This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/21/19)

Here's what I found this week; please let me know of anything I missed!

The Reviews

Amelia Fang Books 1 and 2 Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball and Amelia Fang and the Unicorns of Gliteropolis), by Laura Ellen Anderson, at Word Spelunking

Aru Shah and the Song of Death, by Roshani Chokshi, at Reading Books with Coffee

Asha and the Spirit Bird, by Jasbinder Bilan, at Way Too Fantasy

Battle of the Beetles, by M.G. Leonard, at Arkham Reviews

The Big Foot Files, by Lindsay Eager, at Puss Reboots

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Milliebot Reads

Bonefires and Broomsticks, by Mary Norton, at Fantasy Literature

Changling (The Oddmire Book 1), by William Ritter, at J.R.'s Book Reviews, Forever Lost In Literature, Books and Wafffles

Genie in a Bottle (Whatever After #9), by Sarah Mlynowski at Jill's Book Blog

The Girl of Ink and Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, at Book Craic

The Maker of Monsters, by Lorraine Gregory, at Book Craic

Midsummer's Mayhem, by Rajani LaRocca, at books4yourkids

Moonlocket (The Cogheart Adventures #2), by Peter Bunzl, at Log Cabin Library

Music Boxes, by Tonja Drecker, at Storeybook Reviews

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, by Ronald L. Smith, at Rosi Hollinbeck

The Rambling, by Jimmy Cajoleas, at Looking Glass Reads

The Root of Magic, by Kathleen Benner Duble, at Cracking the Cover

Serafina and the Seven Stars, by Robert Beatty, at Sharon the Librarian

The Twelve, by Cindy Lin, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Wild Lands, by Paul Greci, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Authors and Interviews

Ronald L. Smith (The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away) at Charlotte's Library

William Ritter (The Oddmire) at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

"So Your Kid is Reading Harry Potter... a Christian Family's Response" at Redeemed Reader

The call for Cybils Award judges will be coming soon (mid August).  Visit the Cybils Instagram for tips on how to prepare! If your interested in being a panelist for middle grade speculative fiction (the category I run), and have questions, please let me know! charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com (it feels very old school to write email address this way; is it still necessary?)

and finally,  I have a new kitten!  Here is little Meeple (this is actually a color picture; a symphony of gray...)


The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, by Ronald L. Smith (review and interview)

I first had the pleasure of meeting Ronald L. Smith at Kidlitcon back in 2015 (PSA--come to Kidlitcon 2020 in Ann Arbor next March!).  His first middle grade book, Hoodoo, a tale of supernatural horror in the south, had just been published, and I enjoyed it very much (my review).  I likewise enjoyed The Mesmerist (2017), about kids fighting evil in 19th century London (my review).  I never reviewed Black Panther: the Young Prince (2018)….someday I will.  So in any event, I was very excited about his most recent book, The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away (Clarion Books, February 2019).

This is the story of an air force kid, Simon, son of a black mom and a white dad, who's obsessed with aliens.  He's convinced owl-like aliens have arrived, watching and experimenting on humans.  His family has no time or patience for aliens, so Simon is alone with his fears of the Grays, as he calls them.  When something very strange happens on a camping trip with his dad, Simon is convinced he was targeted by the aliens, and that a chip has been implanted in his stomach.

Are the aliens a projection of Simon's own anxieties (he feels his father is disappointed in his lack of athleticism, fondness for gaming, and his social insecurity), or are they a real threat, that no one else around him believes in?  His parents think his fears are psychological, and take him to a psychiatrist who medicates him, but Simon doesn't cooperate.   Readers must keep guessing; Simon's other obsession, the fantasy book he's writing, makes it clear that he's a tremendously imaginative, creative person, and are the Grays simply another story he's telling himself?

Whether or not the aliens are real, Simon's distress certainly is, and the scary tension keeps growing throughout the book!  Young fans of sci fi horror creeping into our world will love it, especially those who feel that the grown-ups don't take them seriously.

Here are some questions I had for Ronald L. Smith, that he graciously answered.

What inspired you to write Owls? 

Well, I have a lot of ideas brewing in my brain. I thought it would be cool to try something more contemporary than my other books. I have an unhealthy fascination with UFOs and aliens so I thought it would be a good subject. Also, the book is set on an Air Force base, which is where I spent my life growing up. There is a whole subculture around military bases that people don’t know about. It’s a certain way of life. Since I know it well I thought it would provide a good backdrop. Also, aliens and UFOs are a timeless subject.

Part of what makes Owls so interesting is the uncertainty about the whether the aliens are real or not.  When you started writing Owls, did you know which way you were going to go?

Yes. But the book also changed a little in edits. The big idea stayed true to what I envisioned. 

Likewise, although Owls is a middle grade book (9-12 year olds) it felt to me like it could easily have been born a Young Adult book....did you always think of it as middle grade, or were there times it wanted to be YA?  (would you like to write YA?)

I always thought of it as MG. That’s the category I like most. It would be a little different, though, if it were YA. My main character, Simon, would have had different hopes and fears. A younger protagonist allowed me to tap into the mind of a twelve-year-old and imagine how he would handle such a weird subject. As to writing YA, I have some ideas. Maybe one day!

(a question for those of us who have read the book...) Do you think the ending is entirely happy?  

Well, I’ll leave that one up to the reader. It’s hopeful but also kind of disturbing! 

Which of your books did you most enjoy writing, and what are you working on now?

Oh, wow. I’m sure you know the answer, as you’ve interviewed a lot of writers. I can’t really say which is my favorite. They all have their challenges and bright spots. I really enjoyed writing Owls. It was fun to write something contemporary but with one disturbing—albeit big—element to it. My next book is called GLOOMTOWN. It’s a fantasy novel about two kids named Rory and Isabella who live in a town called Gloom. The sun never shines there. But there’s a reason for that. There’s also a creepy mansion called Foxglove Manor, Black Sea mariners, a carnival and a scary group called Arcanus Creatura. It’s gonna be fun! 

Finally, any advice for young writers and/or young believers in aliens? 

For young writers, read a lot. Fiction. Nonfiction. Comics. Graphic novels. Memoirs and biographies. Newspapers. Just read. Reading is your best teacher. Share your work with like-minded friends and writers. Try to write a little each day, even if it’s just your own thoughts. And if you believe in aliens, you’re not alone! (See what I did there?) 

Thank you, Ronald!  I'll look forward to Gloomtown.  I love creepy mansions!


The Square Root of Summer, by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, for TImeslip Tuesday

For those of us for whom summer feels faintly unreal, with its langerous heat and the disaloution of the routines of the school year, and all the work that needs doing outside, here's a romantic timeslip story of in which reality does indeed become unraveled. The Square Root of Summer, by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Roaring Brook Press 2016), is a story of a teenaged girl's grief and growing-up, the wormholes that are moving her back and for from her past to her present, and her efforts to understand what's happening through math and introspection.

 Last summer, Gottie (short for Margot) lost her grandfather, the cornerstone of her family. Before that, she lost her childhood soulmate, Thomas, when he moved away and left her with a hole in her memory. After that, she lost her heart to her older brother's friend Jason, who ended up dumping her. Now Thomas and Jason are both back in her life, but she is unsure of where her heart stands in relationship to them. And her bottled-up unhappiness and uncertainty is pushing her away from her best friend Sophia.

When wormholes to her past start opening up in front of Gottie, the cork to her bottled-up feelings is popped. And as she revisits her past, though she's mostly just a spectator, things change. Some seem like changes of the better--chance to fix mistakes. Other changes seem disastrous. Gottie, fascinated by theoretical physics, tries to make mathematical sense of what the universe is doing around her, but instead finds both the math, and her forced introspection, starting to make more sense of her own life and choices. And so in the end she comes to the point of being able to hold on to real love, while still mourning what has been lost. I loved Margot's fascination with math. It didn't made mathematical sense to me, but since I figured it wouldn't I didn't try hard; on the other hand, I liked reading the math, and it did work for me as metaphor (although almost everything works for me as metaphor...). I liked the way the time slips played out, forcing Gottie to look at her past choices and how they continue to play out. I wasn't quite convinced that her grief was sufficient catalyst for it all to happen, as us readers are led to believe, but whatever (catalyst shmatalyst, as long as it's a good story). And I'm never really a fan of childhood best beloved friend morphing into true love, but again, it worked for the story. I was somewhat thrown off at first by Americanisms; in a book by an English author set in England I don't expect to find college, kindergarten, and Jello....but the Americanisms only caught my eye the first part of the book, as if some Anglo-averse editor lost interest, because "jumper" instead of sweater, for instance, appeared later on...On the other hand, it's been thirty years since I lived in England, and so maybe they do say college to mean university more commonly these days. Short answer--not my favorite time slip YA, but a pleasant romantic story with interesting time slip physics.


this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/14/19)

Here's what I found this week; please let me know of anything I missed!

The Reviews

And All Between (Green Sky #3), by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, at Say What?

The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman, at Girl With Her Head in a Book

Brightstorm, by Vashti Hardy, at Charlotte's Library

Changling (the Oddmire #1), by William Ritter, at Metalphantasmreads, Storythreads, and Bookworm for Kids

The Haunting of Henry Davis, by Kathryn Siebel, at From My Bookshelf

The House with Chicken Legs, by Sophie Anderson, at Arkham Reviews

The Longest Night of Charlie Moon, by Christopher Edge, at Middle Grade Mafia

The Lost Tide Warriors, by Catherine Doyle, at Book Craic 

The Magic Bed-Knob, by Mary Norton, at Fantasy Literature

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Heather's Reading Hideaway

The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, at Read Till Dawn

Serafina and the Seven Stars, by Robert Beatty, at the B and N Kids Blog

Ship Rats: A Tale of Heroism on the High Seas, by Rhian Waller, at Nayu's Reading Corner

Simon Grey and the March of a Hundred Ghosts, by Charles Kowalski, at The Reading Bud

A Small Zombie Problem, by K.G. Campbell, at Lost in Storyland, Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers,  and From My Bookshelf

Authors and Interviews

Kara LaRue (The Bland Sisters series) at From the Mixed Up Files

Rajani LaRoca (Midsummer's Mayhem) at Taleoutloud and Michelle I. Mason

Caroline Carlson (The Door at the End of the World) at Stephanie Burgis

Nicole Valentine (A Time-Traveller's Theory of Relativity) at My Brain on Books

Juliette Forrest (The True Colours of Coral Glen) at thereaderteacher.com

Other Good Stuff

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

A booklist of favorite mice at Redeemed Reader

Disney news rounded up at A Backwards Story

"A Debut Middle-Grade Author's Life-Changing Tweet" at Publishers Weekly

Congratulations to Cressida Cowell, just named Waterstones Children's Laureate for the coming year!


The Kitten Kingdom is a fun new fantasy series for elementary readers

I don't tend to seek out books for early elementary grade kids, but I'm by no means averse to reading them when they come my way (not just because it's a fast way to notch a few more books read with an eye to meeting my Goodreads goal for the year).  I just read the first two books in a new series for kids 5-8ish--Kitten Kingdom: Tabby's First Quest, and the second book, Tabby and the Pup Prince, by Mia Bell (Scholastic, May 2019) and am happy to recommend them!

Tabby is a kitten princess, but she and her brothers sometimes find it hard to behave with royal decorum (they are kittens, after all).  And Tabby dreams of having wild adventures...One day an adventure falls into the kittens' paws when the evil lord of the rats, Gorgonzola, steals the magic scroll that confers the power to rule on their parents.  If it isn't recovered, the rats will take over the kingdom of Mewtopia!  So Tabby squelches a bit of self-doubt and transforms herself and her brothers into heroes (the Whiskered Wonders) and leads her brothers on a quest into the subterranean rat realm to find it....and saves the day.

In her second adventure, Tabby and her brothers are apprehensive when a state visit from the neighboring dog royalty means they'll have to entertain a puppy, something they've never even met before.  Fortunately the cat royals have a magic orb that will allow them to produce all the food cats and dogs love best.  But then the orb is stolen by Gorgonzola and his rat minions!  The puppy prince joins the Whiskered Wonders, using his gifts of sniffing and fetching to bring the orb back safely.

These are entertaining books, with fast paced adventures and entertaining illustrations.  The text is substantial without being overwhelming for readers still finding their feet, and the second book has the added bonus of the kittens and puppy working together despite their differences.  There's no nuance in the villainy of the rats, but Gorgonzola is an age-appropriate enemy.

Well I remember the relief I felt when my boys would find a new series they liked, and I could relax for a bit about what to give them to read next! Books 3 of Kitten Kingdom, Tabby and the Catfish, is out this July, and book 4, Tabby Takes the Crown, comes out in October.

Charming fun.

disclaimer: review copies received from the publisher


Brightstorm, by Vashti Hardy

Back to blogging after vacation time, happily with a book I loved to write about!

Brightstorm, by Vashti Hardy (published in the UK March 2018, Scholastic), is a gorgeous middle grade adventure, one of my favorite books of the year so far!  I am so happy that some savvy Rhode Island librarian (Ashaway RI to be precise) reached across the Atlantic to add it to our state library system!

Twins Arthur and Maudie are left destitute in an alternate version of London when their father never returns from a voyage in his airship to reach the South Polaris on the mysterious Third Continent.  He's considered guilty of failing to render aid to his chief competitor in his quest for the polaris, the powerful Eudora Vine.  Then Arthur and Maudie are taken on as crew by a young captain, Harriet Culpepper, who flies an airship like no other.  She's determined to beat Eudora in a second race to the polaris, and Maudie and Arthur are determined to all they can to help, partly for the large cash prize and the thrill of it, but in larger part, especially for Arthur, to find out what really happened to their father.

The journey through the skies goes smoothly, but disaster strikes when they reach the third continent.  Their ship has been sabotaged, and now they've crashed into a wasteland where giant  beasts, who apparently attacked their father's crew, prowl through the snow.  Harriet, Maudie, Arthur, and the indominable ship's cook, Felicity, race through bitter cold across treacherous ice...but Eudora Vine is an enemy who will stop at nothing.

In the end, the mystery of their father's death is solved, Eudora is thwarted, and all is well. 
Not only is it a good story, with a steady buildup to the exciting race at the end, but it has great characters.  I'm of course all in favor for strong girls who are geniuses at mechanics, like Maudie and Harriet, but it's also lovely to see a boy like Arthur, who isn't particular gifted at practical, boy-coded things find his own gifts of intuition, observation, and thoughtful communication.  It's this later gift that wins the group surprising allies who keep them alive in the cold south.  Arthur was born without his right arm, and though this is a hindrance in some respects, and though he's sick of people's reactions, it's not a handicap that defines him in anyway, which I also appreciated.

A final appreciation is  for the condemnation of rapacious, violent colonial exploration and exploitation, not made a heavy handed Point of, but made very firmly clear.

An even more final appreciation--Harriet's airship has a great onboard library which both twins love.

And one more quick one--Felicity the cook is a real hero! (her actual age isn't specified, but she read as a middle-aged women to me, which was nice for me).

In short, a quick bright read that's a true delight!


The Opposite of Always, by Justin A. Reynolds, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Opposite of Always, by Justin A. Reynolds (Katherine Tegan Books, March 2019), is a sweet, funny, poignant time travel YA with a lot going on in its turning pages.

Jack, a high school senior, and Kate, a college freshman, meet and fall hard for each other.  Their chemistry is immediate, and their enjoyment of each other's company seems to Jack to promise the possibility to love.  Jack's two best friends, Franny, the boy he's been best buddies with forever, and Jillian, the best friend he was in love with before she started going out with Frannie, hit it off with Kate when they finally get to meet her, and all seems golden when she agrees to go to prom with Jack.  But then Kate doesn't show up on prom night, and Jack is only just able to find her in the hospital to say good-bye before she dies from complications of sickle cell anemia.

That isn't the end of the story.  Jack loops back in time to meet her all over again.  Over and over, trying to save her, and sometimes messing up his friendship with Franny and Jillian, and not saving Kate after all.  Some choices are disasters, others promise that Jack might be able to get through Kate's medical crisis to a happy ending...

Jack and Kate are a great couple, even after seeing their relationship multiple times.  Their lively banter is a delight!  Franny and  Jillian are solid supporting characters, each with their own issues (Franny's dad, for instance, is just getting out of prison, though there's lots more to Franny's story) and any reader would want to have these friends.  It's also nice to see good parents--Jack's mom and dad are supportive and present in Jack's life, and madly in love with each other, and they also are beautifully supportive of Franny.

Though we revisit the same general timeline of events multiple times, there's enough that's different in the repercussions, in the dialogue (these are some of the snappiest teens in their jokes and comebacks and banter I've read), and in Jack's growth as a character (it's not dramatic growth, but rather a growing up a bit, and realizing he can't fix things as if he were a puppeteer).

The cast of characters is diverse; as shown on the cover, Jack and Kate are both black, and Reynolds makes this clear very naturally and gracefully, without dumping direct description all over the place.  Franny is Latinx, Jillian's dad is West African.

I enjoyed it very much, and thought it's well over 400 pages long, it only took a few hours to read it becuase the pages were turning so fast (and of course at one point they turned very quickly indeed to the end, becuase I had to make sure it turned out all right.  Which it does).  My only regret is that somehow Kate's death, even the first time, didn't make me all that sad, even though I liked her lots.  I'm not sure why this was; perhaps becuase I went it to the story knowing about the time loop, but I would have liked to have found it more moving.....

We never know why or how the time loop happens, which might bother some people (and bothers Kate herself a little bit when she finds out--she wonders why the universe would bend itself to save her--but that's not something I myself care too much about.

short answer--a really impressive debut, and a great read!


Bad Order, by Barb Bentler Ullman

My first try at writing my thoughts about Bad Order, by Barb Bentler Ullman (Stirling Children's Books, June 2019), went through some rip in the reality of Blogger, and so I'm quickly trying to redo it before the deathless prose of my first try is lost.

(which is appropriate, given what the book is about.  But sigh).

In any event, this is the story of a little boy, Albie, who doesn't speak.  He does, though, communicate telepathically with his loving big sister, Mary, sending her "memes," as she thinks of his messages.  One snowy day Mary, Brit and Albie are out for a walk, when Albie sends a frightening meme--"Bad order." He can't convey anything more specific, but it's clear that he's perceived a wrongness.  Then the kids see a mysterious red mist, that pulls at them.  To their horror, anyone pulled in by the mist becomes distorted, angry, and violent.  Clearly the mist is part of the "bad order" Albie was sensing.

When news of the violence engendered by the mist spreads, the Feds arrive to try to stop it, but the agents are no better at fighting it than anyone else.  Fortunaly three holographic alien constructs, trying (and failing) to pass as human, also arrive, and they help the kids get out of the hands of the Feds via a flying Volkswagon bus.  They also explain that the bad order is much worse than the mist; there's a rip in the interdimensional fabric of the universe.  Albie, who is linked to the creation of that rip, can fix it again...maybe.

It was impossible for me to not think of a Wrinkle In Time.  There's the special little brother and his protective big sister, the three aliens trying to be human, the group of friends trying to save the universe, and there's even Mary and Albie's missing scientist father, whose final experiment went wrong.   But though this similarity was a distraction, it didn't keep me from appreciating Bad Order on its own merits (and this was helped by Mary and Meg being nothing alike).

Partly this was because the group of kids, including Brit's big brother Lars (a helpful, goodhearted teen, who takes the kids seriously, which is pretty rare in middle grade fantasy), are really likeable.  Partly it was because the three alien constructs are really truly funny.  Partly because the threat was explained in almost believable science, and so suspension of disbelief was pretty easy.  But mostly because the red mist was terrifying, transforming ordinary people into monstrous versions of themselves, and the horror the kids felt was really well done.

So if you are in the mood for a horror tinged book that comes to a warm ending after some sci fi high jinx, this might be just the thing for you!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

disclaimer 2:  my first try was better. Sigh again.


this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi is up (6/30/19)

Here's what I found on-line this week; please let me know about anything I missed!

The Reviews

The Afterwards, by A.F. Harrold, at Randomly Reading

Carnival Catastophe (Problim Children #2), by Natalie Lloyd, at Children's Books Heal

Earth Swarm, by Tim Hall, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Invasion (Animprophs) by K.A. Applegate, at Lost in Storyland

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, by Lamar Giles, at Randomly Reading

The Magical Apothecary, by Anna Ruhe (and why it should be translated into English), at A Dance with Books

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor, at Diva Booknerd

The Mortification of Fovea Munson, by Mary Winn Heider, at Sharon the Librarian

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norman Juster (new audiobook review), at Locus

Podkin One-Ear, by Kieran Larwood, at Say What?

The Root of Magic, by Kathleen Benner, at Mom Read It

Rumblestar, by Abi Elphinstone, at Amy the Zany Bibliophile

The Sacred Artifact, by Caldric Blackwell, at Red Headed Book Lover

Silent Lee and the Adventure of the Side Door Key, by Alex Hiam, at The Write Path

Time Sight, by Lynne Jonell, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Train to Impossible Places, by P.G. Bell, at Sarah Withers Blogs

Where the River Runs Gold, by Sita Bramachari, at Book Craic

Wooden Bones, by Scott William Carter, at Millibot Reads

Authors and Interviews

A.M. Howell (The Garden of Lost Secrets) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Max Brallier (The Last Kids on Earth) at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Other Good Stuff

A round-up of every Dark Crystal thing coming later this year at Tor

Beyond Harry Potter: 35 Fantasy Adeventure Series Starring Mighty Girls at A Mighty Girl


Mammothfail and me

A recent article, YA Twitter Can Be Toxic, But It Also Points Out Real Problems" by Molly Templeton on Buzzfeed, took me back in time:

"In the late 2000s, the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) community — which overlaps greatly with YA — had something of a reckoning. Eventually known as RaceFail ’09, it was, as author N.K. Jemisin wrote in a blog post a year later, “a several-months-long conversation about race in the context of science fiction and fantasy that sprawled across the blogosphere. It involved several thousand participants and spawned several hundred essays — and it hasn’t really ended yet, just slowed down."

RaceFail started as MammothFail, when Patricia Wrede's Thirteenth Child was widely called out for its erasure of Native Americans (there were lots of mammoths, but no indigenous people).  I was part of that conversation, and it was a watershed moment for me as a reader, a reviewer, and a purveyor of books for my own kids.

Here's my review of Thirteenth Child.

The conversations that took place on line were a real wake up call for me, and I set out to do what I could to promote diverse books.  Here's my post about what I did in the immediate aftermath, which included a trip to the local bookstores to try to put my money where my mouth was by buying diverse books (this did not break the bank). Subsequently I made a concerted effort to seek out diverse middle grade and YA fantasy and science books, and started compiling the list of my reviews  (around 240  of them so far).  In the past few years, my attention has shifted some from my own blog; I now write for the B. and N. Kids Blog, where I try to make sure diverse books get included (which is annoying to me for the purpose of my own list of review, because once I review a book there I don't review here, so my list is missing all the Rick Riordan Presents books, for instance....).

It was good to have this reminder of MammothFail because I have been becoming complacent, and need to make sure I keep reviewing diverse books here, and supporting new authors by actually buying books from local bookstores (I've mostly just been keeping up with what comes in the mail....).  Happily I think it would actually take more money than I have to go back to the same bookstores I went to in 2009 to buy every book with non-white kids on the cover (I can't go today, but will try to later this week....), but of course they're still outnumbered by the white kids and animals, as this infographic from CCBC shows (the full article in which this image appears can be read here):

I squirm a bit reading some of my 2009 thoughts; "own voices," for instance, wasn't something that had come into my consciousness, and I'm glad for all the folks on twitter who keep educating and informing me.  That being said, this reminder of MammothFail also made me badly miss the blogging days of yore; twitter is a thin substitute for the conversations that took place in blog comments. Reading blogs made it easier to connect to people in meaningful ways, both because you could say more and give more context in posts than in tweets, and because you actually could get to know the people you were interacting with.  Of course, blogs attracted toxicity too, and for many of us it was an echo chamber, so it wasn't perfect, but I still miss those day!

And just for kicks, looking back at 2009, I found another controversy I'd forgotten about.  From my post about it:

There was a bit of a stink recently when it was revealed that a new anthology, The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF, edited by Mike Ashley, had in it not a single story by a woman or a person of color--here's the table of contents, and some interesting reading in the comments. I found at Feminist SF-The Blog this quote from Ashley, explaining that this "...probably has something to do with my concept of “mind-blowing”. Women are every bit as capable of writing mindblowing sf as men are, but with women the stories concentrate far more on people, life, society and not the hard-scientific concepts I was looking for."


The Last Beginning, by Lauren James, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Last Beginning, by Lauren James (YA, Sky Pony Press, 2018) is a joyful, chaotic romp of a time travel adventure that I devoured in a single sitting.

Clove, a Scottish teenager in 2051, gets hit with two emotional wrenches in one week.  Her best friend Meg, who she has a crush on, has just fallen in love with a boy, Clove's cousin.  On a more earthshaking note, Clove's parents tell her that she is adopted, and that her birth parents, Matt and Kate, are famous for saving the world from a bioterrorist threat developed by England, and then disappearing.  Clove sets the family's AI device, nicknamed Spart, to work trying to track them down (she is a whiz at computer programing).

And in the meantime, her mother has almost finished getting her time machine up and running.

Spart the AI delivers the strange information that  Matt and Kate keep showing up in history, starting in 1745.  So Clove decides that she will use the time machine to go back to find them, to try to figure out what happened to them and why they keep showing up a various crisis points of history.  The time machine works, and Clove becomes friends with Ella, a girl a little older.  She also meets then-Matt and then-Kate, and unfortunately changes the past.  When she returns to her own time, everything is horribly altered, and she starts disapparating...but a bit more time travel shenanigans patches things up.

I don't want to go into any more details about what happens next, but it involves lots more time travel, Ella and Clove falling in love (Ella keeps popping up....and has an interesting story of her own), and Matt and Kate saving the world....

I was very doubtful about how easy a time of it Clove had in 1745, but it turns out there's an explanation for this that made me smile.  And though there are many bifurcations and manipulations of time, I managed not to get overwhelmed with confusion.  Clove and Ella's romance is very sweet, as is the love between all the different Matt and Kates, and the love in Clove's nuclear family.  The story includes on-line exchanges between the characters, some from the future, including Clove's chats with Spart, and some steamy exchanges with Ella, and these lighten the weight of the world saving and time travel confusion very nicely, and made me chuckle.

This is the sequel to The Next Together, but it stands alone just fine, and quite possibly works better if you have never read that one (which is the story of Matt and Kate).  Not knowing the details of their lives makes the reader feel closer to Clove as she figures things out.  Although of course reading about Matt and Kate second might mean their story is less gripping...so really one should probably read both books first!

But in any event, I liked this one lots, and am glad to have an excellent lesbian sci fi time travel with smart girls saving the world to recommend! (we need more!)


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

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

The Reviews

Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows, by Ryan Calejo, at Latinx in Kid Lit

Chronicles of ancient Darkness, by Michelle Paver (series review) at Fantasy Faction

The Curse of Greg (An Epic Series of Failures #2) by Chris Rylander, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Dragon Captives (Unwanteds Quests #3), by Lisa McMann, at Say What?

The First, by Katherine Applegate, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

The Girl Who Sailed the Stars, by Matilda Woods, at Always in the Middle and Two Points of Interest

Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams, at Milliebot Reads and Tales from the Raven

The House with Chicken Legs, by Sophie Anderson, at Say What?

The Ice Garden, by Guy Jones, at Hidden in Pages

The Lost Tide Warriors, by Catherine Doyle, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Midsummer's Mayhem, by Rajani LaRocca, at alibrarymama

The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly, by Rebecca K.S. Ansari, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Monster Catchers, by George Brewington, at Confessions of a Book Addict

Nooks and Crannies, by Jessica Lawson, at Completely Full Bookshelf

The Once and Future Geek (Camelot Code #1), by Mari Mancusi, at Charlotte's Library

Once Upon a Frog (Whatever After #8) by Sarah Mlynowski, at Jill's Book Blog

Over the Moon, by Natalie Lloyd, at Susan Uhlig

Return of the Evening Star, by Diane Rios, at Always in the Middle

Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races, by K.D. Halbrook, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Space Dragons, by Robin Bennett, at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers and A Garden of Books

The Storm Keeper's Island, by Catherine Doyle, at Susan Uhlig

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows, by J.M. Bergen, at Book Dust Magic

The Tunnels Below, by Nadine Wild-Palmer, at Kids' Book Review

Wildspark, by Vashti Hardy, at BookCraic

Authors and Interviews

Kobe Bryant (The Wizenard Series: Training Camp, created by Bryant, written by Wesley King) at B. and N. Kids Blog
Tara Tyler (Windy Hollow-Beast World #3), at The Cynical Sailor and His Salty Sidekick and Writer's Alley

Other Good Stuff

I hosted the cover reveal for Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan


Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure, by Alex T. Smith

Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure, by Alex T. Smith (Peachtree, April 2019), will delight young readers (1st-4th grades) who enjoy easy to read, quirky, and funny mysteries.

Mr. Penguin has always dreamed of being an adventurer.  So when he sets up shop along with Colin, a spider friend, offering his services to the townsfolk, he expects to be inundated with requests for help.  Finally the phone rings.  Boudicca Bones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects (who's human) needs his help finding the treasure supposedly hidden in the museum.

So Mr. Penguin and Colin set out, and find that being adventurers isn't a walk in the park!  Beneath the Museum is a marvelous and dangerous landscape, full of things that could seriously damage anyone exploring there.  And then the danger gets even more dangerous, when the adventurers face a dastardly double-cross!  Fortunately, Edith (another human) who lives in the park with her pigeon friend, Gordon), thought Mr. Penguin might need some help, and comes to the rescue!  The day is saved, the bad guys are caught, and Mr. Penguin and Colin are famous (poor Edith gets a reward, but not the fame....).

It's a fun fast read, that should go down very nicely indeed for younger readers. I didn't see the twist coming, and it upped the level of tension beautifully! The illustrations are amusing, and Mr. Penguin, in his own unheroic and not tremendously useful way, is an appealing character (Colin is much more useful, and I actually liked him better!).  Young pedants might be annoyed that Mr. Penguin lives in a igloo and can't swim, but they can get over that.

And as is so often the happy case with series starters for the young, there's not too long to wait for the next installment--Mr. Penguin and the Fortress of Secrets comes out October, 2019!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


The Camelot Code: The One and Future Geek, by Mari Mancusi, for Timeslip Tuesday

Here's a fun timeslip story for kids that mixes computer gaming with the story of King Arthur and medieval magic--The Camelot Code: The One and Future Geek, by Mari Mancusi (Disney-Hyperion, November 2018).

The time has come for Arthur to pull the sword from the sword and become king!  But when Guinevere, his best friend, accidently drops a magical treasure down Merlin's enchanted well, and Arthur tries to get it back, he falls in himself....and travels through time to our present.  Merlin has set up the well to serve as a connection to the modern era, where he enjoys the benefits of Wifi, and plays an online fantasy game, Camelot's Honor, with two ordinary kids, Sophie and Stu. When Merlin realizes he's lost Arthur to the future, he calls Sophie and Stu back into the past.  With the help of Merlin's magic, Stu becomes a stand-in for Arthur, and Sophie goes back to the present to try to bring him back before the future is irrevocably changed.  And Guinevere travels down the well too, to try to do the same.

In our present, things become chaotic.  Already things from the original timeline are different.  Arthur of course is faced with tremendous culture shock, but finds that he quite likes high school--he makes friends with Lance (once Stu's stepbrother, but not in this new present), and joins the football team.  When he reads about himself via google, he is naturally horrified to learn what would have happened if he'd become king, and so when he meets Guinevere at high school, their relationship is strained (especially when Lance falls hard for her....).  More importantly, Arthur has no desire to go back to his rightful time.

Complicating things is the fact that Arthur's half sister, Morgana, has followed him to the future, where, being outside Merlin's protection, he'll be easier to kill!

Now it's up to Sophie to convince Arthur to come home (or else peperoni pizza will never be a thing, and she doesn't want to live in that world), while Stu struggles to hold the fort (literally and figuratively) while the threat of the Saxon invaders looms...

So there's a lot happening, but it all works together really well, and it's a lot of fun!  Merlin, dabbling with modern technology and trying to keep everything together, provides nice humor.  Geek girl Sophie is a delight, and Arthur's ultimate high school triumph is strangely believable.  There's some real-world emotional depth provided by the strain that's entered Sophie and Stu's friendship, when she's afraid he's drifting away from her preferred gamer-geek life, and she's afraid of loosing him (things move past geek gamers vs sports players, though- Sophie and Stu realize you can do both). And of course Arthur's struggle with his destiny, and his own relationship with Guinevere, is hard for him.

Recommended in particular to fans of Vivian Vande Velde's Heir Apparent series, which are also computer gaming mixed with fantasy.  Which is me.  I'll be looking for book 2, Geeks and the Holy Grail, when it comes out this October!

(Of course, the Arthurian past isn't a real "middle ages," but it still serves the story well).


Cover reveal for Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan

It's always so exciting when an author you enjoy has a new book coming.  I'm thrilled to be hosting the cover reveal for Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan; it sounds great, and looks great too!

First the synopsis:

A young wizard’s apprentice discovers that the best magic is not the biggest or the brightest, but the magic unique to you, in this cinematic middle grade fantasy.

Antonia may not be the most powerful wizard the world has ever seen, but she’s worked hard to win her place as apprentice to renowned sorcerer Master Betrys. Unfortunately, even her best dancing turnip charm might not be enough when Moppe the scullery maid turns out to be a magical prodigy. Now that Betrys has taken Moppe on as a second apprentice, Antonia’s path to wizarding just got a bit more complicated.

But when Betrys is accused of treason, Antonia and Moppe are forced to go on the run. To prove their master’s innocence—and their own—the rivals must become allies. As their island province teeters on the brink of rebellion, they’ll face ancient spells, vengeful mermaids, enchanted turnips, voice-stealing forests, and one insatiable sea monster.

Coming from Atheneum Books for Young Readers in April, 2020.

And here's the cover! The art is by Saoirse Lou and the design is by Rebecca Syracuse.

If you missed Deva's earlier books, now's a great time to fix that! Here they are, with links to my reviews:

Fortune's Folly (2009)
The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle (2010)
Circus Galacticus (2011)


this week's round-up of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (6/16/19)

Here's what I found this week; please let me know of any posts I missed!  thanks.

The Reviews

Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Begone the Raggedy Witches, by Celine Kiernan, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

The Book of Secrets, and The Books of Answers ( Ateban Cipher #s 1 and 2), by A.L. Tait, at Charlotte's Library

Briar and Rose and Jack, by Katherine Coville, at BooksForKidsBlog

The Clockwork Ghost, by Laura Ruby, at Puss Reboots

Dino Knights, by Jeff Norton, at Charlotte's Library

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, at TBR and Beyond

Fire and Thorn, by Mary Yee, at Nike N. Chillemi

Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Read Yourself Happy

The Little Grey Girl, by Celine Kiernan, at It's All About the Book

The Monster Catchers, by George Brewington, at My Comfy Chair

The Root of Magic, by Kathleen Benner Duble, at Always in the Middle and Charlotte's Library

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidiker, at Fuse #8

Thisby Thestoop and the Wretched Scrattle, by Zac Gorman, at Log Cabin Library

Through the Untamed Sky (Riders of the Realm #2), by Jennifer Alvarez, at Children's Books Heal

Authors and Interviews

Tui T. Sutherland (Wings of Fire) at Publishers Weekly

Megan Frazer Blackmore (The Story Web) at Nerdy Book Club

Rajani Larocca, at YAOMG, and ABA

Caroline Carlson (The Door at the End of the World) at SteaMG
Chelsea Flagg (Tinsy Clover) at This is Writing

Erin Entrada Kelly (Lelani of the Distant Sea) at Harper Stacks

Adam Jay Epstein (Snared) at What and Why with Max Ross (podcast)

Other Good Stuff

More new books in the UK at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Movie news--
One of the few Discworld books that I'd label "middle grade," The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents," is coming to the screen, more at Tor
Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, is coming from Universal; more here at The Hollywood Reporter

"Five Magical Realism Books for Kids Who Love Magic" at The Children's Book Review (note from me-is it time for me to just accept that "magical realism" has been co-opted to mean "magic in the real world" and move on with my life?)

Get your Hildafolk feels in real life with these giant wooden sculptures in the forests of Denmark


The Book of Secrets, and The Book of Answers, by A.L. Tait

The Book of Secrets, and The Book of Answers, by A.L. Tait (together comprising the Ateban Cipher duology, Kane Miller, 2019 in the US), tell of a mysterious book and the boy who becomes its protector.  If you like reading about the high.jinks of the plucky medieval kids thwarting bad guys, you'll enjoy these two books lots.

Gabe, the main character, is not the sort of reader who enjoys books about plucky kids thwarting bad guys (although he's never read any).  Growing up in the monastery where he was left as a foundling, he loves the books in the monastic library, and has never thought about living elsewhere. But then an old monk is attacked, and badly injured, and is barely able to hand Gabe a precious book, with an enigmatic command--"take it to Aiden."  When Gabe rushes to find help for Brother Benedict, he finds instead that there's a conspiracy at foot in his monastery, and it's no longer a safe place for him or the book.

Woefully unprepared for life on the outside, Gabe is fortunate to be taken under the wing of a band of brigands.  These aren't ordinary outlaws, though; instead, they are four girls who for various reasons have chosen to live outside the law.  Two are sisters, hoping to save their father from the dungeon of the local stronghold, one is escaping an arranged marriage, and one is a girl whose parents have been killed.

It soon becomes clear that dangerous and powerful men are searching for Gabe and the book, and that these men are plotting against the kingdom.  They've replaced the king's son with a puppet, and now the real prince has joined the band, hoping they can help him get back to his rightful place. Tons of adventures and perils await as Gabe and his new friends race to find the secrets of the book, and set wrongs right.

If you love medieval adventures, you'll enjoy these two books greatly!  Gabe and co. are great characters, and the girls in particular are tons of fun!  Gabe's progression from innocent babe in the wood to someone able to step up to the plate is especially pleasing.  Their escapades strain credulity a bit, but without being over the top unbelievable.  I'm categorizing this as fantasy, although there's no actual magic, because it's set in an alternate version of our world (mostly indicated by the politics--a king who isn't a real historical figure, but also one where paper books existed earlier than our ours), and because the book does seem to have the promise of real alchemy in it.

There's some violence, but nothing horrific, so I'd be happy offering this to readers as young as 8 or 9, the age at which I myself would have especially enjoyed them!  Especially recommended to younger Ranger's Apprentice fans.

disclaimer: review copies received from the publisher


The Root of Magic, by Kathleen Benner Duble

The Root of Magic, by Kathleen Benner Duble (middle grade, Delacorte, June 11 2019), is a poignant story of a girl faced with an almost impossible choice.

Willow's Dad was supposed to take her to her hockey game in New Brunswick.  But when he cancelled at the last minute, Willow's mom took her, and with no other choice, took her little brother, nicknamed Wisp, as well.  Her mother is in a constant state of desperate worry over Wisp, who has been very ill for ages, with no reason found, and no way yet found to help him recover, and her father has pulled away from the family, unable to cope otherwise. Driving home through Maine they are caught by a fierce snowstorm, and their car ends up hanging perilously half over a bridge.  Fortunately, help arrives in the form of the snowplow team of Kismet, a little town in the middle of nowhere, and the three of them are taken in by Cora, who runs the town's only lodging house.

The snow continues, and Maine declares a state of emergency.  And so they are stuck in Kismet, and Willow's mom is almost frantic about Wisp, although he is no worse than usual.  Then she hears that the doctor at the local hospital might be able to help him, and she starts hoping again.  Willow is fed up with everything; she loves Wisp, but doesn't want him subjected to yet another round of futile tests and proddings and no answers.  And she wants to get home, to her friends, and to her father.

Their first snowbound day in Kismet is enlivened by local kids coming round--Topher, a boy a bit older than Willow, and his little brothers.  Willow does enjoy Topher's company over the next few days, but he seems a little weird in an off sort of way, and so does the whole town for that matter....and then her mother starts acting strangely calm and happy, and not at all anxious to leave.  What is it about Kismet that makes it strange?

And so Willow sets herself to finding the heart of the magic (real magic) that flows through the roots of the town.  When she does, she realizes she will have an awful decision to make.  Stay with her brother and mother in a town she'll never be able to leave, or leave them behind for a wild, uncertain future?

I think this is a book kids will love more than mothers do.   Willow's mother has two children, after all, and though I can sympathize with her spending all her emotional energy on her desperately ill child, I still judge her for not having much of anything to give Willow (although driving to New Brunswick in winter shows she does care, so maybe I'm too harsh).   Romantically inclined kids will almost certainly find the attraction between Willow and Topher sweet as all get out.  Kids will also come to the magical element of the story with fresher eyes, and so it will be more intriguing for them.

The final choice that Willow and her mother and Topher face, though, is just as heart crunching for adults as it is for kids, and sheds a retroactive power over the story as a whole.

disclaimer: review copy received from its publicist.


Dino Knights, by Jeff Norton

Today I'm part of the blog tour for Dino Knights, by Jeff Norton, illustrated by George Ermos (elementary/younger middle grade, Awesome Reads, June 6th 2019).  It's a good pick for elementary school kids--a step up from early chapter books, but not quite at true middle grade level, and it has tons of kid appeal for readers who love kids finding out they are special and saving the day, and of course, kids who love dinosaurs!

Henry is a humble dinosaur stable boy, who can only admire from afar the Dino Knights who protect his kingdom of Brecklan, though sometimes his admiration is shaken by the snooty arrogance of some of the knights in training, who are quick to lord it over him.  Henry has a way with dinosaurs, and when the lord he serves is menaced by a T-Rex, Henry rushes to see if he can help.  The savage T-Rex turns docile when Henry speaks to it, and to Henry's own surprise, lets him ride it.  Now Henry has been promoted to Dino Knight in training himself!

When the enemies of Brecklan sent a flock of pterodactyls to attack, and Lord Harding is kidnapped, Henry and the other Dino Knights set off to the rescue.  Once again, Henry's gifts save the day, and he learns the secret of his uncanny abilities.
The dino-riding is great fun, and Henry is a kid many readers will cheer for.  It doesn't break new ground, or have a whole ton of depth, but it's a charming story.  The generously spaced text make it friendly for young readers, and although I can't speak for the dino accuracy (my own knowledge is woefully out of date!), I don't think that even ardent young dino fans will find many bones to pick. And the illustrations heading each chapter are charming! So if you are looking for a good summer read for your rising 4th grader, this seems to me a good one to offer!

This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and sci from around the blogs (6/9/19)

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

The Reviews

Aru Sha and the Song of Death, by Roshani Chokshi, at Nica Fictional Fandoms

Below the Root, by Zilpha Keatly Snyder, at Say What?

Call me Alistair, by Cory Leonardo, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande, by Adam Gidwitz and David Bowles, at Geo Librarian and Liv the Book Nerd

Game of Stars, by Sayantani Dasgupta, at Say What?

House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Puss Reboots

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer,by Lamar Giles, at Redeemed Reader

The Light Jar, by Lisa Thompson, at Always in the Middle

Midsummer's Mayhem, by Rajani LaRocca, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Charlotte's Library

Nevermore: the Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Book Nest

The Order of the Majestic, by Matt Myklusch, at Mom Read It

The Revenge of Magic, by James Riley, at Geo Librarian

Spark, by Sarah Beth Durst, at BookCraic

The Story Web, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, at Charlotte's Library

Time Sight, by Lynn  Jonell, at Redeemed Reader

The Time Travel Team: The Great Historic Mystery, by Jordyn Hadden, at Foreward Reviews

The Vengkeep Prophecies, by Brian Farrey, at Tales From the Raven

Wings of Olympus, by Kallie George, at Say What?

Authors and Interviews

Kurt Kirchmeier (The Absence of Sparrows) at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

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

The finalists for the Mythopoeic awards have been announced, here are the Children's Literature Finalists:

  • Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado, The Chronicles of Claudette series: Giants Beware!; Dragons Beware!; Monsters Beware! (First Second) 
  • Jonathan Auxier, Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (Harry N. Abrams) 
  • Sarah Beth Durst, The Stone Girl’s Story (Clarion Books) 
  • Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, Bob (Feiwel and Friends) 
  • Emily Tetri, Tiger vs. Nightmare (First Second) 

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