Picture books are true works of art! From beautiful illustrations to innovative formats, picture books constantly are reinventing the idea of what a book can be and do. But not all picture books are created equally. Here are a few trends in picture book publishing that I do not particularly enjoy.
Picture books written primarily in speech bubbles seem to be all the rage. While this technique can be done wonderfully, as in Mo Willems’ Piggie & Elephant books, other times, writing the story in dialogue does not seem to add much to the book. It just makes reading the picture book aloud more difficult as one must adopt different voices to differentiate the characters, or find some other way to make sure listeners can follow who is speaking and when.
Sarcastic and Rude Characters
This trend seems to be going along with the first one. The characters using speech bubbles often are rude or sarcastic. The intent is seemingly humor. However, I do not find rude people funny, and I certainly would not want to teach children that is is ever acceptable to make fun of others in order to get a laugh from an audience.
This point is admittedly subjective, but it seems to me that so many current picture books have ugly, scratchy drawings for the illustrations. Do children like these? I would think many children enjoy more colorful illustrations and, well, prettier ones.
Books Geared Towards Adults
Board books and picture books that focus on historical or contemporary figures, scientific concepts, political movements, historical events, and classic works of literature are very in right now. However, the littlest readers do not have much context for these things, so they are not likely benefiting much from a biography where they lack historical background, or a satire where they do not know the book being satirized. These books are written for the caregivers, and not the children.
Longer picture books are, in part, because of the trend of writing books that are marketed towards adults and not children. Also, some picture books are longer because they are meant for older children and not toddlers. However, it seems to me that more and more of the new releases I peruse have an unusually large amount of text. I prefer shorter books, since not every child is going to sit still long enough to finish the lengthier stories.
Have you noticed any of these trends? What kinds of picture books do you like–or not like–to read?
Goodreads:Ace of Spades Series: None Source: Library Published: 2021
When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.
Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.
As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?
Ace of Spades promises a thrilling mystery set at an elite prep school. The twist is that the book will also expose institutional racism. However, though the book provides much-needed representation of LGBTQ+ characters, as well as characters of color, the characterization itself is off, as a few of the characters read older than they are. And the mystery is solved too quickly and too easily to be truly thrilling. Ace of Spades has plenty of promise, but this debut title fails to deliver.
Perhaps one of the most glaring aspects of the book that first reveals itself is the characterization, and the ways in which several of the high-school age characters seem more like adults than teens. Devon comes across as an “average” teenage boy, concerned with getting good grades, applying to colleges, and supporting his mother. Chiamaka, on the other hand, reads more like a character in her 20s. One who also has a strange habit of breaking down her psychological state and the game she plays in order to be queen of her school. Most mean girl characters never have to directly tell the readers things to the effect of, “People thought X, Y, and I were friends. We were not. We were mutually using each other to climb to the top. I provided them with Z and they provided me with A. It was transactional, not personal.” This has the odd effect both of making Chiamaka sound like an old (and twisted) sociologist, and of making it seem like the narrator does not fully trust the readers to understand the social dynamics at play unless they are clearly spelled out by someone. Chiamaka is a wonderfully complex and flawed character–she just sounds like she ought to be in grad school instead of in high school.
One of the other main characters also reads like he ought to be in his 20s instead of in his teens. One of Devon’s love interests seemingly lives alone–at least, his mother is never around, and the characters all refer to “his” place and crash there whenever they want, no questions or permission asked. He also, like Chiamaka, has a habit of making very pointed observations that sound like they are coming from someone with more experience, though his tend towards wise life advice rather than towards explanations of how to game the school hierarchy. I had to repeatedly remind myself that this kid is supposed to be 17, not 27. He almost feels like a mentor to Devon instead of a love interest.
The plot does not notably improve the odd characterization. The characters solve the mystery easily halfway through the book, leaving the rest of the pages mostly for them to muse about what they will do about their knowledge. But unveiling the culprits at the midway point leads to uneven pacing and a lackluster denouement. And that is far from what a thrilling mystery should provide. Most mysteries reveal the perpetrator at the end, so changing the formula is certainly a risk–one that does not particularly pay off here.
Finally, the solution to the mystery is a bit too complicated to be believable. The author does explain the reasoning behind the premise in the end note, and the goal of exposing institutional racism is certainly laudable. It just seems like the book depicts an overly complex machine–one that requires years of work from an incredible number of people all for a very small return–when it could have chosen a solution that reads as more practical.
[SPOILERS FOR THE SOLUTION NEXT! READER BEWARE!] Just, what is the point of having dozens of people spending about 3.5 years to come up with increasingly intricate ways to convince only two people to drop out of high school? If they are that dedicated to ruining people’s lives, why haven’t they thought up a more efficient way of affecting a greater number of people in the 150 years they have been operating? The school actually sends a bunch of people to camp each summer to brainstorm bizarre ways to make the protagonists look bad, so they will be emotionally distressed enough to quit school, when the academy could just have a few teachers tank their grades or have the principal expel them or have a mentor give bad references. This probably will not be a popular opinion, but sometimes simpler solutions to mysteries are more effective. [END SPOILERS]
Ace of Spades is a debut book, and it reads like one. The characters’ motivations are over-explained, the teenagers sound more like college students than like high schoolers, and the pacing is uneven because, for some reason, the denouement occurs at the midway point instead of at the end. The idea of exposing institutional racism through a thriller set at an elite prep school is, however, promising. There is always room for growth and perhaps the author’s sophomore novel will be even better.
Looking to add more YA books to your TBR piled? Here are 10 young adult novels coming out fall 2021 you might want to check out.
So, This Is Christmas by Tracy Andreen
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2021
Sarah Dessen meets Let It Snow in this new YA Christmas romance!
When Finley Brown returned to her hometown of Christmas, Oklahoma, from boarding school, she expected to find it just as she left it. Christmas hasn’t changed much in her sixteen years. But instead she returns to find that her best friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, her parents have separated, and her archnemesis got a job working at her grandmother’s inn. And she certainly didn’t expect to find the boy she may or may not have tricked into believing that Christmas was an idyllic holiday paradise on her grandmother’s doorstep. It’s up to Finley to make sure he gets the Christmas he was promised. This is Finley’s Christmas. It’s about home and family and friends and finding her place, and along the way she also finds the best Christmas present of all: love.
Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber
Release Date: Sept. 28, 2021
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Caraval, the first book in a new series about love, curses, and the lengths that people will go to for happily ever after.
Evangeline Fox was raised in her beloved father’s curiosity shop, where she grew up on legends about immortals, like the tragic Prince of Hearts. She knows his powers are mythic, his kiss is worth dying for, and that bargains with him rarely end well.
But when Evangeline learns that the love of her life is about to marry another, she becomes desperate enough to offer the Prince of Hearts whatever he wants in exchange for his help to stop the wedding. The prince only asks for three kisses. But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’s pledged. And he has plans for Evangeline that will either end in the greatest happily ever after, or the most exquisite tragedy . . .
Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray
Release Date: Sept. 28, 2021
Magic doesn’t exist in the broken city of Lkossa anymore, especially for girls like sixteen-year-old Koffi. Indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, she cares for its fearsome and magical creatures to pay off her family’s debts and secure their eventual freedom. But the night her loved ones’ own safety is threatened by the Zoo’s cruel master, Koffi unleashes a power she doesn’t fully understand–and the consequences are dire.
As the second son of a decorated hero, Ekon is all but destined to become a Son of the Six–an elite warrior–and uphold a family legacy. But on the night of his final rite of passage, a fire upends his plans. In its midst, Ekon not only encounters the Shetani–a vicious monster that has plagued the city and his nightmares for nearly a century–but a curious girl who seems to have the power to ward off the beast. Koffi’s power ultimately saves Ekon’s life, but his choice to let her flee dooms his hopes of becoming a warrior.
Desperate to redeem himself, Ekon vows to hunt the Shetani down and end its reign of terror, but he can’t do it alone. Meanwhile, Koffi believes finding the Shetani and selling it for a profit could be the key to solving her own problems. Koffi and Ekon–each keeping their true motives secret from the other–form a tentative alliance and enter into the unknowns of the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild magic and untold dangers. The hunt begins. But it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters or the hunted.
In this much-anticipated series opener, fate binds two Black teenagers together as they strike a dangerous alliance to hunt down the ancient creature menacing their home–and discover much more than they bargained for.
Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2021
From New York Times bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer comes a blockbuster fantasy series about a kingdom divided by corruption, the prince desperately holding it together, and the girl who will risk everything to bring it crashing down.
The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.
King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents’ shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King’s Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion–it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.
Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.
As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King’s Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.
Set in a richly imaginative world with striking similarities to our own, Brigid Kemmerer’s captivating new series is about those with power and those without . . . and what happens when someone is brave enough to imagine a new future.
Gilded by Marissa Meyer
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2021
Marissa Meyer, #1 New York Times-bestselling author, returns to the fairytale world with this haunting retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.
Long ago cursed by the god of lies, a poor miller’s daughter has developed a talent for spinning stories that are fantastical and spellbinding and entirely untrue.
Or so everyone believes.
When one of Serilda’s outlandish tales draws the attention of the sinister Erlking and his undead hunters, she finds herself swept away into a grim world where ghouls and phantoms prowl the earth and hollow-eyed ravens track her every move. The king orders Serilda to complete the impossible task of spinning straw into gold, or be killed for telling falsehoods. In her desperation, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious boy to her aid. He agrees to help her… for a price. Love isn’t meant to be part of the bargain.
Soon Serilda realizes that there is more than one secret hidden in the castle walls, including an ancient curse that must be broken if she hopes to end the tyranny of the king and his wild hunt forever.
Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix
Release Date: Sept. 21, 2021
Bestselling novelist Garth Nix returns to the Old Kingdom for the never-before-told love story of Sabriel’s parents, Tericel and Elinor, and the charter magic that brought them together—and threatened to tear them apart. A long-awaited prequel to a classic fantasy series.
In the Old Kingdom, a land of ancient and often terrible magics, eighteen year-old orphan Terciel learns the art of necromancy from his great-aunt Tizanael. But not to raise the Dead, rather to lay them to rest. He is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and Tizanael is the Abhorsen, the latest in a long line of people whose task it is to make sure the Dead do not return to Life.
Across the Wall in Ancelstierre, a steam-age country where magic usually does not work, nineteen year-old Elinor lives a secluded life. Her only friends an old governess and an even older groom who was once a famous circus performer. Her mother is a tyrant, who is feared by all despite her sickness and impending death . . . but perhaps there is even more to fear from that.
Elinor does not know she is deeply connected to the Old Kingdom, nor that magic can sometimes come across the Wall, until a plot by an ancient enemy of the Abhorsens brings Terciel and Tizanael to Ancelstierre. In a single day of fire and death and loss, Elinor finds herself set on a path which will take her into the Old Kingdom, into Terciel’s life, and will embroil her in the struggle of the Abhorsens against the Dead who will not stay dead.
Little Thieves by Margaret Owen
Release Date: Oct. 19, 2021
Once upon a time, there was a horrible girl…
Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love–and she’s on the hook for one hell of a debt. Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back… by stealing Gisele’s life for herself.
The real Gisele is left a penniless nobody while Vanja uses an enchanted string of pearls to take her place. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed.
Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life.
Margaret Owen, author of The Merciful Crow series, crafts a delightfully irreverent retelling of “The Goose Girl” about stolen lives, thorny truths, and the wicked girls at the heart of both.
It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2021
Two exes must revisit their past after their siblings start dating in this rom-com perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon and Morgan Matson.
After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close–to keep her family together. But when Amira announces that she’s dating someone, Kiran’s world is turned upside down.
Deen Malik is thrilled that his brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend. Maybe a new love will give Faisal a new lease on life, and Deen can stop feeling guilty for the reason that Faisal needs a do-over in the first place.
When the families meet, Deen and Kiran find themselves face to face. Again. Three years ago–before Amira and Faisal met–Kiran and Deen dated in secret. Until Deen ghosted Kiran.
And now, after discovering hints of Faisal’s shady past, Kiran will stop at nothing to find answers. Deen just wants his brother to be happy–and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Kiran from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?
Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2021
Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…
Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.
Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.
A Rush of Wings by Laura E. Weyworth
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2021
For fans of Serpent & Dove and A House of Salt and Sorrows comes a darkly atmospheric and romantic fantasy about an untrained witch who must unlock her power to free her brothers from a terrible curse and save her home.
Rowenna Winthrop has always known there’s magic within her. But though she hears voices on the wind and possesses unusual talents, her mother Mairead believes Rowenna lacks discipline, and refuses to teach her the craft that keeps their Scottish village safe. And when Mairead dies a sinister death, it seems Rowenna’s only chance to grow into her power has died with her. Then, on a fateful, storm-tossed night, Rowenna rescues a handsome stranger named Gawen from a shipwreck, and her mother miraculously returns from the dead. Or so it appears.
The resurrected Mairead is nothing like the old one. To hide her new monstrous nature, she turns Rowenna’s brothers and Gawen into swans and robs Rowenna of her voice. Forced to flee, Rowenna travels to the city of Inverness to find a way to break the curse. But monsters take many forms, and in Inverness, Rowenna is soon caught in a web of strangers who want to use her raw magic for their own gain. If she wishes to save herself and the people she loves most, Rowenna will have to take her fate into her own hands and unlock the power that has evaded her for so long.
Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away-by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
The Hazel Wood gives a dark twist to fairy tales in a lushly atmospheric book about what it means to create one’s own story. Seventeen-year-old Alice Prosperpine has spent her whole life longing to meet her famous grandmother, author of a cult-classic book of fairy tales. But when her grandmother dies, those tales start coming to life–and they seem to have kidnapped her mother. Only by unraveling her past can Alice restore her family. A wonderfully original tale that mixes magic with horror in an unforgettable way.
Much of the story’s strength lies in its slowly building suspense. Readers may have an idea that Alice’s grandmother’s tales are more than they appear, but Alice does not. Even as “bad luck” surrounds her and the impossible starts to happen, Alice still refuses to see what is in front of her. Only when characters literally start walking out of the stories does Alice truly start to consider what might be happening–and what she might need to do in order to get it to stop.
Even so, the bulk of story is set in the real world, with characters from nightmares flitting in and out to keep things interesting. For many readers, this part of the story may prove the most engaging. It leaves room for the imagination to paint pictures of the wonders–or horrors–that await once Alice finally manages to pass through the magic portal. The culmination of all this suspense may naturally disappoint some, who may not like how the fantasy world of the Hinterland is actually depicted.
For my part, I expected the Hinterland to be a lot more terrible and dangerous than it really is. Alice walks through mostly unscathed, and she finds a number of people who do the same. The promise of blood held out by her grandmother’s tales receives very little follow-through. But, for me, that was okay. I enjoyed the twist the story took, with the real horror being the power of words to create, shape, and destroy.
The Hazel Wood is an intriguing story, one that breaks the mold of YA fantasy and presents readers with something darkly original. While it does have a sequel, the story is satisfying–and perhaps even stronger–on its own.
Whenever Krysta or I bring up the structure of a blog post or the idea of research or evidence in a blog post, we get a flurry of comments to the effect of, “This isn’t school!” No, it isn’t school, but my theory is that the things I learned about writing in school are not ONLY for writing research papers about Shakespeare; they’re also guidelines for how to write things in daily life! So while I admit I don’t put the same amount of rigor and structure into writing for the blog that I would have for a serious academic research paper (I agree; this is still just a hobby!), there are are things I do while writing to try to make my blog posts more cohesive and readable.
Have a Thesis
A “thesis” is just the idea that the text has a main point, and that the main point is clearly stated somewhere in the opening paragraph or introduction (if the introduction is more than one paragraph long). This means that, for discussion posts, I try to make the main argument or question clear in the beginning of the post. For reviews, I try to end the first paragraph with a clear statement of whether or not I enjoyed the book and what main aspects of the book led me to like/dislike it.
Write Topic Sentences
This is probably the area where I’m flakiest on the blog because I put A LOT of effort into writing topic sentences for academic papers, and I don’t put nearly the same amount of thought into them for my blog. However, I do still try to write them! Using topic sentences helps the reader know what the paragraph is going to be focused on, and they help me as the writer stay focused on that thing, whether I’m discussion the pacing of a book, the logic of a plot, or the characterization of a protagonist.
Use Evidence to Back Up My Points
The idea that you should back up your arguments with evidence has been a strangely controversial point on our blog in the past, but I think it’s immensely important! “Evidence” is just the reasons I believe the things I am writing. For a factual discussion post, this could, in fact, mean research and reading studies and articles to cite and link to. For instance, if I want to make a claim that “no one reads audiobooks anyway,” I should probably look up what percentage of readers do (or do not) listen to audiobooks.
The important aspect is recognizing what is “just my opinion” and what is a claim that could be proved or disproved with actual research. I have awkwardly seen book bloggers make (sometimes very angry!) claims about why publishers do X, why ebooks cost Y, why libraries do Z, etc. that are . . . just factually wrong. I know “research,” for a lot of bloggers, sounds like something that they shouldn’t have to do for a hobby they are just doing for fun, but I believe it’s important to try to make accurate claims when possible.
And for topics that ARE more opinion-based, I still think evidence is important! If, for instance, I say in a review that the plot is slow, I try to give an example of why. Or if I say a character is brilliant, I might give an example of a time they did something exceptionally smart.
Evidence is important to help your audience understand why your opinions or arguments are what they are, and help the audience decided whether they agree.
End with a Conclusion
This might be the most obvious point on the list, but I do try to end my posts with some type of conclusion. In a discussion post, I try to sum up the main point and any final information I want the readers to take away. In a review, I make a final point about whether or not I recommend the book to other readers, and why.
Conclusions can also be good for SEO. I’ve read that readers like seeing them, and having a clear conclusion can increase how many people finish reading the post. Using clear heading tags like “introduction” and “conclusion” throughout the post can also be useful for SEO.
And One Thing I Don’t Do As Much As I Should: Proofread
I literally proofread professionally, but I can’t stand reading my own work. Sometimes I reread a post once it’s published and notice some typos I need to clean up, but I admit I don’t do much proofreading of my own drafts. Please forgive me.
There are a lot of excellent middle grade books coming out in fall 2021. Here are 10 of the ones I think are the most interesting! (Ok, one came out in July 2021, but it’s a Halloween book, so you should still read it this autumn!) What fall releases are you looking forward to?
TheRavenHeir by Stephanie Burgis
Release Date: September 14, 2021
Deep within an enchanted forest lies a castle where a set of triplets and their sorceress mother have lived for years–safe from the decades-long war for the Raven Throne that rages in the kingdom. Cordelia, one of the triplets, has the power to become any animal with just a thought, and she yearns to discover more about the world outside her castle.
But one day, the world comes to her, when the eldest of the triplets becomes the newest heir to the throne. Knowing that being named heir means certain death, Cordelia’s mother hid the truth about which child is the eldest when she hid them in the forest. When her family is captured, it’s up to Cordelia to use her powers to keep her siblings hidden and discover the truth about the Raven Heir–before it’s too late.
From the author of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes a thrilling new fantasy full of magic, adventure, and the power of family.
BEASTS AND BEAUTY: DANGEROUS TALES BY SOMAN CHAINANI
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Twelve tales, twelve dangerous tales of mystery, magic, and rebellious hearts. Each twists like a spindle to reveal truths full of warning and triumph, truths that free hearts long kept tame, truths that explore life . . . and death.
A prince has a surprising awakening . . .
A beauty fights like a beast . . .
A boy refuses to become prey . . .
A path to happiness is lost. . . . then found again.
New York Times bestselling author Soman Chainani respins old stories into fresh fairy tales for a new era and creates a world like no other. These stories know you. They understand you. They reflect you. They are tales for our times. So read on, if you dare.
Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzales
Release Date: October 9, 2021
Ivette. Joanna. And now: Katrina
Whatever her name is, it won’t last long. Katrina doesn’t know any of the details about her past, but she does know that she and her parents are part of the Witness Protection Program. Whenever her parents say they have to move on and start over, she takes on a new identity. A new name, a new hair color, a new story.
Until their location leaks and her parents disappear. Forced to embark on a dangerous rescue mission, Katrina and her new friend Parker set out to save her parents — and find out the truth about her secret past and the people that want her family dead.
But every new discovery reveals that Katrina’s entire life has been built around secrets covered up with lies and that her parents were actually the ones keeping the biggest secret of all. Katrina must now decide if learning the whole truth is worth the price of losing everything she has ever believed about herself and her family.
The Halloween Moon by Joseph Fink
Release Date: July 20, 2021
*Review to come on the blog in early October.
Esther Gold loves Halloween more than anything in the world. So she is determined to go trick-or-treating again this year despite the fact that her parents think she is officially too old. Esther has it all planned out, from her costume to her candy-collecting strategy. But when the night rolls around, something feels . . . off.
No one is answering their door. The moon is an unnatural shade of orange. Strange children wander the streets, wearing creepy costumes that might not be costumes at all. And it seems like the only people besides Esther who are awake to see it all are her best friend, her school bully, and her grown-up next-door neighbor.
Together, this unlikely crew must find a way to lift the curse that has been placed upon their small town before it’s too late. Because someone is out to make sure Halloween never comes to an end. And even Esther doesn’t want to be trapped in this night forever.
A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks
Release Date: September 14, 2021
Joy Taylor has always believed home is the house she lived in her entire life. But then her dad lost his job, and suddenly, home becomes a tiny apartment with thin walls, shared bedrooms, and a place for tense arguments between Mom and Dad. Hardest of all, Joy doesn’t have her music to escape through anymore. Without enough funds, her dreams of becoming a great pianist—and one day, a film score composer—have been put on hold.
A friendly new neighbor her age lets Joy in on the complex’s best-kept secret: the Hideout, a cozy refuge that only the kids know about. And it’s in this little hideaway that Joy starts exchanging secret messages with another kid in the building who also seems to be struggling, until—abruptly, they stop writing back. What if they’re in trouble?
Joy is determined to find out who this mystery writer is, fast, but between trying to raise funds for her music lessons, keeping on a brave face for her little sister, and worrying about her parents’ marriage, Joy isn’t sure how to keep her own head above water.
The Shattered Castle by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Release Date: October 19, 2021
King Jaron has outwitted the Prozarians and returned to his own kingdom with one secret in his pocket that not even his friends know about. He’s hoping that secret will help him finally bring stability to Carthya.
But a surprise attack on his own land — on the castle itself — reminds Jaron that nothing is easy. The Prozarian Monarch threatens to crumble Jaron’s entire kingdom. And that’s not the only thing in danger: With old enemies and new rumors circling around him, even Jaron’s relationship with Imogen is uncertain.
This former False Prince will need his best tricks and many allies at his side to hold Carthya together.
Barakah Beats by Maleeha Siddiqui
Release Date: October 7, 2021
Twelve-year-old Nimra Sharif has spent her whole life in Islamic school, but now it’s time to go to “real school.”
Nimra’s nervous, but as long as she has Jenna, her best friend who already goes to the public school, she figures she can take on just about anything.
Unfortunately, middle school is hard. The teachers are mean, the schedule is confusing, and Jenna starts giving hijab-wearing Nimra the cold shoulder around the other kids.
Desperate to fit in and get back in Jenna’s good graces, Nimra accepts an unlikely invitation to join the school’s popular 8th grade boy band, Barakah Beats. The only problem is, Nimra was taught that music isn’t allowed in Islam, and she knows her parents would be disappointed if they found out. So she devises a simple plan: join the band, win Jenna back, then quietly drop out before her parents find out.
But dropping out of the band proves harder than expected. Not only is her plan to get Jenna back working, but Nimra really likes hanging out with the band-they value her contributions and respect how important her faith is to her. Then Barakah Beats signs up for a talent show to benefit refugees, and Nimra’s lies start to unravel. With the show only a few weeks away and Jenna’s friendship hanging in the balance, Nimra has to decide whether to betray her bandmates-or herself.
The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu
Release Date: October 12, 2021
*Review to come on the blog in September
If no one notices Marya Lupu, it is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.
The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread.
For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy–a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.
Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself–things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built.
Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death. Narrated in a voice reminiscent of The Book Thief and Lemony Snicket, this fast-paced adventure is perfect for fans of literary fiction fantasy such as A Wish in the Dark and The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
Tidesong by Wendy Xu
Release Date: November 16, 2021
*Review to come on the blog in October
Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy—the best magic school in the realm—even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.
Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.
Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t—beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?
A new, feminist translation of Beowulf by the author of The Mere Wife.
Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf — and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world — there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings to light elements never before translated into English.
A man seeks to prove himself as a hero. A monster seeks silence in his territory. A warrior seeks to avenge her murdered son. A dragon ends it all. These familiar components of the epic poem are seen with a novelist’s eye toward gender, genre, and history. Beowulf has always been a tale of entitlement and encroachment — of powerful men seeking to become more powerful and one woman seeking justice for her child — but this version brings new context to an old story. While crafting her contemporary adaptation, Headley unearthed significant shifts lost over centuries of translation; her Beowulf is one for the twenty-first century.
This is a difficult review for me to write because, on one hand, I understand what Maria Dahvana Headley is doing with this translation. She’s making Beowulf more modern and accessible, and she’s using her translation to draw out a new interpretation of the story, one where Grendel’s mother is a grief-stricken mom before than a monster and where Beowulf and company are still impressive warriors but also kind of bragging dude bros who don’t know everything. I see her vision, and I get where she’s coming from. On the other hand: it just isn’t my thing.
I’ve read a number of translations of Beowulf (such as Heaney’s and Tolkien’s), and I’ve written a post for the blog about whether the story is one of adventure or one of loss. I LIKE the old feel of the story and I like the translator interpretation that Beowulf used antiquated language when it was written; it sounded old to its first Anglo-Saxon listeners. I like feeling that I’m in a far-off time and place where the things that mattered to people are sometimes strikingly familiar and sometimes completely foreign. I’m not really into a version of Beowulf where Beowulf calls everyone, including kings, “bro” and the narrator calls Beowulf Hrothgar’s “new best boy.”
I also didn’t think the combo old/new language meshed. Maria Dahvana Headley talks in the introduction about how she wants the story to be approachable and how she wants it to sound like someone telling a story, like something someone would say. Except, well, none of it sounds like something anyone would say. I cannot imagine someone standing somewhere and saying these lines:
I’ve racked my brain, bro, but, Unferth, I can’t unpack any similar stories of heroics from you. Let me say it straight: You don’t rate and neither did Breca when it came to battle. The gulf? You’re cattle, and I’m a wolf . . . (581-586)
There’s something about the way that the translation sometimes uses the Anglo-Saxon language (ex. kennings like “whale-road”) and sometimes uses modern language (ex. “daddy” or “bullshit”) and fits into some poetic meter that isn’t quite Anglo-Saxon but clearly based around it that all comes across as awkward to me. And who would really brag to someone by saying, “The gulf?” and then calling the other person cattle? I get that all this is actually the appeal of this translation to many people, but I didn’t like it.
The one part I did like is that Grendel’s mother truly gets a better light here. She’s still metaphorically a monster and she still has to die, but Headley translates her as just a woman who is (reasonably) upset her son has been killed. Headley makes the point that the Old English wording doesn’t mean she actually has to be labelled a hag or monster or swamp thing or whatever else translators have come up with. She can just be a woman who lives in the mere, who has an impressive hoard of weapons and a lot of strength.
So, if you like Beowulf, this is definitely worth looking into just as a new perspective on the story. If you don’t like Beowulf or you’ve always been intimidated by old-timey language translations, this could also be of interest to you. Again, it’s just not for me. I’m glad I read it once, but I don’t think I’ll be rereading it for any reason.
High above the sea, floats the pristine city of the Heliana. Home to winged-lion shapeshifters―the Leonodai―and protected from the world of humans by an elite group of warriors, the Heliana has only known peace.
After years of brutal training, seventeen-year-old Rowan is ready to prove her loyalty to the city and her people to become one of the Leonodai warriors. But before Rowan can take the oath, a deadly disease strikes the city’s children. Soon the warriors―including two of Rowan’s closest friends―are sent on a dangerous mission to find a fabled panacea deep within enemy lands.
Left behind, Rowan learns a devastating truth that could compromise the mission and the fate of the Heliana itself. She must make a decision: stay with the city and become a warrior like she always dreamed, or risk her future in an attempt to save everyone she loves. Whatever Rowan decides, she has to do it fast, because time is running out, and peace can only last so long…
I could tell while reading The Endless Skies that this is definitely a book that began with a premise — there are people who can shapeshift between human and flying lion form — and that suspicion was confirmed when I read the acknowledgements and Price said the book began with a dream of a lion/person in a grotto. Unfortunately, I don’t think the story Price built around that premise was particularly interesting, and I struggled for a long time trying to figure out what the fact that there are lion people as the protagonists even added to the book. It’s cool, but it seemed the plot could have been told with ordinary humans in their role. This had potential, and I was excited enough about it that I started reading it on release day, but ultimately I was let down by vague world building and characters who couldn’t capture my interest at all.
Plot-wise, the book banks a lot on telling. It tells the readers that Rowan’s warrior training is “brutal” so we know she’s some some of badass warrior who’s sacrificed everything to train to defend her city, but we don’t really see what makes it brutal. Then readers are told that the mission to find the “fabled panacea within enemy lands” is incredibly dangerous, but it was hard for me to feel there was danger. Readers know the two peoples are at war, so sure there are going to be some obstacles, but it didn’t strike me that this mission was going to be the most wild and terrible and treacherous task anyone had ever undertaken. I was underwhelmed.
And the characters couldn’t save the book for me. To start, the book is told from three POV’s, and the choices seem a bit random. One is Rowan, whom the book summary places as the “actual” main character, but there’s also her older sister (who is in her mid-twenties, so an interesting choice for a YA narrator) and Rowan’s childhood best friend/one of the love interests. All of them felt a bit lifeless to me. I didn’t care about Rowan. I didn’t feel any particular sisterly relationship between Rowan and her older sister, so this narrator might as well have been unrelated to her for all I cared, and I had no investment in the love triangle. Both love interests were boring. Finally, several people died in the book, and I didn’t care about them either, possibly because none of the characters seemed to beyond taking a couple sentences to say they were sad but needed to move on with their lives.
In fact, the entire premise of the plot left me feeling cold, which is that little children (and only little children) are dying of some mysterious disease. It feels as if Price is counting on the fact that this situation is just inherently distressing, that any reader would OF COURSE be horrified by little children getting sick and possibly dying because that would be horrifying in our old world. (Just look at the COVID-19 pandemic, where one of the major refrains is that “at least children aren’t particularly at risk” because it would be heartbreaking if they were.) However . . . readers don’t know any of the sick children in THE ENDLESS SKIES. The three main characters don’t know them either. I think Price could have done a lot more work to make me feel invested in this situation on a personal level, rather than relying on the fact that it’s just generally sad.
This was a big miss for me. I was excited about the book, and I like to think that Tor usually publishes great stuff in their imprint, but this felt very surface-level. I didn’t care about practically anything that was happening, and that made it boring.
Cindy Moon exploded out of her bunker and into the Marvel Universe when we first learned that she had been bitten by the same radioactive spider from the Spider-Verse arc of Amazing Spider-Man!
She then went on to save Peter Parker’s life (more than once!) and traverse the Spider-Verse alongside Spider-Woman. Now, as Silk, Cindy is on her own in New York City, searching for her past, defining her own future, and webbing up wrong-doers along the way! Robbie Thompson (writer from TV’s Supernatural) fills this new story with his unique blend of antics and feels. Featuring interiors by future superstar Stacey Lee.
Collecting: Silk (2015) 1-7
I wanted to read about Silk since I read Michael’s post “The Strength of Silk – Cindy Moon May Be Marvel’s Most Inspiring Hero” because I loved the idea that there is a character who is so unselfish that she decided to isolate herself in a bunker for ten years in order to save the world – and only came out against her will. I was not disappointed by this first installment, as I did indeed find a heroine who truly looks out for others and who also tries to see the best in them, even when others don’t.
In hindsight, I do wish I’d read whatever comic we first meet Cindy in, or whatever comic in which Peter Parker lets her out of the bunker. (Someone help me out here and tell me what to read!) This one starts with Cindy already out, exploring the world and trying to figure herself out now that she has to interact with other people, learn to use her superpowers, hold a job, make friends, possibly date, etc. Her backstory is explained, so following the story isn’t a problem, but I did feel a bit as if I were missing the fuller experience of having read about how Cindy and Peter first meet.
I enjoyed the story as it is, however. Cindy is personable. She has small moments of not understanding how the world progressed without her (like, what is Twitter?), and she’s not afraid to make some lighthearted self-deprecating remarks or to admit when she’s not quite getting something. This balances out the fact she’s, of course, incredibly talented and literally has superpowers. I also like the moments she engages with other people, like her friends at work or even some random bad guy she’s supposed to be beating up. It’s fun because, one one hand, she knows exactly who she is: the girl/woman who had the strength to give up everything to help others, but, one the other hand, she still has some things to figure out.
The one downside is that multiple artists worked on this volume, and I strongly prefer the installments done by Stacey Lee. I supposed varying artists is a thing with comics and can even be part of the appeal, but I did experience some disappointment when I realized I’d have to read an installment with art I liked less. However, Lee’s art is a bit on the cute side (one of the reasons I like it), but one could argue some of the artists do a better job making Cindy look older; she ought to be about 28, if she spent 10 years in a bunker starting as a teen.
Overall, this was a great read. I am definitely interested in continuing to learn more about Silk!