8/15/17

Cleopatra in Space: The Golden Lion, by Mike Maihack, for Timeslip Tuesday

Young Cleopatra, whisked into an intergalactic future from her home in ancient Egypt, is back for the fourth installment of her adventures in The Golden Lion, by Mike Maihack (Graphix, June 2017).  The Golden Lion, a legendary star of immense power (and small size) has been tracked to a snowy planet far away.  It is part of the prophecy of Thoth that sent Cleopatra off into her destined role as Galaxy Savious, and she's determined to go find the Golden Lion herself.  Also determined to find it is her nemesis Octavian, who has sent a powerful minion to the planet.  Cleo crash-lands in the snow, and her technology fails her; were it not for the fortuitous arrival of young Antony, a young treasure hunting adventure also on the trail of the Golden Lion, she would probably have perished.

But Antony and Cleo fall into an underground chamber that leads to a tropical world beneath the snow, inhabited by a race who speak in algebraic equations, and who prove to be fierce fighters when Octavian's forces attack.  But Antony is not necessarily to be trusted....and the fate of the Golden Lion is uncertain.

There's lots of action in this installment--pages of fight scenes excitingly portrayed.  There also, more pleasing to my mind, some character development.  Cleo, whose main characteristic is to plunge into danger without thinking it through, has some introspective moments, and her awareness of herself as being out of her own time is shown, as is her growing fondness toward Antony.  The addition of an utterly adorable snow otter adds considerable charm!

I feel good progress was made in this fourth book to advancing the plot to the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy, and that's a relief, because it's not the most rapid fire journey to resolution ever.  That being said, I don't object at all to adventuring through the galaxy with Cleo!  The diverse cast of characters and the fascinating premise, not to mention the council of sentient cats, make this a charming series, with excitement, adventure, and cool tech to spare! It's an excellent graphic novel series to offer the "reluctant" reader of 8-12 or so.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

8/13/17

this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (8/13/17)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting, by Joe Ballarini, at Geo Librarian

Bad Magic, by Pseudonymous Bosch, at Kitty Cat at the Library

Chaos Descends (Darkmouth #3), by Shane Hegarty, at Say What?

The Countdown Conspiracy, by Katie Slivensky, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Daybreak Bond (Firefly Code #2), by Megan Frazer Blakemore, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at Charlotte's Library

The Emperor of Mars, by Patrick Samphire, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Fridays With the Wizards, and Saturdays at Sea, by Jessica Day George, at Tales from the Raven

Gamer Squad: Attack of the Not-So Virtual Monsters, by Kim Harrington, at Mom Read It

A Girl Called Boy, by Belinda Hurmence, at Time Travel Times Two

Hunt for the Hydra (Jupiter Pirates #1), by Jason Fry, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Journey Across the Hidden Islands, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Sonderbooks

Journey From Skioria, by Kandi J. Wyatt, at Cierra's Heart of Books

The List, by Patricia Forde, at The Story Sanctuary

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at books4yourkids.com

Quest Maker (Villain Keeper #2), by Laurie McKay, at Boys Rule Boys Read

Room of Shadows, by Ronald Kidd, at Mom Read It

Ruby Lane, by R.J. Simon, at When I Grow Up I Wanna Write a Kids Book

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at Charlotte's Library

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker, at Fantasy Literature

Wandmaker, by Ed Masessa, at Say What?

York: The Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby, at Redeemed Reader

Authors and Interviews

A.P. Winter (The Boy Who Went Magic) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

David Neilsen (Beyond the Doors) a chat with Aunt Gladys, at The Children's Book Review
Other Good Stuff

Other Good Stuff

Back to the Future: Seven Middle Grade Novels that Look Ahead, at B. and N. Kids Blog 

Not Middle Grade, but still of interest--the 2017 Hugo Awards were announced this weekend

(and on a personal note, about the horror that unfolded in Charlottesville--there's not much I can do except donate to worthy causes, like African American Teaching Fellows, who work to increase the terribly low numbers of African American teachers in the Charlottesville  and Albemarle County school system).
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8/12/17

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh (HarperCollins, July 2017), will be one of my top go-to books from now on if I am ever asked for recommendations of middle grade horror that is scary but not scarring for life scary.

Harper's family has just moved from NY city to a big old house in Washington D.C., bought cheaply because it needs work.  And also, though they don't know it, because it is a house where horrible tragedies have happened over the years.  Even before she knows about its past, Harper doesn't like it. Though she's not aware of the extent of her gifts, Harper can communicate with ghosts, and she is about to have ample opportunity to exercise that ability when her little brother becomes possessed by an evil spirit of another little boy who lived, and died, in the house, and who turns out to be only a cat's paw for a much more powerful and malevolent being.

The evil possession of her little brother is creepy, and builds nicely to full on horror as the story progresses, and the final confrontation with the more powerful spirit was full of bloody ectoplasmy ickiness such as horror fans enjoy (at least I think they do, and I think it was; I tend to skim descriptions of ick because otherwise they will revisit me forever.  But what I grasped didn't seem too unbearable.*)  And there's more horror here than just what's happening in the new house.  Harper has had troubles with ghosts before, that have left her badly injured and unable to remember what happen, and as current events unfold, so do her memories of these past traumas. So for kids who want horror, there's plenty of it.

What made this one I personally enjoyed so much, though, is the fact that it is also a family and friendship story.  Harper makes a new friend, Dayo, a lovely and helpful companion in adversity, and that was nice.   Less nice are family tensions, with her mother's mother shut out of the family (Harper inherited her gifts from her grandmother, who is a shamanic Spirit Hunter, and her mother can't stand this "superstitions nonsense"), and her mother isn't able to accept that Harper might really be seeing ghosts.  Her big sister blames Harper for the move to D.C. and is not the friend she once was, which happens to many seventh-graders with big sisters...So there are personal, character development things happening alongside the story that makes Harper real and someone to care about.

In some middle grade books, the kids are so wonderful and Chosen that they are able to defeat the Evil by themselves, but I like books like this one better.  It is up to Harper to find the strength in herself to win the final confrontation, but she's not entirely alone.  Her grandmother has helped get her to that point, and the ghost of an African American medium and Dayo  are their to provide support.  Even her little brother has to be an agent in his own escape from possession.  This to me is much more satisfying than extreme kid heroics.

It's also satisfying to see the diversity here, diversity that's central to who the characters are without defining them as just that--Harper's mother is Korean American, and Dayo's family is Jamaican.

One final thing that struck me--it was driven home to me that I really truly am no longer the target audience, because the thing I found most relatable is that Dayo's mom makes the same type of cookie as me--cranberry white chocolate oatmeal.

In short, I highly recommend both the book and cranberry white chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.

*for instance, I have Jonathan Stroud to thank for the fact that every time I go up the stairs, I think of the dark greasy smear left by the cannibal killer of the last Lockwood and Co. book.

8/10/17

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas--fantasy for bibliophiles

Life has been too busy of late, and I find myself wishing that some day I will say to myself "wow that took less time to complete than I thought it would" instead of saying other things not fit for young ears.

But though I have not been blogging much, I have been reading, and today I finished Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas (Simon & Schuster, May 2017) , a charming middle grade fantasy.  It is not, as the title suggests, all about a dragon, although there is a dragon in one episode within the main story.  It is not entirely, as other reviews might suggest, about a group of children who find they have magical powers and learn to use them and work together to defeat a bad magical guy. Although this does happen, and they are a pleasantly interesting group of kids, each of whom has their own magical object that plays to the strengths of their personality and inclinations (so the athletic one gets a sword, the one who is interested in learning things gets magical glass, Effie, the central character, gets the hero's ring, etc.).  And although no dramatic new ground is broken in their adventures, it was fine reading.

Here's where this book is different--though the kids are in danger from the villain, who never quite manages to kill them, it is really a collection of rare books that it is in the greatest danger!  The books belonged to Effie's grandfather, who dies near the beginning of the story leaving them to her in his will,  Her father will only let her keep one. And now the books have been bought by a villainous "antiquarian book seller" who in fact is hellbent on using the magic of the books to achieve (basically) world domination, which involves destroying the books!  The danger to the books was clear by page 30, and I had to turn to the end to see if the books would be safe.  Scarlett Thomas is a nice author, and she carefully wrote her ending so that a quick glance lets you know the books are ok without giving away anything else of much importance (the kids are ok too, but whatever. It was safe to assume they were.  But in a world where some authors (naming no names) kill puppies, one can't assume the books will make it....)

So in short, I enjoyed it, and appreciated the book tension very much!  The magical gifts of the kids and the magical otherworld were a bit to magically special, but that's probably just me being a grown up and not a problem the target audience will  have.  I think the target audience should love it all just fine.

Kirkus is more enthusiastic than me, perhaps because Kirkus hasn't just spent weeks doing hard labor, assorted thankless tasks, and a wide variety of cat-herding activities while holding down a day job-- "In vivid, inviting prose, Thomas deftly evokes an original, intriguing post-technological Earth looming with evil where 'books are magic' and memorable misfits become heroes. A compelling new fantasy series with an unlikely heroine, quirky helpers, dragons, portals, witches, and wizards."

8/6/17

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (8/6/17)

Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafore, at books4yourkids.com

The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol, at Charlotte's Library

The Balance of Power (Zodiac Legacy #3), by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong, at Say What?

Beyond the Doors, by David Neilsen, at Pages Unbound Reviews  and Ms. Yingling Reads

The Boy Who Went Magic, by A.P. Winter, at Book Murmuration

The Bronze Key, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Say What?

The Dragon's Return (Zodiac Legacy #2), by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong, at Say What?

The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Sonderbooks and Book Wars

A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, at The Zen Leaf

The List, by Patricia Forde, at Cracking the Cover

Lodestar, by Shannon Messenger, at Pages Unbound Reviews

Loki's Wolves, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Shipwreck Island by S. A. Bodeen, at Redeemed Reader

Spell Robbers (The Quantum League 1), by Matthew J. Kirby, at Say What?

Shipwreck Island by S. A. Bodeen, at Redeemed Reader

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at books4yourkids.com

Thornhill, by Pam Smy, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Time Fetch, by Amy Herrick, at Middle Grade Mafia

Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins, at Completely Full Bookshelf

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Girl with the Ghost Machine, by Lauren DeStefano, and The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, by Christopher Edge

Five spooky campfire books at Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

Authors and Interviews

Jessica Haight & Stephanie Robinson (The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow) talk about writing sequels at Project Mayhem

Ammi Joan Paquette, agent for Kate Silvensky (The Countdown  Conspiracy) at Emu's Debuts

Gail Carson Levine is featured in a post on Ella Enchanted--feminist nostalgia, at The Huffington Post

Other Good Stuff

The 2017 Golden Kite Award for Middle Grade Goes To Eugene Yelchin for "The Haunting of Falcon House" More at SCBWI Blog


8/2/17

The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol

I enjoyed The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol (Chicken House/Scholastic, July 25 2017, 2016 in the UK), very much--it's a solid, traditional feeling fantasy that, though it didn't break any wildly imaginative new ground, nevertheless offered a solid few hours of pleasing diversion (and it wasn't even a matter of me feeling cynical because of having read so very much mg fantasy; it was just me enjoying a nice read).

The story begins with teenaged Arianwyn flunking her witch's assessment.  That means she won't get a posting as a professional witch, though her country badly needs witches for defense against threats both external (foreign enemies) and internal (dangerous native magic turning ugly).   It turns out though, that the need is so very great that even though she is still ranked as a lowly apprentice, she gets an assignment to serve as the witch to the remote little town of Lull.  Though off the beaten track, Lull proves to have its own challenges and excitements.

Banishing minor magical beings is perfectly within Arianwyn's competence, but when she inherits, along with the previous witch's accommodation, a dangerous and forbidden glyph, that offers power with a dark price, things begin to get a little bit to exciting...

The fact that Arianwyn's former classmate, a mean, snooty girl who's always been a despising pain, shows up for an extended visit to her family in Lull complicates things.  Gimma, though she set herself up as Arianwyn's rival, turns out to be a magical liability, and a nasty piece of work. Fortunately, Arianwyn turns out to be much more gifted at magic than her test results might have shown, and with the support of the witch running the regional magical bureaucracy (nice to see good civil servants in fantasy), and with her own witch grandmother swinging in to lend a hand, Arianwyn finds her way to becoming confident in her own abilities and is able to bring a resolution (for now) to the dangers threatening Lull.

Young readers will be delighted (an even though Arianwyn is a teenager, keeping house for herself, this definitely is a middle grade book that kids as young as 8 or 9 may well enjoy).  Many of the magical creature encounters are amusing, and additional kid appeal comes in when Arianwyn is adopted by a magical moon hare (cuteness points!), and thought the mean girl vs. the heroine story is not new, it is pleasantly reworked here and will be nicely familiar and comforting to readers who want encouragement in their own middle school social lives.  My favorite bit, me being me, is Arianwyn moving into the old witch's house (I like house details!).

So yes, a very good read, even if it doesn't break any particularly new ground.  This is the author's debut, and I will be paying very keen attention to his future books.  Especially if they are set in this world, which has lots of room in it for more adventures!

Just checked the Kirkus review; they agree with me, except I don't see why they put the age of reader as 11-16.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

8/1/17

The Autumn People, by Ruth M. Arthur, for Timeslip Tuesday

Ruth M. Arthur (1905-1979) was a Scottish author who I have always thought I should like better than I do.  Many of her books are real-world fantasy, of a time-slipping, ghostly, sort, and I have enjoyed reading those that I have, but none has really convinced me that I should spend real money to collect her complete oeuvre (though I do look for her at library book sales.  I think she's mostly been deaccessioned though; even the Rhode Island library system, which is very good at keeping old books, has only two of her books left....).


The Autumn People (1973) is my most recent Ruth M. Arthur, and it comes the closest to being a book I really enjoyed.  I'm counting it as this week's Timeslip Tuesday, even though it's a bit arguable as to whether there's time slipping back to the past (my opinion) or visits with ghosts in the present (the opinion of the 1997 Encyclopedia of Fantasy)  But the main character says 'I had stepped back into her time..." and that's good enough for me!  Plus I think when there are hot drinks and warm fires involved, you've gone back to the past because ghosts don't usually come with all their furniture etc.

In any event, here's the story--teenaged Romilly and her grandmother are going to travel together to the Scottish Island where the family used to vacation; a cousin now lives in the family house.  Romilly's great-grandmother visited there when she was a girl, and never went back.  There was a tragedy, and Rodger, one of her cousins, died.  Having set this scene up, the book gives an account of the great-grandmother Millie's summer on the island, and how she fell in love with Jocelyn.  But Rodger wanted Millie for his own, and he was evil, and could work dark magic....it ended sadly for Millie.  And now Romilly, following in the footsteps of her namesake, is caught in the unfinished web of Rodger's malevolence.  She finds comfort with "the Autumn people" of the title, Jocelyn's family, come to stay in their old home....and at last, with the help of a local wise woman, is able to lay the curse to rest, and escape Rodger.

So it's a bit ghosty how other islanders can see the lights of the Autumn people, but Romilly goes right inside and it is all how it was years ago, so I call it time travel.

Rodger is a tad overblown in his evil malevolence and torture of small animals; his family just accepts that he's evil and tries to pretend it's not happening.  There is no nuance to his psychopathic behavior, nor is there nuance to the goodness of Jocelyn who is rather colorless as a result.  But the thread of the story tying together past and present is very gripping, and Romilly's horror as she comes under Rodger's sway in the present is nicely done.  I almost liked as much as I hoped I would, but not quite--the fact that all the story is spelled out in the detailed account of the great-grandmother's time on the island removes a lot of the suspense when reading about  Romilly in the present, and there just isn't as much subtlty and atmosphere as the story really calls for.


7/30/17

this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (730/17)

Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Aleks Mickelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well (Zaria Fierce), by Kiera Gillett, at Mom Read It

Beautiful Blue World, by Suzanne LaFleur, at Jenni Enzor

Beyond the Doors, by David Neilsen, at Cracking the Cover  and Always in the Middle

The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, at Kitty Cat at the Library

The Crowns of Croswald, by D.E. Night, at The Bander Blog

Darkness of Dragons, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Charlotte's Library

A Dash of Dragon, by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski, at Mom Read It

Everblaze, by Shannon Messenger, at Pages Unbound

A Face Like Glass, by France Hardinge, at The Booklist Reader

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins, at proseandkahn

How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell, at Becky's Book Reviews

Neverseen, by Shannon Messenger, at Pages Unbound

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Ex Libris

Serafina and the Splintered Heart, by Robert Beatty, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Shrunken Head (Curiosity House 1), by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester, at Say What?

The Song from Somewhere Else, by A. F. Harrold, at The Story Sanctuary and the B. and N. Kids Blog

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at Mom Read It  and Ms.Yingling Reads

Tumble and Blue, by Cassie Beasley, at Waking Brain Cells

Witch Wars by Sibéal Pounder, at Pages Unbound

A Wizard of Mars, by Diane Duane, at Fantasy Faction

The Wrong Train, by Jeremy de Quidt, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence, by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong, at Say What?

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads:  Monsters Unleased, by John Kloepfer, and The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol

Three at Small Review: The Grave Robber's Apprentice by Allan Stratton, Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger, and The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld


Authors and Interviews

Kiersten White (Beanstalker and other Hilarious Scary Tales) at B. and N. Kids

Scholastic Reads podcast  with Tui T. Sutherland (Wings of Fire series)

James Nicol (The Apprentice Witch) at Nerdy Book Club

T.J. Wooldridge (Silent Starsong) at Writers Rumpus

Other Good Stuff

For grownups, not kids, but Matt Groening's new animated comedy for Netflix,  Disenchanted, sounds like it could be fun (more at Tor)

It is almost August, which means--the call for Cybils Judges will be here in 3-4 weeks!  Now is the time to think about whether this Fall is the time to through yourself into the beautiful immersion of reading and evaluating a ton of middle grade spec. fic. books!  I'm the organizer for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction; here's a post I wrote in 2015 with more info (note--since it was 2015, ignore the links....)

7/27/17

Darkness of Dragons, by Tui T. Sutherland

I have, ever since the first book of Tui T. Sutherland's Wings of Fire series came out back in 2012, been a big fan of these books, pushing them at people right and left, saying that the force of kid appeal is strong in them.  It is true that when I got an ARC of the very first book I looked at it with doubt--"baby dragons of prophecy?" I thought skeptically, and than sat down to read.  When I got up again, having finished the book in a single sitting, I was a fan. Here's a snippet of my review of that first book, which still is a pretty good expression of my feelings for the series:

"I must confess I was doubtful at first, a bit condescending even, but once the dragonets had escaped from their cave, it was a page-turner! It helped that the various dragons were sufficiently characterized to be interesting, and that the world building of all the different kinds of dragons was fascinating. It helped even more so that the fights to the death in the Skywing arena weren't sugar-coated, but deadly serious, and that the Skywings champion was a surprisingly sympathetic character. It also helped that I, in general, am a fan of plucky orphans with interesting skills raised in miserable circumstances but making good, and as these dragonets are de facto orphans, they fit the bill nicely.

But even beyond those details of story, what pleased even cynical me most was that there were themes here that I was happy to have my son think about--loyalty to friends transcending blind loyalty to tribe, the need to empathize with other points of view, the need to try your best to shape your own destiny, and not be someone's tool, and the senselessness of war.

The sensitive young reader might be troubled by some of the violence--dragons really do kill other dragons. But no beloved characters die, so it's not too upsetting."



Now, a mere five years later (thank you Tui for your hard work!) Darkness of Dragons (Scholastic July, 2017) brings to a close the second five book Wings of Fire series.  Darkstalker, legendary magic-wielding evil dragon, has returned to threaten the tenuous new peace of the various dragon kingdom, and it's up to a ferociously smart young dragon, Qibli, to try to foil him.

Qibli feels pretty powerless against the tremendous powers wielded by Darkstalker.  The only magic Qibli has on hand are objects enchanted by his friend Turtle.  But (as readers of the series will expect), Qibli's wits and the help of loyal friends are enough to ensure a happy ending.  I could put in more plot details, but I won't.  Fans of the series will be wanting to read the book for themselves (if they haven't already in the two days since they were released), and those who aren't fans should start with the first book of the first series.

Instead I'll just mention a few things I particularly liked about this book and the series in general.

--There is So Much Story here!  The Wings of Fire world adds interesting new characters and bits of backstory and dragon history with every new book.  Depsite the richness of the details, there are so many small bits in this big world that there's tons of room for the imagination of the reader to play in.

--There are so many characters to care about!  Because each book has a different main point of view character, we see old friends through a fresh lens each time, understanding the dynamics of their relationships afresh with every book.  The dragons get to change, and grow, and their opinions and perspectives shift in a very lovely way.   And we meet new dragons too in every book.

--There's adventure, but not so much of it that the character arcs get overwhelmed.  That being said, Darkstalker is too horrible for my reading comfort, and it's most horrible of all that one can almost sympathize with him.  The end of the book set my mind at ease, though (though I won't say more about that!).

--this world now has LGBTQ dragons in it!  Just a minor touch of romance at the end, but it broadens the possibilities beautifully.

And yay!  Another five book series is on its way...

disclaimer: thank you, Scholastic, for the past five years of review copies!  Best book mail ever.




7/26/17

Halfway through my reading year

On Sunday I made it halfway through my reading year when I hit 250 books read (not counting picture books).  My goal is to read 500 books this year to try to make a dent in the backlog; clearly I'm going to have to pick up the pace.  It is also clear that re-reading the Betsy-Tacy books and all the books of L.M. Montgomery short stories don't help my immediate problem of tbr piles, though I enjoyed  them (especially Emily of Deep Valley, which I Love), and they were fast so added nicely to my tally.

Here's a bit of a look at some of my favorite reading thus far:

There were quite a few books in series that I was so happy to get and read--the newest Wings of Fire book, Darkness of Dragons, Emperor of Mars, by Patrick Samphire (my review),  Hamster Princess: Giant Trouble, by Ursula Vernon, Realm Breaker, by Laurie McKay, and The Reluctant Queen, by Sarah Beth Durst.  No disappointments here!

I don't often give five star reviews on Goodreads, and I mostly don't give any starts at all because of suffering existential meltdowns when thinking too hard about it.  When I give a book five stars, it's because I had no doubt--

Bone Jack, by Sarah Crowe
Train I Ride, by Paul Mosier
The Someday Birds, by Sally Pla (partly because the birdwatching made me think of my mother, so I was thinking loving thoughts all through the book...)
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis
All Birds Have Anxiety(it spoke to me)


The downside of the busy reading is that I have reviewed less this year than in years past.  And since only 28 of the 250 were off the tbr pile, there is no appreciable difference in the backlog.  But at least I am trying. 

Action plan:

Sensible and doable:

-stop requesting books from the library during breaks at work.
-pick up and start at least one tbr pile book every two days, to see if it is worth keeping.
-take the bus to work more often so I can read instead of drive (I listen to audiobooks, but that doesn't help much with my tally or my tbr problem).  Bus to work and back time--1 hour, so one book, especially if it is a good book and I go past my stop.

do-able but not sensible:

-when I leave my desk at work, take book and read it while walking to my in-work destination (my co-workers already sense I am Different, so they wouldn't bat an eyelash, but it would make me walk slower which is not fair to the People of Rhode Island who pay my salary and expect a modicum of efficiency in return).
-read while grocery shopping (this is a bad idea because while grocery shopping I look for loose change, so it would involve Financial Hardship (over $10 found this year!)
-read faster (I read fast enough; I could read faster if I tried but it would be less fun)

Not doable, but boy it would free up time:
-quit job
-give up on weeding/home renovation/cooking/communicating with my family

I am now at 257.  I can make it to 500.  There will still be piles of books, but at least the dust will have been stirred.


7/25/17

Time Shifters, by Chris Grine, for Timeslip Tuesday

I picked up the graphic novel Time Shifters, by Chirs Grine (Graphix, May 2017) up at the library a few weeks ago, feeling pleased and proud that I was Planning in Advance for a future timeslip Tuesday.  I finished it about ten minutes ago, which goes to show that planning in advance is not always pointful.  I almost didn't finish Time Shifters, though, because I wasn't sure that there was ever going to be enough time travel in it to justify it getting a Timeslip Tuesday slot.  There is, although not till the very end....

Luke's brother drowned trying to save him, after a group of bullies attacked them, and Luke is caught in a pit of grief for months (passing quickly by in graphic form).  Then one evening there's a "shoomph" and a strange glow outside, and Luke goes to see what it is.  Turns out a Vampire Napoleon, a mummy, and an animate skeleton are crashing around in the woods, and they've just dropped the precious device they're supposed to be looking after into the snow.  Instead of the device, they pick up Luke's flashlight, and Luke ends up with the device...

Which leads to him being kidnapped by another a group of odd characters, who are rescuing him and saving the device.   Now he's on a planet inhabited by sentient giant insects with a robot who was an alternate world's Abe Lincoln, a ghost girl, a dinosaur and the old scientist who made the gadget in the first place.  The trio of bad guys have followed them; their evil master needs the gadget to get domination over the universe.  But the three henchmen are fairly bumbling (and very amusing to the reader!); other threats prove more pressing.

The device was once a time machine, but that function had been deactivated.  In the stress of it's final recharging, though, the time travel component was reactivated, and instead of being taken home to the same night he left, as everyone had been expecting, he arrives back on earth just as the bullies plan their attack.....so yes, time travel.

And this is the sort of time travel where there are consequences, and time lines altered.  Poignant, and bittersweet that the brother is still alive, but that this Luke is now on his own path....

It's a more thought provoking, satisfying book than the cover had lead me to believe.  There is some emotional depth here, that makes for good reading.  And the henchmen really are very amusing!  Give this one to fans of Zita the Space Girl, by Ben Hatke.

There's a two star review on Amazon from someone who  found "the storyline difficult to follow as the dialogue jumped from the good guys to the bad guys."  I am easily confused by graphic novels, but I had no problem at all with the point of view changing here.  The bad guys, after all, were Vampire Napoleon, a skeleton, and a mummy, and the visual clues Helped me.  A little focus, a little concentration....  Since the same Amazon reviewer didn't grasp that the characters had done an  interdimensional jump type thing and not time travel (at no point in our planet's history was there a wild west with sentient bug cowboys), I think her two star review is a pretty unreliable indictor of anything about the book.

7/23/17

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/23/17)

Here's this week's round-up; let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well (Zaria Fierce #4) by Keira Gillett, at Log Cabin Library

The Blackhope Enigma, by Teresa Flavin, at Leaf's Reviews

Boy X, by Dan Smith, at Original Content

Code Name Flood (Edge of Extinction #2), by Laura Martin, at Say What?

The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood and Co. #4), by Jonathan Stroud, at Bookends

The Descendants series, at A Backwards Story

Dragon Captives, by Lisa McMann, at Say What?

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Sonderbooks

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at A Reader of Fictions

Emperor of Mars, by Patrick Samphire, at Charlotte's Library

Exile, by Shannon Messenger, at Pages Unbound

The Girl with the Ghost Machine, by Lauren DeStefano, at Cracking the Cover

Hitty, her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field, at Leaf's Reviews

The Lion Hunter Series, by Elizabeth Wein, at alibrarymama (note--this is actually two groups of books, the second, later in time books (The Mark of Soloman sub-series) are middle grade.  They are more fantasy-flavored historical fiction than fantasy).

The List, by Patricia Forde, at Mom Read It

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Maggie and the Flying Horse, by E.D. Baker, at Jean Little Library

Magic in the City, by Heather Dyer, at Charlotte's Library

Max Brooks’ Minecraft:The Islandat B. and N. Kids Blog

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, at Pages Unbound

Moon Princess, by Barbara Laban, at Ms. Yingling Reads

One for Sorow: a Ghost Story, by Mary Downing Hahn, at Cracking the Cover
and Books4KidsBlog

The Rogue World (Dark Gravity Sequence, Book 3) by Matthew J. Kirby, at Hidden in Pages

Spaced Out, by Stuart Gibbs, at That's Another Story

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at Randomly Reading

When Worlds Collide (Land of Stories #6), by Chris Colfer, at Say What?

The Wingsnatchers (Carmer and Grit, #1) by Sarah Jean Horwitz, at Sharon the Librarian


Authors and Interviews

Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising) at Pagan Dawn

Annette Laing (The Snipesville Chronicles) at Time Travel Times Two


Other Good Stuff

Ten middle-grade fantasies with incredible world-building, at Pages Unbound

For fans of Studio Ghibli, and those who have never had the pleasure of seeing these lovely animated movies--there a Studio Ghibli Fest, showing classic Studio Ghibli films in theaters around the US during 2017! (more at  Once Upon a Blog)

7/22/17

Emperor of Mars, by Patrick Samphire

The Emperor of Mars (Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, #2)The Emperor of Mars, by Patrick Samphire (Henry Holt and Co, July 2017), is the sequel to one of my favorite books of last year, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb (my review), and so, not unexpectedly, I enjoyed reading it lots!  It picks up where the first book ended, but it actually would work fairly well as a stand-alone, because it has it's whole own plot and all the details and world-building and past adventures are folded in nicely (without info. dumping).  I think this one is an easier sell to kids--it is a heist type story, with a rush to figure out mysteries and recover a stolen item from a truly formidable enemy with lots of mechanical monstrosities at his command. So steam-punk adventure sci fi/fantasy reading kids should like it lots!

I can't do any better summarizing the set-up than I did in my first review:

The basic premise of the worldbuilding is that there are slip-ways created by Martian dragons long ago that connect Mars to Earth, and the discovery of these paths in the 17th century allowed the British (and other terrestrial civilizations;  for instance, there are also Chinese, Turkish, and Patagonian colonies) to establish colonies on Mars. It is now 1816, the Napoleonic era, and a boy named Edward and his family live a very comfortable British Imperial existence on Mars.  The ancient Martian civilizations are no more, although there are still plenty of native Martians around (they are human as well, though physically different due to centuries of life on a planet with lower gravity).  And the tombs of the Marian emperors of centuries past are rich repositories of wondrous technology...the sort of technology that could tip the balance of the ongoing war on Earth in Napoleon's favor if he could get a hold of it....

After the adventures of the first book, Edward has decided to give up trying to look after his family and instead is hoping to find his own passion.  It doesn't work.  Instead, he gets caught up in new adventures totally beyond his control, and once again, instead of being the hero, he ends up battered and bruised and lucky to be alive (mechanical monsters and attacking Martian sea serpents will do that to a person) with the somewhat justified feeling that he made a mess of things.  But the fault of course lies not with Edward, but with the self-styled Emperor of Mars, who has reclaimed ancient Martian technology to fuel his own ambitions.

Edward continues, as well, to be over-shadowed by his sisters.  Although Olivia is only a minor presence in this installment, Putty is still as brilliantly wild and determined as ever (she is a STEM role model par excellence if you don't mind adventurous, somewhat amoral, expression of mechanical genius), and Jane, who was written off in the first book as being marriage obsessed, comes into her own with her intellectual abilities saving the day (poor Edward, outshone again...).   A new character, a girl thief, adds interest, because the reader knows from experience that characters in this world might not be exactly who they seem.  Sadly (for us readers who loved him), Freddy is back on Earth, working to foil Napoleon.

Speaking of which, there's also a spy in the mix, busily feeding secrets of Martian technology to Napoleon that could make him unstoppable....a problem that will presumably be dealt with in a future book because goodness knows there were enough problems to be dealt with here!

My review of the first book closed with me saying  "I hope it goes into the culture conflict on Mars more than the adventure/danger plot of this first book allowed."  And it does--there are very interesting (particularly to me, because critical examination of colonization is part of what I do for work as an archaeologist) moments of questioning the imperialist attitudes of the British, poking at the assumptions of the colonizers.  I was happy to see a native Martian get a chance to speak directly of the history of the Martian Emperors (much more technologically advanced than Earth) of long ago, and speak also of the attitudes of contemporary Martians to their past.(complicated).  Archaeologist me, though, was horrified by the destruction of the museum, and I hope the artifacts can be restored.....

And than as a special magical bonus, the dragon's egg that Putty claimed for herself in the last book hatches, and now there is once again a real live dragon on Mars!

Lots of action, interesting characters, and fascinating world-building make for another good book!  I can't help but prefer the first one, because of Freddy, but I enjoyed this one lots too and can't wait for the next installment and more of Putty's dragon, more of Jane's intellectual pursuits,

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher





7/20/17

What Goes Up, by Katie Kennedy

I very much enjoyed last year's Learning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy, so I was very happy last week to plunge into her new book, What Goes Up (Bloomsbury, 2017).  I find it very easy to grow fond of her characters, and to find their predicaments very engrossing, and the fact that What Goes Up has a more blatantly sci fi element to it made it all the more interesting.  I don't want to spoil what exact form that sci fi element takes, so I will try to be coy in my reviewing.

The story begins with  a group of ultra-select teens being tested by NASA's Interworlds Agency for some unclear purpose involving preparing for encounters with aliens; the two teens that pass the testing with the higher markers will be retained for said purpose.  There was the standard math and physics part to the testing, which I would fail, (though in the story there were about an equal number of girls, so positive re-enforcement for girls in STEM) but  NASA also wanted to see how well they could think outside the box, and how they'd react in conditions of life threatening danger, which required an element of excitement, as it were....(I would probably fail this part too.  Sigh.  The ability to improvise bad puns is not valued by NASA).

We are given two teens to root for right off the bat--Rosa Hayashi and Eddie Toivonen.  Rosa has basically been raised to take this test, Eddie has had a struggle.  His dad isn't a pre-eminent scientist like Rosa's; instead, he's in jail.   His engineer grandmother who brought him up was able to teach him lots, and they happily launched rockets together in her backyard, but coming to NASA for the testing wasn't an easy thing for him; the shadow of his abusive father weighs heavily on him. (I am glad we unexpectedly get to meet Eddie's grandma--she is great!)

So there are the kids, and the tests, and it is fun reading about the training and the group dynamics and the efforts of their instructor Reg to prepare the teens for the question mark of possible alien encounter.  There are poignant bits, and amusing bits, and tense bits, and then the sci fi part starts! All that testing--very useful.  All the lessons they'd just had about trusting themselves--also unexpectedly, more literally than you might imagine, useful! The bonds of friendship formed between Rosa, Eddie, and the third boy who's their alternate--essential.  The chances of saving Earth--slim.

So in any event, the sci fi part required a big suspension of disbelief, and really can't be poked at too hard or the belief crumbles, and if I read the book correctly there is a big plot thread left hanging (perhaps someone who has read the book can enlighten me--what happens to the guys who arrived first? did they ever leave again?), but I enjoyed it all lots and lots.  It is funny and friendly and a wild ride.  I'll be re-reading it, which in this day and age of book buildup in the home is the best compliment I can give a book.

There's diversity here--Rosa is of  French and Japanese descent, and Reg is black.  Which makes Rosa the first Japanese/French American fictional teen in space, to the best of my knowledge....

Kirkus agrees with me, except in the matter of how much of the plot to give away.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

7/18/17

Magic in the City, by Heather Dyer, for Timeslip Tuesday

Magic in the City, by Heather Dyer (Kids Can Press, April 2017), is a pleasantly old-fashioned sort of magic story (which is to say, in the tradition of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, and other Nesbit-esque writers).  It's also this week's time slip Tuesday book.

So the lives of the three children, brothers Jake and Simon, and their cousin Hannah, are more or less ordinary, except for the boys and their mother have come to England to live with Hannah's family, and their home in Canada is being sold.  But then an encounter with a street magician makes things most extraordinary indeed, when he give each of them a gift--a flying carpet, a time stopper, and a camera-shaped device that takes it's user into whatever picture it's focused on.  None of them come with instructions.

This means, of course, that the kids have to figure out how the magical things work by trial and error.  Misteps and mischances result in confusions and annoyances to the grown-ups affected (although the Queen of England, visited with the help of the time stopper, appreciates its magic very  much....).   The picture device lands the kids on the ship of Sir Walter Raleigh, who assumes the strangers who have suddenly appeared on board are pirates. A mischance leaves them stuck there for rather longer than they'd like, and when they return to their own time, the cabin boy comes too.  Though he's happy to have been transported away from the voyage he was loathing, he still presents a problem that must be somehow dealt with....But everything works out in the end.

I think it was Edward Eager who had one of his young characters say her favorite type of book was one where the children found magic and had to tame it and figure it out and make it work for them....That's pretty much the type of book this is, and although it was not as ambitious and powerful as Nesbit at her best, nor as amusing and rich in character as Eager at his, it is a book that will be enjoyed nicely by fans of both.   It is a stand-alone story, which means that the ending is an ending, but there is room left for more adventure.  It is also not a long story, being a mere 143 pages, but though I would have happily moved more slowly through the magical adventures, 143 pages did the job just fine.

The reader will be left wondering which of the three magical devices would be nicest to have.  Not the camera, though time travelling into favorite pictures would be fun, the chances of things going wrong are too great.  The magic carpet is too visible, and doesn't work when wet, so it's a bit chancy.  The time stopper would potentially be addictive, and I would end up looking old before my time because of using it for a few hours every morning before I go to work.  But goodness, imagine if instead of hitting the snooze button you just stopped time for ten or so minutes!

Looking at review on Amazon, this quote from a 10 year old made me feel a little sad-"I found the reading level a little bit easy for me. I found the interest level very good for my age."  Kids shouldn't have to be preoccupied by reading levels once they get past the learning to read with confidence stage.  Or interest levels for that matter, with the implication that higher levels are desirable....You will all be pleased, but perhaps not surprised, that I had no problem reading the book, but I cannot make any sort of blanket statement about whether its interest was age-appropriate for me.

Which reminds me--today I was telling an academic colleague about 20 years younger than me that I review kids books, and she told me how adorable it was about five times.  Sigh. I will go play with my dolls now, I guess.



7/17/17

Horizon, and its sequel Infinity, by Tabitha Lord

Today, for a change, I'm not blogging about middle grade books. Instead I offer the first two books of a space-opera(ish) sci fi romance, books that should please teen readers in particular very much (though it was not written, as far as I know, with teens in mind). Horizon (2015) nd its sequel, Infinity (2017) by Tabitha Lord, are self-published, but there is no need to be judgey on that account; I would not have guessed.

Horizon begins with an almost destroyed space craft falling from the sky. A young woman, living alone in the wilds nearby, senses it happen, and rushes to see if she can save either of the two men on board. She saves the life of one, Derek, healing him with her mental powers. And as he regains his strength, Caeli shares her story. It is a sad one.

Caeli once had a pretty idyllic life--loving parents, her life to come with the man she loved, a fulfilling career in medicine--until the genocide began and almost everyone she loved died. Her planet is home to two societies of people, one empathetic with mental powers, living a more rural life, and the others more urban, lacking mental gifts.  The new leader of the second group fears and loathes Caeli's people, and wants to do away with the protective cloak established over the planet that has kept them a peaceful, unknown backwater. So he launches an assault on that levels their homes. Caeli and the other survivors (mostly women and children) are marched to the city, a hellish journey on which Caeli is raped by one of the guards (in the second book, she projects that experience directly into his own mind, make him feel as if it happened to him...). In the city, she makes contact with the resistance, and when she finds hereself in danger, she must flee. And now she has healed Derek, they fall in love.

But Caeli's homeworld is not currently a place where happiness is possible, and Derek has his own commitments as an operative for an interplanetary alliance that strives to keep the galaxay safe from oppression. So the two of them rejoin Derek's mothership, and fly off to his homeworld, with a brief stop for interplanetary adventure. In the second book, Infinity, things really get going back on Caeli's homeworld. It can't be part of the interplanetary alliance with an evil dictator ruling it, so Caeli and Derek lead a somewhat off-the-record mission to strengthen and revitalize the resistance. In what was a very realistic result, they don't offer a miracle cure, and it is only when the reistence is a battered, almost destroyed fragement of itself that success seems possible.  Alongside the current desperate struggle is back story from an earlier conflict, that illuminates the origin of the mental powers of Caeli's people.

The books didn't seem to me to offer that much truly original or exciting, but they are perfectly fine reading fare for those who enjoy high-body-count tension on alien words (my own preference is for the good guys to start saving the day before the high body count part), with a generous helping of racey sex! Caeli seemed to much of a wonder girl for me to really take to her, and Derek was not a deeply three dimensional character (although he got points, in my book, for remembering in a sensitive way (I mean this sincerely) Caeli's dead former lover and fiancé.   In any event, the books were fine, it was a solid story, and I read through to the end with interest, and maybe you will love them more than my own lukewarmness.

My idea of the perfect reader--a fifteen year old girl whose just starting to read sci fi.

7/16/17

This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/16/17)

Here's what I found this week; let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor, at Great Imaginations

A Babysitters Guide to Monster Hunting, by Joe Ballarini, at Say What?

Bean Stalker and other Hilarious Scary Tales, by Kiersten White, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Defender of the Realm by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, at Book Murmuration

Gabby Duran books, by Elisa Allen and Daryle Conners, at Ms.Yingling Reads

The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi, at Fantasy Literature

Hamster Princes: Giant Trouble, by Ursula Vernon, at Jean Little Library

Jorie and the Gold Key by A.H. Richardson, at Log Cabin Library

Moon Princess, by Barbara Laban, at Charlotte's Library

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Fuse #8

Skybreaker, by Kenneth Oppel, at Puss Reboots

Stolen Magic, by Gail Carson Levine, at Leaf's Reviews

The Thirteenth Princess, by Suzanne Zahler, at Tales from the Raven

Time Jump Coins, by Susan May Olson, at Children's Books Heal

The  Truest Heart (Fairy Tale Matchmaker #3), by E.D. Baker, at Pages Unbound

Two at the New York Times--The Song from Somewhere Else, by A.F. Harrold, and Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol

Other Good Stuff

Registration is now open for Kidlicton 2017 in Hershey, PA the first weekend in November!  If you are interesting in presenting, please contact me--charlotteslibrary at gmail.com  (I'm the program organizer).  I have a few nascent panels that could use more folks (authors, bloggers, librarians, teachers, etc.)--one discussing gender (the boys book/girl book issue), one discussing historical fiction, a STEM book panel, and a panel on reader age (what's the difference between middle grade/YA and YA/adult?).  Other ideas welcome too!

Writers of color--Lee and Low Books New Visions and New Voices awards are accepting submissions

If you like Narnia, here are suggestions for other books at Semicolon

At Once Upon a Blog, a look at the new animated movie from Japan, Mary and the Witch's flower, which is based on one of my most favorite childhood books, The Little Broomstick, by Mary Stewart.

and you've probably already seen the trailer for the new Wrinkle in Time trailer, but if not, you can here.


7/12/17

Moon Princess, by Barbara Laban

Moon Princess, by Barbara Laban (Chicken House/Scholastic, July 25 2017) falls beautifully into that early middle grade slot of books for kids who are strong readers, but still young and developing their reading stamina.   Which is to say, it is shortish (185 pages) and generously fonted and margined (which is to say, comfortable to read).  Content-wise it is good for the younger end of middle grade (8-9 year olds) as well--there is danger and jeopardy for the two kids who are the main characters, but there is a wise old adult who steps in to help them, and they are helped as well by a bevy of imaginary animal companions.

Sienna's art historian mother, Kate, vanished on a research trip to China, and Sienna's dad tries to tell her to accept the fact that her mom is dead.  She doesn't.  When her father has to move the two of them to Shanghai, she thinks maybe they'll have a chance to look for Kate a bit more....But it doesn't seem likely that she'll get the chance. Stuck inside their apartment, with a truly unpleasant woman named Ling as language instructor and minder, Sienna's only company is her imaginary dog, Rufus.  Though he's invisible to everyone else, he is real as all get out to Sienna, and talks to her. 

Sienna soon finds that Ling is up to no good, and when she confronts her, Sienna realizes that she might have put herself in real danger.  She runs out the building, pursued by Ling, and is saved by Feng, a boy her own age, who pulls her to safety.  Feng is missing a person of his own too-- his brother Gege--and his brother had been working with Sienna's mother when they disappeared.  So the two of them set off to follow the few scanty clues they have to the far away temple where Kate and Gege were last seen...

With the help of a wise old man who has an imaginary friend of his own, and who has kept the ability to see the companion animals of others, Sienna and Feng unravel the mystery that is hidden below the temple...and this being a good book for kids, they find their loved ones (subverting what seemed at first to be yet another instance of the dead mother in middle grade fiction!).  The actual mystery is not itself fantastical in any supernatural sense, and so the only fantasy element is the invisible animals, making this one that might well appeal not just to fans of the magical but to kids who would rather read about heists and outwitting criminals than full-on magic.  (In short form--if your 8 or 9 year old kid doesn't like fantasy but has to read one for school, this would be a good pick.  But if yours does like fantasy, especially imaginary magical animal friend fantasy, it is an even better pick!).

Sienna's view of China is that of an outsider, which makes the story an introduction to China, but not a cultural immersion, and which allows the author to convincingly set her story there without falling into obvious pitfalls of cultural appropriation or cultural error (I was on the look out, though from a place of ignorance myself, and didn't see anything that bothered me, except the relatively minor feeling, perhaps particular to me, that the  long fingernails of Ling, the villainess, which are mentioned a lot, seem like a stereotype...).   The alliance between Feng and Sienna is believable and appealing, and the banter of the invisible friend animals (Feng's is a dragon, that he had lost the ability to communicate with) adds a nice touch of humor to the emotionally tense plot.

So yes, as I said above, a good one for 8-9 year olds who will be tickled by the idea of the imaginary friends, interested in the journey through China, and sympathetic to Sienna's feelings and tribulations!

(Moon Princess was originally published in German in 2011, and was that year's winner of a major children's book award in Germany.  The translator, Helen Jennings, did an excellent job of crafting the English version--I would never have guessed it hadn't been originally in English).

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

7/9/17

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/9/2017)

Welcome to another week of middle grade sci fi and fantasy!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, at Leaf's Reviews

Eden's Wish (Eden of the Lamp) by M. Tara Crowl, at Sharon the Librarian

The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht, at Imaginary Reads

Frogkisser, by Garth Nix, at Sonderbooks

The Girl With the Silver Eyes, by Willo Davis Roberts, at The Write Path

Hamstersaurus Rex vs Squirrel Kong, by Tom O'Donnell, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Impyrium by Henry H. Neff, at Nerdy Book Club

Joplin, Wishing, by Diane Stanley, at Charlotte's Library

Katana at Super Hero High (DC Super Hero Girls Adventure Collection #4), at Ms. Yingling Reads  and The Reading Nook Reviews

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Pages Unbound
/
The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones, at alibrarymama
/
Seraphina and the Splintered Heart, by Robert Beatty, at Nerdophiles and Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

Shadow Cipher (York book 1), by Laura Ruby, at books4yourkids.com

The Song of Glory and Ghost, by N.D. Wilson, at Say What?

Talking to Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Say What?

The Unicorn in the Barn, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Villain Keeper (The Last Dragon Charmer trilogy) by Laurie McKay, at Boys Rule Boys Read!


Authors and Interviews

A.F. Harrold (The Song from Somewhere Else) at Nerdy Book Club

Jaleigh Johnson (The Quest to the Uncharted Lands) at Nerdy Book Club

Brian Farrey (The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse) at PCS Reads (podcast)

Sarah Carroll, (The Girl in Between) at Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

Other Good Stuff

At Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books, a look at some MG books coming out in the UK

Is there a particular conversation you'd like to have with like-minded folks about children's books and book reviewing?  Make it happen by presenting at Kidlitcon!  November 3rd and 4th in Hershey, PA, lots of book folks of all stripes to make friends with!  The call for session proposals is now live (I'm the program organizer, so contact me with any questions!).  Registration information should go up next week.



7/8/17

Joplin, Wishing, by Diane Stanley

I sincerely enjoying reading kids books even though I'm an adult (otherwise I wouldn't).  But sometimes there are children's books that even though I like reading them now just fine, I really really want to be able to give to my young self, because I would have loved them back then.  Such a book is Joplin, Wishing, by Diane Stanley (Harper Collins, June 2017) which I would have adored back when I was eight or nine.  It would have hit the sweet spot of beautifully fantastical with hint of melancholy most excellently.

Elven-year-old Joplin's grandfather has died, and when the book begins, she and her mom are  returning to their home in New York, with boxes and boxes of his papers (he was a famous writer).  She's also bringing back a treasure she found--the broken pieces of a delftware platter that once showed a girl tending geese.  Thanks to a family friend, the pieces are reassembled, and the platter is hung on Joplin's wall.  She's going through a bad time at school; her once best friend has taken up with the It girls, and she's being tormented by classmates who've seen unflattering stories about her grandfather's eccentricities (distorted by the media). Looking at the sweet-faced painted girl on the platter, Joplin wishes that she could be her friend. 

Joplin's wish comes true, and the next day she finds Sophie in her building's garden.  Sophie was once a real girl in 17th century Holland, enchanted when she was eleven into the platter to serve its owner as a granter of wishes. For centuries, she's watched the world from her prison...except for one previous stint as a girl in the real world.  Now she is real again, and ready to be Joplin's friend (though she has no choice in the matter, because since Joplin now owns the platter, Sophie must grant all her wishes).  Sophie (with a bit of wishing help) is taken in by the upstairs neighbor, solving the practical problem of where she'll live, but a much bigger problem looms.

The alchemist who created the platter wants it back; he needs Sophie to grant him one last wish, and he is not a nice man at all.  And Sophie has a wish of her own--to go back to her own time and place. But only the alchemist can undo the magic.  Joplin and a new friend she made a school, a really cool and smart boy named Barrett (a bibliophilic friendship--they are thrown together by the school librarian, and then Joplin lends him her set of Sherlock Holmes), are determined to figure out how to help Sophie, and fortunately they have adults who are willing to accept the impossible circumstances and provide help. (I can't remember any other books where a helpful family friend who's a lawyer steps in to write a magical contract!)

Sophie's story is entwined with Joplin's mother's past, and not only does Sophie bring friendship to Joplin's life, she brings healing and closure to her mother (which also bring a nice emotional depth and poignancy to the story).  And Joplin is able to appreciate her brief time with Sophie as a precious gift, without trying to use the magic of her wishing power for selfish reasons.  It's all very satisfying, and fans of 17th century Dutch art will be particularly charmed by the ending.

Joplin's contemporary friendships are also sensitively explored.  She is a big enough person to allow for the possibility of mending fences with her old best friend, which is nice, but I particularly like her attitude to become friends with a boy.  To paraphrase, she says that eleven is too young to have a boyfriend, but that it's nice to have a boy as a friend  that she might want as a boyfriend later, which seems to me a beautifully appropriate attitude.

So it was a lovely, magical, positive story!  Like I said, 8 or 9 year old me would have loved it, but I was a tremendously precocious reader, so kids a bit older might like it too!  5th grade, I think, is the sweet spot.

For what it's worth, Kirkus and I are in agreement on this one; here's their starred review.

7/6/17

The Reluctant Queen (Queens of Renthia Book 2), by Sarah Beth Durst

I loved Queen of Blood, the first of Sarah Beth Durst's books about the queens of Renthia, set in a world teeming with vicious, bloodthirsty nature spirits kept from unleashing destruction only by the queen's power.  That book ended with Daleina, an unlikely candidate, become queen of Renthia in a bloodbath, and the second book, The Reluctant Queen (Harper Voyage, July 2017), picks up right after that. And I liked if almost as much as the first book (which was very nice for me!).

And it starts with an awful surprise (which I reveal, since it is right at the beginning, and since any plot summary is dependent on it).  Daleina might not have been the most "powerful" queen ever, but she was all set to be a good one, except that suddenly she has started having blackouts.  These turn out to be the onset of a fatal illness, the False Death, for which there is no cure.  Daleina is going to die, without an heir, freeing the spirits to wreck murderous havoc, and even while she is still alive, when she's in the throes of a false death, the spirits are free to kill with great enthusiasm.  Daleina needs an heir fast, someone who can provide back-up spirit control right away, and take over after the few months she might have left before false death becomes real.

But possible heirs are thin on the ground, most of them having been killed in the first book.

Ven, the Queen's Champion, sets off into obscure parts of the realm, looking for a woman whose power to command spirits might never have been recognized and formally trained.  And he finds one, Naelin, a mother of two children who has absolutely no desire to have anything to do with spirits (except keeping her children safe from them).  What follows next is the story of Naelin's reluctant journey to power, Daleina's struggle to keep her kingdom safe, a side-story of a psychopath's alchemical endeavours to find a cure for Daleina, and several betrayals, an enemy invasion, and lots of horrible deaths (spirits aren't tidy killers). There is also a pleasing romance.

It is good that Naelin turns out to be an interesting and sympathetic point of view character.  Daleina is also a point of view character, and since I am very fond of Daleina and  she is dying it would have been hard to enjoy reading the book unless we had Naelin there to shoulder the narrative. 

The first book is a story for the young escapist side of me--girl at a sort of boarding school learns to master her powers.  This second book is one for actual aged me--woman no longer young fights to protect her children by honing her innate powers, while dealing with her failed marriage and figuring out what the rest of her life might entail.  It is true that protecting children is an incredibly strong motivator, and sometimes one must protect the whole realm in order to keep the children safe, and it makes sense that this would drive a heroine of a fantasy story; it's somewhat reaffirming to see a book about this!  Because clearly I myself am not a chosen child of destiny, unless my own mother has kept the rhyming prophecy secret from me, so finding untapped powers in middle age is really my current best shot at fantasy heroine-ness.

There was, perhaps, a tad of rushed-ness at the end, but it's also possible that I was feeling rushed to get to the end to find out what happened, because it was all very tense!  But in any event, I can recommend these books to anyone who likes other world fantasy with strong female characters, and doesn't mind a bit of unpleasant chewing (by evil nature spirits).

disclaimer: review copy received with utmost pleasure from the author.

7/2/17

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (7/2/17)

Here's this week's gathering of the middle grade sci fi/fantasy posts I found in my blog reading this week; let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews

A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting, by Joe Ballarini, at Always in the Middle

Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! by Matthew McElligott and Larry Tuxbury, at Jean Little Library

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate  Chase, by Wendy Mass, at Puss Reboots

The Children of the King, by Sonya Hartnett, at Puss Reboots

Death Bringer (Skulduggery Pleasant 6), by Derek Landy, at Say What?

The Door Before, by N.D. Wilson, at Pages Unbound

The Door in the Alley (Explorers book 1) by Adrienne Kress, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Reading Violet and Charlotte's Library

Emily and the Spellstone, by Michael Rubens, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Felix Yz,  by Lisa Bunker, at Completely Full Bookshelf

Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at On Starships and Dragonwings (audiobook)

Gregor and the Code of Claw, by Suzanne Collins, at Fyrefly's Book Blog

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton, at Redeemed Reader

Katana at Super Hero High, by Lisa Yee, at Word Spelunking 

Lord of Monsters, by John Claude Bemis, at A Backwards Story

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, Gail Carson Levine, at Redeemed Reader

Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson at Rachel Neumeier (audiobook review)

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, by Christopher Edge, at The Reading Nook

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at happily ever elephants  and For Those About to Mock

The Path of Names, by Ari B. Goelman, at Pages Unbound

Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren, at Kitty Cat at the Library

Seeker (Noble Warriors Trilogy book 1), by William Nicholson, at Say What?

The Unicorn in the Barn, by Jacqueline Ogburn, at Mom Read It

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Finding Wonderland

Wizards at War, by Diane Duane, at Fantasy Faction

Other Good Stuff

Kelly Barnhill's Newbery Award accptence speech at The Horn Book

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