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The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale & LeUyen Pham

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Hale, S., Hale, D., & Pham, L. (ill.) (2014). The Princess in Black. Candlewick Press: Massachusetts. ISBN: 9780763665104

Annotation: When the monster alarm rings, Princess Magnolia jumps into action and transforms into her monster fighting alter ego, the Princess in Black!

Reaction: In this short beginning chapter book, the Hales introduce readers to the wonderful character of Princess Magnolia, who is a perfect, pink-wearing princess, until it’s time to kick some monster tush. Then it’s time for Princess Magnolia to don practical shorts, boots and a cape in black.

One of the best things about this book is the way Princess Magnolia embraces both sides of herself: the girly, super feminine princess and the strong, capable, monster-tush-kicking superheroine. I recently came across a great article about how it does a disservice to children and women to treat girliness as being less good than tomboyishness, and I think, in light of that, the Hales have done something remarkable here. This is a book that tells children that being feminine and wearing pink is great! And so is going out and saving the kingdom from monsters! The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and that’s a great lesson.

On top of that, the story is engaging and funny, and though this story is pretty brief, the Hales have managed to create fully realized characters and a world around them. The illustrations are bright and colorful and add a lot of whimsy and humor to the text.

I really, really hope there are going to be more adventures of Princess Magnolia/the Princess in Black. The Hales have only begun to scratch the surface in this one.

Media used: watercolor and ink

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website

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Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

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Rossi, V. (2012). Under the never sky. New York: Harper. ISBN: 9780062072030

Annotation: Aria has spent her entire life living in the Reverie Pod, having adventures in the virtual Realms. When she gets blamed for starting a fire in an abandoned section of the Pod, she’s exiled Outside and has to rely on an unfriendly Outsider to survive.

Reaction: With all the concern about boys not reading, I think this is a book that really would have crossover appeal for both boys and girls. The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Aria and Perry, giving the reader both the female and male viewpoints. There’s plenty of action as Aria and Perry travel across the barren, dangerous Outside. They have to fight off cannibals and wolves and avoid deadly Aether storms. And they have a romance that, in my opinion, develops naturally. And it’s nice that there’s no love triangle to deal with (why do we have to be excited about this?), though the shadow of the inevitable end of their romance adds a sense of urgency and sweetness to their love.

By the end of the book, Aria has really become a strong, courageous young woman, and I’m excited to read the next book in the series.

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The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

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Image from Goodreads.com

Carson, R. (2011). The girl of fire and thorns. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780062026484

Annotation: Elisa is God’s Chosen One. She is also a terrible princess, fat, and married for political alliance. When she is kidnapped by zealots, she has to figure out how she can help save the kingdom.

Reaction: I really enjoyed this book, and Elisa has a great voice. I love how frank she is and how determined she is to become a good queen. Carson does a great job of showing the atransformation Elisa goes through to become a leader, and though she does go through a physical change, the biggest changes are mental and start even before her appearance changes.

And while there is some aspect of romance in the story, it is almost incidental to the rest of the plot. I was a bit concerned when Carson seemed to be setting up a love triangle, but let me tell you, she took care of that in the most shocking way I’ve ever seen.

I want to read the rest of the series, and I hope that they are as enjoyable as this one.

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Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne

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Image from Goodreads.com

Trevayne, E. (2014). Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781442498778

Annotation: Jack is tired of being ignored at home, so when he overhears a magician offer to train him, Jack is determined to make it happen. He follows the magician through a mysterious doorway, leading him into a different London and on a great adventure.

Reaction: First, let me say that I love love love the cover of this book. It is so beautiful and magical and mysterious, and it is the reason I picked this up and checked it out in the first place.

This book is in a genre called Steampunk, and Trevayne does a great job of introducing the reader to the fantastical world she has created. Her descriptions of Londinium are very vivid and really make you feel like you’re right there with Jack. The steampunk elements really help to highlight how different Londinium is from London, and I love the idea of a fairyland where all the creatures are living machines. The mechanical fairies, in particular, are a nice touch.

Trevayne populates Londinium with a cast of creative and clever characters. I loved the clockwork girl, and the Lady’s capriciousness made her genuinely scary, but it was Lorcan the magician who really turned out to be the most frightening character. He quickly reveals to the reader how jealous he is of the Lady’s affections, leading him to a deep hatred of Jack that only grows over the course of the book. He is the biggest threat to Jack, and I felt like he might really do some damage to Jack or his friends.

This is a fun, fantasy adventure that I think would appeal to boys and girls in 4th-6th grades. The steampunk elements could appeal to Doctor Who and Warehouse 13 fans. It was a quick read and a nice twist on a typical “lost in Fairy land” kind of story.

Minor spoilers below: Continue reading


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Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Fagan, D. (2011). Circus Galacticus. Boston: Harcourt. ISBN: 9780547581361

Annotation: Trix sort-of-accidentally runs away with the circus when her school takes a field trip. Along the way she discovers that the universe is a much bigger place than she ever realized, and the meteor her parents gave her to protect is something much more special.

Reaction: This book is great fun; I love a good novel about the circus! And adding in SPACE only makes it better. Trix’s adventures with the Circus Galacticus are all about finding one’s place in the world and making friends. She is an angry teen, but her angst is totally relatable for anyone who ever felt left out or picked on, and she starts to mellow out as she finds Her People. She doesn’t take crap from anyone, but she also learns about accepting responsibility for her actions and grows into a more mature teen along her journey.

My regular library has it shelved in the children’s area, though it is more appropriate for the teen section, being about a 16 or 17 year old high school girl. There’s nothing in this that would be inappropriate for middle school readers, and it would probably appeal to a pretty wide range of ages.

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The Selection by Kiera Cass

Cass, K. (2012). The Selection. HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062059932

Annotation: In a dystopian America post World Wars III & IV, seventeen year old America Singer is chosen to participate in The Selection, a Bachelor-like competition for the honor of marrying the crown prince. Unfortunately, none of America’s plans for her life included dating a prince alongside 34 other girls, and she’s determined to get back to her normal life just as quickly as possible.

Reaction: (Fair warning, this review is going to talk a little bit about the entire Selection series and will include minor spoilers for the books.)

Let’s talk about The Selection, shall we? I finally picked this up to read because it was chosen for a book club I will be attending, and I was not sure that I would enjoy it. From the first few pages, I felt like I could predict the path of the entire triology, let alone this first book. To a certain extent, I was right. There is nothing surprising or terribly original in The Selection. Obviously, the pretty, nice, smart, talented main character finds that she likes the prince much more than she expected but then! Her boyfriend from back home turns up after being drafted as a soldier! This naturally complicates matters, as she still has very strong feelings for this guy, in addition to her burgeoning feelings for the prince. Not to mention that she’s up against 34 other beautiful, smart, talented women who are almost all more prepared for this situation than she it. Hijinks ensue. I was, honestly, a little bored, already less than 10% into the book.

But then…I read the entire trilogy in three days. Let me just assure you that this is something I never do. I have so many books checked out from the the library and sitting on shelves waiting to be read that it generally takes me forever to get around to a sequel, if I’m even interested in continuing with the story in the first place. It’s probably been a year or more since I was engrossed enough in a story that I jumped my queue to read the sequels. So…that happened.

In actuality, while I found the plot of the first book predictable, I really enjoyed the characters of the prince, Maxon, and America. I found them very engaging and funny, and I really wanted to know what happened to them, even if it was just what I expected to happen.

And then the second book happened. Let me tell you, friends, that second book is a test of your interest and dedication to America’s story because I was sick of her stupid love triangle 30% of the way through the book, and it didn’t end until the very last possible moment. And I’m not a love triangle hater; Katniss/Gale/Peeta didn’t bother me, but this! Every other page America’s heart flip-flopped between Maxon and her hometown love. Maxon would be kind of a douche, and America would run back to Aspen. Then Maxon would be sweet, and she was totally in love with him again. It was exhausting! And annoying! By the end, I really wanted America to choose herself and leave both boys in the dust.

Also, she was such a weenie in the second book; every time she would do something awesome and crazy and, let’s be honest, badass, she’d freak out because Maxon didn’t think it was amazing and totally apologize and grovel for forgiveness. Stand up for yourself, girl! Don’t apologize for being awesome! (Seriously, ladies, stop apologizing so much.)

But the third book ended up being awesome! The ending was surprising and emotional and pretty fantastic. I super enjoyed it, and I really recommend that anyone interested in this series or these characters just push through the annoying second book to get to the awesome conclusion. Each book on it’s own was a really fast read for me, and though I wish Cass would have skipped 95% of the second book, the third made up for it.

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Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Driza, Debra. (2013). Mila 2.0. New York: Katherine Tegen Books. ISBN:

Annotation: Mila’s the new girl in a tiny farm town, and she’s just trying to survive high school and recover from the death of her father. Then her mom reveals a secret that changes her whole world.

Reaction: I think Mila is a great character. She embodies all the struggles of being a teenage girl, include an attempt to balance friendships versus boys and the love/hate feelings all teens experience towards their parents. I think she’s a super compelling character, and I enjoyed watching her hold onto her humanity in the midst of many challenges. She’s pretty complex, and I am interested in her continuing struggle to find a balance between her human self and her android self. She’s totally the best thing about this book.

I was super excited to read this, and I was a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good book about a teenage robot, but I just felt that it was a little long with a little too much action and not quite enough plot for my tastes. Ultimately, I liked the book, but I’m not sure I like it enough to read the sequel. Driza does a lot of good things in this book, but I just felt like it dragged on a bit too long, and it’s 470 pages is significantly longer than many other YA novels. I also felt like her romantic interest, while establishing her human girl cred, was a little shoehorned into the story. Honestly, (small spoiler?) I kept expecting him to be somehow in league with her would-be captors.

I would totally recommend this book for people who are looking for some light science fiction, people who like stories about a robot with a heart of gold, and people who like sci-fi/fantasy featuring strong heroines.

Author’s Website