Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor


667421B5-924F-4182-94A9-07CB4F318AE1Sunny, an American girl, finds herself transported to Nigeria when her family decides to move back to their home there. Being American is the least of Sunny’s challenges. Sunny is albino, which means she can’t go out in the sun without an umbrella to protect her skin. Sunny also experiences odd visions which thoroughly frighten her. She becomes friends with a boy in her class who then introduces her to another girl, who puzzles Sunny with her secretive behavior. Eventually, Sunny is revealed as a powerful witch, and she goes on to explore her heritage and powers.

This book was described by multiple sources as a “new Harry Potter” which is what made me request an advanced copy from Netgalley. The premise is similar – a young outcast discovers she has magical powers and must use those powers to defeat a powerful enemy. That’s about the only similarity to HP, and I think it is a mistake to compare these two richly imagined stories because they really are nothing alike.

Akata Witch introduces a whole new world of magic, raw and powerful, and a new cast of characters who (Hallellujah!) are young Africans, two of whom are girls! The language and culture of the story and the characters provided a palate cleansing freshness, and an intriguing, clever plot. There is nothing here not to love and I predict kids will devour this book. Highly recommended.

 

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford


EE9F519E-E2AB-403F-A09B-3E3937C398BDMilo is back in a new adventure in Greenglass House, the coolest place in all of Nagspeake. Some of the characters from Greenglass House return (Georgie, Clem & Addie) in a similar setting. Milo is desperate for a quiet Christmas break with his family, but their lone guest just won’t leave. Milo just knows his vacation is going to be ruined as, once again, more people show up. The plot is similar to Greenglass House in that unexpected guests show up, get stranded, and are all looking for something special. What makes Ghosts different is the fascinating introduction of the concept of the Raw Nights performers, a troupe of “actors” who travel around performing and telling stories during the “raw nights” before Christmas when magic is wild. As a lover of folklore, this aspect of the story totally sucked me in. The usual hijinks ensue as Milo, Addie, Georgie, Clem, and the others search for hidden treasures in an effort to find a famous device created by a notorious smuggler that maps the Nagspeake shoreline.

Milford continues to build the fictional world of Nagspeake and it’s colorful inhabitants and ancestors, even going as far as creating a whole gorgeous website on Nagspeake tourism. The story is very similar to the first book in the series, but Milford continues to develop Milo in a really intriguing way. Milo has some issues with anger (e.g. feeling the scream building inside him) and Milford uses that aspect of his personality to let readers know it’s okay to be angry and that there are lots of ways to express that anger. In that way, this story can easily be labelled “bibliotherapy” (if you’re the kind of reader who likes to label things!). This will definitely appeal to middle grade readers. Highly entertaining and recommended.

Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller


IMG_0301Elizabeth and Zenobia are inseparable. Light and dark. Timid and brave. Yin and yang. So when Elizabeth’s father decides to move the family to Witheringe House after Elizabeth’s mother runs off with an opera singer, of course Zenobia comes along. The key, though, is that no one but Elizabeth can see Zenobia. Her father *knows* about Zenobia but dismisses her as an “imaginary friend,” even as he plays along with his daughter’s insistence that Zenobia is real.

When they arrive at Witheringe House, Elizabeth finds a dreary, dusty, isolated old house. Zenobia is thrilled at the decrepitude of the house because it fits perfectly with her current fascination, which is making contact with a “Spirit Presence.” Eventually, they uncover a mystery involving Elizabeth’s Aunt Tourmaline, her father’s sister who mysteriously disappeared at age seven. As the girls work through a number of clues, they discover what happened to Tourmaline, and ultimately rescue her from a dark and dangerous place.

Miller cleverly creates a world where Elizabeth and Zenobia certainly seem like two independent girls, while at the same time creating this undercurrent of emotion that suggests they are one in the same girl. Light and dark, timid and brave, yin and yang. Elizabeth is a timid child. She feels unloved and ignored by her botanist father, who would rather spend his time searching for plants in the fields than with his daughter. Zenobia fills a void in Elizabeth’s life. She is everything Elizabeth is not, until Elizabeth finds her courage, a moment captured in this lovely quote:

There is one good thing about hearing your deepest fear spoken out loud – nothing else that made you afraid before will ever seem so large or so terrible again.

Zenobia represents all the anger and hurt Elizabeth has experienced – her mother’s abandonment, her father’s disinterest in her, and her own fear…of everything from the black keys on a piano to certain types of food. Miller does a good job of conveying Elizabeth’s insecurities, and gradually builds her up until she takes charge of a very thrilling and scary situation. Middle grade readers will enjoy this. Recommended.

Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Abrams Kids; Amulet Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

 

Micro-Reviews


I’ve been reading a lot lately, but not all of what I’ve read has inspired me to write a fully fledged review. Instead, here are a few micro-reviews of some books slated for publication this Fall.

IMG_0204David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes & Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient by David Tanis
Artisan Books
Publication Date – October 3, 2017

Cooking with fresh, seasonal produce is certainly not a new thing – experienced cooks have been doing it for years. However, as Tanis points out in this lovely, information-packed, highly readable cookbook, many cooks today are seduced by easily acquired but often flavorless supermarket produce. Tanis’ mission is to direct cooks back to their own locally produced food, which always tastes better.

This title caught my eye on NetGalley because it’s CSA season, when I invariably get the odd vegetable that I’ve never cooked. I was not disappointed. Tanis provided me with tasty ways to cook parsnips, greens, and even celery root, as well as new takes on old favorites like corn and potatoes. His recipe for Creamed Corn is super simple and absolutely delicious.

There is no pretentiousness here, as I often find with “cheffy” cookbooks – just simple, easy to follow recipes that rely on the deliciousness of fresh food. Highly recommended.

IMG_0205Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason
Candlewick Press
Publication Date – September 5, 2017

Emily Jenkins has taken the language of old timey fairy tales and turned it upside down in this 21st century retelling of classics like Snow White and the Frog Prince. The bones of the stories remain, but each has new language, new cadence, and new sassiness in the characters, which is completely refreshing. As I read, I felt like these stories could easily turn up in an animated series on Nickelodeon. What a wonderful way to take beautiful but clunky old fairy tales and make them new again. Well done!

IMG_0206Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date – October 17, 2017

I really tried to like this book, but it was a straight-up snoozer for me. There’s no question that Hanks can write. His prose is really quite good, but I just found this collection of short stories to be D.U.L.L. There are a couple stories built around a kernel of an idea that could be developed into full-blown books, but most are just odd and sad. It may just be that I am not a fan of literary fiction, but I have to wonder if this collection would have been published at all if not for Hanks’ fame. It will be popular and in demand, though, so libraries should buy a copy.

IMG_0203Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon
DK Alpha Books
Publication Date – December 12, 2017

My daughter and I have recently become meal preppers, since I always struggle to have a healthy lunch and she is just beginning her first year of a rigorous doctorate program and will be at school all day, then go right to work. We’ve had some fun trolling Pinterest for ideas, but quickly found that there’s not a lot of variety there, so I was happy to find this book on NetGalley.

Tornatore and Bannon have created a readable, attractive, and easy to follow guide to prepping a remarkable variety of meals. While I am not vegan, I appreciated the inclusion of meat-free meals. I also really liked the inclusion of an equipment list for each week, as well as the Prep Day Action Plan. Another bonus is the inclusion of breakfasts and desserts. The book is filled with helpful tips and advice, and the recipes are easy to follow. Combine all that with beautiful, eye-catching photography and you’ve got a hit. Recommended.

Shadow Weaver by Marcykate Connolly


IMG_0159Marcykate Connolly has begun a wonderful new series with Shadow Weaver, which tells the story of Emmeline, a child blessed with talent bestowed by a comet that passed overhead when she was born. Emmeline’s talent is, as the title suggests, the ability to control shadows. However, Emmeline’s parent consider her talent more of a curse than a blessing, and have kept her hidden away on their estate for years. Emmeline is an outcast in her own home, reviled and avoided by family and servants alike, with no friends other than her shadow, Dar. When Emmeline’s parents invite strangers into their home who claim they can cure her of her talent, Emmeline and Dar run. Emmeline is running from the very real danger posed by the strangers, emissaries of the much-feared Lady Aisling, while Dar is running for a very different reason. As Emmeline encounters others with talents and begins to understand that she is not alone, Dar becomes increasingly cantankerous and sly, urging Emmeline to help her escape the shadowland and become flesh once more.

Connolly has begun building a compelling but familiar world, where people with special talents are hunted by those who wish to use them to achieve power. It’s a familiar construct, but Connolly has done an excellent job of introducing readers to a new world populated by likable characters. There is potential here for this to grow into a well-loved series, with many possible storylines for Connolly to explore. Here, we meet a shadow weaver, a light bender, a wind whistler, and a shape shifter; and we hear about a fire breather and a magic eater. I look forward to seeing what other talents Connolly creates!

The story moves at a fast pace, with enough nail-biting action to keep even a reluctant reader engaged. Character development is good, with Emmeline receiving the most attention. We watch her grow from a sheltered, easily led child into a caring young woman who is becoming self-aware, loyal, and brave. I hope that Dar’s story is developed more in the next entry; I would love to read about how she and her sister fell out and Dar became a shadow. Overall, this is a winner and one I would recommend to readers in grade 6 and up. Well done!

Best of 2013 for Children


The third and last of my Best Of 2013 posts includes a variety of selections for children.

Hold Fast by Blue Bailliet – Tonia Burton (Central Library) – From NYT bestselling author Blue Balliett, the story of a girl who falls into Chicago’s shelter system, and from there must solve the mystery of her father’s strange disappearance.

Building Our House by Jonathan Bean – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – In this unique construction book for kids who love tools and trucks, readers join a girl and her family as they pack up their old house in town and set out to build a new one in the country.

Journey by Aaron Becker – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) & Tonia Burton (Central Library) – Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.

How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – Everything you need to know about finding, keeping, and training your very own pet train.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking—each believes he is the true color of the sun. What can Duncan possibly do to appease all of the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best?

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – In this innovative wordless picture book with interactive flaps, Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance.

Toilet: How It Works by David Macaulay and Sheila KeenanAdrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – Everyone knows what a toilet is for, right? But what exactly happens after you flush? Where does our waste go, and how is it made safe? With his unique blend of informative text and illustration, David Macaulay takes readers on a tour of the bathroom and the sewer system, from the familiar family toilet to the mysterious municipal water treatment plant.

If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty & Stephen Kellogg – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – “If you decide to go to the moon,” writes Faith McNulty, “read this book first. It will tell you how to get there and what to do after you land. The most important part tells you how to get home.

Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – On a trip to the farmers’ market with her parents, Sophie chooses a squash, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice. From then on, Sophie brings Bernice everywhere, despite her parents’ gentle warnings that Bernice will begin to rot. As winter nears, Sophie does start to notice changes…. What’s a girl to do when the squash she loves is in trouble?

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi MoralesAdrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – No opponent is too big a challenge for the cunning skills of Niño—popsicle eater, toy lover, somersault expert, and world champion lucha libre competitor!

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – When Alex gets a silly, sappy picture book called Birthday Bunny, he picks up a pencil and turns it into something he’d like to read: Battle Bunny. An adorable rabbit’s journey through the forest becomes a secret mission to unleash an evil plan–a plan that only Alex can stop.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen – Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo. Mostly, though, the dark stays in the basement and doesn’t come into Lazslo’s room. But one night, it does.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – New York Times Best Seller Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, Newbery Medalist for Moon Over Manifest, is an odyssey-like adventure of two boys’ incredible quest on the Appalachian Trail where they deal with pirates, buried secrets, and extraordinary encounters.

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner – Kathy Wolf (Central Library) – In a near wordless masterpiece that could only have been devised by David Wiesner, a cat named Mr. Wuffles doesn’t care about toy mice or toy goldfish. He’s much more interested in playing with a little spaceship full of actual aliens—but the ship wasn’t designed for this kind of rough treatment. Between motion sickness and damaged equipment, the aliens are in deep trouble.

Disclaimer: All the links go to Amazon, and the annotations have been borrowed from there as well.

Arrow of the Mist


Arrow of the Mist by Christina Mercer

Heading to Northern New York always means a few days of pretty much doing nothing but reading, and the last four days did not disappoint. I loaded my tablet up with several advanced reading copies from Netgalley and hit the road on July 3. The first ARC on my list was this lovely little book from Christina Mercer. I don’t read a lot of fantasy anymore, so I am always pleasantly surprised when I find a new book that pays some homage to classic fantasy, but has enough originality to hold my interest.

Arrow of the Mist introduces us to Lia, daughter of Carin and Dylan, a young herbalist determined to keep the old crafts of potion mixing and magic alive. She is well-taught by her Granda, who in turn learned from Lia’s magical Grandma Myrna. Lia lives in Rockberg, a village bordered by a mysterious, fog-bound land called Brume. She tends a beautiful garden planted in a labyrinth pattern around a huge crystal rock formation. Lia and her Granda are suddenly faced with finding a cure for a terrible illness that is striking down the men of the village, including Lia’s father. Lia and Granda are convinced the only cure lies within the land of Brume, and, accompanied by Lia’s cousin Wynn and his friend Kelven, they embark on what becomes a life-changing experience for all of them.

As soon as Lia enters Brume, she knows something has changed. She alone can hear the whispers of the shades that guard the fog. While in Brume, Lia and Wynn come to understand that they are descendants of royalty and it is their responsibility to bring magic back to their world. As Granda is stricken with the same poison attacking their home, Lia and Wynn embark on an adventurous quest to find the 13 ingredients needed to brew the curative potion. Along the way, they meet dwarves, unicorns, enchanted trees, and the master of the evil shades, Draugyrd, who has bound the spirit of Lia’s Grandma Myrna to his bidding. Will Lia and Wynn triumph? Will Lia and Kelven’s blossoming romance get legs? Will magic come back to Rockberg? Read this and find out!

It is clear that this is the start of a series, which promises to be very good. All the elements of a great fantasy are here – good against evil, three children rising up against oppression, fantastic creatures, communion with nature, and a beautifully drawn fairyland – all knit together by skilled storytelling. There are some echoes of Piers Anthony and even a little Terry Pratchett, but Mercer’s Brume is all her own. The characters are likable, the plot captivating, and the writing whimsical and evocative.

Highly recommended for middle school and up.

Score!


I attended the always wonderful Antiquarian Book Fair yesterday at the Monroe County Fairgrounds and came away with a nice little haul. I managed to add three books to my collection of early mysteries for girls and didn’t break the bank! I walked away with two Judy Bolton’s by Margaret Sutton – The Warning in the Window and The Black Cat’s Clue – and a scarce Mildred Wirt – The Shadow Stone. Just checked current sales on these titles and found I got some great deals, not to mention some awesome stories!

100 Years. 100 Books #1 – 1911


The Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum

Book one in my Rochester Public Library 100 Year Reading Project proved to be an entertaining if somewhat silly selection. This is the type of fairy story Baum was noted for – a spunky little heroine, a wise old man, mischievous fairy creatures, and a scary monster. Sound familiar? Baum did, after all, write the Oz books.

The story begins with the Captain, a retired seafaring man with a wooden leg, telling little Mayre all about the mermaids who live in the deep sea and how “no one whut sees ’em ever gets out alive.” Mayre and the Captain set out one fine day for a simple row boat ride to explore the coast and caves of their seaside home, and when the Cap’n rows them into a favorite spot, the Giant’s Cave, they meet a Mermaid Princess, who uses her fairy magic to give both the child and old man fish tails and the ability to breathe underwater. They are taken to visit the Mermaid Queen, who introduces them to all sorts of sea creatures, including King Anko, one of the four ruling sea serpents in the oceans and the oldest one alive. During one of their forays into the ocean depths, the Mermaid Queen, Princess, Cap’n and Mayre (for some reason called Trot), are captured by a wicked magician who was defeated once by King Anko and took refuge in an invisible traveling castle. The wicked magician toys with them, until the Mermaid Queen finally decides it’s time to break out, which they do, with a little help from King Anko, who finally destroys the wicked magician for good.

This is a sweet little fairy story typical of the time and features vividly drawn characters indicative of Baum’s work. All the usual questions about mermaids are answered, for example…

How do mermaids breathe underwater without gills?  There is a very thin layer of air surrounding the mermaids’ bodies which keeps them warm and essentially dry and allows them to breathe naturally. Ever see bubbles coming up from the ocean floor? That’s mermaids breathing, of course!

A number of the scenes reminded me very much of Sponge Bob Squarepants, in fact. Decades before our friendly yellow sponge debuted on TV, Baum imagined full service restaurants at the bottom of the sea and creatures living in domed castles and homes. I bet when they were kids, someone read The Sea Fairies to the creators of Sponge Bob and some of the fantastic descriptions stuck. I’d bet Baum would be a fan!

For students of children’s literature, this would be a lighthearted, quick read. Fans of the Baum’s Oz books will appreciate the imaginative plot and plucky characters.

Tunes for Bears to Dance To


Here’s an old post I never published….still amusing, though.

Liz is reading this Robert Cormier classic for school. Her synopsis?

This guy survives the Holocaust then rebuilds his village in small wood carvings. But a real nasty dude wants to destroy it. Then there’s this kid who broke his knee. His brother died, his mom is depressed, and his dad doesn’t talk. If that isn’t confusing enough, there’s a *Giant* who runs an arts & crafts store.  Could this book get any worse?