[Book Review] Miles Morales: Shock Waves

Book Cover for Miles Morales: Shock Wave

Title: Miles Morales: Shock Waves
Author: Justin A. Reynolds, Pablo Leon, Geoffo (Illustrator), Ariana Maher (Letterer)
Genre: comic book; middle grade; superheroes; sci-fi
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Miles Morales is a normal kid who happens to juggle school at Brooklyn Visions Academy while swinging through the streets of Brooklyn as Spider-Man. After a disastrous earthquake strikes his mother’s birthplace of Puerto Rico, Miles springs into action to help set up a fundraiser for the devastated island. But when a new student’s father goes missing, Miles begins to make connections between the disappearance and a giant corporation sponsoring Miles’ fundraiser. Who is behind the disappearance, and how does that relate to Spider-Man?

Review: 3 stars

I think this was one of my first actual comic book-esque experiences. I love the Spiderverse movie and wanted to see if the Miles Morales books stood up to that. I enjoyed the story, especially the snippets of his family and home life, but I did not like the format. That’s on me.

The story begins talking about Hurricane Maria, and I liked the contemporary, real feel of that – like a superhero and his family trying to do a fundraiser for Puerto Rico. It grounded the story for me in a really cool way.

After that, we meet Miles’ new friend Kyle, and her dad, and this is where the story takes off. Kyle’s dad works for one of the really important businesses where all villains come from in comic book movies. Said villain (soon to be understood as such) tells Kyle’s dad that he’ll sponsor the Hurricane Maria fundraiser. Then we don’t really hear much more about that.

Miles does his spidey-thing and meets up with Peter Parker to talk about growing pains. I enjoyed this too – a teenager would still need a mentor, and in this universe, Miles doesn’t have an Iron Man to connect to.

Overall, it took me a second to figure out how the petty crimes Miles is trying to stop connected to the overall arching plot point (the business). I liked the reveal, and the questions this reveal brought up, especially with Kyle’s Dad being a victim of it.

I would absolutely attempt the next one, but I don’t think comics are really my thing.

[Book Review] The Pathfinders Society (Books 1 and 2)

Book Cover for The Pathfinders Society: Mystery of the Moon Tower

Title: The Mystery of the Moon Tower & The Curse of Crystal Cavern
Author: Francesco Sedita, Prescott Seraydarian, Steve Hamaker (Illustrations)
Genre: MG graphic novel; adventure; quest; mystery
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Book 1: The Young Pathfinders is a graphic novel adventure story featuring a diverse group of kids thrown together in a summer camp project. Researching their town’s history leads to a mysterious, abandoned castle that was once home to an eccentric inventor, and may still be home to great treasure.

Book Cover for The Pathfinders Society: Curse of the Crystal Cavern

Book 2: Fresh from their hair-raising adventures in The Mystery of the Moon Tower, Kyle, Vic, Beth, Harry, and Nate are now hot on the trail of something big! A secret staircase leads down into the unknown, setting them on an exciting chase for clues left by the wealthy explorer Henry Merriweather, who was rumored to have hidden away a priceless treasure. Are the legends real? Where will the five friends end up? And what dangers will they encounter along the way? Because as they’ve come to learn, everything comes at a price… 

Review: 3 stars

These were fun, MG graphic novels. The first book picks up en media res and then jumps to the present where we’re introduced to the new kid, Kyle. He’s quickly taken in by other Pathfinders at a summer camp and they become friends. There’s a rating scale on who can talk to who (cute and funny) and then all of the sudden, C rating kids are talking to A ratings kids with no problem. The actual camp life is not developed much at all because almost immediately, this new found friend group of 6 are all thrown onto this quest for a treasure that really isn’t introduced.

The rest of book 1 (TBC’d in book 2) is about said quest. They go all around the town, looking for clues and end up at the millionaire town-founder’s mansion. Here they learn that the last living descendent is stuck trying to find enough money to save the mansion, or risk handing it over to some quarry developers.

There’s a fun element of magical realism that begins here, sort of. The gang is able to see the past, in these really cool visions at just the right time in their journey. This element of past brought into the future is really interesting to me. I like that the dead speak to the living, even if the kids aren’t sure why or how.

This magical realism is never really developed, or explained, the kids just kind of go, “Uh, sure, this is what life is now, right?” and continue on with the quest.

The quest itself is very scavenger hunt. I like that aspect too. It could be realized in a school setting or a small town to be repeated if someone had enough time. The kids all have their own skills that aid in the quest (Kyle can sketch and draw anything they see, one of the girls has a knack for numbers, the other girl is a history buff, the two other boys are 1. comedic relief and 2. kind of a builder / maker). This allows for everyone to A.B.R (always be ready) for whatever comes next.

I would absolutely read the 3rd book in the series, just to see how the quest turns out! Can the kids save the town, or will it end up in the hands of developers hoping to modernize it?

[Book Review] Anya’s Ghost

Book Cover for Anya’s Ghost

Title: Anya’s Ghost
Author: Vera Brosgol
Genre: graphic novel; ya fiction; mystery; horror; paranormal
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part.

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks. Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya’s Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

Review: 4 stars

One of my students told me to read this because I’d really like it. When I started reading it, I understood why. It’s dark, it’s sarcastic, and it’s full of horror-adjacent content. I didn’t think it was scaryscary, but the concepts within it (falling in a deep hole with no one around to save you or hear you scream, becoming haunted by a ghost, and then being chased by one) are all in there.

The student who told me to read it is a first generation immigrant from Russia. This book hit home for him, because Anya goes out of her way to get rid of her FOB status and become “American.” My kiddo recognized that in himself. The way Anya develops over the course of the book, from trying to be cool by smoking and thinking everything is lame, changes when she’s confronted with “everything she’s ever wanted.” She realizes that sometimes appearances are deceiving and not everything is as it seems.

What struck me the most is Anya’s crush, and how that storyline plays out. I was not expecting him to be a player and for his uber popular girlfriend to literally be standing outside the bedroom door while he hooks up with another girl. That was rough. But that’s really what turned everything around for Anya, a really cold bucket of water over her head.

I loved the way things got out of control. It was a slow spiral that ended up being almost fatal to her family. But that’s when she takes back the control and does what she needs to in order to protect herself, her family, and kind of everyone else at high school.

My student really liked it, but the one thing he really hated was that Anya smoked. “That’s gross.”

[Book Review] The Girl from the Sea

Book Cover for The Girl from the Sea

Title: The Girl from the Sea
Author: Molly Knox Ostertag
Genre: graphic novel; ya fiction; LGBTQ fiction; young adult romance
Synopsis: (From Goodreads) Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She’s desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends…who don’t understand Morgan at all. Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl.

Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn’t seem so stifling anymore.

But Keltie has some secrets of her own. And as the girls start to fall in love, everything they’re each trying to hide will find its way to the surface…whether Morgan is ready or not. 

Review: 4 stars

This was a really cute coming-of-age and coming out story. Morgan is an honest and sweet protagonist. She’s stuck on a small island and afraid of what coming out will mean for her family, her friends, and the people on her island. When she meets Keltie, she struggles with throwing caution to the wind and just being herself. It takes a lot for that to pass.

I loved the way the writer created the storylines and used the texting in a group chat to make it feel very teen-forward.

I wasn’t expecting a selkie when I purchased this, but that lore was fun to dive into also, even though they don’t go too in depth on the history and mythology. Keltie the Selkie made me laugh a little. She was a fun character who spoke her mind, did what was right, and even though she was super black and white to start, she started to figure out how her own humanity fits in with others, a little.

The little brother’s story arc is faint, but there, and I liked how that developed after he out’d his sister (not cool at all). The friction between the two siblings felt very real for me. I didn’t grow up in a divorced home, like Morgan and her brother, but I grew up in a single-parent home, and there were times (too many) when we tried to use secrets against one another to be on mom’s good side longest. That felt super real to me.

Overall, I think this will be a great addition to my classroom library.

[Book Review] House of Sky and Breath (2/? of Crescent City)

Book Cover for House of Sky and Breath

Title: House of Sky and Breath
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: new adult fiction; fantasy; romance; paranormal; magic
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal―they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.

The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.

In this sexy, action-packed sequel to the #1 bestseller House of Earth and Blood, Sarah J. Maas weaves a captivating story of a world about to explode―and the people who will do anything to save it. 

Review: 4 stars

(If you’d like to review my review for book 1, click here.)

This is book 2 of a SJM series, so I walked in with some expectations – first and foremost that the ones we see the most of in Book 1 change their spots and we don’t like them as much in Book 2. That’s what I was hoping for with the Bryce and Hunt dynamic. I was a cynical reader for every passage involving the two, and was overly annoyed at Hunt the whole book. I wanted what happened in (SPOILER) ACOTAR to happen with Hunt. And then it didn’t, and I was supremely let down.

I couldn’t get over Bryce trying to sell herself to Sandriel for Hunt after he’d spent the whole Book 1 with her, letting her tell him her deepest darkest secrets. After she was so anti-alphahole but still fell for it (and so did we, despite the dual POV, another annoying plot point in Book 1), and wanted to sell herself into slavery. And so walking into Book 2, I was hoping for a deeper fallout, when all the adrenaline of the moment dissipated. NOPE. The two of them joke about it instead, on more than one occasion. This upset me.

But thankfully, Book 2 is about so much more than Bryce and Hunt. It’s also about some new additions and old favorites. I was so glad to see some of the familiar faces come back and get a deeper storyline – particularly Tharion and Ruhn. Tharion’s entire character is developed in such a strong and interesting way. For a lot of the book, you’re hoping he’ll be loyal to Bryce and the gang, but there’s a part of you thinking he might sell them out to his Queen. I also spent a lot of the second half wishing he’d make different choices, but that’s probably just me.

Ruhn’s glow up was impressive. He went from plot point half-brother to bestie and I REALLY enjoyed this. His own crew was fantastic, and when Ithan comes into it, I particularly liked how Ruhn went big-brother to protect Ithan, even from his own feelings. Ruhn’s humility and protection are his best traits. He’s talked up as this bad boy, full of tattoos and an “I don’t care” attitude, but in the end he wants what’s best for everyone, and it’s clear all the way through that he’s going to fight with Bryce. I love his own personal growth outside of Bryce too, with Agent Day, we see a really amazing side of him that I hope is expanded on in Book 3.

The new faces were fun. I really enjoyed following the mystery and meeting new people who pushed that mystery plot point along. The Hind and Cormac were my favorite. Cormac comes in hot, (descriptive and action wise) and reminded me a lot of Rhysand in the dark and broody fae type way. I thought for a long time that we’d see another Tamlin/Rhys style fight with Hunt and Cormac, but that was not to be. Sad.

I loved that we didn’t know if we could trust Cormac from literally his introduction until the ocean. He was crucial to Bryce’s character (and power) development but at what cost? What a good character!

I’m interested in seeing where this story goes, especially with the last few pages. Very, very interested. Overall, I liked this book more than the first, I didn’t need to wait 100 pages to really get into this one like Book 1, but I’m still salty about Bryce and Hunt.

[Book Review] Between Wild & Ruin

Between Wild & Ruin book cover

Title: Between Wild & Ruin

Author: Jennifer G. Edelson

Genre: YA; paranormal; mystery; fantasy; romance; mythology

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Seventeen-year-old Ruby Brooks has never had a boyfriend. After moving to small-town La Luna, New Mexico following her mother’s untimely death, boys aren’t even on her radar. Ruby just wants to forget the last horrible year and blend in. But when she discovers an ancient pueblo ruin in the forest behind her house, and meets Ezra, a bitter recluse whose once-perfect face was destroyed in an accident he won’t talk about; Angel, La Luna’s handsome sheriff’s deputy, and Leo, a stranger who only appears near the ruin, Ruby finds herself teetering between love, mystery, and other worlds. What happened to Ezra’s face? And why is she so attracted to the one boy in town everyone despises? As Ruby unravels her own connections to both Ezra and the pueblo ruin, she’ll learn surfaces are deceiving. Especially in the heart of New Mexico, where spirits and legends aren’t always just campfire stories.

Review: 3 Stars

I enjoyed this book quite a bit! I loved the mythology and mystery behind the plot and how it unraveled over time. I thought the author did a great job keeping the main plot points a secret until just the right moment. There was a fine line between providing just the right amount of detail to keep me reading to see what would happen next.

I liked the way Ruby explained her motivations over the course of the book. She didn’t seem to grow much, so I’m hoping to see more development here in boom 2, but the way she seemed to see things differently from the rest of La Luna was unique. It was a little Bella Swan vibes, but overall, I enjoyed the “I see beneath the surface” stuff.

There were points where I thought her character went a little too far with the anti-vanity plot line, almost to the point where it got into fetishization with Ezra’s facial scarring, and that weirded me out. Almost like she had a point to prove. (Kind of like, “I don’t care about looks SO much that I’m not sure I like you if you don’t have a scar” if you understand what I’m saying.)

That said, all characters are flawed in this novel (in all novels in some way?) from the aunt to the side character friends. But overall, they’re developed just enough to make them relatively relatable in some way.

Angel vs Ezra vs Leo is a plot device I generally just do not like, and it’s no different here. Ruby doesn’t handle the multiple crushes well, and it still somehow turns out okay? In what world??? Anyway; lucky girl I guess!

All of the interpersonal stuff aside, I truly enjoyed reading about the Ancients, the True of Heart, and the Watchers, and would definitely read book 2 in order to learn more.

I got an ARC of this from BookSirens for an honest review.

[Book Review] Dead Djinn Universe Series (0.5 & 0.7)

Book Covers for A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Titles: 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo & 0.7 — The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Author: P Djèlí Clark

Genre: fantasy; short stories; steam punk; mystery; historical fiction; novella; sci fi

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine.

Entries in this series can be read as standalones in any order.

Review: 4 Stars

Around the end of 2020 I was looking for shorter texts to reach my goodreads challenge for the year and I stumbled on P. Djèlí Clark’s work and started reading it all as quick as I could. I am INTO it. In this series, he’s created this very realistic version of 1910’s Cairo with a twist… it’s kinda magical.

In 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo, he goes into the background a little, there or magical beings of all sorts in the world, both good and bad, and a group meant to help sort one from the other. This group is the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. In both 0.5 and 0.7, the main characters are investigators in the Ministry and have a mystery to solve that is more than meets the eye.

In 0.5, the lead investigator is a woman, a badass woman who wears trousers and sleek coat and takes no shit from men who are still afraid of women with a brain.

In 0.7, the investigators are men, and work to solve the mystery together (but need help from women all along the way). Along the way, a women’s liberation movement is going on, fighting for women’s rights. It’s pretty cool.

My favorite parts of these stories are how seamless the integration of magic is in the mundane. Every single element has been thought of, but it all feels authentic. I think that’s a major credit to the fact that the author is a historian and does ample research before writing.

There are two more books in this series and I’m looking forward to getting into both!

[Book Review] Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins cover image

Title: Mary Poppins

Author: P. L. Travers

Genre: classics; middle grade; fantasy; fiction; adventure

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

Review: 3 stars

I grew up with this movie but hadn’t read this book until now. Honestly, I was overall pretty disappointed when I finished the book. I legit cried. But then, you ask, why three stars? Because it still had all of the magic and heart of the film.

I wholeheartedly believe the film is better than the source material in this case — I don’t want to start a fight with any purists, but like, Michael’s character alone… and like? Bert! they did my boy DIRTY.

I loved reading about the additional adventures in the book and getting more depth into the Banks family on Cherry-Tree Lane, but overall, I had 25 years of the movie to compare it to, and that won out. (Which I suppose isn’t quite fair.)

Mary is downright mean and not at all caring and loving, except to the twins.

Michael is a spoiled brat in much of the book, and while that could be said for both children in the movie, they learn and grow— in the book, the characters are static. All of them. And then poof, Mary leaves.

My love for the movie will never fade, but I won’t be reading book 2.

[Book Review] The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Title: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek

Authors: Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal

Genre: YA; fiction; mystery; horror/ thriller; paranormal fantasy

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents.

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

Review: 4 stars

As far as mysteries go, this one had me until the end. I wasn’t expecting some of the twists that came about and I was genuinely surprised at some of the more paranormal elements that McLaughlin and Neal incorporated into their storytelling.

That said, I enjoyed the mystery and storytelling overall but some of the writing was clunky. Pieces of the story could have gotten a little more developed (Janine for instance, considering she’s part of the storytelling instrument), but for a debut into YA and into this genre, it was fun.

Rex and Leif are really cute characters. They’re boys going through the heat of summer, puppy love and also a paranormal mystery in an ultra conservative small town where everyone knows everyone. What could go wrong? I love the way the friendship builds and grows over the course of the book too. Their boundaries are tested but in the end, they know they can rely on each other.

As I was reading this, honestly, the townsfolk just gave me the creeps. No small towns for me… thanks Bleak Creek.

[Book Review] The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary cover image

Title: The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

Genre: fiction; historical fiction; mystery; fantasy; contemporary

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

Review: 5 Stars

I really enjoyed Sarah Penner’s multi-POV novel even though this is something that usually turns me off when reading. Traditionally, I find them to be annoying and I get lost in the story because I’m trying to keep track of too many plot points. I thought that would be especially true in this because I was going to have to navigate multiple points of view that spanned multiple centuries. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily these perspectives overlapped.

This book was multiple things; a mystery, a woman’s journey to find herself — a few actually, a coming of age, an Indiana Jones-esque quest for the historical truth that is also a Holmesy crime solving novel.

There are three perspectives 1. Nella the 18th century apothecary, 2. Twelve-year-old maid servant Eliza Fanning, and 3. Caroline, a woman alone in London in the 21st century. The way these three perspectives weave together is straight up magical. Where Nella and Eliza come together makes sense — same time line, but the way Penner fits Caroline (200 years later) into the narrative is brilliant.

Each chapter alternates perspective, but the story connects and picks up like they’re all together. London becomes the fourth major character in a way that is so interesting and fantastic. The power of the history, the past, and preservation is a huge component to this story.

All of this story feels like a love letter to the power of women. Their power to persevere. Their power to create. Their power to find, discover, help, save, come together, and their power to destroy. In all story lines, Penner reminds us time and time again that Nella, Eliza, and Caroline have all of these and more in so many ways.

This was my Book of the Month selection, it had a beautiful cover and an interesting tag line, and I’m very glad I selected it.