Check, Please!: #Hockey: A Graphic Novel Review

Check, Please!: #Hockey by Ngozi UkazuBitty is a former junior figure skating champion, a vlogger, and a master baker. He’s also a freshman at Samwell University where he has a scholarship spot on the hockey team. Bitty is known for his speed on the ice, but he isn’t sure he’s ready for college hockey–especially if it means getting checked!

The Samwell team is . . . different than Bitty expected. There’s a lot of swearing and a lot of nicknames. Shitty (Bitty doesn’t know his real name and isn’t sure if anyone does), and Holster and Ransom are quick to welcome him, but Bitty still doesn’t know what to make of the team captain Jack who is as cute as he is moody.

As Bitty finds his footing in college and on the ice, Bitty starts to think he might just have found his place at Samwell. But only if he can get over his fear of getting checked and find a way to get past Jack’s aloof exterior in Check, Please!: #Hockey (2018) by Ngozi Ukazu.

Check, Please!: #Hockey collects part of Ukazu’s popular Check, Please! webcomic. The story is broken into seasons and this volume collects seasons one and two (Bitty’s freshman and sophomore years at Samwell). A second volume is set to follow which will cover junior and senior year.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with Bitty or anyone else on the Samwell team when I started this comic. I never imagined I could actually become invested in a sports comic or laugh out loud learning about hockey butt and flow. But all of those things happened in this magical, hilarious comic.

Bitty is definitely an outlier on the team with his small stature and his penchant for baking. He’s also worried his teammates won’t accept him if they find out he’s gay. But Bitty, and readers, will be pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie and loyalty of the Samwell team. These guys are family and they are a damn delight to read about.

The fate of the Samwell team’s standing on the ice is interspersed with Bitty’s misadventures during hazing, inevitably bizarre course work, and some crazy intense tension with Jack. Is Bitty crazy to think they might become friends? Is it even crazier to hope for more?

Ukazu’s artwork is almost as cozy as Bitty’s kitchen with bright colors and smooth line work. The panels are often larger than you’d expect (especially for a story that’s adapted from a webcomic) and because of that all of the characters have extremely expressive faces too.

Check, Please!: #Hockey is a hilarious introduction to a series that is as entertaining as it is endearing. A must read for all–even the non-hockey fans. Recommended!

The Upside of Unrequited: A Review

cover art for The Upside of Unrequited by Becky AlbertalliMolly has had a lot of crushes—twenty-six in fact—but they’ve never led anywhere. She’s never gone on a date or been kissed. Molly doesn’t necessarily mind that. But sometimes it’s hard to feel so awkward and chubby while her twin sister Cassie never has trouble connecting with the girls she likes.

This summer all of that might change when Molly connects with a cute boy named Will on the train. But it turns out turning a crush into something more isn’t easy. It’s even harder with helping to plan her moms’ wedding and her summer job. Then there’s Reid, Molly’s cute but nerdy coworker who is making her question all of the things she thought she knew about the type of guy she’d fall for in The Upside of Unrequited (2017) by Becky Albertalli.

The Upside of Unrequited is a cute standalone contemporary romance that puts a fat girl center stage while also offering a story that is about a lot more than Molly’s weight. Molly is a sweet and relatable main character. While her crushes can lead to flights of fancy she also stays grounded while focusing on planning her moms’ wedding now that they can finally get married. Molly and Cassie’s changing relationship as Cassie falls in love for the first time adds another dimension to the story.

Unfortunately, this one fell totally flat for me. I disliked Molly’s narrative voice a lot. She was a bit too twee for my tastes. I also knew I was going to have a hard time with this story when it opened in a public bathroom. It all just felt like Molly and the story were trying a bit too hard to be appealing.

The Upside of Unrequited is an obvious choice for fans of Albertalli’s other novels. A likely winner for readers looking for a more inclusive contemporary romance as long as they can buy into the voice.

Possible Pairings: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, Once and For All by Sarah Dessen, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Starry Eyes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Starry Eyes by Jenn BennettZorie and Lennon used to be best friends. But that was before the homecoming dance last year and well before their families started feuding around the time that Lennon’s moms opened a sex toy shop right next to the massage shop that Zorie’s parents run.

Seeing Lennon and remembering how close they used to be still stings, but they’ve gotten good at avoiding each other. At least, Zorie thought they had until her mom adds a surprise adventure to Zorie’s carefully scheduled summer. (Even though she knows that being spontaneous gives Zorie hives. Literally.)

What starts as a luxe week-long glamping trip to cheer up a friend (and maybe hook up with her longtime crush) turns into a nightmare when Zories realizes that Lennon is rounding out the group. Then things go really wrong and Zorie and Lennon are stranded in the wilderness. Alone.

Needing each other to survive without any distractions might be just what Zorie and Lennon need to reconnect as they try to get back to civilization. But even after working through old hurts and secrets, they’ll have to see if their renewed friendship is ready for the real world in Starry Eyes (2018) by Jenn Bennett.

Bennett’s latest standalone contemporary romance is an absolute delight and has made me an instant fan. I also love the way this book is designed. The book is broken into three parts, each accompanied by a sketch by Bennett (who has a fine arts degree) of Zorie and Lennon’s camping gear. Lennon is an amateur mapmaker and Bennett also created maps to accompany the story which really help bring their down and the trails they travel to life.

Starry Eyes has a refreshingly varied cast and also highlights two of the many alternatives to a “traditional” nuclear family. Lennon lives with his moms but is also close with his Egyptian-American father–something that becomes more important as the plot progresses. Meanwhile Zorie’s mother died when she was eight and since then Joy, her Korean-American stepmother, has been more of a parent than her father leading to divided loyalties as Zorie uncovers a secret that could  tear her parents’ marriage apart.

Zorie is a type A nerd who plans and micromanages her own life to fend off her anxiety while also pursuing her passion for astronomy. She’s a fun and honest narrator who takes being pushed way out of her comfort zone (mostly) in stride. Laid back Lennon is the perfect foil to Zorie. His interests lie in horror, snakes, maps, and (luckily for Zorie) hiking and camping–two things that just might get them back home in one piece. While the hurt on both sides is obvious as they try to piece together what went wrong, their chemistry crackles throughout the novel.

Starry Eyes is a rich and entertaining romance. Come for the witty banter and tension, stay for the evocative descriptions, clever plotting, and nuanced characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Making Friends: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Making Friends by Kristen GudsnukSixth grade seemed so much easier to Danielle. Her friends were all together in the same class with her. She knew all the rules in school and how things worked.

Seventh grade isn’t like that. Danielle is in a different class and her friends are making new friends without her. Nothing is the same. Even making new friends feels harder now than it did when she was younger.

Drawing in the sketchbook she inherited from her great aunt Elma is way simpler. At least until Danielle realizes that her new sketchbook is magical. Everything she draws in the book comes to life–even the head of Prince Neptune, the dreamy misunderstood villain from her favorite show.

When Danielle starts thinking about the perfect best friend, the solution seems obvious. She can draw a friend! The only problem is Madison doesn’t know that Danielle drew her. And Danielle isn’t sure they can still be friends if she finds out.

With her secret looming and Prince Neptune whispering terrible advice in her ear, Danielle’s friend troubles are certain to get even worse. It will take some magic sketches and a lot of friendship to stop Prince Neptune before it’s too late in Making Friends (2018) by Kristen Gudsnuk.

Gudsnuk’s latest graphic novel is a wild mashup of contemporary middle school antics and magical adventures sure to appeal to fans of Sailor Moon. Danielle’s real world problems are tempered with the more fantastical question of what to do about the floating head she accidentally brought to life and how to convince her best friend Madison that she can be her own person while still starting life as one of Danielle’s drawings.

Gudsnuk’s style is sharp with a cartoon vibe in this full color comic. Panels are dynamic and make a nice distinction between Danielle’s life and her drawings. Readers can only hope that this standalone volume will be the start to a new series.

Making Friends is a wild genre bender with humor and heart in equal measure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, Lumberjanes by Noelle Stephenson, Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi, Audrey’s Magic Nine by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy Bailey

The Supervillain and Me: A Review

No one knows why some people develop super powers and others don’t. The only certainty is that supers fight crime provided much needed aid in a world riddled with violence and danger.

Abby Hamilton knows that supers are the only reason it’s even remotely save in Morriston. She just wishes that the town’s hottest superhero, Red Comet, wasn’t also her incredibly annoying older brother Connor.

Abby made peace with being normal a long time ago. She doesn’t mind. Especially when her real passion is musical theater, anyway. Still, it would sometimes be nice to take center stage in her own family instead of always being overshadowed by Connor’s heroic feats and her father’s job as mayor.

When Morriston’s newest super save Abby from a mugging, she has no idea that he’s Iron Phantom–a dangerous new supervillain. Except according to Iron Phantom himself, he isn’t actually evil. And he isn’t the biggest threat to the city by a long shot in The Supervillain and Me (2018) by Danielle Banas.

The Supervillain and Me is Banas’ debut novel. Although it is a series starter, the story also functions as a standalone.

The Supervillain and Me starts with an incredibly fun premise. Who doesn’t want to read about a world filled with superheroes and a misunderstood supervillain? Unfortunately, the premise is a bit misleading as Abby’s first person narration focuses more on traditional high school antics like auditioning for the school musical than the superhero shenanigans I had hoped for.

The world building is also flat offering little explanation for where Morriston is situated in the world or how supers function aside from local heroes Red Comet and Fish Boy. It’s no exaggeration to say that readers learn more about Abby’s school musical than they do about anything else in this world.

Abby is a smart-talking narrator complete with one note jokes and wise cracks that sometimes read as a bit too sharp. It’s hard to talk about the other characters in the book, or even more of the plot, without also sharing spoilers. The supporting cast includes a lot of fun characters. Unfortunately most of those characters are male. Every active super that readers encounter and, in fact, almost every character aside from Abby and her best friend Sarah, are male. Since superheroes are already often seen as the domain of boys and men, that was especially frustrating.

The Supervillain and Me is a fast-paced read filled with action, witty banter, and some light romance–ideal for readers looking for humor, excitement, and a superhero story told in broad strokes.

Possible Pairings: Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee, Renegades by Marissa Meyer, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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

My So-Called Bollywood Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Winnie Mehta’s future is all planned out. At least it was according to her family’s pandit. According to his star chart readings Winnie would meet the love her life before her eighteenth birthday. His name would start with the letter R and he would give her a silver bracelet.

The signs couldn’t have been clearer that Winnie’s true love was Raj. He meets every qualification.

Until Winnie comes home from a summer at film camp and finds out that Raj decided their break was more of a breakup.

Obviously Winnie is never going to love anyone ever again and the stars are liars.

Winnie can’t even lose herself in film club work at school when Raj ends up stealing her spot as chair of the student film festival.

Suddenly nothing about Winnie’s future is mapped out and her life seems to be taking a dramatic turn from her promised Bollywood style happy ending.

Fellow film geek Dev might be the only one who might understand and be able to help Winnie get back on track. Dev is funny, charming, and helps Winnie try to see beyond her prophecy. But as Winnie starts to fall for Dev she wonders if choosing him means she has to give up on her happy ending in My So-Called Bollywood Life (2018) by Nisha Sharma.

Sharma’s debut YA novel is a zany contemporary romance sure to appeal to movie lovers. Each chapter starts with a snippet of a Bollywood movie review from Winnie’s blog. Back matter at the end of a book gives a rundown of all of the movies mentioned in the story and more.

Winnie is a smart, driven character but she is also prone to melodrama and quick decisions. (The novel opens with Winnie literally burying her past by digging a grave for all of the gifts she gave to her ex-boyfriend in the last three years.) This rash behavior leaves ample room for humor and misunderstandings befitting a book that is partially an ode to Bollywood films.

Winnie’s family speaks Punjabi and Hindi and the combination of cultures and customs imbues Winnie’s life and informs the story as much as her love of Bollywood films. Sweet romance, drama, and action make this novel pure escapist fun at its finest.

My So-Called Bollywood Life is a must read for movie lovers, Bollywood aficionados, and anyone looking for a great high school romance that has as many laughs as it does swoons.

Possible Pairings: I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon, Bookish Boyfriends by Tiffany Schmidt, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West, Summer of Supernovas by Darcy Woods

My Plain Jane: A Review

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi MeadowsYou might think you know Jane Eyre’s story: her childhood privation, her governess position at Thornfield Hall, and her immediate attraction to the dark and brooding Mr. Rochester. You’d be wrong. Mostly because you haven’t heard about the ghosts. Don’t worry, though, My Plain Jane (2018) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows has you covered.

This standalone alternate history novel inserts teenage aspiring author Charlotte Brontë into the world of her own making (with the addition of ghosts) as she chronicles the life of her best friend at Lowood, Jane Eyre, as inspiration for her first novel about the life of one “Jane Frere.”

Charlotte’s authorial ambitions and Jane’s plans to become a governess are thwarted when Jane’s ability to see ghosts comes to the attention of Alexander Blackwood, an agent for the once prestigious Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits. Determined to help his mentor restore the Society to its past glory, Alexander is keen to recruit Ms. Eyre as an agent–even if it means taking off his ever-present mask and accepting help from the overly eager Ms. Brontë and her screw up brother. This simple task spirals into a madcap story of ghosts, possession, revenge, and murder as Charlotte, Jane, and Alexander must set aside their differences to solve the mysteries of Thornfield Hall, help the Society (and the ghosts), and maybe even save the king of England in the process.

Narrated by Charlotte, Jane, and Alexander in alternating chapters My Plain Jane uses Jane Eyre as a loose framework for the plot which is populated with familiar characters from both the classic novel and history as well as numerous Easter eggs including a likely explanation for the origins of Charlotte’s chosen pen name and excerpts from Jane Eyre as seen in Charlotte’s trusty notebook.

My Plain Jane blends fact with fiction in a humorous story that offers a gentler and more hopeful outcome for Charlotte and her siblings along with a more plausible ending for anyone who ever wondered why Jane Eyre would marry a man twice her age after his first wife is discovered in the attic. A must-read for fans of My Lady Jane or Jane Eyre and a fun alternative for fans of paranormal romances.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

*A more condensed version of this review was published the March 2018 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review*