Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

a curse so dark and lonely by brigid kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (9781681195087)

Prince Rhen has been cursed along with his entire kingdom into repeating the same season over and over again until a girl falls in love with him. At the end of each season, he fails and turns into a monster who slays his own people. Now he is left with a single guardsman, Grey, who has pledged to stay at his side. Each season, Grey transports himself to Washington, D.C. and steals a girl to try to break the curse. Then one year, he steals Harper, a girl who was not his chosen one but instead one who tried to attack Grey and save the girl he was attempting to kidnap. Harper may not have been Grey’s choice, but now she is the only chance they have at breaking the curse since the sorceress who placed the curse has declared this the final season. As Harper steps into the role of princess, she refuses to conform to expectations. She is intent on making a difference to the suffering people of the kingdom even if they underestimate her due to her cerebral palsy. But will it be enough to end the curse? Will love come?

I approach every retelling of a fairy tale with trepidation. There are few that can really transform the tale into something new and fresh. Kemmerer does exactly that with her retelling of Beauty and the Beast. She creates two amazing male characters, each compelling in their own way and with their own special bond with one another too. She adds one of the nastiest sorceresses around, Lilith, who is willing to provide endless pain to Rhen, Grey and anyone else she can. Kemmerer then laces this story with the psychology of reliving the same year again and again, with immense failure, slaughter, remorse and despair. The result is a dark rather than dreamy story, filled with pain, blood, battles and strategy.

Harper is an incredible heroine. Her having cerebral palsy is interwoven into the story, not as an aside but as a part of her life experience that gives her context for helping others and seeing beyond the surface to their potential. She is honest and forthright, and yet willing to use subterfuge and lies to make a positive difference for those she cares about. She is entirely complicated and every inch a princess and heroine.

A great retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this book stands on its own merits. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (9781250144546)

Set in 1889 Paris, this teen novel mixes historical fiction with fantasy into one incredible adventure. Severin was denied his inheritance by the Order, a group of wealthy and powerful Houses that control the French Babel fragment and therefore the power to forge amazing devices. So Severin has become a thief who hides in plain sight in his hotel with his group of fellow thieves and friends around him. Each of his friends has their own distinct skill set that is invaluable when rescuing magical artifacts. Their expertise ranges from explosives to poisons to spiders to desire. As they start to seek out their largest target ever, it is an opportunity for Severin to regain his inheritance but it may just kill them all in the process.

Chokshi has written several amazing books and this one builds on her previous success. The setting here is particularly lush. Lovingly depicted, Paris comes to life just as the Eiffel Tower is being built for the Exposition Universelle. Paris is a great setting for the equally vibrant adventures the characters have there with traps, break ins, magical elements and more adding to the drama. That mixture of fantasy and history is forged together tightly into a unified whole.

This is a complex teen novel filled with engaging characters who all are distinct from one another and enticing to spend time with. She has included all sorts of diversity in her characters, including neurodiversity, bisexuality, and racial diversity. Each of these characteristics is a part of the story and plays into the plot, so they are far more than token notes and instead are rooted deeply in the characters.

A breathtaking adventure in a fantasy world, this first in a series will be appreciated by fans of Leigh Bardugo. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Wednesday Books.

 

Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (9780316561365)

In a world where the upper classes are part human and part animal, the Paper Caste or fully human people are the most oppressed. Every year eight girls from that Paper Caste are chosen to become the king’s consorts. This year though, there are nine girls, after Lei is seized from her family and brought to the royal court. At the court, Lei is forced to train to be pleasing for the king. Meanwhile she is desperately looking for information about her mother who was taken by force several years earlier. But things are about to get even more difficult for Lei as she refuses the King’s advances and then falls in love. But what can one young woman do in a world that is stacked against her? She can find the fire of revenge.

In her debut novel for teens, Ngan has created a swirling world of scents, colors and textiles. It is a world of incredible beauty with an Asian flair that is intoxicating and quickly immerses the reader deeply inside. From the bathing tubs with their steam to the opulence of the court, this setting demonstrates that there is beauty that contains endless dangers. Ngan does not shy away from the brutality of the life of a Paper Girl, creating a book that is both mesmerizing and violent. People triggered by rape and domestic violence should be cautioned.

Lei is a heroine who transforms right before the readers’ eyes into something much stronger and much more dangerous. She is a young woman stolen from her family filled with hope about her mother’s fate. She becomes more hardened in some ways and yet at the same time falls in love with another of the Paper Girls and becomes softer and more open. It is a powerful convergence for her, creating a woman willing to risk everything for those she loves.

The first in a series, this fantasy novel is a mix of LGBTQ, romance and vengeance that is entirely tantalizing. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Jimmy Patterson Books.

 

Review: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty (
9781338255843)

Bronte has been raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler since she was a tiny baby. Still, it’s a shock when she discovers at age 10 that her parents have been killed by pirates. Her parents send her on a journey with strict rules and a tight schedule where she will meet all ten of her aunts and then everyone will come together for a party in her parents’ honor. Bronte may even get to meet her maternal grandfather, who lives near where the party will be held. As Bronte sets off on her travels though, they become more and more unique and strange. There are fairies, magicians who can whisper directly into your brain, potions, and spells. Then there is the question of who Bronte herself actually is and whether she will ever discover the truth about herself. 

I am not one for travel stories where the protagonist takes all sorts of conveyances through a magical world, and yet this one is so very charming with pieces that click together so beautifully that I could not put it down. Nicely, Moriarty minimizes the travel pieces by often skipping them altogether, something that is downright applause-worthy on its own. Moriarty sets just the right tone here, allowing readers to gather that they are in a magical world slowly and then explore what that means alongside Bronte. Her world building is complex and yet also compact, keeping the story very tightly focused and enjoyable.

Bronte is a marvelous protagonist mostly because she is not the adventurous type and has spent much of her life alone with adults. Moriarty writes her like that throughout the book. She enjoys the company of other children, and yet has a wariness that makes sense given her upbringing and recent loss. As Bronte and the reader slowly piece together the full puzzle, this book really comes into its own, ending up being a grand and magical adventure where each element was necessary and important. 

A marvelous fantasy for young readers, this journey is one worth taking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi

The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi

The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi (9780802855091)

In this wordless picture book, a barbarian mounts his horse and proceeds across a series of challenges and obstacles. They leap a crevasse, are attacked by a flock of birds, jump a pit of snakes, dodge arrows, avoid orcs and much more. Page after page is a new obstacle and the little barbarian blithely marching, leaping or galloping across the page. Children who enjoy fantasy creatures will love this barbarian who faces the challenges with his eyes closed and sword and shield raised. When the truth is revealed at the end of the book, everyone will want another ride.

There is plenty of space for young imaginations to fill in the stories. That is probably the best part of this. I don’t expect the book to read particularly quickly with small children, who will want to supply monster noises, sword crashes and heroic details to the tale. Still, the oblivious way the barbarian crosses the pages is quite funny. The high and low paths the barbarian takes make perfect sense at the end of the book with the twist. The illustrations are humorous, colorful and filled with imagination, making the book entirely compelling.

A delight of a wordless read, this is one that children with their own toy swords will love. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older

Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older

Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older (9781338268812)

Magdalys Roca lives at the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York during the year 1863. It is a different world than the one we know, with dinosaurs still roaming the earth. While on a field trip to see a theater performance, riots break out in New York City. Magdalys and her fellow orphans are caught in the situation. As she helps her fellow orphans survive, Magdalys discovers that she has a strange ability to communicate with the dinosaurs around her. Discovering that the orphanage has been destroyed in the riots, Magdalys and several other orphans are taken in by New York freedom fighters in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood where people of color have created a place of safety. Magdalys and her friends are soon involved in saving the other children from being taken into slavery.

Based loosely on real history, this novel has just enough historical reality to keep it grounded. Add in the dinosaurs and you have a wonderful novel of alternative history that will keep children enthralled. The pace is fast and becomes almost wild during fight and battle scenes. The children face real horrors of slavery, including a lynching, mobs of people intent of capturing or killing them, and a network of men working to send free people into bondage. The setting of a historical New York City is deftly woven into the story line as well.

It’s not often that you have children’s fantasy books that offer alternative takes on history. It is even more rare that those books have children of color as the main characters in the novel. Magdalys is a great heroine, full of bravery and a sense of purpose as she joins those trying to change the world. She is a natural leader though she views herself as a loner, something that others won’t allow her to be.

A rip-roaring read that will have children longing for a dactyl to ride. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Deadendia The Watcher's Test by Hamish Steele

Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (9781910620472)

Barney has just gotten a job as the janitor at the Dead End theme park in the haunted house. His best friend Norma works there too. But Dead End is not just a haunted house, it’s much more a portal to literal hell. There are visiting demons, some of them friendly like Courtney who serves as an ambassador and others terrifyingly evil and powerful like Temeluchus. Temeluchus is the demon that Barney and Norma defeat in the early part of the book, who ends up possessing Pugsley, Barney’s dog. Pugsley gains magical powers and the ability to speak. Soon the three of them discover the dangers of running a portal to hell but also manage to work on their love lives along the way.

Steele has created one of the zaniest, twistiest and most demonic graphic novels around. The novel is a collection of his web comics and sometimes starting a new chapter is rather like starting a new story. That’s not a complaint, because it suits the spirit of the book but those looking for a more linear tale will find themselves confused at times. Just go with it!

The diversity here is very strongly represented. Barney is a transgender character and the book deals with this in an upfront way and also allows readers to see glimpses of Barney’s past. Perhaps the best part is the love storyline for Barney and Logs, though I also appreciate his friendship with Norma who is equally enjoyable, strong and multidimensional, sometimes literally.

A graphic novel for teens that has enough demons, laughter and romance to entice anyone. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier (9780735264359)

Released September 25, 2018.

Nan Sparrow is one of the only girls working in London as a chimney sweep and she’s one of the best that ever climbed a chimney. She works for a brute of a master who pits her against the other top sweep, dangling an apprenticeship in front of them both. The work they do is dangerous with possible falls, and tight spaces where children can get trapped. Even skilled Nan can get stuck and one day that happens to her and the chimney is set ablaze. As she burns alive, Nan is rescued by a mysterious creature, a tiny char she has been carrying in her pocket that was left behind for her by the Sweep, a magical man who cared for her as a baby and child until he disappeared. Nan and her creature live together away from everyone since they all think she died in the fire. They build a family with one another until the time comes for Nan to stand up for chimney sweeps throughout London.

My goodness, this book is remarkable. I loved the London that Auxier has created for us with all of its Victorian charms. He peels away the charming veneer though and shows us the brutality of child labor, the dangers and the cruelty of chimney sweeping in particular. He blends his fantastic golem into this world, adding a fantasy element to a world that desperately needs some magic to brighten it. Without Charlie, the golem, this book would have been too hard and cold to bear. The same goes for the Sweep, who filled Nan’s early years with care and love.

Nan is a remarkable heroine who is witty, intelligent and caring. She has a wonderfully tough exterior that allows only a few people inside her real life. And yet, she gathers an amazing group of people who care for her and she for them. Throughout the book, Auxier warns readers that Charlie will be leaving eventually and readers will see him start to change through the story. Still, even with that warning, expect the heartbreak of the end of Charlotte’s Web as you read the final chapters. Have tissues at hand.

A new children’s classic that reveals the dark underworld of London and the incredible magic of making your own family, monsters and all. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Puffin Books.

 

Review: The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin (9780763698225)

Released September 25, 2018.

The goblins and elves have found peace after a long war. Brangwain Spurge, an elf who studies goblin history, is catapulted into the goblin kingdom to deliver a gift to the strange being who rules the goblins. He is hosted there by Werfel, a goblin who studies elven history. Werfel is delighted to host Spurge, but that soon changes as Spurge is cantankerous, judgmental and hates everything goblin. He even detests an elven feast put on in his honor. Werfel also discovers that Brangwain is actually a spy, sending messages in images back to the elves. As the political intrigue grows, readers discover that Spurge is being used by his own government to start a new war, one that the elves will have the upper hand in thanks to duping him. But never doubt the ability of Spurge to ruin a solid plan!

What a pairing of master storytellers! Anderson writes the clever text, showing Werfel’s point of view and delighting in the slapstick comedy moments, the clashing of two cultures, and the dangers of hosting a guest. Meanwhile, Yelchin tells Spurge’s side of the tale through sly images alone, depicting what Spurge is sending back to the elves. The tales of course do not match and yet the also work together to tell a more complete story of misunderstandings, biases and prejudice more fully than words ever could.

The political pieces of the tale are particularly well drawn, showing how forces at work are not really in charge but may just be playground bullies who are being bullied themselves. The focus on differences and similarities is cleverly crafted into the story with the finale strengthening the connection and leaving no doubt that change is possible.

A timely look at political intrigue and getting beyond what holds us apart with plenty of humor to make it a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.