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/

10/26/17

Rebel Seoul, by Axie Oh

If you  like near-future-earth science fiction (if not quite 200 years counts as near future), with military robots and conflicting visions of  what the government should be, and teens caught up in the push of forces (maybe) beyond their control and struggling to find peace to love each other and come to terms with both past and present, and want a page-turner of a book that will keep you engrossed and absorbed even if those things aren't tops on your reading list, do go get your hands on Rebel Seoul, by Axie Oh (Tu Books, YA, September 2017).

I really enjoyed the book, and I don't, in fact, like futuristic urban grit and inequality, such as this future Seoul offers, and which the main character, Lee Jaewon, deals with on a daily basis (economic inequality, gangs).  My want to read list includes almost no books featuring robots of war, or high tech war in general, yet I was gripped and fascinated by Jaewon's military training, and his relationship with a girl his own age, Tera, who is herself a crafted weapon of war.  I don't particularly like totalitarian governments suffering massive casualties while suppressing Nationalist rebellions, but here the war did not drive the plot, but rather gave the main characters a stage on which to change, and grow, and become real to me. It was also interesting that Totalitarian did not equal Nationalist, as it so often does.

Basically, this is a book that, in clear and vivid prose, asks interesting questions of interesting people caught in an interesting setting and plot.  And really, who could ask for more?  (well, I guess I could have asked for a peaceful bit where Jaewon and Tara spend several weeks exploring an abandoned temple in the mountains, appreciating the antiques, foraging for food, and perhaps taming a small woodland creature, but I enjoyed it lots without this.  They did get a day in the ruined temple, but they were too beat up/and about to be attacked again to enjoy it....).

So the Kirkus review calls this a "plot-heavy" story as if that's a bad thing, and I'm not sure what they mean.  I was certainly aware that there was a plot, but I thought I was reading a book about two lonely teenagers caught in a war they didn't want to fight, trying to make peace with their lives and their ghosts and keep from getting killed while falling in love with other, so heavier on the character side of things than the Big Plot side of things.  I think of "plot-heavy" books as being ones I start to skim because too much is Happening and I Don't Care, but I did not skim any of Rebel Seoul.  Kirkus also says some of the dialogue was stilted; I did not notice this, and it's pretty easy to throw me out of a story with clunky dialogue. I am also willing in general to let characters talk in stiff, even awkward, language if they are expressing difficult emotional thoughts while people are trying to kill them or such like.

Short answer--I read it with great pleasure in a few hours that flew by, and can see why it won the 2014 New Visions Award from Tu Books.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

10/23/17

The Imposter Princess, by Vivian Vande Velde

The Imposter Princess, by Vivian Vande Velde (Scholastic, middle grade, 2017), is another fun book from an author I can count on to entertain in a slightly provocative, twistily entertaining way!

This story is a standard swap scenario--a fairy girl nicknamed Phleg uses magic to take the place of perfect princess Gabriella.  Gabriella, not having been warned of the coming swap, is stunned to find herself waking up in Phleg's rustic home, surrounded by a passel of eleven rough and tumble siblings, and expected to do Phelg's chores.  It takes all her princessly training to keep her polite. Phleg, of course, has no princessly training at all, and causes a certain amount of consternation back  in the palace as a result.

Gabriella acquires a bit of Phleg's toughness to add to her polish and politeness, and Phleg softens a bit away from the hurly burly of her home.  She also falls in love with the young prince who is supposed to marry Gabriella....and Gabriella might or might not become, in the future, more than just friends with Phleg's oldest brother....Both the two main characters are interesting personality stories, and their efforts to cope with their altered identities make for good reading!

So in short it's a fun and interesting cross-cultural exchange in which that, although not desperately deep, has heroines with enough intelligence and introspection to be very companionable guides to their swapped lives.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

10/22/17

The Myers Briggs personality test, adapted for book blogs

Ever wondered what your blogs personality type was?  Now you can find out, with this special adaptation of the "Myers Briggs personality test for book blogs"! (not affiliated or endorsed by the Myers & Briggs Foundation."

At Kidlitcon 2017, in Hershey PA Nov. 3 and 4, I'll be running a session on using this adaptation of the Myers Briggs personality test to springboard a discussion on participants' blogging strengths and weakness, and how to use it as a starting point to think about what makes you happy as a blogger and a book reviewer, and things you might like to change.  I don't actually Believe that it is all true, necessarily, but I find MB an interesting take on preferences for ways of being in the world that has lots of applicability to the ways in which we review books.

Please take the personality test below (I might tweek it a bit in the next two weeks) and let me know your blog's personality type in the comments.  I'm still working on the descriptions of each book blog personality, and I'll be putting those up probably next weekend.

In the interests of simplicity, the test is divided into four sections, labeled according to the MB categories.  When you score it, you will be one of the two types for each section, and you'll end up with four letters, one from each section.

Note: “You” conflates your blog and yourself; it's not the actual you.  When appropriate, you (the blogger) should answer the questions as if it was your blog answering them.

Extrovert vs Introvert (E or I)

1. do you
(a) comment on blogs that are new to you, and try to reply to most, if not all, comments you get on your blog?
(b) wait for other bloggers to find you; when someone comments on your blog, mostly you just wish for blogging platforms to come with “like” buttons.

2. do you
(a) seek out new blogs to read; it’s always good to make new blog friends!
(b) feel comfortable staying in touch with the few blogs familiar to you that you’ve been following from the very beginning; those are enough to make you feel connected.

3. Would you rather
(a) participate in all manner of blog social activities (hops, readathons, challenges, blog tours, using other types of social media to promote your blog posts, etc.)
(b) stay quietly in your own corner of the blogosphere

 4.  In your blogging circle, are you
(a) pretty well caught up on blog reading and blogger news
(b) not caught up either of the above

5. Do you
(a) actively seek out connections to publishers and authors to expand your social network?
(b) feel pleased when such a connection comes your way, and try hard to remember to foster it.

 If you have more "a"s than "b"s, your blog is an extrovert, if not, it's an introvert
Intuition vs Sensation (if you are new to MB personalities, read the description here, after you take the test!)
1. In writing a book review are you more likely to

(a) do it in what seems to you “the usual” way (either your own usual way or an external idea of normative book blogging format)
(b) do it your own way, and not always the same “own way”
2.  Writers of blogs should

(a) “say what they mean and mean what they say.” Clarity of communication is important.  No one has the time to spend much effort trying to figure out what you are getting at and then maybe get it wrong. 
(b) enjoy the pleasure of communicating more elliptically through analogy and metaphor, not coming to the table with interpretations and critiques already set in stone but exploring your way to conclusions in the process of thinking about the book while writing about it.
3. Is it worse to

(a) skip from topic to topic from post to post without any concern for coherence or continuity of the ensemble, so that people ask “what is even the point of the blog? Is it books or garden pests?  If the former, childrens or adult?  If the latter, slugs or starlings?”
(b) be in a rut, so that people ask “didn’t I read this same post here last week?”

4.  Are you more likely to give a positive review to a book that is 
(a) sensible—realistic people and scenarios, played out in a believable way?
(b) imaginative—requires some suspension of disbelief

Nb:  This is not a question about taste in genres.  Obviously, fantasy books require more suspension of disbelief.  But there are plenty of fantasy books that make sense, and others that don’t feel as much need for sense.  The point of the question is – how quickly or how often do you reach a point of saying “I can no longer suspend my disbelief, this is not a book for me.”
5. Are you more interested in

(a) reading and reviewing the many (all too many) very fine and excellent books that you have on hand, all of which you want to read

(b) getting all the beautiful books because they exist and are beautiful and you need them

6. In picking your next read, do you
a. think calmly  about past experiences with the author, publisher and genre, and how much you really think along the same lines as that one reviewer who gushed about it.
b. instantly know in your heart based on chance book review reading/word of mouth that you and book x are destined for each other. 

7.  Would you rather
a. discuss how a book can be useful
b. discuss how a book  can spark readers' imagiations

If you are mostly a, mark yourself as Sensory, if b, mark yourself as N (Intuition)

Thinking vs Feeling

1. Are you more drawn to praising the
(a) convincing, really “well written.”
(b) touching (“this book gave me all the feels.”)

2.  would you ever give a book you didn’t personally like a more positive review than you really think it merits as a piece of writing because of circumstances extraneous to the words on the page?  (for instance, the author is in a desperate situation and a positive review might lead to a few more book sales so the children don’t go hungry, or maybe you think a particular publisher or author deserves support for publishing/writing this particular book)
(a) no
(b) yes
3. When making a critical statement, are you

(a) firm; no one would miss the point of the statement (ie, this book is [x not good thing].  I did not like this book.  This book is bad. Etc.)
(b) so gentle that when you write a review that you think clearly lays out why you didn’t like a book, people refer to it as a positive review.  (ie, “although there are doubtless many readers who will appreciate the extraordinarily detailed delicacy of the world building, I was not one of them of them.” ]

Select b if people have left comments saying “so glad you liked this one!” when in fact you didn’t.
4.  Which affects your reviewing choices (both what books to review and what to say about them) more?

(a) consistency of thought—holding all books to a certain standard

(b) harmonious human relationships – not wanting to hurt feelings (this doesn’t have to mean praising what you don’t like.  It could just mean bumping up a book you have a personal connection with in your review queue, and putting more effort into writing about it. Or not mentioning a picky small thing that doesn’t make or break the book (like an author saying “plush vegetation” instead of “lush vegetation.”  Or not reviewing a particular book at all.)

5.  When reviewing a book, are you more comfortable making
(a) critical statements based on the internal logic of the book and how well it is doing what it set out to do
(b) value judgements that might not make sense to anyone but yourself, or that might be the result of ideologies that you are bringing to the book

6.  In making decisions about what to read and how positive to be about it, do you feel more comfortable
(a) relying on standards that you apply more or less consistently
(b) spilling the feelings of the moment onto the screen

If you are more a, give yourself a T, if b, then give yourself an F.

Judging vs Perceiving (again, if you don't know what this means, refer to the website after answering...)
1. Do you prefer to

(a) schedule posts in advance, and stick to those deadlines
(b) put posts up whenever
2. which do you enjoy more?

(a) the joyous sense of completion and accomplishment you get from hitting post

(b) that period after reading a book when you daydream about what you’ll say about it, and you haven’t yet embarrassed yourself with hideous typos.

3.  Do you have blog posts
(a) Scheduled days, weeks, or even months in advance
(b) in mind as possibilities for some vague future time that may or may not ever happen and you probably will forget you meant to do it.

4.  Do you pick the books to review
(a) with careful thought and some degree of planning (either for coherence or for variety of genre or some such)
(b) randomly (even if you thought you might have some string of reviews in the works that had thematic coherence, it’s liable to go out the window)

5.  Which makes you happier:
(a) to have finished reading and reviewing a book
(b) looking at all the wonderful books to come

6.  which ability do you value more?
(a) being organized and methodical, so that the posting doesn’t become a vexing, possibly emotionally negative, chore
(b) being able to sit down and let a review pour out whenever you are so moved.

If more a, give yourself a J, if b, give yourself a P.  Tiebreaker--if you've ever said "I'm all caught up" you are J all the way...


You should now have 4 letters (which you should please leave in the comments,or send me privately if you are self-conscious?), and you can read about your blog personality type on line, or wait a week or so for me to write book blog personality descriptions....

thanks for playing!

This week's round-up of middle grade sic fi/fantsy from around the blogs (10/22/17)

Welcome to this week's gathering of middle grade fanstasy and science fiction posts from around the blogs; it's a bit light today, so I probably missed stuff--let me know!  I myself had little to contribute because I was setting up and running my library's booksale, so today I am sore both in body (books being heavy) and spirit (customers being scarce).  Sigh.

The Reviews

Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor, at books4yourkids.com and  The Book Wars

Bubbles by Abby Cooper, at The O.W.L.

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, at A Reader of Fictions

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi, at Jean Little Library

Liesel and Po, by Lauren Oliver, at Say What?

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, at The Book Wars

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath, at Mom Read It

The Nutcracker Mice by Kristin Kladstrup, at Read Till Dawn

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie, at Log Cabin Library

Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar, at Charlotte's Library and  Read Till Dawn

The Shadow Cipher (York Book 1), by Laura Ruby, at alibrarymama

Threads of Blue by Suzanne LaFleur, at The Children's War

The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy, at Log Cabin Library

Three at The Book Search--Last Day on Mars, Brave Red Smart Frog, and Masterminds-Payback

Authors and Interviews

Jonathan Rosen (Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies) at Cynsations

Philip Pullman at The Guardian

Other Good Stuff

An introduction to the books of Diana Wynne Jones from a Christian perspective, at Redeemed Reader

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier, is this year's "young adult" winner of the Sunburst Award for excellence in Canadian iterature of the Fantasic

A look at the Akata Witch series at Tor

and finally, here's one to look forward to in 2018--a new mg fantasy from Sarah Prineas!

10/19/17

Cover Reveal for The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings, a new middle grade fantasy from Sarah Prineas!

I am a huge fan of Sarah Prineas; in particular I love her middle grade Magic Thief series!  And so I am just thrilled as all get out that she has a new middle grade fantasy coming next year, and honored to host its cover reveal!

The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings (HarperCollins Children's) will hit shelves June 26.

Here's the blurb:

For years, all the libraries in the kingdom have been locked up. 

Is it to keep the books safe from readers?

Or...is it to keep readers safe from books?

Alex is an apprentice librarian, and he is certain that books have a secret, powerful history.  Unfortunately, his elderly master is a lot more interested in bug poop than in teaching Alex anything useful.  When the old man dies under extremely suspicious circumstances, Alex travels to the palace and impersonates his master so he can take up the position of royal librarian—a job that is far more dangerous than he ever imagined. 

The young queen, Kenneret, is pretty sure this scruffy, obnoxious boy is not who he claims to be, and she doubts he’s really a librarian, either.  But she has other things to worry about, so she agrees to give Alex fifteen days to prove himself.  That’s enough time for him to discover that he was only partly right—books aren’t just powerful, they’re alive.  Even worse, some of the books possess an ancient, evil magic that kills librarians, and now they are coming after Alex.  A book about the weather attacks him with lightning bolts; a book about vines tries to strangle him; a book about explosives is ready to blow up, and the book about swords...

...well, you know.  It’s a good thing Alex knows how to fight. 

With the help of the queen and her illiterate brother, Alex has to figure out who, or what, is controlling the books and their power.  If they can’t, the entire kingdom could be at risk. 

Doesn't it sound great!  And it the description weren't enough to entice you, here's the gorgeous cover:



(This could be me, trying to cope with all the books plotting world domination in my own home)

Thank you, Sarah!  I can't wait.

10/16/17

Race to the Bottom of the Sea, by Lindsay Eagar

I am not drawn to pirate books.  So I almost said no when offered a review copy of Race to the Bottom of the Sea, by Lindsay Eagar (Candlewick, middle grade, October 2017), which as you can see from the cover illustration has pirates.  But I could not resist a book about a girl who is a brilliant young marine biologist with steampunkish overtones (I like girl scientist books and a touch of the mechanical).  And so I said "yes please" and the book arrived, and I read it with  enjoyment, though not without some doubts (about which more below).

11 year old Fidelia Quail has grown up assisting her marine biologist parents in their endeavors, devising ingenious devices including a small submarine.  When her parents leave her on the deck of their boat to keep an eye on the weather while they use the sub to go below, Fidelia lets the appearance of a shark (a species she's never seen before!) push the safety envelope; the fierce weather of the Undertow arrives faster than she thought it would, and her parents never resurface.

Life on dry land with her librarian aunt doesn't inspire Fidelia, but wracked by guilt and grief, she copes with the dull days as best she can.  But then she is kidnapped by pirates!

There's actually a good reason why the pirates have come to kidnap her--one of Fidelia's prototypes (not yet actually functional) is a way to breath underwater.  And the leader of the gang of pirates needs this device to recover a lost treasure that sank long ago....So Fidelia goes to sea again, on a once grand pirate ship that's now practically a wreck, with a tiny crew and a notoriously wicked, and utterly obsessed, pirate captain--Merrick the Monstrous-- driving them on.

It is a good distraction for her, helping her work through her depression, and Eagar does a nice job making the voyage, in which not much Adventure actually happens, interesting.  The dynamics of the pirate crew (all two of them), the Captain, and Fidelia are interesting,  Fidelia's marine biological thoughts and her work on her water-breathing system likewise.  There are lots of touches of humor,  and for those who really do like things to Happen, there are flashbacks to several years back that provide the (more adventurous) context for the current situation.

But though I enjoyed reading it, and the pages turned briskly, there were two things that bothered me, one big and one small.

First, the reader, and Fidelia, fall prey to something that felt like Stockholm Syndrome.  Merrick is really quite monstrous, and has done terrible things (including kidnapping and threatening Fidelia) but he is limned in such a way that he becomes more and more a romantic figure with whom Fidelia and the reader must sympathize than the manipulative killer he actually is. This needs to happen for the story's emotional arc to be satisfying, but it felt distasteful to me.  Likewise, the way he controlled the physical circumstances of the woman at the heart of Merrick's romantic past story was not something that made him anyone I'd want to be involved with, and so I resented ultimately feeling sorry for him.

Second, the crew of two plus a captain is not sufficient to sail such a large sailing ship and it is tricky if not impossible to sail around inside a cave (because most caves aren't windy).  This ship behaves more like it's motorized.

Do, however, read this if you love smart sciencey girls inventing things that both save the day and add to the world's knowledge of marine biology!  Here's the Kirkus review, that notes the same positive things I do.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

10/15/17

This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (10/15/17)

Another week, another round up.  Please let me know if I missed your post!

First--today is the last day for public nominations for the Cybils Awards!  Show a favorite author some love!  Here's a collection of links to lists of the as yet unnominated, including one for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction.  I've put stars next to books reviewed this week that are eligible and haven't been nominated yet....Nominate here today!

The Reviews

Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor,  at alibrarymama

Clash of the Worlds by Chris Columbus, Ned Vizzini, and Chris Rylander, at Say What?

*Code Name Flood, by Laura Martin, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

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

The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, at Say What?

Elizabeth and Zenobia, by Jessica Miller, at Falling Letters

The Farwalker’s Quest (Farwalker’s Quest, Book 1) by Joni Sensel, at Hidden in Pages

*Guardians of the Gryphon's Claw, by Todd Calgi Gallicano, at Charlotte's Library

Impyrium, by Henry Neff, at The Write Path

Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson, at Fuse #8

The List, by Patricia Forde, at B and N Kids Blog

Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power, by Mariko Tamaki, at Book Nut

*The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge, at Proseandkahn

Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar, at Puss Reboots and Log Cabin Library

The Taster's Guild, by Susannah Applebaum, at Leaf's Reviews

*Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar, at From My Bookshelf

*Tumble and Blue, by Cassie Beasley, at Semicolon

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at That's Another Story

*A Single Stone, by Meg McKinlay, at Semicolon

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Wolf Hour, by Sara Lewis Holmes, at By Singing Light

The World's Greatest Adventure Machine, by Frank Cole, at Always in the Middle and The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Authors and Interviews

Sara Lewis Holmes (The Wolf Hour), at Charlotte's Library

Frances Hardinge (Face Like Glass) at The Guardian

Garret Weyr (The Language of Spells) at Fuse #8

Other Good Stuff

"Fantasy is the Realm of Idealism": Tamora Pierce in Converaation with the Female Fantasy Authors She Inspired" at  Torl

Two great book lists of scary stories, at SLJ and Book Riot


10/12/17

The Doughnut Kingdom (Cucumber Quest #1), by Gigi D.G.

The Doughnut Kingdom (Cucumber Quest #1), by Gigi D.G. (FirstSecond October 2017), is a cute and fun graphic novel for young readers.

My younger son, now 14, has been a fan of Cucumber Quest webcomic for years, and he and I were both very exited to get the book in our hands--he because books are more fun to read, and me because books are all I read, and I was very curious to see what this Cucumber Quest thing was all about.  It's the story of a young rabbit person, Cucumber, whose plans to spend peaceful years at magic school are derailed when a mysterious oracle tells him he has to go save the kingdom.  He knows he's not up to the task of overthrowing the evil queen, and so does his little sister, Almond.  Fortunately Almond sets off after him, determined to be an epic hero in her own right, and her sword skills save him from almost immediate defeat.

She's thrilled to be off on a quest for the fabled Dream Sword; Cucumber less so.  And Carrot, the really rather pathetic excuse for a knight who's joined them, doesn't add much to Cucumber's  confidence.  As for the oracle, she turns out to be much more interested in keeping up with her tv shows than she is in helping quests along, and in fact has carelessly handed the Dream Sword over to an infamous young thief, Saturday.  Can the brave (and less brave) bunnies really succeed against the powerful enemies who are threatening world domination?  Almond thinks yes, Cucumber not so much.

The bright pictures and zippy story carry readers along very nicely indeed.  It's funny, and a tad subversive (Almond's heroic potential is dismissed at first, but she's not going to let anyone keep her from the fun!).  This first volume is something of a stage-setter, and apparently things will get even more exciting in future adventures.  Enthusiastically recommend to fantasy loving eight to ten year olds, who will, if they are like my own child, eat up the zesty sweetness of Cucumber's adventures!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


10/11/17

Guardians of the Gryphon's Claw, by Todd Calgi Gallicano

Guardians of the Gryphon's Claw, by Todd Calgi Gallicano (Delacorte, middle grade, Aug. 29 2017), is a fun start to a new adventure series that will have fans of magical creatures clamoring for more!

Sam London is an ordinary sort of boy who wants very much to have his own special Thing.  None of the usual things (sports, arts, music) have done it. But then, a series of dreams leads him to an encounter that will truly make him extraordinary.  On a rock outcrop in the south west, he comes face to beak with the awesome majesty of Phylassos, Lord of the Gryphons.  And Phylassos needs his help.

Long ago, the great gryphon bound all mythical creatures in an enchantment that renders them (mostly) invisible to humans, and (mostly) powerless to act directly in the human world.  He sacrificed one of his own claws to serve as a talisman to hold that magic in place.  But there are those among the non-human peoples who chaff at the restrictions imposed on them, and they are rising up against Phylossos.

Sam, to his amazement, becomes part of a strangely assorted group (including an agent from a top secret government department) racing around the world to find and secure the claw before it is captured.  He's not just extra baggage, but a useful and important member of the team.  Many of the mythical creatures are on the gryphon's side, but many others are not, and so there is magical creature mayhem and danger aplenty as the pages turn quickly.

It's not deeply subtle, and some of the good guys are just too talented for me to swallow, so I don't think I'll ever feel the need to re-read it.  But I was perfectly happy to read it this first time, and will be happy as well to read the sequel.  There are plenty of amusing bits, and it's an excellent pick for readers who like the wind in their hair as they rush with the story from one danger to the next, and of course it's especially good for devoted fans of magical creatures!  And the stakes are made high enough, both for the world and for individual characters, not all of whom make it to the end of the book, that it's a bit more than lightweight fun.

Short answer--if your kids' ears prick up when you say "gryphon," "yeti," "tanuki," or "cynecephalus" (especially the last one, because that kid is a die hard magical creature fan!) offer this book.

NB:  Guardians of the Gryphon's Claw is eligible for this year's Cybils Awards, and has not yet been nominated!  Click here to nominate this or any other fine book in a variety of categories.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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