1/22/20

The Infinite Lives of Masie Day, by Christopher Edge

I'm still holding on to the middle grade sci fi/fantasy books of 2019, with a slightly over the top grim determination to read all the ones at hand before the end of January...(fortunately January 2020 is not a huge mg sci fi/fantasy release month, so I'm sure I can catch up on this year's in just a few days of reading!).

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day, by Christopher Edge, is an English import that came out here in the US back in April 2019 (Delecorte), and in 2018 in the UK.  It's a story of sisters caught in an altered reality, with time and space gone wonky, with birthday balloons and tasty food meeting a horror of chaos and despair.

It's Maisie's tenth birthday, and her parents are making a huge effort to give her a great party.  The greatness of the party is supposed to make up for the fact that none of her friends are coming.  Maisie in fact has none at all.  She's a home-schooled science and math prodigy, who's never had a chance to socialize with other kids (me--not really convincing that her parents would have tried harder on this front, because clearly they care about her lots).

Maisie's jealous of her older sister, 15-year-old Lily, who isn't doing great at school but who has friends.  Lily, in turn, is jealous of Maisie, not just for being so incredibly brilliant, but also, a bit, for being protected by their parents.  Her "friends" aren't, in fact, all that great.

So anyway, here's Maisie getting reader for her party.  But then the narrative breaks.  And here's Maisie, alone in the house, with a black void outside, that starts creeping inside bit by bit.

Back and forth between normal birthday Maisie, happy on a sunny day, thinking about her life, and chaffing at it's limits, and learning things about Lily she hadn't realized before, and Maisie trapped by dark matter (?)  some other cosmic vortex of destruction and reality altering implosion (?), alone and scared.  She can't call her parents, but when she tries her sister, Lily picks up...and before the connection breaks off, Lily says she'll try to put things right.

But reality is collapsing around Maisie, and the darkness is pressing in....and in the other timeline, something shattering is about to happen as well....even finding out why and how this has happened doesn't help her get out of it.  Finally trapped Maisie has to do the unthinkable if she can get her life back to normal, and so she does.

And then comes a page of binary numbers that means nothing to me,  The reader (me) is left wondering, as the author intends,  what is "real."

Give this  to young readers who like their sci fi/fantasy claustrophobic and entrapping, with science (and bravery) the only way to make things come out right in the end....It's on the short end for mg fiction these days, which will add appeal for some readers; though there are plenty of twists, it's more novella than novel in feel.  No one could call this book over-blown (except perhaps with regard to Maisie's wonderfully unapologetic enthusiasm for figuring out the universe...)

In short, the twists are nicely twisted, and the lonely dark of the chaos world is beautifully balanced by the sunny birthday world.   And though Maisie is super smart, she's not insufferable, and though Lily is a teen aged jerk sister, she has more to her than that. Not one that particularly spoke to me (perhaps because of the particular way the twists twisted), but one I'm happy to recommend.

final note--the currency was Americanized for this edition, but the food and a few other things were not (a bit disconcerting!).  I wish publishers wouldn't Americanize at all!  I think that US kids today, exposed to life outside this country, can cope with more than they are being given credit for.  And in a book like this, where the staris become an Escher-esque nightmare, spending pounds instead of dollars isn't all that odd.....


1/19/20

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (1/19/20)

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

The Reviews

Alien Superstar, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, at Good Reads with Rona

Boy Band of the Apocalypse, by Tom Nicholl, at Always in the Middle

Cog, by Greg van Eekhout, at Sonderbooks

The Dark Lord Clementine, by Sarah Jean Horwitz, at Geo Librarian

A Dash of Trouble (Sprinkle of Spirits #1), by Anna Meriano, at Leaf's Reviews

The Girl who Stole and Elephant, by Nizrana Farook, at Lily and the Fae (I haven't read this myself yet, so not sure it counts as fantasy....)

The Girl with the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Book Criac

Lampie and the Children of the Sea, by Annet Schaap, at Whispering Stories

The Mystwick School of Musicraft, by Jessica Khoury, at Sharon the Librarian

Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhoures, at Ms. Yingling Reads, Book Page, and Bookshelf Fantasies

The Red Winter (The Tapestry #5), by Henry H. Neff, at Say What?

The Revenge of Magic, by James Riley, at Imaginary Friends

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood and Co. #1), by Jonathan Stroud, at Sloth Reads

The Seeking Serum (Potion Masters #3), by Frank L. Cole, at Cracking the Cover

Snow White and the Seven Robots, by Stewart Ross, at Sharon the Librarian

The Thief Knot, by Kate Milford, at Charlotte's Library, Geek Dad, and The Neverending TBR

Time Sight, by Lynne Jonell, at Semicolon

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

The Twelve, by Cindy Lin, at Charlotte's Library

Washed Up (Boy Band of the Appocalypse #2), by Tom Nicoll, at Always in the Middle

The Winterhouse Mysteries, by Ben Guterson, at Puss Reboots

A Wolf Called Wander, by Roseanne Parry, at Semicolon

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Leaf's Reviews


Authors and Interviews

Michelle Harrison (A Sprinkle of Sorcery) at Book Trust ("the books that made me")

Other Good Stuff

A list of mythological fantasies beyond Rick Riordan, at Jean Little Library

Scary middle grade books ranked, at Falling Letters

Tor is kicking off a close re-reading of Prince Caspian; here's the intro. post

1/18/20

The Twelve, Cindy Lin

I am still stubbornly refusing to say good-bye to the middle grade sci-fi/fantasy books of 2019.  Though I did read around 200 of them, when I went through the Goodreads list of 2019 MG fiction, I found some that I had overlooked.   If I'd started focusing on 2020 back when it started, I don't know when I'd have gotten around to reading those books, and I'm very glad to have read them, so here I am.

I'm really surprised that The Twelve, by Cindy Lin (HarperCollins, July 2019), didn't get more buzz (or at least, more buzz that trickled down to me).  This is a debut East Asian zodiac fantasy that is a really fun adventure, with tons of kid appeal and fascinating magical powers!

Usagi's island home was supposed to be kept safe from invasion by the powers of the 12 zodiac warriors, trained in the use of the magical gifts of their signs on Jade Mountain, home to not just the warriors and their heirs, but to 12 wonderfully magical treasures.  But the Dragon warrior betrayed them, allowing invaders to sweep in, and conquer her home.  Orphaned, and with her little sister to look after, Usagi lives a hand to mouth existence, keeping her Rabbit powers and her sister's Horse powers as secret as she can manage. When her sister publicly uses her powers, and is captured to be sent with other zodiac gifted children to the Dragon's training ground, Usagi doesn't know what to do to save her.

But fortunately, there are those who can help her.  Usagi is taken in by a small group of surviving zodiac heirs, travelling back to Jade Mountain with the treasure they'd set off to find.  If Usagi can master her Rabbit magic, maybe she too can become an heir, and eventually a Warrior....But the one surviving warrior, a woman who is the Tiger, doesn't seem to think much of her, and when an expedition to confront the renegade Dragon, recover lost treasures, and save the captive children, is planned it's touch and go if Usagi will be allowed to join it...

The fist part of the book sets the stage, and primarily tells of Usagi's journey with the two young heirs to Monkey and Rat toward Jade Mountain, with dangers and unlikely friendships along the way.  The second tells of Usagi's training on Jade Mountain, and her progress discovering her full potential, with the Tiger Warrior as a formidable, but protective, teacher.  The third, most action packed, is the desperate struggle inside the Dragon's encampment, which ends with a cliffhanger and sets the stage for the sequel.   Since I have a fondness for "school" stories, the training part was my favorite, even though it sure wasn't Usagi's (patience being a hard lesson for her to learn, what with her sister in danger...), but the whole ensemble was gripping and very entertaining reading!

We stick pretty close to Usagi's perspective on what's happening, which is somewhat limiting; I would have liked more backstory and character development for the other heirs, and a bit more detail about the larger world.  I was never quite sure about the relationship between the Blue Dragon and the invading enemies, for instance, but that's quite possibly because I was racing along with the magical adventures!

If you love middle grade stories of magical powers being not only discovered, but taking work to get good at, found families and betrayals, check it out.  Bonus points, of course, if you're a Chinese mythology geek.

1/15/20

The Thief Knot, by Kate Milford

The Thief Knot, by Kate Milford, is the third of the Greenglass House series (though there are other books set in the fictional town of Nagspeake). The first, Greenglass House, will always have a special place in my heart, because not only did I myself love it, but it was the last book I read out loud to my little one (now 16), and he loved it too....So it was a treat to anticipate returning to Nagspeake with The Thief Knot (it's a real pleasure to keep a book you really want to read out for a few days, so that every time it catches your eye you get a happy zest moment), and a treat to actually do so (because it was really good)!

The Thief Knot is essentially the story of a group of kids coming together to solve a mystery--in this case, the kidnapping of a politician's little girl, Peony.  Best friends Marzana and Nialla had been wanting excitement, and despite all the curious and dubious things about their home in the Liberty district of Nagspeake (full of shifty characters with pasts not talked about, magical "old iron" that transforms itself, and lots of secrets), they hadn't found a good adventure.  When Peony is kidnapped, and Marzana's parents (who fall in the "pasts not talked about" category) are asked to use their connections to help find her, Marzana and Nialla decide that they will help too.  They are joined by four other kids, each with their own unique attributes and abilities, and set to work to hunt for clues, starting in their own school....

And a delightful tangle of clues they are too, with false leads and improbable connections taking the kids into places in the own neighborhoods that blow their minds!  It's not just the place that was familiar being made extraordinary to the kids; the stories they learn about each other and their families do the same. Along the way, the kids themselves are changed. For instance, Marzana doesn't exactly overcome her crippling self-doubt once and for all, but she is able to trust her new friends and her ability to make decisions as leader of the group, and able to make mistakes, realize she has, and set things right.

I myself have no yearning to solve mysteries, but if ever there was a group of kid detectives that I could join, it would be this one.  I feel they might value my skills as historian/archaeologist/person able to draw to scale underwater (although no drawing to scale underwater was needed to crack this particular mystery).  My lack of innate detecting ability makes me unable to comment on the manner in which the mystery was solved--when I read, I almost never see clues and if I do I assume the writer has failed somehow and made things too obvious.  In this case, I went into the book with a bit of bird knowledge that let me make a connection before it was pointed out in the book, but that being said, I found this mystery satisfying (although the group dynamic was really what I enjoyed, and the really truly fabulous architecture. Nagspeake's always had great fabulous architecture, but it went up a notch here).

So if you enjoy kid detectives in fantastical settings (with a bit of actually magic and fantasy elements to it), you will love The Thief Knot!  It would probably be pretty confusing to read this one before any other Nagspeake books, and part of the pleasure is seeing old friends from the first two books, but as a story it stands on its own just fine.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


1/12/20

This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (1/12/20)

welcome to another week of middle grade sci fi/fantasy goodness, gathered by me from around the blogs for your reading pleasure!  Please let me know of any posts I missed.

The Reviews

The Big Shrink (Upside-Down Magic #6), by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins, at Puss Reboots

The Book of Secrets, and The Book of Answers (The Ateban Cipher books 1 and 2) by A.L. Tait, at Always in the Middle

Brown, by Håkon Øvreås, at Charlotte's Library

The Good Hawk, by Joseph Elliott, at Log Cabin Library

Jinxed, by Amy McCulloch, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Waking Brain Cells

Magical Mischief, by Anna Dale, at Leaf's Reviews

The Mask of Aribella, by Anna Houghton, at Book Murmuration

The Monster in the Lake, by Louie Stowell, at Book Craic

The Obisdian Compass (Time Castaways #2), by Liesl Shurtliff, at Charlotte's Library

Orion Lost, by Alastair Chisholm, at Book Craic and Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Secondhand Wishes, by Anna Staniszweski, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Seeking Serum (Potion Masters #3), by Frank L. Cole, at Wishful Endings

The Squire's Tale, by Gerald Morris, at Leaf's Reviews

A Tale of Magic, by Chris Colfer, at J.R.'s Book Reviews

The Thief Knot, by Kate Milford, at BooksForKidsBlog

A Time Traveler's Theory of Relativity, by Nicole Valentine, at Karen Pokras

Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell #1), by Dominique Valente, at Twirling Book Princess 

Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, at Tsundoko 

Authors and Interviews

Lindsay Currie (Scritch Scratch) at MG Book Village (cover reveal with interview)

Other Good Stuff

I love the chance to see what's new in the UK thanks to Mr. Ripleys Enchanted Books!

1/7/20

The Obsidian Compass (Time Castaways #2), by Liesl Shurtliff, for Time Slip Tuesday

The Obsidian Compass, by Liesl Shurtliff (middle grade, Katherine Tegan Books, Oct 2019) continues the time travelling adventures of three siblings adventuring through time that began with The Mona Lisa Key (link goes to my review).  That first book ended with Mateo, Ruby, and Corey getting home again safely, after many dangerous and difficulties aboard a time travelling ship captained by a ruthless man who was trying to use Matteo, in particular, for his own selfish purposes. But getting home safe wasn't to be the end of their time travelling.  Mateo needs to find his friend, Jia, one of Captain Vincent's crew, who was in danger of being dumped somewhere in time by the captain after she crossed him to help Mateo and his siblings.  Captain Vincent still has the obsidian compass that allows him to time travel, so Mateo decides to try to make his own, and against all odds, he succeeds.  But when he starts using it, he gets his family snarled anew in danger.

As they journey through time and space (in an old VW minibus), Mat realizes that saving Jia isn't enough; Captain Vincent needs to be stripped of his power in order for Matt's family to be safe.  Family secrets are revealed that make Matt question his relationship with his mother in particular--she once controlled the obsidian compass, with Vincent as her partner, and before she even adopted him, she knew a Mateo would play a role in the quest for something even more valuable than time travel--the promise of eternal life....

Parents are often missing in middle grade fantasy, so it's a change that both of Matt's parents are along for the adventure, and care deeply about keeping him and his siblings safe.  The twist about his mother's past, though, keeps her from smothering her son's adventures...instead, the reader, and Matt himself, aren't always sure about her motivations.....

There's not as much wild time travel bouncing from place to place here as there was in the first book--the plot hones in much more sharply on Matt's journey of discovery, and the choices he has to make.  There's still plenty of excitement, though, and an entertaining cast of supporting characters helps make the pages turn quickly.  The final third of the book, especially, is fast reading!

Unanswered questions remain, leaving readers anxious for book three!

short answer--not entirely my cup of tea, but I enjoyed this one more than the first book--I liked that there was more focus on character, and less galivanting....

I'm counting this one as a diverse fantasy--Mateo is adopted from Columbia.


1/6/20

Brown (My Alter Ego is a Superhero, book 1)

One of the joys of being a first round Cybils Awards panelist is getting to read charming books that weren't on your radar at all.  A case in point, for those of us reading for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, was Brown, by Håkon Øvreås, illustrated by Øyvind Torseter (American edition 2019, Enchanted Lion). This is the first book in the best-selling, award winning, and much beloved My Alter Ego is a Superhero series, and it's a great one to offer the elementary school aged kid who's past early chapter books, but for whom the generously illustrated, fewer words per page books are just right.

Rusty's beloved grandfather has died, and to make things worse, bullies are wrecking the fort he's built out in the woods with his best friend, Jack. What Rusty needs is a superhero to save the day, and so he becomes one himself! With his brown clothes and cape, and armed with cans of brown paint and advice from his grandfather's ghost, he gets revenge as the superhero Brown. Things escalate, though, and so Brown is joined by two other heroes--Jack as Black, and Lou, a neighbor girl who isn't quite as good a friend yet, as Blue. Together they target the bullies with their paint...and though there's plenty of trouble for them to get into, at last they are victorious.

Although the kids have no actual super-powers, the ghost of Rusty's grandfather is an important character in the story, adding magic, good counsel, and love to the shenanigans. It would make a lovely one to offer a kid going through a similar grieving process. The many charming illustrations and the audacity of the kids' "superhero" antics help make this kid friendly, and they'll finish this one looking for the next book (at the Enchanted Lion website, I was pleased to see that Black is apparently "coming soon").

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

1/5/20

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

Happy New Year!  Here's what I found this week in my blog reading; please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Cog, by Greg van Eekhout, at Raise Them Righteous

The Dark Lord Clementine, by Sarah Jean Horwitz, at Raise Them Righteous

The Darkdeep, by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs, at Twirling Book Princess

The Door to the Lost, by Jaleigh Johnson, at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Esme's Wish, by Elizabeth Foster, at Book Craic and Hasanthi's Book Blog

The Forgotten Girl, by India Hill Brown, at Charlotte's Library

The Healing Star, by A. Kidd, at Always in the Middle

The Key of Lost Things (Hotel Between #2), by Sean Easley, at Say What?

Jinxed, by Amy McCulloch, at Sharon the Librarian

Legacy (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8), by Shannon Messenger, at Carstairs Considers

Over the Moon, by Natalie Lloyd, at Raise Them Righteous

The Root of Magic, by Kathleen Benner Duble, at Not Acting My Age

Stoop Sale Treasure, by Corey Ann Haydu, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Winterhouse Mysteries, by Ben Guterson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Other Good Stuff

My favorite time slip books from the past decade (Charlotte's Library)

The Cybils short list for elementary and middle grade speculative fiction was announced! (if you think being a Cybils panelist for emg sf sounds like fun, which it is, look for the call for panelists next August!) You can find all the shortlists here.

Cog, by Greg van Eekhout
The Dark Lord Clementine, by Sarah Jean Horwitz
Homerooms and Hall Passes, by Tom O'Donnell
Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia
We're Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey



1/3/20

The Forgotten Girl, by India Hill Brown

It hasn't actually been particularly snowy or cold here in southern New England yet this winter, but if you are looking for chills, and lots of snow, try The Forgotten Girl, by India  Hill Brown (Scholastic, November 2019), a middle- grade story of friendship in the present, and remembering the past.

Iris is feeling a bit fed up at her school in small town North Carolina.  She's having trouble getting her Step Team, and herself, the recognition they deserve (part of nasty pattern of racism at the school).   She has her best friend Daniel, though; they have been inseparable for years, in and out of each other's houses, having each other's backs.

One cold winter night, Iris can't resist the lure of the freshly fallen snow, and signals to Daniel (they can see each other's windows) to convince him to sneak outside with her. Daniel's superstitions grandmother is terrified of snow, and its spirits who can capture children, so snow play is forbidden to him, and they aren't allowed to go play outside at night in any weather.  But having broken these rules, they break another, going farther into the woods behind their houses than they ever have before.  There in a clearing Iris makes a beautiful snow angel, only to find she's made it on top of the grave of  Avery Moore, who died in the 1950s when she was just about Iris's age.

Avery's cemetery has been abandoned.  But now Avery is awake, and is tired of being forgotten.  Iris finds her window wide open, letting the snow inside.  She has vivid nightmares, and feels pulled back to the cemetery.

For a social studies project, Iris and Daniel set out to find out the history of the forgotten cemetery and the girl buried there.  They learn it was a black cemetery, one of many reminders of the segregation that meant separation even in death, and they learn that Avery was one of the first black kids to integrate their school.  And they challenge the golden girl, Heather (whose own social studies project involves Confederate history), who wants the school's clean up club to spruce up the basketball court--instead, they organize a cemetery cleanup, to bring the forgotten back into living memory.

Still the creepiness in Iris's life is getting worse, and there are hint that her little sister is being pulled into Avery's spooky orbit too.  Avery's been able to pull Iris out of the house and down to her clearing, and one snowy night, Avery plans to make Iris her best friend...forever.

But the history the two kids have dug up about the cemetery isn't all that long ago, and the person who can give Avery peace is right there, if she can confront her memories of what happened on a winter night fifty or so years earlier....Avery was never forgotten at all.

The spookiness of the ghost story brings the history of mid-twentieth century racism to the forefront, gently (though creepily); the supernatural never takes over the story, but kind of pushes the way toward the difficult process of confronting the past.  This might mean that those who like really creepy ghost stories will be disappointed by the chill factor, but I think it makes it a better book.

It's one that hit home for me personally, because part of my professional life is being one of the people that looks after the forgotten cemeteries of Rhode Island, making sure that the poor and forgotten people buried here get respect in death.


My New Year's Resolution (which involves books)

In a world that's scary (more so today than yesterday even; I don't want a war with Iran!) and burning and full of hate, books give me some comfort.  And growing up book insecure (my family tried, but we were living overseas), a stockpile on hand is soothing.  But I have now crossed the boarder from soothing stockpile to source of stress, which was driven home to me when my son asked what I wanted for my birthday, and when I said "books are always nice" he answered "but you wouldn't read it."  And I was Sad.

Also I'm worried about the structural integrity of the house underneath this pile.

nb: review copies and library checkouts (lots of both) not shown

In my defense, my retirement plan is to have a new and used children's bookstore.  So a lot of these will become stock, and count as an investment in the financial stability of future me :)

But it is still too many. So in the coming year, I'm going to make an  effort to read these.  I'm not going to another library book sale until I've read 50 of them, and I'm not buying myself a new book till I've read 100 (repeating as necessary).



1/1/20

The Shortlisted Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction books for the 2019 Cybils Awards!

Today's the day for the announcements of the 2019 Cybils Awards Shortlists!  I'm the category organizer for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, and I'm so proud of our love list of seven books!

Cog, by Greg van Eekhout
The Dark Lord Clementine, by Sarah Jean Horwitz
Homerooms and Hall Passes, by Tom O'Donnell
Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia
We're Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey


Thanks so much to my fellow first round panelists:

Debbie Tanner, The Booksearch
Beth Mitchell, Imaginary Friends
Jennifer Miller, Raise Them Righteous
Sondra Eklund, Sonderbooks

Now it's over to the round 2 judges, who have to pick just one to be the winner!  The announcement's on February 14.

And if you think it sounds like fun to read over 100 elementary/mg sci fi and fantasy books, and pick seven, you are right and should apply to be a Cybils panelist next year.  The only requirement is that you write or talk about books on line.  Look for the call for panelists next August!

12/31/19

A retrospective look at ten of my favorites from the past decade for this week's Timeslip Tuesday

For the past 10 years I've been posting reviews of kids and YA time travel and time slip books on (most) Tuesdays (413 of them to date), and I thought it would be fun on this last Tuesday of 2019 that is also the decade's last day do go through the c 250 time travel books I've reviewed in these past 10 years and pick ten favorites published between Jan.1 2010 and today.

It was indeed fun to remember all the books, and it was fun in a nostalgic way to be reminded of the close-knit blogisphere I was part of back in the day (we all linked to each other's reviews, for instance...), but boy is it excruciating to be confronted with my poorly edited prose!  I dash off my posts and hit send before I can change my mind, and it shows.  I am sorry.  

It was hard to choose just ten, and I really wanted to include one from 2009 too (The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker), but I managed...The links are to my reviews.  I will try to come back tomorrow morning to add pictures (and almost certainly fix mistakes); it has gotten too late for me to do anything more right now.

Happy New Year to us all, and may the next decade bring lots more good time travel books (I have a vague sense, having read 413 time travel books, that there are more published under left leaning govenments; someday I'll crunch the numbers and find out if this is really true!) and may we fix our problems before time travelers from the future have to come interfere!

Here are my ten favorites:

The Opposite of Always, by Justin A. Reynolds (2019) YA

A suspenseful time-loop YA romance, with great characters who are excellent at lively banter.  I enjoyed it very much, and though it's well over 400 pages long, it only took a few hours to read it because the pages were turning so fast (and of course at one point they turned very quickly indeed to the end, because I had to make sure it turned out all right.  Which it does).

Time Sight, by Lynne Jonell (2019) MG

An American kid taken to his ancestors' home in Scotland finds he can travel through time...and many adventures ensue.  It has a very classic mid-20th century feel to it, in my mind, and since the best of the mid 20th century is just about my favorite sort of book, I enjoyed it lots!

Bluecrowne, by Kate Milford (2018) MG

Time travel drives the plot of this story about Greenglass House when it was young, and the two kids who lived there.  It's a beautifully visual story, with lots of tangle threads of fate and story and imagined history that get tangled-er by the time travel.

Weave a Circle Round, by Kari Maaren (2017)  billed as YA, but  upper MG to my mind

This story of a 14 year old girl getting swept up in a time-travel filled struggle between the forces of order and chaos won't be to everyone's taste; as I said in my review "the plot is nuts."  I also said "I highly recommend it to fans of Diana Wynne Jones, not because it is a DWJ read-alike, but because it has a similar chaos resolving into a mythically rooted central order/origin point.  You have to be able to tolerate chaos and not understanding things for much of the book to appreciate this one."

The Girl with the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke (2017) YA

This one uses time travel brilliantly to make a particular piece of the past come alive (Berlin in 1988), and also to set the stage for forbidden love and a gruesome mystery!

Bone Jack, by Sara Crowe (2014 in the UK, 2017 in the US) upper MG/YA

I loved this book!  There aren't people hoping back and forth in time; it's more a matter of old stories manifesting in the present, so it's a slippage in time, not time travel...the darkness of the present calls to the past, stirring up old, deadly patterns from centuries ago.  Someday I must get a copy of the UK addition (the US edition is Americanized. Why?)


Timekeeper, by Tara Sim (2016) YA

A mystery set in an alternate world where time is actually controllable, with the help of clocktower spirits. Do try this one if you are looking for a sweet but fraught romance (especially if you're looking for an LGBTQ one).  Do try this if you think that the main character spending lots of time cleaning and repairing clockwork with the clock tower spirit helping, and falling in love while doing so, sounds interesting. 

The Devil's Intern, by Donna Hosie (2014) YA

Time travel from Hell (literally).  The premise is riveting, the characters are great and nicely snarky when snark is called for, the writing is crisp and tight (it's under 300 pages), and the time travel is really cool.

The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie, by Kirsty Murray (2013 in Australia, 2014 in the US) MG

I'm not alone in thinking this gentle time travel story, in which the past helps a young girl come to peace with her present is lovely; it was an Aurealis Award winner.  If you are at all a fan of Tom's Midnight Garden, you must read it.  If you are a fan of intergenerational friendships, read it.  if you like lovely descriptions of beautiful places, and kids being kids, read it.

Tilly's Moonlight Garden, by Julia Green (The Moonlight Fox in the UK) (2012) MG

This one drives home the point that this is a list of  what I enjoyed most, and not of "the best" by however you want to define best.  It's a dreamy sort of story of a girl finding distraction from her real life worries in time-slipping into a moonlight garden where she meets a strange girl who becomes her friend.






12/29/19

The last middle grade fantasy and science fiction round-up of 2019!

Not surprisingly, I didn't find many reviews from this past week (there was nothing from me, for instance, because I was too busy playing reindeer games and eating cookies....).  But since I'm back home, and ready to commit to blogging more regularly, I didn't want this Sunday to pass without a round-up...As ever, let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The 12th Candle, by Kim Tomsic, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Casket of Time, by Andri Snaer Magnason, at Bookworm for Kids

The Forbidden Expediction (Polar Bear Explorers Club #2), by Alex Bell, at Pages Unbound

The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, at The Anxious Bookworm

If We Were Giants, by Dave Matthews, at Say What?

Minecraft: the End, by Catherynne M. Valente, at SFF Book Reviews

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker, at Jean Little Library

The Storm Keeper's Island, by Catherine Doyle, at A Kids Book a Day

Tunnel of Bones, by Victoria Schwab, at Bookishly Brittknee (audiobook review)

Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, at Completely Full Bookshelf

Two at The Book Search--Homerooms and Hall Passes, by Tom O'Donnell, and A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano

Three at Rose Quartz Reads--Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, Tunnel of Bones, by Victoria Schwab, and The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill



12/25/19

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating today!  I hope you have lots of books waiting for you under the tree (many of our presents are enticingly book shaped) and lots of cookies (or whatever you like to eat) to go with them (but carefully; I was already careless with a book I'm giving and wanted to read first, and left it next to a cup of tea, which a kitten investigated, and now that book has a sort of blurry kitten tea paw print on it...fortunatly not a valuable first edition!)

12/19/19

Weird Little Robots, by Carolyn Crimi

I often find it annoying when people say they'd have loved a book when they were a kid themselves, mostly because they don't explain why and are just saying it as shorthand for "this book didn't work for me as an adult" which is fine, but why not just say that?   That being said, Weird Little Robots, by Carolyn Crimi (Candlewick, October 2019), is one I'd have really related to as a kid!

Penny Rose is new in town, and has no friends yet.  In the shed behind her house, she starts making little robots out of bits and pieces of salvaged stuff (trash to those with no vision), and to her delight, they come alive!  They can move and communicate of their own volition!

Then, after initial uncertainty, Penny Rose becomes friends with Lark, a neighbor girl.  Lark is an unusual girl, not just because she's an avid birdwatcher and birds bring her little gifts, and she too had no friends.  Penny Rose introduces Lark to the robots, and together the girls work to turn the shed into a magical world for them to play in.  And girls and robots are happy.

But then, Penny Rose is invited to join a secret science club.  The members are two cool popular girls, who seem really nice, and one boy, who doesn't.   Joining means leaving Lark behind....and putting her robots in danger (it's not a nice boy).  Fortunately Lark is able to forgive Penny Rose's unkind withdrawal from their friendship, and helps her save the robots.  And Penny Rose becomes a better friend, telling the science club girls that she won't join unless Lark is invited too.

So the appeal to young me comes from having a neighbor friend to build wildly and creatively with, which I did, though we had no magic robots.  That part of the story, before the invitation to the science club brought tension, was my favorite bit.  There's lots of detail about small found things (including bird gifts) being used to make other things, and it was delightful.

The strained friendship wasn't delightful, of course, and this thread of the story was less interesting and relatable to grown-up me (there are no cool girls I wish were my friends in my daily life, nor is there any friendship drama going on that I'm aware of).  A lot of the intended audience, though, are suffering through such things, and doubtless will relate, and perhaps even be heartened by Penny Rose's new-found maturity and loyalty.

The magic of the robots is never explained, it just is.  And this is something that, regardless of your age, will bother you, or not, depending on your personality.  It kind of bothered me a bit, but it would have changed the story too much to try to Explain things that couldn't be explained anyway, so I shrugged it off.

In any event--I'm an archaeologist, which means I'm trained to walk with my eyes on the ground and pick things up, and I have a box of found things in my barn that I was hoping my boys would turn into art, but that never happened.  So if you are a new kid to my neighborhood, you are welcome to come over and create with me!  Especially if you know how to solder.  Even more so if birds bring you cool small things on a regular basis.

12/16/19

An Encyclopedia of Tolkien, by David Day

An Encyclopedia of Tolkien: the History and Mythology that Inspired Tolkien's World, by David Day (Canterbury Classics, October 2019), is the latest in the author's guides to Middle Earth.  If you have a young bibliophile, who has just read Lord of the Rings and fallen hard for it, this is a perfect gift.  It is a tremendously attractive book, bound in soft leather with a green silk bookmark, the sort of book 12 year old me would have died to own, and one that would have inspired me to head down wonderful rabbit holes exploring myth and history.

Day produced an earlier encyclopedia, Tolkien: the  Illustrated Encyclopedia, back in 1991.  However, the focus of this particular effort sets it apart.  It is not meant as a guide just to the people, places, and events of Tolkien's world, but as a guide to the bits of history and legend that (maybe) Tolkien had in mind (unconsciously or not) when he created them.  (Day tends to ignore the "maybe" part of this, laying things out for readers to accept at face value). In his introduction, Day discusses Tolkien's metaphor for how stories are born from a "Pot of Soup" to which new bits are always being added.  Essentially, this book is a collection of bits from a soup of European history and mythology that Day has fished out and linked to Tolkien's mythos.

Sometimes Day is successful in this, making credible links between Tolkien's fiction and historical and legendary events.  An example is the comparison between Tolkien's Battle of the Field of Celebrant and a quote describing the real world fifth century battle of the Catalaunian Plains, one which had never occurred to me. I also enjoyed Day's etymological exploration of the name "Bilbo Baggins," and I could give many more examples of Day's interesting links between real world and Tolkien world story.  Unfortunately, in other instances Day seems to be trying too hard to make connections where none necessarily exist, or pushes his connections too far--for instance, his effort to link Beowulf and Beorn fell flat for me, and some entries, like those for "brownies" and "Puck," are so tenuously tied to hobbits that they seem almost like padding.  So it's a mixed bag, but one that was often fascinating reading.

Of course it's impossible for one book to contain everything.  But there's a lot more to Anglo-Saxon literature than Beowulf, and I wish Day had included more of it.  And I wish Day had pushed harder at the negative portrayal of the Easterlings, and the historical context beyond the "Barbarian Hordes from Asia" that went into forming Tolkien's derogatory attitude toward non-Westerners.

Still, the fun of seeing connections (and questioning them, and even fact-checking them) makes this a book many fans of Tolkien will enjoy.  The inclusion of brief retellings of three primary legends that served as sources for Tolkien’s creations—the Volsunga saga, the Nibelungenlied, and Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle add educational value.  There are also about 200 black and white pictures, of varying quality, mostly by men, that serve primarily to show how vividly real Tolkien's world can become to its readers.

In conclusion--a great gift for a young fan in particular, but not necessarily great for readers who are already familiar with a lot of Tolkien's source material, or those who are themselves trained in academia, which calls for stronger arguments than some that Day makes.  That being said, the point of the book, that these sorts of connections exist and can be explored, may well open wide joyful windows for many readers.  I myself wrote my college application essay* on how the Lord of the Rings inspired in me an interest in archaeology and Early Medieval history, and this book would have been fuel to that fire.

*I got in.  I don't have a copy, which is good, because probably it would make me squirm to read it.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publicist

12/15/19

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (12/15/19)

Welcome to another gathering of the middle grade fantasy and sci fi postings I found online!  Please let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews

All the Colors of Magic, by Valija Zinck, at Charlotte's Library

Cog, by Greg van Eekhout, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Fowl Twins, by Eoin Colfer, at Redeemed Reader

The Hotel Between, by Sean Easley, at Say What?

Lalani of the Distant Sea, by Erin Entrada Kelly, at A Kids Book a Day

Lintang and the Pirate Queen, by Tamara Moss, at Hidden in Pages

The Maelstrom (The Tapestry #4), by Henry H. Neff, at Say What?

Master of the Phantom Isle (Dragonwatch #3), by Brandon Mull, at The Obsessive Bookseller

The Miraculous, by Jess Redman, at Always in the Middle

The Missing Barbegazi, by H.S. Norup, at BiteIntoBooks

Nevermore: the Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Meg Bradley

Over the Moon, by Natalie Lloyd, at Imaginary Friends

The Princess Who Flew with Dragons, by Stephanie Burgis, at Charlotte's Library

Secrets of the Black Forest (Prince Dustin and Clara #2), by Daniel Lee Nicholson, at Bookworm for Kids

Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Two at The Book Search--Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia, and Sal and Gabi Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez

Another two at The Book Search--The Time Traveler's Theory of Relativity, by Nicole Valentine, and The Last Human, by Lee Bacon


Authors and Interviews

Kim Long (Lexi Magill and the Teleportation Tournament) at Literary Rambles

Amy Ephron (The Other Side of the Wall) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books


Other Good Stuff

"What's the deal with all of these middle grade adaptations?" at Book Riot

12/14/19

The Princess Who Flew with Dragons, by Stephanie Burgis

I still am busily reading elementary/middle grade speculative fiction a in my roles as a judge for the Cybils Awards (mainly going back to re-read things I read early last year), but I am in good enough shape that I treated myself one dreary day last week to a shiny and new and much anticipated book--The Princess Who Flew with Dragons, by Stephanie Burgis (Bloomsbury, November 2019).

This is the third in the series that began with The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (link to my review), and it's possibly the one I enjoyed most.  I certainly think it was the fastest read; it was a (more or less) single-sitting of about an hour read for me (when I like a book and need to know what's going to happen next, I read faster, and it was relatively short-- 216 pages).

Princess Sophia, who we met in Book 2, The Girl with a Dragon Heart, is the main character here, and when her story begins, she's being sent by her older sister, the ruling princess, to a distant city to attend a World's Fair type of extravaganza.   It's a three day journey in a basket carried by a flying dragon, and due to the sad consequence of basket swaying, not a pleasant one for Sophia, or her attendants.  Her arrival is also marred by unpleasant-ness, and as a result Sophia is not giving lodging at the palace, but sent off to a private house of her own.

Though this is a snub, she realizes that it's also a once in a life-time opportunity to be a person, and not a princess.  And so she goes to the university as an ordinary, to attend classes in philosophy (her passion), and makes friends with other students (an interesting group of girls--three goblins and a kobald).  This is the part of the book I liked the best (fantasy school stories! new friends and new experiences that might seem mundane but yet are interesting because they are so new to the pov character!).  I could have happily read another hundred pages or so more of this part of the book, but it was not to be, because Excitement!

And those readers who aren't me who were maybe wondering when something was actually going to happen were probably glad it did, in the form of angry ice giants, mass royal abduction, desperate dragonback journey by Sophia, and her use of philosophy to bring about a happy outcome.  There's more to this Happening section of the book, but it's the sort of thing that's more fun to read than to read about.

As well as enjoying the story (both pre-excitement and the excitement parts), I really enjoyed spending time with Sophia, who is a pretty self-reflective person; her growth, through both external experiences and through introspection, engaged me lots, and I think kids in the mg age range (9-12) will find her self-doubt and self-criticism, and the way she starts to see a path away from those feelings,  relatable.  I liked Sophia's university friends too.  There are no particularly dangling plot threads that need resolving, but a fourth book would be appreciated, especially if it picks up on the implications that Sophia's home town might get a university of its own....with dragon, goblin, kobald, and human students....



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