I’m lucky enough to get to review books for School Library Journal. They send me most of the Alaskana and a variety of other things (graphic novels, juvenile fiction, non fiction, etc). It’s fun to not know what I am going to get and to read books I might not have otherwise picked.
Some of the books are great, some are meh, and a few are awful. But there are three recently that have made it full time into my readers advisory – I suggest these books to kids all the time.
Below are some of my favorites and excerpts from the SLJ reviews plus a few notes. You can find my list of books I have reviewed here..
Rules for Thieves by Alexandra Ott, Aladdin, 2017.
What it’s about: A magical world includes an orphan. She escapes, get hit with a curse, and needs to buy a cure. The only way to make the money to do so is to join the Thieves Guild. Pass their entrance challenge (steal something big) and get a signing bonus that will pay for the cure. She’s paired with a boy named Beck who just might have the magic to do it. But there are other forces conspiring against them.
Review excerpt: “Characters are well developed and balanced, though some of the secondary players are a little flat. While the world is well imagined, the background details are scarce. The plot is fast-paced and addresses ethical dilemmas. There are enough remaining loose ends to spawn a sequel, though this title can stand alone.”
Who I recommend this to: All those fourth to sixth grade fantasy readers. Recently I recommended it to a kid who had already worked their way through Land of Stories (Colfer) and to a Wings of Fire (Sutherland) fan. I love the strong female protagonist and the themes of family and personal responsibility. Upper elementary to low middle school grade levels.
The Sequel: The sequel, Shadow Thieves, just came out (June 2018). This one follows our main character as she is reunited with her brother and they try to build a life and a family together, but her past overshadows it all. (I reviewed this one too for SLJ.)
Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August, Roaring Brook Press, 2018.
What it’s about: Arlo and his family move back to his mom’s hometown. To try and fit in, he joins a local scout like group. There they learn the normal wilderness survival skills and the magic skills they will need because their woods are a crossover area with other worlds. And of course there’s a
Review excerpt: “The first novel is clearly laying the groundwork for future installments, and it is very fertile ground. Enough questions are answered to provide satisfaction, but unanswered questions and mysteries that remain. VERDICT An exciting fantasy novel grounded in reality with a strong emphasis on friendships and great characters. This new series will appeal to fans of mystery and adventure as well as reluctant readers.”
Who I recommend this to: Again all those third to sixth grade fantasy readers, especially the ones who had finished all of Rick Riordan and really like fantasy that is partially in our world, partially out of it.
Ocean in My Ears by Meagan Macvie, Ooligan Press, 2017.
I’m always looking for another great Alaskan book and this one fits the bill. It is historical fiction set in the 1990s (and no I wasn’t emotionally ready for that either), but it is also about growing up in a small town and facing all those first choices that come at the end of high school and the edge of adulthood. Those choices that have lifelong consequences. Also this has one of my favorite, most Alaskan moments, the main character is dipnetting with her love interest. (Dipnetting is standing in the ocean/river intersection holding a big net, hoping a fish will swim into it.) And she wants to be in the river, but the guys have relegated her to sitting on shore clipping tails and cleaning fish. And she storms off down the beach in protest. You don’t get that level of detail when an outsider writes Alaska. This book is beautiful and lovely and I adore giving it to teens.
Review excerpt: “While the book might be set 30 years ago, teens today will still relate to first love, first sexual experiences, wanting to escape, and watching your friends make different choices. VERDICT A strong debut novel featuring memorable, relatable characters making adult decisions at the edge of high school in a fantastically drawn Alaskan setting”