Chris's Book Reviews

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Shakti By SJ Sindu, Nabi H. Ali (Illustrator) Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: November 30, 2022

I cannot love this graphic novel enough! Great characters, gorgeous illustrations, and a rich story melding Indian mythology and modern-day middle school battles. Perfect for fans of Witches of Brooklyn, The Okay Witch, or Svetlana Chmakova's Berrybrook Middle School series!

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Sunshine: A Graphic Novel By Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Illustrator) Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: November 29, 2022

If you're wondering where the sunshine went this winter, it's all in Jarrett Krosoczka's wonderful new graphic novel SUNSHINE. A beautifully drawn retelling of his summer at a camp for seriously ill kids and their families, SUNSHINE captures the seemingly impossible: Kids and families burdened with debilitating, sometimes even terminal illnesses, finding a way to laugh, sing, dance, swim, and yes, light farts around the campfire. From Jarrett's first anxious moments meeting the campers to the heartbreaking goodbyes at the end, as well as some deeper moments of joy and grief later on, you'll find yourself wishing you'd been there. Luckily, Jarrett has the talent as both artist and writer to take us back to those moments.

Playing Through the Turnaround By Mylisa Larsen Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: November 26, 2022

In music, the turnaround can lead you back to the beginning or can set you up for the next section of the song. For 6 students in the middle school jazz band, eighth grade just feels like a repetition of 7th grade. The kids are all the same, doing the same thing. And their families are the same, too. Nothing ever changes. The only time things feel different, feel good, is when they're playing jazz. Only now the school needs to make budget cuts and what's the first thing to go? The jazz band program. Mylisa Larsen has created a moving and dynamic story of 6 teens learning to take control of their own lives, to break out of the patterns of childhood and make themselves heard both by each other and by the adults around them.

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A Consuming Fire By Laura E. Weymouth Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: November 23, 2022

One of those books you will stay up all night reading! From the quiet, fearful main character who vows revenge against the god who killed her sister, to the mysterious, shape-shifting thief who may or may not be helping her, to the fiery pagan god who seems utterly invulnerable, A Consuming Fire is an utterly consuming read. Perfect for any YA reader who loves dark fantasy.

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Finally Seen By Kelly Yang Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: November 10, 2022

A heart-breaking, heart-lifting story of love, family, perseverance, and the fight against book-banning! Anyone who has entered the American school system as a stranger knows the courage it takes just to get through an ordinary day. Invisibility is usually the easiest defense, but the dream is always to be seen—and accepted—for who you are. In FINALLY SEEN, Kelly Yang captures every detail of Lina Gao's journey from new kid who can barely speak English to a valued *seen* member of the community. Along the way Lina not only learns a lot about herself, but she also learns to see who her mother and father are, who her sister and grandmother are, and who her friends are. The ultimate test comes when Lina decides to fight against a group of parents who want to ban her favorite author. How can she speak up when she feels like she can barely speak? The brilliance of Kelly Yang's writing, of course, is that her young heroes always find a way forward.

Undercover Latina (The Factory) By Aya de León Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: October 14, 2022

Aya de León has hit it out of the park with this smart, suspenseful and deeply insightful story of a teenage Latina spy sent to track down a white supremacist. Action, mystery, family, friendships—this novel has it all, with a main character who inspires and captivates from the very first page.

Freestyle: A Graphic Novel By Gale Galligan Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: October 14, 2022

Loved this one! Not only does it have one of the best middle school enemies-to-friends stories ever, but it does it with yo-yos and street-dancing. Absolute fun from beginning to end!

Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston By Esme Symes-Smith Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: October 12, 2022

A wonderful LGBTQ fantasy for middle-grade readers! Callie, who identifies as a boy, desperately wants to be a knight. Acceptance is easy at home. But when their father gets assigned to the local castle to train the Prince, Callie discovers that the rest of the world has a much narrower vision of what they should be. Callie is not easily cowed, and as they battle against the despotic chancellor and his rules, they forge deep friendships with the other children of the castle--each of whom has had their dreams squashed by the deep-seated prejudices of the castle's ruler. Callie is a wonderful main character, but what makes the story shine most is the deep friendships they create with the other children of the castle, and the way they all band together to force the changes the adults have refused to make.

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The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams By Daniel Nayeri, Daniel Miyares (Illustrator) Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: October 12, 2022

A wholly original, fabulous and deeply moral tale of the Silk Road, worthy of its own place in the Thousand and One Nights canon. The beggar boy Monkey, rescued by Samir, a Silk Road merchant and con-man, proves to be as smart and resourceful as his master. But the more Monkey travels with Samir, the less he understands what this short, chubby merchant is doing or even who he is. Is Samir actually cunning or just lucky? Does he care that his get-rich schemes fail time after time, that whole teams of assassins have been sent to kill him? And why does he seem genuinely fond of Monkey one moment and threaten to sell him the next? The relationship between Monkey and Samir grows into one as rich and complex as any in literature, comic one moment, tragic the next, even completely puzzling sometimes, but in a way that feels utterly human. THE MANY ASSASSINATIONS OF SAMIR, THE SELLER OF DREAMS is described as an all-ages book. What this means is everyone everywhere should read it.

Muhammad Najem, War Reporter: How One Boy Put the Spotlight on Syria By Muhammad Najem, Nora Neus, Julie Robine (By (artist)) Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: September 20, 2022

An amazing story of courage, persistence and compassion. Muhammad Najem is one of those rare people born to seek the truth even at the risk of his own life. Not only does this wonderful graphic novel tell his story, but it brings home the tragedy of war-torn Syria in a way that most of the U.S. media has not. An absolute must-read for everyone.

Amari and the Great Game (Supernatural Investigations #2) By B. B. Alston Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: May 31, 2022

I love, love, love this book, these characters, this series! I didn't think anything could match AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS. But AMARI AND THE GREAT GAME is just as fun and exciting, with Amari and her roommate/ weredragon/genius inventor best friend Elsie working through the latest supernatural mystery with all the same bravery, humor and loyalty they showed in the first book. Plenty of other characters get more airtime now, too, including Quentin and Maria and Amari's best-friend-from-the-hood, Jayden, who's now also enrolled at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs' summer camp and brings his own brand of humor, compassion and street-smarts with him. The one disappointing part to reading AMARI AND THE GREAT GAME? The fact that Book 3 was not right at my fingertips when I reached the end. But I can wait. (Really, I can. I think...)

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution By R. F. Kuang Cover Image
Reviewed by: Chris
Posted: May 26, 2022

An absolute masterpiece! R. F. Kuang proved her chops as a fantasy writer with The Poppy War series. But Babel is on another level entirely. The characters, the prose, the setting, the sheer volume of Kuang's knowledge on everything from the intricacies and magic of translation (her specialty) and the etymology of words in a dozen different languages to colonialism, British history, even silver mining, make this one of the best books of 2022, hands down.

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