Hill, Chris. Lucky.
February 23rd 2016 by Chicken House
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central
Lucky is a young red squirrel who finds himself being taken care of by a gray squirrel, First Daughter. Lucky has been found out of his nest by dogs who patrol the park and turned over to the Cloudfoots who live in Albion Park even though he is not one of them. He is small, and the leader of the squirrels, Ma, despairs of him being able to make the Patrol to help defend the squirrels against the Northenders, who live among concrete and are rougher. With the help of Maizie, who hopes to move up in the ranks by ingratiating herself to First Daughter, Lucky learns the skills he needs to survive and fight against the Cloudfoots nemeses. When Lucky and pal Nimlet meet Tarragon, the niece of the Northenders' chief, they learn that the other squirrels are really very much all alike, and that Tarragon's uncle might be engineering the struggle for his own glory. Despite the dangers of the park, the young squirrels manage to forge an uneasy peace among squirrel kind.
With its battle tactics and territorial disputes, as well as the hierarchies among the squirrels, this will be a good choice for readers who like other books about animals such as Sutherland's The Wings of Fire series (dragons), Hughes' The Unnaturals (genetically engineered animals), Iserles' The Taken (fox), Fiedler's Mouseheart (rodents) or Perkin's Nuts to You (more squirrels), Holt's The Last Dogs or Lasky's Horses of the Dawn.
This book stood out to me because the characters were well-developed and easily distinguished from one another. The clan dispute is understandable-- the Cloudfoots inhabit and better territory, and the Northenders want it-- but easily resolved when the squirrels realize that they all can work together. The author's note about the current endangerment of native red squirrels in Europe because of an earlier importation of gray squirrels adds a sense of realism to the struggle.
The supporting characters are interesting as well. The dogs who patrol the park don't eat squirrels and keep other dogs from doing so, although they can't be everywhere all the time, and one squirrel, who has not been a sympathetic character, does come to grief at the paws of an overzealous Scottie. There are also a few deaths during skirmishes, which makes this an older middle grade book despite the appealing fellow on the cover.
Know a child who won't read anything but Erin Hunter's The Warriors series? This is a great book to read until the next book comes out!
Wexler, Django. The Palace of Glass (The Forbidden Library #3)
April 12th 2016 by Kathy Dawson Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central
After ending up with her uncle in The Forbidden Library and being involved in a rip roaring adventure in The Mad Apprentice, Alice has come to realize that her uncle caused her father's death and is determined to neutralize him. When he leaves for a few days, she decides to take Ending's advice and travel to the Palace of Glass to obtain the book, The Infinite Prison, which can then be used to trap her uncle. Traveling through the kingdom of the fire sprites, she meets Flicker, and he travels with her through the land of the Ice Giants. They are all set to do Alice in, but she saves them from the Bluechill, and the leader's daughter, Erdrodr decides to join Alice in her adventure. They find a lot of prejudice against readers in their travels, and face lots of obstacles, like turtles who are jerks, but finally end up at the Palace. She asks for the book and it is given to her immediately, but then she is offered visions of her past, including some of her father and mother, and loses valuable time getting sucked into them. She returns home after Geryon does, and he is angry, but she uses the book to trap him. The problem? Other readers may take over her library, and the Ouroborean is set loose and might destroy everything anyway. Clearly, another book is in the works.
While the Forbidden Library doesn't seem like the nicest place to be (as opposed to Shulman's New-York Circulating Material Repository from The Grimm Legacy ), the world building is quite complete. Like Delaney's The Last Apprentice series, there is also a nice feeling of ambiguity about who is good and who is evil, which adds a layer of interest to the characters. Should Alice hang out with Isaac, who serves another reader? Is Uncle Geryon as evil as Alice thinks he is? Is Ending a creature of good or a creature of evil? Those sorts of questions keep the reader guessing about which side should triumph.
Unlike some fantasy books, this had a clearly defined goal, and the characters made steady progress toward achieving it, which I really appreciated. While there are some descriptions of the different worlds through which Alice passes, they never drag down the plot. There is a lot of action and fighting, and Alice is triumphant most of the time, which is a nice change from forces of equal potency fighting all the time and ending in a draw!
Alice is a great character who does a good job of assessing her situation and using the forces around her to her own advantage. This series is a great one to give to readers who enjoyed Sanderson's Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, Yansky's Alfred Kropp, Funaro's Alistair Grim series, or Jink's How to Catch a Bogle series, although The Forbidden Library takes place a few years later, in 1932.