Girl Power Graphic Novels Blog Tour: Featuring Cucumber Quest!

Girl Power Graphic Novels Blog Tour HeaderI always love finding new graphic novels and comics so I was thrilled when I got the chance to join First:Second’s Girl Power Graphic Novels Blog Tour.

While all of the comics were delightful, a new favorite quickly emerged the moment I opened Cucumber Question: The Doughnut Kingdom (2017) and its sequel Cucumber Quest: The Ripple Kingdom (2018) by Gigi D. G.

In Dreamside in a house in the Doughnut Kingdom a young rabbit named Cucumber is preparing to head to magic school. His plans are dashed when his parents reveal that Cucumber is the latest in a line of Legendary Heroes and it is his destiny to save The Doughnut Kingdom and Dreamside from the Nightmare Knight.

While Cucumber appreciates the predicament, he’d much rather go to magic school and leave saving the world to literally anyone else. Luckily (or perhaps not) Cucumber’s younger sister Almond is all about adventure, swords, and fighting so she is more than ready to drag Cucumber along on this epic quest.

Saving the kingdom won’t be easy when allies include a hapless Dream Oracle and a knight armed with little more than charm and a flimsy spear. The quest will take both young rabbits far from home as they travel across Dreamside to gather the tools they need to save the day.

Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom is a great introduction to D. G.’s vivid and bizarre world (which started life as a webcomic before the volumes were collected by First:Second) as Cucumber and Almond embark on their journey to try and stop the Nightmare Knight. The adventure continues in Cucumber Quest: The Ripple Kingdom when (spoiler) the Nightmare Knight does in fact return and he and his minions need to be stopped–one kingdom at a time.

The first book includes a great map of The Doughnut Kingdom (shown above) and trading card style intros for all of the characters. Volume Two’s bonus material has more character trading cards and a tourist guide to Cucumber and Almond’s next stop: The Ripple Kingdom. D. G. uses a surprisingly color palette that is bright without being jarring. The comic panels are dynamic and filled with amazingly expressive characters.

These comics are zany and incredibly clever. The cast is filled with strong characters including the mysterious thief, Saturday, and the charmingly forgetful Princess Nautilus. Then of course there’s Almond, the girl who would happily save the world if only any of the adults in Dreamside would let her. Cucumber astutely engages with a lot of the obvious flaws in quest stories (How is Cucumber really the best choice for this? Why is it so easy to resurrect the Nightmare Knight anyway? What’s up with his dad in that cell?) while also embodying everything that makes quest stories so fun (reluctant hero! adventure! mayhem!).

I can’t wait to see what happens when Cucumber, Almond, and the rest of their team head to The Ripple Kingdom.

Be sure to check out all of the titles featured on the blog tour too:

  • Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor: A Victorian tale of derring-do and also girls fighting monsters.
  • Cucumber Quest by Gigi D.G: A bunny-filled fantasy adventure of a kingdom in distress and some reluctant (and non-reluctant) heroes.
  • The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson: A historical San Francisco adventure of a girl who accidentally ends up in fairyland.
  • Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence: A girl scout adventure–but in outer space!
  • Monsters Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado: A fantasy adventure of defying expectations and friendship (and monsters).

You can also check out these blog tour stops:

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The Stone Girl’s Story: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth DurstMayka and her stone family were brought to life by the markings etched into their bodies–symbols that represent who they are and the stories of their live. Mayka’s father was a talented stonemason. He created fish that could swim, rabbits, birds, and even a turtle before he used everything he had learned to create Mayka a girl who lives and thinks even if she does not need to breath or eat the way humans do.

But stone erodes over time and Mayka’s father is no longer alive to tend to his stone creations. Without a stonemason to maintain them, the stone creature’s markings are fading. Unless a stonemason can recarve their markings Mayka and her stone family will cease to live–becoming nothing more than still statues.

Finding a stonemason won’t be easy. It will force Mayka to leave the only home she has ever known high up on her family’s mountain. Off the mountain Mayka discovers that there is more to the magic that brings her to life than Father ever let on. When her search for a stonemason reveals a threat to all stone creatures, Mayka may not have any time left to wait for a stonemason to save her in The Stone Girl’s Story (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Durst’s latest standalone middle grade fantasy is an evocative adventure where, with the right markings, stone can be brought to life. Durst once again brings her imaginative vision to life in a novel whose heroine is as surprising as her world.

Mayka’s stone family consists of herself and a variety of talking animals eager to help in the search for a new stonemason. The high stakes of this mission are offset with the wonder and enthusiasm with which Mayka explores new lands and makes some surprising friends.

The Stone Girl’s Story is an engrossing adventure and a thoughtful commentary on agency as Mayka realizes that the best way to save herself and her friends might be to do it herself. A delightful addition to the author’s extensive body of work.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, Princeless Book One: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

Audrey’s Magic Nine: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Audrey's Magic Nine by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy BaileyAfter ten long years in foster care and increasingly worse foster home situations, it finally looks like Audrey’s luck is turning when she is adopted. Her adoptive parents are a bit over-zealous with the extracurriculars and a bit too enthusiastic but Audrey has her own room and plenty of food which is more than she could say before. It could be worse.

Turns out it could be stranger too. Audrey doesn’t know much about her puppet Asa–just that she’s had him since she was a baby. When Asa starts talking, Audrey realizes she isn’t the only one with a mysterious past. Turns out Asa is part of a legendary council of magical creatures. The council of nine fought evil but during their last battle something went wrong and transported Asa and the others to Earth where they have been turned into puppets.

Once she sketches out a plan Audrey is ready to help but finding the puppets is only half the battle as she and Asa try to figure out how the portal sent the council to Earth and how to get them home in Audrey’s Magic Nine (2018) by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy Bailey.

Audrey’s Magic Nine is a webcomic turned graphic novel. The first volume follows as she (spoiler) tracks down the first three puppets. Like a lot of comics, things end abruptly but the book includes four bonus comics to flesh out Audrey’s world.

The comic features full color illustrations along with Audrey’s own sketches of her life (and her plans to help Asa). The story blends humor and action as Audrey braves a startling puppet theater and a sentient slide in her quest for answers.

Audrey is a young black girl adopted by white parents. I didn’t love the way that the foster care and adoption situations were portrayed–one as painfully horrible and the other as comically simple–but it works well to get the story moving (and isn’t too different from anything we see in many middle grade novels). While Audrey’s parents initially adopt her as a prop to keep up with their popular neighbors they do begin to genuinely bond with Audrey. The story also gives Audrey plenty of space for Audrey and readers to see that her adoptive parents are absurd and misguided in many ways.

Audrey’s Magic Nine is a rollicking adventure filled with action, humor, and powerful friendships. Not to mention a healthy dose of magic. Recommended for graphic novel readers and fantasy readers alike.

Possible Pairings: Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Defy the Stars: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Defy the Stars by Claudia GrayFor years Genesis has fought to protect their planet and their freedom from dangerous colonization and exploitation by the enemy, Earth. Genesis vows to avoid that same mistakes Earth has made and eschews all advanced technology. But in doing so they may have signed their own death sentence. How can they hope to win a war when the enemy keeps inventing more powerful weapons?

Noemi Vidal is a soldier of Genesis–part of a generation that is slowly being annihilated in a war they cannot win. Noemi is prepared to die for her planet, her people. But even as she makes peace with her death and that of her entire unit, she knows it won’t be enough to stop the fighting or win the war.

Abel is a machine–the most advanced cybernetic ever created. He is an abomination to the people of Genesis. He was abandoned in space years ago. Isolated and alone, his programming has started to evolve and adapt while he waits for a chance to escape and complete his primary directive: find his creator Burton Mansfield and protect him.

Noemi and Abel are on opposite sides in an interstellar war. Never meant to meet. Thrown together in a desperate journey across the stars they may be the only ones who can end the war without more bloodshed. But first they have figure out how to stay alive in Defy the Stars (2017) by Claudia Gray.

Defy the Stars is the first book in Gray’s Constellation duology. The story concludes in Defy the Worlds.

Defy the Stars alternates chapters between Noemi and Abel’s close third person viewpoints. Gray nicely subverts some expected tropes about humans and robots with her main characters. Noemi is calculating and ruthless, hardened from her years growing up (and fighting) on the losing side of a large-scale war. By contrast Abel is empathetic and thoughtful in a way that shocks Noemi and makes her wonder how much she really knows about the Mansfield Cybernetics line.

High speed chases and intense action are balanced by thoughtful moments of introspection for both characters. Noemi contemplates the inevitability of her life (and death) as a soldier while Abel wonders if an artificial intelligence like himself can be meant for a great purpose and, if so, what that purpose might be. Both characters are pushed beyond their limits and their comfort zones as they are forced to work together and to grudgingly trust each other during their journey from Genesis to Earth and into the heart of the war.

Questions of what it really means to be a machine or a human with a soul drive this story as much as the action. This plot driven story perfectly balances Noemi and Abel’s evolving relationship without bogging the story down in romantic overtures. World building is carefully integrated into the story and works to enhance the plot without detracting from its finely tuned pacing. Defy the Stars is an astute, thrilling, and fascinating novel–in other words everything science fiction readers could want. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Beta by Rachel Cohn, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, Warcross by Marie Lu, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Partials by Dan Wells

Jane, Unlimited: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -Arthur C. Clarke

—–

“There are many lives in every life.”

Jane’s life has always been ordinary and she has never minded that. When her Aunt Magnolia dies under strange circumstances, Jane is suddenly adrift and alone. She doesn’t know exactly how Aunt Magnolia died. She doesn’t know if she wants to go back to college. All she really knows is that if she is ever invited to Tu Reviens, she has to go. It was the last thing Aunt Magnolia asked her to do.

When Kiran Thrash, an old acquaintance who is as wealthy as she is mercurial, breezes back into Jane’s life with an invitation to the Thrash family gala at none other than Tu Reviens Jane immediately accepts.

The island mansion is not at all what Jane expects. Strange figures lurk in the shadows. Art goes missing and reappears at will. An ex-wife hides in the attic, while a current wife is missing entirely. Then there’s Jasper, the lovable Bassett Hound who has an uncanny attachment both to Jane and to a painting with a lone umbrella.

In a house filled with questions, Jane knows that all she has to do is follow the right person to get answers. But first she has to choose in Jane, Unlimited (2017) by Kristin Cashore.

Jane, Unlimited is Cashore’s latest standalone novel. Inspired by Choose Your Own Adventure stories among other things this novel reads as five interconnected stories spanning genres.

After enjoying but not quite loving Cashore’s Graceling trilogy, I was fully prepared for Jane, Unlimited to be the Cashore book that I would love unequivocally. I’m happy to say this genre-bending delight did not disappoint.

The novel opens with “The Missing Masterpiece” (my favorite story) where Jane tries to find a missing Vermeer and make sense of myriad clues in a mystery reminiscent of The Westing Game. This section also does all of the heavy lifting introducing Jane, her deceased Aunt Magnolia, Kiran Thrash, and her rakish and charismatic twin brother Ravi. This novel also introduces Jane’s umbrella making–a motif that helps tie all of the novel’s pieces together.

In “Lies Without Borders” Jane explores the mystery of the missing painting from a different angle in a sleek spy story that will appeal to fans of Ally Carter. The madcap action and continuously surprisingly and charming characters make this section another favorite.

Cashore turns her eye to horror in “In Which Someone Loses a Soul and Charlotte Finds One.” After finishing this creepy tale you won’t be able to look at your library or your favorite books in quite the same way. When you re-read this book on a structural level (and trust me, you’ll want to) this section is also key for highlighting the structure of the novel.

“Jane, Unlimited” is the section that ties the book together so I won’t tell you too much that could spoil the story. There are zany clothes, mayhem, frogs, and a lot of Ravi which makes this story a delight. Sure to be a favorite for fans of Douglas Adams and Dr. Who.

This novel wraps up in “The Strayhound, the Girl, and the Painting” in which some mysteries are solved and some bigger questions are raised as Jane figures out why, exactly, Jasper the Bassett Hound is so very fond of her. This whimsical segment concludes the story on an optimistic note as Jane (and readers) realize that when one door closes another opens–literally.

Jane, Unlimited is a thoughtfully layered and intricately plotted novel. Depending on how you want to read it this book could contain five separate but overlapping stories, it could be one arc where all these outcomes eventually come to pass. There’s really no wrong way to interpret this story which is part of the charm. Whatever appeals to you about Jane and her adventures I guarantee you will find it in at least one part of this novel.

I first hear about Jane, Unlimited during a job interview at Penguin for a job I didn’t even come close to getting. Back then the book was just some new contemporary novel that Cashore was working on and I didn’t think much of it at the time. When it finally came time to read the book, I found that I could think of little else. Around the time of that interview I found out that one of my aunts had suffered a stroke that would prove fatal–something I didn’t know when I kept calling and calling to tell her about scheduling that job interview and asking her advice on what to wear and to practice questions. I don’t remember the last conversation I had with my aunt but I remember those messages I left her vividly. And I so wish I could have told her how this all came together in such a strange full circle way as Jane’s aunt Magnolia was such a big part of Jane’s story as she tries to figure out which path to choose.

In case it wasn’t already clear: I loved this book. It’s perfect and everything I want. Cashore populates the story with a cast of characters that is thoughtfully inclusive and painfully charming and expertly blends genres and plays them against each other throughout this clever novel.

Jane, Unlimited is a must read for anyone who has ever felt a bit lost, readers who like their books to resemble puzzles, and, of course, for anyone looking for an excellent story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen,The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art by Mathew Hart, Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt, Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Ocean Soul by Brian Skerry, Oceanic Wilderness by Roger Steene, Parallel Universes by Max Tegmark (as seen in Scientific American, May 2003), The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

If you are interested in some of the art that inspired (or features) in this novel:

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow: A (Halloween-y) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Morrigan Crow is cursed and doomed to die on her eleventh birthday on Eventide night. She is blamed for every bit of bad luck and misfortune that plagues the residents of the town of Jackalfax in the Wintersea Republic.

When Eventide arrives early ushering a new Age across the realm, Morrigan is faced with the prospect of her premature death until a strange man named Jupiter North arrives. Together the two escape the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow and arrive in the Free State city of Nevermoor. Miraculously alive and possibly no longer cursed, Morrigan can make a fresh start.

With Jupiter’s help she has the chance to compete in a series of trials for a place in Nevermoor’s most revered group: The Wundrous Society. If she makes it she’ll also earn her place in Nevermoor and finally have a home and family who cares about her.

Despite Jupiter’s assurances, Morrigan dreads the final Show Trial where the remaining competitors will have to demonstrate their astounding talents–something Morrigan is quite certain she doesn’t possess. Morrigan will have to step boldly and learn to trust her new friends if she hopes to pass the trials and join the Wundrous Society in Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (2017) by Jessica Townsend.

Nevermoor is Townsend’s debut novel and the start of a middle grade trilogy. The story revolves around Morrigan’s struggle to find her place and discover her own worth. All while she completes magical tasks and investigates the strange world of Nevermoor.

This dynamic novel is filled with intricate and carefully detailed world building that brings the renowned figure of Jupiter North and the rest of Nevermoor vibrantly to life. Set over the course of Morrigan’s year of trials this entertaining and fast-paced story is filled with wondrous things like the Hotel Deucalion where Morrigan’s room changes to suit her mood, the Wundrous Society grounds which turns the weather up a notch, and even a giant talking “Magnificat” named Fenestra.

Nevermoor is filled with adventure, magic, and wonder. Readers, like Morrigan herself, will feel at home in these evocative pages where magic and confidence go hand in hand. Highly recommended.

Want to know more? Check out my interview with Jessica about her debut over at SLJ.com

Possible Pairings: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon Foxheart by Claire Legrand, Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the July 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

The Reluctant Queen: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Reluctant Queen is the second book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood*

“Everything has a spirit. … And those spirits want to kill you.”

Daleina spent years preparing to protect the people of Aratay as a Candidate and Heir. She was never the strongest, but she was one of the smartest and most determined. After the Coronation Massacre she was also the only Heir left alive to to take the throne. In the wake of the massacre that killed so many of her friends, Daleina is doing her best to be a good queen.

But there’s a problem.

Daleina is dying and as her health deteriorates so does her control over the spirits. All of Aratay is in danger until suitable Heirs can be chosen but after the massacre most of the candidates are perilously young and unprepared.

Naelin is neither of those things. She is powerful enough to be an Heir and the next Queen. She has also spent the past years at pains to make sure no one knows the full extent of her power–especially the spirits who would kill her for it. She has no desire to remove herself from her quiet life as a woodswoman with her husband and two young children.

Champion Ven found Daleina and believed in her abilities when no one else did, knowing that she would one day be a great Queen. He knows that the same is true for Naelin if only he can get her to see herself the way he does. As time runs out, both Daleina and Naelin will have to accept that saving everyone they love will require both women to risk everything in The Reluctant Queen (2017) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Reluctant Queen is the second book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy which began with The Queen of Blood (a 2017 Alex Award winner). This story starts several months into Daleina’s reign as Queen of Aratay when the kingdom should be calm. Instead, Daleina learns that she is fatally ill and has become her own kingdom’s greatest threat.

Durst expands the world of Renthnia in this story as Naelin and Daleina explore new parts of Aratay and look beyond its borders to Semo. The viewpoints in the story are also expanded with more from familiar characters like Ven as well as new characters like Naelin and her children.

This series is thick with action and tension. The stakes have never been higher for Daleina and Naelin (or for Aratay) as time runs out to find a cure for Daleina and prepare Naelin for everything being Queen requires. In this installment Durst thoughtfully explores the push and pull between duty to family versus larger responsibilities as Naelin tries to resign herself to her future as an Heir. Her dynamic with Daleina–Naelin’s opposite in many ways–adds an interesting dimension to the story as both women realize there is no right or easy way to wield power.

Durst has outdone herself with The Reluctant Queen. Its dramatic final act will leave readers anxious to see what the Queens of Renthia will face next. The Reluctant Queen effectively confirms that this series is a must for any and all high fantasy readers. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*