Book Review: Homerooms and Hall Passes

Screen Shot 2019-10-30 at 11.15.15 AMTom O’Donnell’s Homerooms and Hall Passes has a hilarious premise. Five young adventurers from the realm of Bríandalör meet once a week to play H&H, a role-playing game set in J. A. Dewar Middle School.

Vela the paladin plays Valerie the Overachiever. Devis the thief plays Stinky the Class Clown. Thromdurr the barbarian plays Doug the Nerd. Sorrowshade the gloom elf assassin plays Melissa the Loner. And Albiorix the wizard is the Hall Master.

It’s all fun and games until a cursed jewel sends the five friends to the realm of suburbia for real. There, they’ll have to survive a semester of 8th grade without “blowing it” (failing a class or getting more than three unexcused absences).

That’s easier said than done when they have to do it with no weapons, no poisons, and no magic in a world that doesn’t make sense. For example, in Earth Sciences, they learn that rocks apparently aren’t made by Cragnar, the god of rocks. In English class, they have to write a persuasive essay arguing either that cats are or are not good pets, but it’s unacceptable to say that cats are good because they can see ancient spirits or bad because they might be evil wizards in disguise. And Algebra is a completely baffling subject.

Homerooms and Hall Passes is fast-paced and really, really funny. Larrabee and I both highly recommend it.

Book Review: Maximillian Fly

41824509I’d heard good things about Maximilian Fly by Angie Sage, but I didn’t expect that it would be my kind of book. It has a person-sized cockroach on the cover after all. Eww.

But I’ve been proved wrong. Maximillian (who is actually a person with cockroach DNA) is a gentle and charming character, and I highly recommend his story to fans of dystopian fiction, unusual narrators, and suspenseful fantasies.

Maximillian Fly is the story of how Maximillian sets out to prove to you and me (the reader) that he’s a good creature by rescuing two children who are being chased by government enforcers. It takes place in the city of Hope, which is trapped under a dome to protect its citizens from the contagion outside and which is run by an oppressive government.

When Maximillian decides to hide the children, his actions have far-reaching consequences for his own quiet life and for all of the people (and roaches) of Hope. After I got over my initial reaction to Maximillian’s carapace, I couldn’t put the book down.

Book Review: Love Sugar Magic

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Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble is a delightful fantasy full of family, friendship, magic, and baking.

Eleven-year-old Leonora Logroño is the youngest of five sisters. Her family owns a bakery, Amor y Azucár Pandadería, in Rose Hill, Texas.

Leo wants to help with the preparations for Dia de los Muertos, but her family insists that she wait until she’s fifteen. She sneaks into the bakery to see what she’s missing and learns her family’s secret. Her mother and sisters are brujas!

Not wanting to be left out, she smuggles her family’s old recipe book home in her backpack and starts experimenting with her own baking magic. When she tries to solve her best friend’s problem by baking cookies with a love spell, though, she finds that magic sometimes has unintended consequences.

The magical adventure continues in the next book in the series, Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, and another one is expected next year. Larrabee and I enjoyed the first two and are looking forward to the third book.

Book Review: Tunnel of Bones

39352771._SY475_Kids who are looking for a haunting read this week should check out Tunnel of Bones, the second book in Victoria Schwab’s City of Ghosts series.

Twelve-year-old Cassidy almost drowned last year. Ever since then, she’s been able to pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead and help restless spirits move on. And Jacob, the ghost who saved her life, has become her best friend.

Now Cassidy and Jacob are in Paris. Her parents are filming a new episode of their TV show about haunted cities. When Cassidy goes into the Catacombs under the city, she accidentally awakens a poltergeist. She and her family are in danger, and in order to stop him, she must figure out who he was and how he died.

This book is one that you’ll keep reading long after you should have turned out the lights and gone to sleep. It’s a spooky page-turner!

Book Review: We’re Not From Here

35615208We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey is a quick, funny read, and at the same time, it makes you think. It’s the story of a kid named Lan, who has to convince the aliens of Planet Choom to accept a spaceship full of human refugees.

At the beginning of the story, Lan and his family are living on Mars. Life on Earth is no longer an option. Life on Mars isn’t so great either. Lan and his friends try to keep their sense of humor by making funny videos, but the truth is that the station is running low on food and oxygen.

Then, they’re invited to immigrate to Choom, a planet that will support human life. It’s inhabited by several alien species, including the Zhuri, who look like giant mosquitos, the Ororo, who look like giant marshmallows, and the Krik, who look like little, green werewolves. About a thousand people opt to make the journey. When they come out of their bio-suspension pods twenty years later, though, they find that they are no longer welcome.

In the end, the Zhuri government allows one “human reproductive unit,” Lan, his sister, and his parents, to come to Choom as a test case. They’re being set up to fail, of course, but if Lan can make friends and make some of his new classmates laugh, they may have a chance. Luckily, the Zhuri can’t resist a good pratfall.

Everyone agrees it makes for an entertaining story. (And you’ll have to read the book to get this joke.)

On a more serious note, it would be interesting to read this book in a classroom along with a book of realistic fiction about refugees, such as Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson, or The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth.

Book Review: Small Spaces

36959639._SY475_When Halloween approaches, the kids at the library always start looking for spooky books. This year, I have a new recommendation for them: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. It’s a quick read that combines chilling action sequences and a satisfying supernatural mystery.

One day, Sixth grader Ollie Adler sees a woman preparing to throw a book in the creek. She can’t bear to see a book destroyed, so she grabs it, takes it home, and starts to read it. It’s a very old book called Small Spaces about a farmer from Smoky Hollow who makes a deal with the Smiling Man.

The next day is Farm Day at Ollie’s school, and the whole sixth grade class takes a field trip to a local farm. As Ollie explores, she discovers hints that Small Spaces is a true story set on this very farm. Then, on the way back to school, the bus breaks down. With darkness falling and the mist rising, Ollie flees with two of her classmates, Brian and Coco, and the real adventure begins.

I promise you, after reading this book, you will never look at scarecrows the same way again!

And if you want more chills, check out the sequel, Dead Voices.

ARC Review: Race to the Sun

36353103Listen up, Percy Jackson fans. You’re going to want to put Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun on your wish list. It’s an action-packed quest adventure that draws on the Navajo legend of the Hero Twins.

Seventh grader Nizhoni Begay dreams of being a middle school superstar. But her one special talent is that she can recognize monsters. Unfortunately, no one believes her when she tells them that her dad’s new boss is up to no good.

Then, her dad is kidnapped, and only Nizhoni, her younger brother, and her best friend Davery can rescue him. They’ll have to pass a series of trials to reach the House of the Sun and obtain the weapons they’ll need to defeat the monsters.

Some of my favorite things about this book were:

  • Mr. Yazzie, the wise horned toad, who mentors Nizhoni.
  • The prophetic poem that Nizhoni receives from the mysterious snack lady in the train station.
  • The Navajo mythological figures that appear in the story.
  • The fact that Nizhoni, her brother, and Davery have complementary skills.
  • The satisfying final battle.

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is January 14, 2020.