5/26/20

Limited Wish (Impossible Times #2) by Mark Lawrence

Limited Wish (Impossible Times #2) by Mark Lawrence (May 2019, 47 North), is the sequel to One Word Kill, which I reviewed here.  It begins with a brief recap of book 1, which was thoughtful, because though I remembered things more or less, this a complicated sort of time travel, with lots of alternate pathways and various twisty shenanigans of continuum manipulation.

When we meet Nick again, its still the 1980s, he's still 16, still in remission from Leukemia, and still playing D. and D. with his group of friends.  But now he's a student at Cambridge.  Knowing he was going to have to come up with the mathematics for time travel kicked him into high gear, and he mathematically muscled his way into studying with the one conveniently located person who might be able to work with him to do this.  But though the math goes well, the rest of his life is pretty crumby. Mia has broken off their relationship that had just begun in the first book, largely in reaction to fate throwing them together (more literally than is usually the case).  In D. and D., his saving throws are 1s, and in real life, statistically improbable events (like an exploding chip shop) are becoming everyday occurrences.  A build-up of paradoxes has caused time to become a shaken bottle of soda, and unless it's calmed down, it will pop, taking Nick with it.

Nick's future self, and someone else from his future, are showing up in his present and trying to figure out how to unravel the paradoxes.  Thought there's a violent element involved (slightly contrived), this unravelling is  basically a matter of social dynamics, calculated risks, and lots of good math (impossible without the contributions of a girl who's even more brilliant than Nick).  In the end, when Nick has to choose between two alternate futures to calm things down, it comes down to him deciding to act as if he were a free agent, like anyone else, choosing to be loyal to himself, right there in the present.

I don't really like complications for the sake of complications, and lots of alternate future paths spinning off in all directions don't do much for me.  But Lawrence does a rather remarkable job having both complications and alternate paths kept firmly within a coherent narrative with a single main story, that of Nick's experience as a 16 year old genius teen living with the fear of death from  cancer, and more ordinary social anxiety.  He is like the still center around which the busy story spins, although he is making his own interior journey.  He knows his choices will effect future time lines, but he has the wisdom in the end to realize that's true for everyone.

Adding to my enjoyment was Nick's love for math-- I like craft books, in which characters are immersed in the making of things they love, and for Nick, equations are his craft, and it was lovely (disclaimer--I don't do math myself, so this is considerable praise).  I also enjoyed the details of the D. and D. game--an alternate adventure of choices and consequences nicely nested in the main story.

I don't think the sleek sci-fi cover captures the feel of the book; something more 1980s campy fantasy would have been closer--beautiful Cambridge students falling out of a punt while an explosion happens in the distance sort of thing.

I would have been happy with the series ending here; though there is lots still unresolved, that's the way life is.  But I just realized there's a third book,  Dispell Illusion (another D. and D. spell...), and I look forward to seeing what illusions will be dispelled!

5/24/20

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/24/20)

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

The Reviews

The Accidental Time Traveller, by Janis Mackay, at Charlotte's Library

The Adventures of Rockford T. Honeypot, byJosh Gottsegen, at Woodpecker Books

Aru Shah and the Song of Death (Pandava Quartet #2) by Roshani Chokshi, at Log Cabin Library

Blackbringer, by Laini Taylor, at Fantasy Literature

Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows, by Ryan Calejo, at Book Briefs

The Day I Was Erased, by Lisa Thomson, at Always in the Middle

Dragonsong, by Anne McCaffrey, at Book Nut

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Leaf's Reviews

Forever Neverland, by Susan Adrian, at Bookish Bug

Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, at Charlotte's Library

The Gryphon's Lair (Royal Guide to Monster Slaying) by Kelley Armstrong, at Sharon the Librarian
Legends of the Sky, by Liz Flanagan, at Fantasy Literature

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga #1), by Andrew Peterson, at BiteIntoBooks

Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, by Adrianna Cuevas, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Unready Queen, by William Ritter, at Alison in Book Land

The Way Past Winter, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, at Rajiv's Reviews

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at Children's Books Heal

Two at alibrarymama--Mulan: Before the Sword by Grace Lin and A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

Two more at alibrarymama-Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse and Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads-The Egyptian Mirror, by Michael Bedard, and Minecraft: the Voyage, by Jason Fry

Authors and Interviews

Katharine Orton (Nevertell) at Charlotte's Library (with giveaway)

J. Anderson Coats (The Green Children of Woolpit) at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Zoraida Córdova (The Way to Rio Luna), at Publishers Weekly

Thomas Taylor (Gargantis) at School Library Journal

J.M. Bergen (Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows) at Book Princess Reviews

Other Good Stuff

Jenna at Falling Letters shares 35 mg fantasy favorites

25 Books starring dragon-loving mighty girls, at A Mighty Girl

Here's a list of 2020 debut sci fi/fantasy novels in English that includes a few mg books (not comprehensive, but open to adding more....I just suggested The Wolf of Cape Fen, by Juliana Brandt, which is very good)

5/23/20

Gargantis (Eerie-on-Sea #2), by Thomas Taylor

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor, introduced young readers to the surreal town of Eerie-on-Sea, and to Herbie, the keeper of the Lost-and-Founder office of the Hotel Nautilus, and his friend Violet, who came to the town looking for clues to her lost parents. In that first book, the two kids foiled a villainous plot of Sebastian Eels, and thought they were done with him forever. They were not.

Gargantis (Walker Books US, May 12, 2020) picks up soon after Malamander leaves off.  A storm is shaking Eerie-on-Sea to its very foundations, and its fierceness keeps growing. The fisher folk blame the awaking of the legendary Gargantis, and are desperate to send the creature back to sleep again. A mysterious hooded figure, new to town, convinces them he know how to do it (it's easy to guess this is Sebastian Eels, back from the brink of death).  When a treasure (a bottle with most unusual contents) turns up in Herbie's Lost and Found office, Herbie and Violet figure out that letting Eels and the fisher folk use it against Gargantis will just make things worse, and so they put their lives on the line to return it.

That's a very bare bones description of the plot, that doesn't come close to conveying all the rich details of the story. Eerie-on-Sea is an unforgettable place full of strange stories and strange goings-on, and the vivid storytelling plunges the reader right into the thick of things! Violet and Herbie make a great team, Violet's headstrong impulsiveness complimenting Herbie's caution well, and the dangers they face from the storms destroying the town, from death by drowning, and from Eels and the fisherfolk made dangerous by desperation, are grippingly real.

If quirky mysteries putting kids in fantastical danger in a wildly whimsical setting (a touch of steampunk, a touch of horror, many puns, a dubious saint, two plucky kids who are quicker on the uptake than any of the grownups, and monsters both out at sea and on land) sounds appealing, you'll love this series! I actually enjoyed this second book even more than the first, because all the introduction part had already been taken care of, and so there was time to reveal more of the story of the history of this strange place, and more details of that strangeness.  Though this could stand alone, it would be somewhat disorienting, so do read Malamander first!

short answer: a great cure for cabin fever!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/20/20

An interview with Katharine Orton (Nevertell) and a giveaway!


Back in the middle of April, I read Nevertell, by Katharine Orton (Walker Books US, April 14, 2020, with much enjoyment! It's a magical, chilly middle grade adventure about a brave girl finding her magic and confronting evil (here's my review).  So it's a pleasure to welcome Katharine here, and to offer a giveaway of this book courtesy of its publisher! Just leave a comment to be entered; closes in one week, at midnight on the 27th!

What was the inspiration for Nevertell? Did the whole story come to you clear in your mind, or did it arrive in bits?

Nevertell has been floating around inside my head in bits for years. Whether in the form of family stories – like the one about when my grandfather was part of a mutiny – or when I first started to learn about Siberian gulags in my school history lessons. I love fairy tales from all over the world and have always been interested in Russian history. And one day I was reading a book called Inside the Rainbow where I learned that at one point in the Soviet Union children weren’t supposed to be told fairy tales. I started to think about how fantasy and the real world intertwine… That’s when all those little bits finally came together, and the idea for Nevertell was born. 

What was the most challenging part of the story, either plot-wise or writing-wise? 

Well, from the very beginning the children are determined to reach Moscow to find Lina’s grandmother. But… that’s thousands upon thousands of miles from where they are in Siberia. So I found myself scratching my head along with the children quite a lot, trying to figure out just how I was going to help them along their journey! But from that challenge sprang much of the story, so I’m grateful for it.

 What are your own favorite Russian fairy tales? 

Oh, there are lots! There’s a brilliant one called The Stone Flower – part of a series I believe involving the Mistress of the Copper Mountain. And I love the character of Baba Yaga who turns up in a lot of folk and fairy tales such as Vasilisa the Beautiful. One of my all-time favourites is called The Soldier and Death, but it’s quite sad. 

This is a rather chilly book, being set in the Siberian winter; what's the coldest you yourself have ever been? 

I’ve been to some pretty cold places, like Scotland in winter and the French Alps – brr! But the answer is probably a lot sillier. I got stuck in Central London once with a friend. It was night, it was cold and I was shivering because I had no coat, and for one reason and another we had no obvious way to get home. My friend suggested we sleep on a bench and head off in the morning. Er – that wasn’t going to happen! Worried about my fingers – and the rest of me – turning to ice, I insisted, and we did manage to make our way back eventually. But our journey was quite the chaotic ‘adventure’ in itself. 

What will your next book be about? 

This time we’re visiting Dartmoor in England, a place steeped in its own mystery and folklore, just after World War Two. It follows an otherwise ordinary girl with a strange connection to the spirit world, who finds herself caught up in a dangerous, magical prophecy. I probably shouldn’t say too much more, but you can expect a sprawling, epic landscape, spirits (some good and some with wicked intent), more fairy and folk tale magic, and, most importantly of all, characters you can root for. But what is it really about? My best answer to that is: healing.

Thanks Katharine!  Your next book sounds right up my alley!


5/19/20

The Accidental Time Traveller, by Janis Mackay, for Timeslip Tuesday

It's such a nice thing, to be a fan of middle grade time travel stories and to find a new to me series!  The Accidental Time Traveller,  by Janis Mackay, the first of three books, was the Scottish Children's Book Awards winner in 2013, and it was a fun, and toward the end rather moving, story.

Saul is an ordinary kid in 2012, living in the small Scottish town of Peebles.  His family works hard to make ends meet, and the baby twins keep his mother busy.  He has his two best mates, and they've made a den for themselves in a derelict hut on an old estate whose grand house is long gone. It's almost Christmas, and snow is falling.  All very ordinary...

And then he's in the right place at the right time to see a girl in a long dress with frilly bits almost get hit by a car. She clings to him fiercely, and blows his mind by her story.  Agatha Black has just arrived from 1812, and doesn't know how to get back again.  Saul isn't sure he believes her, but she's clearly in need of help, and so he takes her to the hut.  There Agatha tells Saul how her father, desperate for fame and fortune, experimented with time travel, using her as his guinea pig.The next week is full of Agatha having her mind blown by modernity and Saul trying clumsily to pretend this strange kid is normal, with only marginal success.

The all male dynamic of Saul and his two friends is of course disrupted by a girl in their hut (Saul's early attempts to claim Agatha is a boy don't hold water for long).  And then Agatha of her own volition makes friends with a girl from Saul's class, Agnes, poor and ignored by just about everyone. After initial doubtfulness, the three boys become real friends with the two girls.  But Agatha needs to get home.

And so Saul tries to recreate the alchemical components and mystic state of mind her father had used to send her into the present.  The sticking point is the need for gold, not something broke kids can easily get their hands on.  But in a nice twist, the bits and pieces of information Agatha has let fall give Saul just what he needs to get the gold....and Agatha returns to her own time.

And the end is very moving, not just because of Agatha getting home, and then the discovery of her gravestone, but because of Agnes now having a place as a valued member of the friend group.  Saul's realist voice and experiences ground the book firmly in the present, and those looking for wild time travel romps will be disappointed.  But the time travel is very real, and very magical, and it is fun (though slightly uncomfortable on her behalf) seeing fish out of water Agatha cope with the 21st century.  She's an exceedingly brave, self-reliant girl, and I liked her lots.  She was very good for Saul--the experience of knowing her stirred up his mind considerably!  Both he and readers pick up a nice bit of social history, very painlessly and naturally.

I look forward to the next two books!


5/17/20

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction (5/17/20)

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

The Reviews

The Candy Mafia, by Lavie Tidhar, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Chaos Curse (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Book 3),  by Sayantani Dasgupta, at alibrarymama

Cog, by Greg Van Eekhout, at Fantasy Literature

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Disappearing Bikeshop, by Elivira Woodruff, at Charlotte's Library

A Game of Fox and Squirrels, by Jenn Reese, at Puss Reboots

Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, at A Garden of Books

The Girl Who Could Not Dream, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Michelle I. Mason

The Green Ember, by S.D. Smith, at greenish bookshelf

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, at alibrarymama

Maleficent- Mistress of Evil: Heart of Moors by Holly Black, at Brooklyn.the.bookworm 

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Night Fairy, by Laura Amy Schultz, at Jen Lowry Writes

Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, at The Green Tea Librarian

A Pinch of Magic, by Michelle Harrison, at Log Cabin Library

Quintessense, by Jess Redman, at Charlotte's Library

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez, at Fantasy Literature

Shuri: A Black Panther Novel, by Nic Stone, at A Kids Book a Day

A Storm of Wishes (The Collectors #2) by Jacqueline West, at Log Cabin Library

The Unready Queen (Oddmire #2) by William Ritter, at The Reading Chemist

Three at Ms. Yingling Reads--Shuri: A Black Panther Novel, by Nic Stone, Maya and the Rising Dark, by Rena Barron, and The Chaos Loop (Throwback #2), by Peter Lerangis


Authors and Interviews

Sarah Jean Horwitz (The Dark Lord Clementine) at Black and White Words and Pictures

Hayley Chewins (The Sisters of Straygarden Place) at Into the Forest Dark

Laura Ruby (The Map of Star, York #3), at Nerdy Book Club


Other Good Stuff

“Eustace Was a Dragon All Along”: Aslan and Spiritual Growth in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" at Tor

A look at Sal and Gabi that includes the time before they were mg characters) at Den of Geek

Percy Jackson tv series coming to Disney (more at Book Riot)

Have you heard about the Middle Ground Book Fest (August 1)?  Still accepting applications for presenters, including bloggers and reviewers!

Have you read Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan?  Do you think it is speculative fiction? I ask this question in my review, and am still not quite sure....

5/16/20

Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, was my last book purchased in person, when I went to my local indie just as things were heating up, so I could cross "support independent bookstore" off my list of disaster preparedness. That was, of course, a while ago, but self-isolation hasn't actually been good for my reading--working at home seems to take more time than working at work does, and being surrounded by all the tasks of home and garden is not useful for reading purposes either.  But I read it in a single sitting this morning, and enjoyed it very much, and am glad I bought it!

It's the story of Max, a boy growing up in a slightly alternate Central American town (the names aren't those of real places, but the feel of the place is very real).   He's a pretty happy kid--with friends, a father and grandfather who love him and look after him well (more protectively than he'd like, though), and a pretty secure life in his little town watched over by a crumbling old fortification where no kids are allowed to go.  His mother left home when he was a baby, for no reason anyone's every explained to Max, and this is a hole in his life, but not that great a sadness.

But now he's old enough to join the youth soccer league...and in order to do that, he needs a birth certificate.  Which poses a problem for his father...and opens up lots of questions from Max.  The questions lead him to the ruined fortification.  The stories he's grown up with tell of  the "hidden ones," refugees from a war-torn neighboring country, sheltering there, and of the guardians who help them on their way to a place sometimes called Mañanaland.  This summer, he learns that there is truth to the stories.  His mother herself was one of those who traveled on to Mañanaland, and his family are part of the network of gaurdians.  When there is no experienced guardian available to help a young girl escaping horrors for the chance of a better life, Max volunteers himself.  His grandfather's stories, truer than he knew, guide him and Isadora to the next leg of her journey.

Max has his own reasons for taking this assignment--not just caring on the family tradition, but the hope of finding his mother.  But as the danger that Isadora is in becomes clear to him, he realizes there's more at stake than his own dream. And when he learns that there is no such actual place as "Mañanaland", he makes peace with the realization that he will probably never find his mother.

From reading reviews before hand, I had the impression that this had fantasy elements in it.  But it really doesn't.  Though the places are fiction, the reality on which they are based isn't fantastical at all.  And although stories guide Max's journey, leading to a meeting with a rather mystical wise-woman, it's not actually anything that couldn't be real-world.  But despite having no actually magic, this is a lovely coming of age, quest sort of story that makes the mundane world ring with meaning.  

I've seen some people note that it's rather slow to get going, and maybe it is, but Max's town, and family, and the stories he hears are all built so beautifully in that beginning that I had no complaints.  I was moved, and enchanted, and recommend this one lots and lots as a book to open kids' minds to refugees fleeing horror all over our real world.

Personal bonus--I find that I am the sort of reader who enjoys descriptions of bridges, and their building, which is what Max's father does.  Personal note of distaste--as an archaeologist and preservation, using the old fortification as a source of bridge building materials made me wince.


5/15/20

Quintessence, by Jess Redman (early review)

If you are looking for a rather soothing (tense things happen, but the arc the story moves toward peace), magical middle grade read, try Quintessence, by Jess Redman (July 28th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; originally slated for May, the date's been pushed back for the obvious reasons....).

Twelve-year-old Alma was horrified when her parents uprooted her and moved to the town of Four Points.  It's been three months, and she can't imagine ever feeling at home there.  Her parents pressure her, in a well-meaning way, to make more effort, but she can't. She started having panic attacks almost immediately, and they haven't let up, so she feels desperately convinced she'll never have friends, and she's hiding them from her parents so as not to disappoint them.

But then she meets the strange proprietor of the town's junk shop, The Fifth Point.  The shopkeeper gives her a most unusual telescope, and sets her on a quest--

Find the Elements.
Grow the Light.
Save the Starling.

That night Alma uses the telescope, and finds that when she looks through it she can see "quintessence," the mystical force of life in all things, that makes them most truly what they are.  And through the telescope she sees a star falling from the sky, into her backyard.  The falling star looks childlike, and runs into the woods, trailing quintessence behind it.  Alma knows this is the Starling she must save, but what on earth is she to do?

A nudge along the way comes when she sees a flyer for an Astronomy club at school.  There she meets the first two of the unlikely friends she'll need to find the elements, studious, geeky Hugo and brightly popular Shirin.  With Hugo's keen mind, and the help of the quintessence, the threesome set out to find the four elements (earth, air, water, and fire) in their true form.  Their nights are spent on this strange and magical scavenger hunt, and with their growing friendship Alma gradually feels her own true self, full of light and hope, returning...but a fourth member of the team is needed, and he is the most likely of all--the boy at school who triggered her first panic attack.

But Alma doesn't give up, and all the pieces fall beautifully into place, and the Starling (and Alma) are saved.

(Nb--this isn't magical healing of Alma's panic attacks; the story ends with her finding help from a therapist.  But the quest does restore to her the sense of "Alma-ness" that she had been loosing, makes her parents more aware of her struggles, and gives her good friends and a personal connection to the geography of her new home town, something important to her!)

When I read the blurb of this one for the first time, my mind defaulted to starling, the bird.  And I thought it seemed odd.  What I'd read about the book before trying it myself also downplayed the fantasy elements.  My expectations, with Starling being the young star and there being lots of magic, were exceeded.  The lovely balance maintained between Alma's internal challenges and the quest set before her (I tend to like magic involving the elements), made this a lovely read for me!  I think young readers who devour fantasy quests will find another magic to keep them happy, and will find the problems Alma faces in the real world, and the friendship story that's central to the plot, will be both relatable, and add interest and depth.  It's a number of balls in the air, but Redman does a fine job keeping them there!

Final thought--I feel that these days there aren't a lot of magical quests (by which I mean stories with wildly fantastical goals external to the protagonist)  set firmly in the real world with ordinary kid protagonists, and so this felt like a nice change!

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)

5/12/20

The Disappearing Bike Shop, by Elivira Woodruff, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's timeslip book, The Disappearing Bike Shop, by Elivira Woodruff is one from 1992 (Holiday House), which feels vintage, even though I was a grown-up by then....

Two fifth-graders, best friends Freckles (this nickname is perhaps the most vintage thing about it) and Tyler, are amazed to discover a bike shop that's popped up in a dilapidated part of their town, just when Tyler needs his bike mended.  It is a strange place, with decidedly unmodern bicycles, and the proprietor is a strange old man indeed.   Tyler leaves his bike there to be fixed, but with misgivings...and though the two friends are apprehensive about revisiting the place, they must go back to get it...

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the proprietor is none other than Leonardo de Vinci, who's invented a mechanism for time travel.  Tyler is coincidently doing a report on de Vinci for school, paired with the class bully, and he makes the connection between the proprietor and de Vinci as his research, and the boys visits to the shop, unfold.

As a result of the project, the bully becomes a friend, which is nice for all three boys.  Much is learned about de Vinci, and the kids (with Freckle's hamster) even travel back in time briefly to renaissance Florence (where the hamster is in grave danger!).

It's a pleasant enough story, with realistic kids, and the gradually connection of the dots is not without interest.  The tense relationship with the bully, and Tyler's family backstory, add a smidge of emotional heft, but basically the central premise is the whole of it.  It's a nice introduction to de Vinci, and may leave some kids eager to learn more about him, and I enjoyed reading it, though not so much that I feel it's a must read for time travel fans, possibly because I can't think of anything else to say about it, possibly because someone traveling to our present isn't as inherently interesting as immersive travel back to the past.   But young readers might well enjoy it more, because of expecting less.

The year before this was published, Woodruff's, George Washington's Socks (my review) came out, which was that type of book, and I think it has more appeal for young readers.  Its sequel, George Washington's Spy, came out much more recently, in 2010, and I am reminded that I liked the first well enough to want to get ahold of it.


5/10/20

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantsy from around the blogs (5/10/20)

Here's this week's round-up of the mg sci fi/fantsy posts I found this week!  (This being Mother's Day in the US, it would have been nice to have one on the list with a great mother, but there isn't, as far as I know, though I haven't read them all).  Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Ballad of Sir Dinadan, by Gerald Morris, at Leaf's Reviews

Coo, by Kaela Noel, at Book Nut

Elsetime, by Eve McDonnell, at Book Craic

Forever Glimmer Creek, by Stacy Hackney, at BooksYALove

A Game of Fox & Squirrels, by Jenn Reese, at Waking Brain Cells

Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, at Book Craic

The Green Door, by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, at Charlotte's Library

Guest: A Changeling Tale, by Mary Downing Hahn, at Say What?

The Library of Ever (The Library of Ever #1), by Zeno Alexander, at Rajiv's Reviews

Lintang and the Pirate Queen, by Tamara Moss, at Charlotte's Library

Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Redeemed Reader

The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel, by Natasha Lowe, at Leaf's Reviews

Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher, at Fantasy Literature

A Posse of Princesses, by Sherwood Smith, at Rachel Neumeier

Rebel in the Library of Ever (The Library of Ever #2), by Zeno Alexander, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Revenge of the Invisible Giant (Dundoodle Mysteries #3), by David O'Connell, at Twirling Book Princess

Rise of the Shadow Dragons, by Liz Flanagan, at ReadItDaddy

The Stitchers (Fright Watch #1), by Lorien Lawrence, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Storm Runner, by J.C. Cervantes, at Puss Reboots

Thieves of Weirdwood  (A William Shivering Tale), by Christian McKay Heidicker, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

What We Found in the Corn Maze and How It Saved a Dragon, by Henry Clark, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Authors and Interviews

Christina Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark), at Middle Grade Book Village

Liz Flannagan (Rise of the Shadow Dragons) at Library Girl and Book Boy

Erin Bowman  (The Girl and the Witch's Garden) at Literary Rambles

Sunayna Prasad (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions, Book 2), at Rosco's Reading Room

Spooky Middle Grade Authors Talk About Writing During the Pandemic, at Spooky MG

Other Good Stuff

New in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

It you love fairy tales, you must visit Seven Miles of Steel Thistles!  This week's story--Fundevogel

"Howl-ever It Moves You: Diana Wynne Jones and Hayao Miyazaki Do the Same Work With Different Stories" at Tor

5/7/20

Lintang and the Pirate Queen, by Tamara Moss

Lintang and the Pirate Queen, by Tamara Moss (published in the US by Clarion October 2019, originally Random House Australia, 2017), is a fun middle grade fantasy that made a nice change from social distancing, which is something that is impossible on a ship headed out to hunt monsters!

Lintang in many ways is the archetypal mg heroine--the feisty sort who rejects domesticity and gets into trouble as a result.  She longs for adventures in the world outside her island home, dreaming of becoming a slayer of predatory mythies (magical creatures ranging from small annoyances to huge terrors),  just like her idol, Captain Shafira, the so-called "Pirate Queen."  When Shafira actually comes to visit her island (a south Asian-like place), Lintang sees the chance to make her dreams come true--an islander is needed to ensure safe passage from a monstrous mythie who prowls the ocean off the island.

Shafira's crew is an unusual collection of women, and one trans boy; the only thing they have in common is their loyalty to their captain.  But obedience isn't Lintang's strong point.  When she finds that her best friend, a boy named Bayani, has smuggled himself on board in a desperate attempt to reach the empire that controls much of the known world, she keeps him secret, even though he won't explain himself to her.  Shafira is forced to punish Lintang when Bayani is discovered, but when she disobeys again, she finds herself put ashore in the empire along with Bayani.  Shafira supports Bayani's mission once she finds out what it is, but can't risk herself to help him (there's a price on her head).  There in the empire Lintang faces an almost impossibly test of her loyalty to the pirate queen, and passes it.

But that, though it's exciting, isn't the high point of the story. The two kids, back on board, must face an even more dangerous adventure...one that changes Lintang's understanding of the mythies forever...

So on the surface this a story of monster hunting and adventure, and there's plenty of that sort of fun.  But at its heart this is a story of Lintang's growth, and the internal struggles that entails.  She's not really likeable, but she's interesting, and Bayani, the kind, level-headed member of their duo, is a good counter-weight.

The story is also given depth by the geo-political framework of an empire looking to expand, withholding life saving medicine from non-absorbed lands.  And the truth about the mythies is a bombshell both for the characters who've grown up thinking of them primarily as dangerous, or at best annoying, monsters (pages from the Mythie Guidebook interspersed with the story add pleasant interest).

In short, though it's a rollicking adventure that will please any young reader who longs to explore the wide wild world outside their home, it's also a story of friendship, and learning how to choose to be the person you want to be.  I myself not wild about pirates and sea voyages and monster hunting, and wild, disobedient girls having adventures, but even so I enjoyed this plenty.

nb: in a rather nice touch, the transgender boy's gender identity is so real that he, like any other boy, is in danger from the lure of the siren mythies. There aren't many trans characters in middle grade fantasy so it's good to have him included in a matter-of-fact, this is who this person is and it is not remarkable, sort of way.

5/5/20

The Green Door, by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

The Green Door, by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1910), is, as far as I know, the first American time travel story for children.  At this point, Nesbit had published her wild and wonderful time travel books (like The Story of the Amulet), but the genre was still in its infancy.  The Green Door is nowhere near as fantastical as Nesbit's books; it's  a very early 20th century American sort of book, written when "colonial times" were romanticized and respected, and as such it's a product of its time (there are savage "injuns"), but it's a solid story that's not without charm.

Letitia Hopkins lives in the old family home with her Great-Aunt.  She's not a very appealing child; rather entitled and lazy; she has lots of books, for instance, but prefers daydreaming of wealth and possessions to reading.  In her aunt's house there's a little green door, that's always locked.  It's a strange door, set in an outside wall, but with no sign of it on the outside.  Her Aunt refused to answer any questions about it--"It is not best for you to know" she says, which naturally makes Letitia even more curious.  Then one day when Letitia is left alone, she rummages through her aunt's things, and finds the key.

The door opens, and Letitia finds herself in a cold night-time woods.  "And suddenly Letitia heard again those strange sounds she had heard before coming out, and she knew that they were savage whoops of Indians, just as she had read about them in her history-book, and she saw also dark forms skulking about behind the trees, as she had read." She's rescued by an early colonial family, who take her in to their log house.

To her amazement, she's not the only Letitia Hopkins; the mother and the oldest girl are named that too, and she realizes that these are her ancestors.  There's no sign of the door at first, and she resigns herself to colonial, Puritan life, eating food she doesn't like, learning domestic tasks she's never had any patience for back home, and going to boring Puritan church.  When she does find the green door back in the past, she's scared to go through it again, lest she find herself somewhere worse. Then she meets a boy with a story similar to her own, who she remembers actually meeting in her own time.  He came into the past through a book, and like her, he's afraid to go through again...

But Letitia finally screws her courage up to go through, and finds herself home again, with no time having passed.  She's been improved by her visit to the past, and is a much better child.  The boy makes it back safely too.

It's very short, and I really am not fond of the cliché of savage Indians, but it's full of lovely details of the past that are brought vividly to life.  The door itself is a lovely portal, beautifully described.  I liked it well enough so that I'll keep Freeman's name in mind for future library book sales; I read this online through google books, and wouldn't mind at all having a copy of my own for my time travel collection.  She was very well known during her lifetime, and was the first recipient of the William Dean Howells Medal for Distinction in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1926.



5/3/20

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (5/3/20)

Welcome to this week's round-up of what I found around the internet; please let me know if I missed your post (bloglovin, where I do most of my searching, was very glitchy today, so I probably missed lots....)

The Reviews

Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes, by Roshani Chokshi, at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows, by Ryan Calejo, at A Garden of Books

Crater Lake, by Jennifer Killik, at Twirling Book Princess

Fire in the Star, by Kamilla Benko, at Geo Librarian

Ghost Squad, by Claribel A. Ortega, at The Caffinated Reader

The House of Dead Maids, by Clare B. Dunkle, at Twirling Book Princess

Jinxed, by Amy McCulloch, at Charlotte's Library

Lightning Girl! by Alesha Dixon & Katy Birchall, at BooksYALove

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine, at Elizabeth Van Tassel

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor, at Log Cabin Library

The Music the Stars Sang by T.L. Cervantes, at Book Bustle

Peregrine Harker and the Black Death by Luke Hollands, at Say What?

Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, at Leaf's Reviews

Rebel in the Library of Ever, by Zeno Alexander, at Jazzy Book Reviews

Seed Savers: Lily (Book 2) by Sandra Smith, at Children's Books Heal

The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin, at Tor

The Vanishing Trick, byJenni Spangler, illustrated by Chris Mould, at Book Craic and bookloverjo

The Way Past Winter, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, at Fantasy Literature


Authors and Interviews

Zeno Alexander (Rebel in the Library of Ever) at The Winged Pen

Claribel Ortega (Ghost Squad) at Diverse Book Corner

Carlie Sorosiak (I Cosmo) at Middle Grade Ninja podcast


Other Good Stuff

If you missed Everywhere Book Fest when it was live, you can still catch up! Lots of great MG sff authors.

New in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

I loved this look at magical realism in YA at Tor. "The important part is not to use the term lightly. There is a historical weight that comes with it, representing cultures and people. More than that, it stands for a fire born from years of questioning the reality of oppression. Labeling a book “magical realism” demands to take into consideration the historical context and those that paved the way for this outlet to speak up, speak loudly, and speak proudly."  I've often been bothered by people using the term for any middle grade book with magic set in the real world, so I was nodding my head off.

5/1/20

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World, by Todd Hasak-Lowy

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World, by Todd Hasak-Lowy (April 2020, Abrams Books for Young Readers), is a great read for teens interested in political activism, or even adults who need catching up on the 20th century (a lot of which wasn't covered in history class when we were kids, because of being current events...).

It presents 30-40 pages discussions of various key non-violent movements, centered on their leaders: Gandhi and Indian Independence, Alice Paul and votes for women, Martin Luther King Jr. and Project C, Cesar Chaves and the Farmworkers Movement, and Vaclav Havel and the Velvet Revolution, and finally a look at Greta Thunberg's climate activism.

The language is clear and concise, making the history accessible reading.  There's lots and lots of detail, making particular incidents come to life vividly,  but no so much that the overall points are lost.  For those not familiar with these particular movements, it's eye-opening, and even those who have a cursory familiarity will learn lots (raises hand).  It was also interesting to ask my mother about her first-hand recollections of some of the movements discussed (she did not buy grapes during the Farmworkers strike, which was a relief),  and if this book were to be used in a classroom, interviewing older family members would be a really neat activity!

My own kids learned most of their political history from the internet, but books like this are, I think, a better place to start, being more trustworthy. (I tend to trust academics, like Todd Hasak-Lowry, more than I do miscellaneous content creators on-line).

I don't think I myself am qualified to actually critique this book (I'm not expert enough to question conclusions or note gaps), but I learned lots, and found it a gripping and fast read (the short intense bursts of information on each movement were not at all a slog!).  If I were teach a high-school class that included 20th century history, I'd make this required reading!  And I hope that these stories of individual action leading to big changes will inspire the next generation of impassioned young leaders!

disclaimer: review copy received from its publicist.

4/30/20

Jinxed, by Amy McCulloch

I'm working my way through all the library books I had checked out before they closed (there were a lot of them; when I feel despondent at work I place library holds, and I guess I felt despondent a lot in March...).  In any event, this week I reached Jinxed, by Amy McCulloch (middle grade, Sourcebooks, Jan 2020 in the US), and what a very nice read it was!

Lacey Chu dreams of one day working for MONCHA, the premier tech company in North America that became rich and famous after its founder, Monica Chan, invented "baku," customizable robotic pets that are both smart phones etc. and companions (like Philip Pullman's daemons, but internet connected and needing to be charged).

Lacey thinks she'll be accepted to Profectus, the feeder academy for MONCHA.  She has the grades, and she's a whizz at repairing baku; she's made her apartment's basement storage space into her own workshop.  But she's rejected.  Instead of being launched into a career as a companioneer, designing the next generation of baku with a high level companion of her own, she has to make do with a basic level insect baku, and ordinary school.

Just when she's most miserable, she finds the remains of a baku in a muddy gully. It's recognizable cat-shaped, but mangled horribly.  All summer she works to fix it, marveling while she works at the sophistication of its design, which is like nothing she's ever seen, and she succeeds in restoring it to functionality.

 Right after it wakes up, she gets an acceptance letter to Profectus, and it seems like her dreams will come true. Jinx, as she calls him, is no ordinary baku.  He has a mind of his own, far from the complacent and unquestioning co-operation of ordinary companions.  And though Jinx opens doors to her, such as landing her a place in the competitive club of elite baku dueling at school, he also lands her into a world of trouble.

Jinx isn't supposed to exist, and there are powerful people who want to make sure he doesn't.

But he is real, and alive, and Lacey loves him...and she'll do anything to save him.

So for starters, this is a story about girls (not just Lacey) with mad tech skills.  Lacey's a maker constantly scavenging for materials to tinker with (money is tight in her home, so she has to find rather than buy what she needs),  and other girls are coders, and electronics whizzes (and founders of tech companies!).  It's also a friendship story, with one plot point being Lacey struggling to be a good friend to her bestie from her old school.  There's a bit of upper middle school romance, and considerable competition at school (Lacey must prove she has what it takes to be worthy of Profectus, and there's a nasty rich boy who hates her and wants to drive her out).  The school's baku battles are like mini-Hunger Games arena tournaments, adding excitement to the unfolding of the larger plot, and giving Lacey a chance to prove her tech credibility.  And on top of all this, there's also the mystery of Jinx--what is he?  And what does he have to do with troubling goings-on at MONCHA?

And as the final sci--fi icing on the cake, there's the question of whether an independent, intelligent, self-aware construct, which Jinx is, has the right to be autonomous.

The only part of all this that didn't work for me was the romance--the older, rich, good-looking boy in question reciprocated her interest too quickly and too easily for me to swallow it, but the target audience, not being as jaded as me, probably won't mind this at all.

It's a really fun read, especially if you like girls focused on their particular interest, and doing it brilliantly!  (if you like cats, you'll love it even more).  The sequel, Unleashed, came out in the UK last August, and I hope it gets here soon!


4/26/20

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (4/26/20)


A rather light round-up this week; I know that I myself am having trouble reading and writing reviews because of all the things...it's hard not to just fall back on old comfort reads.  Stay safe, everyone!

The Reviews

A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, at Vox

Ghost Squad, by Claribel A. Ortega, at Puss Reboots, A Dance With Books, and Log Cabin Library

Mulan: Before the Sword, by Grace Lin, at Charlotte's Library

Orla and the Serpent's Curse, by C.J. Haslam, at A little but a lot

Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan, at Jill's Book Blog

Small Spaces, by Katherine Arden, at Reading Between the Dunes

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, by L.O. Lapinski, at Book Craic

Story Thieves, by James Riley, at Say What?

The Wild Way Home, by Sophie Kirtley, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Witches of Willow Cove, by Josh Roberts, at The Comfy Reader

Authors and Interviews

Lorial Ryon, and agent Kristy Hunter (Into the Tall, Tall Grass), at Literary Rambles

Gracie Dix (Welcome to Superhero School) at MG Book Village

4/24/20

Mulan: Before the Sword, by Grace Lin

Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a beloved classic, a story of a brave girl on a heroic quest that's sign-posted by stories.  Mulan: Before the Sword, her newest middle grade novel (Disney-Hyperion Februaru 2020), is another adventure in China of long ago, with another brave girl, on an adventure full of mythology and story and magical danger that is just as enchanting!

Mulan, clumsy and awkward, knows she's not a model daughter, like her sister Xia. But this hasn't made them any less fond of each other.  And so when Xia is bitten by a venomous spider, Mulan is willing to do whatever it takes to save her.  The Jade Rabbit of the Moon, the great healer of the immortals, just so happens to be in the nearby village in the guise of a man*, but the spider's poison is so strong that even he cannot save Xia without certain ingredients, including a flower that grows in the garden of the Queen Mother of the West.  But before the Rabbit can make the journey, two foxes (one white and one red) attack him, and he is poisoned by their bites, and cannot travel in his usual celestial way.  Mulan has a beautiful black horse, though, and volunteers to ride to the Queen Mother's garden with him.

And so they set off, but the white fox is no ordinary creature.  The reader learns about her twisted past and twisted schemes in the present both from the stories Rabbit tells as they travel, and through chapters from the perspective of the red fox, who is the white fox's unwilling servant.  The white fox, for reasons rooted in her dark past, wants Mulan's sister to die, and throws magical obstacles and dangers in the way of Mulan and the Rabbit.

Though in many ways it's a harrowing journey, and the White Fox is a conniving and sadistic journey, when I reached the end and considered it as a whole, it seemed to me a joyful book.  All the characters from the side stories are slotted into place, her sister is saved, the grown-up characters (Rabbit and another helpful divinity) are both supportive in a really nice way, and Mulan realizes that she has a great purpose in life.  I was a tad worried about this being a Disney tie-in, but Grace Lin has done a wonderful job making a new and heart-warming story.

Highly recommended!  I even enjoyed it more than the Mountain Meets the Moon books, although I did miss the beautiful illustrations in those books.

*because Mulan meets the Rabbit as a man, she genders them as "he", though they also can appear as as a woman; Rabbit does not object to this, and so I will also use "he/him."

4/19/20

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (4/19/20)

Welcome to this week's collection of mg sci fi/fantasy from my blog reading! I've put stars next to the new releases in the US to remind you all to think about buying them because I feel so darn bad for their authors.  Please let me know if I missed any that should be starred, or if I missed your post so I can quickly add it!

The Reviews

The Billy Goat Curse, by Amber Lee Dodd, at Book Murmuration

Brittle's Academy for the Magically Unstable, by Lily Mae Walters, at Jazzy Book Reviews

Cog, by Greg van Eekhout, at proseandkahn and Falling Letters

Cursed (Fairy Tale Reform School #6) by Jen Calonita, at Sharon the Librarian

*Beast: Face-to- Face with the Florida Bigfoot, by Watt Key, at Ms. Yingling Reads

*A Game of Fox and Squirrels, by Jenn Reese, at alibarymama

*Ghost Squad, by Claribel A. Ortega, at alibrarymama

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Bridget and the Books

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Looped On Life

Lalani of the Distant Sea, by Erin Entrada Kelly, at Falling Letters and Randomly Reading

*Misadventures of a Magician's Son, by Laurie Smollett Kutscera, at Always in the Middle

*Nevertell, by Katharine Orton, at Charlotte's Library

Ollie Oxley and the Ghost: The Search for Lost Gold, by Lisa Schmid, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norman Juster, at The Children's Book Review

Riverland, by Fran Wilde, at Fantasy Literature

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at A Backwards Story

*The Wolf of Cape Fen, by Juliana Brandt, at Charlotte's Library

The Words of the Wandering (Crowns of Croswald #3), by D.E. Night, at The Children's Book Review

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--*Bloom, by Kenneth Oppel, and *Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes, by Roshani Chokshi

Three at Alittlebutalot--The House of Hidden Wonders, by Sharon Gosling, The Wild Way Home, by Sophie Kirtley, and Sky Pirates: Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond, by Alex English

Authors and Interviews

Jess Redman (*Quintessence) at Nerdy Book Club

Deva Fagan (*Rival Magic) with giveaway at YA Books Central

Other Good Stuff

"Middle Grade Horror: What Makes It...It" at The Midnight Society

August might or might not be coming quickly, and that's when the call for judges will go!  If your interested, now's the time to start reading the genre of your choice (perhaps Elementary/middle grade speculative fiction?)!  Join the Cybils Awards TBR Reading Reading Challenge to share the great books you find along the way (runs from 4/15/2020 to 6/15/2020).

I like to compare covers from the UK with the US covers, so thought it would be fun to add this here.  Which Nevertell cover appeals more to you? (I'd buy both myself, but I think the one on the right is more unique and compelling....

 

4/18/20

Nevertell, by Katharine Orton


Nevertell, by Katharine Orton (Walker Books US, April 14, 2020), is a rare example of middle grade historical fantasy, something I'm surprised there's not more of (I wish there were more of it!).  It's a magical, chilly read about a brave girl finding her magic and confronting evil.

"Never tell children about things they cannot see." This was one of the unbreakable rules in the Stalinist Soviet Union, and Lina's grandfather broke it. That, and speaking against the government, got him and his daughter sent to a labor camp in the pitiless wilds of Siberia, and it was there that Lina was born.

The camp is the only world she's ever known. Her life there is better than that of the other prisoners; she works in the greenhouse instead of in the mines, she has a friend, Bogdan, a boy near her own age, and her mother's skill at card games has won small favors that have helped, a little, make it bearable. But when there's a chance for Lina to escape, she must take it, though it means leaving her mother behind.

Bogdan inserts himself into the escape as well, and though the two tough men who have masterminded it don't want him, he can't be sent back to betray them. They don't actually want Lina along either; her mother had promised that if they brought her to her grandmother's house in Moscow, they'd be rewarded, but in the snowy wilderness outside the camp, the unlikely promise of the reward is of less value than her a share of the meager provisions. Lina and Bogdan barely manage to escape being murdered.

In the freezing night, a new danger comes--shadow wolves are out hunting. The men are attacked, but somehow the wolves are unable to harm the two children. This in turn draws the attention of the wolves' mistress, the terrifying sorceress Svetlana, who hates all humans with an unreasonable passion. Lina and Bogdan must now escape from her before they join her ranks of shadow slaves, and must find their own way to Moscow, an impossible journey they have no choice but to take.

With a little shadow girl who's escaped the witch's clutches to join them, they set out through the snow...and Lina's growing sense of her own magic, and some very good luck, keeps them alive. But Svetlana is still hunting them, Lina's mother is still imprisoned, and they are miles and miles away from Moscow....

It's a gripping journey. Lina, brave and scared and confused, and realizing she has powers of her own, is a great character, but I personally liked Bogdan, mapmaker and loyal comrade, even more. The best part, though, in my mind was the way the real-world horrors of Stalin's iron rule make a satisfying counterpoint to the magical danger of Svetlana. Both are constant dangers. There's enough about life in the Stalinist Soviet Union (though not much history of events) to make this a great one to accompany more formal education, something I wholeheartedly recommend; my own sense of the past owes almost as much to reading historical fiction like this as it does to classroom time! (There's a teacher's guide available).

Unlike Stalinism, Svetlana turns out to be more than just an evil antagonist. I wasn't satisfied by her character development, which was more than a bit abrupt, and this diminished my personal enjoyment of the book. But in middle grade fiction, I'm amenable to sacrificing some nuance if it means a more exciting story, as is the case here. Incidentally, we don't learn the specifics of Svetlana's origins; she not native to the human world, and came to Siberia from warmer lands, so though there are echos of Russian folktales like Baba Yaga, I was content to think of her as some sort of djinn.

In any event, I don't think the lack of time spent filing in all the blanks is something kids will be bothered by. They'll be too engrossed in the whirlwind of adventures both magical and more mundane!


This is Katharine Orton's debut novel, and I look forward to reading what she writes next!

The UK cover is at the right; it is also lovely, but in this case I think I am more drawn to the US version, which I think does a better job of linking the fantasy side of things to the real world. Which do you like better?)




disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher



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