Review: Little Fires Everywhere

“Moody never thought much about money, because he had never needed to. Lights went on when he flipped switches; water came out when he turned the tap.” p. 13

Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel by Celeste Ng.
Penguin, Penguin Random House,  my edition 2019 (originally published in 2017).
Fiction, 338 pages plus Reader’s Guide.
Lexile:  1000L  .
AR Level:  6.8 (worth 18.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not posting it on Fiction Friday.

A tense novel about the unexpected connections between two families, which change all of their lives.

Little Fires Everywhere cover

Well.  Sometimes I hesitate to review a book because it feels like everything there is to be said about that work is already out there.  While I don’t mind reviewing popular works, especially if my opinion differs vastly from the usual, sometimes it simply doesn’t seem like there is much for me to add to the discourse.  That is the case with this novel, which seems to have been generally well-reviewed, and which I generally agree with other reviews I’d seen prior to reading the book. Continue reading “Review: Little Fires Everywhere”

Joining a Challenge

Intent to join post for #2021ReadNonFic and a few recommendations for others attempting the challenge.

Nothing like joining a tough reading challenge to make you examine habits. I saw this older post over at What’s Nonfiction about the 2021 Nonfiction Challenge and thought it was just the thing to pull me out of last year’s nonfiction reading slump. In fact, overconfidence was so high I thought “I’ve been blogging for five years now, why don’t I put together a list of some books I’d recommend?”

First mistake: I review books for all ages, so a lot of my nonfiction reviews are for children’s books.

Second mistake: I read a lot of books that don’t make it onto this blog, either because they aren’t diverse, or because I have to return them to the library.

Third mistake: Apparently the diverse adult nonfiction I do review mainly falls into three categories: biography, historical nonfiction, or parenting.

Continue reading “Joining a Challenge”

Review: Amari and the Night Brothers

“Still, I’m pretty surprised at how easily moving in the Sky Sprints comes for me. After about an hour, I’m keeping pace with the legacy kids as we race along the walls and take turns avoiding the obstacles…” page 171

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1) by B. B. Alston.
Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins, New York, 2021.
MG fantasy, 410 pages.
Not yet leveled
NOTE: I received a free Advance Reader Edition of this book from a publicist. The artwork and other details were not finalized yet.

Amari is floundering at school and home without her brother Quinton who has been missing, presumed dead, for the past year. Since he disappeared without a trace, even her mother is starting to believe he was mixed up in something criminal – not unusual for their neighborhood, but definitely unexpected for her prodigy older sibling. Amari is determined to find him without any clear idea how to do so when she starts seeing odd things, then finds a ticking briefcase with an invitation that will change her life.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston.

The tagline for this is “Harry Potter meets Men in Black with #blackgirlmagic.” That’s a weighty blurb to live up to, but Alston generally delivers. Potter for the magical (summer) school and hidden world alongside our own mundane reality. Men in Black for the investigations, competition, technology, and… hidden world alongside our own mundane reality.

A decade ago, students were much more specific in their genre requests. They liked fantasy or they liked science fiction and usually they didn’t like the other one. These days I have been seeing more and more genre-bending, -blending, or -blurring stories, especially in the middle grade market. Are young readers these days more open to multi-genre novels? I have long loved both, so it didn’t much matter to me which side this story ended up on.

I’ve written before about how important it is to see microaggressions appropriately portrayed in middle grade fiction, and that was an excellent aspect of this novel. Alston takes the popular fantasy trope of a “chosen one” and wonders – what if the chosen one was still Black and poor and feeling like an outsider? How would someone navigate those different realities – being different and exceptional and special, but doubly despised for being those things while also a different race or class or background than most around her?

Continue reading “Review: Amari and the Night Brothers”

Review: Children of the Longhouse

“Suddenly he heard a sound like pebbles being shaken in a hollow gourd. His heart leaped into his throat as he threw himself to one side to keep from stepping on the huge rattlesnake that was coiled in the middle of the trail.” page 78

Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1996.
MG historical fiction, 154 pages.
Lexile:  950L  .
AR Level:  5.5 (worth 5.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.

Follow twins Ohkwa’ri and his sister Otsi:stia as they navigate peers who are trying to break the peace treaty, coming of age, and a sacred game of lacrosse.

Children of the Longhouse cover resized
Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac.

It’s worth noting that this is NOT an #ownvoices book.  Bruchac is Abenaki, a neighboring group to the twins – but the main characters are all Mohawk, members of the Iroquois League of Peace.  This book was originally included in a 2006 recommendation list on AICL, but I noticed that as of this writing, Bruchac was conspicuously absent from the August 2020 list of historical fiction recommendations on AICL.  This makes sense given that AICL has recently had several neutral or negative reviews of his work, especially when working outside of his own nation.  However, given the glowing reviews some of his books have previously gotten, it’s hard to know if he’s still a generally suggested author or not. Continue reading “Review: Children of the Longhouse”

Review: School for Good & Evil

“She had mocked the children as batty and delusional. But in the end, they had known what she didn’t – that the line between stories and real life is very thin indeed.” page 72

The School for Good and Evil (#1) by Soman Chainani, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.
HarperCollins, New York, 2013.
Fantasy novel, 488 pages.
Lexile: 830L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 16.0 points) .

Sophie cannot wait to be stolen from her village and attend the mysterious School of Good and Evil. She’s been doing everything she possibly can to prepare – an intensive beauty regime, rigorous fashion design, and of course good deeds such as befriending the town witch. Agatha has no interest in getting kidnapped, but when her best friend is taken, she just has to intervene. But then Agatha finds herself on the Good side, and Sophie is attending Evil classes…

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.

Not sure how I missed this series for so long. Perhaps since all the main characters are so clearly white, I overlooked that the author is Indian American. But these have been fairly popular.

Chainani’s plotting and characterization, as well as his detailed fairy-tale-based world, truly impressed me. For the last few years, I have been reading a LOT of fantasy novels for young people while working on my first diverse fantasy booklist. Particularly in middle grade fantasy, by now I can often guess what is coming next. This book was gripping because Chainani managed to continually take the plot and characters in new directions while still keeping the developments believable.

Continue reading “Review: School for Good & Evil”

Year(s) in Review and Goals

A few updates, some favorites from the last two years’ reviews, and very loose, mild goals for 2021.

So not only was 2020 a mess, I never really did a wrap up from 2019. I’ve gone ahead and updated my Review pages (2019, 2020) so let’s look at a few other things before getting into my favorites of the last two years and goals for 2021.

Middle Grade Mondays

For 2021 I am going to start a new occasional post, Middle Grade Monday. Towards the end of 2020, my Fiction Fridays were almost entirely diverse middle grade fantasy novels. I have a LOT more books in that category to read, review, or post about and am hoping to put out a second round up at the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022. But I also read a lot of other books including adult novels, YA, picture books, historical fiction, realistic stories, and even middle grade science fiction, all of which I would love to discuss on Fiction Friday.

I don’t want the diverse middle grade fantasy to overwhelm the blog, so sometime in the next few months I’ll be switching to posting that on Mondays and hopefully doing other fiction reviews for Fiction Fridays.

Continue reading “Year(s) in Review and Goals”

Blog Housekeeping

TL;DR – The advertising fake “sponsored post” content is NOT from me. Might have to figure out a new place to take CBR depending on how this goes.

Greetings dear readers.

I prefer to focus my time on producing content, so it distresses me to make another one of these this year. The good news is as of right now, I’m still creating content, with Fiction Fridays at least continuing for the next few months.

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH WORDPRESS?

The bad news is that WordPress is very suddenly testing a deceptive new feature called “sponsored content” in several places, including this blog. This is a practice of making a fake blog post which is actually an advertisement that is incorporated into one’s blog feed.

Readers are more likely to click on it for two reasons:
1) because it is formatted and styled just like a regular post
2) or because some bloggers do get paid to create and post specific content, which in some cases may still be of use or interest to their readers

DO I EVER CREATE SPONSORED POSTS? (NO! NEVER!)

For this blog, I do NOT do any sponsored posts. At times I accept free review copies of books that interest me, but always with the understanding that I may not write a favorable review. These posts where I get free review copies are ALWAYS labeled as such. I even mark books to indicate if I got them at the library, purchased them myself, or received them as a gift. At times I might refer to or collaborate with others and these posts are ALWAYS LABELED.

Continue reading “Blog Housekeeping”

Review: The Farthest Shore

“I do not like waste and destruction. I do not want an enemy. If I must have an enemy, I do not want to seek him, and find him, and meet him. … If one must hunt, the prize should be a treasure, not a detestable thing.” page 113

The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle #3) by Ursula K. LeGuin.
My edition Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001.
Fantasy, 260 pages.
Lexile: 920L .
AR Level: 6.1 (worth 10.0 points) .
NOTES: Please see review for age appropriateness. See my other posts under the Earthsea tag for more information on this series.

Arren travels with his idol Ged to solve the mystery of why magic is slowly disappearing from the islands of Earthsea.

Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Farthest Shore won the National Book Award for children’s books in 1973 and is still in print today.

The Farthest Shore is not without problems. Female characters continue to be minor or even unnamed. One secondary character suffers from mental illness and I had so many thoughts on that subplot they might not all fit in this post.

Parents and teachers should be aware of several aspects before handing this to a child. First, Arren has a crush on Ged. I read this as the sort of schoolchild hero worship that many children experience during puberty, but other readers have seen an unrequited romantic love. The text supports either interpretation. Ged absolutely does not have romantic or sexual feelings towards Arren, and their slightly forced companionship grows into mutual respect and esteem as events progress.

Continue reading “Review: The Farthest Shore”

Review: Dragon Egg Princess

“In the middle sat an elegant woman with a medium brown complexion who appeared ageless and formidable. She held a large ivory staff decorated with leaves and flowers in one hand. There was no doubt in Jiho’s mind that this woman was in charge.” page 109

The Dragon Egg Princess by Ellen Oh.
HaperCollins, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 248 pages.
Not yet leveled.

Jiho Park is an anomaly in his highly magical kingdom – part of a family not affected by magic, which makes him destined to become a ranger protecting the Kidahara.  But he wants nothing to with the forest and the magical creatures it protects and instead is intrigued by the foreigners from technologically advanced lands trying to tear down the forest in the middle of Joson.  Meanwhile, two girls whose lives have been heavily affected by magic both have their own agendas – and when all three cross paths, the whole kingdom might be affected, for better or worse.

The Dragon Egg Princess
The Dragon Egg Princess by Ellen Oh.

I wanted to love this so much – bought the hardcover, so yes I fully invested in this story.  Sadly, it underwhelmed me on many points despite the appealing blubs from several authors I trust and the fabulous cover.  Let me just take a minute to mention that I completely support Oh’s mission, her work on WNDB, and even her excellent anthologies, and continue to do so despite really not liking this book.

The setting had a unique feel.  The land of Josen, the Kidahara forest, the permeation of magic in the kingdom, everything had a twist to it somewhere.  But on the other hand it had some steampunk or even science fantasy elements, as some of the other kingdoms have no magic but focus instead on technology.  The one other region with magic was also different, so a lot was packed into this book.

Worldbuilding was clearly a major focus of Oh’s, and she has a fairly detailed mythology likely to appeal to young fans of speculative fiction.  While this book focuses on Joson, based in Korean mythology, Shane and Calvin are from another country called Bellprix and mention vampires, werewolves, and zombies.  I only wish that more of the essential information about this world had been organically included in the action or dialogue, instead of being infodumped .

Continue reading “Review: Dragon Egg Princess”

40+ Diverse Middle Grade Fantasy Novels

Lately I’ve seen several of those “What to Read After Harry Potter” type booklists*, mostly aimed at parents of middle grade readers who zoomed through that intense seven book series and are now voracious readers who aren’t quite ready for the heavier content in YA fantasy novels yet.

However, scanning through list after list, I quickly noticed few of those lists had even a single book with a character of color, let alone diverse authors.  In some ways, that makes sense.  While we’ve seen some improvements in children’s literature lately, genre fiction can be slower to change, and the “classics” haven’t caught up to new tastes in reading.  But there ARE amazing diverse fantasy novels, many by #ownvoices authors, some that have been around for decades, and I was incredibly sad that those weren’t better known.

So this is one librarian mama’s list of diverse fantasy novels.**  I considered these to be appropriate for middle grade readers, so generally not too much romance or graphic violence, but please click on the title of any book to read my full review including length, reading level, and age appropriateness – a few do skew towards older or younger MG readers.

Continue reading “40+ Diverse Middle Grade Fantasy Novels”