12/17/17

This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs

Welcome to another week's worth of what I found online of interest to us fans of middle grade spec. fic.! As always, let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Beast and Crown, by Joel Ross, at Puss Reboots

Beyond the Doors, by David Neilsen, at Project Mayhem

Children of Refuge, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Middle Grade Mafioso

The Eye of the North, by Sinéad O’Hart, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at The Book Wars

The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson, at Charlotte's Library

The Lost Kingdom of Bamere, by Gail Carson Levine, at Puss Reboots

The Lost Property Office. Section 13 Book 1 by James R. Hannibal, at alibrarymama

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris, at Log Cabin Library

The Night Garden by Polly Horvath, at The Children's War

The Nutcracker Mice, by Kristin Kladstrup, at Becky's Book Reveiws

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Puss Reboots

Penelope March is Melting, by Jeff Michael Ruby, at Book Nut

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Say What?

The Science of Science Fiction, by Matthew Brenden, at Charlotte's Library

The Scourge, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Pages Unbound

The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta, at proseandkahn 

The Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby, at Great Imaginations

The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Superfail, by Max Brunner and Dustin Mackay, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Winterhouse, by Ben Gutterson, at Book Nut

The Wizard of Once, by Cressida Cowell, at Say What?

Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell, at The Write Path

Authors and Interviews

Joan Aiken talks about reading John Masefield's classic fantasy books The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights, and how they influenced her writing, at a website (The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken) (originally written years ago for  The Journal of the John Masefield Society)

Adam Gidwitz, on how The Unicorn Rescue Society was born, at Nerdy Book Club
Other Good Stuff

Lisa Bunker (Felix Yz) at Cynsations

Other Good Stuff

This is what happened when a bot was fed the Harry Potter books, and asked to generate its own chapter. It is the funniest thing I've read all year.  And here's the Guardian article where I found it.

a top ten list of adventure stories, with lots of fantasy, at Nerdy Book Club


12/16/17

The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson

The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson, is a Swedish middle grade fantasy from Gecko Press (August 2017)  that will appeal to those who enjoy stories about plucky girls setting off alone on worthy quests.  It has tons of atmosphere, memorable characters and encounters, and is thought provoking to boot!

Ten-year-old Siri and her little sister Miki live with their old and somewhat ineffectual, though kind, father on a remote island far up in the North Atlantic. Even on their island they've heard of Captain Whitehead, the most dreaded pirate of them all, who steals children to work in his diamond mine.  But Siri isn't thinking about the pirate when she lets her sister pick snowberries alone....and the Miki is kidnapped.  Blaming herself, Siri knows she can't rest until her sister is home again and there is no one else able or willing to do the job.

Of course, Siri might be willing, but the able part is questionable.  There's the matter of finding the island with the mine on it  (involving perilous journeys through an icy sea, a diversion when she finds herself alone on an island looking after a mer-child, and almost freezing to death on several occasions.  And then once she finds the mine, there are of course challenges to overthrowing the control of Captain Whitehead and saving everybody.  She could never have done it alone, but fortunately she finds help in unexpected places...

What made this one rather refreshing is that Siri is not so plucky as to be unbelievable.  She is allowed to cry, and does so with good reason fairly often.  You don't often see kids off on heroic quests thinking about how awful everything is and breaking down.  And I don't think it makes her a weaker character at all, just a realistic ten year old n dire straits.  Another interesting thing is that several of the people she meets along the way are neither good nor bad, but with both entwined--"goodness" often has a smattering of cruelty to it, and questions of responsibility are raised in a somewhat more overt way than I'm used to.  Even Captain Whitebeard didn't set up his diamond mine for evil purposes....though of course it became evil in the end.

There are bits that made me chuckle, and bits that made beautifully clear pictures in my mind's eye.  I'm not personally a fan of pirate adventures in frozen waters, but I enjoyed this one. It is perhaps slow to start, and there's not sustained action following hard on action, so it might not be to the taste of those who want excitement on just about every page, which could be I myself enjoyed it....It's the first contemporary Swedish middle grade fantasy I think I've ever read....I'd like to read more!

Here's something a New Zealand reviewer said about this book that I never would -- "The smell of fish is ever present in the written text...."  Although the review meant well, it just not fair to the book.  Though there are a lot of dead fish what with one thing and another, I did not smell any.  That being said, I do not in general read with my nose, unless there is chocolate...

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.

12/11/17

The Science of Science Fiction, by Matthew Brenden Wood

The Science of Science Fiction, by Matthew Brenden Wood, from Nomad Press' Inquire and Investigate series (Feb. 2017) is a really fascinating and well-done look at the science that lies behind science fiction stories, and in front of us in the real world.  It covers six main topics--cloning, robotics, living on Mars, alien, faster than light travel, and time travel. 

The real life science of each topic makes up the bulk of the book, and I found it very interesting, even though I was familiar with some of the material. It was good, clear explanation and description of some pretty complicated concepts.   Lots of little side bar note, pictures, and QR codes dot the pages, adding to the material presented (although I could not check out the QR codes because I have not embraced today's technology*). Basically the sci fi tie-in is fun lead into actually science, and it's done very well--explaining without patronizing.

The part of the book that makes it really stand out, though, are the experiments.  I am not a hands on person myself, but I find myself strangely tempted to do some of them myself; there's one about putting a bar of chocolate in the microwave to measure the speed of light, for instance, which looks really cool (and the chocolate is not horribly harmed, and can be eaten afterwards).

So if you have a STEM loving kid around, or a twelve year old who read the Martian, and liked the first part of it lots, give them this book!  It's also good for classroom use; there are, for instance, thought-provoking questions to pose for discussion and writing prompts, which would work better in the classroom than swinging a bucket of water around your head to gain familiarity with centrifugal force, or the lack thereof....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

*I had to ask my kid what those little boxes are called. He says everyone with a phone (except me) is able to use them, so perhaps my feeling that including this tech. reliant part of the book excludes kids who don't have all the resources is misplaced....

12/10/17

This week's roundup of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (12/10/17)

Welcome to this week's round-up!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Adventurers Guild, by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at Nerdophiles

The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol, at alibrarymama

The Cladera, by John Flanagan, at Say What?

Death and Douglas, by J.W. Ocker, at Mom Read It

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Book Nut

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island, by Liz Kessler, at Say What?

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, at Charlotte's Library

EngiNerds, by Jarrett Lerner, at Log Cabin Library

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart, at Charlotte's Library

The Glass Town Game, by Catherynne Valente, at Pages Unbound

Ivy, by Katherine Coville, at Jean Little Library

The Land of Stories, by Chris Colfer, at proseandkahn

Max Tilt: Fire in the Depths, by Peter Lerangis, at Ms. Yinglng Reads

Rise of the Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Book Nut

The Search for the Lost Prophecy, by William Meyer, at Always in the Middle

Sword of Light (Pendragon Legacy 1), by Katherine Roberts, at Say What?

The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

Voices for All: The Legend of ZoaBrio by Scott Vincent, at Log Cabin Library

The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching, Book 1) by Terry Pratchett, at Hidden in Pages

The World's Greatest Adventure Machine & The Afterlife Academy by Frank Cole, at Geo Librarian

York: the Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby at Book Nut

Three at The Book Search--The Crooked Sixpence, The Unicorn in the Barn, and Dragon's Green

Other Good Stuff

Help raise $1,000,000 for Heifer International by helping the Worldbuilders meet a challenge goal.

12/7/17

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart

Here's a fun action-packed fantasy for all you readers who want to hie yourselves away to Greenland to come face to beak (?) with a giant Kraken!  Emmeline, the young heroine of The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart (Knopf, middle grade, August 2017), is the sort of child with ZERO interest in doing this.  She is paranoid, distrustful, and set in her ways, and most of this is a result of her booby-trapped (literally) childhood--her parents (when they weren't off having adventures) spent no effort on making her feel safe; indeed, the opposite is more like it.  So one day, when her parents are off somewhere, a letter arrives for her...and her first step is to check it for poison.

It's not poisoned, but it does bring the news that she is now an orphan, and must  immediately travel to France to stay with a woman she's never met. So she's bundled on to a ship, clutching her trusty satchel of things that might keep her safe.

She is not safe.  From the moment she steps onto the ship to the last few pages of the book, she joins the whole world in being threatened as all get out. The world was threatened first-the ice of Greenland is melting, and under the ice is a giant Broken of tremendous power, and whoever wakes the Kraken can gain control of it.  Emmeline gets personally threatened as a result of this--a bad guy thinks she has learned something from her parents (whose adventures took them on rather unusual excursions...) about Kraken control. She's kidnapped and hauled off the ship and taken off to Greenland.

But before she was kidnapped, she met a boy, who calls himself "Thing."  He throws his lot in with hers, partly at first because he's board, and partly, later on, because he's awfully lonely.  And though Thing can't, quite, save her from being kidnapped, when he himself leaves the ship  its in the company of a man and woman determined to stop the bad guy from awakening the Kraken.

So moving on more quickly, Thing and the two adults with  him are pursued, and they would be rescue attempt goes south, ending up with Thing flying off to Greenland in an airship he has no idea how to control.   Emmeline, well trained in escaping traps, does so to great effect, and heads out over the ice of Greenland, populated by magical creatures, to find her parents, who may still be alive.

And moving on even more quickly, because Too Much that's very exciting happens to tell it all, and it would spoil everything, there are other bad guys interested in the Kraken, including one magical villain, an evil ice queen..  Much foiling of bad guys is required, but Emmeline and Thing are up for the task and triumph.

So if you like excitements, you'll enjoy this lots.  As the adventure gets going, the story starts being told in the alternate viewpoints of Emmeline and Thing, layered on top of each other in the same chapter, which worked very well to keep the tension nicely ratcheted up.  My favorite part of the book, though, was Emmeline's ingenuity in the face of adversity; she wins this year's award for Foiling Villain with Pilfered Spoon. Thing is very appealing too; his backstory is a sad one, but he has come through it as a genuinely lovable character.  His bad asthma, something you don't see much in a mg fantasy novel, adds interest.

I wasn't quite convinced that I understood the actions of some of the bad guys; kidnapping Emmeline didn't seem to matter enough to have been worth the trouble of doing so.  But I was happy to go along for the ride.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.

12/4/17

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud

Way back in September of 2013, a few days before it was released, I finished The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, the first book in the Lockwood and Co. series about an alternate Britain plagued by malevolent spirits and a pluck team of young ghost hunters who fight against them (here's my review).  I wrote: 

"great characters, great premise, exciting ghosts and I Cannot Wait till the next book, when more about the very charming Anthony Lockwood, and more about the geekily appealing George, might be revealed! We already know Lucy pretty well, but I'm curious about how her relationships with the boys might change..."

And now I have just finished the fifth and presumably final book in the series, The Empty Grave (Disney-Hyperion, Sept. 2017), and I have all the answers, and an ending has being reached, and all is well (though "the Problem" of the ghost is still troublesome).  So from that point of view, The Empty Grave is a very satisfying book, and I was delighted to read it.  Unusually for me, I find the exciting bits of these books more interesting than the character building bits, perhaps because the exciting bits (hunting ghosts), contain mysteries and team dynamics as well as just the adventures. 

From a more critical point of view, it's not the best in the series--it's a bit bogged down by the gang siting around trying to figure out what to do, as opposed to actually doing things.  It wasn't until about 2/3 of the way through that it became the page turner I was expecting it to be.  And I got really fed up with George's overweight physique being presented as something to laugh at; it's the sort of body shaming that makes me not want to recommend the books to any plumpish geeky boys, because it will make them (I imagine) feel bad.  It is also not a diverse bunch of characters, although it is strongly suggested by the end that one of the main characters is gay.   But though it's not perfect, I continue to recommend the series with  conviction--give these books to the 11-13 year old "reluctant reader" and they will be read.  I speak from personal experience here; my own son, who is now 17, is getting this for Christmas and will be very happy.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Awards consideration

12/3/17

The books my loved ones are getting for Christmas

So this weekend I came down to Virginia to my mother's house, for pre-Christmas quality time with her, but also quality time with all the presents I've had shipped to her house.  Many of these are, of course, books!  (Only three members of my immediate family is not getting a book; instead, they get pruning clippers, owl puke (with rodent bone chart) and one of those cars that follows the line you draw). And because I like talking about books, presents, and my children, here are the books my loved ones (those that don't read this blog) are getting.  To make it more fun for myself, I'm rating my choices, with 10 stars being a sure winner, and down from there).

For my 17 year old son:

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud.  Though he mainly reads graphic novels, this is a series that hooked him with the first book and that he's been reading enthusiastically ever since. 10 stars.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzie Lee.  He's looking forward to leaving home, though not for the same reasons as Monty, and I think he'll enjoy this grand tour gone horribly wrong (I was lucky and found a like new copy in a used bookstore, so felt I could take a chance on it). 6 stars because it's hard to predict what new books he'll actually read....

Book of Challenges: Dungeon Rooms, Puzzles, and Traps.  He wrote his college application essay on the challenges of being a Dungeon Master for the first time, and though I was doubtful, and have not been allowed to read it, he got a personal email from one college admissions person saying she LOVED [sic] it.  So I'm happy to keep encouraging him.  10 stars (he asked for it)

It Devours: Welcome to Nightvale by Joseph Fink.  The second Nightvale novel; he's a huge fan so at least will pick it up and start reading. 8 stars--hopefully it will hook him quickly.

Digger, Vol. 2, by Ursula Vernon.  He loved the first one.  Also, Ursula Vernon.  10 stars.


For my 14 year old son:

Falling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson.  He heard about in online (probably John Green? ) and wants it.  7 stars--he'll be pleased but not thrilled, and I'm not entirely certain he will devour it quickly.

Pearls Hogs the Road, by Stephan Pastis.  Can't go wrong here.  He'll be reading it Christmas afternoon.  10 stars.

In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan.  He should enjoy the fantasy, and he's at the age where a book with a positive attitude toward sex and sexual identities is appropriate.  8 stars--had to take two off because he can't be counted on to read things I think he would enjoy.  John Green has a much better track record than I do in this regard.

Rebel, by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown.  The third book in the Change series; the first book, Stranger, is his all time most favorite book. 10 stars--he'll be thrilled.

For my mother:

The Durrels of Corfu, by Michael Haag.  As a family we are huge fans of Gerald Durrell, and I'm looking forward to this lots, and have no reason to think my mother won't be equally as interested!  So without having read it, I'll give it 10 stars

For my older sister:

The Goat, by Anne Fleming.  I mentioned it to her last summer and she was tickled by the idea.  Having been tickled by the book myself, I'm confident that she'll enjoy it too.  10 stars

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, by Kelly Jones.  I haven't read this myself yet, but I really liked her first book, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, and it sounds like it will appeal to my sister -- 7 stars (can't go any higher because of not having read it)

For her husband:

Smile, by Roddy Doyle.  He is hard to shop for, but when I first met him, in Peshawar, Pakistan, where he and my sister were working for MSF, he was reading a Roddy Doyle book with enjoyment....of course that was 25 years ago, and he might have been reading it for lack of anything better to read--5 stars, but hopeful ones.

For her daughter:

Spinning, by Tilly Walden.  Seems to me a good pick for a teenaged girl who's exact taste you don't really know who is more comfortable reading in Dutch; pretty sure she'll find the cover appealing enough to at least open it.   7 stars.


For my younger sister:

The Trees Kneel at Christmas, by Maud Hart Lovelace.  A timely book by an author she loves. The first present of 2017 I bought; I wanted to get it early, because last year I waited till December to buy it and the price had jumped lots.  So I got in April when it was out of season ($1 as opposed to $20), and it has been wrapped and here at my mother's house since June.  She found it and tried to open it, thinking it was a forgotten leftover from last year, but fortunately was told not to in time. 7 stars--she'll be pleased, but it might be too young for her...

Josie Moves Up, by Phyllis Matthewman.  Third in a British girls school series; she has the first two and likes them, as do I, so this is nice for us both.  Ten stars.  An easy one.

For her son:

I am Pusheen the Cat.  He loves Pusheen.  Ten stars.  Also easy.

This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (12/3/17)

Welcome to this week's round up of mg sci fi/fantasy!  And welcome December, the last month in which to complete 2017 reading challenges....I myself have to read at least 2 books a day this month to meet my Goodreads goal of 500 books....

Please let me know if I missed your post, and I'll happily add it!

The Reviews

Air of Vengeance (Windhollows, book 1) by Trayner Bane, at Chanticleer Book Reviews

Bat Girl at Superhero High, by Lisa Yee, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Beast and Crown, by Joel Ross, at Bibliobrit

The Caldera, by John Flannagan, with bonus paean for his books in general, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Children of Refuge, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The O.W.L. and Always in the Middle

Dominion, by Shane Arbutnott, at Charlotte's Library

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The House of Secrets (The House of Secrets, Book 1) by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini,‎ at Hidden in Pages

Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkins, at alibrarymama

The Legend of Jack Riddle, by H. Easson, at Mom Read It

The List, by Patricia Forde, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Matchstick Castle, by Keir Graff, at alibrarymama

Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King, at Book Nut

Nightfall, by Shannon Messenger, at Carstairs Considers and Michelle I. Mason

Oddity, by Sarah Cannon, at Mom Read It

The Painting, by Charis Cotter, at Charlotte's Library

Polaris, by Michael Northrup, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Skeleton Tree, by Kim Ventrella, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Secret of the Scarab Beatle, by William Meyer, at Always in the Middle

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at Geo Librarian and Book Nut

The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke, at proseandkahn

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby, at Say What?

Two at alibrarymama--Voyage to Magical North, and The Memory Thief

Three short ones at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Lost Frost Girl, Mutant Bunny Island, and Sisters of Glass

Four short ones at Random Musings of  Bibliophile--Dragon's Green, Ghosts of Greenglass House, Miss Smith's Spy School for Girls, and Spirit Hunters

Authors and Interviews

Jackie Ogburn (The Unicorn in the Barn) at Tales from the Raven

More Good Stuff

a fun post by Ursula Vernon at Tor--The Sausage Princess, or, Reshaping the Bizarre Structure of Fairy Tales

12/2/17

Dominion, by Shane Arbuthnott

Dominion, by Shane Arbuthnott  (Orca Book Publishers, Middle Grade/Tween, February, 2017)

Are you in need of a steampunk fantasy set in an alternate New World where air ships powered by aetherial spirits travel through the skies in search of other spirits to capture and sell?  This is the life that Molly has grown up with, and now she's the engineer on board her family's air ship, the Legerdemain.  But Molly is not behaving as a proper engineer should.  Instead, she's talking to the spirit powering the airship, and feeling it respond.  When she finds herself capturing an extremely powerful spirit, she hears it speak to her.

It is a spirit that knew one of Molly ancestors long ago.  And that starts her down a path that ends up in Molly finding truths she's never thought possible about her world, and challenging the owner of the most powerful company in Terra Nova who is threatening that world with his greed (and who has taken the Legerdemain from Molly's family).

So yeah, Go Molly!  Challenge arrogant corporate greed!  Have the intelligence, sensitivity, and empathy to listen to spirits instead of dismissing or fearing them!  Realize your ancestors did bad things, and work to undo them! Believe in your mechanical abilities and yourself!  And Go Spirits too, from small spirits forced to power little bots, including one who is utterly charming and helpful, to the greater spirits like the one who powered Legerdemain.

In short, Molly's a great heroine and the whole set up with the spirits is fascinating.  I wish we'd been given more of a look at this alternate world--we only see the sliver of sky traversed by Molly and her Family, and the one city where they dock, though there are hints of the bigger world.  And likewise it seems like the author knew more backstory about Molly's family than is given in any detail.   I'm hoping Molly's world will be broader in future installments, because she's a great heroine who really deserves a great world to adventure in! 

Note on age:  It's definitely middle grade; Molly's only 14, and there's no sex, and it feels middle grade.  But it will be enjoyed more by the older end of MG, pushing YA-ward-- so  11-14 year olds. 

Kirkus and I agree on this one-- "Though some of the physics may leave some readers dizzy, feisty young Molly will keep them grounded in this page-turning mystical adventure." (here's the Kirkus review).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.

11/29/17

Winter of Ice and Iron, by Rachel Neumeier


NB-I start this post with blathering.  If you want to find out what I think of the book, skip down to the part where I've written the heading: A Brief Synopsis.  Or you could just cut to the chase and go further down to the heading:  What I think of the book.  Spoiler: I liked it lots, and much of it I loved.

Rachel Neumeier is one of my favorite contemporary writers of fantasy.  Her books are very very good at making pictures in my mind that blot out reality in a most satisfactory way, I like her interweaving of the magical, the personal, and the political, and I like her characters very much too.  So  I was thrilled to receive an ARC of Winter of Ice and Iron (Saga Press, November 21, 2017).  And of course since it was a book I really wanted to read, it sat on the shelf...and I was full of good intentions to have it read and ready to review by its release day.  It was with great happiness that the moment finally came- it was time to start reading!  yay!  But it was not to be.  I found, as I turned the first few pages, and was introduced to a rather complicated world, that thoughts of immanent plumbers and electricians and family coming to stay, and the demolition work and house cleaning that had to happen before these three sets of visitors, interfered so much that I couldn't enjoy it.  So I waited to read it until after the Thanksgiving feast, when the visitors were ensconced in comfortable chairs and the plumber came less frequently and the gutter repair people only once. Then and only then could I set my mind to devouring, and it was good.

A Briefish Synopsis

Important fact about this world--there are powers that grow from the different lands and are partnered/channeled by/nested in the people that rule that lands.  They are named, and they have personalities that are shaped by generations of the rulers who held them, and since some places and families are kinder and gentler than others, some of these powers are kinder than others.  If you've ever read Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster series, you'll be reminded of the relationship between rulers and their lands in those books, although the expression of that concept takes a different form and path here; the powers of place have stronger identities of their own, while simultaneously being in a feedback loop with the personalities of the human rulers.

There is a young Duke, Innisth, master of a cold mountain land (the sort that's full of wolves) and the power he inherits from his abusive, sadistic, powerful father is a harsh one.  He does not want to be like his father, so he keeps the power under control as much as he can, focusing on his people and their protection and gaining in return their trust and loyalty.  He is very smart, and I was briefly reminded (in a part of the story that involved political scheming) of Megan Whalen Turner's Eugenidies.

There is a young woman, Kehara, who is the beloved heir to a gentler land and a gentler, though strong, power.

And there are two kings who have gone mad, and the power of one of them threatens to become a god and cast all the lands of this world into desolation.

The Fortunate Gods do not wish this desolation to happen, so they nudge events as far as they can.  Kehara is nudged from her position as heir and from her home on a perilous journey that leads at last to the mountains of Innisth's land, and there her familial power and his become allies.   Innisth has a plan to stop the mad king--to ally himself through marriage with Kehara's family and its power, and to extend the boundaries of his lands into her family's.

So the reader is has two burning questions that keep the pages turning--

Will the good guys win?  The good guys are very smart, and they are very determined, and they almost break on the bad guys and it is tense.  There are plottings and fightings and bad magic used against the good guys.

Will Kehara and Innish love each other?  Innish is so broken and hurt by his father and the sadistic power he holds, and he just about breaks my heart.  He cannot think of himself as kind, yet in his actions he shows his decency and fundamental goodness just beautifully.  Kehara has always known she'd make a marriage of policy, but the Wolf Duke of a cold mountain country was not her first pick,and Innish isn't really good at romance.....and can't imagine himself as someone who could be loved.  So it is tense.  Their relationship is not unlike that of the Pure women and shapeshifting wolves of Neumeier's Black Dog stories; Kehara's innate power brings calm to Innish's, letting the wolf rest in peace.

Of course the reader assumes it will all work out without the dragons of winter (these are actual, real dragons that make winter rather scary and protective powers rather necessary in the colder climes) breaking free once and for all and the whole land becoming a hell of cold and twisted magic...

What I think of the book:

So by the time I realized that these were these two burning questions, I was hooked as all heck, but it takes a while before they start to burn brightly.  Don't start reading this unless you have time to sink into it, then expect yourself to think --only three hundred and fifty pages left I can finish this before bedtime....At around this point if you are me you are also thinking Innisth you are breaking my heart and I hope you get to be happy; you deserve to be loved.  I liked Kehara very much, but she is not as interesting.  She's sane and steady, and so people don't have a whole lot of interesting reactions to her, as opposed to the people around Innisth who know that he is wolf as well as protector.  Kehara also has no immediate power to wield in the struggle; she is not a shaper of events, but a holder of events to the necessary course they have been set in by others.   But that is an important role too.

My one critical thought is that the author didn't quite give the reader enough credit with respect to the worldbuilding.  I liked the world and its magic a lot, it felt very real. But it is complicated.  There's not a single big info dump, but instead the descriptions of the complicated reality are sprinkled throughout, and I feel that they kept being sprinkled into the story long after the reader had grasped what was necessary, slowing things down a tad and making the book (576 pages) longer than it needed to be (aka taking time away from Kehara and Innish....).

short answer:  Very good reading! Great characters, fascinating magic, vivid sense of place.



11/28/17

The Painting, by Charis Cotter, for Timeslip Tuesday

I very much enjoyed Charis Cotter's first book, The Swallow (which I helped shortlist for the Cybils Awards back in 2014), and so was very pleased indeed that her new book, The Painting (Tundra Books, middle grade, 2017) , was a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Fiction category this year and that a review copy came my way for my consideration as a Cybils panelist.  I was even more pleased to find it a time slip book, because my Timeslip Tuesday posting has been a bit spotty of late....and then, most importantly, I was pleased to be reading and enjoying it!  Though it is sad...

Little Annie was only four when she dashed across the street to see a little dog, and was hit and killed by a car.  Her big sister Claire has blamed herself ever since for not holding Annie back, and she feels their mother blames her as well, and would rather she had died instead of the vivacious and talented Annie.  When Claire's artist mother takes them to live in a Newfoundland lighthouse, the two of them pull farther apart, instead of finding peace and common ground.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, another Annie finds a painting of the lighthouse in the attic of her home, and brings it down to her bedroom.  When Annie's mother is in a bad car accident of her own, Annie  slips through time and space to visit the lighthouse, and meets Claire there.. who thinks her little sister has come back to her.  Though the painting of the lighthouse only works once as a portal, Annie finds more of the artist's paintings, which take her back on brief visits to Claire. The visits become increasingly urgent as Annie's mother, gravely injured and in a coma, worsens, and Claire and her mother's relationship moves toward a breaking point of no return.

The reader quickly guesses, and Annie just a bit later realizes, that Claire is her mother.  Seeing Claire struggling with her own difficult relationship with her mother helps Annie better understand Claire not just as another girl but as her own mother (not always warm and sympathetic).  The time slipping leads all three characters to a happy ending where the sadness of the past is soothed and healing can happen.  Though the connections between the characters are predictable, they are moving, and given a nicely magical twist by allusions to Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass.  Is Annie dreaming Claire, or Claire dreaming Annie?  Actually, neither, because Annie has a physical presence in Claire's world, though no one but Claire can actually see her.

I loved the idea of time slipping through paintings that connect two characters in different times, and it serves as an especially pleasing mechanism here (I just with I could see the paintings myself!).  Both girls are sympathetic narrators, taking turns to tell the story.  Because Claire in the past is now linked to the danger that Claire is in as an adult, there's a tension at work in the story as well.  As Claire's life in the past darkens, Claire in Annie's present worsens, and Annie (both back in time and in her own time) is the only hope of relieving the stress that is at play and that is about to snap.

So in short-- if you like atmospheric books with beautiful paintings and scenery, and plots that depend on strained relationships between sad (though sympathetic) protagonists, with a lovely magical time travel element, and a hint of ghost, do try this one. Giving Kirkus credit where credit is due, we are in agreement-- "Full of emotional truth and connection."

Musing about the book as I looked for a picture of it, I found myself wondering about the bulky socks of the girl on the cover, which made me realize that the little dog responsible for Annie's death is on the cover too.  So the girl must be Annie of the 1970s, which at first seems odd, because she's not a protagonist, but which actually works very well....

11/26/17

This week's round=up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs

Here's this week's round-up; a little light this week but that's only to be expected.  I myself was too busy desperately cleaning the house and futsing with the furnace (with limited success), and more happily, spending time with visiting family, to do much reading and reviewing....But here's what I found, and let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Adventurer's Guild, by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at Jean Little Library

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting, by Joe Ballarini, at Book Nut

Beast and Crown, by Joel Ross, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Countdown Conspiracy, by Katie Slivensky, at albrarymama

The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen, at Fantasy Literature

The Girl Who Saved Christmas, by Matt Haig, The Reading Nook Reviews

Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson, at The Book Nut

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall, at Reading the End

Mossby's Magic Carpet Handbook, by Ilona Bray, at Charlotte's Library

Mr. Revere and I, by Robert Lawson, at Redeemed Reader

Nightfall, by Shannon Messenger, at Kitty Cat at the Library

Olive and the Backstage Ghost, by Michelle Schusterman, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at alibrarymama

Pablo and Birdy, by Alison McGhee, at Book Nut

Penelope March is Melting, by Jeffrey Michael Ruby, at Cracking the Cover and A Backwards Story

Project Terra: Crash Course by Landry Q. Walker, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, by Rosalie K. Fry, at Playing By the Book

The Silver Mask, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at proseandkahn

Sky Song, by Abi Elphinstone, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Whichwood, by Tahereh Mafi, at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

and now I have to go bang on the furnace some more, hoping that it isn't working because the pump is clogged again (banging worked on Friday, so maybe it will work again today.  Buying a new furnace would also, of course, work.....).

11/25/17

Mossby's Magic Carpet Handbook, by Ilona Bray

Mossby's Magic Carpet Handbook, by Ilona Bray, subtitled "A Flyer's Guide to Mossby's Model D3 Extra-Small Magic Carpet" (Innovation Press, Sept. 2017)  is an oversize book that purports to be, as the subtitle indicates, an instructional manual to the proper techniques of magic carpet flying, with lots of illustrations. There's a framing device that adds a bit of story and gives the instructions a personal touch--the manual has just been handed down by an old great aunt, with the promise of a the carpet to come, and the great aunt leaves marginal commentary on the official text.

What makes this book stand out is that not only is there the fun magical premise of how exactly to operate a magic carpet (with practical advice on bathroom issue and such), but the carpet flying is also a cool framework for expository nonfiction.  There's fascinating information about flying, useful information about map reading, interesting tidbits about strange foods of the world and animals you might encounter, presented in a very kid-friendly way.  (I learned a few things I didn't know, which is always nice for me.  For instance, swing at the playground is 2 G's, a sneeze has the force of 2.9 G's, and a rocket being launched is 3 G's).

The kids shown in the handbook are a diverse bunch; many are not white.  And the inheritor of the carpet is nicely ungendered as well.

The book bears a faint resemblance to the books in Candlewick's "ology" series, though it doesn't have the bling elements of those covers, and doesn't have flaps and pockets and stuff inside.   Kids who like those will be drawn to this one.  Also consider giving it to the kid who is fascinated by looking down on the world from above!  Short answer: a very good book to give as a present, that simultaneously entertains and instructs.

disclaimer: review copy received for Cybils Award consideration.

11/19/17

This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/19/17)

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

The Reviews

The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber, at Tor

A Boy Called Christmas, by Matt Haig, at Becky's Book Reviews

Children of Refuge, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Mom Read It

A Crack in the Sea, by H.M. Bouwman, at Book Nut

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Leaf's Reviews

Felix Yz, by Lisa Bunker, at alibrarymama

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, at Semicolon

Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams, at Say What? and Charlotte's Library

Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath by Jacob Sager Weinstein, at Sydne Marie Gernaat

Ivy, by Katherine Coville, at Puss Reboots

Lumberjanes – Unicorn Power!, by Mariko Tamaki, at Nerdophiles

The Painting, by Charis Cotter, at Cover2CoverBlog

Polaris, by Michael Northrop, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren, at Book Nut

Rise of the Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at alibrarymama

The Silver Mask, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at proseandkahn

The Song from Somewhere Else, by A.F. Harrold, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Werewolf of Davenport (The Midnight Glass Volume 2) by D. T. Vaughn, at The Write Path

Whichwood, by Tahereh Mafi, at B. and N. Kids Blog

The White Tower, by Kathryn Constable, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Wolf Hour, by Sara Lewis Holmes, at Becky's Book Reviews

Authors and Interviews

Sara Lewis Holmes (The Wolf Hour) at Liz Garton Scanion

Other Good Stuff

7 middle grade reads for fans of magical realism at B. and N. Kids Blog

Not mg, but pleasant reading--Imagined Botany in Fantasy at Tor

11/18/17

Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

This hasn't been my best blogging week; I've been sick as a dog.  But I was comforted and sustained in my troubles by a really fun book--Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams (Scholastic, middle grade, Oct 31, 2017).

Odo is the unremarkable son of the miller of an unremarkable village.  But his life becomes most remarkable indeed when he fishes up a sword from the mud of the unusually low river.  Not just any sword, but a magical one that talks!  The sword, now bound to Odo by blood (just a knick) immediately decides Odo must be a knight, and proceeds to dub him as such, much to the envy of Odo's friend, Eleanor, who (unlike Odo) actually dreams of being a knight herself.  Now that Odo is a knight, with Eleanor stuck in the role of his squire, they set of on a quest--to determine what is causing the dangerously low water level of the river on which their village depends.

Led by the opinionated sword, which is doing its best to train Odo in how to wield it, the two journey upstream, following rumors that a dragon has blocked the river.  Satisfying adventures and dangers await, testing the wits of the two kids, who are heroic within the believable limits of their minimal skills, and Eleanor's dream comes true when she too finds a magic, albeit "cursed" sword of her own.  And at last they do meet the dragon they were seeking....but it's an encounter that turns out to be not at all what they were expecting.

The three main characters (Odo's sword is a personality in its own right) are great fun to adventure with, and there's enough subversion of typical hero quest tropes to make this an interesting story.  Very much recommended to kids, especially those on the younger end of MG, who are just finding their feet as fantasy readers (and to sickly grownups in need of pleasant diversion) who enjoy personality-driven fantasy adventures!

Short answer: I liked it lots.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

11/12/17

This week's round-up of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (11/12/17)

No round-up last week because I was at Kidlitcon (yay!).  But here's what I've gathered from this past week; let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Beneath, by Roland Smith, at Redeemed Reader

Blueberry Pancakes Forever (Finding Serendipity, 3) by Angelica Banks, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Bone Thief by Alyson Noel, at Kiss the Book 

Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales, by Emily Jenkins, at Becky's Book Reviews

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl, at Escape from Reality

A Crack in the Sea, by H.M. Bouman, at Semicolon

Death Dragon's Kiss:The Manakor Chronicles Book #2, by T.K. Kiser, at Hall Ways Blog


Dragonfly Song, by Wendy Orr, at Bluestocking Thinking

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at Semicolon

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken, at Hopeful Reads

Giant Trouble, by Ursula Vernon, at Log Cabin Library

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

Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkins, at Charlotte's Library

Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson, at alibrarymama

Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power, by Mariko Tamaki, at  books4yourkids.com

The Magic Misfits, by Neil Patrick Harris, at Hit or Miss Books

Nervermore: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Waking Brain Cells

The Nutcracker Mice, by Kristin Kladstrup, at Charlotte's Library

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Time,by Jane Louise Curry, at Time Travel Times Two

Peter Nimble and His Fantatic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, at the NY Times Book Review

Scavenger's Hunt by Mike Rich, at Log Cabin Library

The Supernatural Sleuthing Service, by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe, at Book Nut

Watchdog, by Will McIntosh, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, at Hit or Miss Books and  Semicolon

The Wizards of Once, by Cressida Cowell, at The YA's Nightstand

Two at Falling Letters--The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, and Race to the Bottom of the Sea, by Lindsay Eager

A Lockwood and Co. series overview at Fuse #8

Other Good Stuff

New MG speculative fiction from over in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Great Superhero stories for all ages (kid ages, that is) by me at B. and N. Kids Blog

Top 5 Middle-Grade Novels Featuring Superheroes, at A Backwards Story

11/10/17

The Nutcracker Mice, by Kristin Kladstrup

https://www.amazon.com/Nutcracker-Mice-Kristin-Kladstrup/dp/0763685194/ref=sr_1_1/133-0131912-8182523?ie=UTF8&qid=1510366413&sr=8-1&keywords=nutcracker+mice
The Nutcracker Mice, by Kristin Kladstrup (Candlewick, MG, Oct2017), is  truly delightful reimagining of the Nutcracker Ballet, performed by the mice who have their own ballet company beneath the stage of Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. The original ballet is about to have its first performance by the human dancers, and the Russian Mouse Ballet will be staging their own performance at the same time. The mouse ballet must succeed, or else the mouse company will be short of food (received from their audience) and they might have to close their curtains. But the plot of the Nutcracker is not a mouse friendly one, and more and more mice have chosen to watch the human dancers, with their elaborate costumes and scenery, instead of the bare-bones mouse performances.

Esmeralda is a rising mouse star...but can she successfully lead her company to a reworking of the Nutcracker that is both mouse-friendly plotwise, and that is also not a mere imitation of human dance but a reimagining of the art of ballet that celebrates all that is graceful about mice?  With the help of a human girl, who has shown she is a friend to mice, the answer is a resounding Yes!  


Here's what I especially liked:

--the human girl is the daughter of one of the theatres costume makers, and makes lovely (mouse-sized) dresses for her doll, which become mouse costumes  (I like descriptions of beautiful doll dresses made by talented kids) and the mice make miniature posters for their performance (I like miniatures).  

--I know the music of the Nutcracker by heart, and so I could play it in my head for the dancing bits, which made it extra nice for me

--I have mouse issues of my own, and it was a useful tip that mice are repulsed by peppermint oil.  I might well invest in some.

Here are some other good things:

--the prima donna ballerina mouse is mean to Esmeralda but instead of being humbled, comes all be herself to the realization that there are things Esmeralda can teach her about mouse ballet and is willing to learn from her.  And Esmeralda is willing to teach her with no hard feelings.



--Esmeralda is a pioneer of the unfettered tail approach to mouse ballet, which, though I'm not sure the author was deliberately trying to make the point or not, seems a very body positive message.


So all in all, a charming book I highly recommend to fans of people-like animals, ballet, and doll dresses!  I'm not intrinsically attracted to people-like animals, but these were lovely mice!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

11/7/17

Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkins

The moment I hear of Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkins (G.P. Putnam, MG, October 2016) back in the early fall of 2016, I knew I wanted to read it--what with time travel, Scotland, magical fog, and written by an author whose YA books I have found extremely entertaining.  But it just missed the cutoff for the Cybils Awards that year, and as an Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction panelist, I had to focus on what was nominated.  But read it I did, eventually, and so when the Cybils rolled around again, I made sure that it made it onto the list.

Here's why I like it--

I find the set-up very relatable.  An American girl, Nolie, is spending the summer with her scientist father in an isolated coastal village in Scotland, Journey's End.  He's there to study the mysterious fog bank, know as the Boundary, that hovers just off shore.  Nolie is faced with that all too real tension of "will I make a friend," and happily she does, with a local girl, Bel, who is facing the all too real tension of "my best friend ditched me when a cool new girl moved to town."

The mysterious fog bank is cool as all get out.  It has its origins in a great wrong done to a young woman centuries ago.  It swallows people up.  And has started to creep closer to land....

Not only is the fog spooky, but is has also just spit out a boy it swallowed up back in the early 20th century, a boy who Nolie and Bel find and try to help.  The future is strange to young Albert, and it's fun to see how his abrupt transition plays out.

The two girls solve the mystery of the fog, and thwart its advance, in a believably way, with plenty of good emotional tension.  The Boundary is kept at bay when the lighthouse on the island it enshourds is lit.  Arthur was lost when he tried to relight it back in 1918, and now it has gone out again.  If it isn't relight, the danger is very real for Journey's End and it's people.  But the only way to relight it is to go inside....

So it's both a fun friendship story and a creepy adventure mystery, with a bonus helping of an entertaining time travel plot, and another bonus of a ghost-hunting plot (ghost hunting being Nolie's hobby, and the circumstances giving her plenty to work with).  I found it tremendously appealing, and others who like their fantasy rooted in reality but richly magical will probably agree!

Kirkus agrees with me, and goes into more detail about the plot (thank you Kirkus.)

11/4/17

Dismantling the patriarchy at Kidlitcon 2017



Unfortunatly 1 session wasn't quite enough for me, Caroline Carlson, Melissa Fox, and Sylvie Shaffer to complete our important work. We needed a double session.

10/31/17

Time Knot, by M.C. Morison, for Timeslip Tuesday

Yay!  The power just back on after being knocked out in the fierce storm Sunday night, so I can do a Timeslip Tuesday post!  I have been meaning to write about this one for several weeks, so I'm glad to finally be doing it.  Time Knot, by M.C. Morison (Lodestone Books, June 2017), is the second in the Time Pathway series, the first being Time Sphere (my review)

There's a lot of plot going on in these two books, so I'm not going to try to summarize the whole thing.  The basic premise is that there is a group on the good side of the time continuum who want humanity to improve, and a group on the bad side who are working to promote chaos.  An English teenager, Rhory, finds in the first book that he has the gift of time travel (though he can't actually control it).  He has a pivotal role to play in the age old struggle, and the second book sends him first to 17th century Sweden, and then to Alexandria, in time to see the Great Library burn, and to help rescue some of its treasures. Along side Rhory's point of view are the stories of other characters, primarily a girl from Egypt and a Swedish boy, both of whom stand with Rhory on the side of good.

The fact there are multiple points of view, coupled with a plot that includes much magical stuff alongside the time travel, and a very generous cast of both supporting characters and antagonistic ones, means that the reader is somewhat challenged viz keeping everything straight.  I decided halfway through that I wouldn't worry about that too much, and just enjoy the particular moments of the story I was in.  Which I did, whether it was escaping from religious zealots through the snows of Sweden or exploring the labyrinth of the Great Library...Because we see a lot of the past from characters who are native to it, at times it reads more like historical fiction/fantasy than time travel, but that is fine with me!

Teens who like magical destinies with an anchor in the real world and history will enjoy this one; teens looking for romance tortured by temporal complications, as happens in so many YA time travel stories, will not find enough here to satisfy them (which makes this a fine pick for 11 or 12 year olds as well as teens).  Adult readers who enjoy richly detailed historical fiction might also find this more YA centered story a fun change of pace.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

10/29/17

This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (10/29/17)

Another week, another round-up!  Let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at proseandkahn

The Apprentice Witch, by James Nichol, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Door Before, by N.D. Wilson, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Dragonfly Song, by Wendy Orr, at Log Cabin Library

Elizabeth and Zenobia, by Jessica Miller, at Nerdophiles

Embers of Destruction, by J. Scott Savage, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, at The Book Nut and  Bibliobrit

The False Prince, by Jennifer Neilsen, at Fantasy Café

Giselda the Witch, by J S Rumble, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea, at Fantasy Literature

The Imposter Princess, by Vivien Vande Velde, at Charlotte's Library

Invasion of the Scorp-Lions, by Bruce Hale at A Backwards Story

Joplin, Wishing, by Diane Stanley, at Semicolon

The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby, at Hidden in Pages

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine, at GeoLibrarian

Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King, at Sonderbooks

Nevermore, by Jessica Townsend, at The Book Nut

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, by Lindsay Currie, at Cracking the Cover

The Piper's Apprentice, by Matthew Cody, at Fantasy Literature

Podkin One-Ear (Longburrow #1), by Kieran Larwood, at Mom Read It

A Properly Unhaunted Place, by William Alexander, at alibrarymama

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Shadow Cipher (York book 1) by Laura Ruby, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Silver Mask, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Say What? and Charlotte's Library

Thornhill, by Pam Smy, at booksforyourkids.com

Threads of Blue, by Suzanne LaFleur, at Ex Libris

Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, at Middle Grade Ninja

Zinnia and the Beas, by Danielle Davis, at That's Another Story

Authors and Interviews

Wendy Orr (Dragonfly Song) at Charlotte's Library

Lindsay Currie (The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Sara Lewis Holmes (The Wolf Hour) at Laura Purdie Salas

Samantha M. Clark (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast) at Watch. Connect. Read

Katherine Applegate (Wishtree) at Middle Grade Ninja

Other Good Stuff

Five creepy books set in New England, at the B. and N. Kids Blog

The Harry Potter Synopsis That Most Publishers Turned Down, via Tor

The Myers Briggs Personality Test reworked for book bloggers, at Charlotte's Library

10/28/17

The Silver Mask, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Silver Mask, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (Scholastic, upper MG, October 2017), is the fourth book of the Magisterium series, and I feel that by the time the fourth book comes along, anyone who will care to read about it will already have ready the first three books, so I'm going to be free with my spoilers!

If you  haven't, here's a link to my review of the first book, The Iron Trial, and you can go back and start at the beginning.

So if you recall from the earlier books, there was a prophecy about Cal and Tamara and Aaron-- 'One will die, one will fail, another is already dead.'  Cal is already dead in a strange and twisted sense of having had his soul kicked out of his body in infancy, and replaced by that of the arch villain of bad magic, aka The Eater of Death.   The end of book 3 was a killer, literally, and poor Aaron became the one who would die.  Which leaves failure for Tamara. 

So I was expecting that this book to be about that.  It wasn't.

It starts with Cal being broken free from prison, which doesn't (no surprise) lead to a peaceful time spent recovering in some pleasant refuge.  Instead, Master Joseph holds him and Tamara, and another student met in the first books, in a different sort of prison.  Master Joseph is determined to make Cal into the Eater of Death for real, and as an incentive to force Cal to master death, Aaron's dead body waits for Cal to bring it back to life.  It's a horrible psychological torture.

And that's all I'll say about the plot, except for one last detail. The nascent romance begun in the earlier books becomes considerable less nascent...and it's nicely awkward, as befits a story for tweens (10-14 year olds).

This is a great series for that age group--the snarky, conflicted, Cal relying on his good friends when he can't do it all alone is the sort of character kids (and grownups, for that matter) love, and the stakes are high, but hope is always present and there are many touches of humor to make readers chuckle even when things are dark.  The ending will have readers of all ages wanting the next book Now Please (except that the next book is the fifth of a planned five, and though I want things to end happily, and though binge rereading the whole series will be fun, I'd like more than five....)

Here's another review, at Jen Robinson's Book Page.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


10/27/17

Dragonfly Song, by Wendy Orr, with an interview

Today's the US release day for Dragonfly Song, by Wendy Orr (Pajama Press)-- a lovely middle grade historical fantasy about a girl who becomes a bull-leaper in Bronze Age Crete.

Aissa was born to play a special role in her community--she is the firstborn daughter of the priestess, and in the normal way of things she should have been trained to someday take her mother's place, listening to the scared snakes and maintain balance between the people and the world around them.  But Aissa is born with an extra thumb on each hand, and though these are easily cut off, she is still imperfect, making her unsuitable to follow her mother's footsteps.  So a story is told that she died at birth, and instead she's sent up into the hills to be raised by a humble but loving family, not knowing who she really is.

When that family is killed by raiders, Aissa takes deep to heart her mother's last words to her as she was hidden out of sight--that she shouldn't make a sound.  Mute and nameless, she becomes a drudge in the town where her birth mother is priestess.  Feared and despised, she sees one chance to change her future--to be chosen as tribute to Crete, and taken to perform the bull-dances of the Cretan bull-king.

When this chance comes, Aissa finally flies free....and finally she has a choice about what her future will hold.  
Written in alternating sections of verse and prose, this is an unforgettable story of an extraordinary girl touched by ancient magic, one that I enjoyed very much.

It's my pleasure today to welcome Wendy Orr to my blog, with an interview and pictures she shared.

1.       At what stage in the shaping of the story did Aissa's name come to mean dragonfly?  It's a perfect metaphor for her own lifecycle— the period of being flightless, underwater, unlovely, before emerging iridescently into the air. And how did the title come about?  I'm curious about that, because of course dragonflies don't sing, and neither did Aissa....

 Oh, I hadn’t seen all those metaphors! Thank you. The dragonfly theme started in a slightly surreal way, in that when I finally saw the shape for the story, it seemed to be enclosed in a beautiful blue bubble. The next day I saw a dragonfly, the exact same shade of blue, and felt that it was confirming the story. After that I consistently saw dragonflies whenever I worked out something significant about the story. I therefore had Kelya see dragonflies at the Source as a symbol that she was making the right decision, and then realized that Aissa’s name should mean dragonfly. I admit that by this stage it took a bit of self-talk to remind myself that I was the boss and since Aissa’s original island is fictitious, I could decide on the language! However it wasn’t till the book had gone to print that I learned that the dragonfly was a symbol of the Minoan goddess and/or her priestesses.

(One of the dragonflys that visited the author)


 My original title was the Snake Singer, which no one liked except me – kids I trialed it on reacted quite negatively, which was a pretty good reason to change it. I don’t remember who came up with Dragonflly Song – I’d like to think it was me, but suspect it was my editor. The song that bursts through Aissa’s mutism – a bit like the dragonfly breaking free of its chrysalis - is so significant that it definitely deserves to be in the title.

 2.         How did you decide where to switch between verse and prose?  Which was easier to write? Was this your first time writing fiction in verse form?  What were the pros and cons?

My original aim was to write the more internal thoughts in verse and background in prose, but it was a bit looser than that in practice. It’s the first time I’ve written fiction in free verse, but it’s how I usually ‘hear’ stories before I write them – it was just that this one refused to come to life when I tried it in prose, so I had to give in. The verse was therefore easier to write than the prose, and as deadlines approached I would write it all in verse and then transpose the most appropriate sections back into prose. Sometimes it would be just that my editors felt that it was time for a breath! 

The big con of verse for me is that it has to be written by hand, which is physically painful because of neck pain, and takes a lot of extra time as my writing is so bad that I have to type it into the computer the same day – of course I would fiddle with words that didn’t seem right as I typed, but there’s not enough time gap to actually edit. 

I also sometimes worried on my publisher’s behalf about all the extra paper because of the short lines! But of course the big fear was of how something different would be received.

The main pro was that I was absolutely convinced that was how it needed to be written. I was passionate about this story and wanted to know I had done my best for it.

3.       Your bulls seem very realistic; how much bull research did you have to do?  And how familiar with ancient Crete were you going into the writing?  

My husband and I had a dairy farm for fifteen years, so I learned a healthy respect for bulls, from our own animals and from neighbor’s experiences (such as the school girl tossed right over the fence into the road when she cut through the bull’s field on her way to the bus). My husband had grown up on a cattle ranch, so he had more experience of having several bulls together, and helped me work out the bull scenes.  

(the author's daughter, befriending a young bull)



 I’ve been reading about ancient Crete for years – probably ever since I read Mary Renault’s novels at twelve – and started researching and reading seriously about four years before I started writing. So much new research keeps appearing, as well as more academics and archaeologists uploading papers to public academic sites, that I kept researching and occasionally revising up to the last draft.

4.       What is your next project?

It’s set in the same world, but about 200 years earlier: a family fleeing to Crete from the volcanic eruption in Santorini in 1625 BCE. This time I was lucky enough to travel to Crete and Santorini for research; I had just finished the last edit of Dragonfly Song, and felt quite emotional to stand in places where she would have stood. (If she’d been real – I know she wasn’t. But on the other hand, real kids did stand there and face bulls…)

(the steps of Knossos, where Aissa would have stood)



5.       Is there a question I haven asked about Dragonfly Song that  you'd like to answer?  


One interviewer asked me about the number of disabled characters in Dragonfly Song. I was quite surprised because I hadn’t seen my characters as disabled, although obviously Aissa’s mutism is a handicap in life and makes her an object of bullying. The interviewer pointed out that the two bull trainers are disabled. I realized that I hadn’t seen them in that way because they were strong, capable people who happened to have physical problems. It’s a distinction that’s extremely important to me – as is the bullying-because-of-difference theme. Those are beliefs that I’ve always held and were probably central to my originally being an occupational therapist, but the depths of darkness I felt in writing some of Aissa’s verse makes me realize that much of these two themes came from my own years of being labeled disabled after a catastrophic car accident.


Thank you Wendy!

Wendy Orr was born in Edmonton, Canada, but grew up in various places across Canada, France, and the USA. She studied occupational therapy in the UK, married an Australian farmer, and moved to Australia. She’s the author of many award-winning books, including Nim’s Island, Nim at Sea, Rescue on Nim’s Island, Raven’s Mountain, and Peeling the Onion.

 More information about Dragonfly Song: http://pajamapress.ca/book/dragonfly_song/
More information about Wendy Orr: http://www.wendyorr.com/


Blog Tour Stops

Unleashing Readers, Activity Guide and Discussion Questions, 10/22 http://www.unleashingreaders.com/

YA and Kids Book Central, Book Playlist, 10/23 http://www.yabookscentral.com/blog/

Log Cabin Library, Guest Post, 10/24 http://logcabinlibrary.blogspot.com/

The Children’s Book Review, Character Interview, 10/25 https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/

Bluestocking Thinking, Review, 10/26 http://bluestockingthinking.blogspot.com/

A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, Interview, 10/28 http://www.foodiebibliophile.com/

Writers’ Rumpus, Guest Post, 10/29 https://writersrumpus.com/

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