ValHamster by Angela Misri
Do you need a mental health boost? Has a young patron asked you for a funny book, lately? Look no further.
Each book in the Tails from the Apocalypse series focuses on one character. Pickles vs. the Zombies features Pickles the cat. Trip of the Dead stars a raccoon. Valhamster is about the intrepid Emmy.
The comedic possibilities of Emmy the hamster are many, and I would say, fully realized. She is fierce. She is fast. Her focus is the enemy. The mission is all. (That and her obsession to acquire a cape.) The very idea of a hamster having a talent for killing zombies is brilliant. The comedy is always the priority, with narration akin to a Mission Impossible movie. However, into the fast-paced plot the author introduces themes of racism – a la Emmy’s distrust of weasels before essentially ever knowing any weasels. And actually, even that is presented as ludicrous and Emmy’s subsequent introspection is very funny. There is also lots of action - zombie battles, chase scenes, quests, new enemies, new mysteries and a cliff hanger ending. I can’t do justice to most of it but I will mention how hilarious the long-haired Guinee Pig Militia camp is. I just laughed out loud, thinking about it.
And finally, is it too soon for a COVID-19 joke? The author didn’t think so. I agree, as it honestly evoked an unbecoming snort of laughter. Since I have the maturity of an average 9 to12 year old, I’m confident kids will think it’s funny too. I cannot encourage you enough to do yourself a favour and read this book. Please recommend it to the next child you see who looks like they need a good belly laugh.
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Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A. F. Steadman
When people say, “this series could be the next Harry Potter” it’s not clear what they mean. So let me try to clarify what I mean when I say, this series could be the next Harry Potter series, but better. First, comparing this story to any other doesn’t do it justice. However, the Harry Potter series is a recognized yard stick.
In Skandar’s world, some 13-year-olds are destined to become unicorn riders. Years of preparation lead to a mandatory exam. Those who pass travel to a secretive island where they have the chance to bond with a unicorn egg. If bonded successfully, those kids and their unicorns learn what kind of magic they have; fire, earth, water or air. Then the kids divide into quartets - one of each element - and they live together each year as they train with their unicorns. The day of the exam Skandar’s name is not on the list; but, a mysterious stranger finagles Skandar’s way past that obstacle, into the Hatchery line. From there at each step Skandar and his unicorn don’t fit, but one friend, then two, then three help him – and finally they become a quartet. His destiny seems both inevitable and tenuous. His friends – Mitchell, Bobby and Flo - have powerful magic and equally intriguing stories. Each character necessitates details of world building that – never the less – do not detract from the pounding suspense of their first year at school as unicorn riders.
Nuanced ideas about; choice and consequences, that good and evil are not black and white but mostly gray, that people are unique and complicated, all build toward a conclusion to book one that has both a satisfying denouement and a cliff hanger ending.
Beyond Harry Potter, I am hopeful that it will be accurate to compare this finished series to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. We will have to wait to see if the rest of the series fulfills the considerable potential foreshadowed by this exceptional first book.
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