4/19/15

This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/19/15)

I have nothing to offer this week's round up from my own blog (it was a horrendously busy week), but happily others do!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen, at The Book Rat and The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Darkmouth, by Shane Hegarty, at The Book Zone (for boys)

The D'Evil Diaries, by Tatum Flynn, at Wondrous Reads

Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George, at Becky's Book Reviews

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at The Children's War

The Forbidden Stone, by Tony Abbott, at Claire M. Caterer

Genuine Sweet, by Faith Harkey, at Semicolon

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Librarian of Snark and The Daily Prophecy

Krakens and Lies (Menagerie Book 3), by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Hidden In Pages

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at The Write Path

Omega City, by Diana Peterfreund, at Booked Till Tuesday and  Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Princess in Disguise, by E.D. Baker, at Cracking the Cover

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Disability in Kid Lit

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Sleeping Beauty Dreams Big, by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Pages Unbound

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at alibrarymama

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Rcubed's Reads and Reviews

The Time of the Fireflys, by Kimberly Griffiths Little, at Cindy Reads a Lot

The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann, at Leaf's Reviews

The  Water and the Wild, by K.E. Ormsbee

The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer, at On Starships and Dragonwings

At Ms. Yingling Reads:  Accidently Evil, by Lara Chapman, and Jack, by Liesl Shurtliff

and also at Ms. Yingling Reads:  Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? by Liz Kessler, The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark, and The Murk, by Robert Lettrick


Authors and Interviews

Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl) at The Hiding Spot

Soman Chainani (The School for Good and Evil) at A Backwards Story


Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of Woundrous Wearables at Views from the Tesseract

5 great books about kids in space for younger MG readers at the B. and N. Kids Blog

A Teaser for Netflix's How to Train Your Dragon series, at io9

4/16/15

In the Time of Dagon Moon Blog Tour--Interview with Janet Lee Carey

It's my pleasure today to welcome Janet Lee Carey, who's latest book, In the Time of Dragon Moon (Kathy Dawson Books, March 2015, YA), is the sort of book that will please those who enjoy generous helpings of dragons, romance, fantasy that's an integral part of the world building, and engaging characters!  It is the third of her books set in a sort of alternate Britain (the first being Dragon's Keep, the second Dragonswood), in which dragons and elves are very real, and in which marriage has occurred between those two races and the ruling human family. 



In this installment of the series, Uma, a young girl from the indigenous people of this kingdom tries to save her people's future by serving as the physician to the mad queen, who is desperate to have another child.  The queen has killed or imprisoned all her previous doctors, but Uma has the additional fear for her people, who are being held hostage contingent on her success.... Uma, who has had to push her way into being her father's apprentice in medicine (it was traditionally a male role), is scared and uncertain, but determined to do her best, which means that she must befriend the temperamental red dragon that was her father's friend to find the pharmacological herbs she needs.  And then to complicate matters, she and the king's nephew, Jackrun, who is part dragon and part fey, fall into loving each other while trying to unravel the mystery of the death of the Queen's firstborn son, which has further unhinged her mind...


Thank, Janet, for your lovely answers to my questions (which are in bold!)
 

-Your three dragon books are a series...but each can also stand alone.  I'm wondering if you knew there would be more books to come when you wrote Dragon's Keep, and planned accordingly, or if the second and third books were something of a surprise.  If the later is true, did you run into any problems in which your vision/world building/characterization in In the Time of Dragon Moon clashed with things in the earlier books?
When I first wrote Dragon’s Keep, I hoped there might be more books set in that world, but I did not plan on it. I wrote it before I was a published author and in those days I was still dreaming about and hoping I’d find a publisher who liked my books! That said, I did a lot of world building for Dragon’s Keep. The Kirkus review for In the time of Dragon Moon begins with the line: “Humans, dragons and fey coexist on Wilde Island, but this uneasy peace masks a simmering, mutual distrust.” I created a world rife with simmering tension and that gave me a lot of plot possibilities. I also landed on the idea to move from generation to generation so the reader sees familiar characters from the earlier books. So they meet the witch hunter, Tess and Bion in Dragonswood. And careful readers will recognize Jackrun from the epilogue. He’s just two years old then, and seventeen in this new book.
(me, Charlotte, just saying that here is the lovely cover of Dragonswood, and here's my review of it)


-Now that it’s established as a series, do you think there will be more books continuing the story of the Pendragons?
That’s partly up to the reading community. What I mean by that is authors can sell more books in a series as long as the series has enough of a following. So in that sense, readers have a say in what’s published. Of course I’d love to write more Wilde Island books. I have some ideas brewing.
-Many of your characters are different from those around them, either by virtue of mixed heritage or by physical differences.   Was this something you set out deliberately to include, or is it something that just keeps happening?  (With both your books and with Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, I have been trying to decide when having dragon scales, or other elements of dragon anatomy, constitutes a disability....my answer being, it depends--both on physical ramifications and on people's response to the scales or claws or fire....Is this something you have thought about at all?)
Very insightful question! My main characters are set apart, and do feel different from those around them. That’s partly because it makes good fiction. Someone who sees things differently makes a good protagonist as well as a good antagonist don’t you think? It’s also because I have a heart for outsiders. I felt different from my peers, so I know what it’s like. Your thoughts on dragon scales are wonderful. Yes whether dragon scales or other dragon powers such as Jackrun has, are seen as a disability has to do with the person’s response to them as well as other people’s response to them. In Jackrun’s case, his nuclear family fully accepts dragon scales and sees them as a mark of honor. Uma feels the same, but Jackrun’s other power is more frightening, both Jackrun and his family have a hard time accepting it. Other members of the Pendragon family don’t even accept the dragon scales. The king and his son Prince Desmond hide theirs, and they ostracize Princess Augusta because she has dragon scales on her forehead and golden dragon eyes. 
-Uma, the central protagonist of Dragon Moon, is in an awfully frustrating position for the course of this story.   She has virtually no opportunities to say what she really thinks, because her people are being held hostage, and on top of that, she is struggling for the opportunity to be the person that her culture says she can't be--a woman who is a healer.  And I commend her for carrying on as calmly as she does!  Did this part of Uma's story make it frustrating for you, as its author, to write?  Or did knowing the ending help? 
 
I was certainly frustrated for Uma. And since an author needs to live inside a character’s skin while writing each scene, I felt what Uma felt. She’s in an awful situation. Yet terrible situations are the stuff of good stories. As a captive of the queen, Uma is forced to struggle toward freedom and independence. She carves her own path. I ended up loving that about her.
 
 -I love that your books have a Giving Back component.  Could you share a bit about how this came about, and how you chose the Giving Back direction for Dragon Moon?
 
I first started giving to a charity in conjunction with a book launch when my book The Double Life of Zoe Flynn came out – the story of a homeless girl who lives with her family in a van. At that time I worked with Hopelink, raising awareness of homelessness and we did some wonderful food drives on my school visits. After that I was hooked. As I worked on each new book, I considered which charity I would donate to, trying to match it to the book’s theme in some way. Offering readers a chance to donate, too, seemed right. I was also a founding diva of readergirlz. Outreach was a foundational part of that literacy and social media project and it still is. I chose Nature Conservancy’s Savethe Rainforest  project for In the Time of Dragon Moon after studying indigenous healers like Uma and her father, the Adan. In the course of writing the book, I learned about the ongoing destruction of the rainforests in the Amazon Basin, the place where vital medicinal plants grow. As it says on the Nature Conservancy site; “Probably no other place is more critical for human survival than the Amazon.”
I knew it would be the right charity outreach for the book.
-And finally, what other YA fantasy books, with or without dragons, would you recommend to readers who like this series, and vice versa? 

I love Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series, and her Annals of the Western Shore series including, Gifts, Voices, and Powers. I also love Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell books, Shadowfell, Raven Flight, and The Caller. And I’m a fan of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races.

 
About the Author
(photo credit Heidi Pettit)
Janet Lee Carey grew up in the bay area under towering redwoods that whispered secrets in the wind. When she was a child she dreamed of becoming a mermaid (this never happened).She also dreamed of becoming a published writer (this did happen after many years of rejection). She is now an award-winning author of nine novels for children and teens. Her Wilde Island Chronicles are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She won the 2005 Mark Twain Award and was finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Janet links each new book with a charitable organization empowering youth to read and reach out. She tours the U.S. and abroad presenting at schools, book festivals and conferences for writers, teachers, and librarians. Janet and her family live near Seattle by a lake where rising morning mist forms into the shape of dragons. She writes daily with her imperious cat, Uke, seated on her lap. Uke is jealous of the keyboard. If Janet truly understood her place in the world, she would reserve her fingers for the sole purpose of scratching behind Uke’s ear, but humans are very hard to train.

Visit her website here
Thanks again to Janet Lee Carey for appearing, and thanks to the publisher for the review copy of the book!  For other stops on the Dragon Moon blog tour please click here.

 

4/12/15

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (4/12/15)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week of interest to fans of middle grade sci fi and fantasy; please let me know if I missed your post (or the posts of your loved ones etc.)

The Reviews

The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark, at Charlotte's Library

The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, at Falling Letters

The Brightest Night, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden In Pages

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, at Fuse #8

Fairy Tale Reform School, by Jen Calonita, at Cracking the Cover

Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, at Cracking the Cover

Genuine Sweet, by Faith Harkey, at Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

The Hero's Guide to Being and Outlaw, by Christopher Healy, at Leaf's Reviews

The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein, at Fantasy Book Critic and the B&N Kids Blog

Jinx and sequels, by Sage Blackwood, at the B&N Kids Blog

Lucky Strike, by Bobbie Pyron, at Geo Librarian

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age, by David Zeltser, at Kid Lit Reviews

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, at Log Cabin Library

Rapunzel Cuts Loose by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Pages Unbound

Time Square- the Shift, by S.W. Lothian, at Always in the Middle

The Trap, by Steven Arntson, at Book Nut

The Water and the Wild, by K. E. Ormsbee, at The Book Wars

Authors and Interviews

Ross MacKenzie (The Nowhere Emporium) at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of Circus Fantasy at Views from the Tesseract

"What if Game of Thrones was a Saturday Morning Cartoon?"  Check out Lil Thrones at io9

4/11/15

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman, continues the story of Seraphina, a young woman who's half-human, half-dragon, caught because of who, and what, she is in a war between the two species.  In an effort both to promote the possibility of peace, and to potentially gather the power to defend her homeland, she sets off on a journey to gather together others who are half-human, half-dragon.  She's looking for the specific people she's had living inside her mind--she made mental contact with them years ago, never knowing they were real.    What follows is not a peaceful journey in which new friends fall easily into her real life.  The other half dragons, some whose hybrid nature has resulted in deformities, some who have been rejected and ostracized because of who they are, don't necessarily want to be friends.  And among the denizens of Seraphina's mind was a young half-dragon woman, Jannoula, whose mental control far outstrips Seraphina's....and this woman wants to claim the minds, the wills, and the powers of the half dragons for her own ends. More personally, Seraphina is tremendously anxious (with good reason) about her dragon uncle (left in peril at the end of book 1), and tormented by her love for the prince who's supposed to be marrying the queen who is also her friend.....

So it's a pretty Seraphina focused story, with her internal life as important as external events.  Some interest comes from the travel elements of the story--though the new places and characters kind of just fall into place like beads on a string, some more memorable than others (some of the secondary characters I like very much indeed!).  Some interest comes from watching the progress of Jannoula's march of triumph through just about everybody's mind, although again this lacked tension, as it seemed inevitable and irresistible.    On top of that, Seraphina's romantic conflict left in tense place at the end of the first book kind of fizzles here--she and the prince have agreed to wait and see, and so it's kind of been put on a back burner while the more important issue of dracomachy is taken care of.

It was not till considerably far into the book (around about page 400) that the book really gripped me; I enjoyed the last 200 pages lots more than the first 400, not just because things started moving more quickly, but because of additions to the world building--like the time Seraphina spends with the quigs--despised cousins of dragons who have lots more too them than most people think, and the explanation of the saints of Seraphina's world.  In general, though, I did not think that Shadow Scale needed to be a long as it is, and I can't help but feel that Seraphina the character could have been allowed to face the Jannoula problem more proactively...

So not quite one for me, though if you loved Seraphina, which I didn't quite, you might well like Shadow Scale more than I do....(though I didn't Not like it.  Just thought it was too long.)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher





4/8/15

Shh! We Have a Plan, by Chris Haughton

It is not often that I review picture books these days, but sometimes the stars align such that it happens.  On Monday I had the very great pleasure of visiting Candlewick up in Boston, and meeting author and illustrator Chris Haughton (in town on his way to accept the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award), and coming home with a copy of his most recent book--Shh! We Have a Plan (thank you Candlewick!).

This is the sort of picture book that almost makes me wish I had small children around again, because it would be so much fun to share it with them.   Four wooly-hatted persons are off on a bird hunt, three taking it seriously, the fourth and smallest delighting more in simply seeing the colorful birdy!  The organized efforts to hunt all go wrong (amusingly), and finally fourth person uses crumbs to lure the birdies to him...and lots of birdies, both small ones,  and ones alarmingly large and beaky, arrive!  No more bird hunting (too scary!).  But undeterred, the hunters see a new target--a squirrel!

The birds (and squirrel) provide the only bits of color, but the hunters and their dark landscape are rendered in so lively a way in their dark background that there's plenty of visual interest.  And I know it works well as a read-aloud, because Chris himself read it to us, and it was much enjoyed.

Here's an interview Chris did for the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

I'm now part of the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog team of writers!

I'm so excited to finally be able to announce that I am now reviewing for the Barnes & Noble Kids Blog!  I am now a Professional (and will have to try to act accordingly).  My first post, about Sage Blackwood's Jinx series, went up today.


Here's what I didn't say there-- Sage, it would be lovely if you could perhaps tell us more about Simon and Sophie meeting in Samara-not only is the alliteration lovely, but I want to see the sparks fly!

4/7/15

The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark, for Timeslip Tuesday

Going into The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark (Little Brown, April 14, 2015, middle grade), my attitude was not the best--I vaguely feel that I do not need to read any more books about kids travelling back to the 19th century US and facing the grim realities of slavery.   Fortunately Clark is creative enough in his take on this premise to divert and entertain even jaded, cynical me.

Young Ambrose Bordy (Bro), ordinary middle school child of an Irish father and African-Canadian mother,  is being embarrassed by his dad even more than most adolescents are--his father has realized he is  a "trans-temporal" person, one who  is "not comfortable wearing the clothing of the twenty-first century." Which means his dad shows up to teach at his son's school clad as a Roman, or a Viking, or in some other hideously embarrassing outfit.   And this is not only making Bro uncomfortable; its also putting great strain on his parents' marriage, and might result, if conservative members of the school administration have their way, with his dad loosing his job. 

Looking for a solution to this problem, Bro visits a fortune teller when the carnival comes to town...a visit that does indeed result in a resolution of his problems...after a harrowing trip back in time to the 19th century.  The fortune tellers daughter, a Romany girl named Frankie, manipulates him into helping her find her family's great treasure--a trombone that can send people (as long as they have psychic gifts of there own) through time.   Frankie has her own reasons for wanting to go back to the 19th century, and she had no intention of taking Bro and Bro's best friend, Tom Xui, along with her.

1852 is a challenging time to be a kid of color in the US, even in a northern state, and soon the kids fall afoul of bad guys seeking a quick buck by capturing and claiming as runaway slaves (I'm not sure that Chinese Tom would have been a target, but there it is).   So the three of them have to free themselves, reunite themselves with the trombone, and get a hold of a first edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin (for reasons)....but when they do get home, they find they've altered the path of history (tying things back to the Trans-Temporal clothing issue), and have to go back and do it again.  Some help comes from Tom's realization that the character of the I-Ching can be read as morse code (and the coded words are surprisingly, supernaturally, on target), and some help comes from an old friend of Frankie's family who just happens to be a surviving gigantopithecus

The secret of the I-Ching's morse code messages (and the point of the title) is made clear with a side trip at the end of the book back to ancient China, the sort of thing that always adds freshness to stories about 19th century America (sincere font). 

As you can guess from those last two bits of plot, this is not a Serious and Weight exploration of the evils of slavery, but more a wacky what the heck sort of surreal adventure.  It's all a bit tangly, but is held together by the growing cohesiveness of the team of kids.    And even though it is not Serious and Weighty, it does manage to work in some useful general knowledge, and a nice message about tolerating behavior that, though harmless, is disconcertingly different (trans-temp dressing). 

As is the case with Henry Clark's previous book, What We Saw in the Sofa and How It Saved the World, a humorous framework boarding on farce manages to sustain an interesting and gripping story.  That being said, I think it's safe to say its appeal will be greatest for its target audience of 9-12 year olds (especially those interested in history and time travel, who loved Jon Scieszka's Time Warp Trio books or (perhaps unlikely) kids clamoring for books featuring the I-Ching....)

Thanks Karen (aka Ms. Yingling Reads) for sending this one on to me!


4/5/15

The Week's Round-up of Middle Grade Fantasy and Sci Fi from around the blogs (4/5/15)



I love the utter oddness of Victorian Easter Cards, and this one is a doozy! There are so many difficulties involved in wearing a giant eggshell (not that I've ever tried) that I can't even.  And how is it staying up?

But in any event, here's this week's round-up.  As ever, please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Arctic Code, by Matthew Kirby, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile and The Reading Nook Reviews

Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Views From the Tesseract

Button Hill, by Michael Bradford, at Back to Books

The Eigth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni, at Nerdy Book Club

Fork-Tongue Charmers, by Paul Durham, at Waking Brain Cells

Hook's Revenge, by Heidi Schulz, at Kid Lit Geek

The Inquisitor's Mark, by Dianne K. Salernie, at Otakutwins Reviews

The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly, by Ted Sanders, at books4yourkids

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant, at Waking Brain Cells

The Lost Track of Time, by Paige Britt, at Ms. Yingling Reads (with bonus quick review of the IPhone that Saved George Washington, by David Potter

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at WinterHaven Books

One Witch at a Time, by Stacy DeKeyser, at GeoLibrarian

Rapunzel-the One with all the Hair, by Wendy Mass, at Becky's Book Reviews

Return to Augie Hobble, by Lane Smith, at Mom Read It

The School For Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Pages Unbound

The Spider Ring, by Andrew Harwell, at Charlotte's Library

Story Thieves, by James Riley, at Always in the Middle and Charlotte's Library

The Whispering Mountain, by Joan Aiken, at Read Till Dawn

The Unwanteds,by Lisa McMann, at Kid Lit Geek

The Wide Awake Princess, by E.D. Baker, at Cindy Reads A Lot

Wish Girl, by  Nikki Loftin, at The Hiding Spot

The Witherwood Reform School, by Obert Skye, at The Social Potato

And a time travel twosome linked by Alexander Graham Bell at Time Travel Times Two

Three that lean toward horror (The Jumbies, I Text Dead People, and The Murk) at SLJ


Authors and Interviews

Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl) at Kirby Larson

Other Good Stuff

I loved this April 1 article at Nature suggesting that climate change might favor the reapparence of dragons

Something for Animorphs friends (and foes?) at The Toast

4/4/15

The Spider Ring, by Andrew Harwell

The Spider Ring, by Andrew Harwell (Scholastic, January 2015) is the story of a girl named Maria Lopez, an ordinary book-loving seventh grader whose life is transformed when she inherits a ring from her grandmother that allows her to control spiders.   Her grandmother has also taught her to regard spider in a friendly fashion, so when legions of spider enter her life, she is not utterly horrified.  It helps that the spiders are helpful--finding her glasses,  making her beautiful dresses, helping her revenge herself on a mean classmate.  

But Maria's ring is one of eight (each for a different spider species), and an evil woman is seeking to gather the power of all eight together to take all their magic for herself.  Maria will have to use all the spider force she has at her command to foil her plot....but fortunately, Maria's grandmother has also passed on a message from her days a circus lion tamer-- you can train an animal to be obedient, but only one who is your friend will help you in the end.  And it is this maxim, applied to the spiders, that ultimately saves Maria from falling under the evil thrall of the spider rings herself.

It was with some trepidation that I approached the book, because although I myself am kindly disposed to spiders, and have raised my own children to be blasé about them, the book sounded like spider horror, with slightly too many legs and eyes for my taste (one spider is just fine, thousands of spiders is too many!)--Kirkus says the book "all but oozes spiders" which is an unpleasing image.  But while there is considerable spiderness, with some spider ick (enough so that anyone freaked out by spiders will indeed by horrified), it is nicely balanced by the more quotidian story of Maria as a person, grieving for her grandmother, struggling to navigate the social pitfalls of seventh grade, and trying hard not to just run away when things go bad. 

The result was that I enjoyed the reading of this one more than I expected to, and happily recommend it to kids who like Dark Magic interfering with normal life (as long as they aren't the sort of kids who think all spiders should be vacuumed up on sight).

Based on Maria's last name (Maria's cultural background isn't an issue in the book, except for a bit of European backstory about her grandparents and how her grandmother became a lion tamer), I'm adding this to my list of multicultural sci fi/fantasy.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

4/2/15

Story Thieves, by James Riley

Story Thieves, by James Riley (Aladdin, Jan 2015), is a fast, fun one for 9 to 11 years old (give or take).  Book loving Owen is thrilled when he realizes his classmate, Bethany, has the ability to travel into books, and experience them as reality.  His imagination instantly transports him right to the ending of book six in his favorite series, just as the great Magister is being attacked, and (horror!) killed by the Bad Guy who wants to blow up the Magister's planet of magic in the name of science.  Owen tricks Bethany into sending him into that book for real (he might find a spell in the Magister's book that will help her find her father, a story character who got lost in a book when she was little).   But Owen doesn't head Bethany's injunction not to meddle with the course of the story as written, and tries to be a hero....

And in so doing, he allows the Magister to pinch enough of Bethany's power to show up, along with his apprentice, Kiel (Owen's hero), at the home of the books' author...where the Magister is not happy at all to find himself a fictional character.   Chaos ensues as the Magister sets to work freeing trapped fictional characters and creatures, and Bethany and Kiel join forces to try to hold him back, and in the meantime, back in the world of the story, Owen finds himself playing the part of Kiel in the nail-biting seventh book of the series (magic vs science, with the lives of millions at stake).    It is tremendously page-turnery for those who think books that mix sci fi and magic, and have both dragons and robots, are the best idea ever!   Also good for those who think living fan-fiction sounds like a dream come true.  (I appreciated the fact that this dream come true ended up being something of a nightmare---I myself have a very short list indeed of spec. fic. worlds I'd actually like to be a character in!  Tourist, maybe, but not the hero who actually has to Save the Day.   I don't think I could cope).

It doesn't, exactly, have much emotional depth.  I would not recommend it to anyone who isn't already a strong fan of MG sci fi/fantasy, but the reader who is might well be delighted by the excitement and mayhem and wild adventure!

3/30/15

Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan

Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins (Charlesbridge, April 2014, middle grade), is one for readers whose hearts melt (or possibly start beating frantically from the tension) when presented with baby animals in danger.  In this case, it's a baby tiger in danger, and for those who get anxious, baby tiger is saved and reunited with her mama! (because there are many young readers who hate it when the baby animals don't make it, I thought that spoiler would be helpful....)

In this case, the baby tiger has escaped through the fence of a wildlife reserve on one of the many islands of the Sunderbans, off the coasts of India and Bangladesh.  An evil, rich, and powerful man wants the tiger captured so he can kill and sell her skin and body parts...and a brave boy, Neel, is determined to find her first and save her.  But Neel's own father, desperate for money, is working for the rich bad guy, though his heart is against it. And Neel himself is supposed to spending his time cramming for an exam for a scholarship that would give him incredible opportunities.

Neel, though, isn't sure he wants opportunities....he's pretty sure he doesn't want to leave home, because hard thought the work (fishing and farming and odd-jobbing) is, it is what he knows and loves.  And then there is the distraction of saving the baby tiger....So Neel and his older sister set out into the night in race against time...

In a really nice twist, when Neel saves the tiger and returns her to the rangers, he is given a small library of books on wildlife management in return....and realizes that if he were to get the scholarship, he could help his islands, which is even better than saving just one tiger.   This lesson isn't hammered home to the reader, but instead is shown through Neel's point of view as he  comes to that conclusion himself. 

Neel's point of view is an excellent window into the lives of the islanders, still reeling from a storm that shattered their livelihoods a few years back.  The rich bad guy, intent on turning Neel's island into his private source of cash, has no redeeming features, and so there's never any moral conflict in the readers mind....but that's balanced by Neel's  own internal conflict about trying for the scholarship or staying home and accepting the status quo. 

And the baby tiger (cute!  not yet a vicious man-eater, like many of the tigers on these islands actually are, as is explained in the author's note) adds just tons of kid appeal.  And the story (with its Tiger Tension) moves along very nicely indeed, and Neel (with his reluctance to grapple with math) and his friends and family are all relatable people despite their geographical and cultural distance from kids in the US.   Rich descriptions bring Neel's world to life; and presumably the illustrations (not included in the advance copy I read) will add even more.

Short answer--it's very easy to use the hook of baby tigerness to offer your kids a window into a way of life they might never have thought of before!  And it's a good story in its own right-- I enjoyed it lots myself.

review copy received at Kidlitcon 2014 (where Mitali was the great Keynote Speaker)

3/29/15

This Week's Round-up of mg spec fic from around the blogs (3/29/15)

Another beautiful spring day (ha) here in New England with fresh snow.  Sigh.  

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

The Reviews

Bella at Midnight, by Diane Stanley, at Read Till Dawn

The Chosen Prince, by Diane Stanley, at Read Till Dawn

Clones vs. Aliens, by M.E. Castle, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Courting Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Strange and Random Happenstance

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Children, by Laurence Yep, at Waking Brain Cells and The Hiding Spot

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Kid Lit Geek, Great Kid BooksNot Acting My Age, and The Book Smugglers

Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway, by Steve Watkins, at BooksforKidsBlog

Greatful, by Wendy Mass, at Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, by Christopher Healey, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at Kid Lit Geek

The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein, at books4yourkids and Librarian of Snark

The Island of Shipwrecks, by Lisa McMann, at Hidden in Pages

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, by Liesl Surtliff, at Hidden in Pages

Jinx's Fire, by Sage Blackwood, at By Singing Light

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at A Reader of Fictions

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Book Nut and Charlotte's Library

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, at Lunar Rainbows

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at The Reading Nook Reviews and Bookshelf Gargoyle

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Literary Hoots

Nuts To You, by Lynne Rae Perkins, at Bibliobrit

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Librarian of Snark

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at In Bed With Books

Son of a Dark Wizard, by Sean Patrick Hannifin, at Bibliotropic

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Becky's Book Reviews

Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Strange and Random Happenstance

The Telling Stone, by Maureen McQuerry, at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

The Story of the Amulet, by E. Nesbit, at Fantasy Literature

The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer, at Charlotte's Library

The Zodiac Legacy, by Stan Lee et al., at Nerdophiles

Zoe and Zac and the Ghost Leopard, by Lars Guignard, at Bitches n Prose (audiobook review)

Authors and Illustrators

Sage Blackwood (Jinx) at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

John David Anderson (The Mutineers) at Word Spelunking (also review and giveaway)

Alice Hoffman (Nightbird) at School Library Journal

Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan) at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Heidi Schultz (Hook's Revenge) at the Barnes and Noble Kid's Blog

Anthony Brown on reimagining Alice in Wonderland

Other Good Stuff

Brandy has compiled a great list of fun fantasy over at the Cybils blog, and at her own place she has a great list of favorite MG spec fic heroines.

A Tuesday Ten of sickness and tiredness at Views from the Tesseract

A look at the first pages of the illustrated Harry Potter at Tor


And finally, the Providence Public Library is currently hosting a Unicorn Stampede!  "The Providence Public Library will host an art installation of life-size glitter unicorns surrounded by light and sound.  These figures will serve as muses and help the public visualize the wondrous possibility that unicorns represent.  At the close of the stampede, the unicorns will disperse around the city to other prominent indoor locations." Runs through Tuesday, March 31, Providence Public Library, 150 Empire Street

3/28/15

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen--historical fantasy in the Roman Empire! with Griffin!

Middle grade historical fantasy is somewhat thin on the ground, with possible exceptions for the 19th century and the middle ages.  So when I heard that Jennifer Nielsen (of False Prince fame) had a book coming out involving magic in the Roman Empire, I was tremendously exited!   Mark of the Thief (Scholastic, Feb. 2015) didn't quite live up to my hopes (which were perhaps unrealistically high), but it's a good read none the less. The inclusion of a griffin as the main character's companion animal, and the magic of the Roman (ex-Greek) gods add lots to the kid appeal, and making it one to offer the multitudues of somewhat younger Percy Jackson fans. 

Nic is a slave in the salt mines, worried about keeping his little sister safe.  There's not much he himself can do for her, as his life is not his own.  And this is proved definitively one day when he's ordered to enter a cavern in the salt mines that has been the death of everyone else who's tried to enter it.  The cavern contains a great magical treasure--an amulet that once belonged to Julius Ceaser himself!  It is filled with magic from the gods, and Nic takes it for his own.  But  griffin guarding the caverns treasures wounds Nic, marking him with more magic....magic that lets him communicate with her (to some extent).  With help from the griffin and the magic amulet, Nic escapes from the cave...only to be plunged into worse troubles.

Because of the magic he has found, Nic is now a player in a power struggle to control the Roman Empire.   The most powerful general, the most powerful Praetors, and the emperor himself are now all very anxious to relieve Nic of his magic and take it themselves....and Nic, confused, hungry, and wounded, must struggle to stay alive until he can decide what to make of his new destiny....and find his little sister, and make a place of safety for the two of them.

From the Colosseum to the sewers of Rome, from great estates to the temples of the gods, Nic stays barely ahead of those who would use him for their own ends....And there's never a dull moment.  Although fans of The False Prince might find Nic overly reminiscent of that book's hero at first, he comes into his own, and character interest is provided by his relationship with a girl named Aurelia, who variously befriends, saves, and betrays him, and who has secrets of her own.....

I felt that this book took perhaps too long to really get at the meat of its magic--where it comes from, why Nic has it, and what he might do with it.  But there was action aplenty, the bonus griffin relationship was a nice touch, and the whole set up promises good things in the next books! 

Here's another review at Ms. Yingling Reads.

3/24/15

The Sword of Culann, by Betty Levin (for Timeslip Tuesday)

The Sword of Culann, by Betty Levin (1973)  (time travel tourism to ancient Ireland!) was supposed to be last week's time slip Tuesday book, but in as much as I am the sort of person I am,  I thought "I will have an Irish time travel book for St. Patrick's Day" at 4:30 in the afternoon, which didn't give me enough time to finish reading it, let alone writing about it.  So here it is today.

The Sword of Culann, by Betty Levin, (Macmillan 1973) is about two kids (step siblings) who, while spending a week camping on an island off the coast of Maine (the camping part, with sibling dynamics, is the best bit of the book), travel back in time to Iron Age Ireland, and who witness the events of the Cattle Raid of Cooley first hand.  The time travel mechanism is the strange sword hilt belonging to an old sea-Yankee man, the sort of strange old man who lives in a shack with a crow and lacks a certain freshness.    It is a magical sword hilt--when the mists come up off the coasts, it allows people from our time (like the old man's father) to go back to ancient Ireland (there's a kind of tenuous connection between an island of the coast of Maine and ancient Ireland, but not enough of one to satisfy me).

So in any event, Claudia and her little brother Evan show up in Ireland before the Cattle Raid actually starts, and are taken under the wing of Fergus (because he's that sort of person, I guess, who realizes their strangeness but is not repulsed by it; once again any more convincing reasons kind of escaped me, if they were there at all).  And Claudia becomes one of the female help, and Evan works in the stables, and it is all very ancient Irish and then Queen Medb assembles her army and they all go off to attack Ulster, which is guarded only by the hero known as the Hound of Ulster.  And the old man's crow shows up and hangs around Claudia, and it is not a good thing to be a girl in a war in ancient Ireland with a crow hanging around you (cause of the Morrigan, but I don't think Levin makes this Clear), so Claudia is going to be sacrificed to a bog but she and Evan get back to Maine, and then Evan goes back in time alone to see the actual battle and then comes back and tells Claudia about it, which isn't the most graceful way to tell a story of a battle, and then Claudia goes back alone and sees Fergus one last time before he turns into dust (for reasons).

This one disappointed me as an adult for exactly the same reasons it would have disappointed young Charlotte--there was not particular emotional hook.  There was not point to the time travel- Claudia and Evan didn't affect the past, nor were their lives profoundly changed (although they sure know a lot more about Dark Age Irish material culture.... It was, really, just a tourist trip.  And a kind of bloody, unpleasant, anxious one at that, with no beauty or awe inspiring mystery to it such as one wants Celtic time travel to have....part of the problem is that, for an outsider, the whole Cattle Raid business make the Trojan War seem Pointful and worth-fighting.  Fergus, with his deeply conflicted loyalties, is an interesting character, but since he can't even remember Claudia when he's telling the story many years later (just before turning to dust) there's not much connection between him and our point of view character.

And the cover sure doesn't do a whole of a lot to draw in the reader of today.  Those lumpen kids have no spark of force vitale to them at all, and the Irish dude (presumably Fergus) behind them is unappealing, and does not appear to know how to hold sharp blades.

With these old books, I enjoy going back to see what their contemporary reviewers thought of them, which is mostly more positive than what I'm thinking.  From the  Kirkus review:
"The children adjust as well as they can [not very well] to talismans electric with taboo and to the capricious, snarling, gloomy and wise-cracking people they find so frequently bewildering. Claudia, fascinated by and devoted to sad Fergus, acts as his emissary among exiled Ulidians [people of Ulster]  and rallies them with an enchanted [not really] bead [to no particular effect....]. Then Claudia, horrified to discover that she is considered immortal [more like "supernatural"], even by Fergus, and therefore expected to undergo a sacrificial death, barely escapes with Evan to Maine. The characters are stirring creations, from a ferocious Queen Medb to a kitchen matron called the ""great Mother,"" and although the plot is labyrinthian it's well worth staying on for the surprises and layered revelations at every turn.

Uh.  Maybe I was not intellectually engaged enough to notice the "layered revelations."  It happens.

And ack!  According to the Goodreads blurb, there was "emotional growth" and I missed that too!  Bad reader. Bad.

In any event, for "Celtic" time travel, I'd much more strongly recommend A String in the Harp, which is a gem of a book, and for retellings of the Irish epics, I'd suggest Rosemary Sutcliff's The High Deeds of Finn MacCool (although that's not fair, since I think that's a stronger story to start with than the Hound of Ulster is).

There are, however, two more books about Claudia and Evan time travelling, and they are both in my local library....and so I will doubtless read them eventually......

3/23/15

The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer

I approach this blog post with trepidation because I have no intellectual grasp worth mentioning on the events of The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 2014, middle grade;  sequel to 2014's The Riverman).  I don't think I am the Right Reader for this one.

Basically, what happens in The Whisper is that Alistair, a 12 year old kid, fairly ordinary for most of his fairly uneventful life in the middle of New York State, finds himself in a rather nightmarish situation.  In the many realities of an alternate universe known as Aquavania, where kids from our world can create their own fantastical realities, his best friend/potential girlfriend if things had been different Fiona was lost to the mysterious Riverman.   The Riverman sucked her soul out, and so both the real-world Fiona and the constructed reality Fiona are gone.  And Fiona is not the only one to be so disposed of.  At the end of book 1, it was revealed (shockingly and horrifically) who the Riverman was), and now Alistair is travelling the worlds of Aquavania looking for Fiona, for the Riverman (now aka The Whisper), and for answers.

And I bobbed along in Alistair's wake, bouncing from story to story (and they were good, fascinating stories, these glimpses of imagined realities, though sometimes with disturbingly horrific elements), looking for Answers, and feeling that I was fumbling.  I kept wanting things to make Sense, but in the same way that dreams don't make Sense, and being a story-telling person trying to understand reality/other people doesn't make sense, neither does Alistair's story.....(at least it didn't to me).

At times I felt like I was in a somewhat more pleasant version of  Harlan Elison's scary story "I have no mouth and I must scream," in that "reality" was constantly being shifted by an all powerful game master, though The Whisper was much less viscerally disturbing (being middle grade).  Alistair's struggles to achieve his goals in a game where everything was stacked against him (or was it?) gave me the same sense of being trapped in a nightmare as Elison's story did.  The only thing that kept me sane were the generous bits of back matter from Alistair's childhood--these made sense, both in themselves, and as steps toward understanding the larger story.

If you like stories of characters involved in dangerous games, full of pretty phenomenal imagined realities, you many well like this one lots!   Kirkus calls it "A riveting, imaginative, disconcerting, inscrutable, unresolved sequel, guaranteed to leave readers anxious for the finale" and I can't disagree...It never occurred to me to put it down, and though it was not exactly to my own taste,  I have a feeling that in Book 3 I may be offered slightly more solid ground and I will able to look back more kindly on Alistair's adventures here.

Here's something I can say with happy confidence--I loved Aaran Starmer's first book, The Only Ones!  It gives me hope that the tangle in my mind with regard to this series will be resolved....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

3/22/15

This weeks mg sci fi/fantsy roundup (3/22/15)


It was not my own most productive week ever of reading and blogging, but thanks to the work of others I still found enough for a nice middle grade sci fi/fantasy roundup!  Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

Alistair Grimm's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees, by Robert Kent, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Tales of the Marvelous

Children of Winter, by Berlie Doherty, at Time Travel Times Two

The Chosen Prince, by Diane Stanley, at Kid Lit Geek

Dr. Critchlores School for Minions, by Sheila Grau, at Sharon the Librarian

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, at Views from the Tesseract

Everblaze, by Shannon Messenger, at Log Cabin Library

Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School, by Jen Calonita at Bitches n Prose (with giveaway)

The Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, at Read Till Dawn and Charlotte's Library

Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger, by Jon Scieszka, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Word Spelunking

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at The Book Smugglers

The Grimm Conclusion, by Adam Gidwitz, at Kit Lit Geek

The Hob and the Deerman, by Pat Walsh, at Charlotte's Library

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at My Precious

Jinx's Fire, by Sage Blackwood, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgiss, at Strange and Random Happenstance

The Missing Alchemist, by Caldric Blackwell, at This Kid Reviews Books

Next Top Villain, by Suzanne Selfors, at Kid Lit Geek

Renegade Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Strange and Random Happenstance

Six, by M.M. Vaughan, at Views from the Tesseract

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at Kid Lit Geek

The Story Thieves, by James Riley, at Pages Unbound

The Swallow, by Charis Cotter, at Bibliobrit

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, at Of Dragons and Hearts

Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville, at Fantasy Literature

The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, at Bart's Bookshelf

The Zoo at the Edge of the World, by Eric Kahn Gale, at Becky's Book Reviews


Authors and Interviews

Alice Hoffman (Nightbird) talks about Mary Poppins at The Guardian

Louise Galveston (In Todd We Trust) at From the Mixed Up Files

Tatum Flynn (The D’Evil Diaries) talks about  her path to publication at Miss Snark's First Victim

Jake G. Panda (The Case of the Cursed Dodo) at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

Andrea Beaty (Fluffy Bunnies 2: The Schnoz of Doom) at Word Spelunking (with review and giveaway)

Heidi Shulz (Hook's Revenge, and its sequel, The Pirate Code) at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

Sheila Grau (Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions)  at Word Spelunking (with review and giveaway)


Other Good Stuff

Tributes to Terry Pratchet at Middle Grade Strikes Back, and how you can embed the GNU code to send his name through the internet clacks for as long as there is internet.....

The True Meaning of Smekday is going to be made into a movie called Home!  More info here.

Adam Rex (the True Meaning of Smekday) will by in L.A. next Saturday for the opening of an exeition --Adam Rex and the Art of Home.  More info. here.

3/21/15

The Forgotten Sisters (Princess Academy Book 3), by Shannon Hale

The Forgotten Sisters (Princess Academy Book 3), by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, middle grade, Feb 2015).

It was a cold, snowy night yesterday (as is so often the case), and so it was a great pleasure to escape to a warm, fetid swamp of heat and high humidity, home to three forgotten princesses who habitually wrestle alligators (and win).  For Miri, the  heroine of Shannon Hale's Princess Academy series, journeying to the swamp was not quite as welcome; she was looking forward to going home to the mountains, and did not welcome the royal command to go run a Princess Academy for the three girls.   But she wasn't given a choice.

Miri had plenty of doubts from the beginning, mainly about her qualifications for the job, and about the reason for it--one of the sisters is going to be married off in a political alliance to prevent a war.  But things are even more difficult than she'd imagined...the princess have been living alone, engaged in a hardscrabble struggle to hunt and forage for their food (including the above-referenced caimans), as the funds sent to sustain them are being intercepted along the way (one of the many problems Miri must deal with), and they are not at all eager to be educated. 

But Miri, as strong willed, determined, and sincere as ever, perseveres....and her efforts pay off  beautifully as the mystery of the princess' identity is unraveled and war is averted.  Fans of the first two books will be pleased to see Miri's story continue to a happy and satisfying ending; it's nice to see old friends, but the new characters introduced here are also pleasing additions in their own right!

There's magic--the powers of linder stone to transmit thought and feeling, and to hold memories, are and essential part of the story that adds a pleasing fantastical-ness, and there's adventure that goes beyond simple alligator-wrestling into the tunnels beneath a besieged castle, but mostly what I enjoyed about the book was the people in it--figuring out who they are, and understanding those around them.

3/16/15

The Hob and the Deerman, by Pat Walsh (a Crowfield Abbey story)--lovely historical fantasy

Many years have past since a boy named Will, and a friendly Hob nicknamed Brother Walter fraught against the forces of darkenss at Crowfield Abbey.   I found the first two Crowfield books, The Crowfield Curse and The Crowfield Demon to be top notch middle grade historical fantasy--great characters (particularly Brother Walter the Hob), and great story lines of human, fey and angelic power fighting evil.  When I heard that Pat Walsh was continuing the series with a book focusing on Brother Walter-- The Hob and the Deerman ( self published 2014), I knew I had to get it....and when she offered to send it to me, I was overjoyed, and when it grew clear as the weeks passed that it had gone astray I was very sad indeed. So much so that even thought I am ostensibly on a No New Book Buying regimen (TBR pile issues) I bought the book for myself.  (and though it was not traditionally published, there were no quality issues, so no worries on that side of things).

It was sad and lovely, and creepy and happy and I was able to give it five stars on Goodreads which I almost never do.

It was sad that Crowfield Abbey had fallen into ruin (thanks Henry VIII), and all the monks of the first books, like dear Brother Snail, quite naturally dead (what with years passing)....and it was sad for Brother Walter to return to the Abbey expecting in part of his mind to find it all as he had left it....

But it was lovely, because I love Brother Walter, and he makes new friends--a ghost girl who can't leave the Abbey until her father comes for her, Ned, the son of one of the workmen demolishing the abbey's ruins at the behest of the new, greedy, landlord of the village, and Curious, another Hob brought to life by the power of the mysterious Deerman, a fey being (never fully Explained) from the forest of great puissance who is freeing the art and  beauty of the Abbey before it is all destroyed.   And by the end of the story, even the stinky Boggart who terrified the Hob at first has become a friend, which just goes to show.

And it was creepy, because the Abbey is haunted by a horrible specter who kills--the Crawling Man, who is terrifying humans, fey, and ghosts alike....Very very scary!

And it was happy, because the Hob is very Brave, and does the right things even though he is so scared and sad, and there is a happy ending for everyone except the greedy landlord (who doesn't get his carved stonework from the Abbey and who doesn't get to demolish the cottages of all the villagers he finds offensive) and the Hob and Ned save the Abbey's treasure, its most precious books.  And I like how Christianity is made part of the supernatural forces on the side of good (primarily through the residual power of the angel from the first book), as this feels right for a book set in a monastery.

And it is lovely because I do so like to read books about people who are motivated, like Brother Walter, by love for their friends, who aren't obvious heroes, but who have to try really hard to be brave and keep going because it is the right thing to do.  I do not mind one single bit being taught this particular life lesson repeatedly, especially when it is in the context of a magical, ghost-filled, historical horror story in a ruined abbey....

In short, it is with no caveats that I recommend this series to fans of historical fantasy!  I am pleased to be reminded that my own middle grade reader has not read them....I will remedy that.  He will love Brother Walter too.

And I am very hopeful that there will be more about Brother Walter; Pat Walsh does call this one the first in a series on her website.... and it's The Hob Tales Vol. 1 on Amazon......

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