Marley B

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor

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After Lydia’s terminally ill mother dies, she is uprooted from her home and moves in with her Aunt Brat in a tiny farming town in Connecticut. As she adjusts, a beautiful yellow dog finds its way into the home of Lydia’s new family. The dog whines all night when crated, pees on rugs, has found a way to slip out of his collar, and proves to be a general nuisance. Lydia expects the dog to figure out how to behave eventually, but he’s not showing any signs of improving. The key to training him could be knowing his past, but with only the phone number of his old owner, Lydia will have to do a bit more digging to find out where the dog that stole her heart came from.

After reading Leslie Connor’s previous book, The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, I had fairly high expectations for A Home for Goddesses and Dogs. Conner absolutely destroyed them and wrote an amazing book centered around grief and growing up. It felt like a breath of fresh air with its amazing characters and beautiful plot. 

One of the first things I notice about A Home for Goddesses and Dogs is that the cast is almost entirely female. The second thing I noticed is all of the female characters are incredibly fleshed out and diverse. I don’t think I could name a middle-grade book that comes close to having better written females. The characters' interactions with each other are hilarious and realistic and just lovely in general. The relationships throughout were very tender and heartwarming which was helped by the brilliant character designs and developments. Also, the fact that there was no mean-girl troupe was appreciated greatly. We need tons more books with healthy female relationships and this book covers that very very well, both with Lydia’s parental figures and her friendships with the other girls at her school.

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs handles grief in a pretty unique way. Since Lydia’s mother was terminally ill, Lydia already had time to come to terms with her death for the most part, so it mostly handles adjusting after a loved one dies. It shows Lydia missing her mom, but it also shows her learning to form relationships with the new adults in her life. It deals with grief in a way that feels very real, showing it as an adjustment in life rather than an end to it. 

I give Leslie Conner so much respect for writing realistic preteen/teen conversations. Authors have a tendency to either make preteens sound like preschoolers or tiny fifty-year-olds, but Conner definitely avoided that. Not only does she write teens well, she writes thirteen-year-olds well. The discussions Lydia has with her friends feel like things my friends and I would have talked about when we were thirteen. She totally captures that weird between middle and highschool stage perfectly and brilliantly.  

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs is a book everyone should consider reading. It’s heartwarming and hilarious and just amazing in general. Despite its subject matter, it’s really a pretty happy read. I give A Home for Goddesses and Dogs a 4.75/5. Go read it!

Books: 
A Home for Goddesses and Dogs Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780062796783
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Katherine Tegen Books - February 25th, 2020

The Black Bull of Norroway by Cat Seaton

Here's Marley from our Teen Advisory Corps charging in with a review of the graphic novel Norroway: The Black Bull of Norroway

Sibylla has always been prophesied to marry the black bull of Norroway, a knight so bloodthirsty he was cursed to live as a bull. When he shows up, claiming her as his wife and telling her to prepare for a long journey, she isn’t surprised. She is however, surprised to learn that there is more to his curse than is told. 

 The Black Bull of Norroway is the first graphic novel in the Norroway series. The plot is based on a Scottish fairy tale, and reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. Short but very sweet, it was a very fun read, both through the art and the writing.

The art style alone is worth the read, it aided in making the entire book feel wonderfully whimsical. This could just be because Beauty and the Beast was on my mind, but the art definitely reminded me of Disney. The clothing looked very flowy and light, and every movement felt fluid. The characters were drawn amazingly, each design unique and detailed. The buildings were especially well drawn. There were a couple of drawings that I spent a couple minutes looking at the architecture and details of the buildings instead of actually reading the book. 

Adding to the great art, the storytelling is great. It’s a retelling, but it adds its own flavor and spice to the original. The characters were fleshed out in a new way and it felt like a completely new story. The personality of every character is thoroughly developed and explored. It doesn’t just retell the story, it adds much more to it.

I do have a very minor critiqu. The characters physical design was unique, but some of the characters felt cliche. They didn’t really offer anything unique from other books’ characters. Sibylla has a bit of a flat personality, which is kind of expected because there wasn’t much time to develop her character but I do hope that in the next book we will see that more. 

I really liked this one, and I definitely want more of it. It’s short, but still manages to progress the plot enough to invest readers. I think the next book has a lot to offer and I’m interested to see how it turns out. I’d give The Black Bull of Norroway a ⅘ and will be looking out for the second book.

Books: 
Staff Pick Badge
Norroway Book 1: The Black Bull of Norroway Cover Image
By Cat Seaton, Kit Seaton (Artist)
$14.99
ISBN: 9781534308558
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Image Comics - November 13th, 2018

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton have grown up wanting to be Celestials, hoping to one day inherit magical powers. With a youtube channel dedicated to magic powers, Brighton hasn’t quite let go of their childhood fantasies, but Emil has changed his dreams to advocating for phoenixes and other mythical creatures. So when Emil is the one to discover fire powers in the middle of a subway fight, Brighton is a tiny bit jealous. While Brighton struggles to prove himself, Emil tries to cope with new powers and responsibilities, all while trying to stop a murderous gang leader from gaining immortality. 

Adam Silvera did not disappoint with Infinity Son. Taking place in modern day New York City, it’s a cross between a superhero novel and a fantasy novel, similar tropes to superheroes, but still has the mythical creatures and fantastical elements. 

To start off, I love the modern day element of Infinity Son. I thought the politics were particularly interesting, showing how magic might be treated in society today. It’s also fun to read about how normal people use their powers and what people who don’t have powers think about them. 

Silvera did a good job of writing realistic characters. The characters have powers, but aren't overpowered. Even the most powerful characters are beatable. The fight scenes are suspenseful because there is a possibility that the good side will lose, and they actually do frequently. Aside from the powers, he also gives the characters sensible emotions. Brighton especially, he gets jealous and upset when he feels he’s being overlooked or underestimated, but he isn’t portrayed as evil just because he feels negative emotions and is still a lovable character with good attributes. The other characters argue and get upset with each other unreasonably sometimes, giving more weaknesses to characters that could easily be overpowered.

The world building was very well thought out, but specifically the way that magic is viewed and the way that it’s handled by the police was a great touch to the world. Celestials are either vilified or glorified by people without powers, and the problems with each are shown. At some point in the story both sides give issues to the protagonists. Adding crime rings and other criminals into the magical realm felt very unique in the way that it was written. A black market for mythical creatures and making magical drugs added a very gritty element to the story, and gave more background for some of the villains. 

I don’t have any complaints about Infinity Son other than some of the writing during fight scenes. It was hard to tell what was going on in a couple of the scenes. There were a couple of times where there seemed to be pauses in battles for two characters to talk. I think there was supposed to still be things going on around the characters, or maybe the space where the fight was taking place was really big so they had space, but it felt a bit stilted.

I enjoyed Infinity Son, I’ll definitely be reading the next book. The characters and world building itself is worth sticking around for, but also I need some closure for the ending... I’d rate Infinity Son a 4.5/5, and I would recommend it to any fantasy lover.

Books: 
Staff Pick Badge
Infinity Son (Infinity Cycle #1) Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780062457820
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Quill Tree Books - January 14th, 2020

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen

Jinghua has been exiled from her home and forced into slavery after her kingdom was conquored by the Mongolian empire. While stealing apples for her brothers ghost, she meets Khalaf, prince of Kipchak Khanate. Kind and smart, Jinghua is enamored by him. When Kipchak Khanate is attacked, Jinghua follows Khalaf and his father as they flee. Jinghua finds herself growing more deeply in love as the journey progresses, but Khalaf has other ideas. Turandokht, the Great Khans daughter, offers anyone who can answer three of her riddles her hand in marriage. Khalaf can save his Khanate and help his people if he is successful. But, if he fails to answer correctly, the consequence is death. 

    Based off the opera Turandot, The Bird and the Blade has a very play like style. It’s very character driven and there is a ton of dialog. Definitely my kind of book. 

    First of all, this book is hilarious. The way Jinghua describes her circumstances and basically everything Timur said made me smile. The humor also made it really easy to connect with the characters and sympathies with them. I don’t think Timur would have been likeable or even bearable without his amazing snarky comments. 

    It could be just because The Bird and the Blade is based on an opera, but all the characters were very well written. Every character had their own unique personality, even characters that only appears for one chapter. The characters react to different situations in ways that fit their personalities perfectly. It makes them seem more realistic, and again, easier to sympathies with. 

    The structure of the book was super cool. It skips through time, but in a very organized way. It makes the transition between timelines seamless and understandable. The riddles that Turandokht tells splits other more monotonous parts up and makes it more interesting as a whole. It also connects the riddles back to experiences that Khalaf had in the past which really tied everything together, and connected the past and present in an interesting way. 

    The ending of the book was full of plot twists that I didn’t see coming at all. They were the type of plot twists that make you want to reread the book to pick up on the clues that you overlooked. The twists aren’t revealed in an overly dramatic way either, they are revealed naturally through flashbacks and normal conversations. The ending of the book itself just felt like a giant plot twist, realistic, but still unexpected. It felt like a treat for finishing the book. 

    The only complaint I have is that it was a bit slow at some parts. Not unbearably so, because there were still things going on, just not for the plot. I think that’s to be expected of a book based off of an opera though. 

    Overall I would give The Bird and the Blade a 4.5/5. I really enjoyed this book, it was hilarious and entertaining. The characters were lovable but realistic and the plot was great. I really hope Megan Bannen continues to write because I would love to see more from her.

Books: 
The Bird and the Blade Cover Image
$9.99
ISBN: 9780062674166
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Balzer + Bray - June 4th, 2019

Review: What Makes Us by Rafi Mittelfeldt

Teen Advisory Corps member Marley enjoyed What Makes Us by Rafi Mittelfeldt. Pre-order your copy today!

"Eran Sharon is passionate, maybe a little too passionate. He is quick to anger and always seems to escalate any situation he’s in. After a video of him pushing a man at a protest goes viral, the press is quick to discover that the father Eran has never met was a terrorist. While news vans and reporters pile up at his door, Eran is left wondering if extremism is hereditary or if he has a chance to be different from his father.

    What Makes Us is the type of book that will make you think. It brings up the classic nurture/nature debate, asks if violent protest is different from terrorism, shows how media twists reality, etc. It definitely added an extra layer to the book, making the reader wonder alongside the characters about where they stand on these issues. 

    Rafi Mittlefehldt sometimes shifts into second person in his writing, which also added a level of connection to the characters. He makes the reader look through the eyes of his characters and see their perspective on issues. It made it easy to empathize with the characters.

    Eran’s character development felt very realistic. His development doesn’t start out of nowhere, there are a couple of triggers that spurr him forward along the way. Mittlefehldt shows him thinking about how he acts and how he wants to act as he works to control his anger. I appreciated how Eran slips up a couple of times before he starts to improve and still isn’t perfect by the end of the book. Sometimes it feels like YA books either have no character development or the character develops out of nowhere and is suddenly perfect by the end of the book, so having a book that actually had realistic development was a pleasant surprise. 

    To nitpick, some points in the book that were written to be giant shocking moments fell a bit flat. I think it might be because there were so many moments that were supposed to feel surprising that it wasn’t anymore. Some of the less important points were a tiny bit overwritten too, which might have contributed to that. 

    Overall, I really enjoyed What Makes Us. It was easy to get into, and the characters were likeable. The beginning reminded me of Anger is a Gift and the rest—especially Mittlefehldt’s writing style—reminded me of Picture Us In the Light. I’d give What Makes Us a solid ⅘ and I would recommend it to people who want a realistic book that deals with difficult issues without being too sad. 

Books: 
What Makes Us Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780763697501
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Candlewick - October 15th, 2019

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