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My Real Children

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billba tagged science fictionalternate history

Crimson Bound

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of agefantasy

When Rachelle is training as a witch to save her village from the dark magic of the Great Forest, she is tricked by a creature of the forest and marked. This means she must commit murder in the next three days to pledge herself into the Great Forest’s service or she will die. (Minor spoiler: she doesn’t die.) But she rebelliously uses the supernatural powers that the forest grants her to fight its woodspawn as a member of the Kingsguard. She soon becomes bodyguard for Prince Armand, a man she doesn’t respect. Together, she and Armand find out that scary, childhood tales of a world devourer are actually true, and only two lost, legendary blades can stop it from returning the universe to the inky darkness from which it began. 

Why I picked it up: The advertising for the book called it a mix between two books I love, George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and Kristen Cashore’s Graceling.

Why I finished it: I loved the idea of the Great Forest, which has always fought order and civilization with its wildness. And Rachelle was saved from death by someone’s sacrifice, which tortured her with guilt and made her a richer character.

Readalikes: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. Both books have strong female characters with rich, inner lives and dialogue, each of whom learns to triumph after undergoing trials that would have crushed them earlier in their lives.

Battlesaurus Rampage at Waterloo

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged alternate historycoming of age

Willem lives in 1815 in Belgium. Life is idyllic, except for the occasional dinosaur attack. If the villagers are careful, they can avoid areas where saurs are known to hunt and feed. Willem and his friends are also worried about the nearby troops, and if they will be pressed into war by one of the armies (the Prussians, the British and the French). 

Investigating a possible dinosaur sighting, Willem finds a cave containing giant brontosauruses and tyrannosaurus rexes. Napoleon has been breeding them,and plans to use them to smash through the British resistance at Waterloo. Willem’s village is split on which army to support, but he and his friends hate Napoleon. Can they inform the British in time to make a difference?

Why I picked it up: Brian Falkner wrote The Assault, which has the best cover ever for middle school aged boys. It moves like hotcakes in my library, so any new book by him is a must read.

Why I finished it: I enjoyed Willem’s magical power to communicate with and control saurs, passed down from his father, a magician who was killed because of these talents. After Napoleon learns of these abilities, he goes after Willem to either eliminate him or recruit him.

It’s perfect for: Joey, a reluctant reader who reads only fast-paced, high energy books. He’ll love Willem’s hunt for a firebird saur, especially when Willem becomes the prey.


Link to this review by gigi tagged picture book

A neglected little girl uses her magic red crayon to draw a portal to a strange land, as well as the vehicles she uses to explore it.

Why I picked it up: I liked the cover. It has a girl in a red boat traveling along a river that goes into a giant, beautifully colored castle. If you look above its tallest spire, you can see a purple bird flying.

Why I finished it: I liked the part when the girl is riding a magic carpet. At first she is flying over a city that looks gold and purple in the sunset, and you can see the clouds next to her. Then she is flying over a desert, which reminded me of a scene in Aladdin — the sky is a pink to purple ombré, and you can see the city and some mountains in the background.

It’s perfect for: My friend Cora, because she would like the part when the girl is in the forest. It looks like something out of a fairy tale, with tiny sprites flying around and lanterns hanging on the trees.

Life Drawing

Link to this review by emilyjones tagged literaryaudiobook

Augusta (Gus) and Owen are a forty-something couple who have relinquished their urban Philadelphia lives for the quiet solitude of a country farmhouse. The move was partly because of an affair Gus had, but also so that she could focus on her painting and he on his writing. The delicate balance of their life is disrupted by a new neighbor, Alison. When Alison’s daughter, Nora, comes to stay, she causes a ripple in Gus and Owen’s relationship that has devastating results.

Why I picked it up: I’ve been having a tough time finding audiobooks that really excite me. I think I’m in a genre rut. I decided to try something outside of my usual comfort zone, to forego a thriller or mystery for something more subtle.

Why I finished it: From the very first sentence I knew that Owen was going to die. There were moments when I would almost forget, but Campbell’s narration is so skilled at building tension that I knew there wouldn’t be a happy ending. She also skillfully evokes sarcasm, frustration, and impatience by just adding extra syllables to the pronunciation of words, which gives more angst to the already strained atmosphere.

It’s perfect for: Jen, a painter who has a collection of novels that deal with the painting process. At times I felt left out because I couldn’t relate to Gus’s deeply personal relationship with her art, and I’m curious to know if it rings true for Jen.

Julia's House for Lost Creatures

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged picture book

Julia lives in a wonderful old house, perched atop a giant turtle. After it settles into a beautiful new spot near the ocean, Julia puts out her mailbox then tries to relax. But the silence is too much for her, and she decides to advertise her home as a house for lost creatures.  Soon many show up and turn everything into chaos.

Why I picked it up: I had enjoyed Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl books for their strong main character, unexpected turns, and the creative creatures he populates the pages with. This looked like it would have all that and more.

Why I finished it: Julia is an independent girl who knows when to ask for help and when to offer it, and I really like that. Her strengths lie in problem solving, but she doesn’t get things right the first time, which is a great lesson for anybody.  Hatke’s use of watercolors in this book is a perfect match for Julia’s warmth and gentleness, with soft, vibrant colors that bring everything from a glorious sunset to the weird little Pac-Man ghost monster to life.

Readalikes: The monsters, with their big noses and joyous sense of movement and fun, reminded me of some of my favorite childhood books by Mercer Mayer, including Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo and the Little Monster series, which taught me all kinds of great lessons through adorable, weird monsters.

Nocturne Creatures of the Night

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged coffee table bookscience

Portraits and facts about nocturnal animals, from luna moths to cougars.

Why I picked it up: The cover features my favorite, too-cute wild animal: the fennec fox.

Why I finished it: Scott gets up close and personal with animals I’d never be able to see otherwise, each photographed on a deep black background that makes them seem to emerge from the night. Many of the animals were injured, orphaned, and otherwise unable to survive in the wild and were now in sanctuaries. The serval, a solitary hunting cat able to run fifty miles an hour, is sleek and graceful. The great horned owl, with its fifty inch wingspan, seems to be eyeing some prey just out of sight.

It’s perfect for: I’m definitely taking this book to classes of younger middle schoolers — there are cuties for some (the kangaroo rat, sandy coated and poised on its hind legs; a pair of whiskery and fuzzy opossum babies), scary animals for others (a vampire bat with tiny pointy fangs, a ball python with bulky glittery coils), and facts about each if the students want to know more.

The Mercenary Sea Volume 1 Top Hat, White Lies, and Tales

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelhistorical fiction

It’s 1938. Captain Jack Harper and his expat crew try to make a living in the South Pacific in a stolen German submarine, The Venture. It’s tough to keep the boat repaired and fueled while staying one step ahead of Admiral Shi Tang, the Japanese Imperial Navy, and everyone else Jack has irritated, especially while taking the moral high ground. In serious need of money, they take a job to rescue a British spy stationed in Shanghai before it was captured by the Japanese, who is in possession of important intelligence.

Contains The Mercenary Sea #1 - #6.

Publisher’s Rating: T+ / Teen Plus

Why I picked it up: The last few years have been amazing for Image Comics. I’m picking up every trade they put out just so I don’t miss something fantastic.

Why I finished it: It opens with what feels like a standard adventure movie scene, a group of sailors edging inland on an island inhabited by a dangerous, primitive tribe, and then turns it on its head in the best way possible. (I don’t want to ruin it for you.) It’s hard to pull off the kind of art Reynolds seems to have mastered, where the people and objects almost completely lack black lines, but the opening pages, which move in and out of color as the crew moves in and out of shadow, had me completely hooked.

Readalikes: The Venture’s young female engineer, Sam, reminded me of Firefly’s Kaylee. If you miss her and the show as much as I do, try the latest Firefly graphic novel, Leaves on the Wind.

Luke on the Loose (Toon Into Reading Level 2)

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelpicture book

In the park, when Luke chases some birds, he runs away from his father so fast that he loses him. His father is panicked, but Luke hardly notices the chaos he causes as he runs into the street and through the city.

Why I picked it up: This slim volume was hidden behind a few larger graphic novels on my to-read shelf. Why had it been hiding? What was it up to?

Why I finished it: The first page made me laugh. Luke is looking at some pigeons in the park, holding his dad’s hand, while his father is talking to another man.

Luke’s dad: “(BORING DAD TALK)”

That’s a conversation I’m sure any kid can relate to.

Readalikes: Truck-obsessed kids will like the fire engine and firefighters at the end of the book, which figures into how Luke’s parents find him. They’ll also enjoy Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown, another series for early readers.

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