Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, for Timeslip Tuesday

I have  actually gotten my ducks in a row and have a book for this week's Timeslip Tuesday--Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales (Chronicle Books, Middle Grade, April 5, 2016).

In England in WW II, Lottie's scientist father spends his days trying to figure out the secrets of time travel.  He believes that shimmering time portals randomly appear, but doesn't know how they work.  Time travel could have military uses, and so 10-year-old  Lottie and her dearest friend Kitty are taken hostage; the kidnappers think her dad knows more than he's letting on, and are going to kill the two girls unless he spills his secretes. 

And then a time portal appears (!) and Lottie, hardly pausing to think, jumps through to escape her captors, leaving Kitty behind.  And her father, and the whole world of WW II England. She finds herself in our time, in the Midwest, in her pajamas in the middle of nowhere, with no way to get home again.  Fortunately, she finds a friendly library (which has relevance to the plot).  Fortunately as well, she is taken in by a foster family (child services is almost magically wonderful), and so she becomes an ordinary American school kid.  Except that she is haunted not just by her lost life in generally, but by her abandonment of Kitty.  Never will she have another friend like her, and so she goes along with the group of girls who took her in, enchanted by her English accent, even though she doesn't have much in common with her.

But then she finds something hidden in a copy of her favorite book that gives her hope that she might find Kitty again, that maybe Kitty didn't die, even though that's what it says on line.  And so she finds a way to get to Italy, with the help of a boy who could have been her friend if her clique of girls hadn't taught her to shun him,  following clues that Kitty maybe, perhaps, left.....

This is both a good, solid time travel story (by which I mean it deals with the whole cultural dislocation of time travel nicely, without getting too terribly caught up in Lottie's exploration of the wonders of the future), mixed with a good friendship story--being true to yourself and making friends with who you want to be friends with without getting caught up in peer pressure.  The best part of the book was when Lottie and the shuned boy who is now her friend get to know and appreciate each other, and Lottie starts realizing that even though she left Kitty that doesn't mean she shouldn't ever be allowed to have good friends again. 

So if you go to Amazon you'll see that there are people saying this will appeal to fans of When You Reach Me and Wrinkle in Time.  Um, not so much, I think, especially not Wrinkle in Time which is not actually about time travel qua time travel for crying out loud.  And When You Reach Me feels like it has sharper edges than this one.  I think it will really appeal to fans of Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, which probably hasn't be read by young people today....to me, a fan of older English books like that one, it had a lovely familiar feel and I enjoyed it very much.  A contemporary review of Charlotte Sometimes said ""…this is really a study in disintegration, the study of a girl finding an identity by losing it… " and this is exactly what happens to the Charlotte of Once Was a Time as well.
It also reminded me of  Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Clarise Mericle Harper.  But even if you don't like time travel for its own sake, it's also a good one for fans of middle school girl friendship drama.

And now I will treat myself to a round of "What does Kirkus say?"


Total agreement!  Kirkus says:  Her transition to her new life is awkward but realistic, and the focus of this charming novel is always on friendship and loyalty. Rewarding and uplifting."

So there you go.


Key Hunters--The Mysterious Moonstone and The Spy's Secret, by Eric Luper

Key Hunters is a new series by Eric Luper that's a good choice for older elementary kids not yet ready for fantasy door stopper books.  The font size and spacing fits my sense of  "chapter books for young readers," and the plots are such as will be more pleasing to the young reader who has little experience with genre fiction, for whom mystery solving in historical times and spy foiling with lots of technology involved are still new fictional ground.  The first two books, The Case of the Mysterious Moonstone, and The Spy's Secret, just came out (Scholastic, April 26, 2016).

Cleo and Evan were very fond of their old school librarian, who was also fond of them, and encouraged them to enjoy the library.  She's been replaced (without saying goodbye) by a new librarian, a nasty piece of work, who wants the kids to sit and be quiet, and nothing else, when they are in the library.  One day Cleo and Evan happen to be in the library when they hear  the bad librarian muttering to herself, then crying out and disappearing.  She's gone through a hidden doorway, opened by a book in the literature section, and Cleo and Evan head off down the secret stairs to find out what's going one.  In the room below, there's a note from the good librarian, saying she's stuck in a book, but has left clues to be followed to find her.  The Case of the Mysterious Moonstone lies on a table, and when the kids open the book, they find themselves whirling into its 19th century world, where they are characters helping to solve the mystery of a missing gem.  The bad librarian is there too, in the role of a villain.

But though the moonstone mystery is solved, Cleo and Evan don't find the good librarian.  So they head into another book, The Spy's Secret, where they are spy kids with lots of gadgets, trying to foil the plot of the evil Viper who's plotting world domination from his underwater lair.  The bad librarian is also there a villain, but somewhat more ambiguously so than she was in the first book, which adds interest.  Once again, they don't find the good librarian, but perhaps they will in the third book, The Haunted Howl, coming in September.

If you are older than ten or so, you can skip these, but they are good ones for the target audience.  These are books I'd give to any fans of the A-Z mysteries, for instance (do kids these days still read those?).  The many cartoonish illustrations will help uncertain readers along, and the stories move briskly.  And of course they are good gateways to all the books for older kids out there in which the characters fall into the world of stories; for instance, a nice next step might be The Island of Dr. Libris, or Chris Colfer's Land of Stories series, though the later, in particular, is a perhaps a bit of a jump in terms of number of words....

Here's what I personally appreciated--Evan and Cleo work together as equal friendly partners, and as the cover shows, Evan's a kid of color, a fact that has no bearing on the plot.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


My latest batch of dragon books is up at B. and N. Kids; here's what I didn't say there

I have a very nice batch lot of current MG Dragon Books up at BN Kids blog, and it was a pleasure to read them and to recommend them.

But there are certain things I couldn't say at B.and N., partly because of space constraints, and partly because the point is to be enthusiastic about books, not share my own idiosyncrasies, and there are three things in particular that I want to share here that I didn't feel comfortable sharing there.

A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, is the sequel to the very excellent A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans.  Here's what I couldn't say--this sequel is just fine, and I enjoyed reading it.  But what I loved about the first book was the two main characters, dragon and girl, figuring out their relationship.  Here that relationship has been pretty much worked out, so this second book is more a string of episodic adventures, which are fine if you like episodic adventures but I like narrowly focused character relationships more (as long as the characters are interesting).

Dragons vs. Drones, by Wesley King.  What I couldn't say--What the hell are they eating?  I was pleased when one main character packs a granola bar in his backpack at the start of his adventures--here, I thought, is an author that knows his characters need to eat, and that middle grade and teen kids often think about eating.  I was so wrong.  Weeks go by before the two main characters eat again, and since they have fled a city being destroyed to take shelter in a remote dragon cave, far from any kitchen, it is hard to imagine that there would be anything for them to eat even if it occurred to them.  I don't need to know the details of every meal, but when I start to imagine the main characters stoically starving to death it distracts me from the story.  The granola bar is never eaten on page, either.  I think if you mention a granola bar at the beginning of the book, it should be eaten by the end of it.  Although God knows many a middle grade back pack has an ancient granola bar substrate.

I don't think the lack of food will bother the target audience, who in my experience are used to food magically just being always available with arm's reach (although my older son has been forced to walk down the street in the rain to buy cheerios on occasion).

The Trelian series, by Michelle Knudsen.  What I couldn't say quite this enthusiastically--I reread the first two right before reading the final book that just came out, The Mage of Trelian, and oh boy was it a fine reading experience going from the beginning all the way to the end!  I felt Love, untrammeled by food concerns, as -character driven adventures, which were also tense and desperate circumstance-adventures, swept me along in the story.  I also happen to like magic that involves color; the mage of Trelian has a sort of magical synesthesia and so he sees different types of spells as having different colors.

This week's round-up of middle grade science ficiton and fantasy from around the blogs (5/1/16)

Yay, April is over.  It was brutal--I had to give four talks yesterday at my office's preservation conference.  It was a lovely day (and one of my talks was a boat tour, which was a treat), but Hard Work.  But now that it is May I will read and review all the books and clean and repaint the house and pull up all the weeds and study French every day with my 15 year old and eat only healthy food etc. etc.

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

The Reviews

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians: The Knights of Crystallia, by Brandon Sanderson, at Nerdophiles

A Chance Child, by Jill Paton Walsh, at Time Travel Times Two

The Colossus Rises (Seven Wonders, 1) by Peter Lerrangis, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix, by Kate Saunders, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Freya and the Dragon Egg, by K.W. Penndorf, at Views from the Tesseract

The Girl Who Could Not Dream, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Finding Wonderland

Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel, by Megan Morrison, at The Quite Concert

Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic by Ursula Vernon, at Jean Little Library and Puss Reboots

Island of the Sun (Dark Gravity, Book 2) by Matthew Kirby, at Hidden in Pages

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd, at Log Cabin Library

The Legend of Sam Miracle (Outlaws of Time, book one), by N.D. Wilson, at Librarian of Snark

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City, by Will Mabbitt, at Log Cabin Library

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielson, at Tales from the Raven

The Mirror's Tale, by P.W. Catanese, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The People in the Castle, by Joan Aiken, at Tor

A Pocket Full of Murder by R. J. Anderson, at Leaf's Reviews

The Power of Dark, by Robin Jarvis, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Red: the True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtiff, at Sharon the Librarian and Librarian of Snark

The Roquefort Gang by Sandy Clifton at Semicolon

The Screaming Statue, by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester, at Middle Grade Ninja and Always in the Middle

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire, at alibrarymama

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at Mister K Reads

Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan, at No BS Book Reviews 

Sword in the Stacks (Ninja Librarians Book 2), by Jen Swann Downey, at ALA's Intellectual Freedom Blog

Surviving the  Improbable Quest, by Anderson Atlas, at Readioactive Books

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Authors and Interviews

Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester (The Screaming Statue) at Middle Grade Ninja, interview with Andrew the Alligator Boy at Middle Grade Ninja and interview with Sam at Always in the Middle


The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater

Well, after the last few years of pouncing on every previous book in the Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater, and turning the pages with feverish intensity, I am so very glad that I don't have to worry about Blue and the Raven boys anymore!  At least, not as much.  But it was very worrying there while it lasted, what with Blue's curse (that the first kiss she gives her true love will kill him) and the very real real real likelihood/possibility of Gansey dying (not just because of him being Blue's true love) and Ronan's rather difficult nature and unusual family circumstances, and Adam's rather difficult situation and abusive family circumstances.  I have wanted very badly indeed for everyone to get happy endings....

So then The Raven King (Scholastic, April 26, 2016) arrived in the mail, brightening my day and filling the next few evenings, and I can't say much about the specifics of the story because that would be unfair to anyone who hasn't read the books (because you should read the books!).

But I can say a few things--

1.  if you have time to refresh your memory with a re-read, that would be good.  It took me a while to get back in the swing of things and remember who all the secondary characters were, and all the very many bits of story that happened (I found myself thinking of Bruegel a lot as I started reading--it's a very dense landscape, that requires immersion and attentiveness to full enjoy).

2.  The best part of the books has always been the friendship, a friendship as deep as love, between the main characters.   This part got even better.  A new Raven boy has joined in, Henry, who you may remember from the last book....and he's great and interesting in his own right (there are more tremendously attractive and intelligent and truly individual boys in this series than any other I can think of, and really this is the only thing that keeps me from pressing the books into the hands of my own target audience, because these boys are so charismatic it's hard for real ones to measure up)  and, unlike all the other main characters, Henry the new kid isn't white (Korean mother, father from Hong Kong).  So it's nice there's diversity.  (There's also an LGBT bit thrown into the larger mix here).

3.  How, I wondered for the past few years, will Maggie Steifvater wrap everything up without a cataclysm in a way that is satisfying?  Especially now that she has unleased a demon who is destroying the magical forest of Cabeswater.  She does (except for one thing I'm not sure about (highlight to see)--what happened to Noah?)

So basically, if you like twisty, mythology-rooted, magic impinging on reality, character-driven fantasy, read these books if you haven't already!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher in the sort of package in the mail form that makes blogging worthwhile!


This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/24/16)

Welcome to this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction gather in my blog reading!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians: The Scriveners Bones, by Brandon Sanderson, at Nerdophiles

Deadweather and Sunrise, by Geoff Rodkey, at Leaf's Reviews

The Eye of Midnight, by Andrew Brumbach, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. by Frank Beddor and Adrienne Kress, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Girl in the Tower, by Lisa Schroeder, at Cracking the Cover

The Girl of Ink & Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, at Pages Unbound

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Puss Reboots

Hour of the Bees, by Lindsay Eagar, at Randomly Reading

Hunters of Chaos, by Crystal Velasquez, at Puss Reboots

Infestation, by Timothy J. Bradley, at Jean Little Library

The Inquisitor's Mark, by Dianne Salerni, at Tales From the Raven

Jurassic Classics: The Prehistoric Masters of Literature by Saskia  Lacey, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd, at Life With the Tribe

Key Hunters, books 1 and 2, by Eric Luper, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Book Yabber

The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions, by Tracey Hecht, at Mom Read It

Pilfer Academy, by Lauren Magaziner, at Middle Grade Marioso (not sure it's fantasy, but it sure is improbable in real life!)

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan, at BN Kids Blog

Spaced Out, by Stuart Gibbs, at BN Kids Blog

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier, at Charlotte's Library, BN Kids Blog, and Sense and Sensibility and Stories

The Sword of Summer, by Rick Riodan, at Leaf's Reviews

Thursdays With the Crown, by Jessica Day George, at Fantasy Literature

The Tournament at Gorlan, by John Fanagan, at Log Cabin Library

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Fantasy Literature

Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls, by Raymond Arroyo, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Authors and Interviews

Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester (The Screaming Statue) at This Kid Reviews Books and Literary Rambles

Brian Farrey The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse. at From The Mixed Up Files

Ted Sanders The Keepers: The Harp and the Ravenvine at The Children's Book Review

Liesl Shurtliff (Red: The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood) at The Hiding Spot

Rick Riordan at The Guardian, and talking specifically about writing as Apollo in The Hidden Oracle at the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

Other Good Stuff

Fairy Tale chapter book chat at School Library Journal

"Guess the dragon in children's literature" quiz at the Guardian

Thought on history and memory in the works of Diana Wynne Jones at The Book Wars

A list of "top ten middle grade fantasies that made me laugh out loud" at alibrarymama

and finally, NASA continues to be utterly cool with this new series of travel destination posters, incuding one for our very own planet "where the air is free and breathing is easy" (I meant to post this link last week, but it is even better for this Earth Day week)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier

I don't usually post a review first thing Sunday morning, because my weekly round-up always comes then.  And it will come today...but I am tired of not having anything myself to contribute (the last few weeks have been brutally filled with other commitments) so I am quickly offering a review of Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier (Harry N. Abrams, April 2016), the sequel to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. The first adventure of Peter Nimble was not quite to my personal taste; I didn't understand why so many people loved it so fervently.  Happily for me, I enjoyed this second book much more, partly because the main character, Sophie Quire, is tailor-made for bibliophiles.

Sophie is a book mender, working in her father's book shelf carefully and skillfully repairing books, a trade her murdered mother had taught her.  But the town she lives in has been overtaken by a movement led by Inquisitor Prigg to purge nonsense from daily life--and nonsense means all magic, and all books, because books of course are full of a magic of their own.  When Sophie is arrested for saving some books from the to-be-burned pile, she is saved by two unlikely heroes--Peter Nimble himself, and his friend Sir Tode (a knight transformed into a hooved catlike creature).  Peter Nimble is not there by chance.  He has come to deliver a very special book to Sophie, the Book of Who.  It is on of four magical books, each with their extraordinary ability to answer their own question--Who, What, When and Why.  Each book had a storyguard to keep it safe, and now Sophie finds herself the storyguard of the Book of Who.

Then she finds herself running for her life as she and Peter (and Sir Tode) set out to try to find the other three books, before Inquisitor Prigg, and other enemies as well, can get their hands on them!  The dangerous excitements of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes are here as well, and there is one hair raising adventure after another.  But there's more depth of character to Sophie's story.   Peter, for instance, finally shows weakness and self-doubt, making him more human and relatable.  His blindness is still magically compensated for, but the loss of his hand becomes a genuine handicap.  And Sophie herself is a fine character, one such as any book loving girl can relate to.  On the plus side, she is also a kid of color, a brown-skinned girl (like her foreign mother) in a world of white faces.

It's not just an adventure, but a testimony to the power of stories.  And though there's still a bit too much of the adventurous shenanigans for my own very personal taste, it's a fine read, and Auxier's any fans should enjoy it very much indeed. 

(by way of warning for sensitive younger readers--some of the adventures and characters are rather horrible--for instance, one character's mouth is sewed shut--memorable, and not gratuitous, but disturbing.  Lots of people and animals die.  Not all books are saved....)

disclaimer: review copy received at ALA.


The Mechanical Mind of John Croggin, by Elinor Teele--blog tour

Welcome to this stop on the blog tour for The Mechanical Mind of John Croggin, by Elinor Teele (Walden Pond Press, April 12, 2016).

This is a great book to offer kids who are fans of quirky characters caught in tensely amusing situations!  John Croggin is basically a slave to his aunt who runs the family coffin making business with an iron hand, and who plans to rope his little sister Page in as well.  His mechanically oriented mind has dreams that reach far beyond coffins.  So one day, when the opportunity comes in the form of a travelling circus, he and Page escape.  The circus offers only a temporary shelter, but a kindly baker offers hope of a more permanent home, until John comes up with a scheme for a chicken-poo powered oven that goes horribly wrong and they must take to the road once more....still hunted by their evil aunt!

Today for my blog tour stop Elinor Teele has provided a Q and A with Maria Persimmons, the kindly baker.  Thanks Elinor!  She's my favorite character.

The owner of the Rise and Shine Bakery, Maria Persimmons is a plump and generous woman who smells – I swear on my honor – exactly like cinnamon. For this interview, I met her after the breakfast rush in her kitchen.

 Q. It’s very good of you to spare me some time.

 A. Come in, come in! Come and be welcome! Oh, did I get flour on your fingers? And your suit? And up your nose? I’m so sorry. I seem to wear gluten like a badge of honor. Here, have a chocolate chip cookie.

Q. Thank you. Holy mother of… these are delicious!

A. Special recipe. A little trick or two that I learned from my Dad.  

Q. Does your father still help with the business?

 A. No, I’m afraid he’s passed away. But he was an engineer by trade, just like my friend John. He loved everything to do with cogs and gears and steam and fire. I still have the boat that he made for my bath. It blows bubbles while it turns dirty scum into building blocks.  

 Q. He sounds like a wonderful man.

A. Oh, he was. Quiet and kind. He was the one who encouraged me to start my own business.

At this juncture, Maria asked if we might continue the interview outside in the chicken coop. She needed to collect eggs from her prize-winning Henrietta hens. 

Q. Did you find baking difficult at the beginning?

A. Of course! Everyone does. Here, would you hold this basket for me? John and Page usually help, but they’re tinkering with a top-secret project. 

Baking is like writing a book – you don’t know what works until you’ve tried it. I spent years experimenting with weird recipes and techniques.

And most of my first creations were terrible. Dense, dull, overworked and underproofed. My attempts at cumin coriander custard went straight into the bin. It took me ten or more years to get a simple brown loaf right. 

Q. But you’re better now?

A. Perhaps, a little. But I’m still mucking up every day.

Please ignore Griselda’s expression. She always looks that way when someone is sticking a hand under her bum.  

Q. You don’t mind mucking up?

A. Oh, I mind! Especially when my customers tell me things taste dreadful. I hate creating work people find disgusting. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t mind.

Q. Yet you still keep at it.

 A. Because I love it. I love the moment when you open the oven door, and the room fills with memory, and you think to yourself: “today, I might have got it right.” I don’t think I’ll ever be a famous chef, but I hope to be a respectable baker.    

Thanks Elinor!

And thanks Walden for the review copy.  Just as a final note, Walden's prepared an Educational Activity Kit for parents and teachers that looks very helpful and interesting in a science meeting writing way, and which does not offer instructions for how to build your own chicken poo oven!


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (4/17/16)

Nothing from me this week--work and other life sucked me dry...but here's what other people posted!  (let me know if I missed yours).

The Reviews

The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn by Sam Gayton, at Pages Unbound

The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards, at Leaf's Reviews

The Books of Ore series, by Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz , at Geo Librarian

Castle Hangail, and other Ursula Vernon appreciations, at Dead Houseplants

Charmed by Jen Calonita, at Cover2CoverBlog

Cogling by Jordan Elizabeth , at Books Beside My Bed

Curiosity House: The Screaming Statue by Lauren Oliver, at Teen Librarian Toolbox

The Dragon Whistler, by Kimberly J. Smith, at Always in the Middle

The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The Enchanted Egg (Magical Animal Adoption Agency 2) by Kallie George, at Jean Little Library and Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Genius Factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat by Paul Tobin, at Sharon the Librarian

Half Upon a Time, by James Riley, at Tales From the Raven

The Legend of Sam Miracle, by N.D. Wilson, at Random Musings of a Bibliophle

Lilliput, by Sam Gayton, at Jenni Enzor

My Diary from the Edge of the World, by Jodi Lynn Anderson, at That's Another Story

Once Upon the End, by James Riley, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at The Children's Book Review

The Palace of Glass, by Django Wexler, at The BibloSanctum

Perijee & Me by Ross Montgomery, at The Book Zone (for boys)

Red, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Pages Unbound

Rise of the Wolf (Mark of the Thief #2) by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at Log Cabin Library

Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, at Leaf's Reviews

Wing and Claw, by Linda Sue Park, at Book Page

Three at School Library Journal-- The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, by Robin Yardi, The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price, by Jennifer Maschari, and The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox. 

Authors and Interviews

Linday Eagar (Hour of the Bees) at Literary Rambles

Django Wexler (the Forbidden Library series) shares a few of his favorite libraries at Nerdy Book  Club

Leila Sales (Once Was a Time) at Laurisa White Reyes

Lauren Oliver, with Max the Knife Thrower (Curiosity House series) at Kid Lit Reviews, and with H.C. Chester, at Read Now Sleep Later

Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz (The Books of Ore) at Novel Novice

Other Good Stuff

At the Guardian, Jackie Morris shares her selkie drawing process for her newest book

At alibrarymama, Katy shares her top 12 middle grade fantasies for diverse readers


This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (4/10/16)

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

The Reviews

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden, by Emma Trevayne, at Geo Librarian

Alcatraz vs The Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson, at Log Cabin Library

Calling on Dragons, by Patricia Wrede, at Leaf's Reviews

The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, at Sharon the Librarian

Charmed, by Jen Calonita, at Sharon the Librarian

A Colouring Book of Hours: Castle, by Marcia Overstrand and Angie Sage, at Read Till Dawn

Cuckoo Song by France Hardinge, at Leaf's Reviews

The Firefly Code, by Magen Frazer Blakemore, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Gallery of Wonders, by Marc Remus, at The Children's Book Review

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Tales of the Marvelous and SF Bluestocking

Hour of the Bees by Linsday Eagar, at Next Best Book

The Impossible Quest, by Kate Forsyth  (series review) at Charlotte's Library

The Inn Between, by Marina Cohen, at Cracking the Cover

The Iron Trial, by  Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Kitty Cat at the Library

The Mage of Trelian, by Michelle Knudsen, at Read Till Dawn

Magrit, by Lee Battersby, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at Good Books and Good Wine, For the Love of Words, and Mother Daughter Book Club

The Paladin Prophecy, by Mark Frost, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price, by Jennifer Maschari, at Always in the Middle

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Jean Little Library

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

Time Travelling With A Hamster, by Ross Welford, at Bart's Bookshelf

The Treehouse series, by Andy Griffiths, a post by me at Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, at the New York Times

The Wooden Prince, by John Claude Bemis, at Bibliobrit

Authors and Interviews

Leila Sales (Once Was a Time) at The Book Cellar, Cracking the Cover, Good Books and Good Wine

John Claude Bemis (The Wooden Prince) at Tales From the Raven

Jonathan Auxier (Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard) at Nerdy Book Club

Peter Brown (The Wild Robot) at Barnes and Noble Kids

Other Good  Stuff

Folklore snippets about the River Man at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

How Terry Pratchett's truckers changed the life of writer Tom Nicholl, at The Guardian


The Impossible Quest, by Kate Forsyth (series review)

The five books that make up The Impossible Quest series, by Austrailian author Kate Forsyth, are absolutly spot on for the eight or nine year old who loves fantasy, but who isn't quite ready for the middle grade big league--the sort of kid whose a really strong and eager reader, but not emotionally ready for truly harrowing violence or romance or, heaven forbid, cute little animals who die.  I don't often wish my now 12 year old was a 9 year old again, but after reading the books myself I did so wish I could send them back in time a few years for his third or fourth grade reading pleasure!

The story is fairly standard stuff--four kids (two boys, two girls) thrown together as unlikely allies when their homeland is invaded.  They are a young knight in training, the son of the castle cook, the witch's apprentice, and the daughter of the manor, and they have no clue what they are going to do about defeating their enemies.  They do, however, have a riddling prophesy to guide them on what seems at first to be an impossible quest...and so they set out on a journey that ends up making the impossible into reality.

Four mythical animals must be found--unicorn, gryphon, dragon, and sea serpent.  One is introduced in each book, and forms a special bond with one of the kids, and I think this aspect of the book in particular has just tons and tons of kid  appeal.  Each of the kids also has a magical item that they have to figure out how use properly, and each has special strengths that they bring to the group.  As dangers are overcome in each book, the kids are forced to make out of their four conflicting personalities and backgrounds a cohesive fighting force. And they actually come to genuinely like and care for each other, putting aside various preconceptions and old grudges.  The characters are each given turns as the primary point of view, which helps make each one unique and compelling; the adventure never overshadows the personalities, and worries, and hopes of the adventurers.

The adventures themselves are a fine introduction to fantasy questing, and Kate Forsyth does a very fine job at vivid descriptions.  The drowned city full of writhing sea serpents, for instance, was more than a bit memorable.  It is not a sweetness and light fantasy for the young, but it is written for young readers--there are things that are horrible (like the army of bog men, reanimated victims of past sacrifice), but the horror is not delved into so deeply or emotionally that it is distressing. 

In short, though this series doesn't add much in the way of diversity to the upper elementary fantasy available, and doesn't break wildly imaginative new ground, it is does fill a niche for younger readers wanting epic adventures. The books would also be fine for older middle grade kids who like fantasy but who aren't the strongest, most committed readers-- the short chapters, short overall length, and fairly rapid fire adventures will make the pages turn.

The books were released in Australia two years ago, and are now being published here in the US all at once by Kane Miller (which is very nice indeed from a parent's point of view, because if your kid likes book 1, you can trot out books 2-5 without waiting for ages between books!)

The books in the series are:
Escape from Wolfhaven Castle
Wolves of the Witchwood
The Beast of Blackmoor Bog
The Drowned Kingdom
Battle of the Heroes

(you won't find the US editions for sale on Amazon, as Kane Miller is a strong supporter of indie bookstores.  The links above go to Barnes and Noble; you can also get them through your independent bookstore in June).

disclaimer: review copies recieved from the publisher


Lizard Radio, by Pat Schmatz

When I saw that Lizard Radio, by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick, September 2015), had won the YA Tiptree Award, it was a natural next step to actually read the copy of it that has been in my TBR for months....I think I hadn't read it sooner because the cover reminds me of the 1970s tile in the bathroom of an old and dingy house I once lived in...and also because the blurb at the back references "a mysterious saurian race" and I am not a fan, in general, of saurian stories.  But now I have read it, and found it good!  It is off my TBR pile!  I can recommend it!  Yay!

Just by way of quick intro--it is almost our world, but with a dystopian fascist overlay, different slang, different drugs, and a nasty way of tucking all non-conforming people (political agitators, criminals, gay and gender ambiguous people) away forever in a prison city of their own.

Kivali was just a little baby, wearing a t-shirt with a lizard picture on it, when she was found by Sheila.  Sheila, being unpartnered, had to fight to keep the baby as her foster child, but she succeeded, and then raised her with the story that she is a little lizard child, dropped on earth by suarians, and though this wasn't Sheila's intention, Kivali has ended up believing this, and feels more lizard than human, listening to "lizard radio" when meditating.  In large part this is possible because Kivali is a "bender," with a gender score just barely tilted toward female, and she doesn't do human socialization very well (I found myself think of her as being on the autism spectrum, though this isn't explicit).

In Kivali's world, teens have to go to Crop Camps to get their hands dirty and to get indoctrinated before they can be Integrated into proper society.  Failing out of Crop Camp more than once means being stuck in the prison city.  And as the book begins, Sheila is making Kivali go and get it over with.  

Crop Camp is sort of like a religious youth group (lots of emphasis on everyone joining together to find the One) meeting agricultural work camp, and the heavy emphasis on community and belong is made more palatable for people like Kivali by the drugs the campers are given every evening.  For the first time, Kivali has friends, and is accepted, and nicknamed, in a friendly way, Lizard.  She finds passion for the first time in the kiss of a bright shinning fellow camper girl.   And she feels that she has stepped out of her lizard skin, and is actually a person.

But the ruler of Crop Camp wants to manipulate and control the kids, and freedom of thought is not tolerated.   Campers disappear.  Those who aren't conforming are confined.  Lizard cannot stay, but where can she go?  And how can she leave her friends?  What is a young lizard, who wants to be loved, to do?  For Lizard is still a little lizard, trying, as she herself puts it, to get her tail out from under the boot of the camp director.   Her answers come from her recognition that she doesn't have to choose between binary opposites, but can instead find power in being both and neither....

So the vibe I got from this reminded me somewhat of The Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow--the kids forced together under adult control, with threats keeping them corralled, and a protagonist who hasn't been in the habit of reaching out to other people.   This one, though, is an almost totally character driven spec fic story; the world around Lizard is bad and difficult, but the point is how she as an individual is going to make it through.   Lizard is a brave and hurting and seeking protagonist, one to be held in the heart of the reader.  And though there's no firm ending, there's a bit of hope she'll find hope, somewhere.  Not a book if you want dramatic action with bombs and stuff, but more a book if you want a person trying to be a good lizard, or good person, in difficult and painful circumstances occasioned by a tangly plot full of mysteries.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/3/16)

Here's this week's round-up; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Ambassador, and its sequel, Nomad, by William Alexander, at Dead Houesplants

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Puss Reboots

Chase Tinker and the House of Mist, by Malia Ann Haberman, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox, at The Children's War

Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge, at The Cover Wars

Fridays With the Wizards, by Jessica Day George, at Read Till Dawn

Grounded, by Megan Morrison, at The Daily Prophecy

The Night Parade, by Kathryn Tanquary, at Randomly Reading

Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince, by John Claude Bemis, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels and Tales from the Raven

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater, at Next Best Book

Rules for Stealing Stars, by Corey Ann Haydu, at Children's Books Heal

Searching for Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Leaf's Reviews

The Secret of Platform 13, by Eva Ibbotson, at Fantasy Literature

Secrets of the Ancient Gods: Thor Speaks, by Vicky Alvear Shecter, at Jean Little Library

Secrets of Valhalla, by Jasmine Richards, at Views from the Tesseract

Under Plum Lake, by Lionel Davidson, at Views from the Tesseract

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Not Acting My Age

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, at The Book Smugglers

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy, at Fantasy Literature

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Final Kingdom, by Michael Northrup, and The Girl in the Tower, by Lisa Schroeder

Authors and Interviews

Jaleigh Johnson (Secrets of Solace) at The Hiding Spot

Other Good Stuff

A Tueday 10 of sci fi gateway books (the fifth post in a series) at Views from the Tesseract

A horse-lovers guide to The Blue Sword, at Tor


When is a small thing big enough to make you walk away from a book?

There are lots of valid reasons not to finish a book.  There are big ones, like when a book is offensive to your beliefs, or has opinions and perpetuates stereotypes that you find toxic.  There are practical ones, like the book falling behind a bookshelf and you feeling too weak to move all the books so you can move the shelf and rescue it, or it falling behind the radiator of a little used room causing you to wander the house sadly and hopeless not finding it.  And then there are the very small reasons, that make you wonder if should keep giving the book a chance, even though you know it will probably not work out well.

For instance, I have just put down a book at the start of the third chapter for the following small reason--

A character is sitting under an old, dying oak tree, and he remembers how he used to climb it as a boy (me--wonders if climbing oak trees is something that other people are able to do, because they haven't, in my experience, struck me as climbable, but I'm willing to give the character the benefit of the doubt, especially because I just looked at pictures of oak trees and found one even I could climb, shown at right), but then he remembers eating its fruit (and he's not thinking about acorns!).

This might be a deal breaker for me.  It seems to me that the author wasn't really thinking of her tree as an oak tree after all.  And if the author can't keep a tree straight, and if the copy editor didn't catch it, what other inconsistences and wrong details will there be in the rest of the book?  I can no longer trust the author to smoothly deliver quality world building, and I am not inclined to keep going.

And if the species of tree doesn't matter, why is the author bothering to put it in?  If Megan Whalen Turner, for instance, has a character thinking about an oak tree, I can be sure that there is a point to its oak tree-ness; maybe, I might think, it is a reference to an oak tree/character relationship in a Rosemary Sutcliff book.  Maybe she is alluding to Philip of Macedon's oak tree diadem.  Maybe there will more oak tree metaphorical-ness further along in the book.  These things are fun to think about, but are only possible when you trust the author to build the book world with care and attention.

If the oak tree really seems meant to have been an apple tree, I'm not sure it's worth going on.

Am I being too picky?  The book was ok otherwise; not great, but reasonably interesting....


The Wild Swans, by Jackie Morris

I was pleased as all get out last fall when The Wild Swans, by Jackie Morris (Frances Lincoln Children's Books, October 2015) , a beautifully illustrated retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, was nominated for the Cybils in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, the category for which I was reading.  (NB- It ended up in the MG section of the Cybils, but more because it wasn't a book "for teens" than because it is really a book for 9-12 year olds.  It is really an all ages older than 7 book).  I very much appreciated her 2013 retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon (my review), and I was not disappointed by this one.

(And of course I meant to write about last fall when I read it for the first time, but didn't...and it surfaced yesterday when I was tiding up Book Pile #34 (the books on top of the DVD/CD shelf) and so here it is now....)

So this is the story of the princess (named Eliza) whose bothers (11 of them in this case) get turned into swans by their evil stepmother, and she has to spin shirts of nettles for them, all the while not saying a word, to turn them back.  And a prince falls in love with her, and takes her back to his castle, where she ends up being accused of witchcraft, but can't defend herself (because of the no talking rule) and just as she's about to be burned alive her swan brothers come and she throws the shirts over them.  And one is unfinished, leaving a brother still with a swan wing...

All this is here in Morris' retelling, but with a lovely detailed richness that a good-lengthed book (173 pages) and lovely pictures can afford that an anthologized 10 page version can't.  Morris adds two things of her own to the story, that I appreciated very much. The stepmother does a Bad Thing, but she has reasons that make sense and are emotionally convincing--not just greed or ambition for her own kids but reasons that come from her relationship with the king, and her past before she became queen.  And it's not just the prince falling in love with Eliza, but her falling in love with him too, not just because he's a pretty face but because he gives her space to do what she needs to do. 

It's a lovely book, beautifully produced, with exquisite illustrations, and if you like fairy tale retellings, go for it!  And now I get to go upstairs and put it neatly on the shelf of fairy tales where I will look fondly on it and Book Pile #34 has one less book in it yay me!

edited to add--Thwarted! The fairy tale shelves are full with books sidewise on top and so I will have to expand fairy tales onto the shelf above them which means lot of rearranging.  Nothing is as easy as it seems it should be...


The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig (Greenwillow, February 2016) is a young woman named Nix Song, who travels on her father's ship from one time to the next as they sail from map to map.  Her father is able to navigate into any place accurately mapped, even if the place is imaginary or mythological (though there's only one shot per map) but the one place he hasn't been able to visit is the year in mid-19th century Hawaii when Nix's mother died while he was off sailing (to get money for their future together that didn't happen).   Nix is not at all sure she wants her father to find a map back to that particular time, because it might well change the whole course of her existence to be raised by both mother and father....But Nix doesn't really have any plans of her own, so she goes along with it.

A map that promises it is off Hawaii at the right time takes them there...but several years too late for Nix's mother.   What follows is a lot of Nix appreciating Hawaii, intermingled with wondering what  the point of her life is (I too wondered) and just getting started wondering if she likes Kashmir (a shipmate from the Persia of the Arabian Nights) more than just as a friend (I wondered about this too--it seemed a lot more like a case of proximity than romance).  Alongside this is a heist plot (Nix's father makes a deal to steal all the money from the royal treasury, undermining the monarchy, in exchange for another map that really does seem to be the one that will reunite him with his lost love).

None of this is really all that interesting, primarily because I did not find Nix to be an interesting, thoughtful, person.  And not much was actually Happening either in terms of plot development or character development.  For instance, another possible love interest for Nix is thrown into the mix, but it is more a convinent happenstance than a gripping drama.  On the other hand,  the book showcases Hawaii's natural beauty, with bonus bits of mythology and history; on the other other hand, that isn't really what I wanted from a ship bearing mythological treasures sailing through time from map to map. 

Things pick up dramatically toward the end, with a visit to the Emperor Qin's tomb (the little pearl eating sea dragon who seemed just a random add on gets to be part of  the action).  There are twisty revelations revealed that make the whole story more interesting, and the heist goes very wrong in interesting ways.  The last fifty pages or so were very good reading! But they came too late to redeem the book as a whole for me. 

Small thoughts-- I thought it was great that the crew included lesbian cattle herders from Africa, and I enjoyed the brief bits of page time they got.  Kashmir, the Persian love interest and handy thief, got on my nerves because he was pretty one note (or two--love interest + thief).  He was clearly suffering from the hots for Nix pretty badly but never demonstrated any depth of personality. (Also I had trouble buying "Kashmir" as a Persian name, but maybe it's more plausible than I found it to be). 

Final thought--although I myself was not engaged by this one, lots of people were.  Kirkus, for instance, said "it’s a skillful mashup of science fiction and eclectic mythology, enlivened by vivid sensory detail and moments of emotional and philosophical depth that briefly resonate before dissolving into the next swashbuckling adventure.

A nonstop time-travel romp."

Kirkus clearly got more romping out of it than I did.   Oh well. At least I romped in the last action filled part of the book (I really did like the visit to Emperor Qin's necropolis).

Here's another review, at the Book Smugglers.


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (3/27/16)

Welcome to this week's round-up, and happy Easter to all who are celebrating. 

Clearly eggs were bigger back in the 19th century; perhaps there were a few Gastornises still kicking around England, which would explain a lot (?)

The Reviews

The 39-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, at Sharon the Librarian

The After-Room by Maile Meloy, at Read Till Dawn

Audie the Angel & The Afterworld (The Angel Archives Volume Three), by Erika Kathryn, at This Kid Reviews Books

Beyond the Kingdoms, by Chris Colfer, at Reading Violet

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox, at books4yourkids and Charlotte's Library

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, by Michelle Cuevas, at The Children's Book Review

The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Leaf's Reviews

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at The Children's Book Review

Disney Lands by Ridley Pearson, at Carstairs Considers

Eden's Wish, by M. Tara Crowl, at Word Spelunking

The Girl in the Tower, by Lisa Schroeder, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

Golden Mane by SJB Gilmour, at The Write Path

Hour of the Bees, by Linday Eagar, at So Many Books, So Little Time, Becky's Book ReviewsBook Nut, and Charlotte's Library

How to Catch an Invisible Cat, by Paul Tobin, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Inn Between, by Marina Cohen, at Me On Books and Great Imaginations

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd, at Next Best Book

The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Braillier, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Masterminds, by Gordon Korman, at That's Another Story

Neverseen, by Shannon Messenger, at A Reader of Fictions

Of Mice and Magic (Harriet Hamster Princess book 2), by Ursula Vernon, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at The Reading Nook Reviews

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Kitty Cat at the Library

Secrets of Bearhaven, by K.E. Rocha, at Ms.Yingling Reads

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, by Patrick Samphire, at Geo Librarian

The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson, at books4yourkids

Twice Upon a Time, by James Riley, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones (Mabel Jones #1), by Will Mabbitt, at Word Spelunking

Witherwood Reform School, by Obert Skye, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads:  Fortune Falls, by Jenny Goebel, and The Inn Between, by Marina Cohen

Authors and Interviews

Cressida Cowell (How to Train Your Dragon et al.) at The Guardian

Janet Fox at Middle Grade Mafioso and Pop Goes the Reader

Other Good Stuff

Here's a lovely post on House Spirits at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

The Aurealis Awards have been announced; here's the Children's list:

Best Children’s Fiction
  • Winner: A Single Stone, Meg McKinlay (Walker Books Australia)
  • A Week Without Tuesday, Angelica Banks (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Cut-Out, Jack Heath (Allen & Unwin)
  • Bella and the Wandering House, Meg McKinlay (Fremantle Press)
  • The Mapmaker Chronicles: Prisoner of the Black Hawk, A.L. Tait (Hachette Australia)


The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox (Viking Books for Young Readers, March 15, 2016, middle grade), went on my tbr list the moment I laid eyes on its description--siblings evacuated from WW II London to a castle in Scotland where there is sinister magic afoot.  It sounded perfect for me! Alas, although there were things I appreciated, and I am happy to recommend it to middle grade readers who like slow burn horror, and although lots of other people really like and it's gotten lots of stars and rave reviews, it fell short for me.

The sinister magic was plenty sinister.  It is clear from the get go, both to the reader and to the central protagonist, Kat, the oldest of the London siblings, that all is not wholesome sunshine and light at Rookskill Castle, and that the lady of the castle is clearly not a Good Thing.  In a series of flashbacks taking us back into the past of the lady of the castle, the reader is told of the horrible bargains that Lady Eleanor has made over the years.  And it is indeed darkly horrible, and really creepy and fascinating.  But the result is that the reader knows many things long before the characters do, and as the pages turned and the number of child victims of dark magic rose, I became frustrated there was nothing actually being done about it.  It's not until around 280 pages into the book that Kat begins to actively confront Lady Eleanor, and instead of being as tense as I could have been, I was mostly just relieved that Kat was finally using her own magical talismans and actually doing something for crying out loud.

I also really did not feel as though the whole German spy subplot was necessary (I rarely feel German spy subplots add all that much), and indeed, frustrated as I was that it was taking Kat so long to stop thinking that she should "keep calm and carry on" (as her father had told her to do), the fact that she was dragged into decoding cyphers didn't seem to be to the point.  Nor did it seem at all necessary for the anti-German-spy folks to actually be trying to use magic to counter the Germans.  I'm not against using magic against the Nazis, but I think it has to be worked into a story more naturally than it is here, where it is basically just stated.  Although it's not an uninteresting story in its own right, it detracts and distracts from the specialness of Kat's magic, and Lady Eleanor's magic, and does not do much to further the plot.

So in short I didn't like this book as much as I'd hoped I would--it took too long for the main character to become an active protagonist, and the insertion of German spy magic subplot was pretty much a WTF for me instead of a positive addition.  Oh well.  You can go read the Kirkus review now, for a different opinion!


Hour of the Bees, by Linsday Eagar

Hour of the Bees, by Linsday Eagar (Candlewick, March 2016), is the story of a magic-infused summer in which a young girl works through family tensions, past and present. And yes, the magic is real, but yet still this is one I'd give to a fan of realist fiction before I'd give it to a fan of fantasy (because the fantasy fan might be disappointed that there isn't More magic, and be all blasé, but the reader of realistic fiction might actually be stunned when the magic comes to fruition!).  NB--I tried to figure out before reading this one whether it was "magical realism" of a sort where the magic isn't actually real, and couldn't, so I'll say flat out that I was sure at the end that real magic had happened.

Carol does not want to be spending the summer on a dry as bone and hot as heck dingy, rundown ranch in the middle of southwestern no-where.  She doesn't particularly want to get to know Serge, the Mexican grandfather she's never met (her dad took off from the ranch as soon as he could and never looked back) and she doesn't like him calling her by her Spanish name,  Carolina.  She wants pool parties and sleepovers, not rail-thin sheep and rattlesnakes.  But she and her family (Dad, Mom, big half-sister, little brother) are stuck there for the summer, because Serge is suffering from dementia, and the ranch house must be cleaned out and sold.

But being stuck somewhere means you have a chance to get to know a place and its people, and that's what happens for Carolina.  Gradually she becomes drawn into her grandfather's stories of the magical tree that once grew in his village, that kept all the villagers from harm, and kept them there, all together, safe and long-lived.  And how her own grandmother couldn't stand being stuck, and left, with a bracelet of the tree's bark to keep her safe.  Off she went on wild adventures, coming home between times, and seeing her living life this way, the other villages decided to follow her lead, taking pieces of the tree away, until there was no tree left.  With no tree, the bees left too, taking with them all the water in the village's lake.

So Carolina's grandfather tells her the stories, and how the bees will one day come to bring the water back, and in the meantime her parents work to close down his life.  But the magic that fills Serge's stories spills over into reality, and Carolina sets in motion the return of the bees, and the water.   When Serge is at last installed (unwilling and sedated) in a nursing home, the drought breaks, and Carolina, wanting to hear from him the end of the story, and wanting to bring his life full circle, risks her life to take him home again (nb--she makes Bad Choices involving her sister's car.  But she really has no other choice....her parents aren't listening to her).

It's a very moving story, and one with lots of appeal for those who like intergenerational relationships.  Not much Happens (until the Bad Choice toward the end), but the pages are full of interest for those who like small things made vividly real.  Carolina is likeable, and is enough a normal middle school kid to be generally relatable, even as her circumstances stray further and further from the non-magical norm, and she starts to make independent choice towards being her own person.  Her decision to reclaim her roots, now that she has found where her roots lie, is heartwarming.

It's also nice to see a family that includes both a loving father and a loving mother, although the big sister is perhaps exaggeratedly unpleasant.

I don't think this will be every kid's cup of tea as a book to read for their own pleasure (it's not light reading, and I think the understated cover will do a good job fending off readers who really wouldn't like it), but I do think there will be readers (introspective, dreamy ones) who will like it lots. 

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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