7/15/18

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (7/15/18)

Here's this week's round-up of mg sci fi/fantasy; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi, at Kara Armstrong

Beasts and Geeks (A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting #2) by Joe Ballarini, at Say What?

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Kid Lit Geek

Casper and Jasper and the Terrible Tyrant, by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs, at Say What?

The Dragon's Tooth, by N.D. Wilson, at Leaf's Reviews

Dreaming Dangerous by Lauren DeStefano, at Read Till Dawn

Dying to Meet You, by Kate Klise, at Tales from the Raven

Float, by Laura Martin, at Redeemed Reader

The Forest, by Krysta Wagner, at Kitty Cat at the Library

The Game Masters of Garden Place, by Dennis Markell, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Kima, by A.H. Amin, at Kelsey Ketch

The Language of Spells, by Garret Weyr, at Cover2Cover

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant, at Small Review

Nightbooks, by J.A. White, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Scream and Scream Again, ed. by R.L. Stine, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Scroll of Kings (The Lost Books 1), by Sarah Prineas, at Say What?

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani Dasgupta, at Say What?

Snowglobe, by Amy Wilson, at A Little but a lot

The Storm Keeper's Island, by Catherine Doyle, at Charlotte's Library

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby, at Charlotte's Library

Willa of the Wood, by Robert Beatty, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Wrath of the Dragon King (Dragonwatch 2), by Brandon Mull, at Say What?

Two at alibrarymama--The Trials of Morrigan Crow and The Book of Boy

Authors and Interviews

Robert Beatty (Willa of the Wood) at A Backwards Story

Catherine Gilbert Murdock (The Book of Boy) at The Horn Book

Mary Winn Heider (The Mortification of Fovea Munson) at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

at the B. and N. Kids Blog, I wrote a post about when your kid is ready for The Lord of the Rings

7/11/18

The joy of having to reorganize your shelves because your favorite authors are writing new books, with specific referrence to Rachel Neumeier's newest book


I have been very kind to myself this past month, lavishly buying books that I knew I'd enjoy.  For instance, I treated myself to Rachel Neumeier's newest, an anthology called Beyond the Dreams We Know, which has stories set in a variety of her worlds (and one that isn't).  I enjoyed it very much, particularly the story set in the world of The Floating Islands, in no small part because the main character, a girl of no social status to speak of, points out a problem to the powerful men in charge, and they listen to her respectfully and agree that action is warranted.  It was all very good reading though, and if you like Rachel's books, you need it.  Which is what I told myself, and so I bought it....

And I also have been binge buying Lois McMaster Bujold's Penric and Desdemona books, because they are so much the perfect comfort read fantasy sort of thing I love.  I am unfortunately a little late to the part, though, and the first book of the series, which I got from the library, is out of print and now costs c. $200, which is more than I can spend on a book at this time (and for the foreseeable future sigh).  And I also treated my self to Bryony and Roses, by T. Kingfisher (the third of her books I now own) and am pretty sure that I'll be steadily buying everything she's ever written as funds allow (I need more than one birthday a year....).

Which led to one of the nicest sort of problems a bibliophile can have--how to fit these books, with comfortable space left for new ones, on the shelf of "best loved sci fi/fantasy that isn't necessarily kids books and that isn't Ursula Le Guin or Robin McKinley."  Because those two, and most of the best loved middle grade books, are on their own special shelves.

So all the Elizabeth Goudges got moved to the hallway shelf, books I don't need to own got put in the library donation box (like Charles Williams...not going to re-read him again to the best of my knowledge and belief although now I am having second thoughts....), and  Sarah Beth Durst got to move from small over-flow shelf 1 to main shelf, and that is good.

Here are before and after pictures of Main Shelf (although the Goudges had already left the top shelf), and left hand side of hall shelf.  As you can see, I now have lots of room for more of Rachel's books, room for the new Megan Whalen Turner and new Patricia McKillip (d.v.), and room for more everyone else too (although there won't sniff be new DWJones books....but on the other hand there are lots of Discworld books I need).  So this will hold for a little while at least....









nb:  this is a tiny fraction of my books...I'm very lucky in the Patrick proved to be a dab hand at building built in bookcases, and very generous in allowing my books the lions share of them; you can see an earlier iteration of some of my shelves here.  The big bookshelf of this post used to be my son's, but he decided he'd rather have the guest room across the hall and took all his Warriors and Rangers Apprentice books with him, and the bookshelf became open to new occupants...

(in case anyone is worried about me, as well they might be- the bookself is bolted to the wall).

So in any event, a lovely interlude, both reading-wise and shelving wise!


7/10/18

The Storm Keeper's Island, by Catherine Doyle, for Timeslip Tuesday

I was book shopping in Dublin a few weeks ago, because I had unloaded myself of all the books I brought from the US while visiting my sister-in-law in England, and so I had both the room to take more books home, and the need for good airplane reading.   I did not, sadly, have the money or the room to take all the new to me books in Chapters Bookstore home, but I did pick up a few that weren't on my rader as coming out in the US any time soon.

One of  these was The Storm Keeper's Island, by Catherine Doyle (Bloomsbury, July1 2018 in the UK), which called to me strongly--magical Irish island, siblings, kids caught up in a struggle against ancient evil....I didn't know, though, until I started reading, that this was also a timeslip book.  And I can see why it  might not be categorized as such, even though slipping through time is integral to the plot, and an important part of the magic at work here.  There's so much magic at work, though, that the time slipping is only one piece among many....but it's an interesting one--candles infused with weather memories that take the person who lights the candle back to that moment....

There are two people doing the lighting...Fionn and his grandfather, the Storm Keeper of Arranmore.  The Storm Keeper not only captures the weather memories in candles, but is the islands bulwark against an old evil buried underground for centuries.  Fionn's grandfather has not had to confront that evil directly.  But Fionn isn't going to be so lucky...

When Fionn and his older sister are sent to the island to stay with their grandfather, Fionn has no idea that the island is magical, and that his family has a part in that magic.  But quickly he finds himself plunging into danger, travelling back in time through the memory candles, and learning about the danger that's looming, and about his own family's past.  He's a smidge more than just a spectator in the past, although not quite an active agent....and it's certainly a great way for both him and the reader to learn the most pertinent pieces of the island's magical past.

His grandfather knows Fionn must take up the role of Storm Keeper very soon, but Fionn's a reluctant hero, convinced he'd stink at the job, what with being terrified by the ocean (an unavoidable part of island life).

Thought there's some danger (both natural and supernatural) to be faced, this book is essentially the set-up for the larger conflict to come.  On the plus side, this means that the reader is introduced to the magic of Arranmore with a natural sort of unfolding, which I like better than being plunged right into things, but on the down side, there are still just hints that there might well be razer-taught moments of truly numinous fantasy to come...it's not quite there yet.

It's not the most inherently original or intricate plot, though the magic of the candles is pretty darn cool.   If you feel you've read enough "chosen child of magical destiny must defeat awakening evil" books for the moment, you won't want to read it.  But having read this first book happily enough (not thrilled to the marrow happy, but with contented interest apart from disliking the big sister lots; she doesn't have to be quite so much of a brat...), I'll be sure to check in again and see how Fionn and his time-slipping candles are doing!






7/9/18

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby

"A middle grade book about ghostly spying in WW II England?  Sign me up!" sums up my reaction to The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby (Candlewick, July 24,2018), and I was (for the most part) not disappointed, and enjoyed the book lots.

When Flossie died, from complications of rheumatic fever when she was just 12, she found herself with a job to do.  She became the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery in London, responsible for keep all the dead in her care at peace.  But the peace of London has been shattered by the blitz, and when Flossie sees the ghost of a Nazi officer snooping around St. Paul's, her suspicions are aroused.  Quite rightly, too--as the story unfolds, she finds that he is indeed the mastermind of a sinister plot to use his ghostly state to pass on top secret information back to Germany.

Flossie has no particular powers of her own, outside her own cemetery, but she's still determined to stop him.  But how?  Her path takes her to Germany, where she meets a ghost girl with secrets of her own, and requires her to work with the other Turnkeys of London, including one who seems almost hostile.

The story unfolds very nicely, building up the tension gradually as the bombs fall on London.  Flossie is a heroine to cheer for, as she navigates her various responsibilities to both the dead and the living.  An element of pathos such as pathos loving mg readers will appreciate is provided by a girl torn between living and dying after loosing her family in the Blitz, who Flossie tries to convince to choose life. If you are a fan of WW II stories for kids, this is a very interesting twist on the usual plots, that I appreciated lots!  My only disappointment was that at the end of the story, Flossie decides that her responsibilities are to the dead, not the living, and so she has no plans to go on to become a spy herself to help win the war.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

7/8/18

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/8/18)

I am all done with vacationing for the summer, and so I'm back in the blogging saddle!  Here's this week's gathering of mg sci fi/fantasy from around the blogs; please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshana Chokshi, at Kid Lit Geek and Randomly Reading

The Chosen Ones, by Scarlett Thomas, at Puss Reboots

Del Toro Moon, by Darby Karchut, at Log Cabin Library

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis, at Kid Lit Geek

The Fall of the Readers (Forbidden Library 4), by Django Wexler, at Say What?

Frogkisser!, by Garth Nix, at Fantasy Literature

The Game Masters of Garden Place, by Denis Markell, at Books My Kids Read

In a Glass Grimmly, by Adam Gidwitz, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Magic of Melwick Orchard, by Rebecca Caprara, at Nerdy Book Club

The Palace of Glass (Forbidden Library 3), by Django Wexler, at Say What?

The Seismic Seven, by Katie Slivensky, at Ms. Yingling Reads

To the Sacred Valley with Koko, by Ayyappan R. Nair, at The Children's Book Review

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby, at Mom Read It

Unwritten, by Tara Gilboy, at Say What?

Willa of the Wood, by Robert Beatty, at The O.W.L.

Wizard for Hire, by Obert Skye, at Sharon the Librarian

Two dog fantasies-- Argos: The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog, by Ralph Hardy, and The Wizard's Dog Fetches the Grail, by Eric Kahn Gale, at Geo Librarian 

Authors and Interviews

J.S. Jaeger (The Golden Wizard), at Jazzy Book Reviews

Other Good Stuff

New books in the UK, at Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books, and a look forward at more to come in 2018 at A Little But a Lot

A lovely list of 20 MG and YA sci fi/fantasy books starring Black kids, at Black Children's Books and Authors

7/2/18

The Call of Cthulu: a Graphic Novel, by H.P. Lovecraft, adapted and illustrated by Dave Shephard

I have lived and worked in H.P. Lovecraft's home town of Providence for many years, just down the street from one of his houses of horror (the Shunned House), and so I've picked up, by osmosis, a general familiarity with the monstrous Cathulu, but the original short story has floated off to the side of my tbr list for ages.  So when I was offered a review copy of the new graphic novel version of The Call of Cthulu, from Canterbury Classic's new  Dark Tales series (April 2018), I seized upon it happily, as a chance to encounter Cthulhu in a more palatable form than Lovecaft's 90 year old original.

An evil alien god, Cthulhu, haunts the dreams of  the unfortunate Henry Wilcox.  He consults a professor, who then dies suddenly, leaving it to his nephew to figure out just what evil being was haunting Wilcox.  The nephew travels around the world, following rumors of cultists who await the rising of the Cthulhu and the chaos and destruction that will follow.

The horror is of such an over-the-top variety that it's not actually disturbing; more disturbing is that the barbaric cultists of Cthulu are all too clearly the product of the rascist idea of savagery vs civilization.  Shephard mitigates this somewhat, by making many of the cultists clearly white, but it still made me uncomfortable.

Shephard notes that he took some in his retelling to  make the narrative flow in a more linear fashion; not having any allegiance to the original this was fine with me.  The illustrations are vivid, the story engrossing.  If you like horrific sci fi graphic novels, and want an easy introduction to Lovecraft, this one is worth the read.


6/29/18

Terra Nova, by Shane Arbuthnott

I opened my review of Dominion, by Shane Arbuthnott, with this teaser: "Are you in need of a steampunk fantasy set in an alternate New World where air ships powered by aetherial spirits travel through the skies in search of other spirits to capture and sell?"  It was a very enjoyable and interesting book, with a great heroine, and I was very happy to curl up yesterday with the sequel, Terra Nova (Orca, March 2018).  I will tease again with the following question:  Are you in need of a book that tackles with steampunk flair and fantasy elements the systematic enslavement of sentient beings and the economic exploitation of human workers as well, forced to labor for the enrichment of oppressors?  If that doesn't convince you, can I throw in the teaser that Molly, the young heroine, is passionate fighter for justice, wracked by guilt when there are casualties, but never giving up because she cannot turn her back on the problems of her society?

Molly has made it her life's work to free the enslaved aetheric beings that power her world.  Most of the other inhabitants of Terra Nova still believe the spirits are fundamentally hostile, but Molly knows better.  With spirits both great and small, her family, and a handful of allies working with her, she sets herself to overthrow the corporation that tortures the spirits for their own profit.   But freeing handfuls of spirits, and liberating as well the human workers who toil in the factories, is like scooping water with a sieve.  How can she change the mindset of Terra Nova, and bend its arc toward justice once and for all?

Answer--with lots of hair-raising adventures, brave and desperate battles, the courage of her convictions, aetherial beings of tremendous power, and a new ally with lots of p.r. experience, who used to work for the bad guys, who knows the power of the printed word.  The fact that Molly isn't doing it alone is what makes this work; although she special in having a strong bond with two powerful spirits, it's their power, and the power of other spirits and human persons, that allow Molly to be as effective as she is.

In my review of the first book, I said:

"Molly's a great heroine and the whole set up with the spirits is fascinating.  I wish we'd been given more of a look at this alternate world--we only see the sliver of sky traversed by Molly and her Family, and the one city where they dock, though there are hints of the bigger world.  And likewise it seems like the author knew more backstory about Molly's family than is given in any detail.   I'm hoping Molly's world will be broader in future installments, because she's a great heroine who really deserves a great world to adventure in! "

And it is broadened somewhat here.   The mainland, where the colonizers of Terra Nova never travel, is introduced, and its alternate First Nation people, are represented by a man who, like Molly, has a bond with aetherial spirits (not uncommon in his people, though happily not uncomfortably in any "spirit animal" sort of sense).   I would like even more of the wider world in future books, though this book wraps up all the obvious plot threads, so a new antagonist would be needed....

Short answer:  this is a tremendously solid and exciting series, that I highly recommend to those who enjoy fantasy/steampunk adventures that come with considerable action (there's lots of fighting, and some fatalities to give it gravitas), more than a smidge of parkour (Molly learned lots of good climbing and jumping tricks in her childhood on a flying ship),  really cool spirit beings, and lots and lots of thoughtful social justice.  It straddles the space between middle grade and YA, being one I'd recommend to 11-14 years if pressed to draw lines.

Kirkus gave this one a star, saying "This spectacular sequel takes steampunk into new territory."

moral of the story--realize your ancestors did bad things, and work to undo them!




6/26/18

Robinsheugh (aka Elizabeth, Elizabeth) by Eileen Dunlop, for Timeslip Tuesday

I first read Robinsheugh (aka Elizabeth, Elizabeth) by Eileen Dunlop (1975) back when I was 10, and though I was an inveterate re-reader at that time, I only read it once, because it was too dark and unpleasant for me.  So when a copy came my way recently, I was curious to see if it really was as dark as I remembered it being.

It's the story of a girl named Elizabeth, who's packed off to stay for three months with her academic cousin, Kate.  Elizabeth and Kate were very close when Elizabeth was younger, but they've become estranged, so the prospect of three months together in a Scottish manor house in the middle of nowhere (where Kate is doing research) does not appeal.  And when she gets there, and is left completely to her own lonely devices, feeling hurt and angry and unwanted, a dark and claustrophobic sort of mood is established.

But then she travels back to the 18th century, and is part of the family that used to live there.  She's now a different Elizabeth, loved and cared for by the family nurse, and loving her older brother, brilliant and gay Robin, fiercely.  Her time in the past is not idyllic; her mother (not often home, thankfully) is cold and always finding fault, and past Elizabeth struggles against societies expectations.  She wants to learn, like Robin is able too, and though he kindly starts to teach her Latin, she's not going to be able to become as educated as she would like.

This part is creepy because Elizabeth is loosing her self and becoming the past Elizabeth.  But it is not a creepy as the bit that comes at the end, when Bang!  Robin is revealed as a psychopath who wants to pull modern Elizabeth back into the past and keep her forever.

This is not gracefully done.  Though it was clear throughout that Robin wasn't quite sound, and wasn't to be relied on, and was in danger of going to the dogs, he was not clearly a psychopath, though the adults apparently knew he killed small animals, etc. (Cousin Kate learned about his psychopath side through her research, allowing it to be shared with the reader).

But on the other hand it gets quite scary very dramatically, and Robin is really creepy and nasty.

So it pretty much was the same book that I remembered.  Not a pleasant, comforting book, but the historical fiction was great--if you want domestic fiction in an 18th century manor house, this is a book for you!  Dunlop does very well with the time travel, and it's worth reading just for that.  I also like that the time Elizabeth spent in the past actually has affected her character by the time it's all done, making her more interested in academia as a career, although she doesn't seem to have retained any of the Latin, which is a pity.

But my main though right now is that I wish that the school library had had Eileen Dulop's other book published a year later instead of this one.  A Flute on Mayferry Street (aka The House on Mayferry Street) is an utter delight and I didn't read it until I was quite an old adult, mores the pity.  I would have re-read it every year.



6/25/18

The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings, by Sarah Prineas

The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings, Sarah Prineas' newest middle grade fantasy (out tomorrow, June 26 from HarperCollins), made me tremendously happy.  It is the sort of book that reminds me why I say mg fantasy is my favorite genre, and reminds me of how lovely an escape from mundane nuisances reading can be.  I was predisposed in its favor, of course, since books are central to the story, and because I've enjoyed Sarah Prineas' other books very much, but still the purity of my reading enjoyment exceeded my high expectations.

Alex is an apprentice librarian, learning the hard way that some books are dangerous; literally, infused with deadly magic sort of dangerous.  Then his librarian master dies, at the hands pages of a book, and Alex must look for another post.  With a bit of sneaky forgery (to boost his lack of solid credentials, and to disguise the fact that he's still just 15), he inveigles himself into the job of royal librarian (he does not lack for self confidence) for a trial period.

When he arrives to take over his new library, he finds a daunting task.  The books are feral, the catalogue system a disaster, and there are books that are not only wild, but deadly, and determined to spread their magical contamination.  It's not just a matter of weeding the bad ones, but saving the whole library full of irreplaceable books from destruction.  So it's a good thing he knows how to use his wits, and his sword....

The queen, Kenneret, isn't convinced that Alex is the librarian she needs, but she's distracted by the whole business of being a young and inexperienced ruler (she too is in her mid teens).  She has her uncle to rely on, but as the book progresses, we see her realizing that he is not necessarily acting in her best interests, or the interests of her kingdom, and we see her stepping up to the demands of her position with intelligence and determination.  She's distracted a little by her brother Charlie, who's been kicked out of yet another school.  She sends Charlie to work with Alex...and though Alex soon finds that Charlie can't read, the two form a strong alliance in support of Kenneret, and against the feral books.

It's one of the books where the characters have to figure out not just a mystery, but each other, and that's the best type of book! Political intrigue plus secrets plus magic plus characters to love plus a nice brisk story makes for great reading.  Though the characters are in their mid teens, this is still solidly middle grade, with no "mature" content.

Sometimes I like to point out the differences of opinion I have with Kirkus, but in this case the only quarrel I have with their review is that it wasn't quite as blatantly enthusiastic as I would have liked.  But I think the woman who reviewed it for SLJ was just the wrong reader; she says "Alex is snarky and not particularly likable" which I disagree with vehemently (the snarky part is true, but that only makes him more likable in my opinion....).  And I have no disagreements at all with Brandy's review at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, which doesn't surprise me because our tastes are so similar.

Give this one to young readers who enjoyed The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, or Prineas' own Magic Thief series.

Warning:  I lost this book three times between when I read it and today; the first two times it turned up again in plain sight in places I'd already looked (as of this writing, it seems to be nowhere in the house, but since I'm planning on buying a hardcopy, that's ok); I am not unappreciative of the irony.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher at the author's request.

6/24/18

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs 6/24/18

Back from a lovely trip to Wales, and ready to blog again!  Here's what I found in this week's blog reading of interest to us fans of mg sci fi/fantasy.

The Reviews

100 Cupboards, by N.D. Wilson, at Leaf's Reviews

The Adventurers Guild, by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at Word Spelunking

Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okoraforra, at Fantasy Literature

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

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast, by Samantha Clark, at Reading Rumpus

The Boy from Tomorrow, by Camille DeAngelis, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Candy, by Lavie Tidhar, at MinervaReads

The Capture, by Kathryn Lasky, at Leaf's Reviews

The Creature of the Pines, by Adam Gidwitz, at The Booklist Reader

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler, at Say What?

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

Granted, by John David Anderson, at Ninja Librarian

The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Say What?

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Tales from the Raven

Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin, at Millibot Reads

Time Ghost, by Welwyn Wilton Katz, at Puss Reboots

Authors and Interviews

Claire Fayers (Mirror Magic) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

K.A. Reynolds (The Land of Yesterday) at Project Mayhem 

Other Good Stuff

Some new books in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

If you are a fan of Susan Cooper, and go to Wales, Llyn Barfog is a place you must visit!  I'm so glad to have the real place in my mind; it is just as described in Silver on the Tree, and the echo works beautifully!

6/8/18

what I was doing instead of reading and blogging

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

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


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



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



And then today was high school graduation!  



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

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

5/29/18

Invictus, by Ryan Graudin, for Timeslip Tuesday

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

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

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

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

What I really liked

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

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


What I didn't much like

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

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

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

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

5/27/18

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

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

The Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sacher, at Middle Grade Ninja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors and Interviews

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

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

Other good stuff

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

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

5/26/18

Brightly Burning, by Alexa Donne

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

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

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

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


Postcripts: 

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

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

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

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

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


5/24/18

The Oddling Prince, by Nancy Springer

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

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

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

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

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

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

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/21/18

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

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

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

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

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

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

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

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/20/18

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

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

The Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors and Interviews

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

Mike Jung (Unidentified Suburban Object) at DiversifYA

Dave Eggers (The Lifters) at Kid Lit Frenzy

Other Good Stuff

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

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

5/15/18

Borrobil, by William Croft Dickinson, for Timeslip Tueday

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

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

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

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

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


5/14/18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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