Friday, November 21, 2014

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Oh, the joy of a children's science fiction book with a strong female protagonist! Add to that joy a beautifully illustrated - in full color - graphic novel featuring characters and a story line that appeals to boys and girls, and you have one happy librarian.


In this second installment of the Zita series, Zita has saved a world and become a bit of a superstar. A defective robot "imprint-a-tron" crawls out of its box in a junkyard and imprints on Zita, effectively becoming her doppelganger. Zita takes advantage of its presence to get away from all the attention and ends up on an adventure of her own, and a face-paced, humorous, witty, charming course of events ensues. The artwork is expressive and gorgeous, and the characters are delightfully engaging. There are more adventures to come, thank goodness, and I am very much looking forward to them.

Books in the Zita the Spacegirl series:
1. Zita the Spacegirl
2. Legends of Zita the Spacegirl
3. The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl  (Zita the Spacegirl #2) by Ben Hatke (First Second, 2012)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sorcery and Cecelia:or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede


While this is the at least the third time I've read this book, since it’s one of my favorites, it’s the first time I've read it since I started reviewing books here on this blog. It seems odd to be only reviewing it now, but I want to tell everyone about it because it’s such a fun read.

It is an epistolary novel set in an alternate Regency England in which wizards and magic exist. Our two heroines, Kate and Cecelia, are cousins who tell the story through their letters that are exchanged with each other (each character’s written by one of the authors of the book). The story opens with one cousin going to London for her big debut, and the other having to remain in the country. They are sad to be separated at such an exciting time in their lives.

But soon they are each caught up in a fascinating mystery. In London, Kate is nearly poisoned by a nasty sorceress and teams up with an “odious” but attractive Marquis to foil a dastardly plot. And in the country, Cecelia’s rather ordinary cousin seems to suddenly possess the ability to charm every male who sets eyes on her. The plot twists and turns, full of danger and possible social disasters, humor, and romance. Fans of Austen and Wodehouse who enjoy fantastical elements in their fiction will fall in love with this book. Highly recommended.

Books in the Sorcery and Cecelia series: 
1. Sorcery and Cecelia
2. The Grand Tour
3. The Mislaid Magician

Sorcery and Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (Magic Carpet Books, 2003

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow



I found this book on the returns cart at the library where I work, and I picked it up, attracted by the steampunk elements mentioned in the blurb on the back, as well as some choice phrases such as dragons ruling the ironworks and clockwork horses. Our heroine is Emma Bannon, a forensic sorceress who is working for the crown, and she is partnered up with a “mentath,” a man whose abilities are a bit like Sherlock Holmes’ – but on magical steroids.

What I liked: the magical world was atmospheric and interesting, and Bannon is a strong female protagonist, which is great. The magic system was interesting and fresh, and I enjoyed the way the magical world revealed itself gradually through the course of the novel, instead of having things explained in a long, boring infodump.

What didn’t work so well for me: The relationships between the characters left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. It seemed like there was a little too much going on under the surface, but I never got close enough to what the characters were actually thinking and feeling to become as emotionally invested as I would have liked to be.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and if you are in the mood for an adventurous steampunk murder mystery with a dash of romance, you probably will enjoy it, too.

Books in the Bannon and Clare series:
1. The Iron Wyrm Affair
1.5 The Damnation Affair (novella)
2. The Red Plague Affair
3. The Ripper Affair


The Iron Wyrm Affair (#1 in the Bannon and Clare series) by Lilith Saintcrow (Orbit, 2012)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh


This is quite possibly the funniest book I have ever read. So funny that I repeatedly had to set the book down, wipe my eyes, and take a deep breath to compose myself. So, so funny that I get a little giggle building up inside me even now, thinking about the part with the goose. And the part with the cake. Oh, and the part where they are lost in the woods. Seriously hysterical.

I couldn't even remember why I'd put the book on hold, or how I'd heard about it, but when I found it waiting for me on my desk at the library, I started flipping through it and knew I had a winner. How on earth I'd missed Allie Brosh's amazing blog, I have no idea. This book is made up of some of the best stories she's written, and even though most (all?) of it is probably available through her blog, this is one of the few books I will end up buying so I can have it. For me. Mine, mine, mine! (Picture Daffy Duck on the treasure pile in the cartoon with Aladdin's cave.)


Brosh has the rare gift of being able to remember childhood realistically - to remember how amazing and powerless and baffling childhood can be.  So that even when you are laughing you feel such compassion for the child she is writing about - and her parents, too, poor things. The drawings are deceptively childlike and simple, but as I read I found myself becoming more and more impressed by the skillful way she manages to infuse such emotion into the facial expressions and the posture of the characters.

Even though this is such a funny book, it also contains the most thoughtful and insightful portrayal I have ever read of what it is like to be acutely depressed. Anyone who has coped with depression will appreciate this aspect of the book. And anyone who has friends or loved ones who cope with depression (and that is just about everybody), should definitely read this book. And learn not to tell depressed people unhelpful
things like this:


I also adored the stories about her dogs. It makes me grin just thinking about them.


At first glance this seems like a silly and lighthearted book, which it certainly is, but there is more here than meets the eye, and I was delighted by the unexpected depth and the cleverness and compassion in Brosh's stories. There is definitely some adult language here, but I would still recommend this as an excellent crossover book for teens. In fact, both my children (now 13 and 15) read and loved it, and it sparked some thoughtful conversations that we wouldn't otherwise have had. Highly recommended!

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh (Touchstone, 2013)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tokyo Heist


Sixteen-year-old Violet Rossi is a Japanophile who adores Japanese culture, food, fashion - and manga in particular. She hopes to become a manga author and is always drawing and thinking about stories to write. When her father gets a painting commission in Tokyo, she’s thrilled about being able to visit Japan during summer vacation. Once she is there, though, her fun vacation turns into a harrowing adventure as she finds herself involved in a years-old mystery involving stolen artwork by Van Gogh. Lives are at stake if she cannot locate the missing art. The few clues she finds are baffling, and time is quickly running out.

This is a fantastic mystery, packed full of danger and excitement, with a feisty protagonist it’s easy to relate to and care about. It was refreshing to read a book that is a standalone (as far as I know, at any rate), doesn’t end on a huge cliffhanger, and doesn’t have a love triangle. The plot doesn’t hinge on romance, but there is a romantic element there as well. I loved the setting and the way it informs the plot, and I loved Violet’s passion for art and manga. This is the perfect summer read for fans of mysteries and exotic adventure stories.

Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn (Viking, 2012)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Nim's Island by Wendy Orr


I started a book club at my library this year, specifically for third and fourth graders. This is one of the first books that they picked (I do a short book-talk about two potential choices, and then the kids vote for their pick). I had seen the movie several years earlier, but hadn't read the book. It turned out to be a hit among the book club members, and I enjoyed my own read of it as well.

This story, reminiscent of Roald Dahl's whimsical tales, is about a young girl named Nim who lives on a tropical island with her scientist father. When her father doesn't come back from a boating trip, and a huge storm hits the island, Nim has to survive on her own (along with her animal companions, a seal and an iguana). She is having a difficult time of it, but luckily she has struck up a friendship via email with a favorite author of adventure and survival stories.


I enjoyed the sweetness and whimsy of this story, which was perfectly captured by Kerry Millard's illustrations. I loved the strong female protagonist, who is resourceful but not unbelievably so, as well as the relationships among the characters (including Nim's animal pals) and the delightful surprises that occur as the story unfolds.


Nim's Island
 by Wendy Orr; illustrated by Kerry Millard (Borzoi Books, 1999)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hopeless Savages (graphic novel) by Meter, Norrie and Clugston-Major


I picked this up at my library because I'm always interested in checking out whatever graphic novels come my way. Sadly, this is the only book in the four-volume series that my library owns. It is a funny, sweet story about a group of siblings whose parents are famous punk rockers. When their parents are kidnapped, the kids decide to track down their estranged older brother, because he may know things about their parents' past that will help them figure out who and why they've been abducted.

I love a character-driven book, and when it is packaged as a graphic novel with arresting artwork and witty dialogue, then it is truly delightful. The mystery element is fun, but I loved the unfolding of the relationships among the characters, and the fact that the villain isn't a super-villain bent on evil deeds, but someone human and, it seems, redeemable. I will be on the lookout for the subsequent volumes in this charming series.

Books in the Hopeless Savages series:
1. Hopeless Savages
2. Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero
3. Too Much Hopeless Savages!
4. Hopeless Savages: B Sides: The Origin of the Dusted Bunnies

Hopeless Savages, Volume 1 by Jen Van Meter, Christine Norrie, and Chynna Clugston Major (Oni Press, 2003)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich


It's just not summer without a new Stephanie Plum novel! I'm always excited when my copy comes in at the library. One of the great things about working at the library is showing up at work to find books waiting on my desk, and when one of those books is the latest Stephanie Plum, I know it's going to be a good day. The only sad thing is how quickly I read through it!

This one did not disappoint. Stephanie, bounty hunter not-so-extraordinaire, is trying to locate used-car dealer Jimmy Poletti, who is able to stay one step ahead of her while bodies, apparently connected to his crimes, are discovered one by one. There are many familiar elements here: cars exploding, apartments burning down, romantic tension between Stephanie and Ranger (and, of course, Morelli), Grandma Mazur excited about going to funeral homes, and pot roast dinners at Stephanie's house. I find these elements enjoyable, part of revisiting Trenton with some of my favorite fictional characters, and I continue to enjoy the way Evanovich is able to make me laugh while drawing me into another fun screwball mystery.

I'm a bit baffled by some of negative reviews I've seen out there by fans of the early books who find recent ones to be repetitive and predictable. Why, exactly, would they pick up a book in this series expecting something different? I wouldn't watch a James Bond movie and then complain that oh, there's Q again, going on and on about the gadgets, and oh, there's Moneypenny lusting after James, and James is with another woman, and oh, jeez, a villain stroking a white cat again? It seems unfair to criticize a series for being exactly what it sets out to be. Evanovich delivers a fun, gripping, delightful summer read for me, and of course I enjoy some books in the series more than others, but I know what I'm getting when I open to the first page. It works for me. If it didn't, I'd simply drop the series and move on to something else.

Books in the Stephanie Plum series:
1. One for the Money
2. Two for the Dough
3. Three to Get Deadly
4. Four to Score
5. High Five
6. Hot Six
7. Seven Up
8. Hard Eight
9. To the Nines
10. Ten Big Ones
11. Eleven on Top
12. Twelve Sharp
13. Lean Mean Thirteen
14. Fearless Fourteen
15. 
Finger Lickin' Fifteen
16. Sizzling Sixteen

17. Smokin' Seventeen
18. Explosive Eighteen
19. Notorious Nineteen
20. Takedown Twenty
21. Top Secret Twenty-One

Top Secret Twenty-One (#21 in the Stephanie Plum series) by Janet Evanovich (Bantam Books, 2104)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #1: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso


This first book in the new graphic novel series about a young witch, The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, opens with irrepressible young witch Salem learning about an upcoming spelling bee at school. She assumes it’s a contest for casting spells, not spelling words, and when a classmate taunts her for being unable to spell “dinosaur,” Salem inadvertently turns the elderly school crossing guard into a dinosaur and gets into trouble at school. Salem’s parents, who possess no magical talents (although Salem’s aunt is a witch), decide that Salem needs an animal companion to help her sort out her spelling ability, not to mention her impulsiveness. But when the companion, a cat named Whammy who is scared of flying (but is a good magic teacher) arrives, Salem is not interested. She wants a monkey butler. Or a unicorn. Definitely not a boring old cat.


This is a sweet and fun story that will appeal to fans of Calvin and Hobbes and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, full of humor and heart. Salem treads a thin line between independent and slightly bratty, but she kept my sympathy and made me curious to follow her next adventures in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #2: The Big Birthday Bash. This will be a very easy sell to young readers at my library.


Books in the Misadventures of Salem Hyde series:
1. Spelling Trouble
2. Big Birthday Bash
3.Cookie Catastrophe

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #1: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso (Amulet Books, 2013)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Joyland by Stephen King


It's been years since I picked up a Stephen King novel, not because I don't like them (I do), and not because he isn't a fantastic storyteller (he is), but because they can be so scary and intense that, given all the stress and demands of my life right now, I prefer a slightly less heart-pumping, under-the-skin experience when I finally have the time to relax with a book. However, I heard King interviewed on Fresh Air back when this book first came out, and it sounded so appealing that I had to give it a try.

I'm so glad I did! It turned out to be a fascinating, character-driven read set in the 70s about a young man named Devin who, recovering from a broken heart, takes a job at Joyland, a seaside theme park in North Carolina. There Devin lives in a boarding house, makes friends with his fellow teen employees, and becomes fascinated by a years-old mystery about a girl who disappeared from a ride called the Horror House. The first part of the book is atmospheric and almost relaxing - yet it has the feel of a roller coaster car slowly creeping up the track to that highest point. The second part of the book has the reader hurtling back down, hanging on tight. King is a wonderful storyteller, giving us characters worth caring about, and a story that is romantic, spooky, mysterious, and ultimately very satisfying. This is the perfect summer read.

Joyland by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime, 2013)