Friday, October 18, 2019

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

Running away from his abusive uncle, Nick stumbles upon Evil Wizard Books, and its crusty proprietor. Could the old man really be a wizard? Nick doubts it -- until the evil wizard declares Nick his apprentice and enchants him so that he can't leave the property. Nick is sure that Smallbone doesn't mean to teach him any magic -- but maybe he's stubborn enough to learn on his own...

This is an enjoyable read for fans of children's fantasy. It's quirky, with hints of darkness, but not anything that will be too scary or upsetting for sensitive readers. I enjoyed it, but didn't find it so compelling that I couldn't put it down. I think it would be a good, cozy wintertime read.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Best Friends by Shannon Hale

As she enters sixth grade, Shannon is feeling pretty good about things. She’s sharing a locker with Jen, the most popular girl in school, so she’s definitely part of the in-crowd. Things can get confusing, though: the imaginative games she used to love aren’t cool any more, sometimes the popular kids are mean, which she knows is wrong, and then there are boys... and the rules for interacting with them seem to have changed. Sometimes all of these things make her so nervous that her stomach hurts. Plus, next year she will be in middle school. Will all of the rules change again?

This is Hale’s second graphic memoir, and while I’d definitely recommend it to readers who enjoyed the first one, I think it stands well on its own. I really enjoyed it, and I’m sure that the intended audience will love it even more.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

A collection of Yiddish tales, some funny, others quite touching. The title story, the last in the book, was one of the latter, and probably my favorite in this volume. Many are set around Hanukkah, so this would be a perfect read for that time of year. If you have an interest in Eastern European Jewish village tales, or enjoy short story collections in general, this one is actually lovely.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

In fifth grade, Raina struggles with anxiety-related stomach problems, plus teasing from another girl in her class.

I expect that readers who enjoy Telgemeier's other memoirs will like this one as well, though she's younger here, so readers new to her might benefit from starting with this one. I liked it well enough, though I didn't relate as strongly as I had expected I would. I liked how the book normalized therapy and pointed out that a lot more people go to therapy than talk about it.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

Deja and Josiah have been pumpkin patch besties all through high school. Now, it's their last night working at the patch, and Deja is determined that it's going to be epic. She's going to eat all of her favorite snacks, and she's going to get Josie to finally talk to the girl from the fudge shoppe that he's been mooning over since the first day of orientation. Hijinks ensue.

As I fully expected, this book was adorable. The ending was satisfying (if not particularly surprising), and I laughed several times. If you enjoy graphic novels with romance and humor, this one is for you. Plus, it's the perfect read to get in the mood for fall.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Elisabeth grew up in one of the Great Libraries, and her dream has always been to become a librarian, caretaker to the grimoires, dangerous, sentient books of magic. When mysterious events occur, she finds herself caught up in and falsely accused of a plot that could bring to an end the Great Libraries, and the larger world as well. She also finds herself in the company of the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, whom she doesn’t trust... at least, not at first...

I was bound to enjoy this library-centric fantasy. It’s a stand-alone, which is also a point in its favor. My listening experience of the audiobook was broken up because I didn’t get it finished before it went back, and then I had to wait a few weeks to get it again. So, I’m not sure I’m a good judge of the pacing in this case. I will say that I’m not sure what I think of the ending. I like it, but I’m not sure I approve of it. (If you’ve read the book, I’d be glad to discuss what I mean by that!) Recommended for readers of YA fantasy.

(Reviewed from an e-audiobook borrowed through my library system.)

Blubber by Judy Blume

When the mean girl in Jill’s class targets another girl, nicknaming her “Blubber” and playing all kinds of mean pranks, Jill goes along with it, but what will happen when things go too far?

Man, children can be little monsters. Blume captures that in this book; she doesn’t pull any punches (and neither do some of the characters). Protagonist Jill isn’t particularly likable, but she’s a great study of how one can be drawn into bullying behavior even without specific negative intentions. I noted with interest all of the changes in the sorts of freedoms kids had at the time the book was written as compared to now. I’m not sure what modern-day kids would make of this story. I thought I had read it long ago, but maybe I missed this one? I don’t know if I’d recommend it to kids, but I can see it being useful in an anti-bullying discussion, maybe paired with a more recent text.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, October 14, 2019

Camp by Kayla Miller

Olive and her friend Willow are off to summer camp, and Olive is super excited about all of the fun activities to try and the new friends she will make. Willow is a bit more apprehensive, and when they arrive at camp, she becomes clingy and controlling, wanting Olive to do everything with her. Can their friendship survive two weeks of this tug-of-war?

This sequel to Click stands fine on its own and can be read independently of the other book. It's another great, realistic exploration of the kind of friendship issues that a normal, outgoing kid might face, without buying into the common tropes of bullies and mean girls and friends growing apart at puberty. It's also a fun summer camp story that embraces all of the positive experiences camp can offer, but doesn't really touch on any of the inconveniences (so it's a very different sort of summer camp story than, for instance, Vera Brosgol's Be Prepared). Kids who enjoy Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale will eat this up.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Last Bus to Everland by Sophie Cameron

Life's not going so great for Brody: his family is in financial difficulties, the neighborhood mean girls have picked him as their favorite target, and he'll never be as smart or important or appreciated as his genius brother James. One day, when the mean girls have kidnapped his beloved cat, he's unexpectedly rescued by a boy with enormous blue papier-mâché wings, Nico, who invites Brody to come to a specific place at a very specific time. Intrigued, Brody shows up, half expecting that he's been the butt of yet another unkind joke -- but then Nico and his friends arrive, and together they step through a door into another world. Everland is a place of pure wish-fulfillment, where nobody can get hurt and everybody can be whoever they want to be. However, as time goes on, Brody learns that the doors that lead to Everland from different parts of their world are disappearing. Before their door disappears, Brody and Nico must make a choice. Nico is determined to stay in Everland, but can Brody leave behind his family and real-world friends?

I loved this gritty, bittersweet fantasy. In general, I'm a fan of books that play with the tropes of portal fantasy, as this one does. Brody's hardships felt legitimate, and it was hard to guess what decision he would make in the end. If you enjoy this sort of fantasy, this one is highly recommended.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh

It’s a tumultuous year for sisters Ginny and Plum, as Ginny agonizes over college applications, their family struggles financially, and Plum forms a secret friendship (or maybe more?) with one of the most unlikely boys she can imagine.

I had heard that this was inspired by Sense and Sensibility, and while there is a practical sister and a high-strung one, a dead father and problems with money, don’t go into this expecting a retelling. That’s not to say it isn’t charming! I thought the relationship between the sisters was particularly well done, and the story revels in classic literature references (Austen, the Brontës, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Rilke, Rossetti, Dickinson...) and a handful of film and classical music grace notes. (They also watch a lot of HGTV, which cracked me up a little every time.) If this sort of family drama is your thing, you’ll love this book.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)