This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (62517)

Here's what I found this week.  Please let me know if I missed your post, which is more possible than usual; I've been a little fussed the past few days getting ready to send my oldest off to Colorado for three weeks cumulating in a piece of wisdom I will gladly share--do not put a book down on top of your kid's cell phone the night before he has to leave because it is a really good hiding place especially if there are books everywhere and because of course his phone will not be turned on so you can't find it by calling it.

The Reviews

D-Bot Squat, by Mac Park (series review) at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

The Door in the Alley, by Adrienne Kress, at The O.W.L.

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at Puss Reboots

The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht, at This Kid Reviews Books

Journey Across the Hidden Islands, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Finding Wonderland

Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson, at Guys Lit Wire

The Legend of Sam Miracle, by N.D. Wilson, at Say What?

Lord of Monsters, by John Claude Bemis, at Tales from the Raven

Rules for Thieves, by Alexandra Ott, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Shadow Cipher (York book 1) by Laura Ruby, at The Reading Nook Reviews

The Spell Thief by Tom Percival, at Cover2CoverBlog

Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at The Book Monsters

The Supernormal Sleuthing Service, by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe, at Finding Wonderland

Time Jump Coins, by Susan May Olson, at Kitty Cat at the Library

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Joplin, Wishing, by Diane Stanley, and Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

A gathering of Revolutionary War time travel at B. and N. Kids Blog

Authors and Interviews

John David Anderson (as part of the cover revel for Granted) at The Hiding Spot

Michael Rubens (Emily and the Spellstone), at Word Spelunking


Dark Breaks the Dawn, by Sara B. Larson

If you are fan of YA fantasy in which a teenage girl struggles to become the strong queen her country desperately needs, you have lots of books to chose from these days.  I feel I've almost read enough for now, but I didn't mind Dark Breaks the Dawn, by Sara B. Larson (Scholastic, May 2017), and if you are a fan of this particular sub-genre, you may well enjoy it lots.

Evelayn did not expect to become queen of the Light Kingdom of Eadrolan, just after she'd come of age to claim her personal magical heritage.  But when her mother was killed, fighting against the dark,cold magic armies of the Dorjhalon, queen Eelayn became.  And though she was able to claim the light magic of her people that only the queen can command, strongest during summer's warmth, she has no time to master her gifts, including shapeshifting into her one particular affinity animal (nb for reassurance not "spirit animal," which isn't a term used) before she must be the one to keep her country safe from its would-be conquerors.

Force of arms, and force of light magic against dark were not enough for her mother, so Evelayn devises a cunning ploy that will deliver the heir of the king of Dorjhalon into her hands, and, she hopes, give her the chance to end the war and restore balance. She's guided, comforted, and distracted by a handsome young lord, who takes equal pleasure in long runs through the woods.  But mostly she's grieving, and uncertain, and unsure that she will ever be the queen her country needs.

So basically it's girl learning to be a queen with magical powers with bonus love story (not a love triangle, at least not yet), under really difficult circumstances.  Though the initial steps go as she hoped, things go crashing down horribly wrong at the end, setting the stage for the next book in the series.

There wasn't anything here that made this one rise above the crowd for me personally, and I was a tad thrown off by the author's choice to use "males" and "females" instead of men and women--it made it hard for me to think of the characters as entirely human, which was perhaps the point.  But it was a gripping enough read to keep me going, especially toward the end when we move from Evelayn's emotions to actual full-on-page conflict with the bad guys (although I wish we could all just stop with equating dark/bad light/good....).

One of the more interesting things about the book, for those of us who like retellings, is that it is a prequel to the Swam Lake story (princess who ends up enchanted swan).  The set up for the actual Swan Lake story is strong enough for me to want to read book two, hoping that the stage is set, the story will have a chance to be stronger.  Likewise, some of the plot points that look to be set up could well make for an interesting read.  But this first volume on its own just doesn't offer much that's particularly fresh or new, and Evelayn isn't quite a compelling enough character as presented here to compensate for the lack.  So I only recommend it to people who just can't get enough of the young queen and her tender young romance, or to Swan Lake fans who can join me in wanting to read book 2....But if you are not cynical and jaded like me, perhaps your reaction will be more enthusiastic than my somewhat tepid response!

Here's a more enthusiastic review at blackplume. And Kirkus calls it "an appealing if imperfect girl-power fantasy that ably sets the stage for its sequel" although the Kirkus review and I don't seem to have read exactly the same book because really although it seems possible/likely that a third party will enter the romance next book, the romance here and now is not a triangle!  And Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, saying ""Larson is especially effective in her portrait of Evelayn's need to summon maturity before she thought she would have to, a sweetly innocent romance underscores the bite of betrayal, and the cliffhanger ending will easily build anticipation for the second book."

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Hush, by Skye Melki-Wegner

The Hush, by Skye Melki-Wegner (Sky Pony Press, YA, June 2017), is a fascinating story set in a world much like our own in many ways, except that here, Music is power.  The Song can change reality, and make things magical.  But only the Songshapers, the licensed practitioners of Music, are allowed to tap into the power of the Song.  This poses a problem for a teenager named Chester, on the road looking for his missing father and earning a bit here and there by playing his fiddle.  To his dismay, Chester starts inadvertently reaching into the Song when he plays, and the punishment for this is death.

When Chester is captured, an unexpected group of rescuers save him.  They are the members of the infamous Nightfall Gang, who have been operating a Robin Hood-like enterprise to take from the rich and give to the poor.  But Susannah, their leader, and her colleagues have an even bigger heist in mind, and for that they will need Chester and his untrained ability to connect to the song.

Travelling through the Hush, an alternate reality shaped in dangerous ways by wild music, full of deadly echoes, Chester learns that the mission of the Nightfall Gang and his own search for his father are connected.  But can he control his music, and can Susannah lead them through the most dangerous mission she has ever attempted?

One detail at a time, the world slowly unfolds in a riveting adventure.  Gradually Chester gets to know his new companions, and learns why they too are determined to strike a blow against the power of the Songshapers.  All have been damaged in some way; foppish Travis searches for his sister, Dot searches for the girl she loved, Sam and Susannah seek for revenge against the Songshapers who wrecked their lives.  Chester must learn not only to use his music for the planned attack, but to trust this ragtag group of people with his life.

It's a deeply engrossing story, with tension building up beautifully in the days leading up to the grand heist.  My only complaint is that the encounter with a villain at the end was not as carefully executed as the buildup; an issue of a particular Song that all are supposed to sing every night, with withdrawal symptoms setting in if they don't, doesn't seem to apply, and the villain basically delivers the whole explanation of the entire set-up of the world and its magic in one big chunk at the end, which was rather abrupt.  Up until that point, I was thinking this was a five star book, but it dropped to four.

Still, it was vivid and memorable as all get out, and anyone whose intrigued by magical music with touches of steampunk should definitely seek it out!

If you want a second opinion, here's the starred Kirkus review.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (6/18/17)

Welcome to this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs.  Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Dark Days (Skulduggery Pleasant 4), by Derek Landy, at Say What?

The Door in the Alley, by Adrienne Kress, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at Cracking the Cover

The Faceless Ones (Skuldugger Pleasant 3) by Derek Landy, at Say What?

Felix Yz, by Lisa Bunker, at Always in the Middle

The Gateway Quartet: The Four-Fingered Man, the Warriors of Brin-Hask, the Midnight Mercenary, and the Ancient Starship, by Cerberus Jones, at alibrarymama

The Girl with the Ghost Machine, Lauren DeStefano, at B. and N. Kids Blog

Greenglass House, and Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Hamster Princess: Giant Trouble, by Ursula Vernon, at Charlotte's Library

The House of Months and Years, by Emma Trevayne, at Semicolon

If The Magic Fits (100 Dresses), by Susan Maupin Schmid, at Charlotte's Library

Lord of Monsters, by John Claude Bemis, at B. and N. Kids Blog

Mortal Coil (Skulduggery Pleasant 5) by Derek Landy, at Say What?

Paint by Magic, by Katherine Reiss, at Charlotte's Library

The Princess and the Page, by Christina Farley, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Quest to the Uncharted Lands (World of Solace #3), by Jaleigh Johnson, at Word Spelunking and books4yourkids.com

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at twentybyjenny

Rebellion of Thieves by Kekla Magoon, at A Reader of Fictions 

The Secret of Goldenrod, by Jane O'Reilly, at Nerdy Book Club

Shadow Cipher (York 1), by Laura Ruby, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

The Song from Somewhere Else, by A. F. Harrold, at Waking Brain Cells

Sputnik's Guide to Life On Earth, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at Librarian's Quest

Authors and Interviews

Gwenda Bond (The Supernormal Sleuthing Service) at YAYOMG!

Lauren DeStefano (The Girl With the Ghost Machine) at Nerdy Book Club

Other Good Stuff

The Riverbank Review of Books which was active between 1998 and 2003is now available online for  your reading pleasure (via Monica at Educating Alice)

And from the Department of Things to Want, this half-octopus half-teapot (read more at Bored Panda)


If the Magic Fits (100 Dresses), by Susan Maupin Schmid

Squeezing in a review...I've been writing quite a bit for B. and N. Kids Blog, and it shows in the paucity of posts here.  But I have a nice one to share this evening--If the Magic Fits (100 Dresses), by Susan Maupin Schmid (Random House Oct. 2016).  It is a very good book to offer the 8-10 year old who enjoys wish-fulfillment type fantasy set in castles, who likes gentler stories as opposed to blood and gore.

Darling has been part of the staff of the castle since she was born.  Adopted by a kindly Under-Slicer Jane (this is the sort of castle where everyone on the staff has a very clearly defined position), Darling assumes that she'll rise in the ranks to a solid position of her own.  When she's ten, she gets her first position, as a pot scrubber, slaving in the under-cellar under the stern eye of the Supreme Scrubstress.  But luck is with her, and she gets promoted up to the rank of Under-Presser, ironing Princess Mariposa's linens.

Darling is the sort of girl who dreams of magic and adventure (her year of pot scrubbing was mostly spent telling stories to her fellow comrade in suds), and so immediately starts imagining the Princess befriending her.  Mariposa is preoccupied by the pressure being put on her to marry, and though she and Darling do cross paths, it's not through the princess that Darling finds herself caught in a web of magic.  Near to the room where she irons, there's another room, used to store 100 old dresses.  The dresses are magical, and want to be worn, so that they can help save the castle from those who would destroy it by waking the enchanted dragons who built it.  Mariposa can't resist the lure of the dresses, and finds that they transform her into other people when she wears them.  They are the perfect disguises for her to wear as she tries to figure out just what is happening!

And there is plenty going on.  An evil prince seems about to win Mariposa's hand and claim the kingdom, there's the plot to wake the dragons, and there's other treachery within the castle.  Gradually more and more magic, and more danger, is woven into the story, and Darling must be as clever as she can be to figure everything out and save the day.  Fortunately, as the reader expects, she has good friends to help her.  Including not just other castle kids, but some very helpful enchanted mice....and the dresses themselves, who seem almost like characters in their own right.

The 100 magical dresses are a very appealing premise, and the story is pleasantly entertaining.  It moves along at a quick pace, with a nice build up of complexity, and has a charming fairy tale feel to it.  Offer this one to elementary school readers who have been enjoying all the magical creature books that everywhere these days, to expand their reading horizons into castles and (introductory level) intrigue and mystery!


Hamster Princess: Giant Trouble, by Ursula Vernon

I am a huge fan of Harriet the Hamster Princess, whose fairytale mashup adventures take her and her riding quail, Mumphrey,  into all sorts of magical dangers.  In Giant Trouble, her fourth outing (Dial, May 2017),  Harriet meets the story of Jack and the Beanstalk when a mysterious cloaked chipmunk tries to sell her magic beans.

Harriet knows enough not to trust the chipmunk and his beans, but Mumphry pecks one up.  That night, when the bean comes out the other end of Mumphry, it sprouts into a gigantic beanstalk.  Her first reaction is concern; a beanstalk several miles tale could cause considerable damage to her family's kingdom if it fell.  Cutting it down isn't an option, and when she hears harp music wafting down from it, she decides to go up it to see who's there.

She and Mumfry find a giant's cabin in the clouds at the top, and inside the cabin is a captive harpster--a girl who is part hamster, part harp.  Appalled at the injustice of the harpster's captivity, force to play lullabies when really she wants to start a rock band, Harriet starts thinking of how to rescue her.  But then the giant comes home, and proves to be a formidable advisory, too much for Harriet to handle on her own.

Fortunately her friend Wilber has come up the beanstalk to find her, and fortunately, Strings the Harpster and even her co-captive goose can take part in their own rescue.  But what was just a simple rescue attempt becomes a dangerous and touch and go escape attempt, involving a desperate race across the clouds.

It's as exciting and charming as all of Harriet's adventures, but rather more tense. Harriet really can't pull this one off on her own, and it's good to see her working as part of a team.

If I were working in a bookstore, I'd be trying to handsell this series to every 8-10 year old girl who walked through the door.  Harriet is just about the most kickass female role model going for kids this each, and with the acknowledgement that even the most kickass hamster can't do everything alone, her story becomes even stronger.  Plus she's going to play drums in String's band.


Paint by Magic, by Katherine Reiss for Timeslip Tuesday

Time travel mixed with art is a satisfying combo, and Paint by Magic, by Katherine Reiss (2002) delivers on both elements to make a diverting, though ultimately a bit unsatisfying, read.

Connor's parents both work full time plus, and so he and his sister don't see much of them at all, but at least they have the multiple tvs in their house, and their computers, to keep them company.  Then one day Connor comes home to find that his mother is actually there waiting for him, and is cooking dinner.  More bizarrely still, she's gotten rid of all the electronics in the house, and insists that Connor's dad reads out loud to him that evening.  She is not herself at all, sometimes seeming to lapse into trance like states where her body is frozen, but her face shows fear. 

And indeed she is not herself, because she has just escaped from the 1920s, though some strange magic is still asserting itself within her.  Connor looks for clues, and when he finds a sketch of his mother, it draws him back into the same family she spent a year living with.  His visit to the 1920s doesn't overlap with hers, and the family (grandparents, grown son who is an artist, widowed daughter in law and her four kids), and  takes him in. 

Like his mother, he is appropriated as a model by the artist who lives a reclusive life up in the top of the house.  The reader has been given a few flashbacks to a Renaissance artist who was a nasty piece of work, and so is primed to draw the connection between that artist's sadist manipulation of his own model, and the 1920s artists manipulation of first Connor's mother, than Connor.  This evil magical painting mystery is a satisfying one, and its resolution makes for interesting reading.

And in the meantime, Connor, like his mother before him, finds the simple, wholesome life of the past much more pleasing than he would have thought.  The days are full of fun and business (puzzles, games, homemade lemonade and household tasks), and when Connor does return to his own time, he replaces his Star Wars bed with a more traditional wooden one.  This part is really a bit much.  Yes, family game night and home-cooked meals are nice, but the black and white contrast between Modern Life and Happy Past  is exaggerated so much here it becomes just annoying.  Especially since it is possible for both parents to work and still be present in their children's lives. I'm not sure what kids would make of this message, but as a parent I was put off.

Despite this, I did not mind reading the book at all, and indeed found the art aspect, with its truly creepy mystery, enjoyable.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (6/11/17)

Welcome to another week's worth of my blog gleening; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Bravelands: Broken Pride, by Erin Hunter, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest, by J.A. Myhre, at Semicolon

Calling on Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Say What?

The Door in the Alley, by Adrienne Kress, at This Kid Reviews Books and Log Cabin Library

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Rachel Neumeier

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Edge of Extinction- the Ark Plan, by Laura Martin, at Middle Grade Ninja

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at Leaf's Reviews

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennfer L. Holm, at Completely Full Bookshelf

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle, by George Hagen, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow and Tales From the Raven

Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy, by Gareth Wronski, at Sharon the Librarian

Journey Across the Hidden Islands, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Fantasy Literature

The Mysterious Howling, by Maryrose Wood, at Pages Unbound Reviews

One Witch at a Time, by Stacey DeKeyser, at Puss Reboots

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Cracking the Cover

Over My Dead Body (43 Old Cemetery Road), by Kate Klise and Sarah Klise, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Playing With Fire (Skullduggery Pleasant 2) by Derek Landy, at Say What?

The Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby, at Waking Brain Cells

Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Syren, by Angie Sage, at Say What?

Who Let the Gods Out? by Maz Evans, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Will in Scarlet, by Matthew Cody, at Michelle I. Mason

Four quick reviews at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Authors and Interviews

Frank Cottrell Boyce (Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth) at Educating Alice and Kristi Call

Stephanie Burgis (The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart), at Cracking the Cover

E.D. Baker (The Frog Princess Returnes) at A Backwards Story and Cracking the Cover

And with both Stephanie Burgis and E.D. Baker at Writing My Own Fairy Tale

Trenton Lee Stewart (Mysterious Benedict Society) shares 5 of His Favorite Adventure Stories Featuring Unlikely Heroes at The B. and N. Kids Blog

Other Good Stuff

The 2017 Mythopoeic Society Award finalists have been announced.   The Children's Book contenders are all lovely--
  • Adam Gidwitz, The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog (Dutton, 2016)
  • S. E. Grove, The Mapmakers Trilogy: The Class Sentence (Viking 2014); The Golden Specific (Viking, 2015); The Crimson Skew (Viking, 2015)
  • Bridget Hodder, The Rat Prince (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2016)
  • Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver (Little, Brown, 2016)
  • Delia Sherman, The Evil Wizard Smallbone (Candlewick, 2016)

  • A look back at the Monster Blood Tattoo series at Fuse #8,  and Revisiting Edward Carey’s Iremonger Series, at Educating Alice

    "Wading in the Cultural Shallows: How Irish Mythology Became A Commodity for Fantasy" at Fantasy Faction

    A celebration of Rick Riordan at Educating Alice


    Four board books that introduce physics to babies

    First thing last Friday morning at Book Expo, Sourcebooks had a giveaway of a series of books I knew I had to see, and so (eschewing my usual gazelle-like grace) I trotted with intent determination to their booth bright and early, and I was rewarded with the following board books by Chris Ferrie (all May 2017)--Newtonian Physics for Babies, General Relativity for Babies, Quantum Physics for Babies, and Rocket Science for Babies.

    They are charming books, and they do keep things simple, with very few words per page, hitting the key concepts  (for instance, two pages of Rocket Science shows "This ball has no lift"  "The wing has lift!") The simplicity is such that the conclusions at the ends of the books ("Now you are a rocket scientist!") seemed a tad optimistic, and goodness knows I am no further along toward understanding just why the electrons go around in set rings ("An electron can be here."  "Or here."), but the appeal to geeky adults is utterly undeniable.  I liked General Relativity best myself.

    These strike me as books that are perfect to give as baby presents to the geeky grownups in your life.  Babies themselves, I think, will enjoy having their parents read them out loud if they are fond of their parents' voices.  But parents deserve fun too, and one of the most enjoyable thing about being a parent with a captive audience on your lap is the fun of telling them things they will neither comprehend or remember.  So go for  it, geeky parents, and enjoy elaborating on the simple frameworks presented here!  Follow up with demonstrations of what balls do!  Drop apples!  Bring up gravity in casual conversation!

    One could also give these as a gift to a college kid struggling with physics, but that would probably be unkind. 

    Thanks, Sourcebooks--I enjoyed these! And now I get to move them on from my dining room table to my public library; I am curious to see how well they will circulate.


    The Ninth Day, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, for Timeslip Tuesday

    The Ninth Day, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman (Ooligan Press, YA, 2015), is one of three linked time travel books, the others being Blue Thread and Seven Stitches.  I liked this one best of the three.

    All three books involve a mysterious woman, Serakh, born thousands of years ago, who can travel through time.  In each book she appears to a young Jewish women of her family, in various eras, to enlist their help traveling back in time to help other young women in need.  In The Ninth Day, the heroine is a girl named Hope who has struggled with a severe stutter all her life.  Only when she sings is her voice clear.  The place is Berkeley, California, the time is the 1960s, just as the Free Speech Movement is gaining ground,....and a few weeks before the book begins, Hope went on an accidental acid trip that left her with a mutilated face and flashbacks.

    And then Serakh appears, and takes Hope on a journey back to 11th century Paris, where another young Jewish woman fears for her baby's life.  Her husband, shattered by the slaughter of the Jewish community of Mainz, and experiencing hallucinations, vowed to sacrifice his first born son to God.  Hope and Serakh have just nine days to persuade him to change his mind....and one tool they might use, if they choose, is LSD.  Despite the horrible consequences of Hope's own experience being unwittingly fed it, it might be a way to change the father's mind and save the baby...an interesting moral issue.

    It's a very magical sort of time travel, with Serakh's gifts something over all difficulties of language, though even Serakh can't smooth over all the cultural tensions that happen when 20th century girls visit the 11th century.  The result is more a glimpse of the past, with a bit of a history lesson, rather than a full immersive experience--it's the particular people who matter, not the experience of time travel itself.

    I think this is the most successfully of Tenzer's books.  Her story telling in all three is excellent, but this book, more than the other two, links the stories of present and past thematically and practically.  Hope's story in the 1960s could still have stood alone just fine, but at least here the time travel added to that story and deepened it rather than being something of a distraction.

    The only thing I actively disliked about the book were the characters of Hope's brother and sister, who were too awful to be believable.  They felt exaggerated for effect rather than just convincingly unpleasant.  On the other hand, Hope's relationship with her dying grandfather is beautifully poignant, and her struggle to overcome the difficulty of her stutter and find her voice (she is lovely singer, and this plays into the plot) was very well done.  As an added bonus, I learned things about the Free Speech movement and 11th century European history,  which I appreciate.

    review copy received from the publisher


    This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from aroudn the blogs (6/4/17)

    Here are the MG sci fi/fantasy posts I found this week; please let me know if I missed yours!

    The Reviews

    Deadly Pink, by Vivian Vande Velde, at The Book Smugglers

    The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    The Eldridge Conspiracy, by Don M. Winn, at This Kid Reviews Books

    A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, at Waking Brain Cells

    The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier, at Fantasy Café

    The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi, at Randomly Reading

    The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, at The Reading Nook Reviews

    Hawking's Hallway, by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman, at Reading for Sanity

    Kid Amazing Vs. The Blob, by Josh Schneider, at BooksForKidsBlog

    The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

    Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, at Leaf's Reviews

    Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Queste, by Angie Sage, at Say What?

    The Shadow Cipher (York, book 1), by Laura Ruby, at Sense and Sensibility and Stories

    The Star Thief, by Lindsay Becker, at Cracking the Cover

    Time Jump Coins, by Susan May Olson, at The Write Stuff

    A Traveller in Time, by Allison Uttley, at Semicolon

    Authors and Interviews

    Stephanie Burgis (The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart) at Word Spelunking and Nerdy Book Club

    a two-fer--Stephanie Burgis and E.D. Baker (The Frog Princess Returns) at The Hiding Spot

    Karuna Riazi (The Gauntlet) at The Book Smugglers

    Laura Ruby (The Shadow Cipher) at Nerdy Book Club--"The Chosen One"--when cancer coincides with your new book's release

    John Claude Bemis (Lord of Monsters) at The Winged Pen

    Other Good Stuff

    "One Day You Wake Up and You Are Grown: Fairyland and the Secrets of Growing Up" an essay about Catherynne Valente's Fairyland books at Tor


    BEA and me

    Headed home from BEA today, with these beautiful books--

    As usual I enjoyed the excitement of it all, but wished I had seen more people I knew.  (Perhaps if I actually used my cell phone as a means of communication this would have happened).  There seemed to be many fewer bloggers this year than in years past, although perhaps I was in the wrong lines....

    but in any event, it was a good time, with great books!


    Cold Summer, by Gwen Cole, for Timeslip Tuesday

    This week's Timeslip Tuesday book is Cold Summer, by Gwen Cole (Sky Pony Press, 2017), a YA with a generous dash of romance made tricky by time travel.  It is now 6:45, and I haven't finished the book, so as time is marching on I'll quickly write about the 150 pages I have read, and then come back after each 50 page chunk to continue onward....

    The first 150 pages did not, I think, need to be 150 pages long.  We have at this point gotten very familiar with the two main characters.  The girl character, Harper, has come to live with her Uncle Jasper in the small rural town she used to visit every summer when she was a young girl; she and her mom are calling it quits in their relationship.  The boy character, Kale, is a permanent resident of said town, except that he travels through time for a few days just about every week.  This stinks for him--his missing days have gotten him kicked out of school and alienated his father, who won't believe  him (though he's told a few other people who do, like Jasper, and since he disappears-poof!- when he time travels, and knows its about to happen, he could have timed it so his father had to see him vanish thus convincing him....).  Time travel stink for Kale more than it usually does because he's currently caught in a loop of having to go fight on the European front of WW II every week, which is horrible for him.  The time travel, though cruel, does at least return him to the past in the clothes he was wearing back then, so at least he doesn't have to worry (after the first time) about fitting in--he just has to kill people and stay alive.

    Kale and Harper were the best of friends when they were young, and now are ready to be more than friends, and Kale has managed to explain to Harper that he time travels.  She would like him to stop, and so would he.  They have just kissed.  There have been lots of pages of minutia as they work up to this point.  I feel I have gotten all the points now, and am ready for some time travel explanation/resolution....


    Now it is 7:04 and I've reached page 202.   Kale and Harper have kissed again, with more conviction, and Harper has held him in the present instead of seeing him slip into the past.  She's also had a realization that he's using the past as an escape from his unhappy present with all the tension between him and his father.  In the past, as he realized in his most recent trip to WW II, he feels needed and has a sense of belonging.   And so he's caught in a feedback loop of metaphorical portent...

    Now to cook supper.

    While I was cooking, Kale finds that his dad has taken up his old bad habit of drinking and gambling. Kale goes to look for him in the bar, finds him, and finds the two toughs to whom his dad owes money.  A fight ensues.  Kale gives the toughs his own beloved car to pay his dad's debt.  His dad has been listening to Kale's brother explaining things, and now believes Kale is a time traveler.  The barrier between them falls.

    Yay! Page 236 brings real scary tension and threat and impetus to what had been pleasant enough but not deeply interesting reading.  Now the time travel thing threatens to be more than just a huge inconvenience for Kale....and suddenly I am reading a real page turner of a book, with lots of keen interest in the emotional states of the characters and how it will all work out...and the scenes back in WW II are incredibly vivid and gripping and all is tense.....(went and turned supper off to let it just sit there and think about life while I finished the book...)

    Because this is a YA romance-type book, it's a pretty safe bet that you all expect Kale to live, and indeed it is a happy, hopeful ending in which the parents and the kids mend bridges and though Kale still time travels from time to time, at least WW II is over.  Though the time travel is never explained.

    So if you like YA romance time travel where family healing is almost as important to the two main characters as their attraction for each other, that allows you plenty of time to watch the characters moving toward each other before it really gets going, give this one a try!  70 really interesting pages at the end, unsubtle but engrossing, 230 that you can skim gently and briskly to get the point of, with a few moments of heartfeltness but mostly not so much.  I liked the parts back in WW II the best.

    Here's the Kirkus review, which more or less agrees with my take on things. 


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

    Here's this year's Memorial Day round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs. Late and somewhat truncated due to internet connectivity frustrations...let me know if I missed your post, and I'll try to add it later!

    The Reviews

    27 Magic Words, by Sharelle Byars Moranville, at Pages Unbound Reviews

    Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For, by Sara Pascoe, at Imaginary Reads

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at Puss Reboots

    The Door in the Alley (The Explorers book 1), by Adrienne Kress, at The Write Path

    Dragon’s Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at Confessions of a Serial Reader

    The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp, by Richard Peck, at Charlotte's Library

    Journey Across the Hidden Islands, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Semicolon

    The Last Panther, by Todd Mitchell, at Log Cabin Library

    The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel, by Susan Hill Long. at Jessica Snell's blog

    Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Physick, by Angie Sage, at Say What?

    Rise of the Isle of the Lost, by Melissa de la Cruz, at Always in the Middle

    The Sign of the Cat, by Lynne Jonell, at Redeemed Reader

    Space Runners: The Moon Platoon, by Jeramy Kratz, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Wizard's Holiday, by Diane Duane, at Fantasy Faction

    Authors and Interviews

    Laurel Snyder (Orphan Island) at The Hiding Spot and Nerdy Book Club

    Other Good Stuff

    A Most Magical Girl, by Karen Foxlee, has won this year's Readings Children's Book Prize

    At The Book Smugglers, a MG conversation with Stephanie Burgis, Sheela Chari, Uma Krishnaswami and Mark Siegel

    A plug for the Moomin books by me at the B. and N. Kids Blog

    And more personally, my 16 year old son  has been migrated his blog, A Goblin Reviews Graphic Novels, to blogger--


    The Wish List: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever!

    If you are looking for a sparkly magic story for a seven or eight year old who wants a bit of magical fluff, The Wish List: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! by Sarah Aronson (Scholastic, May 30 2017)is a good one.  Though there's magical sparkles a plenty, there's enough heart to it by the end of the book that it leaves a nice warm glow.

    Isabelle is a fairy-godmother-in-training, but she's by no means the best student in her class. In fact, she's pretty much the worst....she's the only one who hasn't done the assigned reading of all the rules and regulations and instructions, and though she's enthusiastic about the whole thing (almost obnoxiously so) it's touch and go if she'll be assigned to a practice princess or not.

    When she does get her assignment, she's disappointed and taken aback--her princess is an ordinary girl, who doesn't even seem to have made a wish yet!  But as Isabelle spends time with Nora, she comes to appreciate her, and when she realizes that Nora's wish is to have a friend, Isabelle thinks the job's a good as done.  When she tells Nora her wish has been granted, though, Nora is understandably put out that friendship with her has been a job for Isabelle.  Isabelle is perceptive enough to realize this, though, and manages to make everything work in the end in fine fairy godmother style. 

    Except that she hasn't read the rule book yet....opening the door to a sequel in which sparkle magic pose problems for both girls!

    At first I was very dismissive of Isabelle, who seemed tremendously shallow, but her friendship with Nora deepens her, and I felt bad about judging her for not doing the reading when it was revealed that she needed glasses (then I felt mad at the adults who hadn't realized this before!).  I ended up enjoying the book much more than I thought I was going to, and I'm sure the target audience--the elementary school girl who enjoys a bit of friendship drama along with a nice dose of magic--will enjoy it even more!

    disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


    The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp, by Richard Peck, for Timeslip Tuesday

    I did not know, until The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp, by Richard Peck (1983), surfaced in a box of library booksale donations last week, that Richard Peck was a writer of time-travel books.  I also did not know that this was the third in a series until today....but it stood on its own just fine, and was enjoyable enough that I shall add the other three books to my reading list.  (The cover image shown here is that on the copy I found, and goes to show that the early eighties were a strange, unkind era as far as appealing book covers go).

    Blossom is a not an ordinary 1914 girl from a small town in middle America. Her mother is an eccentric physic with a quick temper, no money, and no husband around, and Blossom shares all those characteristics.  Since she's only 14 and has just started high school, the last is only to be expected.  High school and Blossom don't mix real well; there's a mean snooty group of girls who try to make life hard for her, and so she has no friends until she meets a girl even more raggedly dressed who has spent her time at high school in a bathroom stall where it is safer and more peaceful. 

    The story really gets going when the freshman class decides to host a haunted house, using an actual abandoned spooky farmhouse.  Blossom is coerced into being the fortuneteller.  When exploring the house in advance, she opens a door....and travels to the 1980s.  And interesting visit with a lonely boy ensues, and Blossom is much interested and occasionally disturbed and confused, but the plot of the story is not advanced at all by this interlude, which is without any real tension (though it is of nostalgic interest to those of us who were young in the 1980s, which of course wouldn't  have added value for readers when it was first published....)  When Blossom gets back to her own time, things get much more amusing as she does her psychic act for all its worth.

    So the time travel is kind of pointless, except to show that Blossom really truly isn't ordinary.  But the book as a whole is fun, and Blossom is a diverting heroine who is a force of nature to be reckoned with (at times too much so for my taste).  Reading reviews on Goodreads, this seems to be the least popular of the four books about her, so I shall give the others a try in due course.


    This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (5/21/17)

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

    The Reviews

    Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book, by Jennifer Donnelly, at Geek Girl Project

    The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker, by Matilda Woods, at Minerva Reads

    Brightwood, by Tania Unsworth  at Geo Librarian

    Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, at The Children's War

    The Crystal Ribbon, by Celeste Lim, at Pages Unbound Reviews

    The Door in the Alley (Exploreres, book 1), by Adrienne Kress, at The Book Wars

    The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at the B. and N. Kids Blog

    A Dragon's Guide to Making Perfect Wishes, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Charlotte's Library

    Dream Magic, by Joshua Kahn, at Charlotte's Library

    Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

    Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton, at Hope is the Word

    The Journey to Dragon Island, by Claire Fayers, at the B. and N. Kids Blog

    The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, at Leaf's  Reviews

    The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine, at Pages Unbound Reviews

    Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Maria's Melange and The Book Monsters (giveaways)

    The Poet's Dog, by Patricia MacLachlan, at Cover2Cover

    Searching for Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Say What?

    The Shadow Cipher (York book 1), by Laura Ruby, at The Book Smugglers

    Simon Thorn and the Wolf;s Den, by Aimee Carter, at Say What?

    Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier, at Say What?

    Ms. Yingling Reads has two superheros--Bug Girl, by Benjamin Harper, Sarah Hines-Stephens, Sarah, and Anoosha Syed, and How to be a Supervillain, by Michael Fry, along with some superhero company for them

    Two very cool Star Wars books at Boys Rule, Boys Read

    Authors and Interviews

    Stephanie Burgis (The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart), at Just another teen reading books

    Susan Maupin Schmid (Ghost of a Chance) at Just another teen reading books

    Anna Staniszewski  (Once Upon a Cruise) shares five funny mg books at Just anther teen reading books

    Adrienne Kress (The Exploreres: the Door in the Alley) at Project Mayhem and Middle Grade Mafioso

    Other Good Stuff

    The Dark Crystal is coming to Netflix as a new series. More at Once Upon a Blog

    Because it is pleasant to look at other people's bookshelves--some pictures of book storage in tiny houses (but gee they don't actually have many books....)


    Dream Magic, by Joshua Kahn

    Dream Magic, by Joshua Kahn (Disney-Hyperion, middle grade, April, 2017), continues the story begun by Shadow Magic (last year's winner for the Cybils  middle grade speculative fiction category, and a very good read indeed).  13-year old Lily, aka Lilith Shadow, Queen of Gehenna, faces a whole slew of challenges as she works toward the stability of her kingdom, and her own mastery of the magical powers of necromancy that are her birthright.  These are both formidable challenges--her people are being attacked by trolls, and foreign powers are threatening her, and she has no army to speak off, and magic is forbidden to females.  Thorn, now a squire, is willing to do what he can to help, but the problems are huge. 

    And they get worse when Lily is attacked in her own castle by a sinister sorcerer known as the Dreamweaver, who has raised a plague of magical spiders who are ensnaring the people of Gehenna in a net of dreams.  Lily must enter the Dream world, and face her own dreams come true, and face as well the truth behind the Dreamweaver and the tragic history that has pushed him into evil.

    So there are lots of difficult, unhappy, and tense moments; in fact, that's pretty much the story in a nutshell.  And so it wasn't to my personal taste, because I am too empathetic for my own good and don't like to be unhappy and tense on behalf of the characters for large numbers of pages.  And though it was interesting to see Lily's magic progressing, and she's a strong character with an interesting path toward consolidating her power in a world where the deck's stacked against her, I'd have liked more of Thorn....(again, perhaps, a personal preference for nature rooted magic over zombies, though the zombies here are quality zombies, with more character than most...)

    I'm still happy to recommend the series to fantasy readers who want "real" fantasy, by which I mean fantasy set 100% in a fantasy world where the cultures and histories and backstories of place are integral to the particular adventures of hand.  There aren't so many of these in middle grade fantasy today*, and this is a good one.  Give these to young D. and D. players (who are more common than you might think!). 

    *having made this statement, I feel obliged to check to see if it's true.  I found that I've read seven books/series that are fantasy not at all linked to our real world, out of about the c. 40 middle grade speculative fiction books/series I've read so far this year.  So pretty true, based on an admittedly limited sample (and skewed by a few weeks where I read mostly dystopian middle grade).  I think I'll return to this topic a the end of the year, because "what makes a fantasy world middle grade readers will love" is rather an interesting topic....Joshua Kahn's world building is exellent--though the action takes place in a smallish physical location, there's a sense of a big world out there with lots of history and lots more interesting magic to explore.


    A Dragon's Guide to Making Perfect Wishes, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, for Timeslip Tuesday

    Such a pleasure (for those of us who are fond of time travel) to read book three of a series one enjoyed, and to find that not only is it a good continuation of characters you've grown fond of but it is a time travel book as well!  Such is the case with A Dragon's Guide to Making Perfect Wishes, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder (Crown Books for Young Readers, middle grade, March 2017), the third book about an ancient dragon and the girl who is her "pet" (the first being A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans). 

    Miss Drake, the dragon, has perhaps grown a little lax with her pet human, Winnie, but it's a laxness born of fondness and indulgence.  Miss Drake has known and loved several generations of Winnie's family, and when an invitation arrives to a time travel excursion back to the San Francisco World's Fair of 1915, which Miss Drake visited with Winnie's great-grandfather, Caleb, the dragon decides to take Winnie to meet her ancestor.  The time-traveling expedition has its own particular purpose--the magical group of travelers hope to solve the mystery of the theft of the legendary jewel know as the Heart of Kubera.  It is no ordinary jewel, as Winnie is about to find out...

    The time-travel excursion serves introduce the jewel and its magic, and to simply offer enjoyable time with Miss Drake and Winnie as they explore the Fair.  A highlight is their chance meeting with Laura Ingalls Wilder, who was really there*....And this is very pleasant, peaceful time-travel tourism.  But there are more plot-ish elements going on at the same time.  The Jewel is more than it appears to be (it comes with a wish-granting mongoose component),and there's a villain who wants the jewel and will stop at nothing to get it. The expedition fails to revel the  mystery of the theft, and the theft in turn adds a complication to the time travel, in a nicely time-tangled turn of events. 

    When Winnie ends up in possession of the jewel herself back in the present day, she has to learn pretty quickly how to make wishes that won't make things worse...which is hard to do when she has to make a wish that will save Miss Drake and herself from the clutches of the villain.

    A new character, a boy named Rowan with a mysterious identity of his own, is introduced, but mostly this is Winnie and Miss Drake's story.  And if  you having a difficult sort of week, and just want a magical story about two very different people, dragon and girl, who are very, very, fond of each other, this will be a pleasantly diverting comfort!

    *Joanne Ryder edited West From Home, so if anyone has the right to introduce Laura into a time travel book set at this particular World's Fair it is her!


    This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5142017)

    Welcome to this week's round-up!  A cold and wet Mother's Day here in Rhode Island, and after I press publish I will go light a fire in the wood stove, which means moving all the tbr books I placed neatly on top of the stove thinking foolishly that it was now warm...

    In any event, please let me know if I missed your post!

    The Reviews

    Andy Smithson: Battle for the Land's Soul, by L.R.W. Lee, at Log Cabin Library and This Kid Reviews Books

    Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale, at Leaf's Reviews

    The Door in the Alley (The Explorers book 1), by Adrienne Kress, at Always in the Middle and Geo Librarian

    The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Sharon the Librarian and Random Musings of a Bibliophile

    A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, at alibrarymama

    The Girl with the Ghost Machine, by Lauren DeStefano, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

    Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field, at For Those About to Mock

    The Initiation (Lock and Key, 1) by Ridley Pearson, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

    The Kings of Clonmel, by John Flanagan, at Leaf's Reviews

    Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson, at Semicolon

    Masterminds, by Gordon Korman, at Tales From the Raven

    Mold and the Poison Plot, by Lorraine Gregory, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

    The Shadow Cipher (York book 1), by Laura Ruby at The New York Times, The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia, and Me On Books

    The Silver Gate, by Kristin Bailey at Semicolon

    A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at the Shannon Messenger Fan Club

    Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

    Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Hamster Princess in Giant Trouble and The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

    Authors and Interviews

    Michel Merschel (Revenge of the Star Survivors) at Nerdy Book Club

    L.R.W. Lee (Andy Smithson series) at Log Cabin Library

    Hilary Wagner (Nightshade City) at Project Mayhem

    Authors talk about the blurred line between MG and YA at From the Mixed Up Files

    Other Good Stuff

    Congratulations to the two MG books in the YA category of Locus Award Finalists--The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Evil Wizard Smallbone!


    Black Dog Short Stories 1 and 2, by Rachel Neumeier

    I am not a werewolf, qua werewolf fan, nor I am drawn to short stories (they are so often short).   But I was not surprised by how much I enjoyed the anthology of Black Dog Stories 1 and 2 (published in 2016, combining two previously published anthologies).  I am a huge fan of Rachel Neumeier, and these particular short stories are all set in the same world, with characters I already know from reading the Black Dog series, and the Black Dogs are not werewolves in any typical sense of the term (though they are shapeshifters....).

    Here's what you get in these stories--a chance to spend time with the folks you've already met in the novels, seeing bits of their backstories, seeing them struggle with the pull of Black Dog demonic forces within them, seeing them do ordinary things like Christmas shopping that turn dangerous.  Each story adds to the world and its people, and because there's no overarching Plot of Danger, each story is a chance to really get to know the people involved.  And Rachel Neumeier does people very well. 

    Even though many of the central characters are Black Dogs, with a sort of ravening madness that lurks beneath the control they must constantly maintain, they are decent people, people one is glad to see moving toward more positive outcomes both personally and in terms of staying alive.   That, coupled with lots of additional bits of world building, including an elaboration of the Christian elements (saints who intervened to tilt the balance away from demons), Black Dog genetics, the effects Black Dogs have in different societies, and a new sort of magical enemy, made me read just about straight through. 

    If you've never tried Rachel Neumeier's books, but you like werewolves, start with Black Dog (my review) knowing that you'll have lots of great reading ahead of you!  If you've never tried her books, but like the books I like, start with Mountain of Kept Memory or House of Shadows

    disclaimer:  copy happily received from the author


    The books my son (now 14) got for his birthday

    Throughout the years I've been blogging, I've been keeping a record of the books my kids have gotten for their birthdays.   This weekend my little one turned 14, and here's what he's got.  I myself like to see what books other people get, and I think it's an interesting illustration of why picking "books for an x-year-old kid" is so futile an endeavor unless you really know the kid. 

    CatStronauts: Mission Moon, and Race to Mars, by Drew Brockington.   (these are graphic novels that are cute as all get out.  I gave him a Catstronauts teeshirt a few years ago, and he wore it to pieces.  These just came out, but I have known for months that he would be getting them).

    Books he asked for:

    Will Save the Galaxy for Food, by Yahtzee Croshaw (a novel by a you-tuber he likes who's other books he's enjoyed)

    Books he mentioned wanting in passing:

    The Manual of Aeronautics: An Illustrated Guide to the Leviathan Series, by Scott Westerfeld

    The Northern Crusades, by Eric Christiansen (he wants to learn more about these, and very annoyingly I got rid of my own book about the Northern Crusades five or so years ago, which just goes to show that you should never get rid of any books ever.  On the other hand, my book was probably out of date, and of course one should never offer inferior history to one's children.....Quite possible I will end up reading it and then telling him about it; my oral version will probably be more interesting. But in large part I bought it for him as a conscious act to show respect for his intellectual curiosity and capability).

    Special bonus and thanks to Clarion books (thanks!), Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford (yay!).  He wants to wait till Christmastime so I can read it out loud to him and his brother like I did for Greenglass House. Which would indeed be sweet seasonal warmth.  But I will read it to myself long before then....

    This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (5/7/17)

    Welcome to this week's round-up; as always, let me know if I missed your post!

    The Reviews

    Cavern of Secrets (Wing and Claw book 2), by Linda Sue Park, at Say What?

    Defender of the Realm, by Mark Huckery and Nick Ostler, at Say What?

    Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull, at The Write Path and Reading Violet

    The Fallen Star (Nocturnals book 3) by Tracey Hecht, at Mom Read It and Always in the Middle

    Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

    The Girl of Ink and Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, at Fantasy Literature

    Gnome-a-geddon, by K.A. Holt, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, at Log Cabin Library

    Moondial, by Helen Cresswell, at Charlotte's Library

    Path of Beasts, by Lian Tanner, at Say What?

    The Shadow Cipher (York book 1), by Laura Ruby, at Next Best Book, Charlotte's Library (with giveaways)

    Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom, by Joan Hulub and Suzanne Williams, at Jean Little Library

    Authors and Interviews

    Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe (The Supernormal Sleuthing Service) at Whatever

    Tracey Hecht (The Nocturnal) at Middle Grade Ninja

    Other Good Stuff

    When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane has won the 2016  Aurealis Award for best children's fiction

    "The Lessons for All Writers Woven into Charlotte's Web" at Kill Zone

    I have a post at B. and N. Kids Blog on recent middle grade books adults will love, with several sci fi/fantasy books

    This is a delight--Earthsea sketches from Charles Vess (illustrator of the one volume Earthsea book coming next year), in conversation with Ursula Le Guin, at Book View Cafe


    York: the Shadow Cipher (book 1), by Laura Ruby

    Laura Ruby (of Bone Gap fame) has a new middle grade book--York: The Shadow Cipher (book1) coming from Walden Pond Press on May 16, and it is a very good book indeed, perfect for those who like to read about smart kids following cryptic clues, and perfect for kids fascinated by mechanical marvels and alternate/steampunkish versions of reality!

    Tess and Theo Bidermann live in a Morningstar apartment building, one of several designed by the Morningstar twins over a hundred years ago.  The Morningstars weren't just architects; they were also inventors of many strange and wonderful contrivances and contraptions that are still making New York a cleaner, more functional city.  And they were also the masterminds of a mysterious cypher, promising great rewards to whoever solved it.  Which no one has been able to do, although many have tried.

    Now Tess and Theo, joined by Jaime Cruz, another kid in their apartment, have stumbled across a side branch of clues that might actually lead them to the solution of the cipher.  They are determined to crack it, and as soon as possible, because the building that's been their home all their lives has been bought out from under them, and is slated for demolition.  So they set off through a slightly twisted version of the city, scrambling from one clue to the next in hidden tunnels, insane trips on the Underway, and inside their own building.

    It is not a stroll through Central Park looking at flowers.  The dangers get gradually more intense, and although the first step of the Cipher is resolved, at the very, very end there is a ratcheting upward spike in the tension (with connections to the Civil War and abolition) that will leave readers anxious for Book 2!

    It is a very satisfying read, in which the specifics of the cipher hunt are intermingled with everyday life and feelings (and tasty food, always a plus in my mind).  The three kids all have distinct personalities and character arcs, and the Morningstar apartment building becomes so real in the reader's mind as to be a character in its own right.  There is also a most unusual cat, who adds great cat value.  The hunt for clues is also mind candy for those who like to explore the stories of hidden or forgotten figures, since many of these stories are integral parts of the hunt. 

    All this is good, but what I liked best of all are the little touches of whimsy and wonder--at one point the kids hear the story of a zoo giraffe who escaped captivity and threw itself into the river, and they sit, "watching the water together, imagining giraffes loping gracefully beneath the surface, making their way home" (page 246 of the ARC).  Which I think might be the overarching metaphor of the whole book (or perhaps not), but which in any event is an image I love.

    I am happy to offer, on behalf of the publisher, the chance to win a signed copy!  Please leave a comment to be entered the giveaway. (US only, closes May 16)

    Here's a link to the Educator's Guide, which has chapter by chapter questions, prompts for further discussion, and a slew of fun additional activities!

    Here's hte list of blog tour stops:
    May 1
    May 3
    May 4
    May 5
    May 7
    May 8
    May 10
    The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
    May 11
    May 12

    disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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