It’s usually difficult to find the elusive Natasha Romanoff, but not today: You can now find Black Widow starring her own young adult title, Forever Red, in bookstores everywhere.
Black Widow: Forever Rednot only gives us a much-needed insight into the history of Natasha Romanoff, but also introduces a new teenaged character, Ava Orlova, who made her debut in September in the Mockingbird comic book one-shot. How do their paths intersect?
“Being able to tell a canon story—the definitive story of Natasha Romanoff’s past—that was both the carrot and the stick,” says author Margaret Stohl. “But the book is both an origin story and a legacy story—with our Black Widow and our Red Widow—so in many ways it becomes a very powerful female narrative about friendship and really sisterhood between two pretty amazing women.”
Unlike Marvel’s foray into novels that featured adult superheroes looking for romance, DC Comics instead selected a young, non-powered protagonist to star in her own book. And I don’t think they could have made a better choice than Lois Lane.
In Lois Lane: Fallout, written by Gwenda Bond, Lois is 16 years old and starting school after yet another move to a new city. This time, she and her family have landed in Metropolis, and Lois is resolved to not cause trouble (again) at her new school. But when she sees a girl being bullied by a mysterious group on her first day at East Metropolis High, she can’t help but get involved. She might not have any friends yet in Metropolis, but she can count on her online friend SmallvilleGuy to help her crack the mystery behind the bullies.
Just the first chapter of Fallout told me that Bond gets Lois Lane. Lois is tenacious, fearless (or at least knows how to pretend to be), and never hesitates to do the right thing no matter how much trouble she might get in. Lois is likable and relatable, the perfect YA heroine, and I want her to be my BFF immediately.
Because of the age of the characters, I couldn’t help but picture the faces of Smallville, but this is more like the Smallville I always wanted. Here’s hoping that Bond continues the story of Lois Lane (and the secretive SmallvilleGuy) in more novels in the future.
Lois Lane: Fallout is a fast, engaging novel for readers of all ages, now available from Switch Press.
Back in June, I attended Book Expo America in New York, and I previewed some great new reads for kids and teens. There are so many books at the Expo each year that it’s impossible to see them all. And reading time is precious when I’m chasing a two-year-old around. So these are the titles I really want to make time to read this fall, based on what I previewed.
Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Return of the Padawan by Jeffrey Brown. The second book about Roan Novachez’s middle school years from the author of Vader’s Little Princesshit shelves last month, but I think it’ll be a great back-to-school pick. Roan’s second year at Jedi Academy finds him dealing with tough classes, friend problems, and bullies. (July 29th from Scholastic Inc.)
Amulet #6: Escape from Lucienby Kazu Kibuishi. The gorgeous and absolutely thrilling Amulet graphic novel series continues with Emily and Navin splitting up to find keys to defeating the Elf King. (August 26th from GRAPHIX)
The Iron Trialis the first book in the new Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. It’s a middle grade fantasy that follows Callum Hunt, who has been warned away from magic all of his life, as he’s accepted into the Magisterium and discovers dark things lurking there. (September 9th from Scholastic Press)
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. I would love to spend a day inside Scott Westerfeld’s imagination. His new book is a story-within-a-story about a college student who leaves school when her first novel, Afterworlds, is published. The book follows a year in her life as a young writer finding her way in New York City. It also weaves in her actual novel, about another girl who escapes a terrorist attack by entering the Afterworld, “a place between the living and the dead,” according to the book description. This is the only one I couldn’t get my hands on at Book Expo, and I cannot wait for its release! (September 23rd from Simon Pulse)
Skink—No Surrenderby Carl Hiaasen. The sixth novel with Skink and another from the great Hiaasen. When Richard’s cousin disappears, he gets Skink to help track her down somewhere in Florida with his own unique methods for justice. This one is already getting starred reviews for teens and adults. (September 23rd from Knopf Books for Young Readers)
The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeetby Kevin Sherry. It’s Blizz Richards’ job to keep hidden creatures, “or “cryptids,” hidden. Blizz is a yeti. When his cousin Brian accidentally gets his picture taken, he disappears and sends Blizz and his ace team on a mission to find him in time for the annual yeti family reunion. From the author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, a picture book I love to pieces. (September 30th from Scholastic Press)
The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Lu is following up her insanely popular YA trilogy Legends with this new fantasy series. When a terrible illness wipes out her country, Adelina Amouteru survives. She and the other children who survived are left with markings like silver hair and scars, and there are rumors that they also have special powers. They’re called the Young Elites. (October 7th from Putnam Juvenile)
I’ve been reading fantasy novels since I was a kid. Most of them had a new take on a similar world based on European folk tales, a la Tolkien. I have no problem with it and still enjoy reading stories like that. But when someone writes a fantasy novel in a new setting, with practically nothing I find familiar, I’m fascinated. That’s what happened when I read Drift.
Drift, a new Tu Books YA novel by M.K. Hutchins, has some references to ancient cultures the world over, specifically the Maya, but those are only inspiration. It’s a unique world that you have to paint in your mind, instead of just filling in new characters on old fantasy landscapes.
The main character, Tenjat, lives on an island on the back of a giant turtle that swims the oceans of Hell, while it feeds, keeping the soil good for farming, and a giant tree alive. But nagas (nasty mer-creatures) gnaw at the roots of the tree below water and want to kill the people on the island. The Handlers and Tenders are the high-ranking groups that defend the tree and turtle. The farmers and artisans are low-ranking, with those who have many children being the despicable members of society.
But that’s just what you learn in the beginning. It’s more than that (but I won’t spoil it for you). And the true story is not the world, but the young people we follow: Determined Tenjat, wise Eflet, fierce Avi, mischievous Daef, and more.
Tenjat and his sister Eflet are trying to live independently on this turtle island. They fled their own turtle when a family secret put them all in danger. Their father and younger brother were left behind; their mother sacrificed herself on the way. They lied to be taken in by this new community, and are struggling. Tenjat believes the only way to help himself and his sister survive is to become a Handler, but that requires a test. This test is shrouded in secrecy, but those that fail come back with scars, both physical and emotional. Eflet, who knows more than anyone should, tries to convince Tenjat there is another way, but Tenjat can’t see beyond what he has been taught of what life is about…yet.
This is a story of breaking out of the set ways of a culture, of (literally) realizing your world is upside down. But it’s also a story of the importance of family and friendships. There are battles, magic, and love. I recommend Drift for ages 12 and up.
This One Summer is a new graphic novel by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. It is a YA book that transcends the genre into where most adult novelists wish they could go: honest and nuanced characters in that familiar world you forgot to cherish. The details of a summer beach town, and two girls on the brink of teen, may not be your memories, but the yearnings, confusion, and relationships certainly will reveal half-buried reminisces.
Stories can be told in many ways, but this one is a perfect example of the depth of the graphic novel. Unlike a book of text, the artwork speaks on a level beyond even what the characters appreciate. Unlike a movie, you control the pacing, the ability to linger on that moment of perfect dialogue.
What was the inspiration behind the story and characters of This One Summer? Was there a specific place (or places) that inspired the illustrations?
MT: Originally, my inspiration was my own cottage setting, in Northern Ontario, near a town called Penetanguishene. That was the location of the original corner store, although just about every cottage has something like that, I think, a local place with little to no merchandise that smells like suntan lotion.
For research, though, we were very lucky that Jillian had a friend with a gorgeous cottage up in a similar area, Muskoka. We did what you would call a little research tour up into that area the summer after the script was done and it was very inspiring, and relaxing.
The characters are mostly a mix of people I’ve met in my adult life, not so much the people I knew when I was little and at my own cottage. I’m definitely paying more attention to teens and pre-teens as an adult than I was as a kid. As a kid they were mostly a blur.
Although the main characters are pre-teen girls, dealing with their own friendship and parents, the reader also encounters issues of teen pregnancy and infertility. I see this book for a large age range. When creating the book, did you have a specific age of reader in mind?
MT: I try and keep a story in mind more than a reader. I would hope this is a book that could be read by a wide range of people, and I would guess that they would all probably hone in on different parts of the story.
JT: I think it can trip one up to try to create specifically for certain age groups. Mariko and both naturally gravitate to stories and treatments that appeal to both teen and adult audiences and have been lucky to have publishers that don’t push us into publishing categories. I think kids like stuff with a bit of edge to them anyway.
What do you hope the reader takes at the end of the story?
MT: At the best of times my favorite books are both familiar and a kind of discovery. I hope it evokes for some people some memories of summer times, which are such amazing, if sometimes complex, memories. I hope it’s also a chance to think about all the different kinds of stories and connections that can exist in a small space. Plus I hope some people get lost in it a bit. I love when books do that.
JT: I hope to convey the emotion and sensory feelings of summer, which is both very sweet and melancholy because it’s fleeting. Also the idea of adolescence and seeing things with new eyes. Situations. Relationships. Your family. You develop a sense of nostalgia.
The often harsh dialogue is paced perfectly with the timing of expressions, or a focus on something else in the scene creating beauty in ordinary reality. Was every moment planned out in a script, or did it evolve with the art?
MT: Nothing visual is really planned out in the script. Sometimes there’s a little setting or some objects that feel part of the story, but all that timing and those moments where text meets illustration is all Jillian.
What writers and artists inspire you?
MT: Writer wise? Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Lynn Coady, and John Green for writing. I’m a big fan of Jeff Lemire, Kate Beaton, Lisa Hanawalt, and Hellen Jo for comics and illustration.
JT: For this book: Alice Munro, Ghibli/Miyazaki… I dunno, that question always befuddles me. How do you isolate what influences a work that takes place over the course of 3 years? Real life. Memory. Our visit to Northern Ontario were all more influential.
Ecology gets a space-adventure for young adults in a new book by K.H. Brower. Green Tara: A Bosque Family Adventure is set in a future where Earth can no longer sustain life; colonists have gone off to live without our beloved planet.
However, there is one family, the Bosques, that had a plan long ago to someday renew the Earth. Fast-forward several generations to the main character of the novel, Virginia Bosque: a teenage girl living on a large space-ship with an emotionally distant father, a furry pet robot, and a cousin named Gordy. Her mother disappeared when she was five, and Dot (the furry pet robot) is her only link, since her mother designed and programmed it. Gordy’s mother is also gone. Life on the ship is strict due to the Triumverate, a corporate controlled government that rules the humans still around the universe. Virginia’s only goal in life is to fly freely in her Blast- a small spaceship she is still too young to pilot on her own.
Purely by accident, Virginia and Gordy discover details about their missing mothers, and the Bosque family mission to bring life back to Earth. They set off on an adventure to a secret planet called Tara where humans have been nurturing Earth plants and animals. They find Virginia’s mother, but it is not the loving reunion Virginia always hoped for. In fact, nothing is what Virginia hoped for. She is thrust into a role she was unprepared for, with parents who were never there for her, physically or emotionally. Written in first person, our heroine thinks Gordy and Dot are the only ones who seem to really care about her. She is overwhelmed with dealing with family issues, let alone saving Earth! But she has courage and hope.
The ecological message is there, but never forced beyond what is necessary for the plot, which I really appreciated. However, except for the lush vegetation described on Tara, the book lacked much in the way of description. I often found myself struggling to envision the physical sci-fi world Virginia was a part of, including the characters. I looked up later that this book was originally a script, which explains a lot. However, Virginia’s thoughts and emotions are well written and bring depth to the book that would otherwise just be a fun action novel. Gordy and Virginia are well-rounded characters, and I hope we get a story from Gordy’s point of view next.
Does Virginia help her family’s mission to restore life on Earth? Join a band of space-pirates (that is an option!)? Or figure out how to return to her previous life under the Triumverate? I won’t give away any more of the plot here, but Green Tara is full of action and emotion for ages nine and up.
Geekmom received a copy of the book for review purposes.
If you live in the United States or Canada, you could win one of five copies of the YA fantasy Dark Talisman by Steven M. Booth.
Published by Azimuth Books, Dark Talisman tells the story of the strong and determined Dark Elf, Altira. She is fierce. She is not always likable, which adds to her depth of character. She is feisty.
Dark Talisman is a very good introduction to fantasy for the younger reader. It isn’t weighed down with some of the qualities that can turn people off from what is described as “epic fantasy,” yet it contains all of the fantastical creatures and elements that draw people to this genre.
The official synopsis reads:
Meet the Dark Elf, Altira. She set out to rob a sultan, and ended up stealing the deadliest gem in the world. This mistake could cost Altira her life or save her race, and possibly the world as she knows it. As Altira struggles to triumph over the vast forces arrayed against her, she acquires (mostly against her will) a rich cast of unexpected allies perceptive dwarves, giant Phoenix birds with mysterious powers, and ephemeral creatures made from nothing but air. Together they must find a way to defeat the army of assassins set against her, overcome the wrath of three nations, and forge allegiances with despised enemies, to reveal the truth to a people kept in darkness for millennia.
When Dark Talisman was first published, it was only available in hardcover format. Now, Steven M. Booth is excited to announce that you can purchase Dark Talisman in eBook format from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
If you live in Canada or the United States, to enter our giveaway just login to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win).
You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two entries! If you already like/follow us it will still enter you in the giveaway. A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget so you can check back to see who won.
The giveaway ends on January 2, 2014 at 23:59 EST.
Lozen is a young, female warrior trying to keep her family alive in a post-apocalyptic world in which electricity no longer works, and monsters and myths once again roam the earth. She has the strength of grown men, amazingly fast reflexes, combat training, skills with various weaponry, and burgeoning mental telepathy. But Lozen’s most powerful tool is her compassion for all living things, passed down from her ancestors, the Apache and Chiricahua tribes of Southwest America.
In Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac, the world consists of corporate-controlled nations where the elite have cyborg implants and genetic modifications to maintain their rule of a greedy planet. Then the Silver Cloud settles into the atmosphere, knocking out all electricity, bringing technology to archaic levels. Out of the chaos, small tightly controlled groups of people huddle in strongholds like abandoned prisons, unfortunately still ruled by some of those genetically modified elite. Lozen’s skills as a tracker and killer of the many monsters makes her valuable.
Lozen’s family and a couple dozen people were surviving on their own in the new wild world until they were discovered, then murdered or captured by a stronghold leader. Lozen’s family is held hostage and she is named Killer of Enemies for this stronghold. Her task to destroy all the local monsters. She is not alone, though. There are secret friends within the stronghold, and a mysterious voice in her mind that may or may not be someone she can trust.
I breezed through this YA fiction in a day, going along for the ride with Lozen as she tackles larger and more dangerous monsters: Genetically enhanced mutant animals that were freed from their “zoos” once the electricity vanished. She is not just physically capable, but intelligent and resourceful as well. What sets her apart from just a bland killing machine are strong ties to her native ancestors who also hunted in the desert. Stories passed down through the generations help our heroine remember history, using it for her cunning plans. The book is filled with characters and stories from different native tribes, and I enjoyed reading about a culture I am not familiar with coupled with a strong young woman in a crazy modern world.
(On an amusing note, I participate in a role-playing game with friends, pretending to be a large, Scottish warrior named Guy. In Killer of Enemies, there is a large, Scottish warrior named Guy. No kidding. I immediately warmed up to the story once he showed up.)
I recommend Killer of Enemies for ages 13 and up. From page one there are intense, bloody battles with creatures, and the spiritual side of the book may be lost on younger readers. It’s an exciting read with a message of family and survival.
GeekMom received a complimentary copy for reviewing purposes.
They can be recommended for every geek girl (and boys, and grown-ups, since I’m a grown-up, now that I think about it) for at least six reasons:
They’re good fantasy stories, if not exceptionally original. These are mostly coming of age stories, but they include swordplay, magic, nomadic tribes, fabled artifacts, wolves, evil wizards, wars, dragons and other supernatural creatures (with an interesting take on griffins), gods, political intrigues, and all the traditional ingredients of the genre.
The main characters of the four series are all very different from each other. Even if Protector of the Small may seem a similar concept to Song of a Lioness (a young girl wants to train for knighthood), Kel is not Alanna at all. The other series have a mage and a spy for heroines.
The main characters aren’t the sole strong female characters in the books. That’s a very important point. Too often is the heroine an exception among a world of stupid, giggly girls. That’s not the case with Tamora Pierce’s books. The four heroines are surrounded by a cast including other strong, interesting women, who are not necessarily (and actually very rarely) their antagonists.
Male characters are interesting and important, too. That’s not original, for sure, but deserves to be said.
Another very important element: The books offer a very sane take on romance and sexuality, in that the heroine doesn’t have to pick her “one and true love” as a teen and marry him (even when it’s a handsome prince). Because, you know what, mostly we don’t. People change a lot between the teen years and adulthood, so it’s okay that their love interests change, too. Some of the heroines have sex before marriage and that’s not an issue. Tamora Pierce even imagined a magical birth control with anti-pregnancy charms, that’s affordable, too. And one of the heroines doesn’t even end the series involved in a relationship at all. Romance is part of the books, as it is a part of life, but not the main issue. How refreshing!
I’ve mentioned gender issues, but the books also deal with other educational ethical matters. The Protector of the Small quartet, as its title suggests, gives priority to the traditional but often overlooked role of knights. What is it to protect the small, the humble, the powerless? Is it really important for most knights, when it doesn’t bring glory and often costs a lot? Killing is present, of course, since the setting is a medieval one and some of the main characters are warriors (or spies, who also have to kill, sometimes in an even nastier fashion) but Tamora Pierce doesn’t deal lightly with it. Killing isn’t easy, isn’t pleasant, and often has a cost for the killer.
I hope I’ve convinced you. I enjoyed the books a lot as recreational summer reading, but I’m sure teens and pre-teens will find a lot more in them. Things they need, things we all need, to be reasserted again and again, especially about what it is to come of age as a girl. A geek girl.
“My uncle’s meaningful stare pierced right through me. “Dashed off, leaving a child in my arms.” By that time in my life, I’d heard enough fairy tales to know what a sentence like that meant. Until then, though, I’d never known what it felt like to be part of such a story. The end of my uncle’s tale was so obvious, so inevitable, and yet I could hardly believe the words.”
Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski is all about stories: fairy tales, religious texts, and history. She takes what we know of Columbus’ voyage to America and uses it as the backdrop about a boy learning the power of words, and the magic behind the meaning of stories. It’s a good book.
Historical fantasy is not a genre I have read before. The heroic tale of Columbus that I learned in school was soured by the brutal reality when I learned about that same voyage as an adult. After her fictional tale ends, Mlawski takes several pages to explain what parts in the book were based on historians best guesses of what really happened, and what she played around with for the sake of a good yarn. I’m impressed with how much truth she wove into a story filled with witches, genies, and magic!
Set in 1492 Spain, Baltasar Infante is our hero, and he’s an optimistic, chatty teen boy with multiple layers to his own story; a story he learns about slowly as the book progresses. Baltasar has grown up under the threat of the Malleus Maleficarum, a mysterious witch-hunting arm of the Spanish Inquisition. His parents were Christian converts, once Jews, but killed by the Inquisition. Yet he learns that he is part Muslim as well. This blending of faiths, and the stories they hold, is a source of conflict and ultimately strength for Baltasar. But this is not a book about religion, it’s a book of adventure and magic.
Through a series of events, Baltasar must go on the run to avoid the Malleus Maleficarum, and to destroy or be destroyed by the hero-turned-traitor Amir al-Katib. He joins Columbus’ crew to find a new sea passage to Cathay. Baltasar learns that he has the magic to summon creatures at will, but only creatures from stories he knows, and to summon them takes an intimate understanding of the truths within them. Yet, he learns there are many interpretations to the same story, and many truths that can be hard to accept. But he has a genie named Jinniyah to help him, and eventually a cool friend named Catalina, a fellow magic user.
Mlawski’s prose is fluid and colorful. The characters grow, and the story is unique within the setting of familiar history. I am always interested in new takes on magic, and the idea of understanding tales as the source of power really appealed to me. I recommend Hammer of Witches for junior high and up.