that he has the creepy underwear on! Jasper tries all sorts of things to get rid of the underwear, from mailing it to China to cutting it into bits, but the underwear keeps on coming back. What is a bunny to do? This picture book is a delightful mix of funny and scary with echoes of classic monster movies. Exactly the right pick for Halloween reading. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (9781452145891)

Deftly written in rhyme, this picture book features a mouthwatering pomegranate tree that is watched over by a witch. Still, the children of the town desperately want a pomegranate from the tree and are willing to go to war with the witch to get one. The children tried again and again, but the witch stopped them with water cannons and rolling walnuts. In the end though, the children got one delectable pomegranate to split among themselves. The next day, the tree was picked bare and the war was over. It was time for Halloween where a Kindly Lady gladly shared out pomegranates from her home. A lady that looks a lot like the glimpses readers get of the witch.

Doyen’s writing is spooky and rich. This is not a picture book for preschoolers, since the writing demands a longer attention span. Elementary classes would enjoy it or it could be added to a read aloud for older children on Halloween. Perhaps with pomegranate seeds to try. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea (9781484730461)

A spooky ghost lives by a frightening dark forest in this picture book. The ghost is the one who is scared, asking the reader to keep on checking on what is happening in the forest. But the forest isn’t nearly as scary as the ghost expects, which adds a zingy humor to this story. The tone of the book is deftly handled, walking a line between shivery ghost story and Halloween party for friends. It’s a book that will invite children to be just as scared as they might like, but also enjoy doughnuts and some costumes too. The art is lovely and graphic, filled with zaps of bright color emphasized by white and black. A great read aloud for slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Genuine Fraud by E Lockhart

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart (9780385744775)

Written by a master YA novelist, this book is deliciously dark, wonderfully deceptive and completely intoxicating. Imogen is an heiress, adopted as a child from poverty into New York money. She lives a life that is glamorous, easy and often nasty. Jule is Imogen’s friend, who trails along with Imogen as she heads around the world. But the police are onto Jule, who knows she can stay one step ahead of them as she runs from her past. Jule longs to stay in the bubble of wealth that Imogen lives in, but it’s not easy particularly when Imogen disappears. As the story unwinds and unravels, there is blood and murder revealed.

Lockhart writes an almost-classic tale here that will enthrall teen readers. Carefully crafted with a series of reveals that steadily expose the truth, the book is completely captivating. Readers will attempt to unravel what has happened, but Lockhart writes with a control that is exceptional, holding the story and her readers right where she wants them.

While Imogen lives a charmed life, it is the character of Jule who is impressively drawn on the page. She is complicated and calculating and still somehow, even though readers will have mixed feelings about her throughout the book, she is a heroine. She is a girl who flees her past, creates her own present and plans for a new future. She is not waiting to be handed things, but taking them. Fearless, hardened and fantastic.

Get this into the hands of those who loved We Were Liars as Lockhart takes readers on another amazing ride of a read. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Delacorte Press.

5 Brilliant Board Books (Plus a Bonus Book!)

Looking for some great new board books for your library or classroom? Here are some of the best of the new ones:

33160332

Flora and the Ostrich by Molly Idle (9781452146584)

This board book pairs Flora with an ostrich to demonstrate opposites. With fold-out pages, there is plenty for small hands to explore here. The unfolding pages add to the feel of dance and movement that are present in all of the Flora books. Expect the youngest Flora fans to adore this one. The flaps are sturdily made and should withstand library and classroom use. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Hello Humpback!

Hello Humpback by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd (9781550177992)

This board book is a glorious look at the West Coast shown through the eyes of a First Nations artist. The illustrations glow with light, whether it is dawn appearing through the pine trees with a bear nearby, an eagle on a branch silhouetted against the setting sun, or an orca breaching into a rainbow sky. The animals and trees are done in raised ink on the page, so little hands can explore the book in a tactile way as well. This is an exceptional board book that belongs in all public libraries. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Lines

Lines by Sarvinder Naberhaus, illustrated by Melinda Beck (9781481490740)

Lines combine on the page to form squares and circles. Then children can locate those shapes in the town and on the road. The book then swoops outward, showing how entire cities and roads are created from these building block shapes until readers are finally looking at the solar system going round and round in circles. A simple concept book about shapes that shows how our entire universe features squares and circles. (Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster.)

32894569 32894570

Motor Mix by Emily Snape and Rilla Alexander (9781452148380 & 9781452148397)

These two books in a new series offer flaps that let young readers mix and match their vehicles into crazy new ones. As the vehicles change, so does the text of the book, allowing them to explore different regions, make different noises and use different verbs to describe what they are doing. It’s great fun and just right for little vehicle lovers. These are sturdy enough to stand up to public libraries and classrooms. (Review copies provided by Chronicle Books.)

BONUS BOOK! This picture book is just right for the toddler crowd too!

I See a Cat

I See a Cat by Paul Meisel (9780823436804)

Told in the simplest of text, this book invites children to enjoy a dog’s day as he looks out the window. He gets intrigued when he sees a cat and then a bird, lazily looks at a fly and a bee. But when a squirrel passes the door, he gets very very excited! The day goes by with rounds of wild barking and calm sleepiness until the dog’s boy returns home and they can go outside together. And there’s a squirrel out there!

This picture book from a Geisel Honor winner shows a clarity and understanding of children’s sense of humor. The book reads aloud wonderfully and the pace changes swiftly adding to the fun. Share this with toddlers who will join in barking at the squirrels. (Review copy provided by Holiday House.)