1/19/21

Nordy Bank, by Sheena Porter, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's timeslip story, Nordy Bank, by Sheena Porter, won the UK's Carnegie Medal in 1964, and a US edition was published a few years afterwards, but it doesn't seem to have become well known and loved.  This is a pity, because it's a haunting book....

It's the story of six kids, boys and girls, ages ranging from 10-15, who plan a camping trip together in the hills of Shropshire.  The hill they choose for their camp is home to Nordy Bank, an Iron Age hill fort.  They aren't a close group of friends; three are siblings, one is their cousin.  Margaret picks shy Bronwen as the friend  she wants to come, and Peter picks Joe, a farmer's son who actually has experience with camping.  

It starts with a lot of bustle getting ready to set off, and getting the camp set up.  But gradually a dreamy strangeness, almost creepiness enters the picture.  Also out in the hills is a lost Alsatian, a police dog who has been retired, still muzzled.  Bronwen's personality begins to change, and she knows things about the fort as if she'd lived there.  And when the dog tries to enter the camp, she, a girl who loves dogs passionately, leads the charge to drive it away as it was a wolf.  And Margaret realizes that Bronwen has slipped in time, or possibly been possessed by the past.  

Bronwen knows, in a somewhat foggy way, that something is happening to her, but we never see much from her own point of view, so it's never entirely clear how much of her has fallen into the past.  It's certainly enough to make her words and actions eerie and disturbing!  Fortunately, this is a temporary thing, and once she's away from the fort again, she becomes her own dog loving self, and is able to help the poor starving Alsatian (the last section of the book goes off in a different direction from camping and time slipping, and becomes police dog rehabilitation focused...which is a bit jarring).

Not surprisingly, given the plot, this is a book that centers on this one particular place and it's history of war after war.  Nordy Bank is real, and though I've been close to it, I've always been driving through Shropshire, and never done any walking there.  I would very much like to visit it!



A bit of the book I particularly liked is that Bronwen brought along Warrior Scarlet, by Rosemary Sutcliff, and reads it to both herself and bits out loud to the others.  It ties beautifully in with both the dog plot and the ancient Britons part!

In any event, although the time travel part isn't quite as crisp as I'd have like, staying in the realm of strange dream seen mainly from the viewpoint of other characters, I can say with conviction that if you like vintage children's books, dogs, and ancient Britain, you may well enjoy this one, at least in mild sort of way..  I did, though I wanted more--more of the camping, more of the relationships between the kids as they got to know each other better, more of the past infringing on the present.  Not more of police dog rehabilitation though; that was covered in plenty of detail....Whoever reviewed it for Kirkus, however, did not like it at all--"A flip, untidy plot, totally unconvincing during its fantasy stage and conducive to in-difference throughout."  The full review is worth a read!


1/18/21

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston

Happy release day eve to Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston (Jan 19, 2020)! It's the start of a middle grade fantasy series that might well become the childhood defining magical reading for current 9 -12 year olds (there's already a movie in development).

When we meet Amari, her scholarship at a snooty private school is about to be taken away, after she snapped when, not for the first time, a classmate was an elitist, racist piece of work. Amari and her mom live in subsidized housing, but Amari knows that doesn't define her. After all, her big brother Quinton was wildly successful in school, and could have gone to an Ivy League college. He didn't though; instead he got a mysterious job and then disappeared without a trace. Amari refuses to believe he won't come home again. And so she's grounded, depressed, and sad about letting her hardworking mother down, and angry about it all.

Then there's a mysterious delivery of a message from Quinton himself, of the best fantasy sort, that sends Amari off to the same "leadership camp" Quinton went to a few years back. And again it is the best fantasy sort of summer camp--a training ground for magical youth, who will as adults be tasked with keeping ordinary humans safe from magical entities, working for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Quinton ended up being one of the most famous agent of them all, and Amari is sure that the Bureau knows a lot more than they are telling her about what happened to him. But in order to stay at the Bureau's school long enough to find the truth, she'll have to prove her magical worth.

Most of the other kids are legacies, raised with privilege by families associated with the Bureau, so Amari's at a disadvantage. And many of the kids are just as nastily elitist as her old antagonists. Fortunately, her room-mate, a technologically brilliant were-dragon girl (nice STEM focused girl rep!), is a lovely and loyal friend, and one of the most golden boys of them all extends his friendship and support.

Amari needs all the support she can get when it turns out that she is one of the rare people born with a forbidden level of magic. She knows she's not a threat, but many in power at the Bureau, and many of the kids, aren't convinced. Especially since there is a real threat, one that is growing dangerously close to toppling the Bureau and destroying the détente between humans and magical beings....And since Quinton's disappearance is linked to this threat, Amari's search for answers puts her very deep in harms way....

There's obviously a familiar pattern here--kid with difficulties in the real world turns out to be magically special, goes to a magic school that is flamboyantly full of wonders, is faced with a series of trials that have to be passed, makes friends and enemies with the other kids and confronts evil in a way that leaves room for more books.   It's a type of story I like, and B. B. Alston does a great job making this version of it entertaining and amusing and fascinating, with lots of the small quirky details. And so just at this level it was a book I enjoyed very much.

Three things make this rise to the top of this particular sub-genre in my mind. The first is that Amari's primary motivation isn't to be best or most heroic (having grown up in the shadow of a brilliant older sibling, she's in the habit of selling herself short). Instead, she is focused on finding her brother, which gives the story a nice touch of emotional weight, while also adding mystery to the mix. 

The second is that the book includes contemporary social issues of racism and discrimination, and how these effect kids.  Not in a preachy way, but as a matter of fact. For instance, Amari is frustrated by how little effort has been made by law enforcement to find Quinton--because he's a young black man who sends home money but has no documented job, the authorities are comfortable assuming the worst about him and writing him off.

But of course, on a happier note, the main thing that sets this apart is black girl magic, plain and simple--a black girl being the best and most magical of them all for the first time (I'm pretty sure it's the first time) in this sort of middle grade fantasy. I can't wait for the next book!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

1/17/21

This week's round-up of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (1/17/21)

Welcome to this week's gathering of mg spec fic postings!  Please let me know if I missed yours. (I added three to my tbr list from this rounding-up, so a win for me, and I really have read Alone soon to see if it is in fact speculative fiction, which I have been counting it as....)

The Reviews

The Accidental Apprentice (Wilderlore, Book 1), by Amanda Foody at Kid Lit Reviews

Alone, by Megan E. Freeman, at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B. B. Alston, at The Quiet Pond, rosegold reportsRead Love, Ms. Yingling Reads, and Always in the Middle

City of the Plague God, by Sarwat Chadda, at Laughing Place, But Why Tho?, and Leah's Books

Delivery to the Lost City, by P.G. Bell, at Book Craic

The Girl Who Lost her Shadow, by Emily Illett, at Charlotte's Library

The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, at Geo Librarian

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Sophie's Corner

The House At The Edge of Magic, by Amy Sparkes, at My Book Corner

The In-Between, by Rebecca Ansari, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Karma Moon, Ghost Hunter, by Melissa Savage, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Leonard (My Life as a Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak, at Rosi Hollinbeck.

Nevertell, by Katharine Orton, at Not Acting My Age

Root Magic, by Eden Royce, at Book Den

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker, at Fantasy Literature

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen, at Redeemed Reader

Unleashed (Jinxed #2) by Amy McCulloch, at Sharon the Librarian

When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

Two at The Book Search--Root Magic, by Eden Royce, and The Retake by Jen Calonita


Authors and Interviews

Megan E. Freeman (Alone) at Geo Librarian and Beagles and Books

Giulietta M Spudich (Clarissa) at A Wonderful World of Words


Other Good Stuff

"Ben Affleck to Direct Keeper of the Lost Cities for Disney" at Tor

Check out the debut mg books of 2021 by The 21ders!

and of course the new Ursula Le Guin stamp!



1/14/21

The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow, by Emily Ilett


I have been trying to write my review of  The Girl Who Lost her Shadow, by Emily Illett (Kelpies, February 2020 in the US), for the past week, and have found it daunting.  It won the Kelpies Prize, Scotland's award for children’s fiction in 2017, and when it was nominated for the Cybils Awards this fall, I read it with great interest.  It is haunting, moving, and complicated, and I'm still not sure how much I personally liked it. 

Three things are taking place.  First and foremost, a girl named Gail watches her shadow leave her, slipping under the kitchen door.  Her father left a while ago, and her big sister Kay, who had been Gail's beloved partner and fellow explorer of their Scottish island, has been leaving too, disappearing into depression. Her shadow is also gone.  Gail feels that if she can find her own shadow, maybe she can find Kay's too, and bring her back from her depression.  So she sets off to do so.

Her quest leads her to a boy struggling with his own sadness. His parents were killed in a storm, and he has become obsessed with trying to find their shadows, to bring them back.  The storms that hit their island are entities in their own right, with the shadows of all those they killed, people and animals, bound to them, and this boy has found a way to take the shadows for himself.  His little sister, Mhirran, is opposed to her brother's plan, and when Gail meets her, Mhirran joins her journey, and tries to help her find her lost shadow.

And another boy is on a quest of his own, trying to trap a group of boys who are bent on growing rich by killing the endangered shellfish of the island for their pearls. Kay was once passionate about marine life, and was supposed to be helping him....

To find her shadow, Gail must find herself, and the strange journey she takes is lyrical and moving.

I found it the sort of book I had to let myself flow along with.  All the disparate stories came together in the end, but I wasn't at all sure what was happening as I read along and it got stranger and stranger.  I would have liked to have been more grounded from the beginning, with a clearer indication that I was, for instance, on a Scottish island, and quite a large one (Gail doesn't know the other kids, which I though was odd, and it was much more forested than my mental image of Scottish islands....).  But my primary reaction was appreciation for the build-up of the fantastic, and the moving and powerful representation of depression and sadness.

Gail realizes that she isn't just trying to save Kay, but is also finding herself.  And she does so by helping and caring about things beyond her own particular life.  Kay's depression is beautifully described, and my heart ached for her, and for Gail, left unable to reach her sister.

It's a book that I wasn't always sure I was enjoying when I was reading it, because of all the strange things that happen, but it's one I'll never forget.  One of the storms, for instance, personified as a boy, and weighed down with the shadows of those he'd killed, will stick in my mind forever. Mhirran, coping with both the lost of her parents and her brother's destructive approach to bringing them back, which has taken him too away from her, is a character I'll always love.  And Gail herself is deeply relatable, as she figures out who she is, both with and without her sister.

If you're looking for a book to offer a sensitive, introspective kid who cares about the environment, who has the imagination required to fall into a story full of fantastical twists, this is a great pick. I am most of these things, though I think not quite enough of the last to have fully appreciated it.  As I have gotten older, I find I have become more pragmatic in what I look for in a story....

postscript--"Lyrical" is an adjective applied to this book by many others, and I'm now wondering just what it means when book reviews use it as shorthand for a particular sort of book, and if I'm just spewing a buzzword or if I actually am using it meaningfully. From dictionary.com-- lyrical means "expressing deep personal emotion or observations," which is fine as far as it goes, which isn't far enough.  It's also a descriptor of a particular prose style, in which events are described with a poetic attention to mood and metaphor and language, as discussed, for instance, in this how-to post about lyrical writing.  "Good at making mind pictures with strong emotions tied to them" (and not much explained in matter of fact, down to earth terms). is, I think, what I mean when I call a story lyrical.....and this is certainly true of The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow!

1/10/21

This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (1/10/21)

Good morning, all.  For your reading pleasure, here's what I found online of interest to us mg sci fi/fantasy fans.  I count it as a good one, because I've added three books to my tbr list! Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Accidental Apprentice, by Amanda Foody, at Bookworm for Kids

Alone, by Megan Freeman, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, at Pages and Plots, The Nerd Manor, Log Cabin Library  and Wandering Wordsmith

Anya and the Dragon, by Sofiya Pasternack, at Charlotte's Library

The Castle Boy, by Catherine Storr, at Charlotte's Library

City of the Plague God, by Sarwat Chadda, at Seven Acre Books

Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts by Dianne K. Salerni, at Geo Librarian

The Gatekeeper of Pericael, by Hayley Reese Chow, at Say What?

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, at Pages Unbound

The House at the Edge of Magic, by Amy Sparkes, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads and My Book Corner

Magic's Most Wanted, by Tyler Whitesides, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Maya and the Rising Dark, by Rena Barron, at Magic in the Middle

Morrigan Crow series review, at Falling Letters

The Last Kids on Earth Survival Guide, by Max Brallier, at Twirling Book Princess

Otto P. Nudd, by Emily Butler, at Always in the Middle

Over the Woodward Wall, by A. Deborah Baker, at Fantasy Literature

Sky Island, by L. Frank Baum, at Puss Reboots

A Tangle of Spells, by Michelle Harrison, at Scope for Imagination

Unleashed (Jinxed #2), by Amy McCulloch , at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Weather Weaver, by Tamsin Mori, at Scope for Imagination

Zero G (The Zero Chronicles, Book 1) by Dan Wells, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook review)


Authors and Interivews

Eden Royce (Root Magic) at Nerdy Book Club and Fuse #8

Tamzin Merchant (The Hat Merchant) at MG Book Village


Other Good Stuff

Portals: entrances to other worlds (1), at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Here's Kirkus' list of best mg fantasy and sci fi

1/9/21

Anya and the Nightingale, by Sofiya Pasternack

In Anya and the Dragon, by Sofiya Pasternack (2019), we were introduced to an alternate medieval Russia where magic is real, and saw young Anya befriend and protect Hakon, the last dragon, from a vicious agent of the Tsar who was determined to kill him.

In her second story, Anya and the Nightingale (November 2020, Versify) Anya, traumatized by the horrific confrontation in her first adventure, is still keeping Hakon a secret from her family and the townsfolk, aided and abetted by her friend Ivan. She has been expecting her father to return from the war in which he was unlawfully conscripted--as a Jew, he should not have been sent to join the army. 

At last she decides she can wait no longer, and so sets off to find him and bring him back. Ivan and Hakon insist on joining her. Fortunately, this somewhat foolish endeavor is given a chance of success when a friendly, magic-using ghost comes to their aid. She transforms Hakon into human form, gives Anya and Ivan each a gift in true fairy-tale style, and magically transports the three of them to the outskirts of Kiev, landing them on a forbidden road.

Anyone who travels that road is attacked by the mysterious Nightingale, whose sonic magic has foiled all attempts of the Tsar's forces to capture him.  And Anya and her friends are powerless against him as well.  They are rescued by the Princess Vasilisa and her cohort, and make a deal with her--if they can capture the Nightingale alive, she will recall Anya's father.  But of course they have no idea how they can do this, and the court of the Tsar is not a safe space, especially for Hakon, awkwardly adjusting to his human form--the Tsar would love to capture the last dragon.  And when Anya is sets out to meet the Nightingale face to face, she learns that though he is strange and magical, he is also a boy named Alfhercht trying to save his brother, imprisoned in the caves below the Tsar's castle, guarded by a tremendously evil and powerful monster.

Anya is faced with a choice--sacrifice the Nightingale to save her father, or help him save his brother. Guided by her father's moral precepts, she chooses the later, and she and her friends plunge into danger.

It takes a while for the story to reach that point of excitement, but the journey is worth it.  Along the way, Hakon struggles with his human shape, and with the loneliness of being the last dragon, living a life of hiding.  Anya meets a Jewish boy in the court of the Tsar, the first Jew outside her family she's ever met, and though the stress of her situation never is forgotten, the chance to visit with his family and experience their richly religious life is a joy and comfort (though somewhat awkward as well, what with the matchmaking pestering of little sisters...).  A sweet bit of lightness comes also from Ivan's romantic heart--he and Alfhercht fall hard in crush with each other. Alfhercht is deaf; this is matter-of-factly portrayed, and no obstacle to young love... 

Russian folklore, Jewish life lived under the shadow of persecution, as it was in history, magical beings, and faithful friends, and a heroine with a strong moral compass make this a lovely book. Though this story reaches a happy ending point, there's the clear possibility of a third adventure, and at this point I look forward to that possibility evenmore than I looked forward to this current book after reading the first!



1/5/21

The Castle Boy, by Catherine Storr, for Timeslip Tuesday

When I was nine or so, living in the Bahamas in the late 1970s, I got to read lots of English children's books which gave me a taste for them that has lasted to this day.  One of these, Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr, remains one of my favorite books (it is one of the most deliciously creepy books I know). Once internet book shopping became a thing, I gradually acquired her other books, and this year for Christmas I was given The Castle Boy (1983, so not even published when we left the Bahamas...). Sadly, Marianne Dreams seems to be Storr's best work, but The Castle Boy is a solid time travel story, even if I didn't fall hard for it.

Robert has an ordinary family (parents and a big sister, Coral) and the ordinary English childhood of a not well off kid in the mid 20th century. His father was a hero in WWII, but never adjusted well to civilian life, and the relationship between him and his family is strained. Then Robert's well-off uncle offers them a 2 week stay in a castle in the north of England. Robert's imagination is set on fire...only to be squashed by the Victorian reality of the "castle" hotel.

But there was once a real castle there, and Robert finds that there are still bits of it here and there. And when he touches these bits, he slips into the past--a place of medieval strangeness where he feel surprisingly at home. But he seems almost invisible to the people there, and, tired of the strain between his parents and his big sister's romantic yearnings, and tired too of the shadow of his epilepsy, and of a life lived with his mother's constant worrying, he longs to somehow belong more fully.

When he realizes that this is impossible, and that because he has epilepsy he is distrusted and avoided by the castle folk, his heart almost breaks. And then real world tragedy strikes, rather conveniently removing the problem of the unsympathetic father from the picture, and the family, sans father, all go home again. Possibly Robert has grown up a bit, but not much.

Robert's desire to belong to a place and a life not his own is not without emotional resonance, and his exploration of the way the time travel work is likewise not without interest, and there's a bit of plot happening in the past that almost makes the castle time come alive to the reader. But there wasn't quite enough of any of these things to make the book sing for me; I felt a bit teased by what I got and wanted more. And I didn't care much for the big sister and her romantic entanglement with one of the hotel staff, and the father's sudden death was a rather drastic way to resolve the family's tensions. 

More troubling was the believable but unfortunate reaction of Robert when he meets someone in the past with a cleft palate--he is horrified and repulsed. When he realizes that medieval attitudes toward disabilities, like his own, dehumanized people, he tries intellectually to see this woman as a person, but doesn't quite succeed. It was odd--like he was given this big character growth opportunity by the author, tying it in to his own realizations that he was being shunned in the past, and wouldn't be able to be a pilot like he wanted to in the present, and then not making much progress growth-wise at all. 

So though I liked many things about the book, it's not one I'd actively recommend to anyone whose not a 20th-century British time-travel for kids completist.




1/4/21

Approaching my 2021 in a calm, reasonable manner.

Here is my main tbr pile:



It is very big. 

But it is not as big as it was last year!  (when it was in a different room.  Now I'm using it to help block drafts from a north facing window--Win!)


I am enjoying reading lots of good books I wanted to read! (and this despite the near constant urge to comfort buy books from March to June, and a lack of my normal enthusiasm for reading from March to December....).  And sometimes I take pleasure from just spending time looking through my hoard, getting pleasure from anticipation.

The calm, reasonable part of the post's title is that I intend to spend less time playing mind numbing computer games (pleasant though it is to have a numbed mind), and more time reading, and I will not buy any books until I absolutely can't stand it anymore....I won't be getting any books as presents until next December, and of course there aren't library booksales, so it shouldn't be too hard (?)

I did just get books for presents for Christmas and my birthday--a mix of fantasy and UK children's books, which will be my first priority, and a very pleasant one at that!





1/3/21

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (1/3/2021)

Happy New Year to all!  So exciting to have just typed 2021 for the first time.

The shortlists for the Cybils Awards were announced yesterday, and us elementary/middle grade speculative fiction readers picked 7 amazing books!  


They are--Mulan: Before the Sword, by Grace Lin, Curse of the Night Witch, by Alex Aster, A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, In the Red, by Christopher Swiedler, Rival Magic, by Deva Fatan, Thirteens, by Kate Alice Marshall, and Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch, by Julie Abe!

The Reviews (nothing for me, though I have a huge backlog of reviews to write, so hopefully this will change)


City of the Plague God, by Sarwat Chadda, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

The Crooked Sixpence (The Uncommoners #1),  by Jennifer Bell, at Say What?

Lost in the Imagination: A journey through nine worlds in nine nights, by Hiawyn Oram, illustrated by David Wyatt, at Jean Little Library

The Nightmare Thief, by Nicole Lesperance, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Princess Who Flew With Dragons (Tales From the Chocolate Heart #3) by Stephanie Burgis, at Say What?

Root Magic, by Eden Royce, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Secret of Birds and Bone, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Two at Falling Letters--The Language of Ghosts, by Heather Fawcett, and The Dragon Egg Princess, by Ellen Oh

Looking Ahead to 2021

What mg fantasy/sci fi books are you most looking forward to in 2021? Not counting any of those reviewed above, I'm most eager for:

Nightingale, by Deva Fagan
Ophie's Ghosts, by Justina Ireland
Trouble in the Stars, by Sarah Prineas
The Raven Heir, by Stephanie Burgis
Ghosts of Weirdwood, by Christian McKay Heidicker

These are all books by authors whose books I've loved; I'm also look forward lots to being  surprised and delighted by all the others that I don't know about yet!  What are yours?

Wishing you all a 2021 full of good health, good friends, and good books!



12/27/20

*(obviously) no middle grade sci fi fantasy round-up this week

I hope that all of you are well and happy, and taking breaks when you need to take breaks from things (as I am doing with the rounding up this week!

It will be back next Sunday, when we will finally be in 2021 (and I will, I hope, be blogging more).

In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of the angel on the top of my tree.

My family tree has always been topped by a vintage and rather lovely Italian angel. My own tree, here in my own home, had no angel. There was a silver spike in the bag of misc. ornaments I got at the junk store, that we put on the top branch, but it wasn't an angel. 

Then two days ago, in the discount nook at the local grocery store, I found an angel that spoke to me. I wouldn't have liked it any other year, but in these dark times it seemed just right. And though it was condemned as "tacky" by sundry family members, I put it on top of the tree.

So from my house to yours, many wishes for love and warmth to all!


12/20/20

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

As ever, I hope you all are well and safe!  I also hope those of you celebrating Christmas have less housekeeping to do in preparation, and therefore more time to read in front of the fire with cookies!  Any day now I'll get there; at least my dumbwaiter is clean, so that's progress.  Let me know if I missed your post.



The Reviews

All the Impossible Things, by Lindsay Lackey, at Of Maria Antonia

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, at dinipandareads

Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi, at Never Not Reading

Bloom, by Kenneth Oppel, at Falling Letters

The Bright and Breaking Sea (Kit Brightling 1),  by Chloe Neill, at Sharon the Librarian

Dragonlight by Donita K. Paul Dragon Keeper's Chronicles 5), at Say What?

Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbit, at Mom Read It

The Eye of Ra, by Ben Gartner, at Charlotte's Library

Fae Child (The Fae Child 1), by Jane-Holly Meisner, at A Dance With Books

Ghost Squad, by Claribel A. Ortega, at Pages Unbound

The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2), by Kallie George, at Lazy Day Literature

Green Ember, by S.D. Smith, at Jenni Enzor

The Language of Ghosts, by Heather Fawcett, at Say What?

The Simple Art of Flying, by Cory Leonardo, at Redeemed Reader

Snow & Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin. at Leaf's Reviews

The Tower of Nero, by Rick Riordan, at Say What?

Unlocked (Keeper of the Lost Cities 8.5)  by Shannon Messenger, at Carstairs Considers 

The Unready Queen (The Oddmire 2), by William Ritter, at Sally's Bookshelf

Wishes and Wellingtons, by Julie Berry, at Redeemed Reader

Witch in Winter, by Kaye Umansky, at Twirling Book Princess

Two at The Book Search--The Ghost in Apartment 2R, by Denis Markell, and The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alkaf

Two at alibrarymama--Thirteens, by Kate Alice Marshall, and The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher

Three at Alexa Loves Books--Prosper Redding (series) by Alexandra Bracken, Cassidy Blake (series), by Victoria Schwab, and The Girl in the Witch's Garden, by Erin Bowman

Authors and Interviews

Sunayna Prasad (A Curse of Mayhem), at Andi's Middle Grade and Chapter Books

Other Good Stuff

The Rise and Fall of the Oxford School of Fantasy Literature, at Aeon

Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge (shortlisted for the Cybils back in 2015, and a lovely book) is going to become a six part series on Netflix!

8 Middle Grade and YA Fantasy Novels by Indian Writers at Book Riot

12/15/20

The Eye of Ra, by Ben Gartner, for Timeslip Tuesday

If you are looking for a book to give a young Egyptologist of 9 or so, who loved the time travel adventures of the Magic Treehouse books last year, but is ready to move, The Eye of Ra  (Crescent Vista Press, February 2020) is a good choice.  

Summer vacation has started, and John and Sarah are happy to say goodbye to 4th and 6th grade, respectively.  But won't be in Colorado to enjoy it; their family is moving to Maryland.  On one last family hike, the kids discover a cave in the woods that turns out to be a portal that takes them back in time to ancient Egypt.

They are lucky that the time travelling magic makes things easy for them, and that the first person they meet is a friendly kid their own age, Zachariah, the son of Imhotep, the architect of the step-pyramid of Djoser.  Zach takes them home with him, and they are fed and sheltered by his family, and go to work helping build the pyramid.  But all is not well- Egypt isn't an entirely safe place, what with cobras, scorpions, and crocodiles, and there's a saboteur at work, vandalizing statues. 

But before the mystery is solved, John and Sarah figure out how to get back to their own time, inadvertently taking Zach and two other Egyptian kids back home with them!  Now instead of seeing ancient Egypt through modern eyes, we see our own world as a strange and foreign place of magic before they return to their own time.

Wrapping the story up, past and present meet one last time at the cave, and the mystery of the vandal is resolved without anyone having to take direct action (which felt a bit anticlimactic).

This is the sort of book I think of as primarily time travel tourism--the journey to another time is straightforward, and difficulties of culture and language are easily dealt with.  The translation magic at work here is particularly effective--the Egyptian boy, Zach, sounds just like an American kid.  "Whatever." Adding to the gloss of American normalness, Sarah and John give nicknames to other Egyptian kids, who become Ella and Rich.  It's almost too easy--yes, Sarah and John are homesick and anxious, but they never have any particularly powerful feelings of dislocation or cross-cultural strangeness.  The Egyptian kids in our time experience much more of this, but since they aren't point of view characters, it's more amusing than emotionally gripping.

So it was slightly disappointing to me personally, but I, of course, am not the target audience.  I can imagine kids enjoying this one lots, and learning details about life in ancient Egypt along the way!

12/13/20

This week's roundup of mg fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (12/13/20)

Here's what I found this week (it was a good one for the first third of the alphabet!).  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, at Book Craic and Ramblingmads

Anya and the Nightingale, by Sofiya Pasternack, at Fantasy Literature

The Beast and the Bethany, by Jack Meggitt-Phillips, at Cover2Cover  and Bibliosanctum

Cleo Porter and the Body Electric, by Jake Burt, at Geo Librarian

The Crowns of Croswald (The Crowns of Croswald #1), by D.E. Night, at Looking Glass Reads

Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbitt, at Cover2Cover

Fae Child, by Jane Holly Meissner, at Rajiv's Reviews

Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Silver Button Books

Ghosts Never Die (Haunted #2), by Joel Sutherland, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alka, at Puss Reboots

Hide and Seeker, by Daka Hermon, at Charlotte's Library

Midsummer’s Mayhem, by Rajani LaRocca, at  House Full of Bookworms

The Miracle on Ebenezer Street, by Catherine Doyle, at  Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy, by Melissa de la Cruz, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Always in the Middle

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, by Tehlor Kay Mejia, at Santana Reads 

The Sisters of Straygarden Place by Hayley Chewins, at Rosi Hollinbeck 

A Wolf For a Spell, by Karah Sutton, at The Wandering Wordsmith

Five at Feed Your Fiction Addiction--The Sisters of Straygarden Place, Rival Magic, Quintessence, Horace Fox in the City, and The Clockwork Crow

Other Good Stuff

8 wintery middle grade fantasy books at alibrarymama

"Fantastic Reality in The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones" at Tor

Here's the shortlist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature (books published during 2018 or 2019 that exemplify the spirit of the Inklings) 

12/11/20

Hide and Seeker, by Daka Hermon

If you are on the look out for middle grade (9-12 year olds) horror, do not miss Hide and Seeker, by Daka Hermon (Scholastic, September 2020)!  It's a page-turner full of scary.

Justin's best friend, Zee, disappeared just a week after Justin's very much loved mom died. Now a year later, Zee is back...but is not himself.  Something horrible happened to him, and he can't slot nicely back into Justin's circle of best friends (he can't even talk coherently, and his mother locks him in his room when she must leave him so he doesn't go on destructive rampages).  But regardless, his mother is throwing him a welcome back party.

As well as Justin and the two other members of the former foursome, Nia and Lyric, a couple of other neighborhood kids show up.  Zee's unable to hang out like he used to, so it's pretty depressing.  Lacking anything better to do, the kids start a game of hide and seek, but quit before it's finished.  And this seemingly harmless choice dooms them.

Because the Seeker comes for any kid who breaks the rules of the game....just like he came for Zee last year.

One by one, the kids are sucked into an evil other world, Nowhere.  Justin is the last to go, and therefore the most prepared.  He's determined to save his friends, and they have more information about the Seeker (from both Zee's incoherent snatches of rhyme and from another former victim who made it out) than most kids who are taken.  But will the camping supplies he's packed actually help against a being who makes your worst fears come true, feeding off your fear to become ever stronger?*

Nowhere is home to several hundred kids, some captured almost a century ago.  They live in constant fear, hiding from the Seeker, because at any moment whatever they are most afraid of can become real.  One girl, Mary, for instance, is constantly made to relive the horror and physical pain of being trapped in an old well with hungry rats--she is hunted by rat-snake hybrids.  Other kids are burned, stung by swarms of insects, and struck by lightning.  Some have internal fears that come true, over and over; Justin is plagued by his dead mother, a ghastly facsimile who torments him, Lyric becomes unable to find his friends, and is invisible to them, and Nia, who delights in her encyclopedic knowledge, starts to forget everything, like her grandmother has. 

Justin finds his friends, and they resolve to somehow escape the Seeker's horrible game.   Since this is a kid's book, of course they do, by being smart and working together.

After just a few chapters, it was unputdownable, and I can see this delighting its target audience lots and lots!   I myself prefer more creeping psychological horror to in your face worst fears come true, and I would have appreciated more depth to the Seeker's story, but still I was totally gripped.   I appreciated that the kids aren't little privileged white saviors--all but one of the four main kids is black, and there's a touch of racial profiling by the police, Lyric (the one white kid) has a father in jail, and Justin and his big sister are in pretty desperate financial straights.  I also appreciated what a good kid Justin is; he's being going through a horrible time even before the nightmare begins, but he's still able to look after others. 

In short, definitely offer this one to a kid who wants a terrifying trip to a hellscape of nightmares!  And when they've finished it, and are maybe ready to move past middle grade books, offer them The Call, by  P
  


12/6/20

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (12/6/20)

Welcome to the last first round up of the month of 2020!  Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Anya and the Dragon, by Sofiya Pasternack, at Fantasy Literature

Artemis Fowl (Book 1), by Eoin Colfer, at S.W. Lothian

The Battle of the Bodkins (Max and the Midknights #2), by Lincoln Peirce, at Ms. Yingling Reads 
Bloom by Kenneth Oppel, at Puss Reboots

Dragon Ops, by Mari Mancusi, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Dreidel in Time: A new Spin on an Old Tale, by Marcia Berneger, illustrated by Beatriz Castro, at Randomly Reading

Frank Penny and the Last Black Stag, by Jeremy Elson, at Rajiv's Reviews and Jazzy Book Reviews

Gartgantis, by Thomas Taylor, at dinipandareads

Ghost Squad, by Claribel A. Ortega, at Say What?

The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alkaf, at Charlotte's Library

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Completely Full Bookshelf 

Island in the Stars (The Problim Children #3)  by Natalie Lloyd, at Children's Books Heal

Jungledrop, by Abi Elphinstone, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Lost Child’s Quest, by James Haddell, at Book Craic and Library Girl and Book Boy

The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo, at Say What?

The Monster Who Wasn't by T.C. Shelley, at Geo Librarian 

The Narroway Trilogy, by Otillie Colter (Series Review) at A Dance With Books

Parsifal Rides the Time Wave, by Nell Chenault, at Semicolon

The Purple Bird, by Dylan Roche, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

The Retake, by Jen Calonita, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Tale of Magic, by Chris Colfer, at divabooknerd

Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

Unlocked (Keeper of the Lost Cities 8.5) by Shannon Messenger, at Pages Unbound

Untwisted (Twinchantment #2), by Elise Allen, at Goodreads with Rona

Four at Feed Your Fiction Addiction--The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel by Sheela Chari, The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay, When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller, and The Lost Wonderland Diaries by J. Scott Savage

Authors and  Interviews

Dianne Salerni (Eleanor, Alice & the Roosevelt Ghosts) at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

Here's the Costa Book Awards childrens book shortlist:
  • Wranglestone by Darren Charlton (Little Tiger)
  • Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant (Faber & Faber)
  • The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson (Usborne)
  • The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury Publishing)

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