Review: The Toymaker’s Apprentice

“Just then, the massive pendulum he’d seen in the outer caverns swung into the chamber, lifting Stefan’s hair in its wake. In the light of the Cogworks, it shone like a slice of the sun.” p. 122

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The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith.
Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 392 pages.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 14.0 points)  .

The Toymaker's Apprentice resized

By the second reading, I’d worked out how to describe this book when recommending it.  It’s a bit like a cross between Hugo and Redwall, without really being like either at all.  While this is technically a retelling of the story of the Nutcracker, I believe it could stand alone even if a reader had no previous knowledge of the stories and ballet it’s based on.

Sherri L. Smith is one of those rare authors who seems to write many genres well.  You might recall my review of her historical fiction Flygirl, and the dystopian Orleans is one of my favorite books (though I’m still struggling to review it).  She’s also written several contemporary novels that I haven’t gotten to yet, and this piece is a middle grade fantasy retelling.

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Graphic Novel Review: Suee and the Shadow

A deliciously creepy, magical MG tale set in South Korea.

Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly, illustrated by Molly Park.
Amulet Books, Abrams, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/horror graphic novel, 236 pages.
Lexile:  GN270L ( What does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  2.7 (worth 2.0 points)  .
NOTE: Although this has a low reading level, it’s recommended for middle grades.

Twelve-year-old Suee is a new student at boring Outskirts Elementary, and she’s determined to get through her last bit of elementary school with no complications.  That means no friends, no sharing information with the counselor, and no getting involved in anything weird.  Too bad a voice is calling to her from the exhibit room and her shadow is alive.

Suee and the Shadow

This book caught my eye even though it wasn’t time for a new Target pick (well I was looking for Aru Shah and it was sold out, which is great news).  Suee struck me as an unusual name, so I picked up the book and found out it’s by a South Korean author-illustrator team, and set there as well.  I suspect this will do well with fans of The Jumblies, because it has the same creepy-magical vibe.

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2017 Favorites – Fiction

Favorite fiction reads of 2017, from picture books to adult novels.

Yup, I’m not posting this until well into 2018.  In 2017 I reviewed 98 books (plus 10 board books) and so many of them were so good.  It took me a month just to narrow it down this far…  I just love all the books!

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Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

“Like you, I was brought to a family who loved me and whom I love. I cannot stop loving that family, and I don’t want to. I can only allow my love to increase.” page 377

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.
Algonquin Young Readers, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2016.
Middle grade fantasy, 386 pages.
Lexile:  640L  .
AR Level:  4.8 (worth 12.0 points)  .

Xan is the witch of the forest.  Every year, the isolated people of the protectorate leave a baby in the forest for no reason she can fathom.  Not one to let an infant die in the forest, she takes it on the perilous journey to the other lands, where the children are heralded as Star Children, and adopted into carefully chosen families.  On the way, she feeds them starlight.  Until one day the aging witch feeds a child moonlight instead…

Barnhill_GirlWhoDrankMoon_FINAL_PRNT.indd

I enjoyed this book, but wouldn’t recommend you buy it.

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Review: The Answer

“But that was what was supposed to happen, so Sapphire didn’t mind. Sapphire had already accepted everything that would ever happen to her.” page 6

The Answer, written by Rebecca Sugar, illustrated by Elle Michalka and Tiffany Ford.
Cartoon Network Books imprint, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
Fantasy picture book, 30 pages.
Not yet leveled.

This is the story of Sapphire, a wise gem who knows the future, and Ruby, a brave little gem who fights to the end.  Sapphire would say it’s a short and sad story, but Ruby disagrees.

The Answer resized

While the Steven Universe TV show’s mythology and storyline bring some hefty worldbuilding to this picture book, you can read and enjoy it with no prior knowledge.  We rarely watch TV, so I learned about the show from writing this review.

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Review: The Jumbies

“She pitied people. She went inside the ships and saw that some of the people were chained below. She helped them escape and swim to the island.” page 116

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste.
Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Middle grade fantasy, 234 pages.
Lexile:  680L  .
AR Level:  4.6 (worth 6.0 points)  .

Corinne La Mer and her father have always lived near the forest, and she’s never questioned that… but she’s never entered it either.  Until one day two boys tie her mother’s necklace to a forest creature and she can’t help but follow.

Jumbies resized

When this was first published, I had just started reading diversely.  Most diverse books still flew right past me, but this book was published by Scholastic!  And it’s a retold tale – one of my favorite genres!  How did I ever miss this one?  It might have been marked as horror.  Recently I saw the second book in the series in this blog post by Shenwei.  Seeing the cover of the second book made me realize that it was fantasy, not horror.

In an odd twist of fate, later that day I stopped by a library book sale, and snagged a used copy of the Jumbies for 25 cents just before closing!

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Review: Highly Unusual Magic

“In the United States, people thought of Leila as Pakistani. But here, people thought of her as American.” page 45

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou.
Harper, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2015.
Modern fantasy, 297 pages.
Highly Commended by the South Asia Book Award.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  4.9 (worth 8.0 points)  .

Two girls, each living with extended family for the summer, find a book entitled The Exquisite Corpse, surprisingly blank until one writes in it.  Then the book itself starts filling in a story, a story which has interesting ties to the real world, a story which both girls are anxious to read the ending to.

Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

I generally dislike books with two narrators.  Often one is stronger than the other, and the author struggles to give them equal screen time while keeping our interest in the story.  However, when this method works, it can be very strong.

Highly Unusual Magic starts with Kai, who is staying with a quirky older woman, a distant cousin whom she calls Aunt.  Leila is visiting relatives in Pakistan alone and realizing that she doesn’t speak the language, and knows little about Islam although her family is nominally Muslim.

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