Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker  by Jen Wang (graphic novel)

Prince Sebastian has a secret.

Some days I look in the mirror and think, "That's me, Prince Sebastian!  I wear boy clothes and look like my father.  Other days it doesn't feel right at all.  Those days I feel like I'm actually...a princess."

Although Sebastian is sure that his family would be ruined and his parents would disown him if the secret ever got out, he does share it--and his dreams of being known in public as the glamorous Lady Crystallia--with his dressmaker.  Frances not only encourages Sebastian, she creates fabulous gowns for Lady Crystallia that are soon the talk of all Paris. 

And then, things go wrong.

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is a quick and compelling read with a sweet, satisfying ending.  Reading it restored my faith in humans (and who doesn't need a bit of that?) and I plan to share it enthusiastically with teens, tweens...and parents.

Highly recommended, ages 10 to adult.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Orphan Monster Spy

Orphan Monster Spy  by Matt Killeen

15 year old Sarah is blonde, blue-eyed, and (according to Nazi reckoning) Jewish.  She is a talented gymnast, she speaks several languages, she is adept at assimilating.  In other words, she is perfectly suited to be a spy.

Assigned to infiltrate a school for the privileged daughters of high-ranking SS officers so she can discover the hidden location of a new kind of bomb, Sarah (now called "Ursula") sneaks, lies, snoops, and tricks her way into the top level of mean girls.  She finds the bomb...and much more.

The author's buckets of research and attention to character-building elevate this story above the adventures of James Bond, but some elements strain credulity.  The book is not quite as good as Code Name Verity, however, readers interested in the time-period will be fascinated by the descriptions from inside Nazi Germany.  

Although no sequel is specified, there is clearly more adventure in store for Sarah/Ursula.

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Night of Cake and Puppets

Night of Cake and Puppets  by Laini Taylor, illustrated by Jim DiBartolo

Zuzanna begins the narrative with the story of a gruesome little puppet her grandfather used to scare small children:  the head made from a real fox skull with black glass eyes, sharpened teeth, and Cossack garb (complete with fur hat).  

Then she switches gears, a gushes a bit about this boy she is crazy to meet:  Mik, the "violin boy" who is Zuzanna's boyfriend in this author's Daughter of Smoke and Bone books.  This lovely, talented, beautiful whom Zuzanna is too shy to speak.

One night, she takes a handful of scuppies (tiny wishes) and crafts a little adventure for Mik:  a treasure map, with a drawing of herself at the center of the page where "x-marks-the-spot."  

And thus, the magic begins.

Small, quiet, and powerful, this novella should be uber-creepy, but becomes delightfully sweet instead.  The illustrations are swirly, gothic, and delightful.

And now, I want cake. 

Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult.  Some scariness, no blood, some kissing (YES!!!) and thoughts of further intimacy but nothing on the page.   

You do not need to read the Smoke and Bones books to appreciate this. You only need to understand that magic is real, and that I love this book.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down  by John Green

16-year-old Aza has a problem.  It's not school--she gets good grades.  It's not friends--her best friend Daisy is the Best and Most Fearless Friend Ever. It isn't money--though Aza's family isn't rich, they have enough for food, housing, transportation, and relatively up-to-date technology.  It's not even her mom--though her mom doesn't always understand Aza, she definitely loves her daughter.

Aza's problem is her mind:  sometimes she can control her anxieties, but sometimes the worries spiral in tighter and tighter until Aza is almost strangled by them.  

When Aza and Daisy decide to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a friend's dad (who happens to be a billionaire), nothing goes according to plan.  Aza wants to be involved closely with Davis, but every time they kiss, her anxiety kicks into high gear.  

This is not a simple book to read.  Aza's intrusive thoughts are nearly crippling at times, and those who love her aren't having much fun either.  But, as storyteller/author Elizabeth Ellis observed in her book Inviting the Wolf In
"Perhaps that is the greatest disrespect we can pay anyone: 
to be unwilling to look at their pain.  
If they could live it, I could look at it.  
Perhaps it was the very least I could do."

Author John Green didn't just research obsessive compulsive disorder in order to write this book; rather, he lives with it.  His expertise, painfully acquired, shines through.  It's painful to read, but not nearly as painful as it is to live.  The least we can do is to look, and learn.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, this story takes up where the first book ended: Vasya has left her family and her village. Together, she and her marvelous horse (with some help from Morozko, the frost demon) journey towards Moscow, and (of course) things go terribly wrong along the way.

Familiarity with Russian folklore will definitely aid in understanding and enjoying this dense, dark tale. Vasilisa and Morozko figure in many traditional stories, as do...oh, but that would be a spoiler. If you know the stories, you may recognize characters along the way; otherwise, you will be as surprised as Vasya herself when true identities are revealed.

Some kissing, some bloodshed, some nekkidness, some demons and devils, and quite a lot of magic. This is second in a trilogy, but does not end on a cliffhanger.

Highly recommended reading for cold, blustery nights when the fire is ticking in the stove, and winter is just on the other side of the wall. Ages 12 to adult.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Dress Codes for Small Towns

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

*Dress Codes for Small Towns* starts with the night that Billie McCaffrey and her best friends accidentally burn down the church youth room. That sentence leads you to think some things about Billie and her friends, and those thoughts would probably be inaccurate. Preacher's kid Billie has a good relationship with God, a strained relationship with her dad, a rocky relationship with the church people, and a confusing relationship with her friends.

Billie's friend Janie Lee might be in love with their other friend Woods, which is confusing because Billie might also be in love with Woods...or with Janie Lee. Or maybe Davey? She really isn't sure. But she's pretty sure what the church people think of her.

She might be wrong.

All the stereotypes of small-town Kentucky that you've ever seen in books are not in this book--at least, not the way you've seen them before. The characters are dimensional and lovely, and almost nobody does what you think they might do. And yet, the story makes sense, beautifully, from beginning to end.  I was especially pleased that, in this book, "church" and "belief" and "religion" are not weapons used to clobber non-conforming kids.  May it be ever so in the real world.

This may be the best book I've read in 2017.  Highly recommended for readers ages 12 to adult. Some kissing and cussing on the page. Also some praying, some square dancing, a broken bone, and Batman.

Thursday, January 4, 2018


Wintersong  by S. Jae-Jones

Liesl's grandmother makes sure that all the children in the family know the stories of the Goblin King: of his changelings, his love for bright human things, and the danger of letting the fae folk too close.  And yet, when Liesl's sister is taken away Underground, she doesn't hesitate to offer herself as a hostage instead.

Gradually, the grim existence of life under the fairy mound begins to wear down even the toughest of humans--they lose their sense of song, of taste, and gradually fade away as the goblins drain them of their humanity.  But Liesl is different...isn't she?

Some reviewers have compared this to the 1986 movie "Labyrinth" but of course the story of humans taken away underground by supernatural forces is older than Persephone herself.  Students of folklore will detect faint traces of Thomas the Rhymer, Tam Lin, and even Rip Van Winkle, and each portion of the story is preceded with stanzas from Rossetti's "Goblin Market."   

The pacing is steady, with excellent character development for Liesl and her family, and also a nice amount of detail developing the various fae folk, especially the Goblin King--who, despite his grounding in world folklore, probably looks a lot like David Bowie.

Minor cussing, some blood, violence, some sexual situations.  Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  This is first in a series but stands alone.