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Book Reviews: Later books in a series

Shadow Captain (The Revenger Series Book 2) by Alastair Reynolds. Orbit, 2019. 9780316555708. 423pp.

Think the age of exploration and pirates in space, in an original setting, a designed solar system created over the course of many past human civilizations (which is clarified more in this book than in any of the others by Reynolds that I’ve read). The ships in question mostly get from place to place via solar sails, and many of thse “baubles” they visit are rich with treasure from the past. Human habitats vary wildly in design and state of repair, and a bit of alien tech is around, too. It’s a lot of fun with great characters, including a truly tyrannical pirate and two sisters who run afowl of her in the first book. That book is Revenger. You should start with it. I can barely start to explain the second without ruining it.

And, holy crap! The third book in the trilogy is already out. Got to get a copy.


Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries Book 5) by Martha Wells. Tor, 2020. 9781250229861. 352pp.

If you’ve read all four Murderbot novellas, I can report that the first novel in the series is just as entertaining. But it’s got a lot to do with a character we met in on of those books, so the less said the better.

If you haven’t heard of the series, the Murderbot in question was a killing machine for hire (part meat, part tech) that hacked its own governor module, and then used its freedom to secretly watch entertainment videos (it is obsessed) and then to make decisions that went against its programming to help/save the humans it liked. Great character. Start with All Systems Red.


The Last Emperox (The Interdependency Book 3) by John Scalzi. Tor, 2020. 320pp. 9780765389169.

The third book in this series by Scalzi, which is a fun read on part with the Old Man’s War books. A civilization that uses a network of interconnected wormholes to journey between its outposts faces a crisis when the network starts to collapse. Lots of swearing and political intrigue plus more than a little violence — this is one of the smoothest, fastest reads I’ve had in a long time, and utterly enjoyable. Start with The Collapsing Empire.


Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy Book 2) by Tamsyn Muir. Tor, 2020. 9781250313225. 512pp.

This book isn’t as totally batshit and swear-y as the first book in the series, Gideon the Ninth, but it’s amazing nonetheless. A group of overpowered necromancers hide from a giant monster at the edge of the universe with their god king. Two of them are newbies. More than one of them is completely crazy. Requires utter trust that the author has not gone crazy, too, and that this is truly a sequel to the last book, which if you’re like me you loved so much. Tamsyn Muir, I trusted you, and I’m not sorry I did at all!  I loved this one, too. Can’t wait for the third book!

Start with Gideon the Ninth, which I highly recommend for smart asses and anyone who loves smart-assery with swords.


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Reviews: Graphic Novels for Kids

Snail Finds a Home by Mary Peterson. Aladdin Pix, 2020. 9781534431850. 64pp.

Ladybug tries to convince strawberry-loving Snail to leave his bucket of strawberries. After he turns green and vomits he agrees, and she becomes his real estate agent, taking him to places he could live while trying to keep him from being eaten by a chicken. Yeah, it’s weird. The drawings are fun, it flows really well, and little kids are going to love it. (I can’t wait for a librarian somewhere to email me about a group of stoned older readers pulling it off a library shelf and reading it to each other.)

Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off by Wilfrid Lupano, Maya Itoïz, and Paul Cauuet. Translation by Nathan Sacks. Graphic Universe, 2020. 9781541528192. 40pp.

It’s winter in the woods, which is great if you’re prepared. But the Wolf isn’t happy because maybe he isn’t ready — he keeps saying, “They’re freezing!” — and it’s freaking the other animals out. They try to figure out what Wolf is talking about, and how to take care of it so that the cold doesn’t turn him evil or wild or the like. There’s a knitting owl, a lot of fondue, and a lot of overly paranoid animals. Very entertaining.

Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution (Graphic Science Biographies) by Jordi Bayarri. Translation by Dr. Tayra M.C. Lanuza-Navarro and Carin Berkowitz. Graphic Universe, 2020. 9781541578227. 40pp. including a timeline, glossary, index, and list of further resources.

This short, simple graphic biography of Darwin starts with him being interested in science as a kid and ends with the publication of his famous theory. Along the way he fails to become a doctor (as his father wanted) and a priest. See him get sickened by an autopsy! Witness him make the mistake of trying to store a beetle in his mouth! There’s at least one more bout of nausea in here.

I read two books in this series, and this is clearly the more inspired and readable of the two. Highly recommended if you’re trying to get young comics readers interested in science.

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Graphic Novel Review: Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh. First Second, 2020. 9781250171115. 224pp plus sketches, original covers, and process pages in the back.

When Snap goes looking for her dog, Good Boy, she finds him at Jacks’ place. She’s supposed to be the town witch and she scares Snap a bit, but Snap knows there’s no such thing as witches, and anyway the old woman helped Good Boy when he was hurt. So after she finds some possums who need help, Snap takes them to Jacks, who makes a deal with her: she’ll show Snap how to care for the possums if Snap works for her (collecting roadkill, but Snap doesn’t know that for a few pages). She’s soon helping Jacks articulate dead animal skeletons, and also hanging out with her new friend Louis, who loves the same movies she does. Everyone sees them all as weird.

There are stories within the story, one in particular that connects Snap and Jacks (who has a very interesting past), plus the monstrous One-Eyed Tom that stalks Snap’s family. There’s a bit of real magic, too, though friendship, love, and family are at the center of this graphic novel. (Leyh is co-writer and cover artist for the Lumberjanes series if you need more to recommend this. Plus it has one of the best library scenes ever (see below).)

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Graphic Novel Review: These Savage Shores by Ram V, illustrated by Sumit Kumar.

These Savage Shores by Ram V, illustrated by Sumit Kumar, colored by Vittorio Astone, lettered by Aditya Bidikar. Vault, 2019. 9781939424402. Contains issues #1 – #5.

Alain Pierrefont, an injured vampire on the run, arrives in Calicut, on the Malabar Coast, in 1766. Young Prince Vikram of the Zamorin hosts Alain, and the East India Company wants him to help exert influence over the young ruler to open a land trade route. Alain is warned by the Prince that “Savage things roam the nights in these parts.” He doesn’t take that warning at all seriously. He should have.

Other creatures roam the land, or maybe protect it. Soon the hunter on Alain’s trail is there, too, as are some of the other vampires who knew him in Europe. There’s a bit of romance, an ancient immortal, and quite a bit of violence. Kumar’s art and Astone’s colors work together to create the perfect atmosphere for Ram V’s story.

This book is right up there with Gideon Falls as one of the best horror graphic novels of last year. It has a lot of brooding shelf appeal, especially for anyone who reads the great marketing copy on the back.


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Graphic Novel Review: dancing at the pity party: a dead mom graphic novel by Tyler Feder

dancing at the pity party: a dead mom graphic novel by Tyler Feder. Dial, 2020. 9780525553021. 202pp, including a bunch of family photographs at the end.

Tyler’s mother Rhonda was diagnosed with cancer when Tyler was a college freshman, and died not too long afterwards following intensive chemotherapy. Tyler convinced me (as she will convince you) that her mom was the coolest. Dealing with her death has been tough on Tyler, her dad, her sisters, and everyone who knew her.

Reading about her mom’s final moment (and the days of waiting for it) brought back similar experiences for me — I had to put this book down a few times and take some deep breaths. Her lists of dos and don’ts for dealing with a grieving person are spot on. And I learned a lot about shivas, which I’d heard of but never really understood. The photos at end are devastating and wonderful — don’t jump ahead unless you absolutely can’t help it.

This is going on my shelf next to Doug Stanhope’s Digging Up Mother, which has the greatest sendoff I think anyone could ever hope for (opinions will vary), and It’s OK that you’re NOT OKAY by Megan Divine, a book that helped me a few years ago after a friend died.

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Guest Book Review: Women of Substance

Women of Substance by Revilo. Hallmark Books, 2005. No ISBN. 80pp.
This is a collection of silly cartoons by Oliver Christianson, better known as Revilo, a well-known cartoonist who writes and draws for Hallmark. His books and cards have made me giggle, chuckle, and snort loudly. He simply doesn’t give a crap. Women of Substance depicts snarky, self-deprecating women who know how to laugh at themselves and others. Between all my own issues and the opportunities my library’s patrons give me, Revilo is my hero — he’s actually drawn and exposed my innermost thoughts! Below are a few that made me laugh the hardest.
Guest review by NowBrusMom.
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Easy Reader Reviews

Kiwi Cannot Reach (Ready to Read Level One) by Jason Tharp. Simon Spotlight, 2019. 9781534425125.

Kiwi can’t reach a rope above its head, so it enlists the help of the reader to shake the book and push buttons and do other stuff to help it. The best thing about this early reader is that it’s a very short and simple (and wonderfully drawn) comic book in disguise. (In fact most of the books in this review are.)


Barry’s Best Buddy (Easy-To-Read Comics Level One) by Renée French. TOON Books, 2012. 9781935179214.

This is about a small bird named Barry. His friend Polarhog wakes him up because he has a surprise. He buys Barry a hat (but Barry doesn’t like hats). He buys Barry an ice cream (Barry doesn’t like ice cream, either). (The ants at the bottom of the pages offer a clue to Polarhog’s final surprise, which Barry does like.)

My family loved French’s Tinka, about a tiny sheep. They’ll love Barry, too.

Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 9781534404311.

Mr. Monkey puts a lot of bananas into his cake and his stomach. Since he’s not hungry for the cake, he decides to enter it in a show. Now he’s got to get it there. A lot of things make that difficult, including weird vehicles, ravenous birds, and a hungry but ultimately friendly gorilla. My favorite two-page spread has a lot of those birds on it. Have a look at it, it’s spectacular.



Knight Owls (Ready to Read Level One) by Eric Seltzer, illustrated by Tom Disbury. Simon Spotlight, 2019. 9781534448810.

My favorite of the Ready to Read books by Seltzer and Disbury in my to-review pile, this features medieval owls in armor, a pizza-making dragon, and a fair bit of reading. It’s friendly, funny, and well drawn, but not as slapstick as Mr. Monkey.

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Mostly Picture Book Reviews

Duckworth, the Difficult Child by Michael Sussman, illustrated by Júlia Sarda. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 9781534405127.

When a giant snake comes out of his closet, Duckworth’s parents, who are trying to deal with him, tell him he’s too old to be imagining things like that. After he takes a nap, the snake eats him. His parents continue to ignore it.



How To Be A T. Rex by Ryan North, illustrated by Mike Lowery. Dial, 2018. 9780399186240.

When Sal grows up he wants to be a T. Rex. His brother says that’s impossible. His brother is wrong. It’s fun being a dinosaur, but there are downsides, too. (This is another great, short comic disguised as a picture book.)




Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts by Mike Lowery. Orchard Books, 2019. 9781338566291. 128pp (not a picture book!)

I’m obviously a huge fan of Lowery’s picture books, and of pretty much everything he draws. This is maybe my favorite dinosaur book ever, probably because it has lots of other animals, too. Lowery’s lettering is as fun as his drawings.

This fall there’s another book like this coming from Lowery, about sharks and other underwater creatures.










The Two Mutch Sisters by Carol Brendler, art by Lisa Brown. Clarion Books, 2018. 9780544430747.

“The Mutch Sisters were collectors.” They still are, and their house is full of crap — two of everything. There’s no space! Ruby tells Violet she’s moving out. And she does. Then Violet feels like something is missing, and takes drastic steps. (Is this a warning about two collectors getting used to living together? That’s how I’m taking it.)

Worth noting: Brown draws everything from cats to glockenspiels to bear skins with tons of panache. She’s one of my five favorite picture book illustrators, right up there with Jon Agee and Mike Lowery!



The Lost Book by Margarita Surnaite. Margarget K. McElderry Books, 2019. 9781534438187.

Books are everywhere in Rabbit Town, and everyone loves them except Henry. Then he finds a lost book, and sets off to find its owner in the human city. Touching and surprising plus (spoiler alert) Henry doesn’t fall in love with books at the end!

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Picture Book Reviews

In A Jar by Deborah Marcero. GP Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 9780525514596.

Llewellyn is a rabbit who collects things in jars: rocks, feathers, leaves. One day he collects the light of a sunset and gives it to his friend Evelyn. Then they collect things together, at least until her family moves away.




my heart by corinna luyken. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 9780735227934.

A black and white and yellow book that contains a poem about happiness, sadness, and our ability to open our hearts. There’s a little darkness in this book, but the yellow lets the joy burst through so much it’s amazing.




Imagine! by Raúl Colón. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2018. 9781481462730.

A young man visits the Museum of Modern Art. Characters and creatures from paintings step out of their frames, and they dance together down the street and around New York City. Colón’s colorful drawings are as amazing as always, but really leap off the pages in this one.



Rodzilla by Rob Sanders, art by Dan Santat. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017. 9781481457798.

A giant, soft, squishy monster is loose in the city. It farts, unleashes giant boogers, and hurls. Hilariously gross.



The Fox On The Swing by Evelina Daciutè and Aušra Kiudulaite. Thames & Hudson, 2018. 9780500651568.

Paul lives in a treehouse in a park with his family. He befriends a fox by giving it his daily roll from the bakery. Sometimes the fox is down, but other times it’s super happy, but they’re great friends. One day Paul and his family move away. (Don’t worry, he’s able to find happiness again.)

This totally wordy picture book is by two Lithuanian creators, and feels even more philosophical than most picture books. The art is outrageously odd and fun.

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Graphic Novel Review: Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond, illustrated by David McKean

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond, illustrated by David McKean. Candlewick, 2019. 9781536201604. 80pp.

While Joe Quinn, Geordie, and Davie watch two girls play tennis, Joe tells them about the poltergeist at his house. There’s been stuff flying all over and smashing his place up. They don’t quite believe him as Joe has told lies before, but as his mom makes them chips things start flying around the kitchen. Geordie thinks it’s nonsense. But Davie, he seems to believe a bit, which has something to do with the fact the he misses his dead sister. Davie keeps going back to Joe’s, and talking to a priest (who is questioning his own beliefs).

Based on a previously published story by Almond, McKean’s drawings & collages are simply fantastic. I can’t imagine many kids or teens being wowed by this, but adult comics fan will love it, especially if they’re nostalgic for the days when they could eat a sandwich full of butter, chips, and ketchup. McKean even uses elements like panel borders and word balloons to help tell the story. This is a great graphic novel that I’ve already read several times.


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