What your woodstove looks like when your an elementary/mg spec fic cybils panelist...

...although of course in a few weeks the stove won't be good book storage anymore :(.  

These are all (but one--The Mutant Mushroom Takeover is a review copy that arrived today) the unread library books I have on hand, planning ahead on the assumption they'll be nominated for the Elementary/Middle Grade Cybils this year!  Such fun reading ahead of me;  EMG Spec Fic really is the best!  

nominate today  (or sometime in the next two weeks) here at the Cybils!


Cattywampus, by Ash Van Otterloo

Cattywampus, by Ash Van Otterloo (middle grade, Scholastic August 2020) is the story of two girls, born to two rival magical families in a small Appalachian town, and how they find their own magical gifts. In the process they journey from distrust to hostility to unlikely allies to friends, while struggling to squelch the mob of angry zombie grannies raised from the dead along the way.

Katybird Hearn and Delpha McGill know each other in a general sort of way from school. Though both come from magical families (that have a long history of feuding), their lives are very different. Katy's family is comfortably off; Delpha and her mother are in dire financial straits, and Delpha knows more about home repair than any 6th grader should have to cope with. But both are worried about their magic; Delphia because her mother hates it, and won't pass on the family spell book, and Katybird because she is intersex, and worries she might not be enough of a real girl to inherit the family gifts. The fact that her hands are starting to glow doesn't comfort her, because that doesn't seem like magic enough.

When Delpha finds her family's spell book, and uses it unintentionally to animate an old outhouse, their lives collide. Then Katy borrows/steals the spell book to see if it can help her with her own magic, and it's war between the girls. Delpha takes the war to extraordinary levels by using another spell to animate all the dead women in the cemetery for "wise women" --aka witches. Soon many generations of Hearn and McGill grannies rise from their graves, determined to bring down the living descendants of their old enemies (which would be Katy and Delpha and their mothers....)

In order to get the feuding grannies back in the ground, the girls have to work together. Neither wants to ask for their mothers' help, so things don't go well. Fortunately, an unlikely ally, a boy both girls had previously thought of somewhat dismissively, even disparagingly, proves to have hidden powers of his own. And in the meantime, Katy's beloved pet racoon is missing, the outhouse is still alive, and the town is trying to hold a festival...Much mayhem ensues and it's touch and go before the girls figure out what they need to do together to set things right (it's a great ending, that doesn't neglect the needs and wants of the outhouse....)

I very much appreciated that one of the main characters is intersex. I can't think of any other intersex kid in a mg fantasy, and thought her character was really well done. Her body doesn't bother her except when she worries about the family magic going to girls (as the book progress, we see that it has passed just fine to Katy), and when societal expectations come into play--at one point other kids start praying for her to heal, and it bothers her tremendously.  "As if making babies was the whole point of me existing, Katy thought, grinding her teeth. Or the point of any girl, for that matter. They meant well. She'd been sweet to all of them, of course, but their unneeded pity had worn Katy's confidence to tatters for months." (p 80).

It got a tad too mayhemy for me when the zombie grannies collided with the town's festival (I prefer a single animated outhouse, and this was a particularly lovely living outhouse, to full on magical blow-ups), but I loved the way the two girls journeyed to friendship.  Recommended to anyone who likes stories of girls discovering their magic, and to fans of Natalie Lloyd, Sheila Turnage, Lisa Graff, and Ingrid Law in particular! (I think of all these as sort of small town, folksy,  kids-with-magic books).


This week's roundup of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (9/27/20)

Hi all, here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!  Thanks.

The Reviews

The Candy Mafia, by Lavie Tidhar, at Mom Read It

Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo, at Pop! Goes the Reader

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, at Cracking the Cover

The Chaos Loop (Throwback #2), by Peter Lerangis, at Charlotte's Library

Emily Knight: I am … Becoming, by A. Bello, at Book Craic

The Everafter War (The Sisters Grimm #7) by Michael Buckley, at Say What?

Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, at Puss Reboots

The Great Brain Robbery by P. G. Bell, at Woodpecker Books

The Great Good Thing, by Roderick Townley, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

Grimm, by Mike Nicholson, at Book Craic

Hide and Seeker, by Daka Hermon, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Invaders, by John Flanagan, at Leaf's Reviews

Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull (Jim Morgan #2), by James Matlack Raney, at S.W. Lothian

Maya and the Rising Dark, by Rena Barron, at Waking Brain Cells and Black Girl Nerds

Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher, at Puss Reboots

The Monsters of Rookhaven, by Pádraig Kenny, at Book Lover Jo and Library Girl and Book Boy

The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, by Rachel Summer Short, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker (Seanan McGuire), at Falling Letters

Ronan Boyle and the Swamp of Certain Death, by Thomas Lennon, at Say What?

Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie, at Cracking the Cover

The Sisters of Straygarden Place, by Hayley Chewins, at J.R.'s Book Reviews, Writers' Rumpus, and Rajiv's Reviews

Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger #1), by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen, at Mom Read It and Waking Brain Cells

A Sprinkle of Spirits (Love Sugar Magic #2), by Anna Meriano, at Santana Reads

The Strangers (Greystone Secrets #1), by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Sophie's Corner

Whispering Pines, by Heidi Lang & Kati Bartkowski, at Rajiv's Reviews and The Booksyrm's Den

Wrath of the Dragon King, by Brandon Mull, at Geo Librarian

Authors and Interviews

Padraig Kenny (Monsters of Rookhaven), at A little but a lot

Jacqueline West (Long Lost), at From the Mixed Up Files

Tony DiTerlizzi (Kenny and the Book of Beasts) at From the Mixed Up Files

PJ Gardner (Horace & Bunwinckle) at From the Mixed Up Files

Summer Rachel Short (The Mutant Mushroom Takeover) at MG Book Village

Christiane M. Andrews (Spindlefish and Stars) at From the Mixed Up Files

Rena Barron (Maya and the Rising Dark) at Nerd Daily

Other Good Stuff

"The Golden Key and the Christian Imagination"--a look at George MacDonald, at Redeemed Reader

Strong Fairy Tale Heroines #29: PRINCE HLINI AND SIGNY, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Horror books for middle school, at Book Riot, and another list of spooky mg at The Language Arts Coach

On October 1, nominations open for this year's Cybils Awards, and I hope all of you make haste to get your favorite elementary and middle grade speculative fiction books nominated!  At Feed Your Fiction Addiction, here's a look at the books that made the EMG spec fic shortlist last year, from one of the second-round panelists that had to pick just one of them to win!


The Chaos Loop (Throwback #2), by Peter Lerangis, for Timeslip Tuesday

In Throwback (link to my review), Peter Lerangis told the story of an ordinary New York boy, Corey Fletcher, who discovers he has an extraordinary power.  He's a time traveler, but not just any old time traveler, hopping back into the past as a tourist.  Corey is a Throwback, who can actually change things.  He uses his new found gift to save his grandmother's life.  

Now, as told in The Chaos Loop (Harper Collins, May 2020), Corey has an even more ambitious goal--to travel back in time and stop Hitler.  There's an urgency to it--too much traveling in time might make his genes give way, leaving him a mutant animal, unable to go back on any more visits to the past, as it has done to two other travelers he knows.  He has to make his gift count, before it's not safe to use it any more.

And so, with his friend Leila, who was part of his first time travel adventuring, he goes to Germany.  It is 1938, and although many Germans worship Hitler, there are those who do not.  And Corey is determined to make sure their plot to kill Hitler works.

It doesn't.  

Corey and Leila then meet Hitler when he's a struggling artist in Vienna. If they can push him forward on that path, he won't go into politics.

It doesn't work.

So Corey, realizing that trying to stop Hitler leads to a chaos loop every time, decides to fix a smaller thing, the death of his own great uncle, who died escaping the Nazis.....

It's a tad slow to get going; I wasn't immediately hooked, and even found Corey a little tiresome in his impulsiveness.  Leila is much more level headed!  But once things start going wrong, it was fascinating! The interactions of the kids with the past people they meet are believable, and the little nudges to the past are well within the realm of possibility.   I think many young readers are fascinated by Hitler's rise to power, and certainly many of us have daydreamed about how we would try to stop him if we had the chance, making this a book that's both good historical fiction and a chance to imagine oneself inside the story.  Kids who love thinking "what if?" about the past will enjoy it lots! 

And the cliffhanger ending (changing the past is a very tricky thing....) will make them want the third book ASAP.  


This week's round-up of MG sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (9/20/20)

Nothing from me this week....sigh.  But here's what other people wrote about MG sci fi/fantasy books; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Beast and the Bethany, by Jack Meggitt-Phillips, at Motif by Tanya and Rajiv's Reviews

Bubba & Squirt's Mayan Adventure, by Sherry Ellis, at Rosi Hollinbeck

The Captive Kingdom (The Ascendance Series #4), by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at J.R.'s Book Reviews

Connect the Stars, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, at This Kid Reviews Books

Dehaunting, by J.A. White, at Puss Reboots

The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Endangereds, by Philippe Cousteau and Austin Aslan, at Log Cabin Library

The Flower of the Witch, by Enrico Orlandi, translated by Jamie Richards, at Pages Unbound

The Great Brain Robbery (The Train to Impossible Places #2), at Twirling Book Princess

Hide and Seeker, by Daka Hermon, at Rajiv's Reviews and Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

The Lost Wonderland Diaries, by J. Scott Savage, at Cracking the Cover

The Magic in Changing Your Stars, by Leah Henderson, at Redeemed Reader

The Mystwick School of Musicraft, by Jessica Khoury, at Semicolon

Nevermoor (The Trials of Morrigan Crow #1), by Jessica Townsend, at Pages Unbound

The Simple Art of Flying, by Cory Leonardo, at  This Kid Reviews Books

Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger #1) by Amy Timberlake, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Squire's Tale, by Gerald Morris, at proseandkahn

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith, by Loris Owen, at Library Girl and Book Boy

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at Lazy Day Literature and Semicolon

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Series (7 Books) by Claire Youmans, at The Prairies Book Review

The Unadoptables, by Hana Tooke, at divabooknerd

Whispering Pines, by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski, at The Bookwyrm's Den

Winterfrost, by Michelle Houts, at Say What?

Authors and Interviews

Eden Royce (Root Magic) at Charleston City Paper

Amy Timberlake (Skunk and Badger) at MG Book Village

Neil Patrick Harris (The Fourth Suit, Magic Misfits #4) at USA Today 

Sherry Ellis (Bubba & Squirt's Mayan Adventure) at June McCrary Jacobs

Alisha Sevigny (The Desert Prince) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

Ethnocentrism, Heathens, and Heretics in The Horse and His Boy at Tor

Strong Fairy Tale Heroines #28: 'THE HEN IS TRIPPING IN THE MOUNTAIN' at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles Is Coming to Netflix, via Tor

Here are the panelists for this years Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction Cybils!  I'm looking forward to reading with this great group this fall.  Be sure to send your favorite books to us when nominations open October 1st!


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (9/13/20)

Greetings from Rhode Island, where I never planned to live but which seems to me now to be one of the safer states (sending all possible good and hopeful thoughts to those who aren't safe).

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

The Reviews

The Barren Grounds (The Misewa Saga #1), by David A. Robertson, at Jill's Book Blog

Bubba and Squirt's Mayan Adventure, by Sherry Ellis, at Always in the Middle

The Candy Maffia, by Lavie Tidhar, at Always in the Middle

Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows, and Charlie Hernández & the Castle of Bones, by Ryan Calejo at alibrarymama

The City Under the Back Steps by Evelyn Sibley Lampman, at Semicolon
Connect the Stars. by Marisa de los Santos & David Teague, at Of Maria Antonia

Dalya and the Magic Ink Bottle, by J.M. Evenson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbitt, at Charlotte's Library

Eternal Seas (Relic Hunters #1), by Lexi Rees, at Dab of Darkness

The Hacker's Key, by Jon Skovron, Jon, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Forest of Stars, by Heather Kassner, at Puss Reboots

The Great Reindeer Disaster, by Kate Saunders, at Twirling Book Princess

The Haunting of Aveline Jones, by Phil Hickes, at A Dance with Books

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger (series review) at Alexa Loves Books

The Lost Wonderland Diaries, by J. Scott Savage, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

The Magic in Changing Your Stars, by Leah Henderson, at Charlotte's Library

Mask (The League of Secret Heroes) Book 2 by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Patrick Spaziante, at The Children's War

The Midnight War of Matteo Sanchez, by Robin Yarki, at Say What?

A Misplaced Child, by Heather Michelle, at Nerdophiles

The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate, at Woodpecker Books

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, by Tehlor Kay Mejia, at Puss Reboots

Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Skunk and Badger, by Amy Timberlake, at Log Cabin Library

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, by L.D. Lapinski, at Twirling Book Princess

Tales From the Hood (The Sisters Grimm #6), by Michael Buckley, at Say What?

Thomas Wildus and the Wizard of Sumeria, by J.M Bergen, at Falling Down the Book Hole

Tree Magic, by Harriet Springbett, at Rajiv's Reviews

Whispering Pines, by Heidi Lang, Heidi and Kati Bartkowski,  at Ms. Yingling Reads

Wild Sky (Relic Hunters #2) , by Lexi Rees, at Dab of Darkness

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher, at Fantasy Literature

3 spooky books at The Bookwyrm's Den--Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie, Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbitt, and Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts, by Dianne K. Salerni

Authors and Interviews

Jackie Yeager (Pop the Bronze Balloon) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

A look at wonderful mg books coming out across the pond on October 1 at Book Craic 

A Willy Wonka inspired contest to win a candy factory from Jelly-Belly


Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbitt

If you are a fan of middle grade fantasy, and are looking for a very nicely engrossing book, Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbitt, has just been released in the US (Walker Books, Sept. 8 2020) and is an excellent choice!  

Jake is an ordinary kid, hurrying home from school late one afternoon, when his life is upended.  A spooky stranger in a dark alley expects Jake to sign for a delivery.  Taken aback, and understandably consternated, he does.  The stranger, Stiffkey, murmuring about the trouble that happens when the living meet the dead, hands over a small box.  And then disapperates, leaving only a little pile of dirt behind. The box remains in Jake's hands.

That night he opens it, and finds inside a severed finger.  That night Stiffkey, having realized he made a mistake, returns to reclaim the box.  But Jake, having unwittingly made the fatal transgression of opening it, is in big trouble.   A Grim Reaper has been dispatched to drag him to the Eternal Void.   

Stiffkey, feeling (rightly so) somewhat responsible, decides to help Jake out.  There's a clause in the laws enforced by the Embassy of the Dead that could save him....if instead of being just an ordinary human child, he's someone who can release ghosts so they can move on, opening the box is no longer punishable with the eternal void.  And Jake, who can see and speak to ghosts, could potentially manage this....Stiffkey has an old friend who knows of a few ghosts who need unsticking, and so they set off, with the grim reaper not far behind.  But then they find that they are caught up in a bigger problem, involving dark, ghostly magic that could upend the balance between the living and the dead....

It's plenty spooky, but it's also a warm and friendly sort of story, with memorable characters.  I loved the hockey-stick-wielding school girl ghost (one of Jake's unsticking candidates), and there's a very sweet ghost fox (ghosts foxes add lots to most books!). Since it's middle grade, there's never any real doubt that Jake will survive, but the danger is still captivating.  There are some poignant moments adding piquancy to the story line, which, though robust, is not over-burdened by Too Much stuff happening.  And since I feel that I am starting to write a perfume review (though there are no hints of citrus in the story)  because of having a tired and addled brain (as is the case of so many of us these days), I will stop now.

Short answer--I really enjoyed it, and lots and lots of ten year olds who like ghost fantasy will too!  

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Magic in Changing Your Stars, by Leah Henderson, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Magic in Changing Your Stars, by Leah Henderson (middle grade, Sterling Children's Books, April 2020) was waiting for me when I came home from work this afternoon; it was a real time- slipper of a book--292 pages slipped down nice and easy in less than three hours.

In 2010, a kid named Ailey desperately wants to be cast as the Scarecrow in his school's production of The Whiz.  He's sure his dance moves and his rap skills will get him the part.  But it all goes horribly wrong, and like a nightmare, he stands on stage and can't remember the words.

But then something worse happens--his grandfather is suddenly hospitalized.  Ailey has a few minutes alone with him, and his grandfather shares his own past disappointment.  He had a chance to get the break of a lifetime dancing for the great Bill "Mr. Bogangles" Robinson back in Harlem in the 1939, but didn't take it because of his own stage fright.  Instead of being a great dancer, he became the owner of a hardware store.  Gramps sends Ailey to find the tap shows Robinson gave him, inside what he calls his box of regrets.  Ailey finds them, tries them on....and finds himself back in time on the street corner where Gramps, then a kid nicknamed Taps. 

Fortunately, Taps is willing to make friends with the weird kid who's shown up wearing tap shoes (and Black Panther pjs, underneath some oversized clothes of the thirties donated by a nice woman with a charity stall).  And Ailey gets to witness his grandfather and Bojangles dancing together for the first time.  His mission is clear--he must help Gramps get up on the stage. But how?

Once he succeeds (this is mg, so the success is not a spoiler) he travels back to his own time.  There he finds that changing his grandfather's fate has changed his own life lots.....and he's able to get a second chance at his own dream of the Scarecrow.

It was a great trip to Harem in the 1930s, full of music and dance.  Any dance kid will love the book for this alone, but there was much more!  The friendship between the two boys, and how they pushed each other past their mutual performance anxiety was not just heartwarming but potentially useful to kids in similar circumstances.  Bits of the future brought back into the past (a Black Panther watch/hologram device) add humor (and help in a tricky situation!).  Both the family in 2010 and in 1939 were warm and supportive, the family in 1939 helping alleviate the anxiety of both  boy and reader (and leaving this reader, at least, wondering what it would be like to spend the evening with my own great grandparents....).  I am left a little worried about how Ailey is going to cope with the changes in his present caused by him having changed the past, but at least all the people are still the same, so he'll probably cope!

Short answer--a really fun time travel, in which the tension of  temporal dislocation is paired beautifully with internal conflict!  

bonus appreciation--Henderson named her characters after famous Black people, and I was tickled to see Sissieretta Jones make an appearance--I work two doors down from her birthplace, and pass her memorial plaque often.


This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (9/6/20)

Welcome to this first round-up of September 2020!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Across the Risen Sea, by Bren MacDibble, at Jess Just Reads

The Circus of Stolen Dreams. by Lorelei Savaryn, at Lit Reactor

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, at Charlotte's Library

The Collected, by K.R. Alexander, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Dark Whispers by Bruce Coville, at Woodpecker Books

The Disappearance of Ember Crow (The Tribe #2),  by Ambelin Kwaymullina, at Say What?

Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt, illustrations by Taryn Knight, at Log Cabin Library 

The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, at Not Acting My Age 

The Haunting of Tabitha Grey, by Vanessa Curtis, at Twirling Book Princess

Here, There Be Dragons (The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica #1), by James A. Owen, at Katie Bachelder

Homerooms & Hall Passes by Tom O’Donnell, at alibrarymama

Magic and Other Misdemeanors (The Sisters Grimm #5), by Michael Buckley, at Say What?
Malamander, by Thomas Taylor, at Puss Reboots

The Map of Stars (York #3), by Laura Ruby, at and other tales

Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie, at Sloth Reads and A Garden of Books

The Stichers, by Lorien Lawrence, at Twirling Book Princess

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at Rosi Hollinbeck

Toro, by Andrew Avner, at Always in the Middle

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane, at Charlotte's Library

The Winter King, by Christine Cohen, at Redeemed Reader

Two at Millibot Reads-Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbitt and Dwarf Story, by Professor W.W. Marplot

Authors and Interviews

Various authors with stories in Don't Turn Off the Lights: a Tribute to Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, at Middle Grade Minded

Other Good Stuff

12 Middle Grade Books for Fans of Role-Playing Games, at alibrarymama

The Narnia reread at Tor has reached The Horse and His Boy

"Watch Roald Dahl’s The Twits: a disgustingly delightful reading – video" at The Guardian

Tomorrow's the last day to apply to be a Cybils Award judge!


what are three books you own you think no-one else has?

Although I obviously read lots of middle grade books, I don't keep them in my public facing bookshelves (living room and dining room), but in the more private bedroom spaces....just in case, you know, people I don't know very well but want to be friends with come over, and are drawn to the bookshelves, the way good potential friends should be, and after perusing the titles think "Charlotte is clearly a very interesting and erudite person, and I would like to be her friend."  Of course, this doesn't happen (people coming over, that is), and so, when I was dusting the living room bookshelf, I decided it would be fun to share three books on my shelf that I don't think are owned by anyone else I know. The one on the left is 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics (1932).

Possibly the stranger seeing these will not think "I want to be friends with Charlotte" but rather "Charlotte is strange," but in that case they would not be good friends for me.

It would be fun to see other people's most obscure books!


When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane, for Timeslip Tuesday

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane (Allen and Unwin, 2016) is an Australian time travel novel (marketed as Young Adult, but with crossover appeal to both older middle grade readers (11-12 year olds) and no longer young Adults (over 20).  It won the 2016 Aurealis Award for best Children's Fiction in 2016, and has been sitting in my tbr list since about that time.  One of the ways I comforted myself this past spring was ordering lots of books from overseas I'd been meaning to read, and this was one of them.

Madeline was planning to spend her school holiday having fun with her best friend, an equally sporty sort of girl.  Instead, she's backed off to her eccentric grandmother.  Instead of cricket, she'll be put to home renovation work, and served stomach-turning health food.   But when Madeline is given the task of refinishing an old cupboard, she finds a hidden compartment, in which someone long ago hid a pair of beautiful party shoes.

With the shoes on her feet, Madeleine is transported back in time to 1900, arriving in the garden of the wealthy Williamson family.  Fortunately, the first people she meets are the three younger Williamson sisters, and one of them Gert, becomes her ally and confidant.  A story is concocted to explain who she is, more appropriate clothes are found for her, and before she can really get a handle on what's happened, she's part of the household.

What follows is time-travel tourism--Madeleine is a spectator on the doings of the family--the aunt who's fighting for Women Rights, the father who's caught up campaigning for federation for Australia, the duplicitous shenanigans of the beautiful German cousin, and the more mundane concerns of the girls.  She also is repeatedly struck by the constraints of the time, and by the casual racism.  But she's essentially an onlooker, and so reading the book felt like flipping through pages of sepia photographs.

There was no visceral Wanting in Madeleine's story and no achingly real emotional bonds formed in the past. Though she and Gert are friends, Madeleine sees Gert the way the grown-ups do--the plain, awkward one, who's never as bright and sparkling as her sisters, and never gets past that to what seemed like any actual appreciation or acknowledgement of Gert's finer qualities.  This left the closest relationship Madeleine has in the past feeling a bit like a shrug.  There were no moments of tragedy to tear at the reader, or ringing moments of triumph and personal realization that will change the course of her life.  She comes back to her own time with more interest in the past, and more appreciative that she and other girls can lead an active life in the present, but it all felt a little flat.

I think fans of  historical fiction about unhappy families will appreciate it more than I did.  The writing is fine, the descriptions vivid, and the historical information delivered pleasantly,  but it just didn't work for me.


The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, is the sort of mg fantasy I think I love best!  The lucky folks in the UK got to read this in October of 2018; it will be published here in the US on September 8, 2020 (Walker Books).  It's the story of an orphaned Victorian girl, sent one cold winter to live with the godfather she's never met, in a big old house in Wales, who finds not the warm welcome she'd hoped for, but a perilous, fantastical mystery!

Seren Rhys is travelling alone to her new home when a very perturbed  man hands her a package.   "If They get me, whatever happens, don't leave it here alone. Promise me?" And then he is gone, and she is left not knowing what to do.  The train carries her on, and he does not return, and so she keeps hold of it.  So when she arrives, she finds she has come with a clockwork crow, in pieces.

Her godfather and his wife aren't home.  Nor is Tomos, their son, who has been missing a year and a day, and is a subject not to be spoken of.  Instead, there's an unfriendly housekeeper, lots of unused rooms, and no answers about what happened to the boy,  Gradually Seren unravels the story of his disappearance.  And when she reassembles the clockwork crow, and finds that he is a creature with his own thoughts, considerable knowledge, and a rather acerbic personality, she gains a companion in figuring out how to find the lost boy again.

So, in a strong echo of Tam Lin, Seren and the crow venture down below the house to a place that shouldn't be there to bring Tomos back from those who have stolen him away.

What a magical, cold and snowy and mysterious story!  This is an outstanding addition to the "plucky orphans braving the magic of the fair folk" subgenre of children's fantasy, and I loved every minute of it!  The old, snow-bound house, the unravelling of the mysteries, and the journey into the land of Them, full of deception and trickery, would have been enough, but the clockwork crow made it even better.  He is a wonderful character, providing not only comic relief but a mystery of his own, one that's not totally resolved here.  And he manages to overcome his egotistical self-interest to rise to the occasion when Seren needs him most, adding considerably to his likeability quotient.

The story ends with Tomos and his parents all home again, and a wonderful Christmas (I'm so happy to have a new addition to my "mg fantasy Christmas" reading--The Dark is Rising and Greenglass House being the only two reliably read every year...). But this is just the first book in the series, so the happy ending is undercut by ominous whispers of danger to come....I might have to order the next two books from the UK!

But on the other hand, I didn't notice any glaring American English changes, and I like the US cover  better, so I might wait and get the matched US set...here's the UK cover, also attractive, but not as closely tied to the story:

Just as an aside:  in the publisher's description, it says- "Evoking the classic fantasy adventures of Joan Aiken..." and I guess Aiken has become shorthand for saying "this book has at least one orphan and lots of snow and is set one to three centuries ago and really strange things happen."  Turns out it didn't evoke anything else Aiken-esque for me.  It all made sense, for one thing, and  has magic in a classic fantasy sense (the Fair Folk as antagonists), which you don't actually see in Aiken (except in her Armitage family stories).  Which isn't to disparage Aiken, but it made me stop and ponder, and wonder if invoking Aiken actually entice people to try books...since I'll read anything with orphan(s), snow, and strange things, it works for me.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/30/20)

Here's what I found this week; nothing for me, because I let work and home improvements and my children's teeth get in the way of reading and reviewing (on the plus side the house is in better shape and no one has any wisdom teeth left....) Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Across the Risen Sea, by Bren MacDibble, at Jess Just Reads

Bradley’s Dragons, by Patrick Matthews, at Reading With Your Kids

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, at Log Cabin Library 

The Haunting of Aveline Jones, by Phil Hickes, at Book Craic

Into the Tall, Tall Grass, by Loriel Ryon, at alibrarymama

Mandy Lamb and the Full Moon, by Corinna Turner, at Catholic Mom

Maya and the Rising Dark, by Rena Barron, at The Nerd Daily

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, by Fleur Bradley, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby, at legenbooksdary

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, by Henry Lien, at Fantasy-Faction

The Outcasts, by John Flanagan, at Leaf's Reviews

The Rubicus Prophecy by Alane Adams, illustrations by Jonathan Stroh, at Log Cabin Library

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Bickering Book Reviews

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Never Not Reading

The Silver Arrow, by Lev Grossman, at J.R.'s Book Reviews and SyFy Wire

Swift, by R.J. Anderson, at Foreword Book Reviews

The Tail of Emily Windsnap, by Liz Kessler, at Say What?

Thomas Wildus and the Wizard of Sumeria, by J.M. Bergen. at Cover2CoverBlog

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at The Bookwyrm's Den and Books4YourKids

The Tindims of Rubbish Island, by Sally Gardner, at Twirling Book Princess

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, by Adrianna Cuevas, at Puss Reboots

The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery, by P. G. Bell, at Woodpecker Books

Authors and Interviews

Rishab Borah (The Door to Inferna) at Three Rooms Press

Colette Sewall (Kiki MacAdoo and the Graveyard Ballerinas) with review, at Pop Goes the Reader

Other Good Stuff

Strong Fairy Tale Heroines #26: KATE CRACKERNUTS, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

The deadline to apply to be a Cybils judge is September 7th!  If you want to fill your fall with great reading and great conversations about kids book as a first round panelist, or fill January with the same as a second rounder, do come join the fun!  (nb YA could use a few more panelists!)


The Highland Falcon Thief, by M.G. Leonard

The Highland Falcon Thief, by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, with illustrations by Elisa Paganelli (middle grade, Feiwel and Friends, July 28, 2020) is a tremendously fun middle grade mystery!

11-year-old Hal Beck is the only kid who's a guest on the last journey of the famous steam train, the Highland Falcon. His uncle Nat is a travel writer, who's written about the star-studded history of the train. Hal is not enthusiastic, and the fancy ambience of the journey, and he certainly has nothing in common with the other guests, who are primarily a curious assortment of the rich and famous, one of whom who has brought an entourage of five dogs with her (nb the dogs will both appeal to those who love dogs, and be a source of possible, though transitory, distress, as they are not treated as well as they should be).

But then he finds he's not the only kid on board. Lenny Singh, the daughter of the engineer, has stowed away on board. And things get even more interesting when he realizes there's a jewel thief on the train as well, and the prince and princess themselves, along with a priceless diamond neckless, come on board. When the neckless goes missing, everyone on board is a suspect, but when Lenny's discovered, she becomes suspect #1.

Lenny, with her insiders knowledge of all the nooks and crannies of the Highland Falcon and her trusty tool belt, and Hal, with his keen powers of observation and artistic talent (his artist's eye is excellent at capturing important moments and people) join forces to find the real thief before the train's last stop.

For those who love detailed settings, even if they come into it uncertain about how interesting stream trains are, this is a cupcake of a book. It's awfully easy to fall in love with the Highland Falcon and all it's panoply, and mundane, but still fascinating, details of how steam trains work add even more interest.

The mystery is likewise intriguing, and readers will be kept guessing along with Lenny and Hal! We know the thief must be someone on the train, and there are lots of secrets on board as well. The build-up feels brisk, and the actually solving even brisker, and the pages turn very quickly. The mystery takes actual work and deduction to solve, and Hal and Lenny are more than up for the job. Though the grown-ups do their best, and Uncle Nat and Lenny's dad are both supportive, the jewel thief might well have gotten away with if it hadn't been for the meddling kids!

Any middle grade mystery lover should eat this up, and pounce on the next book in the series (Adventures on Trains) eagerly, not just because of the likeable protagonists and satisfying story, but because trains will now be regarded as totally satisfying settings and interesting in their own right!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

(The Highland Falcon Thief is eligible for this years Cybils Awards; if you would like to spend this fall reading it and many other wonderful realistic middle grade books from the past year, apply to be a panelist today!  You can also apply in other categories, like the even more awesome middle grade speculative fiction category, if you prefer your trains haunted or interdimensional.....)


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/23/20)

 Welcome to this weeks round-up! Please let me know if I missed your post.

First-the call for Cybils Awards panelists is up!  If you want to spend fall doing a deep dive into MG speculative fiction (or other categories of childrens/ya books) apply to join the fun!  I'm category chair for MG spec fic, and I would LOVE to welcome new folks to the team.  Here's a post of mine with more about it all.  Feel free to shoot me an email if you have questions (charlotteslibrary at gmail)

The Reviews

Arcade and the Golden Travel Guide (The Coin Slot Chronicles #2), by Rashad Jennings, at Say What?

Arcade and the Triple T Token (The Coin Slot Chronicles #1) by Rashad Jennings, at Say What?

The Beast and the Bethany, by Jack Meggitt-Phillips, at Read to Ramble

Dead Voices, by Katherine Arden, at Sloth Reads

Dragon Mountain, by Katie and Kevin Tsang, at Book Craic

Dragonslayer (Wings of Fire: Legends, Book 2) by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden In Pages

The Erth Dragons: The Wearle, by Chris D’Lacey, at Woodpecker Books

Gladius and the Bartlett Trial (Gladius #1). by J.A. Paul, at S.W. Lothian

Homerooms and Hall Passes, by Tom O'Donnell, at Sloth Reads

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd, at Completely Full Bookshelf

The Last Lie (#2) by Patricia Forde, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed. and Charlotte's Library

Luna, by Holly Webb, at Book Criac

Map of Stars (York, Book 3) by Laura Ruby, at Hidden in Pages

Mask, by Kate Hannigan, at The Neverending TBR

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Monster Problems, by Jason R. Lady, at Miss Sue's Skills 4 Success

Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie, at Log Cabin Library

The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street, by Cory Putnam Oakes, at The Pretty Good Gatsby

The Secret of Platform 13, by Eva Ibbotson, at Twirling Book Princess

The Stitchers (#1) by Lorien Lawrence, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed., and From the Mixed Up Files

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at Waking Brain Cells

Valiant by Sarah McGuire, at Say What?

Willow Moss and the Lost Day, by Dominique Valente, at samellenb (Instagram)

Two at The Book Search-- Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie, and Whispering Pines by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartowski

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads-- The Stitchers (Fright Watch #1), by  Lorien. Lawrence, and Ikenga, by Nnedi Okorafor

Authors and Interviews

Sarah Beth Durst (Catalyst) at Stephanie Burgis

MarcyKate Connolly (The Shadow Weaver series) at Middle Grade Ninja

Fleur Bradley (Midnight at the Barclay Hotel), at From the Mixed up Files

 Jack Meggitt-Phillips (The Beast and the Bethany) at Read to Ramble

Lev Grossman (The Silver Arrow) at Publishers Weekly

Emily-Jane Hills Orford (Mrs. Murray’s Home: The Piccadilly Street Series Book 3) at Carpinello's Writing Pages

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