Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1 by Amy Reeder, et al

Information

Goodreads: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF
Series: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Lunella Lafayette is the smartest character in the Marvel universe.  And she’s only nine.  But right now, she’s not worried about that.  She’s worried about the terrigan clouds that will one day activate her Inhuman gene and make her into something she is not.  Lunella is prepared to find some Kree technology so she can stop the transformation before it happens.  Unfortunately, when a dinosaur appears in NYC, along with a bunch of villains called the Killer Folk, Lunella finds her plans suddenly became a lot more complicated.

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Review

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is a fun story about a nine-year-old girl whose life is interrupted by the appearance of a giant fire-breathing dinosaur.  At first, Lunella Lafayette wants nothing to do with a dinosaur who keeps ruining her plans to reverse engineer some Kree technology and find a way to stop her Inhuman genes from becoming activated.  However, Lunella eventually realizes that it’s not so bad having a dino on your side, after all.

I do not read many comics, but Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is  a largely independent read.  That is, it might help to know more about the Inhumans and the terrigan clouds, but the book provides enough information to situate new readers.  The story is self-contained, aside from a fun appearance by the Hulk.  However, again, readers do not need to know anything about the Hulk to understand his part in the action or enjoy his jokes.  His background or current history is completely irrelevant because, in the end, this is the story of Lunella and her aversion to change.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is a short volume, but I have already fallen in love with Lunella’s spunk, her independence, her confidence.  She sees what she wants and she goes after it, no matter the cost.  The introduction of Devil Dinosaur is, of course, humorous–a rampaging dinosaur in NYC can’t help but confuse the locals, even if they are accustomed to superheroes.  But it also suggests that Lunella is ready to be a little vulnerable, find a friend, and accept help.  The team they form will surely be epic.

4 stars

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Mini Reviews (6)

Piper by Jay Asher, Jessica Freeburg, and Jeff Stokely

This graphic novel, illustrated by Eisner-nominated comic book artist Jeff Stokely, retells the story of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.”  It proposes to expand upon it by adding the character of Maggie, a teenage girl who lost her hearing during childhood.  The other villagers now treat her cruelly because she is different, but she tries to see value in everyone. (Or so she says.  This does not explain her vengeful habit of writing stories in which the villagers all die gruesome deaths as punishment for being mean to her.)  But adding Maggie as a love interest does not really shed light on the story of the Pied Piper and the motivations of most of the characters remain obscure.  It seems like not explaining anything is supposed to make the readers think the characters are “complicated” and “mysterious,” but it’s really just confusing– much like watching an episode of Doctor Who written by Steven Moffat.  Ultimately, the artwork is the one redeeming quality this book has.  (Source: Library) Two Stars.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Now that I have finally read Six of Crows, I see why it remains a favorite among book bloggers.  The characters are criminals, rough around the edges and addicted to gambling, thrill-seeking, and money, but they still capture the sympathy of readers.  Leigh Bardugo makes them come alive in all their complexity, so that readers do not scorn their weaknesses, but hope that they can overcome them and become the better parts of themselves that they keep hidden.  The plot itself is gripping and complex, and it is all set in a wonderfully magical world.  But is the characters and their tenuous bonds to each other that really make the book.  (Source: Gift) Five Stars.

The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopolus

Zed, a half-Elf and son to a servant, and his best friend Brock, son to a successful merchant, dream of joining two of the High Guilds: the Mages and the Merchants.  Instead, they find themselves members of the Adventurers Guild, a motley crew who typically die young as their job is to protect the city from the monsters that lurk just outside the walls.  The resulting plot seems a lot like an RPG, so it’s not surprising that the author bio says both authors play D&D.  This is not necessarily bad.  I am more concerned that the characters are not engaging and have confusing (read: unexplained) motivations; it is just not normal for multiple characters to make major, dangerous deals without any sort of forethought.  It makes one wonder if they even know whose side they are supposed to be on.  The rest of the plot is pretty standard fantasy, nothing exciting but pleasantly engaging.  I am not particularly interested in reading the sequel.  (Source: Library) Three Stars.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 7: Damage Per Second by G. Willow Wilson

I find the Ms. Marvel comics to be somewhat uneven in quality. Vol. 7, however, is one of the stronger installments. It is quickly paced, features some chilling moments for our heroine along with the necessity for hard choices, and highlights some of Kamala’s friends– a welcome addition to the story as some of their problems are far more interesting than hers. I like that this volume does not rehash Kamala’s feelings of stress and insecurity, but instead naturally shows the toll of keeping secrets. (Source: Library) Four Stars.

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

The Wicked Deep

Information

Goodreads: The Wicked Deep
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: March 6, 2018

Official Summary

Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

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Review

The Wicked Deep promises to be a book full of suspense and mystery. Set in a small coastal town cursed by three witches the residents drowned 200 years ago, the book has hints of magic, secrets, and revenge. Yet, compelling as this is, I couldn’t help but feel that the book sounds like a million other YA books I’ve already read.

Familiar tropes are all here. The outcast teen girl who lives on the lighthouse island. The mysterious boy who blows into town who becomes an instant love interest. The three witch sisters, where two are ruthless but the youngest is kind. Even the “witches by the sea” premise isn’t new. Salt & Storm instantly comes to mind as another example.

The book is solid. I bought into the characters. The setting is well-developed. The author even tries to answer the obvious question of “Why don’t people leave this cursed town?” I just wasn’t wowed by the book. I was hoping for something really atmospheric, something really witchy. I got a typical YA romance with a predictable plot. Overall, I feel neutral about this. I guess I can add it to my unofficial list of books that are exciting if you are new to reading YA but not if you are a veteran.

3 Stars Briana

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Geekerella

Information

Goodreads: Geekerella
Series: Starfield #1
Source: Quirk Books for Review
Published: April 4, 2017

Official Summary

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad’s old costume, Elle’s determined to win – unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons – before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake – until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

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Review

I love fairy tale retellings, but if you had asked me before I read Geekerella if it were possible for someone to write a take on “Cinderella” that felt fresh, I probably would have said no.  The plot line is so well-known and in some ways so straightforward that I don’t even read a lot of retellings of it anymore; I tend to turn towards more obscure fairy tales.  However Poston’s take on geeky Cinderella who meets her Prince Charming at a con does put a lively twist on the tale, even as it follows the well-worn lines of the story. I don’t think I’ve had this much fun reading a book in a long time.

The book raises some interesting questions about what it means to be a “true fan” of something and explores the good and bad sides of geek culture. I’ve seen some arguments that the premise is absurd because geeks aren’t even outcasts anymore, and while it’s true that geek culture has never been more mainstream, I think it’s important to note here that Elle and her ilk are hardcore fans of the fictional show Starfield.  We’re not talking the type of fan who, say, just really likes The Lord of the Rings or Star Trek. We’re talking about the type of fan who speaks Elvish or can tell you what color earring someone was wearing in in scene 3 of episode 12.  I think these type of fans do still get side-eyed for being a bit weird.

However, ultimately the story is just pure fun, and I don’t think readers should over-think it.  The most common description I’ve seen is “super cute,” and this hits the right note.  So, while parts do read as “unrealistic” (I mean, a teenage fashion designer driving a vegan food truck named the Magic Pumpkin who goes on a badass mission with it, mowing over barriers at a country club does strain credulity), that’s part of the appeal. Geekerella is a crazy, improbable, but amazingly enviable adventure where the geeky girl next door has a chance to nab a movie star boyfriend who shares her geeky interests! So, yeah, cute.

This book will resonate with readers who have ever felt out-of-place or who ever just dreamed of something this unlikely happening to them. “Cinderella” is all about the right circumstances converging to make someone’s life brighter than it had been before, and Poston taps into that to write a compelling take that walks the line between normal high school life and fantasy. Definitely a recommended read from me.

Note: Goodreads tells me this is the first book in a series, but it definitely reads as a standalone. It looks as if book 2 might be a companion book more than a sequel.

4 stars Briana

Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill

Information

Goodreads: Ever the Hunted
Series: Clash of Kingdoms #1
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

Seventeen-year-old Britta Flannery is about to lose everything.  Her father has been murdered, she is starving due to her two months’ of mourning, and the king will soon repossess her father’s property.  So when she is caught poaching, she takes a deal: her life in exchange for the life of her father’s murderer.  Unfortunately, the high lord claims that the murderer is the man she loves.

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Review

“Bravery is a choice that is yours to make. Don’t let fear steal your will.”

 

Sometimes I read a book to the end and am not sure why I wasted my time.  Ever the Hunted is one of those books that makes me mourn for the lost hours I will never regain.  With its cliche and predictable plot, its oblivious (yet super powerful) heroine, and its cringe-inducing prose, Ever the Hunted has little to recommend it beyond its pretty cover.

Readers will have identified the true murderer about thirty pages into the story.  However, Erin Summerill still makes us slog through nearly 400 pages to get to the big “revelation.”   This does not merely make the book dull; it also makes the protagonists look incredibly dense.  After all, upon learning that someone appears to be manipulating the king, they stand around in pure bafflement, totally overlooking the man who makes all the decisions.  Upon learning that the king’s guard may be involved, they overlook the man who is in charge of the king’s guard.  Upon finding some information, they decide that their best option is to take this information to the man who obviously committed the crime.

This level of obtuseness is especially difficult to sympathize with because at least three people manage to ignore all the warning signs. Plus, it is coupled with that all-too-common phenomenon: the protagonist who is super powerful and super skilled, yet still manages to do nothing useful.  Britta wants us to believe she is a Strong Female who is one of the best trackers in the kingdom (and she possesses unusually strong magic!  No one saw that coming!).  Still, she manages to walk into multiple traps.  She is captured five times in one novel.  And readers can always see the next capture coming because Britta possesses almost no agency; she actually needs to get captured for the plot to advance and for her to get to where she needs to go.

Other moments in the book are just as predictable, often because they are cliche or tropey.  (Potential spoilers ahead!)  There is an implied love triangle, of course.  There is the “revelation” of Britta’s super rare magic. There is the “revelation” that Britta has some relatives still hanging about.  (And I’d bet that she has still more in the sequel.)  And, worst of all, there is the on-again, off-again relationship.  In fact, though the book seems like a fantasy, it is actually a romance, with 90% of Britta’s thoughts being taken up by her friend Cohen’s body.  She really wants him, but has trust issues.  But they kiss a lot.  But it can’t mean anything.  Because even though she is blonde and blue-eyed and super pretty, she’s actually ugly.  So no one could ever love her.  She should break it off.  Except somehow she keeps finding herself making out with him.  It’s really confusing.  But she’ll get back to us with her final decision about breaking it off once she finishes kissing him again.

This is all capped off with the cringe-inducing prose.  Britta, of course, really loves to wax poetic about her hair because what woman isn’t obsessed with describing her physical attributes in words like this:  “My hair, which is usually bound in a braid, falls past my shoulders, a veil of pale blond that shines silver in the moonlight.”  She’ll return to describing her hair throughout the novel.  She also really loves to talk about Cohen’s body and her reaction to it.  A lot.  With awkward descriptions.  And drama?  Apparently all you need to do in order to build drama is to write everything in short sentences, until the reader wants to scream.

I saw mixed reviews about this one and initially was not going to read it.  I wish I had stuck with my first decision.  This is one of the worst books I have ever read, and I truly regret that YA has come to a place where this book can sell successfully enough to get two sequels.  The YA market is capable of producing and supporting well-written books with vivid world-building, beautiful prose, and strong characterization.  I wish I could see more of those types of books being sold.

2 star review

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

A Skinful of Shadows

Information

GoodreadsA Skinful of Shadows
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: September 2017

Official Summary

This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .

Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there’s a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.”

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Review

Hardinge’s works always verges on the mildly weird for me, but I think her unique premises and rich imagination are what make her stand out in a YA market that, at times, can seem filled with books that all sound the same.  In A Skinful of Shadows, readers are taken to a version of seventeenth century England where one powerful family has a dark secret—they can store the souls of the dead in their own bodies—and the protagonist has to decide what she will do with her morbid “talent.”

Strange as this book is, I think it’s partially what I wanted and didn’t get from Reign of the Fallen (though in many ways the two books couldn’t be more different). It’s gripping, dark but not too dark, and interested in tough questions about life, death, and letting go—in terms of both the living letting go of the dead and the dying letting go of their lives.  Whether being able to hold onto the souls of the dead is a good or bad thing is an open question here.

I also enjoyed reading about the protagonist, a strong girl who somehow doesn’t come across as the “strong female character,” people are beginning to recognize as a YA stereotype. Perhaps it’s because her strengths tend to be things like tenacity, individuality, conviction, etc. rather than fighting prowess or sassiness.  She’s also pretty good at recognizing her own flaw and that, in some ways, she’s not that remarkable of a person (barring the being able to inhale and hold dead people’s souls thing).

Also, for those interested in these types of reads, there is no romance in this book. The focus is on the plot and on the sibling relationship between the main character and her half-brother.

I heartily recommend Frances Hardinge for fans of fantasy and those just looking for something a bit different.

5 stars Briana

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

Information

Goodreads: Long May She Reign
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Feb. 2017

Summary

As twenty-third in line to the throne, Freya never expected to be queen.  But someone poisons nearly the entire court at a banquet and suddenly the reclusive teen is expected to rule a nation.  Unfortunately, Freya never paid much attention to the court or to the country.  She imagines she can leave the ruling to the council but, with a murderer still at large, trusting others may cost Freya her life.

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Review

“Perhaps you’ll have to kiss him again, if you’re not sure. Gather more evidence. In the name of science.”

Long May She Reign is one of those books with a protagonist readers are supposed to cheer because she “isn’t like the other girls.”  Unfortunately, this makes her all too much like a host of other YA protagonists.  Freya, you see, would rather conduct experiments in her lab than attend to the court.  And she detests girls like Madeleine Wolff who are pretty and adept at navigating social situations with wit and grace.  After all, who needs social skills when you’re so much more intellectual than all those other rich people?

To be fair, Freya does grow throughout the book.  She learns that she really should have been paying attention to the rules of court if she wants to survive there. And she begins to learn that there are people in the city with larger problems than “my dad wants me to go to a party and I don’t wanna.”  Readers will likely want to cheer her along her journey because she comes across as such an underdog.  As twenty-third in line to the throne and a teenager, she’s really like a lamb being thrown to the wolves.  She assumes she can trust other people in the court to attend to matters that they are supposed to know more about.  She has to find out the hard way that there’s a difference between relying on others’ knowledge and being negligent.

But I didn’t pick up this book for Freya; I wanted a book with court intrigue.  In this regard, Long May She Reign did a decent, if not spectacular job. We do see some of the inner workings of court politics and those politics  make more sense than most of the politics I see in YA.  I’m still wondering why Freya has so much free time and freedom to go sneaking around the castle and the city–with a man!–(doesn’t she have…laws to read and sign off on?  or something?) and I didn’t find the ending overly convincing.  (It assumes that the populace is ignorant and susceptible, which seems odd.  I didn’t get the general impression that science was something that could easily delude scores of people, many of whom are educated.  Unless we are supposed to accept the implied explanation that religious people are…dumb and not interested in science?)  However, I recognize that most readers of YA don’t share my enthusiasm for logical plots, so I don’t think these attributes will hurt the story for the general reader.

Long May She Reign is a fairly standard YA fantasy.  It features a typical “different than the others” heroine, a romance that falls into tropes towards the end, and an over-simplified vision of politics.  Still, it’s not a bad way to spend a few days.

3 Stars