March ARC Roundup

In which I review all the March ARCs I've read this month. #spon | Book reviews from NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received each of the books below for free from the publisher or author. All opinions are my own. All summaries via NetGalley, unless otherwise noted.

I miiiiight have gotten carried away with the number of ARCs I requested in January! I’ve finally gotten around to writing quick reviews for each of them. Several of them are so good, and I can’t wait for you all to get the chance to read them!

Journey on a Runaway Train and The Clue in the Papyrus Scroll

This is a modern-day continuation of the Boxcar Children series. I loved this series as a child, so of course I picked up these two books, the first in a short series featuring Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny’s travels around the world.

I must say, I forgot how shallow the writing is for these books and how little adult supervision the kids get. Reading as an adult, it seems kind of ridiculous! Still, if I were a kid reading this, I’d enjoy the travel to different countries and the mysteries the children face. Don’t read it for nostalgic reasons, though–some memories should be left in the past.

Stormy Seas

This book is a beautifully designed middle grades picture book about real kids who became refugees and escaped their homeland by boat. These short stories, about children from Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, and more, are sad and encouraging and very timely. Stormy Seas would be a great conversation starter with your children.

Daughter of the Pirate King

When the ruthless Pirate King learns of a legendary treasure map hidden on an enemy ship, his daughter, Alosa, knows that there’s only one pirate for the job—herself. Leaving behind her beloved ship and crew, Alosa deliberately facilitates her own kidnapping to ensure her passage on the enemy ship. After all, who’s going to suspect a seventeen-year-old girl locked in a cell?

Then she meets the (surprisingly perceptive and unfairly attractive) first mate, Riden, who is charged with finding out all her secrets. Now it’s down to a battle of wits and will… Can Alosa find the map and escape before Riden figures out her plan?

If you’re into YA romance that focuses on pirates and sirens and spying and forbidden love, this is probably the book for you. I’m not a huge romance fan, but I enjoyed the half pirate, half siren protagonist Alosa and her budding romance with Riden as she finds herself taken captive on a rival ship.

Fly By Night

Mosca and Eponymous Clent are great characters who find themselves on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of the powerful guilds. Mosca is a young, beaten-down girl who is pretty much alone in the world, so she attaches herself to conman Eponymous Clent. But Clent is entangled in some dangerous circumstances, and Mosca finds herself wondering who she can trust. This is the kind of fantasy I can get behind!

Real Friends

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

This is such a sweet story about growing up, making friends, breaking up with mean friends, and getting along with aggressive siblings. Shannon Hale is one of my favorite authors, and I loved hearing about her totally relatable childhood. Plus, this graphic novel is filled with lovely art by LeUyen Pham. Middle grades kids–especially girls–will love this one.

Witch Chocolate Fudge

Since arriving in the tiny Cotswolds village of Tillyhenge, Caitlyn is discovering that there are lots of perks to being a witch (although sadly, magic still can’t make your thighs thinner or stop you acting like an idiot every time you meet handsome “lord of the manor”, James Fitzroy).

But when the nasty housekeeper at Huntingdon Manor is murdered and Caitlyn becomes the main suspect, she finds herself surrounded by suspicious villagers. With the help of her sassy American cousin, a mischievous black kitten and a slobbering English mastiff – not to mention the old village witch and her shop of enchanted chocolates – Caitlyn sets out to clear her name. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I did enjoy the first book in H.Y. Hanna’s new magical cozy mystery series, but unfortunately this one is not as good as the first one. There are some strange plot points, and the murderer seems to come out of nowhere (and not in a good way). Still, I enjoyed the characters and the touches of magic (who wouldn’t want magical chocolate?), and I hope that in the next book, the plot will perk up.

The Other F Word

Milo has two great moms, but he’s never known what it’s like to have a dad. When Milo’s doctor suggests asking his biological father to undergo genetic testing to shed some light on Milo’s extreme allergies, he realizes this is a golden opportunity to find the man he’s always wondered about.

Hollis’s mom Leigh hasn’t been the same since her other mom, Pam, passed away seven years ago. But suddenly, Leigh seems happy—giddy, even—by the thought of reconnecting with Hollis’s half-brother Milo. Hollis and Milo were conceived using the same sperm donor. They met once, years ago, before Pam died.

Now Milo has reached out to Hollis to help him find their donor. Along the way, they locate three other donor siblings, and they discover the true meaning of the other F-word: family.

This book offers compelling characters in an interesting situation. Hollis and Milo begin to contact their half-siblings and search for their sperm donor (Milo enthusiastically, Hollis reluctantly), and almost despite themselves, they and their families begin forming bonds with these long-lost relatives. It’s a subject I’ve never read about before, and I really enjoyed it.

Close Enough to Touch

One time a boy kissed me and I almost died…

And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years in the confines of the small town New Jersey house her unaffectionate mother left to her when she ran off with a Long Island businessman. But now, her mother is dead, and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world—and the people in it—that she’s been hiding from.

One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him, and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course, and how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. Then, one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition…

Remember how I said earlier that I don’t really enjoy romances? Well, this book proved me wrong. Close Enough to Touch is a super sweet romance about Jubilee and her allergy to human touch, and her relationship with library patrons Eric and his son, Aja. Jubilee has to overcome her fears of being out in the world, while Eric comes to grips with the fact that he might be unable to keep Aja from harm.

Jubilee is a fun character who learns to love life and face her fears, despite her dangerous allergies, and she bonds deeply with Eric and Aja. This sweet romance will draw you in (and possibly make you cry).

Comics and Graphic Novels Roundup

I don't read a lot of comics, but I did devour all of the Adventure Time comics lately. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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These books/comics don’t really have anything to do with each other than that they’re all focused on the art. I’m not usually a fan of comics, and there are very few graphic novels I’ve read so far, but the last few months have found me reading more books in those categories than normal! (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)

Adventure Time

If you don’t know anything about the Adventure Time TV show, I’m not sure I can explain it to you. If you have seen the show, this series of comics is actually based on the show, not the other way around, so I’m sure you’ll find plenty of in jokes and such to keep you entertained. If you haven’t seen the show, well, neither have I, and I still found these comics really fun.

The characters and the plot are bizarre, but in a good way. The cotton candy-colored post-apocalyptic world is always presenting strange situations based only on Adventure Time logic. If you can put up with some weird and wacky stuff, you’ll probably enjoy these comics. If you like your stories to follow some semblance of real-world logic, maybe give these a pass.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Castle Waiting

Castle Waiting graphic novel tells the story of an isolated, abandoned castle, and the eccentric inhabitants who bring it back to life. A fable for modern times, Castle Waiting is a fairy tale that’s not about rescuing the princess, saving the kingdom, or fighting the ultimate war between Good and Evil, but about being a hero in your own home.

This graphic novel is full of funny, fairy tale-esque stories. None of them are the classic Snow White or Cinderella tales (although there is a modified version of Sleeping Beauty here), so you get the feeling of those medieval tales with fresh stories. Very fun.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Adulthood is a Myth

If you haven’t been following Sarah’s Scribbles, you’re really missing out. Sarah captures the emotions of many broke, introverted Millennials in her hilarious web comic, and this book is a collection of new and old comics. It’s pretty much guaranteed to make you laugh.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

P.S. Do you have any ideas for the next graphic novel or comic I should read? Let me know in the comments!

ARC: Snow White

This graphic novel set in the Jazz Age is a beautiful but generic Snow White retelling. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This graphic novel retelling of Snow White is set in the Jazz Age (and you know how much I love a good Jazz Age fairy tale retelling). The artwork is beautiful, noir style, although I don’t know enough about art or illustration style to describe it further. (Sorry, guys!) All I can say is it’s worth checking out Matt Phelan’s work.

Unfortunately, I found the story itself a bit short and generic. I wish we could have explored the events more deeply. Like, what was up with the ticker tape that told the evil stepmother what to do? Clearly it’s replacing the magic mirror, but it barely gets a mention, much less an explanation. I just wish there had been more content to flesh out the characters and the plot. I feel like the author could have done a lot more with the Jazz Age revamping of Snow White, and I was disappointed that he didn’t.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: El Deafo and George Washington’s World

El Deafo is an adorable and interesting graphic novel on growing up deaf. (George Washington's World wasn't bad, either!). | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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These two Newbery books don’t really have anything to do with each other (other than the award). El Deafo is a 2015 honor book, a graphic novel about growing up deaf. George Washington’s World, on the other hand, was an honor book in 1942, and it fleshes out the history and leaders of the 1700s. The one thing these books have in common? They’re both really good!

El Deafo

“Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

El Deafo is a cute graphic novel that tackles the joys and difficulties of growing up deaf. It’s based on the author’s experiences, which I loved. This book definitely deserves the Newbery honor it received–it’s well written and drawn, and it offers representation to an underrepresented group. You’ll enjoy the book if you want to learn more about growing up deaf, but every kid will also be able to relate to the topic of not fitting in.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

George Washington’s World

This book offers information on the leaders and events around the world during the 1700s. Although you might think from the title that this book focuses mainly on American history, that’s not the case. Each chapter focuses on a different character from history, from Catherine the Great to George III to John and Abigail Adams. Although the Revolutionary War is the main event, the French Revolution, the Seven Years War, and other events and leaders from Russia to China to Australia to Africa are also included. The book is full of great drawings, maps, and musical snippets, so there’s a lot of visual interest (important in a history book of this length!).

At first I was put off by the cheery way most events and people are talked about (war, slavery, colonization, etc.), but later I started to appreciate the subtlety–none of the people discussed were wholly bad or good, and the author doesn’t shy away from mentioning the less savory aspects of our forefathers’ lives, even if she doesn’t dwell on them. The other thing I love about this book is that it was updated by the author’s daughter to add diversity. This book does a better job of discussing the roles of women, Native Americans, and African-Americans during this time period than you would expect, and I really appreciated that.

Many kids may not enjoy this book because it is pretty lengthy and a straight up history book, but if you or your child has a deep interest in this time period, it’s worth looking into.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

2016 Newbery Books

The 2016 Newbery books are all incredible! Read as I team up with my sister to review this year's winners. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
Photo via Kaboompics.com

I was so excited when the 2016 Newbery books were revealed several weeks ago, and I immediately started checking them out from my library. I’ve recruited my sister Melanie (you can see her previous posts here, here, here, and here) to help me review them. (Spoiler alert: all of this year’s books are really, really good!)

Last Stop on Market Street
(review by Melanie)

I was surprised and impressed to discover that Last Stop on Market Street won both the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor. After reading it, I believe both awards are well deserved. The artwork is simple, perfectly integrated with the text to add details that immerse the reader in the story, rather than distracting from it. The story itself is uplifting without being preachy, as a grandmother teaches her grandson a new way of looking at life, gently changing his perspective of everything they encounter. In just a few pages, the author creates multidimensional, interesting characters that are both relatable and engaging. My favorite part was the ending, which inverted my expectations but was shown only through the illustration.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Echo
(review by Melanie)

Echo is uniquely structured as a frame narrative containing three distinct stories, with the connection between them revealed only at the end. Each story climaxes with the protagonist facing a seemingly overwhelming problem, and then immediately cuts to the next story. It felt almost like reading three half-novels, but fortunately all three characters are compelling enough to hold the reader’s interest in their story, even as you are preoccupied with the previous story.

The ending that brings all three stories together is satisfying, if a little rushed. The power of this book is that each story is engaging individually, but together they create something greater than the sum of their parts.

It is yet another book set in World War II (as Monica discussed), but with subtle inversions of the tropes typical of these books. The main character of the first story, set in pre-WWII Germany during the Nazis’ rise to power, is in danger not for being Jewish, but for having a facial birthmark, deemed a “physical deformity” by the Nazis. The second story is set a few years later in America, where two orphans are affected by the Great Depression, without even mentioning the War. The girl in the third story, set in California during the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, is not Japanese, but Hispanic, and faces racism against herself as well as her Japanese friends. Though World War II provides the context, each story focuses more on the specific struggle of the protagonists, rather than the wider consequences of the war. As a result, the stories are suspenseful, but much more lighthearted than many other YA books that focus heavily on the war.

(Side note from Monica: I also read this book, and I had many of the same thoughts about it. The ending is a bit too tidy, but if I had read this book at eleven or twelve, my mind would have been blown. Echo provides a refreshing look at the all-too-typical WWII story.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The War that Saved My Life
(review by Monica)

The other WWII-focused book in this year’s set couldn’t be more different from Echo. This dark yet hopeful story turns completely on the fact that it is set in WWII-era England. Ada is a 9-year-old girl with an untreated club foot, being alternately abused and neglected by her mother. Ada has rarely set foot outside of her London apartment and has barely learned how to walk when she sees her opportunity for escape. A large group of children from the local school is being evacuated to the countryside for fear of bombings in London, and Ada takes her younger brother and leaves with him. Although she is guarded and fearful and their new guardian is reluctant to take them in, Ada starts to open up and grow in her new surroundings. But with her abusive mother still in London and the war raging on throughout Europe, things are not as easy as they start to seem.

This book is a compulsive read, athough at times it is sickening to read about the abuse Ada had suffered and how her brother Jamie picked up on it. It’s a fascinating, disturbing, but ultimately hopeful look at a young girl’s growth against the dramatic backdrop of World War Two.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Roller Girl
(review by Monica)

I just realized that this graphic novel was written and illustrated by the same person, and I’m totally impressed. The story, which focuses on a young girl who decides to join the youth roller derby team just as her best friend seems to be distancing herself, is really good, and the illustrations are awesome. Astrid isn’t perfect, by any means; in fact, she’s one of the most flawed MG characters I’ve read in a while. She’s selfish and impulsive and vindictive, but that doesn’t make her unlikable. She’s just struggling to figure out how to grow up when her closest friends seem to be moving on without her. And the setting of roller derby, something I know very little about, was pretty cool, and I think a lot of kids (boys and girls) will agree.

(On a kind of silly side note, this book made me realize just how important it is to represent varied skin colors, backgrounds, and life experiences in our literature. When I saw the cover with Astrid’s blue-dyed hair, I was already predisposed to like the book because of my own blue braids. And I’m nearly 25 years old! Can we really deny the importance of diverse books, especially for MG and YA?)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Mini Reviews: Adult Fiction and Nonfiction

A hodgepodge of mini reviews of the latest adult fiction and nonfiction books on my list. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Along with my glut of NetGalley ARCs and Newbery books from the library, I’ve recently read a lot of adult fiction and nonfiction books that have somehow come across my path. I haven’t reviewed them before because most of them haven’t left much of an impression, so I decided to offer them as a sampling of mini reviews. Enjoy!

The Gifts of Imperfection

This is my first Brene Brown book (although I’m familiar with her TED talks). She has been recommended to me by friends with wonderful taste in books, but I’ve never gotten around to her work until just recently. This book is a fairly short but thorough look at the results of Brene’s research into shame and resilience, and it offers insight into how to live a life with grit and perseverance that will lead to joy. Unfortunately, this book didn’t leave much of a lasting impression on me, but I’m definitely interested in reading more of Brene Brown’s work in the future.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

This is a graphic memoir about the end of the author’s parents’ lives. If that sounds depressing, well, it is. I would definitely not read this book if you and your parents are in the same situation, unless you’re looking for something cathartic. The book offers an interesting look at the various emotions and struggles (from trying to convince your parents to get the help they need to filling out gobs of paperwork to trying to scrape up enough funds to pay for their care) that come with this period of life. I’m not sorry I read it, but I’m not sure I would recommend it, either.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Gone Girl

Okay, so I know I’m the last book lover in the country to have read this book, but I finally got around to it. For a long time, I thought I would never pick it up. It just didn’t seem like my type of book–I usually stay away from psychological thrillers because they creep me out. But my roommate owns a copy, so I picked it up one day and finished it in only a couple of days.

To my surprise, I wasn’t too creeped out by the story or the characters. I found it fascinating in a train wreck sort of way. The book really shows you the extent to which two seemingly normal people can go in order to destroy each other. I wasn’t super shocked by the twist in the middle, but the story and characters were strong enough to hold my interest anyway. So if you’re avoiding Gone Girl because the twist has been spoiled for you and you don’t think the story will hold up without it, you might want to check it out anyway.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Saga, Vol. 1 and 2

Super big warning: These comics have a fair amount of illustrated sex scenes. You can skip over them, but please be aware!

That said, I did enjoy the first two volumes of Saga. This was another thing I picked up from a roommate’s shelf because I had heard good things about it, even though I didn’t think it would really be my cup of tea. I’ve read one volume of comics before (Neil Gaiman’s Sandman), and although I enjoyed it well enough, I don’t think I’ll put much effort into finding the next volume. I feel the same way about Saga. It’s an interesting SFF story, and I did enjoy the art, but I don’t know if I feel invested enough to seek out volume 3.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Page by Paige

Be forewarned: this post is going to be mostly pictures. As I continue my foray into graphic novels, I picked up Page by Paige at my library on a whim, not really knowing anything about it. And while the story was cute, all about a girl moving to a new town and trying to make sense of her life and her talents, the artwork definitely took the cake. The story may have been fairly generic and forgettable, but the art was gorgeous. Enjoy this small sampling, and if you like these pictures, you’ll love the book.

This graphic novel has a cute story and beautiful artwork. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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This graphic novel has a cute story and beautiful artwork. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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This graphic novel has a cute story and beautiful artwork. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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This graphic novel has a cute story and beautiful artwork. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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This graphic novel has a cute story and beautiful artwork. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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Rating: Good but Forgettable

 

 

My First Graphic Novels!

My first graphic novels are by one of my favorite authors--Shannon Hale--and are a Wild West, steampunk retelling of famous fairy tales. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack, both written by Shannon Hale (one of my favorite authors), were my first graphic novels.  I had been hesitant to dive into the world of graphic novels, finding it a little intimidating, so I decided to start with someone I trusted to write a compelling story, pictures or no.

I was not disappointed.  These books combine cute artwork with fun fairy tale retellings.  They’re simple but fun, a good intro to graphic novels, especially for kids.

Rapunzel’s Revenge is the first of the pair.  It’s a Wild West themed retelling, combining many fairy tales (the focus, of course, is on the Rapunzel tale).  Rapunzel is a spunky girl, forced by her witch mother to live in a magical forest for years on end, where both the tree she is trapped in and her hair grow at an astonishing rate.  Rapunzel uses her hair as a lasso when she finally gets free and starts seeking justice, which is hilarious and awesome.  She runs into Jack (as in Jack and the beanstalk) along the way, and despite his shady past, he and Rapunzel team up and kick butt.

My first graphic novels are by one of my favorite authors--Shannon Hale--and are a Wild West, steampunk retelling of famous fairy tales. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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In Calamity Jack, Jack is the star (obviously), and Rapunzel becomes the sidekick.  The story moves from the Wild West setting to a steampunk city.  It reveals Jack’s backstory, and it involves plenty of magical creatures (brownies, jabberwock, etc.).  Jack and Rapunzel must once again fight for justice, this time in a corrupt city that is taking over citizens’ businesses and livelihoods.

Both of these books are cute, fun, and a great introduction to graphic novels.  Whether you’re a Shannon Hale fan, or just looking for a way to get yourself or your child interested in graphic novels, check out these books!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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