Book review: Apex, by Mercedes Lackey

Lackey, Mercedes. Apex. (Hunter Novels, book 3) Hyperion, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9781484707869. 295 pages. Ages 12-16. P7Q7

In the third book of Mercedes Lackey’s Hunter trilogy, Elite Hunter Joyeaux Charmand is a member of a special forces squad tasked with defending the city of Apex from the monsters and denizens of the Othersiders.  Joy’s Hounds—also denizens of Otherside—work with her to hunt and destroy the monsters attacking human homes and settlements.  Apex is also guarded by the PsiCorps, powerful psychics under the command of the politically ambitious Abigail Drift. With attacks both from within the city and from outside, the Hunter Corps are whittled down and the advent of a Folk Mage directing and controlling armies of monsters threaten to overwhelm the city.  When ex-boyfriend and PsiCorps member Josh asks Joy for help, she is at first wary of a possible trap, but instead, Josh offers information that points to a political trap aimed at her uncle and at the Elite Hunters.

Verdict: A dystopian military fantasy with a good sprinkling of political maneuvering.  Hunter, the first volume in the series, received a starred review from Kirkus, and Apex is a gripping finale to the series.  I have not read the first books in the trilogy and because the author included hints of the backstory, I was able to understand the complicated personal and political pieces from the earlier stories.  Recommended for public, middle- and high-school libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

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Book review: Six Words Fresh off the Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America by Writers Famous and Obscure, edited by Larry Smith

 Six Words Fresh off the Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America by Writers Famous and Obscure. Edited by Larry Smith. Kingswell, 2017. $15.99. ISBN 978-136800838-9. 209 pgs. Ages 10-adult. P8/Q9

This book is a refreshing look into a complex subject. Six-word memoirs is a popular series where people are asked to describe their life in six words. This installment has an interesting twist where the focus is on immigration. Peppered through the book are poems, short stories, and anecdotes from immigrants and families of immigrants detailing their own experiences. The writers and producers of the new hit comedy, “Fresh off the Boat,” helped in the creation of this book and the levity is obvious. In a world where immigration is a fiercely contested and at times contentious subject hearing from those it directly affects is a great glimpse into what makes America truly diverse and amazing.

Verdict: Although initially I was apprehensive I found this book extremely enjoyable and easy to read. I gave it a popularity of 8 due to the series already being well known and well publicized. The quality to me is a 9 because instead of focusing on either the humor or the seriousness and at times sadness that immigration involves the editors were able to fuse both together in a way that would make this a great book for classrooms to help delve into the discussion of immigration. I also appreciated the information in the introduction regarding the available free teacher guide that you can download online. This book would be a great resource in middle and high school libraries as well as classrooms. I like the smaller size of the book and hardback binding. It feels sturdy in your hands but can be carried without being cumbersome. The use of multiple fonts and illustrations helped to break the book into section yet kept the flow of the book.

November 2017 review by Michelle Cottrell

Book review: Thornhill, by Pam Smy

Smy, Pam. Thornhill. Roaring Brook, 2017. $19.99. 539p. ISBN  978-1-626-72654-3. Ages 13+. P9Q10

Darkness, both in narrative and illustrations, highlight the tragic story of Ella Clarke, a lonely girl in a new town who slowly learns about the misery of another teenage girl living in an orphanage across from her house 35 years earlier. As the girl looks out the window at the deserted building and onto its untended surrounding land, she is drawn to investigate Thornhill and discovers the reason for the fire that destroyed the facility just days before the last few girls were to be moved to foster homes. The story is one of cruel bullying, horrific neglect by adult caretakers, and the loss of hope leading to the end of lives. Each brief chapter from the orphan girl’s diary is prefaced by magnificent two-page spreads that extend the plot and characters.

Verdict: Smy’s debut novel is an engrossing tale of harrowing persecution leading to revenge, an unforgettable and chilling revelation of abuse and desperation. An excellent choice for Neil Gaiman fans of Coraline and The Graveyard Book.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman

Pullman, Philip. La Belle Sauvage. (The Book of Dust, volume 1). Knopf, 2017. $22.99. 449p. ISBN 978-0-375-81530-0. Ages 11-15. P7Q10

The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights), the first book in Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials is 22 years old, and the author is celebrating it with a companion “equel,” a trilogy that begins with Compass protagonist Lyra Belacqua as an infant hidden in a priory in the country. Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead, an innkeeper’s son, takes on the responsibility of protecting Lyra while he learns about a secret Church society from Hannah Relf, a spy who is training herself to read the alethiometer, a method of communicating with Dust. The plot builds when Malcolm takes the baby away from her would-be evil capturers with the help of sour teenage kitchen worker, Alice. The book is replete with villains—disgraced theologian Gerard Bonneville, the children who follow a Church cult, the Consistorial Court of Discipline, and the children’s protective society. Much of the book is consumed with the children’s escape in Malcolm’s canoe, La Belle Sauvage, which was refurbished by Lyra’s father after Malcolm helped him escape early in the book. Joy, humor, and help for the humans come from their daemons, animal-like creatures that represent the subjects’ souls and cannot be separated from their humans while they are alive.

Verdict: As in his other books, the writing and the characters shine, and the world-building is fascinating. Woven into the plot are non-didactic discussions of physics and religion. The striving for free speech and thought against a totalitarian theocracy ring true in a way that readers can identify with the philosophical concepts. The next book in La Belle Sauvage, The Secret Commonwealth, begins ten years after The Golden Compass, making La Belle Sauvage a “surround” for His Dark Materials. The Book of Dust is highly recommended.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Giant Pumpkin Suite, by Melanie Heuiser Hill

Hill, Melanie Heuiser. Giant Pumpkin Suite. Candlewick, 2017. $16.99. 434p. ISBN 978-0-7636-8155-4. Ages 12-15. P7Q9

Talented twelve-year-old Rose is driven to do everything to perfection, especially playing the Bach Cello Suites that could get her a scholarship with a famous maestro. Her life changes in a second, however, when an accident on a table saw badly injures her hand, and she is forced into different paths. Fortunately, she had started to build a support system when a project in growing a giant pumpkin with her twin, Thomas, and her elderly neighbor had caused her to reach out more to the people around her. First-time author draws out the characterizations of these people and Rose’s other family, her mother and grandmother. The theme of change, sometimes from unwanted circumstances, is prevalent as Rose learns to face her recovery from surgery, her growing relationship with Thomas, and her developing understanding of people as she discovers that they are not all one-dimensional.

Verdict: Rose’s frustrations, including body image as she towers 14 inches over her twin and has overly curly hair, are skillfully dealt with in her third-person narrative, and her personal growth throughout her twelfth summer shows the value of adaptation to different situations. One criticism might be that the book addresses too many issues, but it is long—another potential criticism—and can handle these. Young people concerned about the length probably read series books, and this book almost has a break in the middle. Reading the book, replete with multicultural characters bonding over the pumpkin growing, is like watching a warm family movie. This excellent beginning promises more good writing from this author.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: A Fiery Friendship, by Lisa Fiedler, created by Gabriel Gale, illustrated by Sebastian Giacobino

Fiedler, Lisa. A Fiery Friendship. (Gabriel Gale’s Ages of Oz, book 1). Illus. by Sebastian Giacobino. Created by Gabriel Gale. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017. $17.99. 418p. ISBN 9781481469715. Ages 11-15. P7Q7

Before a tornado in Kansas sweeping up a girl with her dog, Toto, 13-year-old Glinda, later the Good Witch of the South in Frank’s Baum’s series, lived in Oz with her mother who broke the four Wicked Witches’ rule by trying to return Princess Ozma to the throne. When they are separated, Glinda makes friends with three very different characters and sets off in the midst of danger to save her mother from a castle. Characters such as a winged monkey and Nick Chopper reflect Baum’s books.

Verdict: The social issues in the book include the inequality of the genders, and the rich writing provides vivid images of Glinda’s surroundings. Fantastical detailed black and white full-page illustrations bring more dimension to the characters and adventures. The beginning of the book draws in the reader as Glinda struggles in school, but the increasingly frenetic adventure leads to chaos that focuses on plot with little character development. The next book in the series is The Dark Descent. 

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: The Golden Compass: the Graphic Novel, by Philip Pullman, adapted by Stephaine Melchior, translated by Annie Eaton

Pullman, Philip. Adapt. By Stephanie Melchior-Durand. Trans. By Annie Eaton. Art by Clément Oubrerie. The Golden Compass: the Graphic Novel. (His Dark Materials). Knopf, 2017. $21.99. 224p. ISBN 978-0-553-53516-7. Ages 11-14. P8Q9

Lyra Belacqua leaves the safety of her life among the scholars of Jordan College at Oxford to solve the mysteries of children stolen by the Gobblers and separated from their daemons in an adventure that leads her to the far North to rescue her father. Many pieces of the plot will entice young readers—the alethiometer that can portray the future, the animal daemons that all people have, and most of all the classic hero journey to save the world. Originally published in France in three parts, this edition combines all three in one volume.

Verdict: While staying true to the Pullman’s original novel, published in 1995, the artwork expands the understanding, for example the variety of positions that the witch assumes while flying through the night sky of the North. The darkness of much of the artwork clearly depicts the danger surrounding the characters, and the visuals of the huge and jagged northern landscape are superbly colored.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward