So long, and thanks for all the fish
After just over two years, I have decided to stop posting book reviews here. In part, this decision is because Tumblr is not the ideal place for entirely text-based posts, though it is also in part because I have started writing for both YALSA’s The Hub blog and The Horn Book’s Lolly’s Classroom blog since I started posting here. I hope you will follow me to those blogs as well as my Goodreads account.
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
Official Summary: “In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity… The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.
The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.
With artwork by Sonny Liew, this gorgeous, funny comics adventure for teens is a new spin on the long, rich tradition of American comics lore.”
The Shadow Hero is the latest graphic novel from award-winning author Gene Luen Yang with illustrations by Sonny Liew. In this story, Yang speculates about the origin of a 1940’s comics character named the Green Turtle. With his face rarely shown and knowing that the artist who created him was an Asian American at a time when few minorities were able to become professional comics artists, rumors have long existed that the Green Turtle’s creator, Chu Hing, intended for the character to be an Asian immigrant. Yang uses this theory as a jumping off point for an origin story about a young man whose parents have come to America in the hopes of finding a better life. He succumbs to pressure from his mother to begin to protect Chinatown as a costumed superhero.
Fans of Yang’s previous works will likely see this as a departure from his usual work, but it is a fun opportunity to read Yang’s take on a more traditional super hero story. Hank is a great character who will be relatable to readers, particularly given the pressure he feels from his parents, which is something that many readers will likely understand. The story combines the action and humor together with the supernatural elements that are present in so many of Yang’s works. The artwork nicely complements the storytelling and conveys the time period very effectively throughout the entire book. I also appreciated that the book included additional information about the original Green Turtle at the end. This will give readers more context for the story and hopefully spark an interest in comics of that time period.
Overall, the story kept me entertained throughout and left me curious to know more about the Green Turtle’s exploits. It is a good option for both fans of Yang’s earlier works and those with an interest in superhero comics from the Golden Age.
Check it Out: The Shadow Hero will be released on July 15th.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Official Summary: “From the New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, comes a hilarious, heart-wrenching take on love, marriage, and magic phones.
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply—but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her—Neal is always a little upset with Georgie—but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts… .
Is that what she’s supposed to do?
Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?”
Landline by Rainbow Rowell is all about how the choices we make impact our lives. Georgie is a successful TV writer who has finally gotten a shot at her big break. Unfortunately, it falls at the same time that she is supposed to be going to Omaha with her husband Neal and their children. When she decides to stay in LA, she fears that this will be the final straw for a marriage that has been struggling under the weight of many tiny problems for quite some time now. As she tries to throw herself into writing her new TV show, which should be her dream job, Georgie thinks back over their relationship and wonders what went wrong. At home that night, she finds a way to connect with the Neal that she fell in love with all those years ago and the process makes her recall their entire relationship and reflect on what she wants for her future. This is a very different type of romance story, one that feels much more like the story of real people, even though it has seemingly magical elements.
As a huge fan of Rowell’s other books, I was extremely excited to have an opportunity to read an advanced copy of Landline and it did not disappoint. While some readers may be expecting a young adult book similar to Fangirl or Eleanor & Park, I found more similarities between this book and her other adult novel, Attachments. As in that book, the focus of this story is on an unexpected type of communication. Here that communication allows Georgie to reach back to the point in her relationship with her husband Neal when everything was more clear-cut and simple. Rowell vividly portrays not only the key characters in the story, but also the world that they inhabit. While readers are dropped into the story at a point when Georgie and Neal are already encountering problems in their marriage, Rowell manages to make both of them sympathetic. I read this book in a single day because I was so eager to find out what happened to the two of them. The entire story feels real and compelling throughout and will keep you reading until the very end.
While this book is quite a bit different from Rowell’s others, it does not disappoint. You will find yourself drawn into Georgie and Neal’s relationship and desperate to find out what happens in the end.
Check it Out: Landline will be released on July 8th.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
Great Books Set In Great Britain
Earlier this week over at The Hub I had a post about some great young adult books that are set in Great Britain. The post includes options across all genres, so no matter what you normally prefer, you are bound to find something appealing. Whether you are inspired by watching England play in the World Cup or are a long-term Anglophile, head on over to The Hub to find some great book suggestions.
The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent: A Maggie Hope Mystery by Susan Elia MacNeal
Official Summary: “World War II rages on across Europe, but Maggie Hope has finally found a moment of rest on the pastoral coast of western Scotland. Home from an undercover mission in Berlin, she settles down to teach at her old spy training camp, and to heal from scars on both her body and heart. Yet instead of enjoying the quieter pace of life, Maggie is quickly drawn into another web of danger and intrigue. When three ballerinas fall strangely ill in Glasgow—including one of Maggie’s dearest friends—Maggie partners with MI-5 to uncover the truth behind their unusual symptoms. What she finds points to a series of poisonings that may expose shocking government secrets and put countless British lives at stake. But it’s the fight brewing in the Pacific that will forever change the course of the war—and indelibly shape Maggie’s fate.”
The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal is the latest installment in the Maggie Hope mystery series. Maggie is back from spying in Europe, but she is still dealing with the consequences of her time there. Rather than heading back out on another mission, she is stationed in Scotland training new recruits. While there she sees some strange activities with local livestock and then gets caught up in the murder of one of ballerinas in her close friend Sarah’s ballet company. Interwoven with this story are the stories of spy Clara Hess, who is being questioned prior to execution, and of the lead up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. All of these stories prove important to the larger story of both Maggie’s place in the war effort and her still muddled family history.
MacNeal offers another engaging mystery here, though in many ways this book feels as though it is more about the other elements of the story than it is about the central murder mystery. It is clearly part of a series and works best as a bridge between the previous book in the series and the next as much of the last third of the book is spent setting up the actions of the next book. Despite this, fans of the series will enjoy this book. Because its focus is more on the history and the characters, Maggie is given a chance to explore her feelings about her role as a spy and an opportunity to grow as a character. MacNeal also integrates both elements of historical fact and speculation about the lead up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, which will interest history fans, though it may frustrate those who note the artistic license she takes with certain facts.
Fans of the previous books in the Maggie Hope series will enjoy this latest entry and be left eagerly awaiting the next installment. And, if you are a fan of historical mysteries who has not yet tried this series, I would definitely recommend giving it a try.
Check it Out: The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent was released today.
Readalike: If you haven’t already, I would recommend reading the other books in this series first, starting with Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. If you are interested in the World War II setting, I would also recommend Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
Happy Birthday, Helen Keller!
Today is Helen Keller’s birthday. Much has been written about Helen over the years and to celebrate her birthday, I’ve created a list of some of the best children’s and middle grade books about her. Head over to Horn Book to check out some great books about this important figure.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
Official Summary: “Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim board the London Eye, but after half an hour it landed and everyone trooped off—except Salim. Where could he have gone? How on earth could he have disappeared into thin air? Ted and his older sister, Kat, become sleuthing partners, since the police are having no luck. Despite their prickly relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London in a desperate bid to find their cousin. And ultimately it comes down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way, to find the key to the mystery.
This is an unput-downable spine-tingling thriller—a race against time.”
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd is a compelling and tense mystery told from the point of view of Ted, a young boy who seems to be on the austism spectrum. Though the characters all acknowledge how Ted thinks differently and oblique references are made to his diagnosis, the book does not focus on his precise medical condition, instead describing how Ted sees himself and the world around him. As the book opens, his cousin Salim is coming to visit on the first leg of a journey to New York City with his mother who is moving there for work. On a family outing to the London Eye ferris wheel (which Ted points out is not truly a ferris wheel), Salim disappears, leaving the family to deal with the uncertainty and fear that follows. As time stretches on and Salim remains missing, Ted and his sister Kat must try to figure out what has happened to him. Ted uses his own particular way of thinking, together with the advice he has garnered from reading Sherlock Holmes stories, to develop theories about the disappearance and deduce what must have actually happened.
By telling this story from Ted’s point of view, Dowd gives the reader an insight into how he understands and interacts with the world around him. But beyond this, she also manages to heighten the emotional impact of the book since the reader can truly understand how confused Ted is by emotional responses. His ongoing speculation about the feelings of those around him actually managed to make me feel more emotionally involved and tense throughout the book. Ted is a smart and caring individual who truly wants to help his family members and make everyone feel better, which makes him relatable even if readers have never seen the world the way that Ted does.
Though the book would not be as strong without the character of Ted, the mystery plot itself is also engaging and will keep readers guessing. Even those who frequently read mysteries will likely fall prey to one or two red herrings before figuring out the actual solution. The book is also a great option for those who love London as the city plays an important role in the mystery.
Fans of mysteries will definitely want to check out this book. Dowd has created a great cast of characters and a mystery that will keep you turning pages until the very end.
Check it Out: The London Eye Mystery is currently available.
Readalike: If you enjoy this book, try one of Dowd’s others, such as the award-winning Bog Child, or try another story from a similar point of view, such as Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz.
After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
Official Summary: “Jeffrey isn’t a little boy with cancer anymore. He’s a teen who’s in remission, but life still feels fragile. The aftereffects of treatment have left Jeffrey with an inability to be a great student or to walk without limping. His parents still worry about him. His older brother, Steven, lost it and took off to Africa to be in a drumming circle and “find himself.” Jeffrey has a little soul searching to do, too, which begins with his escalating anger at Steven, an old friend who is keeping something secret, and a girl who is way out of his league but who thinks he’s cute.”
Unlike the majority of young adult books about characters with cancer, After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick picks up after Jeffrey has beaten leukemia. This seems like it should be his happily ever after, and he is glad to be alive, but he is also still experiencing the after effects of his treatment, including a limp from a dropped foot and difficulty focusing. Perhaps most upsetting of all, these after effects have left him struggling in math, a subject that is very important to his father and is key to the upcoming standardized tests that all students must take to graduate from eighth grade. As the book opens, Jeffrey’s only friend, Tad, is also a cancer survivor, but he has just met Lindsey, the new girl in school, who might just be his new friend or something more.
After Ever After is about what happens after cancer. More than that, it is about trying to lead a normal life with a disability and struggling to understand how this impacts relationships with family, friends and the rest of the world. The descriptions of Jeffrey’s condition and his reaction to it are realistic in a way that will bring his experience to life for readers and will help them to understand how he feels. Some readers may find the surprise at the end of the book somewhat predictable, but in spite of this, it is handled in a way that feels true to the subject matter and therefore works in this situation.
Though this is the second book about Jeffrey, it works well as a standalone story, and I would recommend it even to those who have not read the first book. It is a powerful but also funny and entertaining glimpse into life after cancer.
Check it Out: After Ever After is currently available.
Readalike: If you enjoy this book, try the earlier book about Jeffrey and his brother Steven, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. For more books that deal with cancer, check out my Hub post: For Fans of The Fault In Our Stars: What To Read Next.
Stories Around the Camp Fire
With summer fast approaching, it is time to start thinking (and reading) about summer camp! Check out my list of books about summer camp over at YALSA’s The Hub blog for some suggestions and let me know in the comments if I missed any great books about camp.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
Official Summary: “Welcome to Hereville, home of the first-ever wisecracking, adventure-loving, sword-wielding Orthodox Jewish heroine. A delightful mix of fantasy, adventure, cultural traditions, and preteen commotion, this fun, quirky graphic novel series will captivate middle-school readers with its exciting visuals and entertaining new heroine.Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing she “does” want: to fight dragons! Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She fearlessly stands up to local bullies. She battles a very large, very menacing pig. And she boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find—and outwit—the giant troll who’s got it!”
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch tells the story of Mirka Hirschberg, an 11-year-old, Orthodox Jewish girl living in a community of others who share her faith. Though she doesn’t really mean to be rebellious, she is more interested in exploring and finding adventure than she is in learning to knit or following her siblings’ advice about how she should behave. When she meets a witch and her menacing pig, Mirka is drawn into a quest to fight a troll and earn a sword, despite the fact that she knows no one in her family would approve of these activities.
This book strikes a great balance between being accessible to those who may not be familiar with Orthodox Judaism and offering a relatable view of the faith for those who know it personally. Mirka is a fun character who will definitely have readers rooting for her. She is reminiscent of other classic pre-teen characters like Ramona. One of the things I really appreciated about her character is that she does not resent her faith even as she struggles to behave according to the norms of her community. This feels like a fresh approach, given that it is more common for books to tell the story of characters questioning their faith. I also liked Mirka’s relationship with her stepmother. While Mirka clearly misses her mother, her stepmother is not cast as the villain and, in fact, has a strong and supportive relationship with Mirka.
Whether you are looking to bring diversity to your library, have a particular interest in Orthodox Judaism or are just looking for a fun graphic novel with a pre-teen protagonist, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword will not disappoint.
Check it Out: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword is currently available.
Readalike: If you enjoy this book, try the sequel, Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite. For more swordplay by a female character, try the Foiled series by Jane Yolen. For other graphic novels with Jewish themes, try the Rabbi Harvey series by Steve Sheinkin or The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar.