The Cover Wars

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When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Jane: I’m naturally drawn to fantasy, whether it’s high fantasy or magic realism, so the blurb for When the Moon Was Ours immediately caught my eye. Novels with transgendered characters tend to have realistic or contemporary settings (George, Lily and Dunkin, If I Was Your Girl, Gracefully Grayson, etc.), and there’s a desperate need for stories that feature transgender characters saving the world, meeting aliens, traveling through time, using magic, etc, just like their cisgender counterparts.

I do wish the publisher’s summary wasn’t quite so clunky, though. The second and third paragraphs sound strange but intriguing – a girl who sprouts roses, a group of maybe-witches, a curious blend of realism and magic. That first paragraph, though! I’m glad that they’re proud of their multicultural, gender-diverse cast, but that introduction just feels as though it was tacked on as a bit of an afterthought, or as a way of making sure the book can easily be identified as being diverse. While as a librarian (and co-chair of my provincial library LGBTQ group) I appreciate being able to quickly identify LGBTQ stories, I wish the reveal had been done more naturally and was integrated a bit more seamlessly into the summary.

I am definitely glad to see a novel with a transgender boy lead character, though – the vast majority of transgender characters in MG/YA fiction are girls, and there’s a definite need for more male characters.

As for the cover art – what’s with the sudden surge in popularity of water towers? We saw one in the last Cover Wars with “Girls in the Moon”, and now here it is again! The stars and moon do tie in with the magic atmosphere, though silhouetted characters are starting to feel a bit overdone on covers at the moment.

Janet: Can we just cut out that first paragraph? The info on the cast may be important to librarians and other people seeking diverse (aka representative of our population) books, but it feels a bit like a pat on the back to the publisher/reader for picking up this book, rather than a draw on the grounds of good story and complex characters. That said, it is great to see more books with LGBTQIA characters in fantasy and magic realism, and the set-up has me interested enough to look for this. The stars are lovely; I think we saw a watertower with silhouettes only last week, though. Still: looks like a good read.

Nafiza: I’m not a fan of the cover. It seems very generic and boring considering roses grow/spill out of Miel’s wrist. Can you imagine a cover that tried to bring that aspect of the story alive? My stars. I also wish that the first paragraph didn’t exist. As a potential reader, the first paragraph of the synopsis is clunky, tell-ey and just not particularly compelling. I want to read this book though and probably will.

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Our memories are what make us who we are. Some are real. Some are made up. But they are the stories that tell us who we are. Without them we are nobody.

Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to ‘find himself” and Kat is in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby.

Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one even knew existed, comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery — Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are erased from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.

Non Pratt’s Trouble meets Thelma and Louise with a touch of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Clare Furniss’ remarkable How Not To Disappear is an emotional rollercoaster of a novel that will make you laugh and break your heart.

Jane: I’m not normally drawn to young adult fiction, but this summary actually sounds really powerful, and potentially quite moving. The intergenerational aspect is particularly interesting – two women at different ends of their adult lives, both having reached a crisis point,  come together to find themselves and each other. Based on the summary alone, How Not To Disappear has the potential to be a real tear-jerker, but hopefully in a sensitive and powerful way.

That cover, though. Not really a fan. The colours are so bland and uninspiring, even the girl on the cover looks bored. If I saw this on the shelf I don’t think I’d be tempted to pick it up, which is a bit of a shame, because the story sounds quite promising.

Janet: The cover looks like it’s falling apart, somehow. I’m not drawn in. The synopsis has a lot going on, the most interesting point being the aunt. But I’d wait for reviews that speak to how the narrative addresses dementia, if I wanted to read this.

Nafiza: There’s really a lot of framing going on in the narrative and I find that particularly interesting when combined with the first paragraph of the back copy. The frames suggest that each version of the girl/woman is a narrative that may or may not accurately convey the girl/woman. How much of what we are are stories told by other people? I find that question fascinating but what concerns me is how the pregnancy is mentioned almost as an afterthought. I’m sure this was intended to evoke some sort of reaction but it just makes me wary. You’re pregnant, you already have a lot to deal with. I don’t know. I like the cover but the book isn’t for me.

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From Newbery Medal winner Patricia MacLachlan comes a poignant story about two children, a poet, and a dog and how they help one another survive loss and recapture love.

Teddy is a gifted dog. Raised in a cabin by a poet named Sylvan, he grew up listening to sonnets read aloud and the comforting clicking of a keyboard. Although Teddy understands words, Sylvan always told him there are only two kinds of people in the world who can hear Teddy speak: poets and children.

Then one day Teddy learns that Sylvan was right. When Teddy finds Nickel and Flora trapped in a snowstorm, he tells them that he will bring them home—and they understand him. The children are afraid of the howling wind, but not of Teddy’s words. They follow him to a cabin in the woods, where the dog used to live with Sylvan . . . only now his owner is gone.

As they hole up in the cabin for shelter, Teddy is flooded with memories of Sylvan. What will Teddy do when his new friends go home? Can they help one another find what they have lost?

Jane: I know this story is meant to be bittersweet and beautiful, and I’m sure it is, but I don’t really get the conflict. Teddy is a masterless dog. He’s discovered by two children who can understand him. What will happen to Teddy when the children have to go home? Ummm…Why don’t the children just adopt the dog, or find someone else who can, like a friend or neighbor? Or if Teddy doesn’t want to leave his beloved master’s home, can’t the children just come back and visit when the weather is better so that he won’t get lonely? Eventually the children will grow up and not be able to understand Teddy (unless they become poets I guess), which sounds like a more bittersweet conflict. I guess I’ll just have to read the book to find out.

And am I the only one who found elements of the summary just the tiniest bit creepy?

“ They follow him to a cabin in the woods, where the dog used to live with Sylvan . . . only now his owner is gone.”

Yikes! Why the ellipses? What happened to the owner? Did…did Teddy eat Sylvan?! Did Sylvan get abducted by aliens? Did Sylvan become a zombie?

The cover looks kind of generic – I feel like so many MG novels are featuring the same hipster-style of artwork right now. It’s not bad – the covers all look very cool and pretty and whimsical, but they’re starting to really blend into each other a bit.  And….can the talking dog also build a fire or light oil lamps to illuminate the windows, or does that cabin have electricity? And if it does, does it run on a generator? And can Teddy somehow keep refilling the generator? Did the poet teach Teddy all of these things before he disappeared/was eaten? I need to know!

Janet: I like the colours and style of the cover, the muted contrasts of light and dark and those small bursts of colour. I also really like children-and-animal stories, wilderness lost-and-found stories, and everything I’ve so far read by Patricia MacLaughlan. This is a solid yes.

Nafiza: Is Patricia MacLaughlan Canadian? Is that why we have snow and a cabin in the woods? The dog doesn’t appeal either. The cover looks cold and by God we need some of that cold right now (a hex on anyone who likes the heat) but the copy doesn’t intrigue me so it’s a pass from me.

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In a hilarious tale reminiscent of T. H. White, a lost boy finds himself an unlikely apprentice to the very old, vaguely evil, mostly just grumpy Wizard Smallbone.

When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. Wildly funny and cozily heartfelt, Delia Sherman’s latest is an eccentric fantasy adventure featuring dueling wizards, enchanted animals, and one stray boy with a surprising knack for magic.

Jane: Ummm…OK, I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a confession – When I first looked at this cover, I could not for the life of me remember who T. H White was, or what he’d written. Does that make me a terrible children’s librarian? I read The Once and Future King as a child, but hadn’t thought about it in years, so a description likening this story to the works of T. H. White did not help me evaluate whether or not it was worth reading.

Here’s another thing – I don’t remember The Once and Future King as being particularly hilarious – interesting, maybe, but not hilarious. If anything, the publisher’s description of The Evil Wizard Smallbone sounds more like something out of Terry Pratchett than T. H. White, what with the shape-shifting bikers, opinionated bookstore and magic-wielders. Why not claim that it’s reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, a writer children are more likely to be familiar with? What child looks at a book cover and goes, “oh yes, T. H. White, that delightful author whose Arthurian children’s novel The Sword in the Stone was published in 1938! What a hilarious escapade that was, I definitely want to pick up this book now!”

The cover art is nice enough, though is that mansion-looking building the opinionated bookstore? It certainly doesn’t look like a bookstore. Show me the opinionated bookstore!

Also – “cozily heartfelt”? Who was this copy written for, anyway? How many tweens are going to want to read a book that’s described as “cozily heartfelt”, especially tween boys?  Is the publisher trying to appeal to the book-buying grandparent demographic? They certainly aren’t marketing their book to tweens, or at least not any tweens I’ve ever worked with.

Janet: The cover is – is that a burgundy house? Okay, I like this cover. Lots of colours, a distinct and bright two-dimensional style, a sense of direction, and use of colour values. The synopsis initially reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’s Earwig and the Witch, in which an orphan girl is adopted by a grumpy witch, who then refuses to teach her magic. I’m not sold on grumpy, minorly evil wizard as a great cause for our presumably good protagonist, but I’m interested in reading this anyway.

Nafiza: Bahaha, I’m laughing at Jane’s comments. Yeah, plenty of grandpas go over bookcases at the local bookstore in search of cozily heartfelt books. Haha. I enjoy this cover a lot and Smallbone reminds me of that guy in Nimona, the boss dude? The one who was told he was evil when in actuality, by action and thought, he was probably the noblest of them all. And also Fidelous is a sinister name and well, I think I’d like to read this. I love how the beard becomes the mountain.

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Orphan. Thief. Witch.

Twelve-year-old Quicksilver dreams of becoming the greatest thief in the Star Lands. With her faithful dog and partner-in-crime Fox, she’s well on her way—even if that constantly lands them both in trouble. It’s a lonesome life, sleeping on rooftops and stealing food for dinner, but Quicksilver doesn’t mind. When you’re alone, no one can hurt you. Or abandon you.

But the seemingly peaceful Star Lands are full of danger. Witches still exist—although the powerful Wolf King and his seven wolves have been hunting them for years. Thankfully, his bloody work is almost complete. Soon the Star Lands will be safe, free of the witches and their dark magic.

Then one day a strange old woman and her scruffy dog arrive in Quicksilver’s town and perform extraordinary magic. Real magic—forbidden and dangerous. Magic Quicksilver is desperate to learn. With magic like that, she could steal anything her heart desires. She could even find her parents.

But the old woman is not what she seems, and soon Quicksilver has to decide—will she stay at home and remain a thief? Or will she embark upon the adventure of a lifetime and become a legend?

Jane: “Orphan. Thief. Witch.” OK, I’m already interested. Quicksilver sounds like an engaging protagonist, there’s a good bit of world-building in the summary, and the story sounds like a pretty entertaining fantasy yarn. Who’s the boy on the cover, though, and why doesn’t he get a mention in the summary? And Quicksilver is dressed pretty snazzily for an orphaned streetwise thief. I was envisioning something more like a female version of the Artful Dodger. Still, this sounds like a pretty promising read.

Janet: Promising title, unusual and appealing cover (statuary! possibly evil foxes! friendly fox!) except WHY does the girl have hair completely hiding one eye? Wouldn’t a thief need all her senses fully available, if she wants to continue being a live thief? The back copy is a tad obvious, though. I’ll pass.

Nafiza: Claire LeGrand’s books are a hit or miss with me but I have liked enough of her stuff to give this one a try maybe. The cover is a tad off. Quicksilver is dressed way too nicely for someone who sleeps on rooftops and steals food for dinner (what does she do for lunch and breakfast, I wonder). Shouldn’t she be dirtier and scruffier? She looks like she just got out from prep school with her cowardly brother hiding behind her. Look, even her socks are matching! What kind of roof-dweller wears matching socks? What kind of roof-dweller even have socks?

Doorway to the Deep

Even after escaping from the Southerly Kingdom, Lottie Fiske and her best friend Eliot have returned to the magical Albion Isle, despite the fact that she is a wanted criminal there, because she is seeking answers about her abilities, and her parents–but war is threatening Limn, and the answers she needs seem to lie in the Northerly Kingdom, along a road full of dangers.

Jane: Holy run-on sentence! Just try reading that that summary without taking a breath. Commas and periods are not interchangeable, people! Don’t fear the period!

I haven’t read the first book in this series, so there’s not a lot in this summary that makes sense to me. What are Lottie’s abilities? What does seeking answers have to do with being a wanted criminal? What’s Limn? Is it connected to the Southerly Kingdom, the Abion Isle, and the Northerly Kingdom?  Is Lottie from our world, or is she from one of these magical place? There are a lot of names here but not a lot of information, and the cover image is pretty generic and doesn’t add too much to the summary. I’m not inclined to pick this one up mostly because I don’t think I’d have any idea what was going on, but perhaps if I’d read the first novel in the series I’d be more interested.

Janet: Yes yes yes PRETTY cover! I love how the texture of the sail makes it appear woven of spiderwebs and thistledown. I like the tidy little boat, I like the waves, I like Lottie, and I loved The Water and the Wild. Jane, read the first book – you won’t be disappointed. I can’t wait for this beauty to come out!

Nafiza: The back copy is like talking to my 3 year old niece Zara who tells an entire story in one breath without pause. But the cover though..*mourns the cutout cover of the first book* This is pretty and all but WHAT ABOUT CONSISTENCY? Ugh. Still, I want to read this quite a bit. I will of course reread the first one to relive the magic but oooh I can’t wait for this.