The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth Durst

The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst (9781328729453)

Mayka is a stone girl, created by Father, a stone mason who lived alone with his stone creations on a mountain. Father died years ago and now some of Mayka’s friends, whose markings are wearing off with age, are in danger of becoming statues instead of living stone. So Mayka decides to see if she can find a stone mason to recarve her friends, though that will mean heading away from the her quiet home in the mountains into the valley below. Mayka is accompanied on her quest by two stone birds who can fly and talk. Their journey leads them to the large city of Skye, where there is a stone mason’s quarter. Mayka finds someone willing to help them, but along the way discovers that there is a threat to all stone creatures brewing. Mayka has to create her own story as she seeks to find a solution that will save not only her friends but everyone made of stone.

Durst has created a compelling stand-alone fantasy book for middle graders. The world building is warm and lovely, unrolling like a carpet before the reader. She incorporates a sense of history into her world, allowing Mayka to discover things about Father that she had never known. The book revolves around reading and stories, with markings carved into the stone creatures that set their roles in the world. Markings that can be read by a clever storyteller to be even more evocative and reworked by a stone mason to say something else entirely and create a new life for that creature.

Mayka is a strong heroine, as one might expect from a girl made of stone. She is far more capable and clever than she realizes, though others around her know that about her and trust her completely. She not only identifies problems but figures out solutions to them quickly, moving her story forward at a brisk pace. My only quibble with the book is the cover. The scene it shows happens very late in the book and not in the way it is shown. A pet peeve of mine and certainly not a reason to miss this book!

A great fantasy for children, this one is warm and delightful. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by the author.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (9781250170972)

Zélie has spent most of her life training to fight with a staff, hoping that if her village is attacked again she will be able to defend herself. When she was a little girl, she watched her mother be dragged off and murdered. It was the night the world lost magic and she lost her mother. Now thanks to an accidental meeting with the realm’s princess who is on the run, Zélie has a chance to restore magic to the land. But first she must reunite three magic items together and evade capture by the crown prince who is hunting them down. Zélie must also figure out her own emerging magic just as the crown prince is discovering his own even as he works to destroy magic forever. Traveling through the land, Zélie finds unlikely allies, new enemies and tests the strength of an entire monarchy bent on stopping her.

What an amazing read this is! It is a world that no one has seen before, a world anchored by Black Lives Matter that will echo for fans of Black Panther. It is a book that is incredibly well written, incorporating elements of African culture directly into the fantasy world that is so beautifully rendered here. The world is one that is explored fully, from climbing mountains with surprise fields of flowers to surviving the dangers of the desert to the lush jungles that hide dangers. Throughout this world, there are flares of magic that illuminate the wonder and the possibility of a people refusing to be cowed any longer.

Zélie herself is an amazing protagonist. She is ferocious, loyal and strong. She takes on everything thrown at her, shouldering far more than her own share of every burden. She is inspiring, chosen by the gods and yet still learning to harness her powers. Adeyemi does not hold back in testing her young hero, creating scenes that are excruciating to read. Yet no one will be able to put this novel down until the end and then will crave the next book in the series immediately.

Powerful and strong, this magical read will soon be made into a movie. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

 

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (9780062570604)

Released April 3, 2018.

This inventive teen novel mixes a zombie apocalypse with American Civil War era history into one compelling read. Jane was born on a plantation, an African-American child to the white mistress of the house. The dead started to rise only days after her birth, so Jane never knew a world without Shamblers. Now Jane is attending Miss Preston’s a school for African American girls that teaches them how to kill zombies. As she nears graduation, she begins to question how the zombies are being managed in her area near Baltimore. Though she is seeing more of them around, claims are being made that they are being exterminated. As the lies that surround Jane come crashing down, she is sent to a new city in Kansas, but life there is even more brutal than the one she has left behind. It is up to Jane not only to save herself but an entire community from destruction.

Ireland’s world building is incredible rich as are all of the details of the story. It makes it almost impossible to summarize the book effectively, because there is so much more to say! Ireland was inspired by the Indian Boarding Schools in the United States and based her model of zombie training schools from them. This book tackles racism in the same clear cut way that you take a zombie’s head off.

Jane is a great protagonist. She is smarter than almost everyone else in the book, cunning as she quickly creates solutions to impossible situations, and still deeply flawed. She is judgemental of others, often misunderstanding them and falls for the wrong people. She is beautifully proud, almost entirely unable to bite her tongue, and always creating trouble for herself.

A wild and bloody book with a fierce protagonist who sears the page. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross (9780062471345)

Brienna has never known who her father is, only that he is from neighboring Maevana. When her grandfather takes her to Magnalia House and has her accepted as a student of passion, Brienna discovers a new home. Among the handful of other students, Brienna discovers sisters as well as her own interest in history. As Brienna gets ready to master her passion for knowledge and leave Magnalia House, her plans go awry and she doesn’t complete the graduation ceremony and find a patron. Instead, her flashbacks of memories from a mysterious ancestor tie her closely to those who would restore a queen to the throne of Maevana and dethrone the imposter king. As war brews, Brienna becomes the linchpin to a plan that takes her into the heart of her homeland of Maevana and the dangers of political intrigue generations in the making.

Ross has deftly woven a story set in medieval times with glimpses of magic. Her story is firmly feminist, calling for queens to sit on thrones, the power of magic in women’s hands, and the ability of women to create plans that are daring and effective. The world created here is tightly drawn, two neighboring nations with differences in cultures that come together in Brienna. Ross also incorporates the fall of a queen and the resulting ramifications of her loss. It’s beautifully drawn, some of it revealed only towards the end of the novel to complete the picture.

Brienna is an incredible protagonist. She is humble and yet clearly bright and gifted, just with different gifts than the school for passion may be looking for. Her ability to plot and plan, learn to use a sword, and adjust her reactions to political turns shows how clever she is. There is a lovely romantic tension in the book as well, kept quite proper and reserved and yet smoldering at the same time.

An intelligent and well crafted teen novel filled with political intrigue and a woman who will lead the way to change. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (9781484728499)

Released February 6, 2018.

Camellia and her sisters were born Belles. They are children of the Goddess of Beauty and given talents that let them bestow beauty on other people. The people of Orleans are born with gray skin and red eyes and must be transformed by Belles. Each generation, one Belle is chosen to be the Queen’s favorite. Camellia knows that she is destined to be the favorite, just as her mother was. But it is not that simple as one of her sisters is selected over her, because Camellia has refused to be confined by the rules. When the favorite position is offered later, Camellia jumps at the chance to take her sister’s place. But behind all of the beauty and opulence there is darkness, hidden truths and poisonous hatred. Can Camellia survive in court? And if so, how will she be asked to break the rules now?

Clayton has written a stunning first book in a trilogy. She has crafted a claustrophobic world of glitter, dazzle and beauty that is conveyed with fine detail and a sense of wonder. Throughout though, she has laced the story with pain, intrigue, lies and a sense of foreboding of the darkness to come. There is a finely wrought sense of unease even as the Belles make people beautiful.

Camellia is a great heroine, complicated and naive. Seeing the court through her eyes allows readers first to see the beauty only and then steadily as Camellia comes to understand the power struggles in court, to see them along with her. The pacing of the novel is slow at first and then downright breakneck at the end. I look forward to the rest of the series showing us more of the world that Clayton has created.

A mesmerizing first novel from an incredible new talent. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney-Hyperion.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (9781250147905)

For all of Alice’s seventeen years, she and her mother have been moving from one place to another. Her childhood is a blur of long car rides, the novels she read in different places, and the love of her mother. When Alice tries to ask about people like her grandmother, a reclusive author of a book of fairy tales that has a strong cult following, her mother won’t answer. So when they get news of her grandmother’s death in her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice longs to go. When her mother disappears, Alice and her classmate Finch set out to rescue her from the Hinterland, the setting of her grandmother’s book. Can Alice and Finch survive the dangers of a fairy tale world made real?

As a longtime fan of fairy tales, I loved this book. I particularly appreciated the fanged and bloody approach to these stories, ones that have echoes of traditional tales but are also entirely unique. Albert bridges Alice’s grandmother’s book into the novel cleverly, offering glimpses of the stories but never giving them all to the reader or to Alice. They are tantalizing peeks at the stories that are warnings mixed with welcomes. The entire novel is like this, beckoning readers in but also offering cruelty as a reward.

Alice is an equally fascinating figure who is deliciously flawed, filled with an anger that hovers just under her skin. She sees her mother as the one person she has in life, thanks in large part to their nomad lifestyle, as they flee the dangers that suddenly appear. The writing throughout the book is incredibly beautiful, angry and fiery. Albert weavers new metaphors with an ease that is deceptive, creating magic in the real world before moving on to do it in a fairy tale as well.

A great read, this blend of fairy tale and horror is completely intoxicating. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Netgalley and Flatiron Books.

 

4 Great Graphic Novels

5 Worlds The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel

5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel (9781101935880)

This is the first book in an epic new graphic novel series that promises lots of adventures across five different worlds. Oona Lee studies at the Sand Dancer Academy but she is known as a failed student. When an attack occurs, Oona knows she has to reach her older sister, who can actually sand dance and is the best bet for being able to light the Beacon. Along the way, she meets two other children who are willing to help her. There is An Tzu, a boy from the slums who is starting to disappear, literally. And Jax Amboy, one of the biggest athletes in the galaxy, who is also hiding his own secret. As the three join together, they set off on a wild ride of an adventure that reveals their secrets and their hidden skills.

This graphic novel is bright colored and full of surprises as readers learn about the new science fiction setting they are exploring. There are plant people, lots of bad guys, secret identities, intrigue and lies. It’s a wild ride of a graphic novel and one that is sure to please many young readers. Just make sure to get the second one in the series next year! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

Bolivar by Sean Rubin (9781684150694)

Bolivar is a dinosaur living in the bustle and crowds of New York City without ever being discovered. He doesn’t just stay at home, venturing out into the city to visit the used book store, see new exhibits at the museums, and buy a copy of the New Yorker. Then a neighbor girl notices that Bolivar is a dinosaur. Sybil tries to get the adults in her life to believe her, even giving a presentation at school about her dinosaur neighbor. No one believes her until one day, Bolivar gets a traffic ticket despite not having a car. He tries to set things straight, but it just gets more and more complicated until he is suddenly outed as a dinosaur by Sybil who then has to figure out how to repair things.

This graphic novel is brilliant. Clearly designed with a deep love of New York City, the neighborhood is captured with an eye for small details and invites readers to also fall for the great City. The ability of adults and humans to miss the fact that there is a dinosaur right in front of them is a great basis for a book and completely believable. The art is distinctive and inviting as is the humor and the pace. Pure joy in a graphic novel that will have you believing in Bolivar too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.  (Reviewed from library copy.)

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale (9781419721281)

Strata, her brother and a friend from their caravan spend their days scavenging for technology and metals that have been overlooked by the alien Pipers. One day they discover a robot horse and then a hidden room filled with other robots and technology. The problem is that large areas of technology draw in the Pipers and soon they are being pursued for their discovery. Strata uses the robot horse to run with her friends, but the rough world outside that has been eaten away at by the invading alien Pipers makes for a daunting maze. Meanwhile, their families are searching for them as they discover another girl living a very different but equally dangerous life.

Hale has created an entirely unique science fiction graphic novel. He uses a very restrained color palette, allowing the golden robot horse to be some of the only bright color on the page. Using fine lines, grays and yellows, the story shows a devastated earth, the oppressors and a frightening future. Filled with great adventure and heroic young people, this is a story worth devouring. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Review copy received from Amulet Books.)

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim (9781770462939)

This graphic novel tells the story of the author’s childhood as a girl in Iraq. The book shares small glimpses of life in Iraq, schools, families and more. It is a lovely way to see a culture. Unfortunately, there is also state control as Saddam Hussein comes into power and things change. Throughout the book, there is a sense of history being shared as an adult, of a beloved land lost and a country so changed it is almost unrecognizable and yet filled with family still. The art is playful and light, a strong contrast to the often heavy subject matter. Religion plays a large part in the book as the author grew up in a Christian family in an Arab part of the world. Deftly written, this book invites readers into the author’s story and leaves them with a much deeper understanding of Iraq as a result. Appropriate for ages 12-14.  (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

 

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead (9780553523225)

An unfinished children’s story by Mark Twain has been completed by the remarkable Steads. Found in the Mark Twain archives in Berkeley, the story was written by Twain for his daughters one night. Only rough notes told the tale to Stead who then worked to complete the entire story, creating both the story itself and a side narrative of Stead hearing the story directly from Twain. The main story is about Johnny, a boy who finds himself poor and alone in a land ruled by a tyrannical king. Johnny receives seeds from a woman, seeds that allow him to speak to animals, something that transforms his life. Accompanied for some of the story by his faithful chicken friend, Johnny discovers the meaning of courage and friendship as he attempts to rescue the prince.

This book tumbles the reader directly into a story that is remarkably familiar and yet distinctly unique too. Stead’s writing is exceptional, building a full story that is robust and captivating using only a scaffolding created by Twain. There is a lovely seamlessness to the writing, incorporating Twain’s and Stead’s writing into one grand book. The nods to folktales are lovely and so are the departures as well.

Erin Stead’s illustrations are fine and detailed. She invites readers into the world that is being built, allows them to meet the animals, shows them the pain and hope tangibly on the page. The illustrations move from portraits to landscapes, from small to large, close to far.

An incredible achievement in children’s books, this one is worthy of awards and I hope receives some! Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor (9780670785612)

This is the second book in the Akata Witch series, a book that I’ve been looking forward to for some time. It does not disappoint! The second book continues the story of Sunny, a girl who has become part of the secret Leopard Society. Leopard People like Sunny can work magic, do juju, and cross boundaries into the wilderness, a space that is different from the physical world. As Sunny grows into her powers and learns more skills, she is being haunted by dreams of a burning city that seem to indicate a coming apocalypse. As she works towards her destiny, Sunny realizes that she is once again being hunted by the masquerade Ekwensu. She must journey to the city in her dreams, but the journey is harrowing and the skills she needs hard to come by.

Okorafor combines modern Nigeria with fantasy once again in this second novel. So often second books in series can be disappointing, serving only as a bridge between two stronger novels. This is not the case here. Instead, Okorafor takes readers deeper into Leopard Society, enlarges our understanding of juju and other powers, and shows how real the rules of the society are. The author dances the line between horror and fantasy very effectively, all the while incorporating elements of Nigerian society into the story for a very rich and varied experience.

In this second book, readers will see a more experienced and older Sunny. She still has a lot to learn, not only about her powers but about her family and about the society she has joined. Sunny is a determined and thoughtful heroine whose powers are vital to the story but whose bravery and independence make her the person she needs to be to battle evil. There is no way not to adore her as a protagonist, even as she makes mistakes.

Start with the first in the series, because you don’t want to miss a moment of this intoxicating blend of fantasy, horror and Nigeria. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.