Harlem Renaissance Party, by Faith Ringold, for Timeslip Tuesday

Harlem Renaissance Party, by Faith Ringold (Amistad, January 2015), is a somewhat didactic time travel book--a magic airplane (at least one assumes its magic) transports a young boy, Lonnie, and his uncle back in time to celebrate the Harlem Renaissance.  The book basically introduces Lonnie to all the great writers, artists, and musicians, and then he goes home again.  So not much actually happens that has story to it; there's no narrative tension--it's basically just the meetings and greetings and listing of accomplishments.  In short, a celebration more than an adventure....time travel as learning opportunity for character and reader.

I happen to know, because I read Faith Ringold's earlier book, Bonjour Lonnie, that Lonnie's grandfather was black.  But it might be confusing to readers who don't know for sure that Lonnie is multiracial to see his red hair and pale skin, although his uncle is clearly black, so one can assume even before Lonnie confirms it that he identifies as African American.  I think it's rather useful, though, to show that identity can't always be assumed from appearance, something that doesn't come up much in picture books....
Faith Ringold's art just doesn't work all that well for me, but that's a matter of personal taste (Lonnie on the cover doesn't look happy at all, for instance, which I feel he should!).  If you want a celebratory introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, this might work well for you (back matter provides more information about the great people Lonnie meets); if you want time travel where the time travel is nuanced and complicated (which picture books are capable of), not so much.


Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older (Scholastic, June 30th, 2015), is a gripping new YA fantasy that just goes to show that there's a lot more magic out there than is found in medieval Celtic inspired otherworlds.  The heroine, Sierra Santiago, is a Puerto Rican teen living in Brooklyn, who finds that her family are Shadowshapers, able to infuse two-dimensional art with the spirits of the dead.  She does not find this out in a pleasant, "oh gee I've got magic!" sort of way; instead, she finds it out when people she's known all her life start dying, and malevolent shadow creatures come for her.

With the help of a young Haitian artist, Robbie, himself a Shadowshaper, Sierra sets out to find the killer (a white anthropologist, which added all sorts of interest to me, since that's my own academic training) who's warping the magic of shadowshaping for his own ends (driven mad by anthropological lusts, and the feeling that a white anthropologist knows more than the non-white informants!).  But will she be able to untangle the secrets her families kept from her, and learn to use her power, in time?  Fortunately, Sierra has really good friends, as well as Robbie, on her side, friends who are willing to believe the wild stories she has to tell.   And fortunately she's a fast learner....

So I would say that I am not particularly drawn to "urban fantasy" mainly because I find urban settings kind of gritty and unappealing, in real life and in fiction.  But Sierra's Brooklyn is not defined by grit.  Instead it is a place of memories and meaningful connections; it is Sierra's Place.   And I do like a strong sense of place and belonging, so the urban-ness of Brooklyn didn't impinge on my enjoyment.

And likewise, though Sierra, an African-American-Puerto Rican urban teen, doesn't overtly mirror my own life experience, she is Real enough to simply enjoy spending time with, and her concerns about family and her feelings toward Robbie and her self reflection (happily self reflection that's primarily positive, rather than body image critical) are eminently relatable.  The dialogue is fast paced and full of non-standard English, making things simultaneously realistic sounding (to me, for what that's worth) or unfamiliar (I think age as much as anything is a big contributor to the unfamiliar factor for me). 

But I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it's not a book I read thinking "oh wow this a mirror into lives not at all like my own teenage years" and more a book I read thinking "oh wow it is fun to read a fantasy that goes in directions that aren't along well-oiled tracks."  At the risk of sounding banal, I can, with confidence, say that Shadowshaper struck me as "fresh," "vibrant," and "gripping."
Academic me also was very interested in the villainous anthropologist; the tension of the neo-colonialist outsider appropriating indigenous culture is very real in the real world, and it is was interesting as all get out to see it driving a fantasy story!

Yet that being said, it is Sierra's experience as the person she is that stays with me most clearly, because she is so very real!  And her friends are very real.  And I want to see if what she and Robbie have growing between them turns into more, and what happens with their art, and their lives shaping shadows....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This Week's Round-Up of Middle Grade Sci Fi and Fantasy from around the blogs (7/26/15)

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

The Reviews

The  Abominables, by Eva Ibbotson, at books4yourkids

The Astounding Broccoli Boy, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at SLJ

At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald, at Becky's Book Reviews

Betrayal (Crystal Keeper, 2) by Laurisa White Reyes, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at proseandkahn

Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia Wrede, at The Book Smugglers

Deep Water, by Lu Hersey, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Children, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Jean Little Library and Read Till Dawn

The Dragonfly Effect, by Gordan Korman, at Read Till Dawn

Five Children on the Western Front, by Kate Saunders, at The Children's War

Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at Paper Cuts

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at On Starships and Dragonwings

The Golden Specific, by S.E. Grove, at Book Nut

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Leaf's Reviews

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins, at The O.W.L.

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at Carstairs Considers

House of Robots, by James Patterson, at Mister K Reads

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at YA Book Shelf

The Maloney's Magical Weather Box, by Nigel Quinlan, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Masterminds, by Gordan Korman, at This Kid Reviews Books

A Nearer Moon, by Melanie Crowder, at SLJ

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Beyond the Bookshelf

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at Sonderbooks and Cover2CoverBlog

Nightborn, by Lou Anders, at The Arched Doorway

Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, by Geoffrey McSkimming, at Charlotte's Library

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire, at Charlotte's Library

Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Authors and Interviews

Will Mabbitt (The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones), at The Children's Book Review

Soman Chainani (The Last Ever After) at Lili's Reflections, Seeing Double in NeverlandWonderland Novels, The Cover Contessa, and Reading Teen

Other Good Stuff

At The Horn Book, Monica of Educating Alice looks at the Morgan Library's exhibit Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland.

Some suggestions for fans of the Ever After series at Pages Unbound, and some suggestions for underappreciated middle grade fantasy series at From Kirsten's Brain

A Tuesday Ten of Cinderellas at Views from the Tesseract

If you need another good reason to come to Kidlitcon this October, the lovely folks at Papercutz are giving two most enticing looking graphic novels to every attendee! Scarlett #1: A Star on the Run
by Jon Buller and Susan Schade, and The Red Shoes and Other Tales, by Metaphrog!  Just a reminder, the early registration rate ends August 15!  And it is not to late to submit a session proposal (Aug. 1 is the deadline for that).  So if you have a burning desire to talk about something, do let us know!

And finally, in as much as August is just around the corner, it is time to start thinking about applying to be a panelist for the Cybils AwardsHere's a post I wrote a while back explaining what's involved.



Valiant, by Sarah McGuire

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire (Egmont USA, April, 2015), is a pleasing fairy tale retelling (of The Brave Little Tailor) for older middle grade readers who just venturing YA-ward (which is to day, ages 11-14).

Saville is the daughter of an extremely skillful tailor, but no matter how hard she has tried to be good, and no matter how straight her seems are sewn, he loves his silks and find cloths more than he cares for her.   He is determined to become tailor to the king, but is laid low with a stroke just as he and Saville are about to arrive at the capitol city.   With no other obvious way to look after him and herself, Saville disguises herself as a boy, and assumes the identity of his assistant.  She succeeds in winning the king's approval, and is able to support her father, and a young orphaned boy, Will, who she cares for deeply. 

But the kingdom is under threat from giants, reputed to be devourers of human flesh.  To save Will, who has been captured by two giant scouts, Saville leaves the safety of the city to confront them herself.  And by trickery, straight from the classic fairytale, she convinces them of her strength (squeezing water from a stone, that is actually cheese, and throwing a stone that is actually a bird higher in the air than even a giant could) and makes it back to the city with Will.   But to her dismay, she is now hailed as the kingdom's champion, and her identity as a girl is unmasked to the king and his court.   And the giants are just as much as threat as ever, especially when it is revealed that their leader is a deathless, villainous character of legend....

In the meantime, Saville finds herself falling in love with the king's cousin, Lord Verras, working with him to try to keep the kingdom from falling to the giants and their evil duke.   In the end, it is not any feat of strength that saves the day, but Saville's intelligence and ability to conceive of the giants not as monsters, but as people. 

It is not the fastest read ever, especially the first half or so; I found myself able to put it down without pain, but I kept coming back to it.  I liked Saville very much--she is a very decent, thoughtful person, motivated by love, and although some readers might be disappointed that her romance with Lord Verras does not burn as brightly (and take over the story) as much as the romances do in many YA books, I found it satisfying (although I find myself wondering how things will work out long term, because of the class difference--her a tailor's daughter, him a lord; I can imagine this causing tension down the line....), and likewise, some might be disappointed that Saville doesn't actually DO much beyond figuring things out, but since I enjoy ancient stories holding the solution to problems more than I enjoy people whacking each other with swords, this was fine with me.  McGuire does a nice job twisting the original tale with added nuance and emotional heft.

In short, a pleasant one for fans of fairytales; I'd offer this one to those who enjoy Jessica Day George's books about the 12 Dancing Princesses in particular.   Here's the Kirkus review, which pretty much matches my own opinion.


Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, by Geoffrey McSkimming, for Timeslip Tuesday

Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, by Geoffrey McSkimming (middle grade, Allen & Unwin, May 2015), is this week's Timeslip Tuesday book, and after being somewhat spotty with having time travel books ready for Tuesdays, I'm happy to have gotten this one read and written about!

Phyllis Wong takes conjuring very seriously; she is the great granddaughter of a famous magician, who vanished mysteriously at the height of his fame, leaving her a legacy of magical accoutrements in the basement, and she has cultivated her own impressive talents assiduously.  (Me--I like this about Phyllis very much; I am always happy to read about people practicing their crafts!)  When her great grandfather unexpectedly returns, looking no older than the day he vanished, Phyllis learns there's real magic in the world--her great grandfather has found the secrets of time travel, and now teaches them to her. 

Their first trip to Egypt in 1927 is simply practice, but then Phyllis finds herself drawn into a mystery that will take her back to Shakespeare's London.  Another time traveler plans to steal the original copy of Shakespeare's lost play, The History of Cardenio, and Phyllis is determined to prevent this.  But can she convince the suspicious Bard of her own good intentions, and foil the plot?

Once Phyllis starts travelling back to the 17th century, the book really gets going, and is a fine, fun excursion; it's a pleasure to meet Shakespeare and his players along with Phyllis, and the villain is satisfactorily villainous, and Phyllis, and her little dog, are satisfactorily plucky.  And her stowaway friend Clement, with his twin interests of zombie games and over the top disguises, adds nice comic relief.  However, thing take a while to really get going;  the meeting of Phyllis and her great grandfather and his explanations of time travel are rather less engaging,  and the trip to Egypt added little; some readers might not be hooked enough to keep on till the good part! (I  myself was getting a little doubtful, and so was happy to be pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story once Phyllis sets out to London!).   The set-up for the mystery, involving a suspicions flood of mint condition first folios of  Shakespeare's plays coming on the market, worked for me, but again I'm not sure a young reader would find that particular scenario immediately gripping.

This is the sequel to Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto, which I've not read, but which introduces Phyllis as she finds herself solving a series of baffling robberies.  There's not that much detective work here, but it is solid time travel adventure!  The way the time travel works makes consistent sense, and although the past is the backdrop for the adventure, rather than being itself the point, its described vividly enough to make it an important part of the story.  The third book, Phyllis Wong and the Waking of the Wizard, just now out in Australia,  continues the time travel fun, and I'm looking forward to it!

And I'm happy to have another title for my list of time travel with diverse protagonists!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

If I had a long airplane trip in front of me, or a five hour wait at a dentist's office, or something equally uncomfortable, I would like very much to be having the pleasure of reading Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (Deckle Edge, 2015), for the first time again.  As it was, the suck-in-to-book-world force was so strong that I was able to ignore the crushing heat of my house at lunch time, and even my desire to get up to get a Fla-Vor-Ice (sic) was trumped by my desire to keep reading.....So yes, it's one of my top books of the year.  Technically it's a book for grown-ups, but if I had been told it was published as YA, I would not have questioned it.

The basic story--a bad Wood of Evil threatens the inhabitants of various villages in a valley.  The threat of the Wood is held in check by the power of a magician, known as the Dragon.  Every ten years the Dragon chooses a girl from one of the villages to go live with him (none of them ever report sex being part of the living arrangement...).  Agnieszka is the latest girl to be picked.  She wasn't expecting to be chosen, because of not being particularly beautiful or accomplished...but it turns out she has a gift for magic that made the Dragon kind of have to pick her to teach her.

It does not go as he had planned- her magic and his magic are very different in flavor.  His is the well-crafted, aesthetically handsomely crafted edifices of spellwork, and for her magic comes most easily as homely song and friendly word, feeling and intuition working just as strongly for her as well studied words do for the Dragon. 

Gradually the two of them, so very different, learn to be harmoniously in the world together viz their magic, which is a Good Thing because the Wood is very very very bad and basically wants to send its poision out into the whole world of humanity, and they learn to live harmoniously as people, and (I really liked this aspect of the book) there isn't insta love between the two, but rather sexual desire on the part of Agnieszka totally of her own accord (she initiates things) and with no moping and swooning--and it's not that it's not romantic, but it's a realistic, believable two people strongly phycially attracted to each other relationship.  This makes it rather different from the insta-love of the swoon worthy new boy that has shown up in the last ten YA spec. fic. books I've read.....

And the fight against the wood ends up involving court intrigue and armies and duplicity and scheming (I could have just stayed happily in the Dragon's tower humming spells along with Agnieszka and getting to know the Dragon along with her and sharing flashbacks to her childhood, but I guess the  bad magic out in the wider world of kings and princes and court magicians was important to the story....)

And then there is the final faceoff, and it is somewhat more nuanced than I was expecting with regard to motivation of the bad force behind the Wood.

So in short, I found it immensely readable; my only un-positive thought is that I'm not sure there's enough unsaid or implied or suggested such that re-reading would make it even more to be appreciated (the way, for instance, that one can keep reading Megan Whalen Turner's book and find a new meaning in how a particular gem flashes that give character insights).  It's not tremendously subtle....and  much of the magic is perhaps overly convenient and easily used....so though I enjoyed the first reading very much,  I'm not going to go leaping out to buy my own copy to re-read ad nauseum.


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (7/19/15)

This week I don't have much myself to contribute to this list; houseguests plus preparing to be the Provider of Historical Interest on a kayak tour of a local reservoir (happening in 2 hours, gulp) took most of my time.  Please let me know if I missed your post!
The Reviews

13 Curses, by Michelle Harrison, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at For Those About to Mock

Darkmouth: The Legends Begin, by Shane Hegarty, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Grounded: the Adventures of Rapunzel, by Megan Morrison, at Pages Unbound

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant,  at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge, at Dead Houseplants

Lilliput, by Sam Gayton, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall, at School Library Journal

The Memory Chair, by Susan White, at Finding Wonderland (not actually from this week, but I haven't seen it around elsewhere, so its of interest)

Nightborn, by Lou Anders, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Ranger in Time: Danger in Ancient Rome, by Kate Messner, at The Write Stuff

Rose, by Holly Webb, at Leaf's Reviews

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Fantasy Book Critic

School of Charm, by Lisa Ann Scott, at Always in the Middle

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at YA Book Bridges

Secrets of Selkie Bay, by Shelley Moore Thomas, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia, Nayu's Reading Corner,  Randomly Reading, and Small Review

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex, at Read Till Dawn

The Wish Stealers, by Tracy Trivas, at Read Till Dawn

Authors and Interviews

Robert Beatty (Serafina and the Black Cloak) at Charlotte's Library, Geo Librarian, and The Hiding Spot

Other Good Stuff

At the New York Library, Pooh is currently behind the scenes being repaired, but in the meantime there's an exhibit of original items and some illustrations related to Mary Poppins. (More at Publishers Weekly)

Abi Elphinstone talks about the magic of trees at Middle Grade Strikes Back


Serafina and the Black Cloak blog tour--review, interview, and great giveaway!

Serafina and the Black Cloak (middle grade, Disney-Hyperion, July 14, 2015) is the story of a rather unusual girl who lives at the end of the 19th century in secret with her father in the basement of Biltmore House, built by the Vanderbilt family in Asheville, North Carolina.  Serafina's father is in charge of maintaining the physical plant of the estate, so he's not a secret, but Serafina spends her days tucked away in the basement, only venturing out at night.   She has taken on herself the job of catching the estate's rats, something that she's preternaturally good at, and she's unusual in other ways as well....and more or less content with her life, because she's never known anything different, other than glimpses of the Vanderbilt family and their guests, but she's naturally rather lonely.

Then children start disappearing.  And Serafina sees the horrible spectre of a man in a black cloak, who is taking them away.  Though she finds him frightening, being a reasonable person, she is determined to track him down before more children vanish.  Her hunt leads her to a spooky old cemetery, where there are supposedly fewer bodies than there should be, and it also leads her to answers about just who she herself is.  And it's that story of her own heritage will allow her, with help from the Vanderbilt's orphaned nephew who's become her first friend (and who seems to be the next target),  to defeat the man in the black cloak and strip him of the cloak's powers....

So basically this is a mystery/horror story, where the mystery is solved not by sleuthing but by confrontations with evil, and everything is very tidily resolved.  The horror elements are creepy, but not overpoweringly the stuff of nightmares, partly because each confrontation has a beginning and an end--there's not an all pervasive sense of horror, though the menace is real and constant. Serafina, so very unusual, but so relatable with her loneliness and her questions about just who she is, is a charming heroine.  And the Biltmore estate and the spooky woods around it make a great setting!  (Indecently, though this story is set in a huge old house, the house itself is simply the setting, not a key part of the story in its own right.  So if you are a fan of stories exploring big old houses, you'll get some of that, but not tons and tons).

Try this one on kids who loved the Goosebumps series, who may be ready for a change of pace.  And it's also an obvious one for introspective introverted girls (especially those who like cats!)  wondering what their own lives will turn out to be and hoping to find a good friend like Serafina does.

And now it's my pleasure to welcome Robert Beatty! My questions are in purple.

Did you get to do lots of wandering through the secret places of the Biltmore estate in preparation for the book?

Yes. I studied Biltmore Estate extensively, in person, as I was writing Serafina and the Black Cloak. I went through all the different areas of Biltmore House, including all the various rooms and secret places Serafina sneaks through in the book. I studied all the public areas, but I also delved into the deepest reaches of the basement and sub-basement. It’s very cool down there. I’ve also explored the organ loft and other non-public areas she prowls through. The technical and architectural details I describe in the house actually exist, including the secret doors in the Billiard Room, the pipes of the organ loft, the various furniture items and art works, the drying rack machines where Serafina hides, and the electric dynamo generator that her pa is struggling to fix.

Is the mysterious cemetery based on a real place?

Yes. It’s actually based on two real places. First, it’s based on Riverside Cemetery here in Asheville, which is a beautiful old Southern cemetery that’s said to be haunted. Sometimes they give haunted nighttime tours there. It’s the burial place of the great writers O. Henry and Thomas Wolfe. The winged stone angel depicted in the story is a homage to Thomas Wolfe’s angel statue in “Look Homeward Angel” (which is actually in a different nearby cemetery). Thomas Wolfe is one of Asheville's wonderful literary heroes. The haunted cemetery in the book is also based on a small private cemetery on the grounds of Biltmore Estate. At the end of the video book trailer  we depicted Serafina’s cemetery using a combination of these locations.

Is the story of the black cloak based on a real legend?
The black cloak itself is from my imagination. But there are other elements of the story that are indeed based on the folklore in this area, especially the element related to Serafina’s ancestry (trying to avoid spoilers here). Around here, the state government insists those creatures do not exist here. But many people here believe they do and sometimes see them. There are many older folk who say these mountains were once filled with them. Part of the inspiration for Serafina and the Black Cloak was this idea that even to this day, officials will say one thing, but the people of the mountains will believe another. I think that’s cool. I’ve always been drawn to the lost creatures of our past.

And finally, will we get to read more about Serafina?
Yes, I hope so. There is much more to Serafina’s story. 

I hope so too!

If you are intrigued by Serafina's story, please leave a comment (by midnight next Wednesday, the 22nd) to be entered to win this great prize pack including the book, and notebook, and a pen!


Pure Magic, by Rachel Neumeier

To say that Rachel Neumeier's Black Dog series, of which Pure Magic (out now in paperback!)  is the second novel, is my favorite werewolf series isn't saying much, because I can't think of another werewolf series I like.   But perhaps the fact that I now do have one I like shows that these are really good books, liable to be enjoyed by those that share my taste.  In any event, I read Pure Magic in a sitting that was almost single, except for the bits when guilt drove me to do house and garden chores.

The basic premise is that some people are born Black Dogs, whose dark shadow aspects let them turn into wolves (perhaps more shapeshifterish than werewolfish, because of the moon not being a key ingredient).  There are also some people who are Pure--who have the antithesis of the black shadow, and who can do magic, and who are prized by (the more civilized) Black Dog communities because of their calming, protective energies.  There are also vampires (very bad) who have mostly been destroyed in a brutal war between them and the Black Dogs, and as a result of that war, ordinary people are now aware that Black Dogs exist.

Pure Magic continues the story of  Dimilioc, a good community of Black Dogs, who don't hunt people, and who don't want stray lawless Black Dogs doing so either.   A new person is being brought into this group--Justin, a teenaged boy who is Pure (mostly the Pure are women, so this is odd) who has No Clue whatsoever about what  Black Dogs are until some savage renegades attack him.    He also has no clue what Pure Magic is, and what it can do, and why he should bother, and he does not much like the idea that the master of Dimilioc is pretty determined that he should stay with them.

So he escapes to go back to the southwest where his grandmother is, and Natividad, the Pure girl who was the heroine of book 1, goes with him because she thinks that her Black Dog community needs to face a new threat that's popped up down there, and it will force their hand if she is in danger and the strongest of Dimilioc's Black Dogs will come to her rescue and the enemy will give way easily....

She was right about the danger part.  The defeating the enemy fairly easily part...not so much.

So clearly there's lots of world-building, and it is good, solidly fascinating world-building that (most importantly) serves as a most interesting stage on which the characters can lead character-filled lives while constantly fighting for their lives/ learning magic/getting to know each other (includes very interesting romance!).  Even if, like me, you aren't drawn to werewolves qua werewolves, especially fighting werewolves, do try this series!  If I had a copy of book 3 at hand (it isn't out yet, so I don't) I would have moved right on into it, house and garden be hanged! 

NB:  Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile (a fellow fan of the series) did a much more thorough job summing everything up, so if your interest is at all piqued, visit her post.  And also Maureen's post, at By Singing Light.  (and I feel that when me and Brandy and Maureen and also Chachic all like a book very much, it goes to show something).

Black Dog was published by the sadly short-lived Strange Chemistry imprint of Angry Robot, and Rachel has decided to self-publish the series, interspersing the novel length segments with short-story collections.  My review copy of Pure Magic was sent by the author.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy is up (7/12/15)

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

The Reviews

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Hidden in Pages

Bunnicula, by Deborah and James Howe, at Nerdy Book Club

The Chosen Prince, by Diane Stanley, at Redeemed Reader

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at books4yourkids, Randomly Reading, and Charlotte's Library

The Copper Gauntlet, by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, at Hidden in Pages

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey, by Jane Yolen, at Read Till Dawn

Danger in Ancient Rome, by Kate Messner, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The D'Evil Diaries, by Tatum Flynn, at The Book Zone (For Boys)

Diego's Dragon: Dragons of the Dark, by Kevin Gerard, at Always in the Middle

Fly By Night and Fly Trap, by Frances Hardinge, at alibrarymama

Hook's Revenge, by Heidi Schulz, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Hunt for the Hydra, by Jason Fry, at Fantasy Book Critic

Jack, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Geo Librarian

Octagon Magic, by Andre Norton, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Princes and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, at Views from the Tesseract

Return to Augie Hobble, by Lane Smith, at Mister K Reads

Secrets of Selkie Bay, by Shelley Moore Thomas, at Me On Books

Seraphina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at Falling Letters and Middle Grade Mafioso

Shadows of Sherwood, by Kekla Magoon, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Sidekicked, by John David Anderson, at Pages Unbound

Song for a Scarlet Runner, by Julie Hunt, at Charlotte's Library

Stolen Magic, by Gail Carson Levine, at Kid Lit Geek

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, at Leaf's Reviews

Time Square-UFO, by S.W. Lothian, at Always in the Middle

Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, at Fantasy Literature

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, by Will Mabbitt, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire, at In Bed With Books

Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin, at Becky's Book Reviews

Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi, at Teen Librarian Toolbox (audiobook)

Three at Ms.Yingling Reads--Battle Bugs #1, The Lizard Wars, and #2, The Spider Siege, by Jack Patton, and Seraphina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty

Authors and Interviews

Lou Anders (Thrones and Bones series) at Supernatural Snark

Karen Cushman at Fuse #8 talking about her forthcoming fantasy book (!)

Will Mabbitt (The Unlikely Advenutures of Mabel Jones) at The Reading Nook Reviews

 Other Good Stuff

Those of us who have been accused by our sensitive children for being "bad mothers" for exposing them to things too dark and disturbing will appreciate this pinterest board of "good fantasy, harmless bad guys" curated by books4yourkids

Bryan Konietzko (creator of The Last Airbender and Legends of Korra) announces Threadworlds, a new graphic novel, in which a young scientists sets out on adventures in galaxy where five planets share a single orbit.

And speaking of Graphic Novels, the Eisner Awards have been announced.

A Tuesday Ten of unorthodox princesses at Views from the Tesseract

The Amazing Acro-Cats are performing in Brooklyn....as if Brooklyn needed more reasons to be cool.


Song for a Scarlet Runner, by Julie Hunt, for Timeslip Tuesday

Song for a Scarlet Runner, by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin, May 2015), is an award-winning Australian import* published here in the US this spring.   It's also the type of book that is the reason why I went with "Timeslip Tuesday" instead of "Time travel Tuesday"--characters slip out of and back into ordinary time, but don't actually time travel as it's normally done.

When the story begins, Peat has no idea that she's about to have adventures of any sort.  Her life has been lived in isolation out in the middle--just her, her big sister, some cows, and an aunt who visits periodically to pick up the cheeses they've made and take them back to the hamlet at the end of a dead end canyon a longish walk away.   But then a stranger arrives, and Peat tells him where the hamlet is, and when he unwittingly brings sickness there, Peat is blamed.  Peat flees off into the badlands, and suddenly her world becomes a much larger, more interesting place than she had ever dreamed off.

And she doesn't travel alone--an extremely appealing animal companion that she calls a Sleek, but some call a scarlet runner (sort of a cross between fox and cat) joins her (intermittently), and I defy any animal loving reader not to want a sleek friend of their own!

Peat's path takes her into the marshlands, where Marsh Aunties, magic using women,  vie to take her on as an apprentice.  It is Marsh Auntie who's the storyteller and healer who finds her first, and Peat begins to learn stories...including one in which a warrior promised the life of his unborn son to the mysterious Siltsifter to ensure his own safety.....

And then, as the story twists, Peat herself is taken out of the real world and out of time by that very Siltsifter and finds the stories are true.  In the Siltsifter's empty land, she meets a lonely boy and his ghost dog who were captured by the Siltsifter centuries ago.   Unless they give in to an endless existence of sifting silt for their master, they must somehow manage to escape.  Fortunately, her Sleek friend finds her (thanks to Siltboy), which helps, and other magical and human helpers come to the aid of the two children, bringing them to a happy ending in which Peat is reunited with her big sister, which was what she really wanted all along.

If you are tired of Spunky heroines who win through their magical adventures by being just as strong and courageous as stereotypical boy heroes, this one will make a very nice change!  Peat is certainly a spunky 11 year old (I would have dissolved into tears a heck of a lot more than she does), and she never gives up hope, and she does have a sensitivity to possibility that lets her see things others don't, but she's still a young girl just trying to get through an adventure she never wanted or expected.   The story is slow to become fully magical, though by the end there is magic aplenty, and so it's a kind of unfrentically peacefully progressing journey, rather than a gallopy questy type fantasy. 

I do wish that there had been more explanation of the Siltsifter (if there was a reason given for his silt-sifting fetish, it escaped me).  He seemed something of a cardboard villain, though a spooky and sinister one, and this disappointed me a bit.

But do try this one if you like middle grade fantasies that really transport you to another place, that let the story absorb you into that world and make crystal clear pictures in your mind.  The sleek is a lovely snarky animal companion, and the book is almost worth reading just for his sake!  The ghost dog is also a lovely animal companion, though not snarky....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

*Shortlisted, Best Children’s Book category, Aurealis Awards, 2013
Shortlisted, Younger Readers category, Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, 2014
Winner, Inaugural 2014 Readings Children’s Book Prize, 2014


Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley (Dial, June 2015)  has been getting tons of love from readers and reviewers, and is showing up on lots of Newbery prediction lists.....and indeed, it's a tremendously imaginative and moving book.

10-year-old Micah Tuttle's life has been pretty much shattered--his beloved Grandpa Ephraim is dying, and his utterly unsympathetic Great Aunt Gertie has moved in, bossing and nagging and keeping him away from his grandpa.  Micah misses his grandpa something fierce; the two were very close, and Micah loved hearing all Grandpa Ephraim’s wild stories of the magical Circus Mirandus...never dreaming that the circus really was real.

But it was real, and Grandpa Ephraim was promised a miracle by the circus' mysterious Lightbender.  And now he wants his miracle...

When Micah learns about his, he figures his grandpa wants to be all better again, and so he sets off to find the Lightbender and call in the miracle.  With the help of a new friend, smart but very real-world oriented Jenny, he sets off to the Circus....

It is a place full of magic, real genuine beautiful magic.  A place where Micah feels at home.  Jenny, however, doesn't--she almost can't get into the circus at all, because she has such a hard time acknowledging that magic is real.  Interspersed with Micah and Jenny's story in the present are flashbacks to Grandpa Ephraim's own discovery of the circus and its magic, and how his life was changed by it.

And in the end, there is a miracle, although it's not what Micah had expected.  And there really is magic, as long as you can believe in it.

So on the plus side, this is a circus story for those who think they don't like circuses--there aren't any scary clowns, and it is really a magical enchanting place with flashes of humor.  The development of the  friendship between Micah and Jenny is a pleasure to watch, and Micah's love for his grandpa gives tender emotional weight to the story.

That beings said, I am really not at all sure if this book, enchanting and moving though it might be to grown-ups who want to believe in magic, and for whom the sadness of loss may well have been a lived thing already, has all that much kid appeal....perhaps there are lots of kids for whom running off to a magical circus will be wonderful, but I just couldn't help but feel a tad that this is one grown-ups will like more....I could well be wrong though! 

My one specific complaint is that  Aunt Gertie is perhaps too much of a negative caricature of the Bad Grownup who Lacks Sensitivity; I could have used more nuance in her character.

So I wouldn't be surprised to see it get a sticker in January, but it's not tops on the list of books I'm going to press on my own fantasy reading 12 year old, who likes magic more firmly separated from the quotidian world....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/5/15)

 Here's another week of middle grade sci fi/fantasy blog posts, rounded-up for your reading convinience!  I myself have nothing to contribute, since I have been on vacation and not reviewing.  Happily others wrote stuff; let me know if  I missed your post!

The Reviews

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Arctic Code, by Matthew Kirby, at Read Till Dawn

The Box and the Dragonfly, by Ted Sanders, at Middle Grade Strikes Back

The Cabinet of Earths, by Anne Nesbit, at books4yourkids.com

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at Log Cabin Library

Dead Boy, by Laurel Gale, at Mom Read It

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Rosanne Parry

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at The Book Smugglers, Redeemed Reader, and Ms. Yingling Reads

The Folk Keeper, by Franny Billingsley, at Wandering Librarians

Frogged, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Leaf's Reviews

Ghosts of Shanghai, by Julian Sedgwick, at In Bed With Books

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at School Library Journal 

Grounded: the Adventures of Rapunzel, by Megan Morrison, at Views from the Tesseract

Hunters of Chaos,  by Crystal Velzaquez, at The Write Path

Jinx's Fire, by Sage Blackwood, at Kid Lit Geek

Into the Land of the Unicorns, by Bruce Coville, at Read Till Dawn

The Iron Trial, by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, at Dark Faerie Tales

The Maloneys' Magical Weatherbox, by Nigel Quinlan, at Sharon the Librarian

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at Middle Grade Mafioso

North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler, at Time Travel Times Two

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

Rump, and Jack, by Liesl Shurtliff, at A Year of Reading

Rump (on its own) by Liesl Shurtliff, at Hidden in Pages

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty at Fantasy Literature

Stonebird, by Mark Revell, at The Book Zone (For Boys)

The Unlikely Adventures of Mable Jones, by Will Mabbitt, at My Brain on Books

The Unmapped Sea, by Maryrose Wood, at Good Books and Good Wine

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire, at Cracking the Cover

The Whispering Trees, by J. A. White, at Big Hair and Books

Authors and Interviews

Patrick Samphire (Secrets of the Dragon Tomb) at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Lou Anders (Nightborn) at Winterhaven Books

Cassie Beasley (Circus Mirandus) at Nerdy Book Club

Emma Carroll (In Darkling Wood) at Middle Grade Strikes Back

Lynne Jonell (The Sign of the Cat) at Fuse #8 

K.E. Ormsbee (The Water and the Wild) at Pop! Goes the Reader

Other Good Stuff

A nice list of books with librarians at Here There Be Books


Waiting on Wednesday--Kingfisher, by Patricia McKillip

I'm off travelling today (Colonial Williamsburg), so thought it would be a good day to just share a book I'm awfully excited about--a new one from one of my favorite authors, Patricia McKillip!

Kingfisher (coming in Feb. 2016, which is closer than one might think), is an Arthurian sounding story:

"Hidden away from the world by his mother, the powerful sorceress Heloise Oliver, Pierce has grown up working in her restaurant in Desolation Point. One day, unexpectedly, strangers pass through town on the way to the legendary capital city. “Look for us,” they tell Pierce, “if you come to Severluna. You might find a place for yourself in King Arden’s court.”

Lured by a future far away from the bleak northern coast, Pierce makes his choice. Heloise, bereft and furious, tells her son the truth: about his father, a knight in King Arden’s court, about an older brother he never knew existed, about his father’s destructive love for King Arden’s queen, and Heloise’s decision to raise her younger son alone.

As Pierce journeys to Severluna, his path twists and turns through other lives and mysteries: an inn where ancient rites are celebrated, though no one will speak of them; a legendary local chef whose delicacies leave diners slowly withering from hunger; his mysterious wife who steals Pierce’s heart; a young woman whose need to escape her life is even greater than Pierce’s. And finally, in Severluna, the youngest son of King Arden, who is urged by strange and lovely forces to sacrifice his father’s kingdom.

Things are changing in that kingdom. Ancient magic is on the rise. The immensely powerful artifact of an ancient god has come to light, and the king is gathering his knights to quest for this profound mystery, which may restore the kingdom to legendary glory—or destroy it..."



The Girl in the Torch, by Robert Sharenow

The Girl in the Torch, by Robert Sharenow (Balzer + Bray, mg, May 2015)

In the early 20th century, Sarah and her mother leave their home, where Sarah's father has just been killed, for the hope that is the United States.  But then Sarah's mother falls ill, and dies in the immigration center, and Sarah is put on a boat headed back to Europe.  She refuses to give up on her dream, though, and jumps overboard, swimming to the Statue of Liberty.  For the next few days, she makes it her home, scrounging for food discarded by tourists and hiding from the night watchman.

Then the watchman discovers her...but Sarah is lucky, and he takes her off the island to a refuge in a household run by a Chinese woman.   And though more troubles come her way (the life of poor orphaned immigrants in New York City not being all that fun), Sarah is lucky in that she finds people to befriend her (to the point of requiring strong suspension of disbelief), and so her story ends with hope.

The majority of the people whom Sarah meets are well intentioned, and lacking in ethnic prejudice (they were Russian, Irish, Chinese, African American, and Native American, and Sarah herself is Jewish).   So although it might be hard for the cynic to swallow the fact that all these people worked together to look after Sarah, this niceness did much to compensate for the sadness of death and the hardness of poverty that are also part of Sarah's life.   And though I myself am cynical much of the time, I frankly prefer my historical fiction not to dwell too much on dark realities.  I am not drawn to grit.  Which means I enjoyed this one just fine, and thought it pleasantly readable; I'd happily give it to any young historical fiction fan who likes nice character-centered stories of the past!

(Here's what I would really have liked more of--Sarah living in the Statue of Liberty for longer, and making a home for herself there ala the Borrowers.  Oh well!)

Here's the Kirkus review.

disclaimer:  review copy received fro the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (6/28/15)

As ever, let me know if I missed your post!

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at In Bed With Books

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Children, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Fangirl Nation

Echo, by Pamela Munoz Ryan, at Literate Lives

Ferals, by Jacob Grey, at Charlotte's Library

Fires of Invention, by J. Scott Savage, at Views from the Tesseract

Flunked by Jen Calonita, at Pages Unbound

The IPhone that Saved George Washington, by David Potter, at Charlotte's Library

I Text Dead People, by Rose Cooper, at In Bed With Books

Into the Land of the Unicorns, by Bruce Coville, at Read Till Dawn

Lily, books 1-3, by Holly Webb, at alibrarymama

Loot, by Jude Watson, at Teen Librarian Toolbox

The Mad Apprentice, by Django Wexler, at Good Books and Good Wine

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at KidLitGeek

Omega City, by Diana Peterfreund, at Dark Fairie Tales

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, at Hidden in Pages

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, at Becky's Book Reviews

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater, at Books Beside My Bed

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Leaf's Reviews

The Sound of Life and Everything, by Krista Van Dolzer, at The Children's War

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire, at Writer of Wrongs

Vanishing Island, by Barry Wolverton, at This Kid Reviews Books

Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay, at Istyria Book Blog

Winter Turning (Wings of Fire book 7) by Tui T. Sutherland, at Charlotte's Library

Witherwood Reform School, by Obert Skye, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Atlantis in Peril, by T.A. Barron, and Attack of the Alien Hoards, by Robert Venditti and Dusty Higgins

Authors and Interviews

John David Anderson (The Dungeoneers) at Maria's Melange

Other Good Stuff

There's an exhibit opening at the Smithsonian in July that looks really cool--"Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction, 1780-1910."

A list of recentish scary/horror mg books at The Hiding Spot

Someone was looking for time travel books with diversity, so I pulled together a list of mg and ya titles.


A list of time travel books with diversity

The Twinjas asked on twitter for recommendations of diverse time travel books, and so here one is!  I keep a list of time travel books, and a list of multicultural spec fic books, but the two aren't cross referenced, so I went into time travel and pulled out the relevant books.  Here's what there's not a lot of--LGBT time travel or time travel of characters with disabilities.  I have given my personal favorites stars, and I've given books I think of as "important reads in diverse time travel" double stars.  The links go to my reviews.

I am always open to more recommendations, so sent them my way please.

Multicultural (arranged more or less by age of reader)

Bonjour, Lonnie, by Faith Ringgold

The Little Yokozuna, by Wayne Shorey

The Magic Mirror, by Zetta Elliott

*Cleopatra in Space--Target Practice, and  The Thief and the Sword  by Mike Maihack

The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark

Chronal Engine, by Greg Leitich Smith

Abracadabra Tut, by Page McBriar

Turning on a Dime, by Maggie Dana

Bridge of Time, by Lewis Buzbee

Jacob Wonderbar and the Intersellar Time Warp, by Nathan Bransford

Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, by Geoffrey McSkimming

*The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman

Dragon Magic, by Andre Norton

Lavender-Green Magic, by Andre Norton

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Freedom Stone, by Jeffrey Kluger

Facing Fire, by kc dyer

Roberto and Me: a Baseball Card Adventure, by Dan Gutman

Black Powder, by Staton Rabin

The Snipesville Chronicles (three books) by Annette Laing

The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Archer's Quest, by Linda Sue Park

*The Prince of Fenway Park, by Julianna Baggott

And The Infinity Ring series from Scholastic, by various authors

YA on up

Black Powder, by Staton Rabin

The Girl Who Lept Through Time, by Yasutaka Tsutsui

*The Black Canary, by Jane Louise Curry

Echo, by Alicia Wright Brewster

*The Tomorrow Code, by Brian Falkner

The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman

Transcendence, by  C.J. Omololu

Along the River, by Adeline Yen Mah

**Kindred, by Octavia Butler

**A Wish After Midnight, by Zetta Elliott

(With reservations re whether it really counts as diversity as stated in my review) The River of No Return, by Bee Ridgeway


Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Clarise Mericle Harper

Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, by D. Robert Pease

Non-Binary Gender--

*Several short stories by Ursula Le Guin, in The Winds Twelve Quarters and Fisherman of an Inland Sea


The Eternal City, by Paula Morris--mythological mayhem in Rome for tweens

The Eternal City, by Paula Morris (Point, May 2015, upper middle grade/lower YA)

Laura is an ordinary American student visiting Rome, until war between the ancient Roman gods breaks out, and she's right in the middle of it.  Things start going strange gradually--ancient works of art coming to brief life, crows behaving strangely, and a manhole cover trying to eat her.  Then her classmates are almost all struck down with a mysterious illness, and a volcano erupts, showering Rome with Ash!  Mercury appears, telling Laura that she's in possession of two stones that are the Eyes of Athena... but he doesn't really offer helpful advice on what the heck she's supposed to do with them before Rome is destroyed.

In a panic stricken city, Laura and a handful of other foreign teens who have escaped the sickness try to figure their way through an ancient Rome coming to life...

On the plus side, this is a very tween friendly book, especially for an 11 or 12 year old girl--there's enough of a nod toward teen romance to please a reader who hasn't really gotten into the heart of the YA section, but it stays very tame.   It's also one that will appeal to those who insatiably devour stories of modern kids getting entangled with classical mythology, although they might be disappointed by the distance the gods themselves keep from the goings on the ground.   The descriptions of Rome and the magic filling its streets are very nicely done (and the ideal reader would be a tween about to travel there), but unfortunately, the story itself never ended up making much sense to me. Laura seemed just a random happenstance to the larger mythological goings on, and on top of that, she didn't have much agency, sort of drifting from one excitement to the next (and in the book's favor, there were lots of these, nicely paced) without much reason behind it.

Not a bad read, but not as good as I'd hoped it would be based on the description.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Winter Turning (Wings of Fire Book 7) by Tui T. Sutherland

Of all the books I got at BEA, the one I read first for my own personal pleasure was Winter Turning, the 7th book in a series about young dragons reshaping their war torn world (Scholastic, June 30).  War between the dragon clans had been going on for years, and many dragons had died, horribly and unforgivably.  Now the war is over, and young dragons are being asked to forgive the past and to work together to build peace.  It is hard, almost unimaginably hard, when loved ones on all sides have died, many in horrible circumstances.  But it is possible...because among the young dragons are some who are just really great people, who believe friendship is possible.

This particular book focuses on a young Ice Wing, Winter, who isn't at all convinced.  His harsh upbringing (I don't want to be a young Ice Wing!) hasn't prepared him for peace in general, and his main concern is not the good of some abstract Dragonkind, but saving his older brother, still a prisoner of the war.   But to save his brother, Winter might have to betray dragons from other clans who he is starting to care about, who might even be friends...the next book can't come soon enough!

This series is beautifully character driven, each book being from a different dragon's point of view.  There's plenty of action and excitement, but what really makes this a Really Outstanding Full of Kid Appeal (and I don't Capitalize Lightly) set of books is that the dragons are so unique, so strong in some ways, so hurt in others, and the problems they are grappling with are so (sadly) germane to conflicts in our own world that the books are more than just entertainment (though they aren't preachy).  All the various dragon cultures and idiosyncrasies are fully detailed too, making the world building something to enjoy lots!

If you have a fourth or fifth grader, start them on the series (and speaking as a parent, the fact that it's a nice long series is something to be happy about too, viz keeping one's children reading.  They will be hooked and the books will take them through a good part of the summer).  The first book is perhaps the most violent of the series (with dragon pitted against dragon in an arena of death) but there's so much more than violence going on that I would not hesitate to give it to any random 9 year old I happened to run into on the street.

For those who, like me, are already hooked--the next book, which comes out in January, is from Peril's point of view!  I can't wait.  (This is the sort of thing that makes me really glad I started a book blog.  I will probably get a review copy, and give it to my son at Christmas, and he will be So Happy!)

Disclaimer:  received from the publisher


The Left Behinds: The iPhone that Saved George Washington, by David Potter, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Left Behinds: The iPhone that Saved George Washington, by David Potter (Crown Books for Young Readers, Jan. 2015).

For the Left Behind kids, stuck spending Christmas at their boarding school, going to see the re-enactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware was mostly something to be endured.  (Except for Mel, the history geek of the three of them, who was at least a little interested),

But then Mel find General Washington dead (really truly dead) in a stable.  And he realizes (in bits, as is only to be expected) that he's actually travelled back in time.   Bev and Brandon come back in time too, and Mel convinces them that they have to come to the rescue of the colonies, or the United States will never exist. 

Thanks to texts from his history teacher back in the present, Mel realizes that his iPhone was the time travel catalyst.  But unless he can charge it, the kids won't get home again.

So there in the middle of colonial winter (with Washington dead in barn) the three set out, braving hostile Hessians and suspicious colonial kids to find Ben Franklin, the only iPhone charging hope going.  But once that's done, there's the matter of George Washington...so Mel hops back in time again, to foil the killers...

And it's fine history adventure fun.  I'm a smidge doubtful about the appeal of the American Revolution to modern kids (mine are tired of it), and I think the blurb at Amazon goes over board--"Percy Jackson fans will embrace this humorous time travel adventure..." (what? P.J. is totally utterly different, except that he, like Mel, is a boy thrown into adventure, but of a totally different sort).  This is more along the lines of Jack and Annie from the Magic Tree House books for older readers, and it's done well, with bits of humor, and vivid descriptions.  But it's not Percy Jackson.

Time travel via iPhone app is certainly an  interesting premise, and there's a not uninteresting story about why it happened to the kids (there's a villain who wants to unleash temporal chaos on the world).  There's certainly lots of room for more stories.  Despite the premise, there wasn't much overt concern for the paradox that beset time travelers, which, since the characters were busy staying alive and keeping Washington alive, is understandable, but which may disappoint time travel fans.  I'd classify this one as "time travel as a mechanism that allows modern kids to have adventures with historical figures" story, as opposed to "time travel as an opportunity to reflect on a different culture/time and see how it changes the protagonists."  And I'm really more a fan of the later.

Something I found interesting was that although the three kids weren't friends at the beginning of the book, they did Not grow to appreciate each other much, and did not become inseparable comrades by the end of it.  Points for realism!  But on the other hand, because there wasn't much change or growth to the characters, even though we learn more about their lives, there wasn't much opportunity to care that much about them.

In short there wasn't anything I actively didn't like about the book, but things just didn't feel particularly magical to me, and so it was a book that I read perfectly happily, but didn't love.

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