what I was doing instead of reading and blogging

This past week and a bit I had no time whatsoever to do much reading, and blogging was pretty much impossible.  

It started with Book Expo last Wednesday into Friday, which was its usual wild ride gathering some really excellent books and promoting Kidlitcon 2019 to all and sundry.  Here's my book haul:

And from New York I went down to my college reunion at Bryn Mawr, PA, and the campus was gorgeous as always, and it was wonderful to be surrounded by dear smart funny women.  My sophomore room was in the right hand tower of this dorm (the window with the balcony).

And then it was back home to feverishly prepare for my mother's arrival for the high school graduation of my oldest.  I installed a new toilet (sadly we didn't get around to installing new walls, but at least there was a downstairs toilet for her, and a new skill set for me!) and desperately tried to landscape the yard (failed) and clean the house thoroughly (never well enough).

And then today was high school graduation!  

There are some books I'm going to get reviews of written in the next day or so, but then we go off on a post-graduation trip to Wales (which I wanted to do because this is perhaps the last time both boys will be handy and willing to go on a family trip, and Patrick's sister lives just over the border in England so it will be nice to see that part of the family again.  Plus castles.)

So blogging will continue to be thin on the ground for the next few weeks...but then I will have Nothing to Do except all the things, and will be able to blog much more regularly again!


Invictus, by Ryan Graudin, for Timeslip Tuesday

It seems to me there are in general two major types of time travel book--time travel as personal magical adventure, and time travel as a corporate endeavor, with multiple operatives, questionable motives, and tangled timelines (with many exceptions, but still).  If you read my blog regularly you can guess I prefer the former.  So Invictus, by Ryan Graudin (Little Brown YA Sept. 2017), isn't my personal cup of tea, but there were many things to like and you might well love it.

The main character, Farway Gaius McCarthy (aka Far) was born by a time traveler from the 2300s who fell in love with a Roman Gladiator and gave birth on the trip between times on her way home.  So Far's never had a real birthday, which caused minor glitchiness in his records.  He did well at time travel school, and was all set to follow in his mother's footsteps as a government time traveler...but then he fails his final exams (mysteriously) and ends up captaining a crew of three friends to hunt for lost treasures in the past to sell on the black market. Imogen, Far’s fun and quirky cousin is the historian; Gram (who is black), is the math genius, tetris addicted engineer, Priya (who's Indian) is Far's beloved and the medic.

On a heist mission back to the Titanic, Far meets Eliot, a strange girl who is also time travelling, whose  habits of clearly knowing too much and saying too little, and the fact that she's infiltrated herself via blackmail into the crew, make it almost impossible to trust her.  And she does indeed have secrets that makes trusting her more than a little risky.  She is on a mission of her own...because the fact that Far was born outside of time has caused bigger headaches than just his birthday glitch, threatening the existence of multiverses, and this has become her problem to solve.

Now it is a problem for Far and his friends as well.  Their past is endangered, their happy present as time-travelling young rouges totally gone to heck, and their future is a big question mark.  

What I really liked

--the crew is great; they had a fun bond and were an interesting group of people.  There is a bonus red panda on board as well.

<--the and="" appealing="" are="" between="" characters.="" crew="" div="" dynamic="" far="" great="" his="" in="" is="" man="" one="" other="" the="" two="" very="" woman="" young="">--Eliot's mission, and the way it unfolds, provides a strong backbone of plot.

What I didn't much like

--my head hurt a bit trying to make sense of the swirl of multiverses and different pasts.  I strongly prefer single timelines.  This was almost too much for me.

 --I had trouble warming to Far, who's rather cocky, and this made it hard to get into the book, since it is quite Far-centric at first.  The crew, and Eliot, get more story time as the book progresses, and the story gets more interesting, so that wasn't a deal breaker.

--The actual time travel wasn't magical at all.  It was very down to earth, with no anthropological nuance to speak of.  So not particularly interesting to me.

Here's the Kirkus review, if you want a second opinion.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs

Welcome to this week's  round-up.  Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Books4YourKids and Charlotte's Library

Born to be Good  Bad, by Michael Fry, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Burning Magic (Shadow Magic 3), by Joshua Kahn, at Log Cabin Library

Dragons in a Bag, by Zetta Elliott, at Rajiv's Reviews

Fate of the Gods (Last Descendants 3) by Matthew Kirby, at Say What?

The Fire Chronicle (Books of Beginning #2), by John Stephens, at Say What?

Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sacher, at Middle Grade Ninja

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Abby the Librarian and Minerva Reads

The Language of Spells, by Garret Weyr, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Menagerie Series, by Tui T. Sutherland and  Kari Sutherland, at Duskangelreads

Mirror Magic, by Claire Fayers, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta, at Pages Unbound

Some Very Messy Medieval Magic, by C. Lee McKenzie, at Bookworm Lisa

The Stone Girl's Story, by Sarah Prineas, at Dana Square

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones,by Will Mabbitt, at Puss Reboots

The White Mountains, by John Christopher, at Leaf's Reviews

Authors and Interviews

Henry Lien (Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword) at Reading (As)(I)an (Am)Erica

Tania Unsworth (Brighwood) character interview at From the Mixed Up Files

Other good stuff

a look at the books of Jewell Parker Rhodes (which include several mg sci/fi fantasy) by me at the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

Anyone going to Book Expo next week?  I am and I'd love to say hi!


Brightly Burning, by Alexa Donne

Brightly Burning, by Alexa Donne (HMH Books for Young Readers, YA, May 2018), is an easy book to pitch in one sentence--Jane Eyre in Space.  It's the story of Stella, an orphan, mistreated by rich relatives, who escapes impoverished circumstances (on board a decrepit farming spaceship orbiting an icebound Earth) by finding work as a governess to a little girl in an isolated manor (in this case, isolated private spaceship), falls in love with the mercurial, wealthy guardian of the little girl, and then finds there's a madwoman on board as well...and things get problematic.

What makes this interesting is that there is enough Jane Eyre-ness to make it fun to play along with the author, but the framing device of humanity orbiting the earth for generations, waiting for the ice-age to end, is an interesting sci fi story in its own right. The class struggle and inequality of this society, and the moral dilemmas it poses to the characters, adds  interest, and Stella is a stronger character than Jane was, and a much better advocate for herself.  I actually cannot stand Jane Eyre, the book or the girl, and did not find Mr. Rochester appealing in the least, but his placeholder here, Hugo, though also an insensitive ass, is a few steps up from the original, and at 19 much more suitable for teenaged Stella.

So basically, I enjoyed reading it (good descriptions of spaceship life, and I loved the conceit of grand estate transformed to luxury spaceship), though I would have liked the ending (set on Earth) to go into more re-building terrestrial civilization specifics just because I like that kind of thing lots.  But maybe there will be a sequel in which they figure out flush toilets again.

Kirkus is several notches more enthusiastic than me--"A gripping examination of class, romance, and survival set in a dystopian future that feels chillingly relevant to our present times."


While at Amazon getting a link I was amused to see that Brightly Burning is

#13 in Books & Teens & Romance &; Clean & Wholesome

because "wholesome" is not a word I'd ever use to describe even an echo of Mr. Rochester, though Hugo is much, much more wholesome than the original!  The romance is confined to a bit of fairly detailed passionate kissing, not chastely clean at all, but there is no actual sex, which might be all that matters )

I was much less amused by this-- it took me a while to get the link to the option to buy the book new, because when you just search Amazon for it, the buy option goes to the used book sellers.  I had to put a bundle of this one plus two other books into my shopping cart to get the link to buy it new.  Though I'm angry at Amazon, I'm leaving the link in because it does seem to work and I feel I have foiled them, but if you are interested you might want to go elsewhere....)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Oddling Prince, by Nancy Springer

Back when I was a freshman in high school, the book I re-read most was The Silver Sun, by Nancy Springer.  Part of the appeal was that I crushed equally on the two protagonists, both beautiful young men, with different enough personalities that I spent time trying to decide if I had a preferences, part of it was the magical world,  and exciting story.  But I think that what most drew me back and back again to the story was that it centered on the idea that there are people you meet with whom you form relationships that complete you.  As a 14-year-old, I naturally felt uncompleted and not fully and beautifully understood, so the idea that you could meet someone who helped fill the empty part of one's self, making that self a better thing, was tremendously appealing.

As a grown-up, I haven't been moved to re-read it, but I still felt much interest and anticipation when I was offered a review copy of The Oddling Prince, Nancy Springer's newest book (Tachyon Publications, upper Middle Grade/YA, May  2018) .  It was a book with much the same theme, and I was not at all surprised to read in the author's note that it is "a deliberate return to her beginnings as a writer." 

It is about a king saved from death when the son he never knew he had arrives from the land of fairy, becoming mortal to save his father.  But there is a catch.  The king had been imprisoned by the fairy queen, who bore his son, Albaric, and while no time passed in our world, there that child grew to be a young man, the same age as the king's human son, Aric.  Aric recognizes and embraces his brother instantly, but the king has no memory of his imprisonment and the son he loved while the fairy queen's captive, and is horrified by the arrival of the strange, unworldly Albaric.  He becomes almost insane with paranoia, threatening to destroy his once loving relationship with Aric, and even his kingdom.

But Aric and Albaric will never forsake each other; each is necessary for the other's happiness.  It takes all of Aric's loyalty and determination, some marvelous magic, and love, to bring peace back to the family and the land.

So that whole idea of the beloved second-self, that spoke so strongly to young me, is here even more explicitly, as is the medieval sort of world where magic happens from time to time.  And young me would have loved it.  Older me is more worldly-wise, and though I enjoyed the book, I was more conscious that the prose was somewhat stiff in a sort of old-fashioned sounding way, and that made me wonder who exactly would love this book if it was the first of the author's they'd read.  Since the tension of the plot comes from personal relationships, though there is some fighting action, those who like Excitement in their stories might not feel invested in the story.  Those who like misty Scottish-esque medieval settings, where magical rings of the fey can ensnare kings, and love wins in the end, may on the other hand find this gorgeous.  Starry-eyed youthful dreamers in their younger teens (who don't get distracted by cynical thoughts about word choices) are the best audience, and (inevitably) that is not who I am any more.

nb:  there is also a beautiful magical horse, giving the book bonus appeal points for horse-loving readers.  And thought the book is focused on the two boys, the queen and the girl Aric is destined to marry are both strong characters; the queen, in particular, is the sanest of the bunch!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead (Feiwel & Friends, May 2018), is a charmer.  In all honesty, I was a bit surprised when I found myself charmed.  This is because I find the idea of small green creatures (possibly zombies) wearing chicken suits of questionable quality, lurking forgotten in the closet of your bedroom at grandma's house (when you are already feeling strange and lonely) to be really, really unappealing.

Bob, the small  creature in question, turned out not to be zombie (yay!), but  instead a truly sympathetic character, and even the chicken suit ended up being heartwarming.

Livy met Bob five years ago, the last time she left America to visit her grandmother in Australia.  Now she's back, to stay there on her own.  She feels there's something she's forgotten, and she was right--she doesn't remember Bob.  But he's been remembering her all these years, waiting inside her bedroom closet for her to come back, and help him with his own remembering--he doesn't know who he is, where he came from, or even if he had a family of his own.  Livy is taken aback to find him in the closet, but gradually her memories start coming back...and all the clues about who Bob really is start coming together.

And in the meantime, her grandmother's part of Australia is being hit hard by a horrible drought...and magically, Bob might just be the answer to that problem.

So it's both a magical helper friendship story, and a story about family and human friendships and growing up (a bit, not all the way).  It all ends up working beautifully, with plenty of humor accompanying the more central issues.  It's odd and quirky, but convincing enough so that even readers who generally enjoy more realistic fiction can appreciate it.

It's written in alternating view points from Livy and Bob, and though I know nothing about how the two authors collaborated, Bob feels more like Wendy Mass (the quirky fantasy) and Livy more like Rebecca Stead (the beautifully written realistic part).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


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

Here's this gathering of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okarafor, at Hit or Miss Books

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Borrobil, by William Croft Dickinson, at Charlotte's Library

The Chosen Ones (Worldquake book 2), by Scarlett Thomas, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

The Creature of the Pines, by Adam Gidwitz, at Geo Librarian and B. and N. Kids Blog

Evangeline of the Bayou, by Jan Eldredge, at  Lu and Bean Read

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at Hidden in Pages

Love, Sugar, Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano, at Latinxs in Kid Lit

The Marvelous Adventures of Gwendolyn Gray, by B.A. Williamson, at Always in the Middle

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, by Linday Currie, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

A Properly Unhaunted Place, by William Alexander, at Jean Little Library

The Quest of the Cubs (Ice Bears book 1), by Kathryn Lasky, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Scroll of Kings, by Sarah Prineas, at Kiss the Book

The Tale of Angelino Brown, by David Almond, at Rajiv's Reviews

Tomb of the Khan (Last Descendants book 2) by Matthew J. Kirby, at Say What?

Two at alibrarymama--Oddity, by Sarah Cannon, and the Daybreak Bond, by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Authors and Interviews

Stephanie Burgis (The Girl with the Dragon Heart) at Just another teen reading

Mike Jung (Unidentified Suburban Object) at DiversifYA

Dave Eggers (The Lifters) at Kid Lit Frenzy

Other Good Stuff

More that's new in the UK at Mr. Ripleys Enchanted Books

A bookseller talks about Skulduggery Pleasant's second try at taking hold in the US at Shelftalker


Borrobil, by William Croft Dickinson, for Timeslip Tueday

2018 is not proving a good year for me with regard to time travel book reading.  I have been planning poorly, as I realized this past weekend when I had no new time travel book to read on hand.  So I scrounged in my tbr pile, and found Borrobil, by William Croft Dickinson, a fantasy from 1944 that seemed to be a timeslip story....

Two siblings, Donald and Jane, on holiday in an old English village, find themselves drawn to a mysterious hill on the magical night of Beltane, and dance among the hilltop rocks.  This summons an old magician, Borrobil, who tells them they have danced themselves through time.  And then basically Borrobil takes them on a fantasy jaunt of knights and evil wizards and the fairy realm and Vikings, full of side stories he tells that don't much further the plot (not that there is much plot anyway, just sightseeing).

It was frustrating, because almost I could believe that young me would have loved the somewhat olde style of the writing and the Celtic magic of it all, but young me (like current me) absolutely cannot stand when people in stories stop what they are doing to tell long stories that aren't directly relevant.  Also both young and old me would much rather have had Donald and Jane Do more and be less passive floaters on the river of stories.  They never quite became real or interesting protagonists, yet right toward the end they showed that they had the potential to so.  And on top of that, I have never liked jolly wizards with silly sounding names like Borrobil.  

Plus though we were wandering through olden times, this was such a fantastical version of olden times that it hardly felt like time travel; it felt more like a portal fantasy.  Which is fine, but not what I wanted.   I feel that when a character says on page 22 "Do you mean.....that we are now in the times that are dead and gone and that we shall see lots of things that happened long ago?" which sounds interesting, but the paradox of Borrobil being there in the past and now again (?) as the children's guide is never addressed, and there's almost no time travel wonderment from the kids, just wonderment at all the magic they are seeing.  And it is pretty magical, verging at times on the numinous, but not enough to hook me.

So basically it did not fit my needs at this time.  But I wouldn't be at all surprised if it hadn't influenced latter British writers of fantasy, and the three reviews on Goodreads, all by people who read it as a child, are full of love for it....


Queen of Sorrow, by Sarah Beth Durst--strong women vs murder nature (and each other)

This is a longish post, and I don't want my main point--READ THESE BOOKS I LOVED THEM--to get lost.  So I have used bold to make points stand out so you can skim :)

The Queen of Sorrow, by Sarah Beth Durst (Harper Voyager May 15, 2018), is the third of the Queens of Renthia trilogy.  Reading the book of a trilogy you love is a very pleasant thing, especially when you use it as an excuse to ignore the tbr pile and actually treat yourself to the rare pleasure of re-reading the first two, which is what I did.  When everything is fresh in your mind, you can see the big thematic picture, appreciate the world building and character development, and, as a bonus, remember who everyone is!  So if you haven't read the first two (here are my reviews of  The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen) do so!

But it is hard to review a third book, because one wants to explain everything that happened in the first two in great detail.  I shall try to avoid this, but a blog post without some plot description is not a blog post I can write, so below are some spoilers for the first two books.

But first, a general thought--this series is all about women having and using power (not just magical power) in different ways, for good and ill, for complicated reasons, and so it's not only a glorious fantasy but a thought-provoking read that will stick with you long after you finish the books.

And second, another general thought--these as marketed as grown-up books (violence plus sex-positive sex) but I think they are great YA reads, and even upper middle school reads (11 on up basically), because they are all about finding out what your strengths are and what to do with them, which is a common middle school and high school topic of worry.  In particular, give these to those who loved Kristin Cashore's Graceling books (which I hope teenagers are still reading???).

And now, back to The Queen of SorrowIf you haven't read the first two books, you can read the first paragraph without being spoiled 

Basic set-up--in the world of Renthia, nature (wood, stone, water, fire, air) is inhabited by spirits who have two motivations--create and grow (essential for humanity to survive) and kill humans (making it difficult for humanity to survive).   The spirits are held in check (mostly) by the power of the queens of the various kingdoms (always queens, because boys are never born with the gift of spirit compulsion). 

Daleina became queen because everyone else in contention when the previous queen died was murdered by spirits gone wild and willful, and though, in the second book, she was joined in her role by Naelin, another strong woman, being queen is still a burden.  Naelin was not trained from childhood as Daleina was, and she is fully grown up, with kids and a failed marriage, when she is forced to become a queen.  The story in this third book gets going when Naelin's children are kidnapped by spirits controlled by the queen of a neighboring realm, to be used as bait/hostages, and Naelin goes wild with anger and frustration.  Getting her children back is more important to her than anything else, and the land suffers and people die.  And Daleina is left trying to hold things together, and trying to figure out how to make everything ok.

So basically, if you like
--strong heroines, including one who is no longer a lithesome teenager
--wild magic, not of an alchemical spell-casting sort, but a natural phenomena
--lots of great supporting characters with their own concerns, skillsets, and romances (including an unexpected and charming queer romance)
--a lovely world of treetop ziplines, places where wild spirits are creating elemental chaos, structures of all sorts called out of the spirits by the power of imagination and strength of will
--a main character (Daleina) whose primary characteristic is to calmly, trustingly, and good-heartedly make the best of what she has
--political machinations complicated by bloodthirsty spirit agendas
--bloodthirsty spirits who turn out to more complex than expected, who are more than just murder trees, murder ice, murder dirt, etc, though they are that too.
--books I like

You will like this book, and the whole series, very much!

So I got the end, and started the author's note, and this was clearly the end of this story.  I was sad, but bravely kept reading the author's note.  And was rewarded with this:

"As soon as I finish typing this, I'll be diving back into Renthia to write a standalone novel set on the islands of Belene!"

That is very good news, and everyone should buy lots and lots of copies of the Queens of Renthia trilogy so the publishers will keep on publishing more (if Sarah chooses to write them, of course).

I am so grateful to Sarah Beth Durst for both writing the books, and for sending them to me.  The arrival of her books, and the reading thereof, is one of the specific things that has made me just so so glad I started blogging!


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

Hi all, on a chilly gray spring day in southern New England (why is it that the only warm sunny weekends this spring are those on which I have things to do?  The garden is a disaster...).  But in any event, here's what I found in my blog reading, and do let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Ocorafor, at Fantasy Literature

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Book Nut

The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods, illustrated by Anuska Allepuz, at Books4yourkids

Burning Magic, by Joshua Kahn, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Carbonel King of Cats by Barbara Sleigh, at Hidden In Pages

Charlotte, Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, at alibrarymama

The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero, at The Book Wars

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, at Leaf's Reviews

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always By the Ocean, by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats, at This Kid Reviews Books and Charlotte's Library

Grump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Carries Book Reviews
Hoodoo, by Ronald L. SMith, at ProseandKahn
The Marvelwood Magicians, by Diane Zahler, at Challenging the Bookworm

The Mad Apprentice, by Django Wexler, at Puss Reboots

The Map to Everywhere #1 by Carrie Ryan and John Park Davis, at Say What?

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath, at Puss Reboots

Outwalkers, by Fiona Shaw, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

The Rose Legacy, by Jessica Day George, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Thief Queen's Daughter, by Elizabeth Haydon, at Purple People Readers

The Third Kind of Magic by Elizabeth Forest, at Cover2Cover

Unicorn Rescue Society: Creature of the Pines, by Adam Gidwitz, at Great Kid Books

The Unicorn Quest, by Kamilla Benko, at Pages Unbound

9 new mg books at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Authors and Interviews

Bren MacDibble (How to Bee) at Minerva Reads

Ruth Lauren (Seeker of the Crown) at With Love for Books

Kathi Appelt (The Underneath, The Wishtree), at Janet Fox

A.M. Morgan (The Inventors at No. 8) at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

An interesting article about mg fantasy and student activism at The Boston Globe--"On Feb 14, a gunman killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Trying to make sense of what had happened, the survivors turned to Harry Potter."

Tor asks a question that I've thought a lot about--Why Would Any Parent Send Their Kids to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

New books in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books


A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats

One of the things that kept me busy last week was reading and writing up a list of nine April releases for the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog, which is now up...and so reading and reviewing here suffered.  It was a nice lot of books, but there was one in particular that I wanted to talk about more than space and crisp professionalism (?) allowed.  So here's my longer and more relaxed take on:

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats

Topsea is indeed a friendly town, and the ocean is indeed almost always nearby...sometimes its far far out to sea, and sometimes its right inside the houses, depending on the very idiosyncratic tides.  Davy's mom has moved the two of them there, to give them a fresh start after his dad's death, and Davy knows she's counting on him to be happy there.  So he does his absolute best to fit in.

Except that Topsea is a place where everything is deeply peculiar.  The seaweed slithers around actively, the pier has no end in sight, there's a troll (?) under the bridge and possibly a monster in the arcade, seagulls deliver the mail and strange and sinister cats haunt the beach.  In Topsea, every kid knows not to make eye contact with a rubber duck that still has its eyes. The  kids themselves are, to varying degrees, odd in their own ways. 

And so Davy's faced with a conundrum- how can you fit into a new normal when there is no normal to fit into?  But Davy is just about the gamest kid I've ever read about.  For instance, when he finds out his locker is deep, deep down at the bottom of an extraordinarily deep swimming pool, he is dismayed, but dives in regardless, and makes the best of things when he can't reach it.  Fortunately, the other kids, though unusual and with a much different sense of what is ordinary, are friendly and welcoming.

And gradually, as Davy gets used to his new (ab)normal, he finds that Topsea is indeed becoming home.

A large part of the book is told from Davy's perspective, but it's broken up with bits from the school newspaper, bits from the point of view of other kids, the school cafeteria menu, and bits of information signage, so that the reader can see the oddness directly without having to rely on Davy to filter it.  This works very well, not slowing the story down at all but making everything seem more real.

Basically, this is Welcome to Nightvale for middle school readers, without being quite as scary.  Not even the creepy Ice-cream man has caused lasting harm to anyone.   I have a low tolerance for whacky whimsy (the Wayside school sort of thing leaves me cold), but I enjoyed this one lots and lots...and am not sure exactly why that is.  Possibly because it is more perverse than whimsical, and isn't trying at all to be cute? Possibly because the kids, though eccentric, are not exaggerated for laughs? Possibly because I have a soft spot for sinister yellow ducks? But in any event, I found it charming and memorable and Davy's a darling.

Although it's middle grade (9-12 year olds), I think it's an especially good one for upper elementary school kids (8-9 year olds which a tolerance for the odd should enjoy it very much).


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

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week.  Let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

A Bad Night for Bullies (The Goolz Next Door Book 1) by Gary Ghislain, at Say What?

Across the Dark Water (Riders of the Realm Book 1), by at Project Mayhem and Charlotte's Library

Aru Sha and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi at Books4yourkids

The Boy from Tomorrow, by Camille DeAngelis, at PidginPea's Book Nook

Freya and the Magic Jewel, by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Thunder Girls book 1) at Small Review

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats, at Puss Reboots

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Children's Books Heal

Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis, at Pages Unbound Reviews

Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Puss Reboots

The Problem Child, by Michael Buckley, at Awesome Book Assessment

Seeker of the Crown, by Ruth Lauren, at Cracking the Cover

The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Book 1) by Sayantani DasGupta, at Abby the Libraraian

The Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby, at Hidden in Pages

The Stone Girl's Story, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Waking Brain Cells

Story Thieves: Worlds Apart, by James Riley, at Michelle I. Mason

Stuck in the Stone Age, by Geoff Rodkey, at Redeemed Reader

The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome: a Handbook for Time Travelers, by Jonathan W. Stokes, at Jean Little Library

The Wild Robot Escapes, by Peter Brown, at Milliebot Reads

The Wizard of Dark Street, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, at Hidden In Pages

Three mythological books at Ms. Yingling Reads

Three short reviews at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Authors and Interviews

Jessica Day George (The Rose Legacy) at Cracking the Cover

Sophie Anderson (The House with Chicken Legs), at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

MarcyKate Connolly (Shadow Weaver) at JeanBookNerd

Other Good Stuff

The Locus Awards have been announced, and as usual I'm cheering for the MG/Tween books included in the "YA" section--
  • The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, Stephanie Burgis
  • Frogkisser!, Garth Nix 
  • Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor
A new urban dragon comes to town.  


Riders of the Realm: Across the Dark Waters, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez--tackling slavery and colonialsm with flying horses

It was a hard week of Library Booksale work coming at the end of a busy, busy April, so it is nice that is over with, and I can settle down to reading and reviewing (and maybe yardwork....).   I did get a fair amount of reading done while working at the library, but it was mostly oddments that were for sale, and not the books here at home that need reading.  So for my one and only review this week, here are my thoughts on Riders of the Realm: Across the Dark Waters, by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez.

This is the first book of a continuation series of Alverez's Guardian Herd books; it's not a direct sequel, but takes existing characters from those books and sets them on a new path.  Echofrost is one of the leaders of a group of winged horse who decide to abandon their homeland and the battle between two legendary stallions that is raging there, and which threatens to overwhelm all the clans of winged horses. Storm Herd, as they call themselves, plans to settle on another continent, keeping their kind from the threat of extinction.  So they fly across the dark waters, to a far-off land of jungles.

To the surprise of Storm Herd, there are already flying horses in this place, but they don't fly free.  Instead, they serve the landwalkers (humans), part of a great military force in which each stead is paired for life with a human rider.  This force sets off to pursue the wild herd, and one wild mare is captured.  Echofrost goes back for her friend, allowing herself to be captured too, thinking she can save the both of them.  To her horror, her feathers are immediately cut so she can no longer fly.  With escape impossible for the moment, she finds that she has just volunteered, in essence, for slavery (about which more after the plot summary).  Only one young boy, Rahkki, wins a small measure of her trust.

Rahkki is the other point-of-view character, and though he has a complicated backstory that means he has no hope of being a Rider himself, he is able to get to know the wild mare.  Their relationship ends up being crucial not just to the trajectory of their individual lives, but to the fate of both the realm and of Storm Herd. The jungle queendom is threatened by a race of giants (about which more below).  War has begun, and Storm Herd has been caught in it.   And Echofrost is faced once again with a terrible choice--friends or freedom?

The Guardian Herd series was lovely fodder for kids who enjoy animal epic adventures with magic.  This series takes the world into much more complicated territory, and for me at least the moral and ethicial questions posed were more interesting than the plot (although the plot is perfectly fine and I see no reason why kids who like animal adventures won't love it).  For starters, there's the whole slavery of sentient beings. This is a troubling part of the book, because slavery is troubling.  The reader is not allowed to see the winged horses as domesticated animals, because clearly Echofrost is a sapient protagonist, but the pegasi of the realm have had generations of brainwashing, and do not realize that "freedom" is something they should want.

Echofrost learns that obeying her trainer's commands means she will not be hurt, and has to walk a delicate line between cooperating on the outside and keeping the flames of rebellion burning on the inside.   She tries to convince the enslaved pegasi to seek freedom, but  they sincerely love the riders they are paired with, and it is hard to make them see that they are not equal partners.  Alverez certainly made me feel uncomfortable with this set-up, and I think she is forthright enough in her portrayal of Echofrost's thoughts young readers will also be made to think about the ethical implications of the relationship between pegasi and their riders (which is a good thing).

Alverez also throws another thought-provoking twist into the story.  The race of giants are the "bad guys."  They are rumored to eat pegasi.  They are the aggressive, uncivilized attackers. However, Alverez makes it clear, fairly obviously, and quickly enough to make it possible to keep reading without flinging the book away because of this harmful trope of barbarians vs civilization, that there is more to the story.  Right when the giants are first introduced to the plot, the reader is told that the farmlands carved from the jungle were originally the giants' homeland, from which they were driven away.  The reader also learns that the giants are not necessarily brutish at all--they can communicate in sign language.   The reader must make of this what she will, but when Rahkki concludes that the giants' final attach of the story is motivated by a desire for a bargaining chip to exchange for the return of their land, the point  that there was injustice done to the giants is underlined emphatically.

I am encouraged by Alverez's forthrightness in setting up this world to hope that the end of the series will involve some sort of justice for the giants, and a clear acknowledgement that they are not savages.   And I assume that the winged horse will be recognized as well as sentient beings deserving of freedom.  These two pertinent, social-justice questions made what could have been just an entertaining flying horse and plucky orphan boy making friends story into something that I was intellectually interested in reading, and so I look forward to the next book.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/29/18)

Welcome to this week's gathering of what I found in my blog reading; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Mom Read It

Bugging Out (Monsters Unleashed #2) by John Kloepfer, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1) by Anna Meriano

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island, by Liz Kessler, at Books4yourkids

Evangeline of the Bayou, by Jan Eldredge, at Log Cabin Library

Freya and the Magic Jewel (Thunder Girls #1), by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Mom Read It

A Friendly Town That's Almost Always by the Ocean! by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats, at Great Imaginations

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Randomly Reading

Ice Wolves (Elementals #1), by Amie Kaufman, at Reading Lark

The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Polaris, by Michael Northrup, at Read Till Dawn

A Properly Unhaunted Place, by William Alexander, at Falling Letters

The Rose Legacy, by Jessica Day George, at Charlotte's Library

Shadow Magic series, by Joshua Kahn, at Confident Foundation

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, at ReadRantRock&Roll

The Unusual Suspects (Sisters Grimm #2), by Michael Buckley, at Awesome Book Assesment

Witch Switch (Witch Wars #2), by Sibeal Pounder, at Pages Unbound

Wizard for Hire, by Obert Skye, at Say What?

The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

Three at Ms. Yingling Reads:  Waste of Space, by Stuart Gibbs, Redemption, by Mark Walden, and Intergalactic P.S. 3, by Madeline L'Engle

Authors and Interviews

Kristine Asselin (The Art of the Swap) at Nerdy Book Club

Joshua Kahn (Shadow Magic Series) at Jean Book Nerd

Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats (A Friendly Town that's Almost Always by the Ocean), at 3 Decades Kids and Jean Book Nerd

Kim Ventrella (The Skeleton Tree) at Cynsations

Sophie Anderson (The House with Chicken Legs) at Alittlebutalot

Other Good Stuff

Publishers Weekly gathers lots of opinions about "middle grade"

Hidden elves at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, via Rachel Neumeier


A paean to the great girls of FirstSecond's graphic novels

Of course I said "yes please!" when asked if I was interested in being a stop on FirstSecond's celebration of their girl power graphic novels.  These are great books, about which more later in the post.

But in thinking about what I wanted to say about these books, I find myself wanting to talk a bit about graphic novels with strong girls as not just wonderfully empowering stories for girl readers, but as a wonderful opportunity for boys.

In all sincerity, one of the absolutely best things that came from starting a book blog was being on the receiving end of review copies from FirstSecond.  I hadn't really had any awareness that such books existed before blogging, and thanks to this realization, and the review copies that began arriving, my older son began to be a reader.  Before graphic novels I worried about him; he was a capable reader, but not a keen one, and I was afraid he would be deprived of the mind-expanding wonder of discovering imagined worlds in the pages of books.  Not only did graphic novels make him a reader (primarily of graphic novels still, but they are as real as any other books), but he ended up starting his own graphic novel blog (A Goblin Reviews Graphic Novels), and gained the self-confidence that comes of allowing oneself to have opinions, and the invaluable writing practice that comes in expressing them.

And he got to see a whole bunch of strong girls, having adventures, saving the world, saving themselves and their friends, naturalizing that this is what girls can be.  I don't think he will ever save a damsel in distress; I think he would expect the damsel to be able to save herself, though he'd help if needed/asked.  (I just went upstairs to ask him if in fact reading about strong girls had made him think of real girls as strong; he said "That is a stupid question.  I think of people as strong or weak people, not as strong or weak male or female people. Can I be left alone now please?" which is basically the same point....).

But regardless of the inner workings of my son's mind, if you have a boy who has been tricked into thinking that boys shouldn't read books about girls, give that boy a great graphic novel starring a strong girl and they may well love it.  And then they might read more and more books about girls, internalizing girls as persons, not as stereotypes, which is a good thing.

So happily FirstSecond is still going strong, and still sending us books (yay!).  Here's what's new in the way of girl power.  (links go to my more detailed reviews where applicable).

Monsters Beware is the third volume in the Chronicles of Claudette series by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado (the first two being Giants Beware and Dragons Beware.  Set in a vaguely medieval French world with magic and monsters, Claudette dreams of being a famous warrior and monster slayer.  Her adventures are full of humor, charm, and danger, but what I love about this series most is not just that Claudette is fierce in her sword-waving, but that the two kids who are the main supporting characters, her princess-best friend and her little brother, a would-be chef, get to be just as fierce without the sword part.  They also play an essential role in counterbalancing Claudette's action-oriented zeal.  While being a fun romp that's entertaining as all get out, this series is also a really pleasing exploration of different ways to have strength of character.

The City on the Other Side, by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson

Isabel is growing up in sheltered comfort, looking out her windows at San Francisco, a city still recovering from the great earthquake of 1906.  She's not allowed out to explore it, though she would love to.  Her mother is distant and unloving, and sends Isable off to spend the summer out in the country with her sculptor father, who she doesn't know.  There she stumbles through the barrier separating our world from that of the fairies.  In the other world, the two factions, Seelie and Unseelie, are at war.  Isabel is plunged right into the middle of the conflict, when she's entrusted by a dying Seelie warrior with a magical gem that could restore balance...if she can get it to the captured Seelie Princess.  Fortunately Isabel find friends--a mushroom fairy, Button, and a Filipino boy, orphaned by the earthquake, who's also crossed the barrier.  Exploring the city on the other side is magical, but dangerous and scary...but there's never any doubt that it will all work out.  Connections between the two world add weight to Isabel's mission--unbalance on one side of the barrier affects the other.

It's a fine story, and the main characters are charming, but what makes this one truly stunning is the artwork.  It is utterly magical and magnificent and full to bursting with curious denizens of the fairy world.  Gorgeous.

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter, by Marcus Sedgewick and Thomas Taylor

Scarlett Hart isn't legally old enough to be monster hunter.  But with her parents, two legendary monster slayers in their own right, dead, she has to do something to bring in a bit of money.  So her loyal butler drives her to locations where monsters have been spotted, supports her in the slaying part (though being tough as nails and a dab hand at weapons and ropes, she doesn't need much help in this department), and delivers the monster corpses to collect payment. But her parents' arch-rival, Count Stankovic, is determined to cut her out of the business, and if she gets busted, she'll loose her ancestral home.  And then she finds out the Count has even more horrible schemes afoot, and the monsters keep getting bigger and fiercer....

Fortunately Scarlett is up to the challenge of both the Count and the monsters!  It's fun adventure, Scarlett's a heroine to cheer for, and I found the illustrations very easy on the eye--clear and crisp.  Give this one to young fans of Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood and Co. series.

The Ripple Kingdom, by Gigi D.G. (Cucumber Quest 2)

The Cucumber Quest series tells the saga of a young rabbit boy (Cucumber) whose plans to study magic got derailed by a quest to save the world.  Fortunately for the world, his little sister, Almond, goes with him; she actually has useful fighting skills, whereas Cucumber's magic hasn't yet fully come into its own, and she's much more keen on the whole quest business in general --finding the fabled Dream Sword and defeating the Nightmare Knight.  This installment finds the rabbit siblings and sundry companions battling a tentacled monster with both sword and magic, and learning more about the nature of their mysterious quest.  It is good fun for elementary school kids, and for older kids who aren't in a hurry to grow up!  And Almond and Cucumber subvert gender stereotypes of heroes very nicely indeed.

The League of Lasers (Star Scouts 2), by Mike Lawrence

Avani is happy just being a Star Scout, but when she is invited to join the League of Lasers, for the most elite scouts, she can't say no.  And the moment she accepts, she's whooshed to outer space, and sent on an initiation challenge.  Things go wrong, and she ends up stranded on a methane planet.  With her arch-enemy, the alien Pam.  Happily, Avani and Pam realize that they need to work together, and become pretty good partners...just in time to make first contact with the aliens who live on this planet.   In the meantime, Avani's dad has realized his daughter's missing, despite the efforts of her alien Star Scout friends to convince him otherwise.  And he's ready to travel through space himself to find her again....

It is a very enjoyable survival/friendship/alien encounter story!  It's so much fun to see the girls working together, in good scouting fashion; Avani is an especially good roll model of practicality and determination.   The story moves briskly, and there are plenty of touches of humor to both the story and the illustrations.  It's a bit tense at times, but never really scary...even the most alien of the aliens is rendered in a non-horrifying way.

That's the round-up of the new releases being featured in this particular blog tour, but I can't write about FirstSecond's girl power books for kids without mentioning the queen of them all--Zita the Space Girl!  She blasted into the world back in 2011, and if I were a betting blogger, I'd put my money on her to be a classic for the ages.

Thank you, FirstSecond, for both the review copies and for publishing awesome books!

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