5/20/18

this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs

Here's this gathering of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okarafor, at Hit or Miss Books

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Borrobil, by William Croft Dickinson, at Charlotte's Library

The Chosen Ones (Worldquake book 2), by Scarlett Thomas, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

The Creature of the Pines, by Adam Gidwitz, at Geo Librarian and B. and N. Kids Blog

Evangeline of the Bayou, by Jan Eldredge, at  Lu and Bean Read

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at Hidden in Pages

Love, Sugar, Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano, at Latinxs in Kid Lit

The Marvelous Adventures of Gwendolyn Gray, by B.A. Williamson, at Always in the Middle

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, by Linday Currie, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

A Properly Unhaunted Place, by William Alexander, at Jean Little Library

The Quest of the Cubs (Ice Bears book 1), by Kathryn Lasky, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Scroll of Kings, by Sarah Prineas, at Kiss the Book

The Tale of Angelino Brown, by David Almond, at Rajiv's Reviews

Tomb of the Khan (Last Descendants book 2) by Matthew J. Kirby, at Say What?

Two at alibrarymama--Oddity, by Sarah Cannon, and the Daybreak Bond, by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Authors and Interviews

Stephanie Burgis (The Girl with the Dragon Heart) at Just another teen reading

Mike Jung (Unidentified Suburban Object) at DiversifYA

Dave Eggers (The Lifters) at Kid Lit Frenzy

Other Good Stuff

More that's new in the UK at Mr. Ripleys Enchanted Books

A bookseller talks about Skulduggery Pleasant's second try at taking hold in the US at Shelftalker

5/15/18

Borrobil, by William Croft Dickinson, for Timeslip Tueday

2018 is not proving a good year for me with regard to time travel book reading.  I have been planning poorly, as I realized this past weekend when I had no new time travel book to read on hand.  So I scrounged in my tbr pile, and found Borrobil, by William Croft Dickinson, a fantasy from 1944 that seemed to be a timeslip story....

Two siblings, Donald and Jane, on holiday in an old English village, find themselves drawn to a mysterious hill on the magical night of Beltane, and dance among the hilltop rocks.  This summons an old magician, Borrobil, who tells them they have danced themselves through time.  And then basically Borrobil takes them on a fantasy jaunt of knights and evil wizards and the fairy realm and Vikings, full of side stories he tells that don't much further the plot (not that there is much plot anyway, just sightseeing).

It was frustrating, because almost I could believe that young me would have loved the somewhat olde style of the writing and the Celtic magic of it all, but young me (like current me) absolutely cannot stand when people in stories stop what they are doing to tell long stories that aren't directly relevant.  Also both young and old me would much rather have had Donald and Jane Do more and be less passive floaters on the river of stories.  They never quite became real or interesting protagonists, yet right toward the end they showed that they had the potential to so.  And on top of that, I have never liked jolly wizards with silly sounding names like Borrobil.  

Plus though we were wandering through olden times, this was such a fantastical version of olden times that it hardly felt like time travel; it felt more like a portal fantasy.  Which is fine, but not what I wanted.   I feel that when a character says on page 22 "Do you mean.....that we are now in the times that are dead and gone and that we shall see lots of things that happened long ago?" which sounds interesting, but the paradox of Borrobil being there in the past and now again (?) as the children's guide is never addressed, and there's almost no time travel wonderment from the kids, just wonderment at all the magic they are seeing.  And it is pretty magical, verging at times on the numinous, but not enough to hook me.

So basically it did not fit my needs at this time.  But I wouldn't be at all surprised if it hadn't influenced latter British writers of fantasy, and the three reviews on Goodreads, all by people who read it as a child, are full of love for it....


5/14/18

Queen of Sorrow, by Sarah Beth Durst--strong women vs murder nature (and each other)

This is a longish post, and I don't want my main point--READ THESE BOOKS I LOVED THEM--to get lost.  So I have used bold to make points stand out so you can skim :)

The Queen of Sorrow, by Sarah Beth Durst (Harper Voyager May 15, 2018), is the third of the Queens of Renthia trilogy.  Reading the book of a trilogy you love is a very pleasant thing, especially when you use it as an excuse to ignore the tbr pile and actually treat yourself to the rare pleasure of re-reading the first two, which is what I did.  When everything is fresh in your mind, you can see the big thematic picture, appreciate the world building and character development, and, as a bonus, remember who everyone is!  So if you haven't read the first two (here are my reviews of  The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen) do so!

But it is hard to review a third book, because one wants to explain everything that happened in the first two in great detail.  I shall try to avoid this, but a blog post without some plot description is not a blog post I can write, so below are some spoilers for the first two books.

But first, a general thought--this series is all about women having and using power (not just magical power) in different ways, for good and ill, for complicated reasons, and so it's not only a glorious fantasy but a thought-provoking read that will stick with you long after you finish the books.

And second, another general thought--these as marketed as grown-up books (violence plus sex-positive sex) but I think they are great YA reads, and even upper middle school reads (11 on up basically), because they are all about finding out what your strengths are and what to do with them, which is a common middle school and high school topic of worry.  In particular, give these to those who loved Kristin Cashore's Graceling books (which I hope teenagers are still reading???).

And now, back to The Queen of SorrowIf you haven't read the first two books, you can read the first paragraph without being spoiled 

Basic set-up--in the world of Renthia, nature (wood, stone, water, fire, air) is inhabited by spirits who have two motivations--create and grow (essential for humanity to survive) and kill humans (making it difficult for humanity to survive).   The spirits are held in check (mostly) by the power of the queens of the various kingdoms (always queens, because boys are never born with the gift of spirit compulsion). 

Daleina became queen because everyone else in contention when the previous queen died was murdered by spirits gone wild and willful, and though, in the second book, she was joined in her role by Naelin, another strong woman, being queen is still a burden.  Naelin was not trained from childhood as Daleina was, and she is fully grown up, with kids and a failed marriage, when she is forced to become a queen.  The story in this third book gets going when Naelin's children are kidnapped by spirits controlled by the queen of a neighboring realm, to be used as bait/hostages, and Naelin goes wild with anger and frustration.  Getting her children back is more important to her than anything else, and the land suffers and people die.  And Daleina is left trying to hold things together, and trying to figure out how to make everything ok.

So basically, if you like
--strong heroines, including one who is no longer a lithesome teenager
--wild magic, not of an alchemical spell-casting sort, but a natural phenomena
--lots of great supporting characters with their own concerns, skillsets, and romances (including an unexpected and charming queer romance)
--a lovely world of treetop ziplines, places where wild spirits are creating elemental chaos, structures of all sorts called out of the spirits by the power of imagination and strength of will
--a main character (Daleina) whose primary characteristic is to calmly, trustingly, and good-heartedly make the best of what she has
--political machinations complicated by bloodthirsty spirit agendas
--bloodthirsty spirits who turn out to more complex than expected, who are more than just murder trees, murder ice, murder dirt, etc, though they are that too.
--books I like

You will like this book, and the whole series, very much!

So I got the end, and started the author's note, and this was clearly the end of this story.  I was sad, but bravely kept reading the author's note.  And was rewarded with this:

"As soon as I finish typing this, I'll be diving back into Renthia to write a standalone novel set on the islands of Belene!"

That is very good news, and everyone should buy lots and lots of copies of the Queens of Renthia trilogy so the publishers will keep on publishing more (if Sarah chooses to write them, of course).

I am so grateful to Sarah Beth Durst for both writing the books, and for sending them to me.  The arrival of her books, and the reading thereof, is one of the specific things that has made me just so so glad I started blogging!


5/13/18

this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs

Hi all, on a chilly gray spring day in southern New England (why is it that the only warm sunny weekends this spring are those on which I have things to do?  The garden is a disaster...).  But in any event, here's what I found in my blog reading, and do let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Ocorafor, at Fantasy Literature

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Book Nut

The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods, illustrated by Anuska Allepuz, at Books4yourkids

Burning Magic, by Joshua Kahn, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Carbonel King of Cats by Barbara Sleigh, at Hidden In Pages

Charlotte, Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, at alibrarymama

The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero, at The Book Wars

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, at Leaf's Reviews

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always By the Ocean, by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats, at This Kid Reviews Books and Charlotte's Library

Grump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Carries Book Reviews
Hoodoo, by Ronald L. SMith, at ProseandKahn
The Marvelwood Magicians, by Diane Zahler, at Challenging the Bookworm

The Mad Apprentice, by Django Wexler, at Puss Reboots

The Map to Everywhere #1 by Carrie Ryan and John Park Davis, at Say What?

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath, at Puss Reboots

Outwalkers, by Fiona Shaw, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

The Rose Legacy, by Jessica Day George, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Thief Queen's Daughter, by Elizabeth Haydon, at Purple People Readers

The Third Kind of Magic by Elizabeth Forest, at Cover2Cover

Unicorn Rescue Society: Creature of the Pines, by Adam Gidwitz, at Great Kid Books

The Unicorn Quest, by Kamilla Benko, at Pages Unbound

9 new mg books at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Authors and Interviews

Bren MacDibble (How to Bee) at Minerva Reads

Ruth Lauren (Seeker of the Crown) at With Love for Books

Kathi Appelt (The Underneath, The Wishtree), at Janet Fox

A.M. Morgan (The Inventors at No. 8) at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

An interesting article about mg fantasy and student activism at The Boston Globe--"On Feb 14, a gunman killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Trying to make sense of what had happened, the survivors turned to Harry Potter."

Tor asks a question that I've thought a lot about--Why Would Any Parent Send Their Kids to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

New books in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

5/9/18

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats

One of the things that kept me busy last week was reading and writing up a list of nine April releases for the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog, which is now up...and so reading and reviewing here suffered.  It was a nice lot of books, but there was one in particular that I wanted to talk about more than space and crisp professionalism (?) allowed.  So here's my longer and more relaxed take on:

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats

Topsea is indeed a friendly town, and the ocean is indeed almost always nearby...sometimes its far far out to sea, and sometimes its right inside the houses, depending on the very idiosyncratic tides.  Davy's mom has moved the two of them there, to give them a fresh start after his dad's death, and Davy knows she's counting on him to be happy there.  So he does his absolute best to fit in.

Except that Topsea is a place where everything is deeply peculiar.  The seaweed slithers around actively, the pier has no end in sight, there's a troll (?) under the bridge and possibly a monster in the arcade, seagulls deliver the mail and strange and sinister cats haunt the beach.  In Topsea, every kid knows not to make eye contact with a rubber duck that still has its eyes. The  kids themselves are, to varying degrees, odd in their own ways. 

And so Davy's faced with a conundrum- how can you fit into a new normal when there is no normal to fit into?  But Davy is just about the gamest kid I've ever read about.  For instance, when he finds out his locker is deep, deep down at the bottom of an extraordinarily deep swimming pool, he is dismayed, but dives in regardless, and makes the best of things when he can't reach it.  Fortunately, the other kids, though unusual and with a much different sense of what is ordinary, are friendly and welcoming.

And gradually, as Davy gets used to his new (ab)normal, he finds that Topsea is indeed becoming home.

A large part of the book is told from Davy's perspective, but it's broken up with bits from the school newspaper, bits from the point of view of other kids, the school cafeteria menu, and bits of information signage, so that the reader can see the oddness directly without having to rely on Davy to filter it.  This works very well, not slowing the story down at all but making everything seem more real.

Basically, this is Welcome to Nightvale for middle school readers, without being quite as scary.  Not even the creepy Ice-cream man has caused lasting harm to anyone.   I have a low tolerance for whacky whimsy (the Wayside school sort of thing leaves me cold), but I enjoyed this one lots and lots...and am not sure exactly why that is.  Possibly because it is more perverse than whimsical, and isn't trying at all to be cute? Possibly because the kids, though eccentric, are not exaggerated for laughs? Possibly because I have a soft spot for sinister yellow ducks? But in any event, I found it charming and memorable and Davy's a darling.

Although it's middle grade (9-12 year olds), I think it's an especially good one for upper elementary school kids (8-9 year olds which a tolerance for the odd should enjoy it very much).

5/6/18

this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week.  Let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

A Bad Night for Bullies (The Goolz Next Door Book 1) by Gary Ghislain, at Say What?

Across the Dark Water (Riders of the Realm Book 1), by at Project Mayhem and Charlotte's Library

Aru Sha and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi at Books4yourkids

The Boy from Tomorrow, by Camille DeAngelis, at PidginPea's Book Nook

Freya and the Magic Jewel, by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Thunder Girls book 1) at Small Review

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats, at Puss Reboots

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Children's Books Heal

Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis, at Pages Unbound Reviews

Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Puss Reboots

The Problem Child, by Michael Buckley, at Awesome Book Assessment

Seeker of the Crown, by Ruth Lauren, at Cracking the Cover

The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Book 1) by Sayantani DasGupta, at Abby the Libraraian

The Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby, at Hidden in Pages

The Stone Girl's Story, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Waking Brain Cells

Story Thieves: Worlds Apart, by James Riley, at Michelle I. Mason

Stuck in the Stone Age, by Geoff Rodkey, at Redeemed Reader

The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome: a Handbook for Time Travelers, by Jonathan W. Stokes, at Jean Little Library

The Wild Robot Escapes, by Peter Brown, at Milliebot Reads

The Wizard of Dark Street, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, at Hidden In Pages

Three mythological books at Ms. Yingling Reads

Three short reviews at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Authors and Interviews

Jessica Day George (The Rose Legacy) at Cracking the Cover

Sophie Anderson (The House with Chicken Legs), at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

MarcyKate Connolly (Shadow Weaver) at JeanBookNerd

Other Good Stuff

The Locus Awards have been announced, and as usual I'm cheering for the MG/Tween books included in the "YA" section--
  • The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, Stephanie Burgis
  • Frogkisser!, Garth Nix 
  • Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor
A new urban dragon comes to town.  




5/5/18

Riders of the Realm: Across the Dark Waters, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez--tackling slavery and colonialsm with flying horses


It was a hard week of Library Booksale work coming at the end of a busy, busy April, so it is nice that is over with, and I can settle down to reading and reviewing (and maybe yardwork....).   I did get a fair amount of reading done while working at the library, but it was mostly oddments that were for sale, and not the books here at home that need reading.  So for my one and only review this week, here are my thoughts on Riders of the Realm: Across the Dark Waters, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez.

This is the first book of a continuation series of Alverez's Guardian Herd books; it's not a direct sequel, but takes existing characters from those books and sets them on a new path.  Echofrost is one of the leaders of a group of winged horse who decide to abandon their homeland and the battle between two legendary stallions that is raging there, and which threatens to overwhelm all the clans of winged horses. Storm Herd, as they call themselves, plans to settle on another continent, keeping their kind from the threat of extinction.  So they fly across the dark waters, to a far-off land of jungles.

To the surprise of Storm Herd, there are already flying horses in this place, but they don't fly free.  Instead, they serve the landwalkers (humans), part of a great military force in which each stead is paired for life with a human rider.  This force sets off to pursue the wild herd, and one wild mare is captured.  Echofrost goes back for her friend, allowing herself to be captured too, thinking she can save the both of them.  To her horror, her feathers are immediately cut so she can no longer fly.  With escape impossible for the moment, she finds that she has just volunteered, in essence, for slavery (about which more after the plot summary).  Only one young boy, Rahkki, wins a small measure of her trust.

Rahkki is the other point-of-view character, and though he has a complicated backstory that means he has no hope of being a Rider himself, he is able to get to know the wild mare.  Their relationship ends up being crucial not just to the trajectory of their individual lives, but to the fate of both the realm and of Storm Herd. The jungle queendom is threatened by a race of giants (about which more below).  War has begun, and Storm Herd has been caught in it.   And Echofrost is faced once again with a terrible choice--friends or freedom?

The Guardian Herd series was lovely fodder for kids who enjoy animal epic adventures with magic.  This series takes the world into much more complicated territory, and for me at least the moral and ethicial questions posed were more interesting than the plot (although the plot is perfectly fine and I see no reason why kids who like animal adventures won't love it).  For starters, there's the whole slavery of sentient beings. This is a troubling part of the book, because slavery is troubling.  The reader is not allowed to see the winged horses as domesticated animals, because clearly Echofrost is a sapient protagonist, but the pegasi of the realm have had generations of brainwashing, and do not realize that "freedom" is something they should want.

Echofrost learns that obeying her trainer's commands means she will not be hurt, and has to walk a delicate line between cooperating on the outside and keeping the flames of rebellion burning on the inside.   She tries to convince the enslaved pegasi to seek freedom, but  they sincerely love the riders they are paired with, and it is hard to make them see that they are not equal partners.  Alverez certainly made me feel uncomfortable with this set-up, and I think she is forthright enough in her portrayal of Echofrost's thoughts young readers will also be made to think about the ethical implications of the relationship between pegasi and their riders (which is a good thing).

Alverez also throws another thought-provoking twist into the story.  The race of giants are the "bad guys."  They are rumored to eat pegasi.  They are the aggressive, uncivilized attackers. However, Alverez makes it clear, fairly obviously, and quickly enough to make it possible to keep reading without flinging the book away because of this harmful trope of barbarians vs civilization, that there is more to the story.  Right when the giants are first introduced to the plot, the reader is told that the farmlands carved from the jungle were originally the giants' homeland, from which they were driven away.  The reader also learns that the giants are not necessarily brutish at all--they can communicate in sign language.   The reader must make of this what she will, but when Rahkki concludes that the giants' final attach of the story is motivated by a desire for a bargaining chip to exchange for the return of their land, the point  that there was injustice done to the giants is underlined emphatically.

I am encouraged by Alverez's forthrightness in setting up this world to hope that the end of the series will involve some sort of justice for the giants, and a clear acknowledgement that they are not savages.   And I assume that the winged horse will be recognized as well as sentient beings deserving of freedom.  These two pertinent, social-justice questions made what could have been just an entertaining flying horse and plucky orphan boy making friends story into something that I was intellectually interested in reading, and so I look forward to the next book.



4/29/18

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/29/18)

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

The Reviews

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Mom Read It

Bugging Out (Monsters Unleashed #2) by John Kloepfer, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1) by Anna Meriano

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island, by Liz Kessler, at Books4yourkids

Evangeline of the Bayou, by Jan Eldredge, at Log Cabin Library

Freya and the Magic Jewel (Thunder Girls #1), by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Mom Read It

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats, at Great Imaginations

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Randomly Reading

Ice Wolves (Elementals #1), by Amie Kaufman, at Reading Lark

The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Polaris, by Michael Northrup, at Read Till Dawn

A Properly Unhaunted Place, by William Alexander, at Falling Letters

The Rose Legacy, by Jessica Day George, at Charlotte's Library

Shadow Magic series, by Joshua Kahn, at Confident Foundation

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, at ReadRantRock&Roll

The Unusual Suspects (Sisters Grimm #2), by Michael Buckley, at Awesome Book Assesment

Witch Switch (Witch Wars #2), by Sibeal Pounder, at Pages Unbound

Wizard for Hire, by Obert Skye, at Say What?

The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

Three at Ms. Yingling Reads:  Waste of Space, by Stuart Gibbs, Redemption, by Mark Walden, and Intergalactic P.S. 3, by Madeline L'Engle


Authors and Interviews

Kristine Asselin (The Art of the Swap) at Nerdy Book Club

Joshua Kahn (Shadow Magic Series) at Jean Book Nerd

Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats (A Friendly Town that's Almost Always by the Ocean), at 3 Decades Kids and Jean Book Nerd

Kim Ventrella (The Skeleton Tree) at Cynsations

Sophie Anderson (The House with Chicken Legs) at Alittlebutalot

Other Good Stuff

Publishers Weekly gathers lots of opinions about "middle grade"

Hidden elves at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, via Rachel Neumeier

4/27/18

A paean to the great girls of FirstSecond's graphic novels

Of course I said "yes please!" when asked if I was interested in being a stop on FirstSecond's celebration of their girl power graphic novels.  These are great books, about which more later in the post.


But in thinking about what I wanted to say about these books, I find myself wanting to talk a bit about graphic novels with strong girls as not just wonderfully empowering stories for girl readers, but as a wonderful opportunity for boys.

In all sincerity, one of the absolutely best things that came from starting a book blog was being on the receiving end of review copies from FirstSecond.  I hadn't really had any awareness that such books existed before blogging, and thanks to this realization, and the review copies that began arriving, my older son began to be a reader.  Before graphic novels I worried about him; he was a capable reader, but not a keen one, and I was afraid he would be deprived of the mind-expanding wonder of discovering imagined worlds in the pages of books.  Not only did graphic novels make him a reader (primarily of graphic novels still, but they are as real as any other books), but he ended up starting his own graphic novel blog (A Goblin Reviews Graphic Novels), and gained the self-confidence that comes of allowing oneself to have opinions, and the invaluable writing practice that comes in expressing them.

And he got to see a whole bunch of strong girls, having adventures, saving the world, saving themselves and their friends, naturalizing that this is what girls can be.  I don't think he will ever save a damsel in distress; I think he would expect the damsel to be able to save herself, though he'd help if needed/asked.  (I just went upstairs to ask him if in fact reading about strong girls had made him think of real girls as strong; he said "That is a stupid question.  I think of people as strong or weak people, not as strong or weak male or female people. Can I be left alone now please?" which is basically the same point....).

But regardless of the inner workings of my son's mind, if you have a boy who has been tricked into thinking that boys shouldn't read books about girls, give that boy a great graphic novel starring a strong girl and they may well love it.  And then they might read more and more books about girls, internalizing girls as persons, not as stereotypes, which is a good thing.

So happily FirstSecond is still going strong, and still sending us books (yay!).  Here's what's new in the way of girl power.  (links go to my more detailed reviews where applicable).

Monsters Beware is the third volume in the Chronicles of Claudette series by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado (the first two being Giants Beware and Dragons Beware.  Set in a vaguely medieval French world with magic and monsters, Claudette dreams of being a famous warrior and monster slayer.  Her adventures are full of humor, charm, and danger, but what I love about this series most is not just that Claudette is fierce in her sword-waving, but that the two kids who are the main supporting characters, her princess-best friend and her little brother, a would-be chef, get to be just as fierce without the sword part.  They also play an essential role in counterbalancing Claudette's action-oriented zeal.  While being a fun romp that's entertaining as all get out, this series is also a really pleasing exploration of different ways to have strength of character.

The City on the Other Side, by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson

Isabel is growing up in sheltered comfort, looking out her windows at San Francisco, a city still recovering from the great earthquake of 1906.  She's not allowed out to explore it, though she would love to.  Her mother is distant and unloving, and sends Isable off to spend the summer out in the country with her sculptor father, who she doesn't know.  There she stumbles through the barrier separating our world from that of the fairies.  In the other world, the two factions, Seelie and Unseelie, are at war.  Isabel is plunged right into the middle of the conflict, when she's entrusted by a dying Seelie warrior with a magical gem that could restore balance...if she can get it to the captured Seelie Princess.  Fortunately Isabel find friends--a mushroom fairy, Button, and a Filipino boy, orphaned by the earthquake, who's also crossed the barrier.  Exploring the city on the other side is magical, but dangerous and scary...but there's never any doubt that it will all work out.  Connections between the two world add weight to Isabel's mission--unbalance on one side of the barrier affects the other.

It's a fine story, and the main characters are charming, but what makes this one truly stunning is the artwork.  It is utterly magical and magnificent and full to bursting with curious denizens of the fairy world.  Gorgeous.

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter, by Marcus Sedgewick and Thomas Taylor

Scarlett Hart isn't legally old enough to be monster hunter.  But with her parents, two legendary monster slayers in their own right, dead, she has to do something to bring in a bit of money.  So her loyal butler drives her to locations where monsters have been spotted, supports her in the slaying part (though being tough as nails and a dab hand at weapons and ropes, she doesn't need much help in this department), and delivers the monster corpses to collect payment. But her parents' arch-rival, Count Stankovic, is determined to cut her out of the business, and if she gets busted, she'll loose her ancestral home.  And then she finds out the Count has even more horrible schemes afoot, and the monsters keep getting bigger and fiercer....

Fortunately Scarlett is up to the challenge of both the Count and the monsters!  It's fun adventure, Scarlett's a heroine to cheer for, and I found the illustrations very easy on the eye--clear and crisp.  Give this one to young fans of Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood and Co. series.

The Ripple Kingdom, by Gigi D.G. (Cucumber Quest 2)

The Cucumber Quest series tells the saga of a young rabbit boy (Cucumber) whose plans to study magic got derailed by a quest to save the world.  Fortunately for the world, his little sister, Almond, goes with him; she actually has useful fighting skills, whereas Cucumber's magic hasn't yet fully come into its own, and she's much more keen on the whole quest business in general --finding the fabled Dream Sword and defeating the Nightmare Knight.  This installment finds the rabbit siblings and sundry companions battling a tentacled monster with both sword and magic, and learning more about the nature of their mysterious quest.  It is good fun for elementary school kids, and for older kids who aren't in a hurry to grow up!  And Almond and Cucumber subvert gender stereotypes of heroes very nicely indeed.

The League of Lasers (Star Scouts 2), by Mike Lawrence

Avani is happy just being a Star Scout, but when she is invited to join the League of Lasers, for the most elite scouts, she can't say no.  And the moment she accepts, she's whooshed to outer space, and sent on an initiation challenge.  Things go wrong, and she ends up stranded on a methane planet.  With her arch-enemy, the alien Pam.  Happily, Avani and Pam realize that they need to work together, and become pretty good partners...just in time to make first contact with the aliens who live on this planet.   In the meantime, Avani's dad has realized his daughter's missing, despite the efforts of her alien Star Scout friends to convince him otherwise.  And he's ready to travel through space himself to find her again....

It is a very enjoyable survival/friendship/alien encounter story!  It's so much fun to see the girls working together, in good scouting fashion; Avani is an especially good roll model of practicality and determination.   The story moves briskly, and there are plenty of touches of humor to both the story and the illustrations.  It's a bit tense at times, but never really scary...even the most alien of the aliens is rendered in a non-horrifying way.


That's the round-up of the new releases being featured in this particular blog tour, but I can't write about FirstSecond's girl power books for kids without mentioning the queen of them all--Zita the Space Girl!  She blasted into the world back in 2011, and if I were a betting blogger, I'd put my money on her to be a classic for the ages.

Thank you, FirstSecond, for both the review copies and for publishing awesome books!

4/24/18

Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For, by Sara Pascoe, for Timeslip Tuesday

Yay me!  I have a time travel book for this week's Timeslip Tuesday-- Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For, by Sara Pascoe Trindles and Green, Feb. 2017,YA). This book has been in the active pile for far to long, so I'm glad to finally be writing about it and moving it on to a shelf.

Raya is 14, fed up with foster care, and afraid she's going mad.  Her mom suffers from schizophrenia, and now Raya is hearing a cat's voice inside her head...Angry and tired of having to be answerable to other people, Raya takes off for London, and after a few false starts, find a good place to live and work, with good people.  But when her little foster brother Jake comes to London too, and gets badly hurt in an accident, and her social worker finds her, something inside Raya snaps...and she travels through time.  Raya, it turns out, is a witch.

Fortunately, the talking cat, Oscar (her social worker, Bryony, is also a witch, and Oscar's her familiar) travels back in time with her, and helps the witches back in London find her.  Unfortunately, they end up in the middle of the Essex Witch Trials of 1645, just about the worst possible time to be a strange girl.  It is very touch and go--will Raya be hung as a witch before she can be pulled back into her own time?   Bryony does arrive in time, but then Raya's uncontrolled gift kicks in again, and instead of taking them back home, she takes them to Istanbul that same year.

Istanbul is kind to Raya and Bryony, and Oscar the cat.  It is pretty idyllic--the time travelers are taken in by a kind family and Raya enjoys shopping for silks and slippers, and enjoys as well her growing fame as a fortune teller.  Bryony depends on Raya to take them home to London again...but Raya isn't at all sure she wants to go.  Then the dark side of Ottoman politics ensnares Raya...and she has to risk messing up the past for everyone, or else watch her friends be executed!

It was a perfectly fine book, but it didn't entirely work for me.  The three big plot elements above feel in my mind like they are from three different books; they are very different in story and pacing, and they could be about three different people.  I didn't feel like I was getting to know Raya any better as a coherent, maturing character as the stories unfolded, though clearly we are supposed to be seeing her change, and the time travel problems are related to her inner conflicts. It wasn't until the Ottoman Empire that I really started enjoying it, mostly because I was interested in reading about Istanbul ...yet it turned out not to be a very convincing Istanbul--it was very much a fairy tale city, all clean and shiny with good shopping, and no day to day seamy side that even the cleanest 17th century city would have.  And finally, I wish the whole world building of an England with witches, that it turns out lots of people know about, had been more integral to the story, and not just a convenience when necessary.

That being said, these are all things that other readers might react differently too; they aren't fatal flaws.  And on the plus side, Pascoe is very good at describing the past vividly, and I liked Oscar the cat.  It just wasn't a book for me.






4/23/18

The Rose Legacy, by Jessica Day George

I feel I might overuse the review framing device of "I wish I could give this book to my 10 year old self."  But it is a fact that my 10 year old self would very much enjoy living here with me now; so many good books around the place.  So many cookies.  (Although of course she would miss her real family, her mother's cooking, and her tidier home....).  And sometimes a book comes around that I really really really want to send back in time, and I have to say so.  Such a book is The Rose Legacy, by Jessica Day George (Bloomsbury Children's Books, May 1 2018), which would have delighted the horse-loving girl I was to pieces, and which the adult me also enjoyed lots.

Anthea Cross-Thornley is an orphan who's been passed around her extended family for as long as she can remember.  Now it's time for her to move again, and the only family left are the most dismaying yet.  Though she's not happy with her current situation with dutiful Uncle Daniel and his spoiled brat of a daughter, it's better than where she's being sent--to an uncle she's never met, who lives outside the wall that demarcates civilization.  The wall was built to keep the sickness spread by horses, and though Anthea knows the horses all died, she's been brought up to believe that outside the wall is dangerous, and the taint of living there is certainly going to bring down her hope of being chosen to be an attendant to the royal family.

But she has no choice.  And so she arrives at Uncle Andrew's house far outside...and her mind is blown.  It is a ranch, with real horses.  A girl cousin she's never met.  Freedom to cast aside uncomfortable clothes and social niceties.  Of course this all makes her tremendously uncomfortable; she doesn't want to learn to ride, and she likes the social niceties.  Then memories begin to surface; she's been there, and known the horses, before.  And then secrets begin to reveal themselves as well.

Anthea has a family gift--she can communicate mind to mind with the horses (which is a distressing shock for her at first).  There's one horse in particular who formed a strong mind connection with her when she was just a baby, and now they are together again. So gradually she adapts to her new, horse-filled life, and never wants to leave it.

But back on the other side of the wall, the horses are still feared, and the king chaffs at the lack of control he has over the outside lands.  Unwittingly Anthea, in her first days outside the wall, betrayed all she's coming to hold dear...and to save the horses, and the life she now wants for herself, she must go back inside, to somehow subvert the king's conviction that the horses must all be killed.  Cue danger!  Adventure!  Loyalties tested, and loyal, beautiful horses ridden hard, and some injured! Cue tiny smidge of age appropriate romance!

Me being me, I actually liked all the part before the action and adventure gets going best--orphans exploring new homes and learning to ride is right up my alley!  But I can generously appreciate that many readers do, in fact, enjoy Plot, and so I don't begrudge the wild ride and the political intrigue.  The magic of horse/human communication is something that works better for a child reader; the larger political framework, with hints of imperialism, is more interesting to the adult reader than the love story between girl and horse, but less emphasized in the story.

short answer--if you have 10 year old me (intelligent, loving, voracious reader, learning to ride, bad at spelling but good at imaginative play*) on hand (or some similar sort of child), give her (or him) this book!

just for the record--Kirkus and I are on the same page on this one, although I'm taking it more personally....

*nothing to do with the book, but just as an autobiographical aside- that was the year I was chosen to be in a Birdseye Fish Finger commercial.  We were living in the Bahamas, and I was one of several kids from my school who had to sail with Captain Birdseye around uninhabited Caribbean Islands and get excited about fish fingers.  I dropped out before filming started, because I would rather have stayed home to read, didn't like the other kids much, and was revolted by fish fingers...Also we weren't getting paid, so there was no incentive.  Possibly if there had been books on board the boat I'd have stuck it out....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


4/22/18

this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/22/18)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week!  There's nothing from me this week, becuase life.  Sigh. Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The 11:11 Wish by Kim Tomsic, at Redeemed Reader

Artemis Fowl series retrospective at Millibot Reads

Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven, by Keira Gillett, at Log Cabin Library

Castle of Shadows, by Ellen Renner, at Pages Unbound

The Door to the Lost, by Jaleigh Johnson, at Rajiv's Reviews

Elise and the Second-hand Dog, by Bjarne Reuter, at Minerva Reads

Elizabeth and Zenobia, by Jessica Miller, at The Book Wars

The Forgotten Shrine, by Monica Tessler, at Say What?

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Book Nut

Grump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Hidden in Pages

Magic, Madness, and Mischief by Kelly McCullough, at Say What?

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella, by Jerry Mahoney, at Geo Librarian

Ninja Librarians #1: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey, at Say What?

The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd, at Pages Unbound

Rewind, by Carolyn O'Doherty, at Ms. Yingling Reads
oks
The Stone Girl's Story, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Miss Print

Time Jumpers, by Brandon Mull, at Say What?

The Unicorn Quest, by Kamilla Benko, at Pamelakramer.com

The Wishmakers, by Tyler Whitesides, at Redeemed Reader

Wizardmatch, by Lauren Magaziner, at Books4yourkids

Authors and Interviews

Sarah Beth Durst (The Stone Girl's Story) at Miss Print

Jewell Parker Rhodes (Ghost Boys) at Publishers Weekly

Ammi-Joan Paquette (The Train of Lost Things) meet the characters at The Chronicles of Middle Grade

Dustin Brady (Trapped in a Video Game) at From the Mixed Up Files

Sarah Jean Horwitz (The Crooked Castle) at Adventures in YA Publishing

Sayantani DasGupta (The Serpent's Secret) at Young Adult Books-What We're Reading Now

Joshua Kahn (Burning Magic) at Venture1105

Stephanie Burgis (The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart) at Reading With Your Kids

Christopher Edge (The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day), at Minerva Reads

Jerry Mahoney (Buttheads From Outer Space) at Literary Rambles


Other Good Stuff

9 diverse books to read after A Wrinkle in Time, at I'm Not the Nanny

4/15/18

this week's roundup of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (4/15/18)

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

The Reviews

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at For Those About to Mock

Burning Magic, by Joshua Kahn, at Daddy Mojo

Clemmie's War, by Rosie Boyes, at Log Cabin Library

Dragonfly Song, by Wendy Orr, at The Book Wars

Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Read Till Dawn

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Books 4 Learning and  Tales from the Raven

Granted, by John David Anderson, at Bibilobrit

The Last, by Katherine Applegate, at Marzie's Reads

The Magic Mirror, by Susan Hill Long, at Completely Full Bookshelf

A Pirate's Time Served, by Chris Malburg, at Red Headed Book Lover Blog

The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta, at My Comfy Chair

The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Some Very Messy Medieval Magic, by C. Lee McKenzie, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The Stone Girl's Story, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Time Jumpers (Five Kingdoms, Book 5) by Brandon Mull, at Hidden in Pages

The Train of Lost Things, by Ammi-Joan Paquette, at Night Owl Book Café

Trapped in a Video Game, by Dustin Brady at Ms. Yingling Reads

Worlds Apart (Story Thieves 5)T, by James Riley, at Carstairs Considers

Two at alibrarymama--The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero and The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson

Authors and Interviews

Sayantani DasGupta (The Serpent's Secret) at Chasing Faery Tales

Sarah Jean Horwitz (The Crooked Castle), at Adventures in YA Publishing

Other Good Stuff

I take a look at Neil Gaiman's kids books at the B and N Kids Blog

The value of older books, at Minerva Reads

I don't have much to share this week because all my non-work time was spent volunteering at my school's giant, giant clothing and more sale.  I was of course in the books and toys department, and there were so many things I would have liked to take home with me but let other people buy instead.  For instance, this vintage puzzle:

But the woman who bought it collects platypus things, and was willing to pay more for it than I was, and was probably happier with it too....

4/10/18

Weave a Circle Round, by Kari Maaren, for Timeslip Tuesday

I highly, but cautiously, recommend this week's Timeslip Tuesday book--Weave a Circle Round, by Kari Maaren (which was supposed to be last week's book, but time went wrong..).  In case you don't have time to read a complicated plot synopsis, here's what you need to know.
Weave a Circle Round hits all of the best time travel notes--
--relatable main character caught in a fantastic, complicated, twisty nest of time slipped realities
--her lived experiences in the past is vivid and compelling; it boarders on tourism time travel but advance the plot and character development enough to have Point. 
--the plot and characterization are complicated enough to engage the mind without making said mind want to crawl into a corner and hid from it all
I highly recommend it to fans of Diana Wynne Jones, not because it is a DWJ read-alike, but because it has a similar chaos resolving into a mythically rooted central order/origin point.  You have to be able to tolerate chaos and not understanding things for much of the book to appreciate this one (Hexwood I am looking at you in particular).
Kirkus and I agree-- "A charming, extraordinarily relatable book with the potential to become a timeless classic."

The Kirkus review also says--"This debut novel could easily be pigeonholed as YA, and certainly those in that age group will gravitate to it, but adults shouldn't hesitate to dive in, too."  And indeed the book is marketed as YA.  Much to my surprise I found it felt much more upper middle grade in feel; the central character, a 14 year old girl,  is kicking against domestic life, and trying to fit in, and is still very much a child and not a Young Adult for much of the book.  There is nothing to cause a parent of an eleven or twelve year old concern unless that child has lived in a bubble (there is no romance, and no sex, but there is some violence).

Here is a somewhat negative review at Bibliosanctum. I don't often link to negative reviews in order to help people decide if a book is right for them, but in this case, I think that if in general you like all the things this reader doesn't, you will like this one!  

So now that you know if you will like the book or not, here's the plot (more or less).
Freddy, the main character, is 14, and trying hard to fly under the radar at high school.  Now that her little sister, brilliant and unabashed, and her stepbrother, nerdy, also unabashed, and deaf, have joined her, it's hard.  But then the new neighbor, Josiah, shows up as well, and he seems determined to latch on to her, pushing her social weirdness rating up many many notches; he freely shares his contempt for much of what he's experiencing at school, provoking conflict and disrupting the normal pattern of each day.  The woman Josiah lives with (Cuerva Lachance) is a loose cannon too; her mental state is on of constant non-sequitorish chaos. 
At this point, the reader and Freddy don't know what's happening, but it is clear that the new neighbors are odd and hiding something.  Freddy's brother is acting oddly too, trying to keep her and Josiah apart for reasons unknown.  
At the point right after this, things get weirder still, when Josiah and Freddy slip into the past.  The reader and Freddy are both taken aback to find themselves amongst Vikings, with Cuerva Lachance in the role of Loki.  It gradually is explained (over the course of much more timesliping from thousands of years in the past to hundreds of years in the future; the timeslipping isn't controllable) that Josiah and C.L. are two opposing forces, balanced by a third, constantly reincarnated person who is called upon to determine which of them will be dominant for that age. And it is further explained that in Freddy's time, this third person is supposed to be either her or one of her siblings.
Josiah, even though he's supposed to be the embodiment of order, isn't exactly trustworthy, and Freddy comes to realize that there is more to this business of the third party decider than he's letting on.  And by the time they finally get back to the present (three weeks before they leave, which is tricky for them, but after over a year spent in various other times) she's become pretty hostile to the whole business of a third party being compelled to make a choice. 
Which results in everything blowing up, thanks to Chuerva Lachance, into full blown insanity, and it requires all of Freddy's brother's experience as a role-playing gamer to bring the story into submission.  Which then makes the reader rethink the whole story, and plan to read it again.
Freddy isn't particularly likable, but her wild experiences bouncing through time give her plenty of life experience and moments for introspection, leading to welcome character growth and insight.  Because she's habitually honest with herself inside her head, even when she's not "likeable" she's very relatable.  
final though:  the plot is nuts, and the ending is played to a draw so if you want Answers, Resolution, and surety about whether what happened was Good or Bad, you'll be dismayed.
More final thought--I myself enjoyed it very much.





Free Blog Counter

Button styles