9/15/19

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (9/15/19)

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

The Reviews

The Age of Akra, by Vacen Taylor, at Jazzy Book Reviews

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook review)

Anya and the Dragon, by Sofiya Pasternack, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows, by Ryan Calejo, at Nerdophiles and Nicole's Novel Reads

The Fire Keeper, by J. C. Cervantes, at B. and N. Kids Blog

The Frozen Sea, by Piers Torday, at Book Craic

The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, at Book Craic

The Green Children of Woolpit, by J. Anderson Coats, at Hidden in Pages

Guest: A Changling Tale, by Mary Downing Hahn, at BooksForKidsBlog

The Jumbie God's Revenge, by Tracey Baptiste, at Kid Lit Reviews

Lalani of the Distant Sea, by Erin Entrada Kelly, at Some the Wiser

The Little Grey Girl, by Celine Kiernan, at Cover2Cover Blog

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor, at Always in the Middle, BooksYALove, Twirling Book Princess, and Charlotte's Library

The Moon Over Crete, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan, at Charlotte's Library

Over the Moon, by Natalie Lloyd, at Pages Unbound

Polly and Buster: the Wayward Witch & the Feelings Monster, by Sally Rippin, at Log Cabin Library

A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying, by Kelley Armstrong, at Puss Reboots

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez, at Locus (audiobook review)

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker, at Charlotte's Library

Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin, at Fantasy Literature

The Star Shepherd, by Dan Haring and Marcykate Connolly, at Pop Goes the Reader

The Three Hares: the Jade Dragonball, by Scott Lauder and David Ross, at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

The Time Travelers (Gideon #1), by Linda Buckley-Archer, at Say What?

Tunnel of Bones, by Victoria Schwab, at Rajiv's Reviews

Lots of new fantasy in this B and N Kids Blog post and this post at Imagination Soup


Authors and Interviews

John Claude Bemis (The Wooden Prince, etc.) at Middle Grade Ninja

Thomas Taylor (Malamander) at Middle Grade Book Village, and he also has recommendations of books on, under, or by the sea at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Trenton Lee Stewart (The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of the Ages) at B. and N. Kids Blog



9/14/19

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker

When my children were young, we would sometimes make a den of the bed, and they would be young foxes.  They wanted me to be the mother fox (which of course makes sense), but I very much wanted to be a baby fox too, because the dramatic tension and heart-wrenching anxiety of the baby foxes waiting for their mama to come back to them is so much more interesting than the "mother fox keeps her babies safe and nothing can hurt them" story.  Especially when you are stuck being the mother fox.

So the point of that little anecdote is that I was utterly primed to read Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker (Henry Holt, July 2019), in which mama foxes fail to protect their babies and no den is safe and warm.  It's a series of terrifying episodes in the lives of two young foxes, framed as stories being told to a litter of young fox kids who came to the storytellers cave looking for thrills...and found them!

Mia was a happy little fox kit with a mother fox who loved her and a wise vixen who was teaching her and her litter mates how to Fox.  But when Miss Vix and the other kits become infected with a terrifying sickness. Mia's mom whisks her far away from her home and her siblings, much to her confusion and dismay.

Uly, the second young fox, also had a mother who loved him, but his wasn't a happy childhood.  He has only three good legs, and his sisters bully him, and his father wants him dead.

Uly and Mia both find themselves alone, with no mothers to look after them, and lots of horrifying experiences in front of them.  There are dangers, both the quotidian dangers of life in the wild, and the particular dangers posed by adversaries.  Never, for instance, has Beatrix Potter seemed so utterly monstrous, and Uly's father is utterly terrifing, sort of a cross between the father in The Shinning and the worst abusive father/husband/cult leader you can imagine.

The descriptions, both of the horrible things and the natural world, are incredibly vivid, and beautifully fox-point-of-view.   Seeing Mia and Uly forging a relationship of mutual trust and respect is lovely too.  Uly has been bullied by his sisters all his life, and his mother was somewhat overprotective, and I liked seeing Mia just  matter-of-factly expecting him to do things, like swim and hunt, that he had no idea he was capable of, and him gradually developing more confidence.  I was a little fussed by a book having Beatrix Potter, badgers, alligators, and what seemed to be rabies all in the same place, but I got over it.

The book is comprised of episodes in the horrible adventures of Mia and Uly, separated by the framing device of quick peeks at the young kits listening to the stories, but they flow smoothly from one to the next, so the ultimate effect is of  a single story (with a mercifully happy ending).  And though the things that happen to the young foxes are very scary indeed, they keep surviving them, building up confidence on the reader's part that they will make it through. And so once you make it to then end, there's no feeling of terror anymore, just some residual sadness, and a sense of resliance and life going on (as is found in many nature documentaries...).

So though it's scary, it's middle grade scary, an especially good read for kids in safe dens of their own.

9/11/19

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor



Malamander, by Thomas Taylor (Walker Books/Candlewick), just came ashore Tuesday in the US, after winning many fans on the other side of the pond in the UK.

Herbie Lemon, is, to the best of his knowledge, an orphan, taken in by Mrs, Kraken, the proprietor of the Grand Nautilus hotel in the town of Eerie-on-Sea, and installed as the keeper of its Lost and Found office.  In summer, the town is Cheerie-on-Sea, full of happy seaside visitors, but in winter the visitors leave, and the c and h loose their luster as the snow falls...and the residents murmur of the Malamander, the legendary monster who haunts the cold grey ocean...

It's one such winter when a girl named Violet shows up lost at the hotel, and Herbie takes her in.  Violet too is an orphan (also to the best of her belief); her parents vanished on the town's beach long ago and were never seen again.  She's come back to Eerie-on-Sea to try to solve this mystery, and finds her parents story is entangled with the legends of the Malamander.

And before Herbie is really sure what's happening, he and Violet are caught up in a struggle to find and claim the Malamender's (possibly) magical egg, before the Malamender is hunted down and its egg captured by a sinister enemy.

If you enjoy middle-grade seaside gothic, with a town that's slightly askew and a whole bunch of eccentric inhabitants, orphan children being plucky and loyal comrades, following clues, and facing down sinister adults, and sea monster stories, you'll love this one!  If you enjoy cheering for hunted monsters, you'll love it even more!  It's fast paced and fun, a little silly at times, more than a little scary and suspenseful at others, and would almost certainly make an excellent read-aloud!

(personal note--for the past several weeks, my brain, delighted to have discovered that "malamander" and "salamander" rhyme, has been repeating ad nauseum a little Malamander song it came up with and I hope that now I've written this I can find peace again....my family hopes so too.)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

NB:  Malamander is one of many fine books that will be eligible for the Cybils Awards in the Elementary/Middle Grade category!  If you think that spending lots of time reading and discussing such books with really smart, nice people sounds fun, apply to be a Cybils panelist; the deadline is this Friday, the 13th....I'd love to welcome more new folks to the EMG SF fun, so please don't be shy!



9/10/19

The Moon Over Crete, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Moon Over Crete, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan (1996, Smooth Stone Press), is a slightly older children's time travel story, interesting for several reasons.

It's the story of a modern girl, 11-year-old Lily, whose mom is Indian American, and whose dad is European American.  Lily is finding it difficult being a girl--her best friend is interested in dressing to impress boys, a boy in her class is sexually harassing her and no one is doing anything about it, her mother isn't letting her do things (like go exploring off in the woods) that she'd be allowed to do if she were a boy.  Lily's flute teacher, Mrs. Zinn, is the only one who seems to understand Lily's growing resentment.

And happily for Lily, Mrs. Zinn is a time-traveler, fond of visiting ancient Crete, where (in this fictional world) there is almost utopian gender equality.  Mrs. Zinn offers Lily the chance to go to ancient Crete with her for a few weeks,  and Lily accepts.  Having an experienced adult guide on hand, who has a host family ready and willing, who speaks the language, and who can reliably get you home again, is really unusual in middle grade time traveling, and it sure does make Lily's trip to the past a lot easier than most!

Lily, who is introduced as Lebanese to explain her dark hair and complexation (which I found a bit odd, because the Creteans weren't exactly blond and blue eyed themselves)  finds herself quite taken with ancient Crete.  She notes that even women who are unattractive to her modern eyes have men who find them desirable.  It's hard to tell the prepubescent boys from the girls, as clothing and hairstyles aren't particularly gendered.  Women and men do the same work.  The community shares resources equitably.  Women have power, both in the mundane and in the religious sphere. Basically, it's utopian as all get out.

She can't help but be bothered, though, by her knowledge that ancient Crete is about to fall victim to both a devastating earthquake and to an invasion and hostile takeover by a society that isn't as enlightened.  Can she tell the Queen what's going to happen, and save this society that values women and men equally?

No she can't; they already know through prophetic dreams what's going to happen.  The best Lily can do is take back to her own time the knowledge that it doesn't have to be the case that men call all the  shots.  And the point of the book is to teach this to the reader.

It's not subtle.  And though of course it's not a bad concept, and lord knows smashing the patriarchy is an appealing idea, it gives the book such a tight focus on this one thing that other things that make a story good (like strong character development, interesting plot elements involving risk and uncertainty, and, for time travel in particular, cultural dislocation more generally) are lacking.  The inclusion of Mrs. Zinn as mentor and travel guide made it all too easy for Lily, who also was able to pick up enough Cretian to talk comfortably with the locals in about two weeks.  Ancient Crete was such a magical fairytale place that it had no depth to it.  It was too much, sort of a candy-land utopia, and so not very interesting.

It wasn't a bad read, and certainly well-intentioned, and I agree with the message, but I wanted more from it than it delivered.  Give it to girls fascinated by goddess societies and magic, who may well love it....

9/8/19

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (9/8/19)


Here's what I found this week in my on-line reading of interest to us mg fantasy and sci fi fans! Please let me know of anything I missed.

First--
You have until Friday the 13 to apply to be a Cybils judge!  Please do; we'd love to welcome new folks to the wild reading and discussing fun that is the Cybils, and I, in particular, would love love love to welcome new folks to the category I'm responsible, Elementary Middle Grade Speculative Fiction.


The Reviews
Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire, by John August, at Imaginary Friends

Briar and Rose and Jack, by Katherine Coville, at Cracking the Cover

Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows, by Ryan Calejo, at Eli to the nth

Dead Voices, by Katherine Arden, at Rajiv's Reviews

Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George, at Middle Grade Book Village

The Girl who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Hunters for Hire (Monster Club #1), by Gavin Brown, at Say What?

Jagger Jones and the Mummy's Ankh, by Malayna Evans, at Reading, Writing, and Stitch-Metic

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Rajiv's Reviews

Lalani of the Distant Sea, by Erin Entrada Kelly, at Some the Wiser

Legacy and the Queen, by Annie Matthew, at Always in the Middle

The Little Grey Girl, by Celine Kiernan, at Charlotte's Library

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor, at Log Cabin Library

Princess BMX, by Marie Basting, at Storgy Kids

The Runaway Princess, by Kate Coombs, at Not Acting My Age

Small Spaces, by Katherine Arden, at Rajiv's Reviews and Fantasy Literature

The Train to Impossible Place, by P.G. Bell, at Puss Reboots

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Battle, by Karuna Riazi, and The Jumbie God's Revenge, by Tracey Baptiste

Authors and Interviews

Lindsay Lackey (All the Impossible Things) at Nerdy Book Club and Fuse #8

Other Good Stuff

Check out the trailer for The Last Kids on Earth via Waking Brain Cells

An Ursula Le Guin approved tv version of Earthsea is coming! (more at Tor)










9/6/19

The Little Grey Girl, by Celine Kiernan

The Little Grey Girl, by Celine Kiernan (Candlewick, Sept 3 2019), is the sequel to Begone the Raggedy Witches, which if you enjoy middle grade fantasy and haven't read yet, I strongly recommend you do!  Preferably before you read The Little Grey Girl, which picks up right after Raggedy Witches.

Mup's mother defeated her own mother, leader of the Raggedy Witches who exercised brutal dominion over a magical land.  Now Mup's family is moving to that land.  Her mother doesn't want to pick up where the old queen left off, though her magical power is just as great.  She'd much prefer to be part of a consensus building sort of leadership.  But there are those who feel strong authority is the only way to guard against the return of the old queen and the power of the Ragged Witches who are still around...

The castle that is now Mup's home is rather cold and dreary, and sits atop the dungeons where the old queen had tortured many prisoners, including Mup's father.  Though Mup's best friend, a shapeshifting boy named Crow, is there to keep her company, their friendship is strained by Mup's own magic, which is that of a Raggedy Witch, and by his torn feelings between wanting to stay and be settled and move past the grief of his own great losses (which Mup is encouraging) and being free and wild.  And then the snow begins to fall (is it a curse sent by the old queen?) and Mup sees a little grey girl, a ghost child, whose darkly magical drawings begin to fill the castle with overwhelming grief.

The ghost child seems to hate Mup, but Mup and Crow persist in trying to understand what she wants, and how to stop her drawings from trapping them all in despair.  Once they realize what she is doing, Mup knows how to help, without inflicting more violence on anyone.

Begone the Raggedy Witches was an exciting adventure fantasy in which wickedness I conquered.  This sequel is about the huge grief and anger that stays after the wickedness has been driven away, and how the act of remembering can't make things all better, but can be a way forward.  It's a moving and thought provoking story, and there's enough fantasy flavor to it all, with ghosts and magic and shapeshifting, to keep it from being all grim.  A great one for thoughtful young readers, and sadly all too relevant.

The Little Grey Girl is eligible for the Cybils Awards this year in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction; if you love reading this sub-genre, and want to spend a few months immersed in reading and talking about it, apply to be a Cybils judge today!  I'm the chair of that category, and I'd really love to have a few new folks!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

9/3/19

The Time Museum, Vol. 2, by Matthew Loux for Timeslip Tuesday

Delia and her cohort of kids training at the Time Museum to journey across the ages are back in another adventure--The Time Museum, Vol. 2, by Matthew Loux (First Second, June 2019).  This graphic novel has all the brightly illustrated fun and excitement of the first volume (my review), and even more danger and suspense.

Delia and the other kids are getting ready for their next time travel mission, with the help of none other than Richard Nixon.  Nixon is a surprisingly capable instructor, and the tips and tricks he provides during training come in very useful indeed when things start going wrong.  Their mission sounded straightforward--travel back to 18th century Versailles to patch up French/US diplomatic relations, but it quickly becomes complicated by a temporal loop that brings future versions of themselves back in time too.  And then things become very strange indeed when all of them travel to a dystopian future, where an old enemy awaits....

I have to confess I totally lost track of what was happening, and couldn't comprehend the plot at all.  I'm not good at paradoxes and causality loops, and though I enjoy many graphic novels, I sometimes have a hard time making the pictures and words work well together.  Though the plot was too much for me, I did enjoy the progress of the relationships between the kids, and their character development, but I liked the first book much better.

That being said, the sci-fi excitement and young teen drama will appeal to many young graphic novel fans, who will doubtless be eager for book 3.  And this is perhaps my favorite fictional Richard Nixon ever....

9/1/19

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (9/1/19)

Nothing from me this week; it was "taking kid back to college" time.  But here's what I found on other blogs!  Let me know if I missed your post.  And just a reminder--you have a little less than 2 weeks to apply to be a judge in this year's Cybils Awards!  I'd love to welcome new folks to the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction team!

The Reviews

The Author's Blood by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry (The Wormling #5) at Say What?

The Battle, by Karuna Riazi, at Muslim Reads

Cape (The League of Secret Heroes Book 1 by Kate Hannigan, at The Children's War

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation, by Stuart Gibbs, at Geo Librarian

City of Ghosts, by Victoria Schwab, at proseandkahn

Dead Voices, by Katherine Arden, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Word Spelunking

The Dragon Princess, by E.D. Baker, at Puss Reboots

The Little Grey Girl (The Wild Magic Trilogy #2) by Celine Kiernan, at Log Cabin Library

Oh, Rats! by Tor Seidler, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Riverland, by Fran Wilde, at alibrarymama

Shadow School: Archimancy, by J.A. White, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Simon Grey and the March of a Hundred Ghosts, by Charles Kowalski, at Rosi Hollinbeck

Authors and Interviews

Heather Kassner (The Bone Garden) at Spooky MG

Ryan Calejo (Charlie Hernadez and the League of Shadows) at Two Chicks On Books

Karuna Riazi (The Battle) at Middle Grade Minded

Other Good Stuff

a new trailer for His Dark Materials, via Tor

8/25/19

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (8/25/19)

Welcome to this round-up of what I found in my blog reading this week!  Please let me know of any posts I missed.

First up--the call for judges for the Cybils Awards has gone up!  Since 2006, the
Cybils has recognized kids and YA books that combine both literary merit and kid appeal in a variety of categories, and one of these is Middle Grade Speculative Fiction (the category I organize)!  There are two rounds of judging, the first creating a shortlist, and the second picking the winner, and so there's room for lots of folks to join in and be part of the judging panels!  It is lots of fun.  So much so that many of the same folks want do Middle Grade Speculative Fiction every year, and although I love them dearly, it would be great to have some fresh volunteers!

All you have to do to be eligible is to review books somewhere on line--podcasting, book tubbing, blogging, Goodreads reviews, Instagram, etc.

Teens are eligible too (with parents permission if under 18), and being one of the judges for a nationally recognized book award looks great on a college application.....

Here's a post I wrote with more information, and please let me know directly if you have any questions!

The Reviews

Babysitting Nightmares, books 1-3,by Kat Shepherd, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Battle, by Karuna Riazi, at Pages Unbound and A Dance With Books

Cape (The League of Secret Heroes book 1), by Kate Hannigan, at The Children's War

Changling (The Oddmire 1) by William Ritter, at Charlotte's Library

Crumbled! by Lisa Harkrader, at Pages Unbound

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, at alibrarymama

Game of Stars. Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond 2, by Sayantani Dasgupta, at alibrarymama

The Haunting of Henry Davis, by Kathryn Siebel, at Always in the Middle

Hidden Scales (Merrows Book 1), by A.M. Robin, at Pages for Thoughts

The Hippo at the End of the Hall, by Helen Cooper, at Read Till Dawn

The House on Parchment Street, by Patricia McKillip, at Fantasy Literature

The Jumbie God's Revenge, by Tracy Baptiste, at J.R.'s Book Reviews

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at alibrarymama and Semicolon

Mightier than the Sword, by Drew Callander and Alana Harrison, at Always in the Middle

The Minions of Time (The Wormling #4), byJerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry, at Say What?

Moominland Midwinter, by Tove Jansson, at Girl With Her Head in a Book

 Princess Who Flew With Dragons, by Stephanie Burgis, at Moon Dreams

The Secrets of Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson, at Puss Reboots

Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races, byK.D. Holbrook, at Say What?

Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy, at proseandkahn

Spark, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Susan Uhlig

The Storm Runner, by J.C. Cervantes, at Geo Librarian

The Unbelievable Oliver and the Four Jokers, by Pseudonymous Bosch, at Geo Librarian

Two at Mom Read It--Hello, Neighbor, by Carly Anne West, and In the Land of Broken Time, by Max Even

Authors and Interviews

Kate Hannigan (Cape) at Middle Grade Ninja

Other Good Stuff

SCBWI has a new grant for writers of mg sci fi and fantasy

8/22/19

Changeling (The Oddmire, Book 1) by William Ritter

Changeling (The Oddmire, Book 1) by William Ritter (middle grade, Algonquin Young Readers, July 2019), is a story about magic, identity, and family love that's a beautiful read.  That being said, with conviction, there was one bit toward the end that left me feeling cross (spoiler down toward the end).

Annie Burton remembered giving birth to one baby boy.  But then a second baby boy, identical to the other, appeared in the cradle overnight.  A goblin, Kull, had brought a changling to her home, not from malice but in a last ditch effort to bring back the balance of magic to the world...but he got confused, and was forced to flee the house before he could figure out which was the human child he'd planned to take away to the magic half of the world, and which was the shapeshifting goblin baby.  Annie can't tell the difference either, and so she sets out to raise both boys, Cole and Tinn, like her own.  They are both her much loved children, getting into mischief and listening to tales of the dark magic in the woods surrounding their home town.

Then one day Kull leaves a letter for them to find, explaining that the changling child must return to the goblin horde or he will die, along with every creature in the dark woods.  There's a little map, showing the way.  Neither boy knows who the changling is, and they can't resist setting of to find answers.  So they venture into the woods, despite all the scary tales they've heard, and things go wrong pretty quickly.  Because the scary tales, are (mostly) true, and the Oddmire, the swampy heart of the woods, is deadly.  And at the heart of the woods is a dark shadow, that isn't in the tales, but which is the scariest thing of all.

Annie Burton sets of to find them, of course, because they are her boys, both of them.  She is one of the best mothers in middle grade fantasy ever, because her love is so beautiful unconditional.  And the boys love and loyalty to each other is also wonderful.  Other characters have their own family ties, poignant and heartfelt, giving the book a most lovely, warm heart.

I was all set to give it five stars on Goodreads, for this reason and because the adventures in the dark woods are exciting and intriguing in their own right, but the ending went wrong for me.  (spoiler alert)

A minor character, who had made a bad choice, seeks to redeem himself by standing up to the dark shadow beast, and appears to sacrifice himself in an act of self-immolation that I found very moving..  And when the fire burned out, he was no longer in the story, so I assumed he was dead, until he appeared again, pages later, just standing around with  other minor characters.  And I felt very cross and cheated that the emotional tension had been worked to such a fever pitch and it hadn't actually been warranted and the selfless act wasn't what I was led to belief it was, and was just dismissed by the author so dismissively the character didn't even get a real mention again.

humph.  So though there was lots I enjoyed, especially the mother's love for both her boys, I was left feeling a little grumpy....

8/20/19

Waking in Time, by Angie Stanton, for Timeslip Tuesday

Waking in Time, by Angie Stanton (Capstone 2017), is a timeslip story set at college, combining two things I love in books! The start of Abbi's freshman year at UW Madison, where her grandmother and great-grandmother had both studied, is not as happy as she'd thought it would be. She is still grieving the recent death of her grandmother, and this casts a shadow over all the things she'd been looking forward to.

But she doesn't get any time to feel at home. The second morning there, she wakes up to find herself in the same college dorm, but in 1983. And as the book progresses, she keeps moving quickly back in time. Then she wakes to find her own grandmother is her room-mate. She's thrilled to get the chance to be with her grandmother again, and wonders if she'll find a clue about her dying request to "find the baby." And then she meets her great-grandmother, and finds out a sad truth about her family. Meanwhile, Will who started at the university in 1927 is traveling forward through time, and despite not recognizing each other at the far ends of their journeys, Will and Abbi become more than friends.

But how can they stop traveling, and find a time where they can stay together? Fortunately, there's another almost constant person they both meet--the brilliant professor at the future end of the timeline, who's an insecure student toward the beginning of it...and who specializes in the quantum physics of time travel.

I found the various different glimpses of the women's dormitory life fascinating, but they didn't interest Abbi as much as they interested me. She was most interested in Will (which didn't interest me that much; there wasn't quite enough meat to their relationship for my taste, being basically physical attraction and a shared problem), and in solving the family mystery, which wasn't all that mysterious. I wanted Abbi to be more curious and engaged with each different time period in a historical/anthropological way, and she just wasn't. In fact, she doesn't seem to be interested in anything at all intellectual. Oh well. She is, after all, in a rather deperate situation, so I cut her lots of slack in that regard.

Something that more actively bothered me was the implication of Native American sacred sites as one of the causes of the time travel (one of the mounds was levelled to build the women's dorm) which I thought was unnecessary and which invoked a sense of "mystical Indians" which I found unpleasant.

 But if you are a fan of fate bringing soul-mates together, you may well enjoy this more than I did! (Judging from the numerous five star reviews on Goodreads, it seems to be the case that cynical older readers who love academia and detailed minutia about the material culture of the past  are not the best audience for it....)

8/18/19

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (8/18/19)

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

The Reviews

11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Are You Ready to Hatch and Unusual Chicken? by Kelly Jones, at Not Acting My Age

Aru Sha and the Song of Death, by Roshani Chokshi, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

The Beasts of Grimheart (Longburrow #3), by Kieran Larwood, at BooksForKidsBlog

The Boy From Tomorrow, by Camille DeAngelis, at Puss Reboots

Caravan Holiday, by Hilda Boden, at Charlotte's Library

Changling (The Wormling #3), by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry, at Say What?

The Curse of the Werepenguin, by Allan Woodrow, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

Dragonfell, by Sarah Prineas, at alibrarymama

Eventown, by Corey Ann Haydu, at Not Acting My Age

The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi, at A Dance With Books

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, at Rajv's Reviews

The House With Chicken Legs, by Sophie Anderson, at Book Craic

Inkling, by Kenneth Oppel, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Library of Ever, by Zeno Alexander, at Cracking the Cover

The Night's Realm, by Nick Ward, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Outwalkers, by Fiona Shaw, at Bibliobrit

Rise of the Dragon Moon, by Gabrielle Byrne, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez, at Redeemed Reader

Serafina and the Seven Stars, by Robret Beatty, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Strangers, by Margaert Peterson Haddix, at Redeemed Reader

Tin, by Kenny Padraig, at Say What?

Weird Little Robots, by Caolyn Crimi, at Milliebot Reads

4 (The Lighthouse Between Worlds, Snow and Rose, Straw Into Gold, and Watch Hollow) at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Authors and Interviews

Gabrielle Byrne (Rise of the Dragon Moon) at Nerdy Book Club

K.A. Reynolds (The Spinner of Dreams) at Middle Grade Book Village

Angie Smibert (Ghosts of Ordinary Objects Series--Bone's Gift, etc.), at Kim Ventrella

Other Good Stuff

Via  Laughing Squid--a Russian artist imagines his life with giant cats.  Here's the artist's instagram account, for all the pictures.














8/13/19

Caravan Holiday, by Hilda Boden, for Timeslip Tuesday

Though I enjoy current fantasy lots and lots, my true comfort readers are mid-twentieth century UK fiction.  And so when I was given a copy of Caravan Holiday, by Hilda Boden (1953), I was very pleased, and when I found out it was an archaeological timeslip story, I should have been even more pleased, but the sad fact of the matter is that it wasn't great.

Timothy and Susan are spending the summer holiday in a caravan on a farm by the seaside, while their archaeologist parents investigate a possible stone age site.  They find a secluded little valley with  stream, where Timothy decides to build his own house, and perhaps even camp there.   A strange boy, Noor, shows up, who seems to know everything about building small temporary structures, starting fires, hunting animals, and other useful things.  Gradually it becomes clear that he's slipping through time from Neolithic England....

Join Timothy as he gets his archaeologist father's ideas about gender roles of the past hammered firmly home by Noor! Wince at the father's archaeological mansplaining to the mother, who is an archaeologist in her own right, although she is also wonderful at making a caravan a cozy home, and indeed it is in the domestic sphere that we see her most.  Wince as Noor keeps putting Susan in her place as a girl.  Wish Susan would kick him.

Wonder at the qualifications, which seem to be nil, of the archaeologist mother and father, and shudder at their methodology and the damage they seem to be doing to their site.  Yes, this was a while ago, but still.

Wonder as well what the jacket flap text meant by the  "adventures" the three children are supposed to be having, because there are none to be found.  Some hut building, some gender essentialism, and that's it.

Regret that the author could not make the characters more interesting. Wish they had talked to each other more about their different time periods, and think more could have been made of the clash of cultures.  Regret as well that the hut building, which could have been fun if more effort had been made making the furnishing of it, etc., real, was simply a construction project.  Think that joining the little sister, Susan, in making sand castles, which she would rather do than build huts, sounds rather nice.

But since it's only 94 pages long, there just isn't room for everything I would have liked.

There's some inconclusiveness about whether Noor is a real time-slipping boy or a figment of Timothy's imagination.  Anything organic that Noor brings to the campsite vanishes, but some stone tools remain (though of course they would have remained in any event).  But what convinced me this was really time travel is that the fire that Noor is able to effortlessly and almost instantly get going with two pieces of wood is very real, and so I think Noor must be too, because Timothy could never have done it on his own. 

short answer:  it sure could have been a good book if it had been a different one with the same basic plot and setting....

8/12/19

Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black, by Marcus Sedgwick and Julian Sedgewick, illustrated by Alexis Deacon

Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black, by Marcus Sedgwick and Julian Sedgewick, illustrated by Alexis Deacon (Walker Books US, August 13, 2019), is a strange, melancholy, moving fever-dream of a story.  It tells of young Henry Black, a conscientious objector battling the fires of the London blitz, who dreams of chronicling the war through his art and his journal writing (this journal constitutes the prose and pictures of the book).  His decision not to fight has created a rift between him and his father and brother, Ellis.  It's the loss of Ellis that hurts Henry most, and so he is glad that Ellis agrees to meet him at a London pub.  The two brothers don't exactly reconcile, but it is clear that their love is still alive at its roots.  And then, after Henry leaves the pub, it is bombed, as is the bus Henry was trying to take home.

When he wakes with a severe head injury in the hospital, his journal turns into a feverish record of his desperate efforts to find his brother and dig him out from the wreckage.  He is accompanied on his quest by Agatha, a German Jewish refugee child he met at the hospital, who is longing to find her parents.  Through the horrors of WW II London, the two of them travel, going ever deeper below the city.  And at last, they find what they were seeking.

Though Henry is not directly aware of it, he has a guide of sorts on his journey--Orpheus, who sees parallels between his own story and Henry's quest  to venture into the realm of death to bring back a loved one.  The reader, however, knows Orpheus is involved from the beginning; he presents his own poetic narrative alongside Henry's journal entries.  Orpheus' involvement gives a mythic gravitas to Henry's inchoate chronicle of his desperate journey through the hell of bombed London, and his prophetic words about future war, alongside strange futurist horrors dreamed of and drawn by Henry, lift this war from specific to universal terror.

It is not a fast, fun read.  You have to be in the right frame of mind, to take it as it comes and reflect and ponder without troubling too much about narrative coherence.  And I was able to do that, to an extent.  What held me back from being deeply involved was the poetry of Orpheus, which I did not care for.  I would much much much have preferred pure blank verse to the rhymes that kept popping up.  They just killed the mood for me.

I'm not quite sure who the perfect audience for the book is.  Greek mythology fans, looking for a retelling, might be disappointed; it's more an echoing than a reimagining (though small details were pleasing--Persephone, aka Kore, becomes a woman named Cora, for instance).  Some young readers might not have the patience to accept the strange.  But those young readers who do, in particular those drawn to thought-provoking meditations on history, will be rewarded.

dislaimer: review copy received from the publisher




8/11/19

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (8/11/19)

Here's what I found this week; please let me know about anything I missed so I can add it!

The Reviews

Abby in Wonderland, by Sarah Mlynowski, at Jill's Book Blog

The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, by J.H. Reynolds, at YA Books Central

Cape, by Kate Hannigan, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Books4YourKids

The Crystal Ribbon, by Celeste Lim, at thelittlebookowl

The Elephant Secret, by Eric Walters, at Of Maria Antonia

Jagger Jones and the Mummy's Ankh, by Malayna Evans, at Charlotte's Library

The Land of Roar, by Jenny McLachlan, at Book Craic

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor, at Mom Read It

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Mrs. Day's Summer Reading Blog

Order of the Majestic, by Matt Myklusch, at GeoLibrarian

The Peculiar Peggs of Ridling Woods, by Samuel J. Halpin, at Book Gannet Reviews

Princess BMX, by Marie Basting, at Storgy Kids

Rise of the Dragon Moon, by Gabrielle K. Byrne, at Charlotte's Library 

Rise of the Dragons, by Angie Sage, at Phyllis Wheeler

A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying, by Kelley Armstrong, at Jill's Book Blog

The Royal Rabbits of London, by Santa Motefiore and Simon Montefiore, at Read Till Dawn

The Secret Dragon, by Ed Clake, at Book Craic

Spark, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Imaginary Friends

Supernatural Pet Sitter: The Magic Thief, by Diane Moat, at Chanticleer Book Reviews

The Twelve, by Cindy Lin, at Cover2CoverMom


Authors and Interviews

Joshua C. Carroll, The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis and the Memory Thieves, at Writer Interivews


Other Good Stuff

25 sci fi books for kids at Book Riot

10 dragon books, at Book Riot
.
Twnty years later--the message of the Iron Giant, at Tor

Congratulations to Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead , winner of this year's Mythopoeic Award for Children's Literature

8/7/19

Rise of the Dragon Moon, by Gabrielle K. Byrne

Rise of the Dragon Moon, by Gabrielle K. Byrne (Macmillan, August 6, 2019), is a delightfully chilly middle-grade fantasy that's perfect escapist reading for a hot summer day!

Princess Toli is heir to the throne of a queendom of ice.  Her people live a hand to mouth existence, with starvation always a grim possibility, and the cyclical migrations of the dragons a grim certainty.  Toli hates the dragons.  Not only must her people offer a precious tithe of meat to them each year, but in an unprecedented fluke, dragons killed her father.  And Toli blames herself..

Toli's mother, the queen, wants Toli to set aside her dreams of being a great hunter like her father, though Toli has little interest in the minutia of keeping the queendom running smoothly.  But she gets little chance to obey her mother.  When this year's Dragon Moon rises, and the Queen must go out to meet the dragons, they seize her and carry her off.  Toli is convinced she must set out herself over the ice to bring her mother back.

In her first foray out on the ice alone, she finds a baby dragon, and confronts the two dragons that are searching for it, with seemingly malevolent intent.  Toli's hatred of the adult dragons ends up making her want to protect the hatchling, who the queen dragon wants back, from the adults.  The baby dragon proves impossible to hide from her younger sister Petal and her best friend, a boy named Wix, who find it charming, and grudgingly Toli warms to it as well.  And perhaps, she thinks, she can trade the baby for her mother.

Toli plans to set out to find the dragon queen alone, because of her feelings that she must atone for her father's death but her sister and friend won't let her, though she is harsh and dismissive about what they can contribute.  Iti's a good thing they both come, because Toli and the baby dragon would never have made it alone!  And when they reach Dragon Mountain, they find themselves confronted by the beginnings of a dragon civil war.   The stakes of the conflict are high for both humans and dragons--wll they be able to work together, or will they try to destroy each other?

All ends well, with lots of ground laid for new adventures for Toli and the little dragon...

It's a very good read, with the excitements of danger out on the ice and in the sky well-balanced by Toli's internal turmoil and character growth.  She has to learn to put her past actions in perspective, and to let others help her, and she realistically does so, realizing by the end that it's not all about her.  The baby dragon is cute as all get out, and will add tons of appeal for the target audience!

Though there is some grimness to the story, it's not wildly violent, and though there are depths to the story telling, the actual plot is fairly linear, so it's one that would be just fine for the whole range of "middle grade"- 9-12 year olds, and good as well for even younger confident readers.  And good too for us grownups sitting around in the heat wanting to be out in the bitter cold wind blowing across the ice...or flying above it on dragon-back.....

(I have just one very picky, very personal, thing I didn't care for--Toli is short for Anatolia, and her little sister is named Petal.  Neither name worked for me, the first because it's a real world place, and the second because petals have no place in an icy world.)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

8/6/19

Jagger Jones and the Mummy's Ankh, by Malayna Evans, for Timeslip Tuesday

Young fans of ancient Egypt will find much to enjoy in Jagger Jones and the Mummy's Ankh, by Malayna Evans (Month9Books, May, 2019), although it didn't quite work for me.

Jagger Jones is a biracial kid from Chicago who loves learning about the past, preferably from the comfort of his own home.  Unfortunately for Jagger, his mother and little sister, Aria, are both passionate about adventuring, and he's dragged around the world in their wake.  In Egypt, Jagger wakes one night to hear a voice calling out to him, and he follows it outside, followed in turn  by Aria, though she can't hear the voice.  Jagger digs into the ground to find its source, and the two kids find themselves in an undisturbed ancient Egyptian burial chamber, with a golden ankh, the source of the voice, resting on a mummy.  When Aria grabs hold of the ankh, they find themselves back in the time of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who rejected the Egyptian pantheon and set up his own religion.

Akhenaten's oldest daughter, who continues to worship the old gods, has called Jagger back to her time to help foil a plot--one of her father's general plans to murder her and her siblings (Aria was carried along as a bonus time-travelling extra).  Since Jagger and Aria are descendants of this family,  they will never be born if the murders are carried out, so they have an incentive to help.  This isn't the Egypt Jagger learned about in books; it is a place of real magic, and the pharaoh's daughter is a skilled practitioner of it.  Jagger isn't sure what exactly he and Aria can contribute, but the flood of events sweeps them off to Thebes to try to foil the general's magical machinations.

For a kid of 9-10 years old who loves all things ancient Egypt, this will be a lot of fun.  There are appearances by Egyptian gods, and lots of Egyptian magic, and of course Akhenaten and his family (including his son, Tutankhamen) are fascinating.  The 21st-century kids  keep the story relatable; for instance, it might well tickle young readers lots when Jagger pulls out his cell phone to use modern music as a weapon.

That being said, the book didn't work well for me.  Jagger is a rather passive character (Aria takes a more active role, although it comes with a perkiness that I found a bit exaggerated), and though there's an explanatory bit at the end about why he and Aria were the ones chosen to travel back in time, there was very little they actually did to contribute to the resolution of the danger (although Jagger does have one bright idea that comes in very useful).  This didn't bother me terribly much, because colorful and vivid adventures, such as make up the bulk of the story, can compensate for me not being sure the plot is built on a strong footing.

What really didn't work for me was the writing, which could have used a stronger editorial hand.  For instance, although goodness knows I over use and misuse commas myself, I really can't enjoy reading awkward comma clauses in books.  I found myself distracted from what was happening and looking at the sentence-level writing to see why I was finding it jarring, and so I couldn't really enjoy the story.

But for young lovers of ancient Egypt, this probably won't be a problem.

8/4/19

This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (8/4/19)

Welcome to another week of my blog reading, hunting for mg speculative fiction reviews and news!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball, by Laura Ellen Anderson, at Always in the Middle and Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Aru Shan and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Bone Garden, by Heather Kassner, at Charlotte's Libary


The Book of the King (The Wormling #1) by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry, at Say What?

Briar and Rose and Jack, by Katherine Coville, at Pages Unbound

Fire Girl, Forest Boy, by Chloe Daykin, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Book Craic

Lair of the Beast (Snared #2)., by Adam Jay Epstein, at Say What?

The Lost Tide Warriors, by Catherine Doyle, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Love Sugar Magic series review, by Anna Meriano, at Falling Letters

Moonlocket (Cogheart #2), by Peter Bunzl, at A Dance With Books

A Small Zombie Problem, by K.G. Campbell, at Geo Librarian

The Sword of the Wormling (The Wormling #2), by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry, at Say What?

Authors and Interviews

Jess Redman (The Miraculous) at Middle Grade Book Village

Heidi Land and Kati Bartkowski (A Pinch of Phoenix, Magical Cooking Chronicles #3) at Middle Grade Book Village

Other Good Stuff

What's new in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

"Middle Grade and YA fantasties to read based on your Hogwarts House" at Pages Unbound

The Kidlitcon 2020 website is up and running!  Check it out, and make your plans to come to Ann Arbor next March for a great time with kindred spirits!  And if you're interested in being on the program, let the organizers know!  Thanks to the generosity of the Ann Arbor library, there's no registration fee this year.


8/3/19

The Bone Garden, by Heather Kassner

The Bone Garden, by Heather Kassner (middle grade, Henry Holt, August 6 2019), is a lovely, creepy story perfect for those who love children finding found families.

Eleven-year-old Irréelle is used to spending her days hunting beneath the cemetery that is her home, making her way through dark tunnels of the bone garden to fetch the bone dust for her mistress, the demanding Miss Vesper.  She's never rewarded for her efforts; Miss Vesper constantly finds fault with her, criticizing her mismatched, crooked body.  It's Miss Vesper's fault that Irréelle is not a perfectly shaped girl, because she was the one who made her, something she's constantly reminding the girl about.  Irréelle is terrified that Miss Vesper, her creator, will un-create her some day, and also can't help but hope that if she is good enough, she can be remade into a "normal" girl.

Her life is lonely, until she meets two other children in the graveyard, Guy and Lass, and befriends as well on of Miss Vesper's new creations, a disembodied hand with a mind of its own.  The strange group take on a mission, finding a lost grave that could solve the mystery underling Miss Vesper's past, and their own strange lives.  Miss Vesper is not at all happy that Irréelle has started acting independently, and the threat she poses grows, while at the same time, Irréelle begins to realize just how little chance there was of Miss Vesper every caring for her. 

Irréelle's growth in self-confidence and self-reflection is inspiring, and the bonds of friendship she forges that help her in this are beautifully strong.  Guy and Lass, who are tougher to begin with, are a great foil for her, and the disembodied hand adds surprising comic relief. The creepy factor adds a macabre ambience to her story while not being so horrific as to terrify--yes, there are lots of dead bodies around, but it's not a gotcha sort of horror.

Short answer--a great one for kids who enjoy friendship stories with spooky atmosphere!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.



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