3/31/20

The Mirror Image Ghost, by Catherine Storr, for Timeslip Tuesday

Do not believe the title; The Mirror Image Ghost, by Catherine Storr (1994)  actually has no ghosts in it.  It does, though, start with the main character, a girl named Lisa, pestering her grandparents about a ghost boy her grandfather saw when he was  kid himself.  They are reluctant to tell her much, but she does learn from her grandfather that the ghost boy told him of terrible things....but that's all he's willing to say.  So Lisa goes back to her own home, still curious...

Her own home is not a happy place for her.  Her widowed mother has remarried, and Lisa is very unhappy sharing her home, and her mother, with her new French step-father and his two children, an boy and girl.  She makes no effort to be welcoming at all, and just holds her bitterness and resentment as tightly around herself as she can.

Her mother gives her a bit more context about the ghost boy and the grandfather's childhood--he was from Jewish family, in Austria, who was visiting England when Hitler invaded, and stayed there while his parents and sister were killed.  Lisa hadn't really thought about this part of WW II before, and it takes a while for her to grasp what actually happened (longer than I though believable.  But the Holocaust was still too real to her grandparents for them to ever have talked about with Lisa or her mother, and maybe it wasn't being taught in school because of being still too recent?  She does finally pick up Anne Frank to read...which is good for her and broadens her understanding....).

But in any event.

There was just one material thing her grandfather brought back from Vienna, when he went there after the war to try to find his family--his own mother's large mirror, all that was left of his family's possessions.  And Lisa, looking into the mirror, slips through time, and meets her grandfather's little sister.  She tries to tell her about the horrors to come, but the little girl thinks she's crazy...

Interspersed with other trips back through the mirror is the constant tension between Lisa and her step-siblings.  Gradually it resolves, but Lisa is not closer to getting her great-aunt to believe her.  When she meets her own Grandfather, she realizes that she is the "ghost boy" he met (she was wearing jeans, and had short hair), and he of course heeds her warning.....She wants to save the little sister too, but as her understanding of the danger to come deepens, she begins to fear for her own life if she is caught in Vienna when she realizes that she too, being one quarter Jewish, would be in danger if caught there by the Nazis.

 Lisa's experiences time-travelling, and thinking about the past, indirectly help crack her out of her pit of denial, but I think the book would have been stronger if the past and present pushed harder at each other...it's almost two stories side by side, instead of the pulling in tandem.  Still, it's moving and memorable, and really sensitive and thoughtful in its portrayal of the Holocaust.  Though the worst horror takes place off the page, Lisa's final mirror visit to the past is chilling.

However,  for me the most memorable thing about it was wanting to shake Lisa!  She is the epitome of self-absorbed adolescent (though one can't help be sympathetic when, for instance, she must share her room with a step-sister whose very existence is loathsome to her.  And Storr manages to make her just sympathetic enough to not spoil the whole book....)

If you are looking for time travel in which the past is explored, this isn't what you are looking for--Lisa's visits are basically quick in and outs, in which she stays where she lands.  If you are looking for blended family books and/or books with sensitive and thoughtful treatment of the Holocust and its lasting impact on those who survived, it's a good one!

(books sure were shorter even as recently as the 1990s--this one only has 143 pages in paperback!)

3/29/20

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from aroung the blogs (3/29/20)

Welcome to this week's round-up!  I hope you all are safe and well.  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Bigwoof Conspiracy, by Dashe Roberts, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, at Leaf's Reviews

Children of Exile, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The O.W.L. (audiobook review)

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Children, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Dramas with a Side of Kimchi

The Eye of Zeus, by Alane Adams, at Cover2CoverBlog

The House of Hidden Wonders, by Sharon Gosling, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Jungle Drop (Unmapped Chronicles #2), by Abi Elphinstone, at A little but a lot

Kid Normal and the Loudest Library, by Greg James and Chris Smith, at Twirling Book Princess

Knights vs Dinosaurs, by Matt Phelan, at Sonderbooks

Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Puss Reboots

Max and the Midknights,by Lincoln Peirce, at Book Murmuration

Night of Dangers (Adventurers Guild #3), by  Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at Say What?

RA The Mighty! The Great Tomb Robbery, by A. B. Greenfield, at BooksForKidsBlog

The Search for the Silver Witch (Polly and Buster #3), by Sally Rippin, at Log Cabin Library

The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta, at A Dance with Books

Silverworld, by Diana Abu-Jaber, at Charlotte's Library

Troofriend, by Kirsty Applebaum, at Book Murmuration

Twighlight of the Elves (Adventures Guild #2) by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at Say What?

Two Gold Dolphins, by Elisabeth Beresford, at Charlotte's Library

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Wood (Warren the 13th #2), by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle, at Hidden in Pages

Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom, by Louis Sacher, at A Kids Book a Day

Weird Little Robots, by Carolyn Crimi, at Children's Books Heal

Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale (Starfell #2), by Dominque Valente, at Book Craic

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at Falling Letters and Utopia State of Mind

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Blowback '94, by Brian Meehl, and Silverworld, by Diana Abu-Jaber

Authors and Interviews

Kenneth Oppel (Bloom) at Middle Grade Book Village

Ben Gartner (The Eye of Ra) at Middle Grade Book Village

Christina Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark) at Nerdy Book Club

Ronald L. Smith (Gloom Town) at From the Mixed Up Files

S.O. Thomas (The Slug Queen Chronicles) at Word Spelunking

Joan Haig (Tiger Skin Rug) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books


Other Good Stuff

The shortlists for the Aurealis Awards have been announced; here's the MG list:

        Elementals: Scorch Dragons, Amie Kaufman (HarperCollins)

3/28/20

Silverworld, by Diana Abu-Jaber

Silverwood, by Diana Abu-Jaber (Crown Books, March 17, 2020), is an engaging portal fantasy given extra richness by the Lebanese heritage of the main character.

After apruptly being moved to Florida, Sami is on edge; spending time talking to her beloved grandmother, who lives with her family, has become her bedrock. But Sami is the only one in the family who can hear her grandmother talk; to everyone else, Teta sounds like she's speaking gibberish, and so her mother thinks it would be best to find a nursing home for her.

Sami is distraught, and in a desperate effort to find a way to keep Teta home, she opens the old book with a cracked cover Teta had brought with her from Lebanon, a forbidden book she's been told has great and magical powers.  At first the pages and the words are slippery, but at last the book lets her read a spell- for the Opening of thee Silversinn'd.  On the same page is a picture of a mirror identical to the one in Sami's room, another treasure from Teta's old life.  When Sami reads the spell, she passes through the mirror, into Silverworld, a land full of marvels.

There she meets Dorsom, a strange but friendly Flicker, who looks like a human boy except for his skin, which is green.  From Dorsom, she begins to learn how to communicate without words, and about this strange land where the Flickers, beings of color and light, once lived in balance with the Shadows, their opposite.  Now things are falling into chaos and danger.  A powerful being, Nixie, is trying to seize control of the land, imprisoning all those who resist her, and threatening the balance between Flickers and Shadows.

Sami, with her inborn power of Silverskin magic, might be able to thwart Nixie's plans.  And so a dangerous journey to Nixie's castle begins, and in good portal fantasy fashion, there are dangers and strange new allies, a graceful inclusion of a message that different (in this case, Flickers and Shadows) doesn't equal enemy, and an ultimate victory that requires all the courage and strength that Sami can give.  Yes, she's "special," but at the same time she's unsure--plunged into a world of magic she doesnt' understand, she has no clue what she can do to stop Nixie, but accepts the fact that it's up to her to try, because there is no one else. Which ultimately, of course, makes her very special indeed in the best possible way!

Interspersed with the fantasy are Sami's real world memories, both of her own life and her grandmother's stories of growing up in the desert, and her life in Lebannon.  And in healing Silverworld, Sami also frees her grandmother, who had locked herself away in her mind so that her own link to Silverworld was safe from Nixie's manipulation.

It's a vivid fantasy world, drawing on elements of Near Eastern magic, that emphasizes description of the physical over the nuts and bolts of worldbuilding, with memorable characters and a realistic (in fantasy terms) final showdown with the villain.  The switches between fantasy and the real world are perhaps a bit abrupt, but ultimate they make the whole story stronger.  Kids hungry for magical lands, who enjoy stories about special, chosen ones finding their powers and having the strength to use them when it really counts, will love Sami's story!

nb: Silverworld is Diana Abu-Jaber's first book for young readers, but you might recognize her name from her adult books; I myself am now wanting to read her memoir, The Language of Baklava....

3/24/20

Two Gold Dolphins, by Elisabeth Beresford, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's timeslip book is an older, somewhat obscure one from England--Two Gold Dolphins, by Elisabeth Beresford (1961).

A brother and sister are packed off to stay with their grandfather in the family's old country home while the parents go off to the US.  They figure out pretty quickly that the grandfather is becoming unable to cope, and might have to sell the house because he can no longer afford the upkeep (why the parents aren't involved in this decision making is beyond me; you'd think they'd have some interest in the old family house, but no.).  So the kids set out to find the family treasure that's supposed to be hidden somewhere around the place, that no other generation of searching kids has ever found.

Help comes their way in the form of a magical clock found in a junk store.  The gold dolphin ornamenting the clock comes to life, and the kids learn that the dolphin and clock can send them back in time.  So they visit the past of their family at various points in time, including a surprising visit to Australia to see their many times great uncle who immigrated there.  They must prove that they have the qualities of character that the dolphin demands of them before they can find the Great Gold Dolphin, on whom the clock dolphin is modeled, and then their wishes will be granted.  They are joined in their quest by another boy, who's father is a lost explorer, who they meet in the village who becomes their new very good friend in about five minutes.

Of course they eventually do find the Great Gold Dolphin, and save the family house, bring their parents home (although this would have happened at some point in any event, so it seems a bit of a waste), and bring the lost explorer father home too.

Basically this is a Nesbit homage; the pattern of how the story unfolds is much like that of the Psammead and House of Arden stories, and the clock dolphin is very much the same sort of grouchy guide that the Psammead and the Mouldiwarp are.  It  lacks the zest of Nesbit's writing, and the characterization and interactions of the children are less interesting.  But though it is a slighter story, it is still a pleasant, if somewhat superficial, time travel.

I don't regret the five dollars I spent on it, and though I won't be actively looking for Beresford' s other books (especially not the Womble books, for which she is best known), I'd happily read them if the came my way (except Wombles.  I just have no interest in Wombles....)

3/22/20

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (3/22/20)

Here's this week's round-up of what I found in my blog reading this week.  Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Alfie Fleet's Guide to the Universe, by Martin Howard, illustrated by Chris Mold, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Amelia Fang and the Bookworm Gang, by Laura Ellen Anderson, at Twirling Book Princess

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M.T. Anderson and Eugine Yelchin, at Sonderbooks

Evie and the Animals, by Matt Haig, at Alittlebutalot

The Ghost Garden, by Emma Carroll, at Alittlebutalot

Gloom Town, by Ronald L. Smith, at Charlotte's Library

The Last Dragon (Revenge of Magic #2), by James Riley, at Say What?

Legends of Lost Causes, by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, at Log Cabin Library

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker, at Geo Librarian and Redeemed Reader

Scribble Witch: Notes in Class, by Inky Willis, at Library Girl and Book Boy and Alittlebutalot

The Spinner of Dreams, by K.A. Reynolds, at Log Cabin Library

The Unicorn Quest, books 1 and 2, by Kamilla Benko, at Ms.Yingling Reads

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at Cover2CoverBlog and Charlotte's Library

Two at The Book Search--The Thieves of Wierdood, by Christian McKay Heidicker, and A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontronvat

Authors and Interviews

Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic series) at Middle Grade Ninja

Martin Howard (Alfie Fleet's Guide to the Universe) at Book Murmuration 

Jim Zub (The Young Adventurers Guide series) at Nerdophiles

Loriel Ryon (Into the Tall, Tall Grass), at Middle Grade Book Village

Other Good Stuff

The shortlists for the 2020 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards have been announced; at Waking Brain Cells there are covers and links, which is very useful.

"Why it is fine to read middle grade as an adult" at A Dance with Books

At Readings, "Our favorite worlds in middle grade fantasy"

3/21/20

Gloom Town, by Ronald L. Smith

Gloom Town, by Ronald L. Smith, is perfect for readers who are just getting into solid middle grade fantasy--it's a great "first mortal peril from deeply creepy monstrous beings who are about to sacrifice you to a Great Evil of mythical proportions" story.

12-year-old Rory lives with his mother in the seaside town of Gloom, a place that is accurately named; miserable weather, little in the way of vibrant culture, and in the case of Rory and his mother, financial hardship.  When Rory sees that the mysterious Lord Foxglove needs a valet, he applies for the job.  Foxglove Manor is weird, in an off sort of way, and the job interview is very peculiar, but Rory can't  afford to be picky.  So he signs the contract, and only then sees that's he's now committed "on penalty of death."

Foxglove Manor and it's master have dark secrets, and though Rory didn't set out to deliberately find them, his curiosity and fear lead him to terrifying discoveries.  His sleep is full of a nightmares, and it becomes clear that his employer isn't quite human.... Fortunately, outside the manor he has a good friend, Izzy, a young fortune teller with tons of spunk, and she takes the disturbing things he describes seriously, and helps him seek for information within the town.

As the nature of the threat (ultimate evil taking over the world) becomes clearer to the kids, they realize that there's no hero around to step in and save the day, and that they'll have to do it themselves.   Fortunately Rory, though he doesn't know it, has just the thing he needs to help him do the job....

And that's where the book kind of falters, here at the ending.  The spooky buildup and revelations of the menacing evil are great--vivid and creepy as all get out, including little details like Rory finding the heart of the previous boy who had his job, buried in a metal box out behind the house.  There were plenty of twists and turns as Rory and Izzy figured things out.   Both kids are smart and brave, though their bravery is greater than their ability to figure out how to take down ancient evil.  And in fact in the ultimate face-off, Rory wins through simply because he happens to have an external object that saves the day.  And it's a bit of a let down.

That being said, if you are used to reading more complex books (YA and Adult) about defeating ancient evil, you'll be expecting more.  You'll also be excepting more detail to the worldbuilding and the origin of the ancient evil than you'll find here. But if, as I suggested above, you're a first time Ancient Evil reader, this won't be a problem.  And the vivid setting and descriptions are perfect for gripping the reader's imagine, and Rory and Izzy are great companions in adventure.

The door is left open for a sequel, and I would be more than happy to see what happens to these two kids next!

(one for my list of diverse fantasy--Rory, as shown on the cover, is a brown-skinned kid)

3/19/20

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick, March 24, 2020, just named a Junior Library Guild selection), is a truly lovely fantasy in which the strong theme of social justice is given shape by the story of a boy trying to escape his past and make a better future for himself, and for all the poor and cast-off and downtrodden people in his city.  It's a twist on Les Misérables set in a Thai inspired world, with magic, but this being a middle grade novel, it is full of love and hope and ends with a promise of better things ahead.

Pong did not set off to save anyone but himself.  Born in a women's prison, and with a few more years to go before he's released from it to make his own way in a world that doesn't want him, he has come to believe what he's been told, that "light shines only on the worthy," which doesn't include him.  His dream that one day he and his best friend Somkit can be part of Chattana, the beautiful city whose rainbow light is magically made by the city's governor, starts to seem impossible.  So one day, when a smelly and awful chance to escape presents itself, Pong impulsively takes it.  Now he's outside the prison, but still marked by a tattoo in his wrist.  If he's caught, he will never taste freedom again.

Fortunatly, he is taken in by a remote monestary, whose wise old leader teaches him, and blesses him.  Less fortunately, or so it seems at first, he's recognized by Nok, the daughter of the former prison wardon.  Nok  thinks that if she can capture him, she'll help restore her family's fraying status, and she's sure that her prowess at the magical martial art of spire-fighting will make taking down one small boy easy.  Pong escapes, and ends up in Chattana again.  It is not the city of beautiful light he'd dreamt of, but a place with deeply rooted inequality, where  the rich live in the shine of golden globes, and the poor must make do with dim purple.  But there, in a wonderful coincidence, he's reunited by Somkit, who himself has been taken in by a caring mentor...one who wants to lead a revolution.

Pong, and Nok too, must decide if they are willing to throw away all they've been taught about who is worthy and join the revolution to bring light to everyone...

Of course they do, but it's a deeply moving journey to get to that point, full of danger and intrigue, and also magic.  All three kids have gifts they bring to the cause--Somkit has the technological skills that  give the revolution a chance to succeed, Nok's spire-fighting can make the very ground tremble, and Pong has preternatural skill of observation, and the blessings of the old monk wrapped in threads around his wrist.  And his blessings have always come true.

I loved the characters. The old monk, with his deep well of compassion, is simply wonderfully loveable, and teaches Pong beautifully by letting him figure out things for himself.  He also finds homes for abandoned babies, giving each a blessing of their own (I pause here to mentally hug the kind old monk...)   Pong's journey, though he slays no literal monsters and his fiercest struggle is within himself, is truly that of a hero.  Somkit's engineering skills and tinkering with the light globes make him a mirror for kids who loves to figure out how things work, and he is the very model of a loyal friend.  Nok has more than her brillance at marshal arts going for her; she's a character who must question the privilege in which she's been raised, and decide whether or not to reject the laws that's she's accepted without question all her life.

Add to this lovely cast of characters a vivid setting, full of sensory details that make it all real, and a strong message of social justice that drives the story without beating readers to death, and you have a real winner of a book!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher



3/17/20

Malice, by Pintip Dunn, for Timeslip Tuesday

Malice, by Pintip Dunn (Entangled Teen, February 2020), is an unusual time slip story.  Instead of bodies travelling through time, in this case only a person's consciousness can, and only into the mind of their own past or future self.  It's a sci-fi sort of time travel, though without much hard science backing it up.

Alice knows nothing of this time travel at first.  Her life is kind of ordinary (high school, friends, photography), though harder than some, because her mother abandoned the family, leaving Alice to be the one to look after her genius older brother, Archie.  Her father seems only interested in Archie's academic successes, and neglects the day to day parenting, leaving it on Alice's shoulders. 

But then she is invaded by a mysterious voice, that clamps her mind in agony in order to do something she'd never dream of doing ordinarily--go up to one of the most popular, smartest, best looking boys at school, a Thai kid named Bandit, and tell him she loves him.  This is just the first challenge.  They don't get easier.

 In fact, they become heartbreakinlyg horrible, when Alice learns the whole point of the voice's plan is to use Alice to kill someone.  A boy she knows is going to unleash a virus that wipes out much of humanity, and leaves the rest struggling to survive.  She's told she has to kill him, but must figure out who he is herself.....

The voice in her head is her older self, ten years from now.  Alice believes this, and when she is taken into the future, she sees the devastation the virus has wrought.  But she's not given the full picture of what's happening, and struggles to choose the best path--best for the future, and best for her own heart.

It's an exciting page turner, and trying to figure out who the virus maker is makes for gripping reading!  Alice is believably tormented by her impossible mission, and is a believable character, with a sweet, though fraught, blossoming love story (with Bandit; it was lots of fun watching their relationship develop!).

The only thing that kept me from really loving it was that torward the end there was a rush of new information, that made me feel like the plot could have been tricksier, with the reader getting to see a more fully realized antagonist...The read, and Alice, see only a little bit of the larger chess game that's playing out, and it was disappointing not have been made aware of it earlier.  On the other hand, it would make re-reading it, which I might well do at some point, more interesting....)

As it is, the bulk of the tension comes from future Alice, growing increasingly desperate to figure out what her past self needs to do to stop the virus.  Thirty jumps is all that are possible before mental breakdown, and future Alice is running out of chances....This meddling in the past rasies all sorts of lovely ethical grey areas, that give much good food for thought!

short answer--I enjoyed it lots, though it wasn't quite a five star read for me.




3/15/20

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (3/15/20)

Here's what I found this week of interest to us fans of mg sci fi and fantasy; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett, at A Dance With Books

Brightstorm, by Vashti Hardy, at Fantasy Literature

Britfield and the Lost Crown, by C.R. Stewart, at Book Reviews by Jasmine

Crater Lake, by Jennifer Kllick, at Library Girl and Book Boy

Darkwhispers, by Vashti Hardy, at Book Murumuration

The Dragon Warrior, by Katie Zhao, at Say What?

Esme's Wish, by Elizabeth Foster, at Book Reviews by Jasmine

The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, at Read Love

The Healing Stone (Starchild #3), by Vacen Taylor, at Book Craic

Jinxed, by Amy McCulloch, at Read Love

Knife (Faery Rebels #1), by R. J. Anderson, at J.R.'s Book Reviews

Legacy (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8), by Shannon Messenger, at Childrens Books Heal

The Legend of Podkin One-ear, by Kieran Larwood, at Big Bearded Bookseller

Quest for the Nautilus (Young Captain Nemo #2), by Jason Henderson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

One Wish, by Michelle Harrison, at Readaraptor

The Revenge of Magic, by James Riley, at Say What?

The Sixty Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone, at Say What?

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle, at Hidden In Pages and Kid Lit Reviews

When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller, at Charlotte's Library

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at Log Cabin Library


Authors and Interviews

Christian McKay Heidicker (Scary Stories for Young Foxes, and the forthcoming Theives of Weirdwood), at Fuse #8

Kim Ventrella (The Secret Life of Sam) at Middle Grade Book Village

Speaking of authors, there's a calendar of mg release dates at Middle Grade Book Village; lots of folks have books coming out right in the middle of the current crisis, which is hard on them,, so do consider their books in your emergency book buying (if applicable).  Several enticing MG fantasy books (two I'm looking at myself that I hadn't heard of elsewhere are Silverworld, by Diana Abu-Jaber and On These Magic Shores, by Yamile S. Mendez, but do check out the whole list of great books!).  If you see any that are missing, let the MG Book Village folks know (I just emailed them about adding The Wolf of Cape Fen, by Julianna Brandt, coming April 7th, which I'm looking forward to lots!)

Also Gail Gauthier is spotlighting authors who weren't able to publicly lunch their books in an ongoing series (that includes other book event cancelations) at her website, Original Content

Other Good Stuff


What's new in the Uk, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

"Reepicheep and the Dual Nature of Chivalry" at Tor

If you are looking for good reading, check out the blog discussion post challenge at Feed Your Fiction Addiction!

And here's one of the coolest libraries ever, that you can visit from the safety of your own home-the Uncensored Library at Minecraft!







3/12/20

When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller

When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller (Random House, middle grade, January 2020), is a lovely story of family, and love, and loss, and how kids try to make sense of things that are beyond their control.  It is poised right at the tipping point between fantasy and realistic fiction; it's one of the few middle grade books I would call "magical realism," about which more later.

Lily's mom has uprooted her and her big sister, Sam, from California to move in with their halmoni (Korean for grandmother) up in Washington state.   Nothing has been explained to Lily, and she and Sam are confused and unhappy.  Their uncertainty grows when it becomes clear that all is not well with Halmoni.  And Lily has a worry of her own when she starts catching glimpses of a tiger.

The tiger is tied to the Korean stories Halmoni told the girls when they were little, of two sisters who were transformed into the sun and moon to escape from the fierce tiger threatening them. When Lily tells Halmoni what she's been seeing, instead of offering reassurance, her grandmother makes her even more anxious--long ago she stole stories from the tiger, and stashed them away in her collection of jars, to keep the sadness sealed away.  And when the tiger begins to speak to Lily, it tells her he's there to reclaim what was stolen.  

Lily thinks that if she can trap the tiger, she'll keep her grandmother safe.  But how do you trap a tiger that might or might not be real?  She's always been shy and quite, but her hunt for tiger trapping information leads her to friendship with a quirky boy she meets in the library, who's happy to help her.  Before the tiger is trapped, it offers her a deal--if she releases the stories, Halmoni will feel better.  And so Lily hears again from her grandmother all the bits of the story of the two sisters, but now she realizes there's more to the stories than little Lily had understood.

And her grandmother does feel better, with the release of the sadness of her past.  But it is not a cure.  Alongside the sadness, though, is a family coming together, and finding better understanding of themselves.  Lily moves past her image of herself as a stereotypical "quiet Asian girl," Sam moves past her prickliness back into a more loving pattern with her family, their mother unclenches from her tight tension.  They find community too, and so though the ending isn't happy, it isn't devastating.

It's a lovely paean to the power of stories, with Lily, an utterably loveable and relatable character, at the heart of it.  The tiger, clearly real to her, appearing and speaking to her throughout the book, becomes believable to the reader as well, even readers who "know" that tigers from stories don't just show up in real life.  Sam, her big sister, can't believe in the tiger, until its magic briefly, but clearly, impacts reality.  

I bristle when people call any fantasy or magic in the real world "magical realism."* In almost all real world fantasy, the characters clearly recognize what is magic and what isn't.  The tiger is real to Lily, though, and to label it fantasy seems like a denial of Lily's beliefs.  It's something that can't be explained that never-the-less is true.

If you love stories about stories, and family, and love, and grief, and tigers, read this beautiful book!

Ps:  unable to work it into my review, but wanting to mention it since positive LGBTQ representation isn't overly common in mg books: Sam, the big sister, has a lovely relationship beginning with another girl at the end of the book.

*for instance, I remember someone describing Laurel Snyder's book, Bigger Than a Breadbox, as magical realism.  I think that a breadbox that is a time travel portal isn't any sort of realism, but a straight up magical breadbox.  As I understand magical realism, which might or might not be what it really is, the un-real has to be seamlessly woven into the actual, and accepted as simply what is.  On the other hand, I would have to call this fantasy, because spirit tigers from stories don't talk to people in real life as I understand it. Along the same lines, if Christian saints appeared and started chatting, I'd call it fantasy, but since the characters might disagree, with this just being part of the world as they understood it, I'd label it magical realism.




3/11/20

The Secret of White Stone Gate, by Julia Nobel

The Secret of White Stone Gate, by Julia Nobel (Sourcebooks Young Readers, March 3 2020) is just as exciting a read as the first book in the series, The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane.  If the prospect of  mystery, attempted murder, and friendship drama at an English boarding school appeals, look no further than these books!

Emmy can't wait to get back to Wellsworth, the boarding school where she made the first best friends of her life, was plunged into an environment of academic rigor, and was almost murdered by the school's head of security, a man named Jonas.  She's hoping the last bit is over and done with.  Jonas, saw her throw the medallions her father, another order member, had entrusted her with, that would unlock the treasure trove of the order, into the ocean, and he no longer works at the school.  So she's glad to catch up with Lola and Jack, and glad to get to know Jack's very appealing new room-mate...

She doesn't get much chance to be a happy, ordinary student.  Lola is framed for theft after the money raised by the school fundraiser disappears, and she's expelled from school.  Emmy and Jack are  determined to clear her name. They suspect the snooty Latin Club, the feeder group for the order, and with Jack's room-mate enlisted to help (he has excellent hacker skills and also the social credentials to be accepted by the club), they set to work.

But then Jonas re-emerges, and begins to threaten Emmy again.  He wants to find out where Emmy's father is, something Emmy herself doesn't know, and he's not quite convinced she doesn't still have the medallions.  And he makes it clear that he will hurt the people she cares about if she doesn't cooperate....

It's an exciting mystery, with a pleasantly middle grade gothic feel to it at times, ending up in a big showdown at a map exhibit at the British Library (I do love it when old maps are involved!), and although the immediate dangers of this installment are resolved, there's clearly room for more (I say hopefully....).  The characters are relatable to anyone in middle school, yet the British boarding school is a strange and fascinating setting for (most) American kids, and it will feel almost like a fantasy setting, what with the mysterious sinister Order and the medallions that can unlock lost passageways (nb: it is not fantasy).  The danger picks up at a nice tempo, building toward an exciting rush at the end.  Emmy is a great main character--she is not particularly gifted (she's no Nancy Drew character of ridiculous competence), but she is a loyal, determined friend, a good soccer player, and smart enough to figure out important clues.

Particularly recommended to young Anglophile fans of school stories who love fantasy for its adventures and escape from real life, who might be looking for a break from magical gifts and spells.  I enjoyed it lots as a grown-up, and would have loved it as a young reader.

disclaimer: review copy (gratefully, and with pleased excitement) received from the publisher.



3/8/20

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (3/8/20)

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

The Reviews

Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book, by Jennifer Donnelly, at Sci-Fi Fantasy Lit Chick

Begone the Raggedy Witches, by Celine Kiernan, at Big Bearded Bookseller

The Chaos Curse, by Sayantani Dasgupta, at Charlotte's Library

The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, at Waking Brain Cells

Hollow Dolls, by Marcykate Connolly, at Mom Read It

The House on Hoarder Hill, by Mikki Lish and Kelly Ngai, at ReadItDaddy

The Kid Who Came From Space, by Ross Wells, at Book Craic

Lightning Girl, and Lightning Girl: Superhero Squad, by Alesha Dixon, at Charlotte's Library

The Lost Tide Warriors, by Catherine Doyle, at Charlotte's Library

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street, by Lauren Oliver, at Waking Brain Cells

The Midnight Hour, by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder, at Log Cabin Library

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson, at Simply a Book Drunkard

The Order of Time, by Scott P. Southall, at Kid Lit Reviews

The Princess Who Flew with Dragons, by Stephanie Burgis, at Locus

The Restless Girls, by Angela Barrett, at Fantasy Literature

The Republic of Birds, by Jessica Miller, at Falling Letters

Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan, at Charlotte's Library (with Giveaway!)

When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller, at Randomly Reading

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at Snow White Hates Apples

Three at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Dragon Egg Princess, by Ellen Oh, The Chaos Curse, by Sayantani Dasgupta, and The Return of the Temujai, by John Flanagan

Authors and Interviews

Sayantani Dasgupta (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series) at From the Mixed Up Files and Middle Grade Ninja (podcast)


Other Good Stuff

What's new in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

A Wings of Fire animated television series is in the works!

3/7/20

Lightning Girl, and its sequel, Lightning Girl: Superhero Squad, by Alesha Dixon


Alesha Dixon, a celebrity in the UK, has brought a new middle grade superhero to town--Lightning Girl!  (whose adventures continue in Superhero Squad).  Aurora is an ordinary kid, perhaps a bit more klutzy than most 10-year-olds, but still within the parameters of "normal." Until she looses her temper when she sees her little sister being bullied, and beams of light start flying out of hands. She tries to write it off to herself as just part of growing up, but a little later, in her own back yard brooding at being laughed at at school for her failure as gymnast, the same thing happens.  And this time, her parents know about it.

And Aurora's life is up-ended.  Turns out, her mom's a superhero, with the same power, using it to foil bad guys around the world.  Not just that, but she comes from a long line of superheroes, and apparently, once she gets her own powers under control, she'll be one of them.

But life is a bit more complicated than that.  Her aunt Lucinda, for instance, shows up with her ostrich companion...Lucinda has the family knack, and an extra gift of her own, and instead of fighting crime, she's committing it.  But when Aurora gets wind of a plot to steal precious gems from the major exhibit her father's curating, she knows she wants to be one of the good guys.

Fortuantly, she doesn't have to foil the theft by herself; other kids at school, including some who never gave her the time of day before, have banded around her, making themselves into her support staff.   From fashion help, that bolsters her confidence, to help with logistics and detective work, the kids save the day, and Aurora is on her path toward super-heroism.

The second book sees Aurora and her squad involved in another plot that needs foiling.  The world was watching when Aurora used her lightning gifts to foil the robbery,and now she's besieged by the media.  After a break at her grandmother's house in the south of England, she's off to a conference of superheros, exited to belong to the group, and nervous about it too.  Turns out there's a lot to be nervous about--a plot is underway to undermine the society.  The grown-ups are pretty clueless about what's going on, and so it ends up being Aurora, with the help of her squad, who show up just in time, to save the day.

These are fun, fast reads, with a bi-racial, big-haired heroine who is still very much a kid.  Sure she has powers, but she doesn't have a lot of confidence in herself.  Although not everyone has problems controlling their lightning powers, many of us can relate to her worries about her parents' marriage (they separate in the first book), and though not all of us have criminal aunts with flamboyant ostrich sidekicks undermining our parents, we all have to committee, or not, to our family's values and traditions. And the friend drama that's so much a part of the middle school experience is here too, with Aurora having to accept that girls who didn't have time for her before will now be on her side, not just because she's a superhero, although that was the catalyst, but because they like being her friend.

What I liked best though was the matrilineal line of black superheros, and the revelations about Aurora's grandmother in the second book!  If you are looking for a tech savvy, lightning-wielding, smart as all get out granny, look no further.

In short, these should go down very easily indeed for younger middle school readers.  Two more books in the series are out in the UK, for those who can't wait for more.

disclaimer: review copies received from the publisher.

3/5/20

The Chaos Curse, by Sayantani DasGupta

The Chaos Curse, by Sayantani Dasgupta (middle grade, Scholastic, March 3 2020) is the third book of Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond, and it's just as wild and exciting a ride as its predecessors!

Kiran doesn't get a chance to stop and catch a breath after her last adventures, but must rush home to Parsippany New Jersey to save Prince Lal, who is imprisoned in a tree in the back yard of her sworn enemy from middle school.  There are a few other things on her mind, too, most notably the fact that her evil serpent king father and Prince Neel's mother, the demonic queen of the Rakkhosh, are about to get married, and the odd appearance of stories that don't belong in the Kingdom Beyond.  Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet are the harbingers of a larger unraveling, one that's being ironically being caused by the Serpent King's determination to make everything part of a single story.

But chaos is an essential part of all the universes, and Kiranmala finds herself one of its chief defenders.  With an enigmatic prophecy from her moon mother, and the occasional appearance of Albert Einstein, to guide her, she whirls through a maze of dangers and stories (including a dragon from Norse mythology....) that untimely takes her and Neel on a visit into the past.  And in her travels she realizes at the heart of her mother's prophecy, and the best weapon against the dangers of a single story, is love.

Wow.  This book is so fast-paced, and so full of sensory heft (extraordinarily vivid images, tastes, sounds), that after reading it I felt like I'd been at a party lit by flashing lights with music playing that you can't help but dance to.  Readers who love this sort of story will not be disappointed!  The Bangladeshi stories from which Sayantani DasGupta draws inspiration make it fresh and wonderful to those not familiar with them, and I imagine make it warm and delightful to those who are.

There's lots of humor, lots of magic, and there's even a nice bit of pro-tolerance message presented through the angle of the Rakkhosh/human divide being lessened by friendship, and the whole business all the stories of the world being crammed into one master story.  On a lighter note, there's even a bit of middle school friendship drama, and a bit of age appropriate crushing and angsting for those who are fond of those real-world elements in their fantasy.

Not my own personal cup of tea (I'm not a bright lights, lots of action person), but the warm and moving ending closed the story with a blanket of peace that let me take a breath and appreciate the whole thing.  It's.an excellent ending point (for now? I'm not sure) to this great series!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

3/3/20

The Lost Tide Warriors (Storm Keeper #2), by Catherine Doyle for Timeslip Tuesday

The Lost Tide Warriors, by Catherine Doyle (middle grade, Bloomsbury, January 2020) continues the battle against ancient evil begun in The Storm Keeper's Island, and I enjoyed it even more I did the first book.

The battle against ancient evil had actually begun eons the past of the island of Arranmore (hence the ancient part), when the evil sorceress Morrigan tried to take over the world, and was foiled by the magic of the good and wise Dagda.  Dagda's magic has given the island magical protectors--the Storm Keepers.  Only now, just as Morrigan is rising again, the Storm Keeper is a kid, Fionn, who's only had the job for a few months, who can't reliably tap into his magic.

It's no surprise that many of the islanders aren't convinced Fionn will save them when boatloads of horrifying Soulstalkers start arriving on the island, a creepy nuisance at first, but clearly ready to attack when Morrigan's power is strongest.  

Fionn isn't convinced either.  But he has the magic of the bottled memories his grandfather, the previous Storm Keeper, has safeguarded, and he has a plan. If he can get a hold of a legendary shell, he can blow it to sound a call that will summon the lost tide warriors of the title--the fearsome merrows who live in the ocean around the island.  Finding the shell means travelling back into the past of the island....and putting himself and his two best friends in grave danger. And all the while, to his great sadness and frustration, his grandfather is slipping away...

The things I liked best in the first book--the bottles full of memories, that transport the one who opens them through time to the moment the memories were made, the vivid sense of place, and the warm relationship between Fionn and his grandfather--are all here.  The time travel isn't the point of the book, but certainly plays an important role in helping Fionn figure out what he has to do, and his experiences as a spectator of past events gives depth to the events in the present.

I enjoyed this book more than the first.  I felt in that the first book was in large measure the set-up for great danger to come, and now it has, and it was touch and go to thwart it (there's still plenty of thwarting  left for the next book). In the first book, Fionn's sister was a total pill; here she's still not at all supportive, but a lot less grimly hostile, and is more firmly committed to protecting the island.  And Fionn's relationship with his grandfather is even more tender than it was in book 1.  His mother, also, starts to come into her own as a strong character, and since "mother" is what I myself am, I appreciated this.

So I was gripped, and left satisfied, and can now say with conviction that this is a series I whole-heartedly recommend to young readers who want to read action packed stories about kids finding magical powers and saving the world!

3/2/20

Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan (with giveaway!)

Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan (Atheneum, April 2020), is a tremendously fun middle grade fantasy, and though it doesn't come out till April 21st, I'm reviewing it now so that I can offer you a chance to win an ARC of your own from the author!

It's the story of two girls, both apprenticed to the same master, who have to put aside their competition to best each other. Even more challengingly, they must put aside their very different views of the world, and their family's expectations for them, which are rooted in the political turmoil that's threatening to bring chaos to Medasia, their island home.

Though Antonia diligently memorizes all the words to the spells, her ability to make them work isn't the strongest, and she's constantly worried that she's disappointing both her teacher, the famous sorcerer Betrys, and her mother, a powerful and privileged woman who expects great things of her.  When Moppe, the scullery maid, manifests powerful magic and is taken on by Master Betrys as a second apprentice, her doubts grow.  Antonia is happiest pouring through tomes of spells; Moppe finds reading a challenge.  Only one of the girls can move onward toward mastery...but will it be book-learned Antonia, or brilliant, uncontrolled Moppe?

But their rivalry has to take a back-seat to more pressing concerns.  Magical killer statues are on the loose, there's a rebellion growing against the rulers of their island, and Master Betrys is arrested for treason.  Antonia and Moppe are determined to follow her final instruction to them, to find the lost crown of Medasia.  The crown gives its wearer control of a magical weapon (not your average weapon, but a fun mg fantasy sort of thing) that confers pretty much absolute power to its wearer.  Which is just what each girls' family wants, but for diametrically opposed reasons.

Not only must Antonia and Moppe face a number of challenges to get the crown (ancient spells, dangerous mermaids, and their worst fears, magically magnified), they must figure out how to work magic together, with their gifts complementing each other.  Together, they can bring the crown home....but who will wear it?

This is a fine example of the sort of middle grade fantasy that one reads in just about a single-sitting, with interesting, likeable main characters, lots of delightfully magical twists and turns, and twists in the plot as well.  The story moves along briskly, with the stakes gradually rising from a rather ordinary rivalry to thought-provoking questions about political power and who gets to have it.  Really really enjoyable! I read it almost two months ago, and it is still fresh and bright in my mind's eye.

Though Moppe is described as having darker skin than Antonia, I didn't think it was quite enough to count this as diverse fantasy, but I love how Master Betrys is shown on the cover, making her a rare (in middle grade fantasy) woman of color with authority and knowledge!

Leave a comment below by the end of the day (midnight, EST) on March 8, that has some way to reach you (I can find you if your name leads back somewhere that has your email), and Deva will send you your own arc!

3/1/20

my dramatic (not) tbr reading progress


At the left is the pile as of Jan 1, at right March 1. Although I read 16 tbr pile books (owned books, not review copies) out of the 73 books I've read so far this year,  it did not make an appreciable dent, thanks to birthday present books, finding more tbr books around my house, and bringing some up from my mother's house that I'd stashed there, and a book sale whose timing and location were to convinient to pass up.  Onward.

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (3/1/20)

Welcome to the first mg sff round-up of March!  Please let me now if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Adventurers Guild, by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at Say What?

Calling All Witchs!  The Girls Who Left Their Mark on the Wizarding World, by Laurie Calkhoven, at The Children's Book Review

Coo, by Kaela Noel, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Crater Lake, by Jennifer Killick, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Dragon Warrior, by Katie Zhao, at Charlotte's Library

The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, at Charlotte's Library

The High King, by Lloyd Alexander, at Say What?

Hollow Dolls, by Marcykate Connolly, at Geo Librarian

Homerooms and Hall Passes, by Tom O'Donnell, at Rosi Hollinbeck

A Mixture of Mischief, by Anna Meriano, at Puss Reboots

Rewritten, by Tara Gilboy, at Books Teacup and Reviews

The Shadow of the Witchfinder, by Wendy Leighton-Porter, at Readers' Favorite

Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House, by Michael Poore, at Charlotte's Library

Where the World Turns Wild, by Nicola Penfold, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Winterbourne Home for Vengeance and Valour, by Ally Carter, at Sharon the Librarian

The Wonder of Wildflowers, by Anna Staniszewski, at Ms. Yingling Reads and  Kid Lit Reviews

The Word-Keeper, by Veronica del Valle, at Book Craic

Xander and the Lost Island of the Monsters, by Margaret Dilloway, at Say What?

Three at A little but a lot--Otto Tattercoat and the Forest of Lost Things, by Matilda Woods, Dragon Detective: Catnapped, by Gareth P. Jones, and The Land of Roar, by Jenny McLachlin

Three at bookloverjo--The Boy Who Fooled the World, by Lisa Thompson, Shadowsea, by Peter Bunzl, Orion Lost, by Alastair Chisholm


Authors and Interviews

Christopher Swiedler (In the Red), at Middle Grade Book Village

Anna Staniszewski (The Wonder of Wildflowers) at Middle Grade Book Village


Other Good Stuff

"Add More Goats" and Other Artistic Advice from  Ursula Le Guin, at Tor

The first trailer from A Letter for the King, the foundational middle grade fantasy of the Netherlands, now being adapted by Netflix, at Tor


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