January 24, 2019

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:24 pm by suebe2

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge
by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Goblins and elves have been at war for over 100 years, this in spite of the fact that they used to co-exist.

But elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission.  He has been sent with a peace-offering, an artifact discovered while digging in a palace garden.

His host is the goblin archivist Werfel who is thrilled to be honored to host such an important guest.

But Brangwain Spurge is more than he seems.  He has been sent to spy on the goblins and scout out their weaknesses.  Each night he enters a trance and sends back images of the goblin kingdom.  And that’s where Yelchin’s detailed art work comes into play.  Readers will immediately wonder how the city Werfel is describing with such enthusiasm and joy can be the horror experienced by Spurge.

Cultural misunderstandings as well as willful double crosses fill this book.  When Spurge arrives both he and Werfel are certain that goblins and elves are very different. Their foods, their music, all of their habits are different.  Goblins even shed their skins.  Disgusting!

I don’t want to summarize any more of the story because I don’t want to give it away.  It is no wonder that this book was a finalist for the National Book Award.  Titles chosen for this award are timely.  They deal with topics straight from the headlines.  For this book those would include prejudice, assumption and misunderstanding as well as eventual hope.

The combination of text and art gives readers insight that they wouldn’t have in a story that was text alone.  There are also dual story lines with elven memos explaining why Spurge was sent, Spurge sharing his perspective based on what he was told, and Werfel filling in the goblin perspective.

This book is so hard to describe.  Tolkien meets Mission Impossible?

And its clear that Yelchin and Anderson had a blast in creating this book.  Blast.  It’s a bit of an inside joke – read the book and you’ll get it.


January 16, 2019

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:36 pm by suebe2

Trail of Lightning
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Saga Press

Outside the wall, much of the world is now underwater, drowned beneath rising seas brought on by climate change.  Within the wall, Dinetah has been transformed.  What was once the Navajo Reservation in the four corners (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado), is now a land overrun by magic.

That wouldn’t be all bad except some of this magic comes in the form of monsters and monsters can kill you.  Maggie Hoskie doesn’t want to use her clan powers but if anyone else goes after the monster that just snatched a young girl they will almost certainly end up dead. Maggie has speed and a fighting skill gifted by her clans and even she ends up getting chewed on. When Maggie learns that a witch created this particular monster and others like it, she reluctantly goes on the hunt.

At her side is an unconventional medicine man, Kai Arviso.  Maggie isn’t sure what it is about Kai but something makes him unique.  Just a few years older than her (she’s in her teens), Kai is just too shiny and pretty for the dusty land of Dinetah.  And a man who won’t fight?  Maggie worries he might be worse than useless until he manages to talk them out of a fix that could have easily been deadly.

This isn’t a young adult novel but it does have a teen protagonist that many young women will love.  She’s strong but flawed and by the end of book one realizes that she cannot stand alone.

Yes, book one.  This is the first in the Sixth World series.  Dinetah as portrayed by Roanhorse is postapocalyptic. Drinking and the wild life are still a thing but alcohol is even more important for fueling vehicles like Maggie’s truck. I guess now is as good a time as any to admit that I picked the book up because of the truck.  Don’t judge.

But I’m also a sucker for books set in the SW and with strong first nations characters like Maggie and Kai.  This is definitely a world I want to revisit.  I can’t say that I’m an expert on Dine (Navajo) culture but I was glad that I know as much as I do when Roanhorse unapologetically dropped in place names and various terms.  That said, it won’t be too much for devoted fantasy fans who are used to walking unfamiliar paths as they get to know new characters and worlds.

Maggie, Kai and Dinetah?  Definitely worth getting to know.


January 11, 2019

Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:05 pm by suebe2

Devils Unto Dust
by Emma Berquist
Greenwillow Books

When I picked up Devils Unto Dust, I picked it up for the setting – the Texas desert.  I’ve got a sweet spot for the alpine desert of West Texas. Once I realized that this probably wasn’t my desert – too flat – I had been hooked by the story.

Willie is a survivors.  You have to be when you life in Glory, Texas.

Her parents homesteaded there looking to build a life for their family.  But after the Civil War the rains failed.  Farmers and families struggled.  Then came the sickness.  No one recovers and, before they up and die, the afflicted attack those around them biting and clawing with a savage hunger.

It’s what happened to her mother only she never got to the point that she attacked her own children.  Willie saw to that.

Now in 1877 it’s just Willie and her younger siblings.  Their father has disappeared again but before he goes he steals a gambler’s winnings and sets the law on his family.  Find the money to repay the debt or be put beyond the safety of the wall.

Willie uses money she doesn’t have to pay two young hunters to guide her across the desert after her father. If she can get the money back, she can pay everyone off.  Then she’ll have the space to find a way for their family to survive.

Willie loves the desert – the heat and the sun and the space.  But the space can also work against you because you can only carry so much water and sand storms are always a risk.  She isn’t even sure how far she can trust the two men she’s paid off.

I’m not going to say any more about the plot because there’s no way to do it without giving too much away.  This is definitely a teen book.  There are zombies and there is death.  There is also alcohol and there are references to sex and an attack but anyone who attacks Willie is a fool.  That said, before things are said and done, Willie learns that she can’t do it all on her own and that, if you pick the right people, it is okay to trust.

I have to say that I wish there had been more books for teens like this back in the olden days when I was a teen.  I could have used a heroine like Willie.  And if there’s a second book – I’ll be in line to get it.



January 5, 2019

Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:39 pm by suebe2

Maddi’s Fridge
by Lois Brandt
illustrated by Vin Vogel
Flashlight Press

Sofia and her best friend Maddi spend time at the local park.  They scale the climbing wall and have a great time before heading to Maddi’s apartment. Sofia, hungry for a snack, pops open the fridge only to discover that it is virtually empty.

Maddi explains that her mom doesn’t have enough money to buy groceries and makes Sofia promise not to tell.  Sofia wants to be a good friend but it is hard for her to see all the food they have at home, food her little brother refuses to eat, when Maddi and her family have next to nothing.

But she promised not to tell.

So she smuggles fish to school to share with Maddi.  Fish does not, to put it kindly, travel well.

But she’s still determined to solve this on her own.  This time she smuggles eggs.  Eggs?  They don’t travel all that well either.

SPOILER ALERT (the next paragraph gives away the resolution)

As writers we try to create stories where young characters can rise to the occasion and solve problems themselves.  But reality means that sometimes an adult is required to do adult things.  Sofia solves the problem by breaking her promise. Brandt does a great job of showing just how heavily this decision weighs on Sofia but once she tells she can help her mother take food to their needy friends.  

Because this really is a story about friends helping friends.

Vin Vogel’s art work takes a story that is all too real, hunger in today’s world, and makes it a little less threatening.  How so?  The illustrations are cartoony but not so cartoony that young readers will miss the emotions that these characters are working through.

This book came out in 2014.  I’m not really certain how we all missed up at the time because it won a number of awards including the 2014 Christopher Award, Books for Young People, 2014 ILA Primary Fiction Award, 2015 MLA Mitten Award Honor, and a Human Rights in Children’s Literature Honor.

Add this book to your classroom shelf.  Make sure young readers and their parents can find it in your library.  Together Brandt and Vogel have created a book about a serious topic that is age appropriate and accessible to young readers.



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