Review: Making Your Human Smarter

“But when you’ve ridden a dragon, had lunch with Nessie, and fought monsters, it would take more than a fussy hotel clerk to scare me away. I gave him my best imitation of Miss Drake’s glare.” page 249

A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter (Dragon’s Guide #2) by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrations by Mary Grandpre.
Yearling, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 296 pages + exerpt.
Lexile: 790L .
AR Level: 5.4 (worth 9.0 points) .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the previous book.

Miss Drake’s training of her pet human is starting to pay off. Winnie has been accepted into the local magical school and seems like she is starting to enjoy life. Miss Drake and her magical friends will take any precaution to keep her beloved pet from harm. But Winnie seems to think Miss Drake is her pet!

A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Mary Grandpre.

I wasn’t sure what to expect – the last book was good but not overly compelling. One of my biggest concerns was if the series was sustainable. The idea of a dragon and her pet human is a fun take on a fantasy trope, but not enough for a whole series.

Yep and Ryder get around that in two ways for this second book. First, this is a novel in two voices. Regular readers will recall I generally prefer books written in the third person or with a single narrator. The authors here make it bearable several ways: clear plot reasons necessitate the two voices; rather than always alternating chapters, the two trade off as needed (headers indicate the switch); our narrators may share many common events, but generally have distinct voices.

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Review: Care and Feeding of Humans

“Ah, dear Winthrop! I called him Lucky, because that was what he was, after wandering away from his father’s hired riverboat and into the Malaysian jungle.” page 11

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans (Dragon’s Guide #1) by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Mary Grandpre.
Yearling, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015.
MG fantasy, 152 pages + excerpt.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.6 (worth 5.0 points) .

Ms. Drake is mourning the loss of her beloved pet Fluffy when a near-feral new critter barges rudely into her den. She’d planned to spend a few decades in retirement before getting a new pet, but will Winnie convince her otherwise?

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Mary Grandpre.

So, first I need to clear up a mistake I made back in my review of Dragon of the Lost Sea. That book is the first in the Dragon Quartet, and at the time I reviewed it, I’d started this trilogy but hadn’t decided whether to review it for this blog. The voice of the dragon Shimmer from that book, and Miss Drake in this story, were so markedly similar that I thought they were the same character in two different stories. However, upon rereading this book it’s clear that couldn’t be the case – because they are different colors!

For the record, I still think it would have been neat if this was the same character appearing across different settings and time periods. Even the naming (Ms. Drake is basically a word for dragon with an honorific) led me to think these were the same characters, and that would have been a nice nod to his previous work. However, it’s also understandable that across publishers and editors, Yep may not have been able to include the same character even if that was his desire.

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Why Laurence Yep Was Stressful

…and a (partial) list of his many works by genre and series.

These posts always tend to stem from a review that gets far too long and I just want to talk about something. In this case it’s my experience as a reader, educator, librarian, and finally just a reader again encountering Laurence Yep. In case you are new here (and how did you land on this post first, go read my reviews or booklists first, they’re better), I’ll mention that I do enjoy and often recommend his books, although they have sometimes caused me some hassle.

I have a long, often fraught relationship with the works of Mr. Yep. He has written a lot of books, and is probably best known for either his Golden Mountain historical fiction series or his fantasy novels. He worked with major publishers so his books could be found at the library. The major pre-internet problem we had, though, was that many of his historical fiction works have dragon in the title. And some of his magical books give no indication that they are magical. And he also has historical fantasy. And sometimes the books would randomly get retitled.

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Review: Dragon War

“I knew that smile. Neither the Butcher nor the Boneless King liked to be crossed, so whoever the ruler might be, the future of the capital was at risk. Once the Boneless King had disposed of the dragons, he would turn his attention to the uncooperative citizens of Ramsgate.” page 67

Dragon War (Dragon Quartet #4) by Laurence Yep.
Harper Trophy, HarperCollins, New York, 1992.
MG fantasy, 314 pages.
Lexile: 850L .
AR Level: 5.9 (worth 11.0) .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes.

Princess Shimmer’s companions have faced many challenges during her quest to restore the inland sea and bring her people back to their home. One has died, one was magically transformed into an inanimate object, another learned that her entire home and people have been destroyed, and the Monkey King has had his pride and several of his tail hairs wrecked. But probably the worst was when they let the Boneless King out of his long imprisonment…

Dragon War by Laurence Yep.

… from which he has joined forces with a ruthless human called the Butcher, Shimmer’s traitorous brother Pomfret, and a variety of other characters who may or may not understand that the Boneless King’s ultimate goal is the total destruction of theirs and every world.

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Review: When You Trap a Tiger

“I feel for the mugwort in my pocket, but it’s gone – and in a flash of orange and black, the tiger disappears, too.” page 147

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller.
Random House, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 298 pages.
Lexile: 590L .
AR Level: 4.1 (worth 8.0 points) .

Lily, her older sister Samantha, and their mother have left California to live with Halmoni (grandmother), which Sam resents and Lily quietly accepts.  But as they arrive, Lily begins to see something nobody else does – a tiger who can talk and walk through buildings and strike bargains, who wants something from her family.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller.

I had gotten this book, read and enjoyed it, started a review, and was in my second reading when… it won the Newberry. All of a sudden everyone was reading and reviewing it! I frequently am surprised by, or disagree with, the Newberry awards – but it isn’t often my reaction is disbelief that others chose a book I personally loved.

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Review: When the Sea Turned to Silver

“Pinmei looked at Yishan, but he did not meet her eyes. Instead, he was gazing upward. Another star was flying across the sky, making a silver scratch on the black-lacquered night.” page 191

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 380 pages + extract.
Lexile:  750L  .
AR Level:  5.3 (worth 9.0 points)  .

Pinmei and her grandmother live simply high up on the mountain.  Pinmei rarely ventures far from home, and hardly speaks to anyone beside her grandmother and friend Yishan.  But she doesn’t need many words when her grandmother tells the most wondrous stories – until the emperor’s soldiers kidnap her grandmother and leave her with an impossible quest.

When the Sea Turned to Silver cover resized

This is technically the third book in a series, but it’s very possible to read them out of order even though all three are set in the same world.  I’ve already reviewed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky.  If you read those first, then this one will have all sorts of little connections to delight avid readers.  But if you’ve accidentally started with this book instead, don’t worry, you can still enjoy the others!

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Review: Bluecrowne

“The Ironmonger was speaking, and his voice was deep and rich and bitter. ‘It took fighting against the States to be able to walk free. Is it so different a place now that I ought to forgive it after so short a time? To say nothing of binding myself to it.’ ” page 30

Bluecrowne by Kate Milford, illustrated by Nicole Wong.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2018.
MG/YA fantasy adventure, 262 pages + excerpt.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.9 (worth 10.0 points) .

Melusine Bluecrowne, or Lucy for short, is going to be grounded. As much as she loves her half-brother and stepmother, she’s always imagined a life on board her father’s privateer (aka letter-of-marque), not living ashore, no matter how grand their new home appears.

Sutler Foulk Trigemine is in 1810 Nagspeake to see about several matters of business for his boss Morvengarde, one of which is the collection of a specially gifted conflagrationist. Meanwhile young Liao Bluecrowne is fascinated by fire and can create fireworks like nobody’s ever seen…

Bluecrowne by Kate Milford, illustrated by Nicole Wong.

I debated reviewing this. Full disclosure – it’s not really diverse. The author is white and so are both of the main characters, and while there are important secondary characters of color, Milford’s AU world is, at least at this time and place, mostly white. Greenglass House has the same conditions except the main character is an Asian domestic transracial adoptee, which put that book firmly within the scope of this blog. This book is more diverse-adjacent, which is okay but I just wanted my readers to be forewarned.

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Review: Dragon Cauldron

“As long as I live, I’ll never forget that look on his face. It wasn’t fear; it was the expression of someone who had lost everything – friends, loved ones, the entire world.” page 121

Dragon Cauldron (Dragon Quartet #3) by Laurence Yep.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, originally published 1991, my edition 1994.
MG fantasy, 312 pages.
Lexile: 770L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 10.0 points) .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes.

The quest to restore the dragon homeland continues with new enemies and allies. At this stage the cauldron must be mended, and only the Snail Woman and Smith can do so, but reaching them is tricky. The humans at war with the main dragon kingdom make no distinction between Shimmer’s enslaved clan and her wicked uncle’s rule; they just want to kill or imprison all dragons. Meanwhile, the Monkey King’s penchant for boasting, Indigo and Thorn’s competition, Shimmer’s prickly attitude, and Civet’s lust for magic also brew up trouble for our adventurers.

After a strong first volume, and a fine second volume, the story is starting to coalesce in this third volume. The Monkey King is the viewpoint character for this book, and I found the switch a bit abrupt, although it makes sense since the reader needs to know and witness certain things that he sees differently than the rest of the group.

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Review: Spirit Hunters

“Harper didn’t realize she’d walked into the room to take a closer look until she heard the door slam shut behind her. She whirled around, her heart beating loudly in her ears.” page 73

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh.
Harper, HaperCollins, New York, 2017 (my edition 2018).
MG horror, 280 + excerpt.
Lexile: 680L .
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 7.0 points) .

Harper Raine is getting some seriously bad vibes from the creepy old house her family just moved into. She’s already upset about moving from NYC to DC, but now their house gets cold or hot in weird spots, has a haunted reputation, and her little brother is acting seriously weird…

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh.

Much better than The Dragon Egg Princess – some parts still didn’t work for me, but overall I enjoyed this much more.

I’ve written before about how important it is to see realistic microaggressions in children’s literature, and here Oh does that well. A mere 20 pages in, an old white lady does the “no, where are you really from?” routine and brings in some Asian stereotyping too. Her mom intervenes in a politely passive-aggressive way that gets the point across.

An unusual thing Oh does though, is that later a neighborhood kid asks “where are you from?” in an innocent, where’d you move from, way – and Harper still braces herself until the meaning is fully clear. While I don’t love that this happens, I very much appreciated seeing it in a children’s novel. Oh makes it clear how that woman’s racism was not only harmful in their encounter, but also impacts Harper’s self esteem and her future meetings with others.

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Review: Singular Woman

“Ann also had a certain Javanese sense of propriety, which Holloway went so far as to describe as prudery. It surprised him, because most of the Americans he knew were the opposite.” page 210

A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother by Janny Scott.
Riverhead Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2011, my edition 2012.
Biography, 386 pages.
Not leveled.

A biography of Barack Obama’s mother.

Barack Obama led a unique and fascinating life long before he ever went into politics. A great deal has been made of his father, including his now famous first book, Dreams from My Father, but much less has been said about his mother, a white woman from Kansas. After Barack’s father returned to Kenya, she married a man named Lolo and moved to Indonesia, where Maya was born. Eventually they split up too, and Barack then lived with his grandparents.

There might be other details depending on which book you’re reading, but little insight into who she was or why she made the choices she did, although those choices were so formative for a man so many have opinions about. Janny Scott was different – she saw Stanley Ann Dunham* from the beginning and wanted to know what her life was like.

The result is this fascinating biography which will probably be little read and even less appreciated. Yet the story of Dunham’s life holds merit alone, even though it probably never would have been written without her famous son’s accomplishments drawing intense public scrutiny to their family. She was surprisingly countercultural yet drew from certain deeply conservative attitudes.

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