Review: Lalani of the Distant Sea

“But maybe her mother was right, and everything would be okay. It wasn’t a given that she would get mender’s disease. // Then again, it wasn’t a given that she wouldn’t.” page 69

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly, illustrated by Lian Cho.
Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 390 pages.
Lexile:  600L   .
AR Level:  4.4 (worth 7.0 points)  .

Sanlagita is a cursed isle, with harsh conditions and strict predetermined roles.  The only festival left is Sailing Day, a time of fear as the strongest Sanlagitans are sent to certain death.  But now a drought is changing things on the island for the worse.

Lalani of the Distant Sea
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly, illustrated by Lian Cho.

This book reminded me of nothing so much as Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  Although the story and flavor are quite different, Kelly also uses the device of stories within a longer story to great effect.  The stories are short and set off from the main text by the use of a different font and a decorative border around the margins.

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Rant About #coverfail in Earthsea

A thousand words (and some pictures) about depictions of Earthsea and the importance of cover art that better reflects diverse fantasy novels.

I was planning to cover this topic as part of my forthcoming review of A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in the Earthsea Cycle (formerly trilogy) but could not cut it down to any reasonable length, and the same topic applies to many other books, including the rest of that series.

Ruth Robbins Wizard of Earthsea first cover
The first cover of A Wizard of Earthsea was illustrated by Ruth Robbins.

The first Earthsea book was published in 1968 and in the intervening 50 years, they’ve come to be seen as something of a classic of fantasy literature, frequently compared to Tolkien or the Chronicles of Narnia.  They are not without failings (which I’ll try to address in my reviews), but the Earthsea books do have one major difference to many commonly known “classic” works of fantasy – the vast majority of LeGuin’s Earthsea characters are NOT white.

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Review: The Dragon Thief

“We’re almost the same shade of brown, but Aunty’s wrinkly skin is a bit darker than mine. I reach up and tug at one of the tightly coiled curls that frame her face.” page 23

The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B.
Penguin Random House, New York, 2019.
Elementary/MG fantasy, 170 pages.
Lexile:  700L  .
AR Level:  not yet leveled  .
NOTE: The review of this direct sequel contains spoilers for the ending of Dragons in a Bag.

Kavita has a dragon now, and Jaxon is desperate to get it back. But with Ma out of commission, Kavita gone missing, and a magical trickster interested in that dragon, it won’t be easy for the children or any of their new friends.

Dragons in a Bag 2 cover resized
The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliot, illustrated by Geneva B.

I was happy to see Kavita featured in this, but less thrilled about a novel in two voices. Regular readers will recall that multiple voice novels are not my favorite – too difficult to balance and often unwieldy. Luckily Elliott is strong enough to carry two voices.

Kavita considers her actions in the last book and feels remorse over stealing the baby dragon. Aunty sort of supplies the grandmotherly role in this book, although not a biological relative – she was Vik’s father’s ayah, or nanny, when he was growing up in India. As such, she’s able to give us a little bit of history – specifically about the Siddi people who were enslaved and brought to India. I had never heard of this and appreciated Elliott including it.

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Review: Rise of the Jumbies

“Only when they had little air left did Mama D’Leau let the water spit them out on the sand, where they crawled, sputtering, feeling lucky – grateful even – to touch the gravelly earth beneath their fingers, until Mama D’Leau sent another wave to scoop them back into the water, where they struggled again.” p79

Rise of the Jumbies (Jumbies #2) by Tracey Baptiste.
Algonquin Young Readers, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2017.
MG fantasy, 266 pages.
Lexile: 690L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 7.0 points) .
NOTE: This will contain spoilers for the first book in the series.

Corinne LaMer might have defeated Severine, but things aren’t quite back to normal. If she wants to save the families of her island from a jumbie fate under the sea, she’ll have to work with powerful jumbies to restore the balance.

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste.

Even though she fought against her aunt’s wicked plan in the last book, as soon as something goes wrong people instantly assume it’s Corinne’s fault. This does pick up pretty soon after the previous book, so her father, and their home island, are still reeling from everything that’s happened. With grace and a little help, Corinne manages to handle it pretty well, which is good because she’s going to need all the help she can get!

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Review: Aru Shah and the Song of Death

“Aru knew that not all parents stick around – not all can, for whatever reason. It isn’t the kid’s fault, and sometimes it isn’t even the parent’s, either.” page 306

Aru Shah and the Song of Death (Pandava Series #2) by Roshani Chokshi.
Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 381 pages including glossary.
Lexile:  700L  .
AR Level:  5.1 (worth 13.0 points)  .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the previous book.

Aru Shah and her friend Mini are back – and need to clear Aru’s name quick after a thief wearing her form stole the god of love’s bow and arrows.  In order to stop the thief’s horde of heartless zombies, they’ll have to team up with extra-strength Brynne and that unusual guy from across the street.

Aru Shah and the Song of Death cover resized
Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi.

This installment of the Pandava series introduces two new characters, sidelines some who were main players in the first book (mostly Boo) and involves a lot of courtly intrigue.

The underworld apparently operates under the idea of guilty until proven innocent, so even though there’s a picture proving that a malicious doppelganger stole the bow and arrows, not Aru, she still has to quest to clear her name by finding the real thief and retrieving the stolen goods.  Plus some of the people they’re battling have the favors of the gods, and Aru and friends don’t get extra help while they’re considered criminals.

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Review: A Sprinkle of Spirits

“A tiny voice in Leo’s head whispered to her to flip the book shut, to lie, to hope she had read everything all wrong. But more secrets and denial weren’t going to help anything, and tricks couldn’t get her out of this problem.” page 154

A Sprinkle of Spirits (Love Sugar Magic #2) by Anna Meriano.
Walden Pond Press, HarperCollins, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 314 pages.
Lexile: 820L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 9.0 points) .
NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book.

Leo is very excited to learn more about magic, especially her special talent, but she doesn’t want to leave her friends behind. When a magical mystery occurs, of course everyone assumes Leo’s experimenting again – but if she didn’t do this, when who did?

Love Sugar Magic #2: A Sprinkle of Spirits by Anna Meriano.

The first book in this series takes place around Dia de los Muertos, and this second one is set around Dia de los Reyes. Both Latinx holidays that involve baking, and are important not only for Leo’s family, but also to the social lives of their small Texas town. I wonder when the next book will be set!

Dia de los Muertos is one of the most well-known Latinx holidays in the USA. White authors have done that holiday before (usually problematically such as Telgemeier’s Ghost) but most don’t step into less-pintrestable holidays. So this series is a great, visible example of why #ownvoices authors matter.

The magic system continues to be complicated compared to some other series but we get to learn a lot more about it this time, and it continues to be internally consistent, which is the first rule of good magic worldbuilding. An 11-year-old puzzling things out on her own with a book in a language she doesn’t know, compared to a young bruja apprenticing in her generational magic family, have very different levels of information access.

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Review: Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken?

“And sometimes people aren’t used to being friends with someone whose life was kind of different than theirs. But Lupe also reminded me that I don’t have to give up being friends with anyone to make someone else happy.” page 130

Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath.
Borzoi, Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House, New York, 2018.
Speculative/realistic fiction epistolary novel, 312 pages.
Lexile:  840L  .
AR Level:  not yet leveled.
NOTE:  Sequel to Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer.

Sophie is back! and now using email, receiving chicks and eggs by mail, and facing the Unusual Poultry Committee.  Can she hatch the new chicks, pass her inspection test, and help everybody get along?

Unusual Chickens 2

If you read my review of the previous book, or the post where I wished for a sequel, then you can guess that we preordered this book as soon as I knew of its existence.  We loved the first book, and I’m thrilled that this book, unusual both in concept and format, has now become a series.

This book brings several changes.  Sophie is now corresponding by email, although she still writes long, heartfelt letters to her beloved Abuelita and other physical correspondence and ephemera are still an important part of the novel.  The previous book took place over the summer, but this one involves school.  Which means, of course, a whole new round of microaggressions as Sophie meets new teachers and students.  They are handled just as deftly as in the previous book.

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Review: Dragons in a Bag

“I stare at the box so my grandmother won’t see that I’m annoyed. People never expect a kid like me to know anything about anything. I’m used to it, but it still bothers me sometimes.” p. 9

Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B
Penguin Random House, New York, 2018.
Elementary/MG fantasy, 154 pages.
Lexile:  740L  .
AR Level:  4.7 (worth 4.0 points)  .

It’s bad enough that Jaxon’s mother dropped him off with a stranger who she calls Ma, but then it turns out Ma is a real witch…

Dragons In A Bag 1 cover resized
Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B.

Zetta Elliott is finally getting some long-deserved recognition, and it’s nice to see her promoted through a major publisher.  I’ve marked this book with both middle grade and elementary because it fits that tricky in-between stage.  This is definitely interesting enough for MG readers, especially in the 4th to 6th range, but it’s also a book that you could read aloud to a much younger group, even as low as kindergarten.  Continue reading “Review: Dragons in a Bag”

Review: A Dash of Trouble

“Half worried from Caroline’s talk about secrets, half furious that she was being left out again, Leo felt her bad feelings swell like cake in an oven.” p 21

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1) by Anna Meriano.
Walden Pond Press, HarperCollins, New York, 2018.
MG fantasy, 314 pages.
Lexile:  850L  .
AR Level:  5.3 (worth 9.0 points)  .

Leonora Logroño is desperate to convince her mother that she’s old enough to finally help out at her family’s bakery as they prepare for the big yearly Dia de los Muertos festival.  She’s crushed to hear she’s still too young, but even more surprised to find out that the women in her family are secretly magical baking brujas.  She just has to tell her best friend, and that leads to just one tiny spell…

LSM1 A Dash of Trouble
Love Sugar Magic #1: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano.

These days I have an entire shelf devoted to diverse MG fantasy novels, and it brings me such joy to see titles and new series coming out every year.  Fantasy literature was a passion I discovered in elementary school, and a big disappointment as a school librarian was not being able to find books representing every student for genre literature.  Continue reading “Review: A Dash of Trouble”