Reviews

Enchanting: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Townsend, Jessica. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow. Read by Gemma Whelan. Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 665 pages/11 hours. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-0-316-50888-9

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? YES GO IMMEDIATELY NOW

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes; this is the first of the new Nevermoor Series.

Book Summary:

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Like, actually. She’s on the Cursed Children’s Registry and everything. So whenever something bad happens, people blame her. To top it all off, she’s going to die at age twelve on Eventide night. Or, wait. No. She’s going to die on her eleventh birthday, as Eventide’s arrival surprises everyone by happening a year sooner than predicted.

Morrigan is, understandably, annoyed. Perhaps a bit upset. Imagine her surprise when she receives actual bids on bid day — patrons who want to help shape her future. What future? She’ll be dead before any schooling can actually happen. Additionally, Mr. Jones (representative of Ezra Squall, one of her prospective patrons) literally disappears before she can answer him. Her birthday dinner-and-last supper is interrupted by Jupiter North, another patron, who promises to whisk her away to a land called Nevermoor and a Wundrous future. Can Morrigan outrun her curse? Could her life be full of Wunder?

Reader’s Comments:

SO AMAZING. This book has received many comparisons to Harry Potter. That is precisely why I picked this up. Or, however, a comparison I heard quite a bit was that this wasn’t reminiscent of Harry Potter itself but rather that reading this one feels like reading Harry Potter for the first time. While some of the story’s elements are familiar to those of us who love the Boy Who Lived (unloved child with a miserable life is whisked away to a magical hidden world, there’s an ages-old evil that may return to power, there is a school for special children, there’s an eccentric mentor and a wild best friend, not to mention the snooty rival!!), the way that Townsend uses those elements AND TONS OF OTHERS that are in no way Potterish is STUNNING. Morrigan’s bitingly funny, and her sarcasm is a delight. Jupiter is tons of fun, and Hawthorne sounds like the ideal best friend. The trials are interesting, and the book has twists aplenty. I definitely recommend this one to your fantasy fans.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Publishers Weekly starred, 07/31/17

School Library Connection starred, 10/01/17

School Library Journal starred, 07/01/17

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Reviews

Friendship to the max! Unicorn Power by Mariko Tamaki

Tamaki, Mariko. Unicorn Power. Illustrated by Brooke A. Allen. Amulet Books, 2017. 239 pages. Hardcover $12.89, ISBN 978-1-41972-725-2

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure Fiction

Part of a series? Yes! This is the first Lumberjanes novel; it draws heavily on action that has happened in the comics.

Book Summary:

One day the Lumberjanes find themselves face to face with UNICORNS! While Ripley is stoked beyond belief with this find alone, April notices a HUMONGOUS mountain that is recorded on zero maps. April knows she can earn a super-rare badge … and if all of them explore, they will all earn it together! But there’s a weird broken sign on the ground that nobody reads, and some weird weather, and … well, will this mission go smoothly? Or is this bound to turn out like a campfire tale?

Reader’s Notes:

I read Beware the Kitten Holy, so I’m familiar with the Lumberjanes, and I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun romp through the wacky woods outside their camp for hardcore lady-types. I’d absolutely hand this off to a Lumberjanes fan.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews starred, 08/15/17

Reviews

Weaving together the truth: Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Chanani, Nidhi. Pashmina. First Second, 2017. 161 pages. Hardcover $18.84, ISBN 978-1-62672-088-6; PLB $22.06, ISBN 978-1-54900-469-8; TR $14.49, ISBN 978-1-62672-087-9

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!!

Genre: Fantasy (Graphic Novel)

Part of a series? Not at this time.

Book Summary:

Priyanka (or Pri, at school) loves art, her aunt and uncle, and her mom. She butts heads with mom occasionally, especially when she won’t talk about Priyanka’s dad. Priyanka is worried when she learns that her aunt and uncle are expecting a baby, particularly when it’s made clear that some of their weekly rituals will need to be put to an end. When the baby is born prematurely, Priyanka feels guilty and refuses to visit, instead staying home and puzzling over a gorgeous pashmina from her mother’s old suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, Priyanka is taken straight to India, and it’s more beautiful than any travel brochure. Her mother finally lets Priyanka travel to India for real, but she must go alone, as her mother refuses to ever go back. Will India be what Priyanka expects? And what kind of power does the pashmina possess?

Reader’s Notes:

This is a really beautifully done novel. Priyanka struggles a great deal with many things — bullies at school, secrets kept by her mother, a desire for family and for things to stay the way they are. The artwork itself is also gorgeous. This is a highly recommended read!

Grade Level:5-8

Awards and starred reviews:

Publishers Weekly starred, 09/18/17

School Library Journal starred, 09/01/17

Reviews

Is this the real life? WHERE FUTURES END by Parker Peevyhouse

Peevyhouse, Parker. Where Futures End. Kathy Dawson Books, 2016. 289 pages. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-0-8037-4160-7

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes, for older readers

Genre: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Part of a series? No.

Book Summary:

Dylan has what he calls a vorpal, a way that he can influence how people perceive him. He also believes that he’s been to a mystical other world, and while his own brother refuses to agree that they’ve gone, Dylan is sure that there’s a way back. Indeed, there are two worlds, and as citizens of each pass across the border, each world is changed. Four other teens in future points explore their worlds as they are as magic and technology advance at hyperspeed.

Reviewer’s Notes:

This book feels so much like a young adult Cloud Atlas. It’s weird, fascinating, and gripping — it was so hard to put down. Definitely one to hand to your strange-format fans.

Grade Level: YA

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews starred, 12/01/15

School Library Journal starred, 01/01/16

Reviews

She is here, she is here, she is here: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Barnhill, Kelly Regan. The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Narrated by Christina Moore. Algonquin Young Readers/Recorded Books, 2016. 388 pages, 9 hours and 37 minutes. Hardcover $15.41, ISBN 978-1-61620-567-6; PLB $18.56, ISBN 978-1-53791-113-7

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!!!!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Each year, the Protectorate must sacrifice the youngest child to an evil witch who lurks in the woods. This sacrifice guarantees the Protectorate’s continued subsistence…a meager one, fed mainly by a mystical bog and often filled with suffering. The sacrifice is a necessary evil … or, at least, that’s what the Grand Elders want the people to think. There is no witch. Except, unbeknownst to the Elders, there is a witch, and she’s good. The witch, an old woman named Xan, rescues the baby every year and finds a new home for the child in the Free Cities, feeding the child starlight along the way. One year, a woman fights the Elders who come for her baby. The woman is imprisoned in the Sisters’ tower and diagnosed mad. The baby captures Xan’s heart, and one night by mistake, Xan feeds the child moonlight and enmagics her. Luna the baby is so magical that Xan must bind her magic until her thirteenth birthday. Will Luna learn how to use her magic? Is Fyrian a Perfectly Tiny dragon? Will the Protectorate ever be free of its sorrow? And why do Xan and her swamp monster Glerk remember only that “Sorrow is dangerous?”

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

UGH THIS BOOK. This book is pure magic. Christina Moore’s reading is delightful; as Barnhill has written a gem of a book that draws on oral tradition, Moore’s performance is a truly wonderful storytelling feat. Fyrian’s voice is a treat, and Glerk’s grumbling is great. This is absolutely a pick for readers who want to know more about defeating evil or coming of age. The story is extremely dark, but I think kids who already love dystopias are going to be fine with this one.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 07/01/16
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred, 09/01/16
Kirkus Reviews starred, 06/01/16

Newbery Medal, 2017
Publishers Weekly starred, 06/06/16
School Library Journal starred, 07/01/16
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred, 10/01/16

Reviews

Once upon a time … The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Chainani, Soman. The School for Good and Evil. Read by Polly Lee. Harper, 2013. 488 pages. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-0-06-210489-2; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-48982-456-1; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-06-210490-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Fantasy, fairytales

Part of a series? Yes — The School for Good and Evil series

Plot Summary:

Sophie of Gavaldon knows that when the mysterious schoolmaster comes to steal children (one for the princess school, one for the witch school), she’s a shoe-in for the role of the princess. She’s given her life to good deeds — just look at her best friend Agatha. Nobody likes Agatha!

Imagine Sophie’s shock when the schoolmaster does come for her … and drops her off in the School for Evil, sending Agatha into the hallowed halls of the School for Good! Is this a terrible mistake, or do the girls have more to learn about what makes “good” and “evil” so?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

While this book does not probe as deeply into “good” versus “evil” as I would have liked, this is still a delicious fairytale. Well, as an older reader, I struggled with some issues that felt a bit straw-feminist like to me? (Agatha’s early loathing of Tedros was fun, but it does not sustain itself over the course of the fairy tale. It feels like something she must grow out of…)  As well as some spoilers [Chainani plays with heteronormativity in ways that uphold heteronormativity, so I am not fully comfortable with that], but over all, I would hand this one off to a student who enjoys fantasy and stories about schools of magic.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Readalikes?

If you love Sophie’s need to be the BEST, pick up The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand. There’s a similar “pity best friend” plot line where the best friend (much like Agatha) is the better of the two kids. (Victoria of Cavendish does turn nicer a bit faster than Sophie does, but still — the plot is similar.)

Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series delivers on fairytale retelling and having ordinary children fall into a storybook world. Colfer’s series is contemporary fiction whereas the girls of Gavaldon appear to live in a more rustic era, but the “brave new world” feeling is similar.

Reviews

Keep Calm and Creep On: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

Fox, Janet S. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. Viking, 2016. 388 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-451-47633-3; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-51818-650-9; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-14-751713-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes … ish

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Steampunk (?)

Part of a series? Not at this time.

Plot Summary:

London is in the grips of the Blitz — it is World War II, and children are being sent away from London in order to remain safe from constant bombings. Safety is the foremost concern for the Bateson family; Mr. Bateson is a spy on a mission for MI6 — but before leaving, he secures three places at Rookskill Castle in Scotland for his children. There, the Lady Eleanor has opened an academy for children displaced by the bombings. Kat, the eldest Bateson, feels responsible for her younger siblings and does her best to remind them to “Keep Calm and Carry On” as they must leave their mother and Great-Aunt Margaret behind in London. Before seeing the children off, once-sharp Great-Aunt Margaret passes a family heirloom on to Kat. She gives the girl a châtelaine and explains that it is an extremely magical item that will help keep her safe. Kat, a lover of math, logic, and puzzles, is disturbed by this explanation, particularly since it just goes to show that Great-Aunt Margaret really is losing her marbles. 

Rookskill Castle is creepy from go, and Kat finds herself facing mystery and weirdness galore. Why is there a shortwave radio hidden in a secret room? What is Lady Eleanor trying to hide? And — most disturbing of all — why are so many secrets in the castle unexplainable by logic and common sense? Is there a spy at Rookskill Castle … or is there something much worse at hand?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book had a lot of potential. Historical fiction plus fantasy? SOLD! The premise was amazing. World War II plus creepy age-old magic sounds delicious. Unfortunately, the execution of the novel was a tiny bit disappointing. (This caught me by surprise given the starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.) The start of the novel is very strong, but not long after the Batesons arrive at Rookskill Castle, the story begins to meander. Quixotic episodes repeat with little impact on the plot, and major problems are set up that either fall by the wayside or are resolved in the blink of an eye. Every few pages we are reminded about how logical Kat is … to the point that you start to wonder when it will crop up again (hardly a mysterious thing can happen without the reader being reminded of Kat’s logic). Anachronisms also crop up throughout the text as well as dialectical issues that just don’t sound right. 

That said, however, the book does deliver on tone, so I would still recommend it to my readers looking for something creepy and set in a castle/past period. I also have to think that perhaps the book just didn’t speak to what I wanted from it, especially given its reception by major reviewing outlets.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would hand this book to anyone looking for a readalike for Coraline, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, or Elizabeth and Zenobia.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 01/01/16

Kirkus Reviews starred 12/15/15

Publishers Weekly starred 01/04/16

Reviews

HOROBOD, or would that be HOROWOD? Rowan Hood by Nancy Springer

Springer, Nancy. Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest. Read by Emily Gray. Playaway All-in-One Audiobook/Findaway World, 2010. 4 hours. Playaway $54.75, ISBN 978-1-44071-207-4

TL;DR: Do I recommend this audiobook? Yes

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Rowan Hood series

Plot Summary:

Rosemary’s mother is gone; burned to death by people who think she’s an evil witch simply because she is the descendant of the Elfin people, Celandine sends her daughter a spell of protection as the house is lit ablaze. Motherless and homeless, thirteen-year-old Ro disguises herself as a boy (“Rowan”) and leaves for Sherwood Forest to find her father, Robin Hood. Along the way, she offends Guy of Gisborne when she refuses to hand over her outlaw arrows (simple bolts of sharpened wood). She also meets Lionel, a giant minstrel; Tykell, a wolf-dog; and Ettarde, an escaped princess. Will finding Robin Hood solve Ro’s problems? 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

For this book, I listened to the version narrated by Emily Gray. Gray’s voice was lilting and engaging, and her accent was perfect for listening to a Robin Hood story. The only problems I had as a listener were understanding some of the magical words Springer uses; for instance, I thought that Ro’s mother was one of the “Alpha” and had “Alphin” magic. It was not until I turned to Google (having no hard copy of the book at hand) to check the spelling and find it to be “Elfin!” This is a very minor issue, however, and Gray gracefully performs every voice and sound. Her voice for Lionel captures his spirit perfectly, and it’s never confusing when Ettarde and Ro speak to one another. The chapters are broken up well, and the Playaway was easy to use.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would hand this audiobook to any student who wanted a new way to experience fantasy. Listening to this story is a lot like sitting at a campfire (perhaps in an outlaw camp?) and hearing ballads of old heroes. This is a great pick for students who prefer to listen to books over traditional reading, but this is also a fun choice for any reader. The pacing is excellent, so while it might not be perfect for listening on a run, this is also a good book for students to listen to while cleaning or doing chores. (Idea from myself).

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 4/15/01

Reviews

Guitar Hero: Kubo and the Two Strings

I know, I know — this is a book blog!!!! Sometimes, however, you just gotta watch a movie. What follows is my review of the movie Kubo and the Two Strings. I’ve struggled with other Laika films (particularly The Boxtrolls) because their casting is often disturbingly non-diverse (ALWAYS AND FOREVER LOOKING AT YOU, BOXTROLLS), and while this movie was still problematic in terms of casting, the storytelling is superb.

 Kubo and the Two Strings. Directed by Travis Knight. 101 minutes. Laika Entertainment. 2016, $17.96 (DVD). ASIN: B01KMKM5NW

TL;DR: Do I recommend this movie? YES

Genre: Fantasy (Animated Movie)

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

Kubo and his mother live in a cave above their village. His mother is fading as her mind drifts away, and Kubo, one-eyed from infancy after his grandfather stole an eye from him, must provide for himself and for his mother. Kubo goes down to the village each day to play his magical string instrument and make origami figures dance and act out his tales, but as soon as the bell before sunset tolls, he packs up and heads straight home. As his mother warns him, he can never let The Moon King (his grandfather) or his mother’s sisters find him, so he must always be home before dark. During the festival, he ignores this rule, desperate for contact from his deceased father. As soon as the moon shines on Kubo, his aunts appear and destroy the village in an attempt to capture Kubo. Kubo must grab only what he has on his back and run.

Critical Evaluation/Viewer’s Comments:

Unfortunately, Laika still struggles with casting nonwhite actors in main roles (Kubo, Monkey, the Moon King, and the Beetle are all voiced by white actors despite being designed as Japanese characters). That said, there are still many more voices from actors of color voicing other Japanese characters in the film, so while I am disappointed by their casting choices yet again (looking at you, The Boxtrolls), at least they have improved slightly.

The storytelling, however, makes me still appreciate the movie despite the casting issues. I will continue to acknowledge the casting situation as I look at Laika films, but Kubo really delivers on storyline. Kubo’s music and magical abilities are delightful to behold, and the animation of the origami figures coming to life and floating through the air is truly stunning. Some twists are guessable from early on, but ultimately, it was still a fabulously animated film.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This film is more intense in content than I was anticipating, so I would not bust out this movie for younger tweens. Instead, I would perhaps only use this movie with eleven-to-thirteen year olds (and up into teens) given the peril that characters are constantly in. Without spoiling too many elements of the film, people do die and are frequently in frightening situations. The main conflict of the film is that Kubo’s grandfather — who has already stolen one eye from him — is desperate to pluck the other one so that Kubo may be blind to humanity and finally be perfect, fit to sit alongside the Moon King in his otherworldly palace.

This would be great movie for a tween group that is interested in storytelling; ultimately, Kubo knows his “story” (i.e., Hanzo the samurai warrior versus the Moon King), but he doesn’t know how that story ends. Play this movie, talk about stories and the craft of storytelling, and fold origami! We could also look into bringing in a storytelling expert and have a storytelling workshop after we watch Kubo. San Francisco Public Library offered some storytelling classes this summer, so this could be doable if we found good storytelling instructors. (Ideas from myself)

Grade Level: 4+ (Common Sense Media approves this one for kids ages 9 and older)

Awards:

n/a

Reviews

Imaginary Friends: Crenshaw

Applegate, Katherine. Crenshaw. Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 245 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-1-25004-323-8; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-51810-864-8

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? YES!

 

Genre: Fantasy

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Jackson and his family do what they can to make ends meet. They were homeless once, living in a van when they lost their house. Jackson is afraid that they are approaching another homeless period. To compound his fears, a gigantic cat that eats grape jellybeans, wears snazzy tee-shirts, and takes bubble baths keeps appearing … but only he can see it. Crenshaw is this cat’s name, and the last time he saw Crenshaw was when he was homeless (and a little kid!). Jackson is all about the facts — science, chemistry, things that you can prove. So why does Crenshaw keep appearing? Is Jackson crazy, or does he just need to accept the magic?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Once again, Applegate takes a difficult subject and infuses it with magic and care. Jackson’s homelessness is discussed in a frank tone; Applegate does not use those moments to condescend to her readers. Jackson also reflects on how compared to other children who have been homeless, he had it easy as his period of homelessness was shorter than those he has met with similar stories. Crenshaw himself is fascinating; he combines the sweetness of an imaginary friend with the attitude (Cattitude?) that a talking giant cat would likely have.

 

This story also made me cry in public, which I am usually unhappy about. This story was just so sweet, however, that I did not mind. Jackson’s little sister (amongst others) work to help him accept magic in the world, and while readers will have to check out the book to find out if he does, I guarantee that it will give them something to think about.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a great book for reading circles to inspire the discussion of imagination. A fun activity would be to snack on jellybeans and make care packages for local shelters. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Guide starred 4/1/16

Horn Book Magazine starred 9/1/15

Library Media Connection starred 1/1/16

Publishers Weekly starred 6/22/15

School Library Journal starred 8/1/15

 

Reviews referenced:

Carr, J. (n. d.). Crenshaw (Review of the book Crenshaw). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/crenshaw

Kirkus Reviews. (2015, June 29). Crenshaw (Review of the book Crenshaw). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/katherine-applegate/crenshaw/