8/8/20

Heart of the Moors, by Holly Black, a Disney Maleficent novel

Heart of the Moors, by Holly Black (middle grade, October, 2029, Disney), lay far to long in my house unread, through no fault of its own.  I wanted to read it, and was very happy to win it in a giveway a while back, but it just didn't happen until this weekend.  And it made for good weekend reading!

This book takes place in between the two Maleficent movies, and if you haven't seen them, but only the original animated Sleeping Beauty movie, it will be a bit jarring.  Aurora is now queen of both the human and the fey lands of the Moors, determined to stablish peace between the two.  Maleficent is still fiercely protective of her, and Prince Philip is still at court, falling more in love with Aurora every day.  Also at court are power-hungrey, greedy men who want to use Aurora for their own ends, and it's they, not Maleficent, who are the unscrupulous bad guys (although Maleficent' s scruples aren't really the strongest, she's on the good side here).

Aurora is new to all the business of running a kingdom, and her leadership skills lag a bit behind her goodness of heart.  She's also new to falling in love, and is terrified when she realizes that's what's happening to her.  It's the same sort of terror she feels before falling asleep, one of the traumas of the past--true love when horribly wrong for Maleficent.

But Aurora, with help from both humans and the Fair Folk, is able to chart a course to a happier future for both her two kingdoms, and herself.

This is a book for 9-12 year olds, so though there is romance, with a thoughtful questioning of what true love is, and though there is violence, there's nothing I saw that I'd flag as inappropriate for young readers.  What I think this book really is good for is to be a gateway into YA fantasy, which is full to the gills with books about young women (and some young men) become rulers without being ready for the job.  So a great one for tweens!

I enjoyed it but not remarkably so, as my mind has already been trained to a higher level of court intrigue in my fantasy reading.  I did enjoy the tension of Maleficent's character, and appreciated the friendship that's the basis for the romance; for one thing, Philip's aware that he couldn't have given the kiss of true love to Aurora because of not knowing her.

I think fans of the movies will enjoy the book more than me; I haven't seen them.  (I also think that if I hadn't been distracted by my brain pushing forward the moors in the Wayward Children series every time I read "the Moors" the reading experience would have been smoother....probably the same thing would happen to me if I re-read Wuthering Heights, which might actually be  reason to do so--that whole tortured story taking place in McGuire's world would be much more interesting...)



8/5/20

Consolation Songs: Optimistic Speculative Fiction For A Time of Pandemic, edited by Iona Datt Sharma, for a baby shower gift

Consolation Songs: Optimistic Speculative Fiction For A Time of Pandemic, edited by Iona Datt Sharma (June 29, 2020), is an anthology of, as the title suggests, stories that hopeful reading. All proceeds are donated to the COVID-19 appeal being run by the UCLH Charity, the charity supporting the University College London Hospitals NHS Trust.

A co-worker is having a baby, and so we all bought baby shower gifts, to be opened in a zoom meeting next week.  When I was having baby showers, it was lovely to get all the baby stuff, but no one gave Me anything, and since this co-worker enjoys reading spec. fic., I thought a nice new book would be a lovely thing to give, along with something for the actual baby.  I had heard about Consolation Songs from Stephanie Burgis, who has a story in the anthology, and as well as supporting a good cause,  I was thinking comforting spec fic stories are just the thing one wants to read with a new born.

I read the book first, of course, to make sure it really was suitable, but very very carefully and then let it sit after wrapping it give any germs a chance to die.  I did, however, run into a problem. I liked the stories very very much (a nice mix of funny, moving, and comforting), and wanted to keep the book for myself! It is basically perfect pandemic reading, whether or not you have new born.

This is not to say that the stories are all sweetness and light; there's some darkness and underlying sadness and anger too.  But they all have hope.  Some I wanted to hug, like Seaview on Mars, by Katie Rathfelder, a story of a woman moving into a retirement community on Mars; being an old woman, who lived through years when the planet was barely habitable, she has been through a lot, and some bits of her memories made me teary.  Some stories made me grin, like Stephanie Burgis' light romantic comedy, Love, Your Flatmate, about two room-mates, stuck with each other in lockdown, one woman a human editor and the other a fey musician, who find a very mutually satisfying (romantic) solution to their conflict...It's an epistolatory story, which made it even more fun.   And then there are some that are testaments to the indominable human spirit, like This Is New Gehesran Calling, by Rebecca Fraimow, in which scattered refugees from a place that no longer exists find that it is still alive as long as they are still there to collectively remember, thanks to an underground radio station. It made me chuckle, and made me a bit teary.  

There are other great stories, but these three are my favorites!  I would so much rather have had this on hand to read when I was home with my own newborns--with my oldest, the first book I tried to read was The Hero, by Louise Le Nay.  It was supposed to be "a charming, poignant, and optimistic tale of an adolescent girl's journey of discovery set during World War I" but  I found it horribly depressing, and it  had very small type.  In my depressed desperation for soothing escape and inability to read small type (one of the fun things about that experience was having brain surgery two weeks after he was born, which fucked up my eyesight) I put it aside and pitifully reread the Xanth books, which goes to show how bad things were (there's a lot I don't find soothing about them when I'm in my right mind).  With my second baby, and type size no longer a problem, I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which had just come out, and we all know how cheerful that is, not.

So in any event, I would much rather have had Consolation Songs.   And I would still rather have it than have given it away, but then I would have had to find some other present....and nothing else would have been as exactly the sort of book I wanted to give!  I hope she likes it.


8/2/20

This week's middle grade sci fi/fantasy round-up (8/2/20)

Only five months left of 2020!  I'm starting to work on my 2021 bingo card (I predicted nothing correctly for 2020).  I'm thinking rabid badgers (because why hasn't this ever happened before?), the sun going supernova, the strange seeds from China devastating our crops, and other excitements.  But also there will always be great mg sci-fi and fantasy books to provide a pleasant escape!

In any event, here's what I found in my blog reading this week (please let me know if I missed your post!)

The Reviews

City of the Plague God, by Sarwat Chadda, at proseandkahn

Curious Magic, by Elisabeth Beresford, at Charlotte's Library

Curse of the Night Witch, by Alex Aster, at Charlotte's Library

Esme's Gift (Esme Series Book 2) by Elizabeth Foster, at Pages for Thoughts

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch, by Julie Abe, at Lucy's Kids Blog

The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alkaf, at Utopia State of Mind

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Read to Ramble

Maňanaland, by Pam Muňoz Ryan, at Of Maria Antonia

The Mostly Invisible Boy, by A.J. Vanderhorst, at Book Craic

The Quest of the Fair Unknown, by Gerald Morris, at Leaf's Reviews

Quintessence, by Jess Redman, at Ms. Yingling Reads, Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed., and Nerdophiles

The Rider’s Reign (Rose Legacy #3) by Jessica Day George, at Pamela Kramer

The Sisters Grimm #2: The Unusual Suspects by Michael Buckley, at Say What?

School for Nobodies, by Susie Bower, at Arkham Reviews

Sky Pirates: Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond, by Alex English, at A Dance With Books

The Ship of Shadows, by Maria Kuzniar, at Blogger's Bookshelf and Motif by Tanya

A Tale of Magic by Chris Colfer, at Woodpecker Books

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at Cracking the Cover

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia, at Zezee with Books

Vlad the Worst Vampire, and its sequel, Fang-tastic Friends, by Anna Wilson, illustrations by Kathryn Durst, at Log Cabin Library

Three at The Bookwyrm's Den--The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby, and Raiders of the Lost Archives, by Michael Dahl and Patricio Clarey


Authors and Interviews

Beth McMullen (,Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter) at From the Mixed-up Files

Catherine Fisher (The Midnight Swan) at Firefly Press (YouTube)

Allen Brokken (Towers of Light series) at K.A. Cummins


Other Good Stuff

at Tor--"Ron Howard Says Scripts for the Willow Sequel Series Are “Going Great”


Strong Fairy Tale Heroines #23: CAP O’ RUSHES at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles




8/1/20

Curse of the Night Witch, by Alex Aster

Curse of the Night Witch (Emblem Island #1), by Alex Aster (Sourcebooks, June 2020), is a single-sitting, very satisfying middle grade (9-12 year olds) fantasy, with the only unsatisfying part being that the second book isn't available right now.

Everyone (or almost everyone) born on Emblem Island has a mark that shows their particular gift, and a lifeline that magically shows the highs and lows to come, and how long that life will be. Twelve-year old Tor isn't happy with his long, boring life line, that promises no excitement, and downright hates his leadership emblem. He doesn't want to be leader, and doesn't want to spend his days studying the dry texts of leadership education. He desperately wishes he had an emblem for water breathing isntead--underwater is where he is happiest.

At the annual New Years celebration, all the islanders throw wishes into the bonfire, and some are granted. Tor's wish is one of those. The next morning he wakes up with his leadership emblem gone...but now there's a curse symbol in its place, and his life line is shortened almost to nothing. Then his best friend Engle, and his not-friend, Melda (the only other leadership marked kid in his village), get contaminated by the curse. Now they too have only a few weeks to live.

The only way to rid themselves of the curse is to find the legendary Night Witch, who haunts the island's stories, gathered together in the Book of Cuentos that the kids take with them. Those stories are their guides to the fearsome dangers of magical creatures and treacherous terrain outside their home village. The island is bigger and more wonderful and horrible than they had dreamt, but they keep going, and learn to trust each other, and the stories. (And they get home safely in the end, with the immediate problem solved, but new dangers and challenges looming--I can't wait for the next book!).

All the things that make middle grade fantasy adventure so much fun to read can be found here. There's wildly extravagant world-building that somehow managed never to tip me out of the story in disbelief, solid friendship between the kids (including the antagonist to friends relationship of Tor and Melda), bravery (bolstered by lots of help from grown-ups along the way, which I appreciated), thought-provoking considerations of destiny, and a much more nuanced final confrontation than I'd been expecting! The stories in the Book of Cuentos are rooted in tales told to Alex Aster by her Columbian grandmother, which makes the book even more appealing.

Personally, something that made this interesting to me is that it's not a portal fantasy, but a fantasy quest carried out by insiders to the magic of their own world. I think this helped make it feel tight and contained, and helped keep the pacing brisk.

I'd recommend it to fans of the  Morrigan Crow series--totally different setting, but a similar playful feel to the magical setting (although possible I'm thinking about Morrigan because she was "cursed" too...but I think it's a good recommendation nevertheless).  It also felt like one for anyone who enjoyed Lalani of the Distant Sea, and basically one for anyone who likes magical monsters and kids with magical gifts!

short answer-- a really strong series start that I enjoyed lots.







7/28/20

Curious Magic, by Elisabeth Beresford, for Timeslip Tuesday


Curious Magic, by Elisabeth Beresford (1980), sounded so very good.  Who would not want to read about a boy, Andy, going off for a holiday to a remote British island, to stay in an ancient fort, a boy with a broken leg who finds himself in the role of the Wounded Knight who must free the island from a magical enchantment, and who has time travel adventures in the process of so doing?

On the plus side, I liked the time travel elements, back through the past of the place, very much; one character kept reappearing in various guises, first as a kindly Roman centurion, and then in similar roles of guardian and caretaker of the place.  One the downside, there's no plot connection between all the other things that are happening and the time travel; a symbolic, history of place connection, but that's it. I am not at all sure why it was even happening, except that the author wanted to write it.

The actual plot is just too much for me.  Angry sea king vs. white witch, with merboy trying to give up the sea to live on land who must be hidden from the sea king and the witch's niece with growing magic of her own roping Andy into trying to break the sea king's imprisoning spell on the island?  All in 144 pages.  This is not what I wanted. 

I have nothing against the writing, and it was all very vivid and magical.  I have nothing against the two main characters, Andy and Ella the Witch's niece.  They were just as plucky and adventurous as you would expect them to be.  And I like the Roman centurian very much.   That wasn't enough though.

Short answer--this is my second book by Elisabeth Beresford (the first being Two Gold Dolphins).  It will, I think, be the last book of hers I seek out and buy (though if I see others going cheap in my travels, I'll get them).  It sounded so good, and I just didn't enjoy it.

7/26/20

This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (7/26/20)

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

The Reviews

Bailey's Window, by Anne Lindbergh, at Charlotte's Library

The Blameless, by E.S. Christison, at Charlotte's Library

Charmed (Fairy Tale Reform School #2), by Jen Calonita, at Say What?

Derek Hyde's Spooky Scavenger Hunt, by E. Michael Lunsford, at Jazzy Book Reviews and Rajiv's Reviews

Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond (Sky Pirates), by Alex English, at Fazila Reads

Fire in the Star, by Kamilla Benko, at Woodpecker Books

A Game of Fox and Squirrels, by Jenn Reese, at Fuse #8

Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, at Chloe Twist

The Girl with the Silver Eyes, by Willo Davis Roberts, an interview with Alexandra Diaz at Dream Gardens (podcast)

The Hippo at the End of the Hall, by Helen Cooper, at Susan Uhlig

The Impossible Boy,by Ben Brooks, at Arkham Reviews

Knights and Bikes: Wheels of Legend, by Gabrielle Kent, at Twirling Book Princess

The Mostly Invisible Boy, by AJ Vanderhorst, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby, at Lazy Day Literature and Cracking the Cover

The Mysterious Benedict Society & the Riddle of Ages, by Trenton Lee Stewart, at Of Maria Antonia

Mysterious Messenger, by Gilbert Ford, at Charlotte's Library

The Oddmire books 1 and 2 (The Changeling and The Unready Queen), by William Ritter, at Elizabeth Dulemba

The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate, at Sonderbooks

Part of Your Nightmare (Disney Chills, #1), by Vera Strange, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse, at Goodreads with Ronna

The Seth Seppi Mysteries by Nicki Thornton, at Read It, Daddy

Shuri, by Nic Stone, at The Neverending TBR

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at It's All About the Book

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, by Adrianna Cuevas at Las Musas

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at Semicolon

The Witches of Willow Cove, by Josh Roberts, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Two at alibrarymama--The Girl and the Witch’s Garden, by Erin Bowman, and Catalyst, by Sarah Beth Durst

Authors and Interviews

Adrianna Cuevas (The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez) at WNDB

Alex English (Sky Pirates) at A little but a lot and bookloverjo

Jess Redman (Quintessance) at Literary Rambles (giveaway) and Middle Grade Book Village

Other Good Stuff

Today!  at 3 pm--East City Bookshop welcomes Ellen Oh, Laura Ruby, & Anne Ursu for Magic & Mayhem, a discussion of middle grade fantasy and science-fiction

And if you missed it, here's a recap of Representation in Science Fiction and Fantasy Young Adult and Middle Grade Books with Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Dhonielle Clayton, and Tracy Deonn

"Making the Most of the Magic of Oz Manuscript" at Oz and Ends

"Plotting Magic" (as in The Magic of Oz) at Oz and Ends

"Magical Middle School: 12 Speculative Fiction School Stories" at alibrarymama

"Saving the Lost: Quests, Signs, and Unclear Instructions in The Silver Chair" at Tor

"Graphic Novels for fantasy/D&D fans" at Mom Read It

And finally--if you want to kick your reading and thinking/chatting about books into high gear this fall, consider applying to be a panelist for the Cybils Awards!  Panelists read the books nominated in various categories from picture books to YA, and then come up with shortlists, which go to another set of panelists for choosing of the winner.  Anyone who write or talks about books on an online paltfrom (from personal blog to goodreads) is eligbile to be a panelist.  The call for panelists should be out sometime mid-August.  Middle grade speculative fiction in an especially fine category that is always lots of fun to be part of! (disclaimer--I'm the Cybils category organizer for mg spec fic, and I'd love to welcome new folks).  If you think you might be interested, pick the category that most appeals and make sure you have lots of reviews up.   And if you have any questions, please let me know (charlotteslibrary at gmail).

7/24/20

The Blameless, by E.S. Christison (Blog Tour)

I'm happy to be today's stop on the blog tour for The Blameless, by E.S. Christison  (Belle Isle Books, middle grade, July 22 2020) and also happy to be able to report that I enjoyed it lots, and think that it will be loved by many young readers!

Briana's world is shattered when she watches in horror as her parents, king and queen of Predonia, and her older brother, are killed in front of her eyes.  She barely escapes the castle, and flees into the city.  There she is found by three powerful men, Flinton, Derek, and Kove, who become her protectors.  They are members of the Blameless, a society of magic users, united by their commitment to using their gifts, and their very lives, unselfishly.   They take her to a stronghold of the Blameless up in the mountains, and there, surrounded by the welcoming kindness of Flinton's family, she begins to heal from her grief.

She begins as well to discover her own gifts for Blameless magic, and learns that she might be among the most powerful of the fellowship.  But the shadow of Vaylec, the evil man who has taken her kingdom and killed her family, haunts her.

Then she is kidnapped by members of the Blameless who are being magically controlled by Vaylec.  Back in the castle, a virtual prisoner, Briana tries to stretch her gifts so that she can escape, and join her protectors in defeating Vaylec.

This one hits lots of the sweet spots for middle grade readers--the plucky kid finding she's wonderfully talented at magic, a loving found family and two good friends her own age, who become companions in mischief.  There's a lovely horse, and lovely food, and then, after she's kidnapped, there's the fascinating struggle Briana goes through in the castle to outwit and escape her captor, while figuring out the limits of his strength.  The characters are all (except Vaylec, of course) endearing as all get out, and it's easy to cheer them on!

That being said, I was disappointed that the good guys seemed to falter a bit with regards to intelligent action.  Briana's three protectors, and the council of the Blameless, are very slow to take action against Vaylec and his plans, and when they do, it's almost to late.  Briana herself could have shown more brains and initiative during her captivity; why, for instance, does she not consider the possibility that she can learn the teleportation magic of one of the controlled Blameless who Vaylec has assigned to teach her to use her powers?  Why does she not summon the keys she needs (something she's capable of) to open locks, instead of wasting time and effort picking them by hand? Why does she not summon the personal property of her protectors, and return the objects again with notes on them to open a line of communication?  I was somewhat distracted by thinking of all these possibilities, and others, which never occur to her.  But I think younger readers will be more deeply immersed in the story, and less likely to question this sort of thing, and of course in Briana's defense she's a distressed kid in captivity still fairly new to magic, and I'm a much older, less distressed, armchair critic...

Despite that quibble, I found this to be a gripping and compelling story that I enjoyed lots.  It's very much a first installment--when it ends there are still unanswered questions, Vaylec is still in power, and Briana still has a way to go before mastering her magic.  I'm looking forward to the second book, because I am genuinely invested in Briana's adventures.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

About the Author, E.S. Christison


My very first job was as a scribe in a library.  I was raised by my father, and he passed a love of reading to me, especially fantasy.  I have passed this same love on to my seven children and, as a result, much of my adult life has been spent in the realms of their make-believe kingdoms, giving me firsthand experience with the whimsical workings of their young minds.  I’ve shared my own stories with them at bedtime, but never chose to write them down until an idea that I just couldn’t ignore blazed into my mind .  I live with my family in Ohio, and when I’m not busy navigating the seas of motherhood, working as a nurse, or castle-hopping and enjoying fine wine and chocolate with my husband, I can be found writing the sequel to The Blameless or dreaming up other tales.

7/23/20

Mysterious Messenger, by Gilbert Ford

If you think a treasure hunt in New York City with a ghost providing the clues sounds like fun for you and/or your kids, pick up Mysterious Messenger, written and illustrated by Gilbert Ford (July 2020, middle grade,  Henry Holt) right away!

Maria's life is constrained by her mother's profession as a fake psychic.  "Madame Destine" makes a living conning the gullible out of valuable possessions, and it's Maria's job to hid in a closet and make sound effects during the seances.  Mr. Fox, the apartment superintendent and more than friend to her mother, makes more sounds from the basement.  Maria doesn't go to school, she's not allowed friends, and her mother is manipulative and controlling (and just terrible at providing healthy meals, nurturing, support, etc.).   Maria's only escape is at the public library, and her only friend (a secret from her mother) is a ghost, Eddy, who can communicate by controlling her writing hand.

When Mrs. Fisher, an elderly widow who isn't well off, is conned out of her wedding ring, Eddy takes action.  Apparently there's a treasure hidden in Mrs. Fisher's apartment, and he starts giving Maria clues about how to find it.  The library's her first starting place, and there she meets a boy named Sebastian, who lives in her appartment building.  Though she's forbidden to talk to him, she can't shake him, and when he finds out that she's on a hunt for treasure, he becomes her comrade. Mrs. Fisher becomes a friend to Maria too, and over the next few weeks Eddy's messages bring all three closer, though no closer to the treasure....

But the librarian is concerned about Maria, and gets the neighborhood police officer to look into her living situation.  Madame Destine and Mr. Fox decide it's time to head out of town, but when they discover the treasure hunt, they want a piece of that action, and Maria, Sebastian, and Mrs. Fisher find themselves in danger.

The clues Eddy provides make this a rather unusual treasure hunt, sending the kids delving into the history of the Beat poets, artists, and musicians with whom Mrs. Fisher and her husband were friends  (a visit to the archives of the NY public library, for instance, and to one of the clubs where poets hung out).   This was fascinating to me, and I assume that smart kids, the sort that are used to picking up all sorts of random information online, will appreciate it too.

I did get frustrated that Eddy didn't provide clearer directions to the treasure, but then I (and Maria as well) realized the treasure wasn't everything.  Eddy turns out to have good reasons for wanting Maria to escape her horrible mother and find friends who can help her, and the journey toward the treasure is what makes this happen....that being said, there is a wonderful, bibliophile's dream of a treasure!

There's also a happy ending for Maria, but I was a little grumpy that once she found out who her father was, and found out Madame Destine was only her stepmother, no one made any effort to find her relatives.  Her dad's family is Puerto Rican, and possibly her mother's too, so it would have perhaps been challenging, but not impossible.

But in any event, this one's a winner for kids who enjoy found families, treasure hunts, books, ghosts, and kids with psychic  powers!  I also appreciated the educational side of things, and in fact have more appreciation for Jackson Pollock than I did last week...though I still am not interested in reading the Beat poets.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

7/21/20

Bailey's Window, by Anne Lindbergh, illustrated by Kinuko Craft, for Timeslip Tuesday

Anne Lindbergh (daughter of the famous Charles) wrote a number of children's books, perhaps the best known of which is The People in Pineapple Place (my review).  That one, and several of her other books, like The Shadow on the Dial (my review) and Three Lives to Live (my review), are time travel.  The one's I've read aren't particularly outstanding, but they are for the most part pleasant enough reading, and so in my quest to read every single time travel book for children (excluding all the Magic Treehouse books), I requested Baily's Window (HMH Books 1984) from the library.

Bailey is sent to stay with his two cousins, Carl and Anna, in rural New York for the summer.  They and their friend Ingrid aren't at all happy with this, Bailey having been a pill on his previous visit the previous year.  And unfortunately, just before he leaves home, Bailey hears part of a phone conversation in which Anna loudly makes it clear just how unwanted he is.  So when Bailey arrives he's sore and angry, and determined to be mean.

And mean he is.  The things he does are really rotten, not only getting his cousins into trouble, but damaging property.  It gets to the point where even Carl and Anna's parents don't want him anymore.  In a typical Bailey move, he pilfers Anna's beloved paint set, and paints a window opening up onto a winter scene on to the bare wall of the room he shares with Carl.  Magically, the window opens, and Bailey steps out of August into the snow.

The magic is too wonderful not to share, and so Bailey draws other windows for all the kids to travel through.  When they learn that Bailey's beloved dog, Fox, had recently gotton lost, finding him becomes the impetus for their travels, taking them twice to New York city.  In all the window places, there's a mysterious man who keeps abjuring Bailey to use his head, and when Bailey finally does,  Fox is found and the magic ends.

But by that point the four kids are friends, and all is well.

On the plus side, the real world life in the country of New York is nicely done (although the city is shown in a very negative light--only country is good here). I liked that the girls aren't treated any differently from the boys; I don't remember any gender stereotyping. There is no explanation of how and why the magic works, or why on earth the mysterious man who seems behind it would have carried enough about Bailey and Fox to make it happen. But it's rather cool magic, which, as in Edgar Eager's wonderful books, has to be thought through carefully, or things go wrong....That being said, this isn't anywhere near as clever and funny as Eager's books, but it's pretty entertaining.

Except. There is a really stereotypical visit to cannibals who capture the kids, and I would have thought that by the 1980s books were moving away from stereotypical savages, but no. Since the author was raised by fascist racists, I guess it's not surprising that she'd go down that road. The New York kids are proud of their Scandinavian descent, and dub themselves the Vikings, which in itself isn't awful, but with the context of Lindbergh's family, and the cannibals (even though it is but one magical event of many), it feels really gross to someone reading the book at this particular moment in time (at least it does to me). It occurs to me that Eager also has savages tying the kids up on a desert island in Magic by the Lake, but he's a few decades earlier (1950s), so I expect less; this was already my least favorite book of his so I don't mind liking it even less now I'm thinking back on it more critically.

So basically this seems modeled on Eager, but not as good. The cannibals, coupled with the fact that Bailey is actively unkind and destructive for much of the book, made this one miss the mark for me. I have, I think, three more Lindbergh time travel books to read...I will put them off for a bit.

The cover of the book I read is the 1991 edition, and for a bit extra time travel, here it is in all its dated glory:


7/19/20

This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (7/19/20)


Welcome to this week's round-up!  It's been a while since I explained how I find what I find, so in the interests of transparency--I follow tons of blogs on bloglovin, do google searches for the past week for middle grade fantasy, and middle grade science fiction, and search twitter.  Almost certainly I miss lots of posts every week, so do let me know about your blog if you read and review lots of mg sff! And always, let me know if I missed your post, or if you're an author, reviews of your book.

The Reviews

44 Tiny Secrets, by Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King, at Book Craic

The Class from the Black Lagoon, by Mike Thaler, at BooksForKidsBlog

Diana and the Island of No Return by Aisha Saeed, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed. and The Neverending TBR

The Door Within, by Wayne Thomas Batson, at Wanderer's Pen

The Egyptian Mirror, by Michael Bedard, at Mom Read It

Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, at PidginPea's Book Nook

Ghost Squad, by Claribel A. Ortega, at Ambivert Words

The Golden Orchard, by Flora Ahn, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook review)

Guardians of Magic, by Chris Riddell, at Twirling Book Princess

Hatch, by Kenneth Oppel, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

Into the Tall, Tall Grass, by Loriel Ryon, at Mom Read It

The Mulberry Tree, by Alison Rushby, at Charlotte's Library

The Mysterious Messenger, by Gilbert Ford, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate, at Waking Brain Cells and Redeemed Reader, and the audiobook at proseandkahn

Rise of ZomBert, by Kara LaReau, at Charlotte's Library

The Ship of Shadows, by Maria Kuzniar, at The Bookwyrm's Den
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, by L.D. Lapinski, at Arkham Reviews

Tanglewreck, by Jeanette Winterson, at Charlotte's Library

The Way to Rio Luna, by Zoraida Córdova, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

A Wolf Called Wander, by Rosanne Parry, at Never Not Reading

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads-- Paris on Repeat, by Amy Bearce, and The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby

Authors and Interviews

Kristiana Sfirlea (Legend of the Storm Sneezer) at Stephanie Burgis

Kara LaReau (Rise of Zombert) at  Nerdy Book Club




7/18/20

The Mulberry Tree, by Alison Rushby

The Mulberry Tree, by Alison Rushby (Candlewick, middle grade, July 14 2020) is the sort of middle grade book I find most pleasantly escapist--set in the real world, in an English village, but with ominous supernatural forces at play, in this case, in the form of a sinister tree.

"Do naught wrong by the mulberry tree, or she'll take your daughters ... one, two, three."

It begins with ten-year-old Immy's family house-hunting in England. They moved from New Zealand, partly because her mother has a good new job in a hospital, and partly to give her dad a fresh perspective on life; problems with a patient of his back in New Zealand sent him into a spiral of depression. After many false starts, they find what seems to be the perfect home--a little cottage, with an ancient mulberry tree in its garden, in a charming village. But when the realtor finds out Immy's turning 11 soon, she abruptly tries to dissuade them from renting it. 

Two other girls who lived in the house mysteriously disappeared on their own 11th birthdays. And the village is convinced it was the doing of the mulberry tree. Immy and her family think this is nonsense. But the locals believe, and Immy has a hard time making friends with her new classmates as a result. But soon she starts to suspect there's truth to it. She starts to hear the creepy local rhyme about the tree playing in her head, and starts to feel that she has attracted the tree's attention. The kind old lady next door tells Immy about her own best friend, Elizabeth, one of the vanished girls (she and Immy also look after a family of hedgehogs, which is a lovely bonus!).

Immy's mother refuses to believe, and antagonizes the locals, while her father continues to struggle with depression. Immy herself becomes determined to not to let the tree win, but to figure out just what is happening and put an end to it. And she does, uncovering a forgotten piece of the past that lets her give the tree what it wants...and in the end, now at peace, the mulberry tree sets everything to rights.

If you like creepy mg fantasy in English villages, and stories of new kids plunged into the stress of making friends while having to cope with potentially fatal magical threats, you'll enjoy this one as much as I did! I loved the cottage, and Immy was an appealing protagonist; it was easy to empathize with her struggles (and with those of her parents as well, although when I was a mg reader I wouldn't have bothered to think much about the parents...) I got a bit hung up by the ending, which stretched my personal boundaries of what I'm willing to accept a magical tree can do to the breaking point/ I'd have been more satisfied if the tree had been more deeply rooted in a wider magical context, instead of just been a single very cross tree.

That being said, I did like the book as a whole very much!




And now I'm thinking of a post on magical mg trees (Juniper Berry, by M.P. Kozlowsky, The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, and (nice trees for a change!), The Magic of Melwick Orchard, by Rebecca Caprara, and I guess Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree series (though those are for younger readers...). Huh. That's all I'm coming up with. What magical trees am I missing?




disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

7/15/20

Rise of ZomBert, by Kara LaReau



Rise of ZomBert, by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Ryan Andrews (Candlewick, July 14 2020), is an excellent light horror story for 8-9 year-olds (although it's not actually horror unless you are a small woodland creature). It fits nicely into that slice of reading confidence development that falls between early chapter books and full throttle middle grade, with plenty of illustrations, but plenty of text as well.

In a cold, dark laboratory, a cat, Y-91 escapes its cage and makes it to the freedom of the world outside. Weak and starving, the cat finds shelter in a dumpster outside the YummCo Foods factory. The Big Boss of the lab is furious, and demands the cat be found.

The cat is found, but not by the lab assistants. Two nine-year old kids, Mellie and her best friend Danny, are using the factory as the setting for one of the horror movies Danny likes to make. Mellie's heart goes out to the poor animal when she see him in the dumpster, and she names him Bert and takes him home, even though her parents probably won't let her keep him. If she bothers to ask them, that is. So she doesn't, counting on them to be so wrapped up in their food and family blog, which stars her little twin siblings, that they don't even notice.

Mellie, a responsible new pet owner, hits the books to find out how to care for cats, and buys high quality cat food. Bert will have none of it, but demands to be let outside. He is a hunter, and the next day Mellie finds the distressing evidence of his prowess--headless corpses. Bert trusts her, though, and returns to her room to rest. And though Mellie is disturbed by the corpses Bert tries to share with her (his fondness for brains is rather zombie-like, and extends to the decapitation of her stash of stuffed animals), she loves him.

But the Big Boss and his minions are looking for Bert, and it's clear from the chapters told from the cat's point of view that he is not an ordinary animal. The lab is a place where bad things happen, the Big Boss is not nice at all, and Bert is in danger....

The story is delightfully creepy and full of dark mystery, and also full of friendship and family life. Mellie's relationship with her parents, strained by their obsession with creating food and family moments to document for the blog, improves; though they seem not to be paying much attention to her, they actually are better parents than she's giving them credit for. Her partnership with Danny is top notch, and it's his horror movie fixation that sets their minds turning to zombies...Bert is a character in his own right (though he stays always and clearly a cat, and never seems to be a thinking human person in cat form, which I appreciated). I also appreciated that as a result the reader is left not knowing just who or what he is...

The possibility that Bert's a zombie is creepy, but it quickly becomes obvious that the real horror is what's happening in the lab. Part of me wants to recommend the book to animal lovers, who will be right there with Mellie looking out for Bert, but sensitive animal lovers might be distressed by the all too real nastiness of experiments on lab animals (hinted at, though not explicitly described).

It was an abrupt shock to reach the end of this book only to find that we don't get the answers yet! I myself am suspicious of YummCo Foods, and their economic hold on the town....The sudden stop makes me want to read the next book, but it also was very harsh to be just left there with all the questions. This might annoy some young readers greatly.

But that being said, it's really easy to imagine lots of third grade kids loving Zombert, and I will be right there with them grabbing his next book!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

7/14/20

Tanglewreck, by Jeanette Winterson, for Timeslip Tuesday

I almost never say what I really think about books I don't like, unless there are really useful reasons not to like them (like hateful content). Mostly I get around this, if I feel I Have to review a book, by saying something like "readers who adore love-sick slugs will find these slimy antics delightful." It made a rather fun change of pace to write this....although I did finish it, without being forced to, and didn't complain to my loved ones vociferously while reading it, so it's more that it didn't work at all for me, I think. Readers with a higher tolerance than me for time and space travelling whimsical high jinxs where the stakes are so high as to be almost meaningless will doubtless find it delightful.

Tanglewreck, by Jeanette Winterson, a middle grade (ages 9-12) timeslip story, got great reviews when it came out in 2006:

"The sheer exhilaration of the adventure and the many fascinating historical and scientific allusions will keep readers engrossed through to the satisfying conclusion." -Publishers Weekly

"An appealing read for fantasy and science- fiction fans alike...Well-developed main characters add liveliness and suspense to the story, while secondary characters (a pair of inept thugs, the original Schrödinger's cat) add touches of humor to a basically sober story. The climax is chaotic and exciting; the resolution is realistic, bittersweet." -Kirkus Reviews

And more, which you can see gathered together in the Goodreads listing linked above.

So I was expecting great things. It started off really well, with time tornadoes wrecking havoc in London, stirring up bits of the past and making bits of the present vanish, and with an orphaned girl, Silver, living in a lonely old house (that has a mind of its own) with her unpleasant guardian. But then Silver gets tangled up in a huge plot involving the control of time and space through a device that just happens to be a family heirloom of hers, and in the course of figuring out what this device does, she realizes she is the chosen one of prophecy (I was never exactly clear on the whole prophecy business, but whether that was the fault of the book or of my muddled brain, I'm not sure).

In any event, there's lots of thwarting of bad guys, travel to a future planet with three moons that's also the afterlife (?), happy time (for Silver) spent under London with a culture of "Throwbacks," who escaped Bedlam (the insane asylum) many many years ago, and many more twists and tangles spawned by a marriage (a forcibly arranged sort of marriage) of physics and whimsy. There's also bits that "tug on the heartstrings" and when I read them I thought "my heartstrings are being tugged on." Mostly my emotions were left unstirred, though, and I never cared all that much about Silver and the friends she made along the way. I was pretty busy being confused. The time tornadoes, which I found interesting, stopped being important to the story (the planet of three suns far in the future that is also possibly the afterlife has no time tornadoes, and though there is a black hole it doesn't spit out 100 year old books so what's the point.)

So you may have gathered I didn't care for it, and the more I read, the more I felt like Tanglewreck was an excellent title for the book (my brain kept suggesting Time Tangle Wreck as an even more apt title....). But then again, I have a Very Strong Aversion to secret underground societies of "throwback" humans, especially ones with underground ponies. It doesn't work for me even in The Whispering Mountain, by Joan Aiken, who is a brilliant writer, and here it felt weird and rascist-esque (mainly because they were called throwbacks even though they were survivors, not actually throwbacks), but also they had spade-like hands of mole-ish (or spade foot toad-like) digging, which I found distrubing, and so after the time spend with them and one of the Throwback kids becoming Silver's new best friend for life I stopped caring much even though he's a perfectly nice character....






That I didn't care for the book, of course, doesn't mean that other people won't, which is why I started this with the quotes. (although, n.b. if you read the Kirkus quote--Schrödinger's cat is more an aside than a secondary character, so don't get your hopes up on that account). That being said, The Battle of the Sun (Tanglewreck 2, apparently) seems to have nothing to do with the planet of three suns, and my friend Maureen's goodreads review is very positive, so I will probably try it at some point...

7/12/20

This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (7/12/20)

Good morning! Here's what I found this week of interest to us fans of middle grade (9-12 years old) fantasy and sci fi.  Please let me know if I missed your post!  (nothing from me this week...sigh. Work got in the way of reviewing.)

The Reviews

Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon. by John August, at Twirling Book Princess

Britfield & The Lost Crown by C.R. Stewart, at Rajiv's Reviews

Heirloom (Seed Savers, Book 3), by Sandra Smith, at Children's Books Heal

The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee, at Puss Reboots

The House of One Hundred Clocks, by A.M. Howell, at Library Girl and Book Boy

Into the Tall, Tall, Grass by Loriel Ryon, at Waking Brain Cells

Kiki’s Delivery Service, by Eiko Kadono, translated by Emily Balistrieri, at Fantasy Literature

Mañanaland. by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Always in the Middle

The Marvelous Adventures of Gwendolyn Gray, by B.A. Williamson, at Middle Grade Minded

Midsummer's Mayhem, by Rajani LaRocca, at The Winged Pen

Scare Me, by K.R. Alexander, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta, at Ahtiya on Instagram

Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier, at Never Not Reading

Thomas Wildus and the Wizard of Sumeria(The Elandrian Chronicles #2), by J.M. Bergen, at J.R.'s Book Reviews

The Vanishing Trick, by Jenni Spangler, at Arkham Reviews


Authors and Interviews

Ash Van Otterloo (Cattywampus) at Literary Rambles

Chantel Acevedo (The Muse Squad) at Las Musas

Amanda Foody (The Accidental Apprentice) at Book Page

Jess Redman (Quintessence) at Teachers who read

Christina Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark) at The TeachingBooks Blog


Other Good Stuff

'The fascists were upset': radical Austrian fairytales published in English for first time, at The Guardian

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

"Philip Pullman’s New Novella Serpentine Follows a Teenage Lyra Belacqua" at Tor

"How J. K. Rowling Became Voldemort The backlash against the Harry Potter creator is a growing pain of her fandom." at The Atlantic

The trailer for the One and Only Ivan is out, via Scope Notes

The Last of Terry Pratchett’s Early Stories Will Come Out in September, at Tor

"House spirits to keep you company" at Fantasy-Faction

Katherine Langrish continues her look at strong fairy tale heroines with Maola Chilobain at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

"Crime-fighting Australian pigeons take flight to Hollywood with help from James Corden" at The Guardian
Who We Fight Against: The Silver Chair and Knowing Your Enemies, at Tor

A nice list of diverse mg fantasy, at Feminist Books For Kids

How a Wrinkle in Time changed sci fi forever, at Mental Floss 

Stay safe everyone; be like RI's big blue bug, and wear a mask!

7/5/20

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

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

The Reviews

Dragon Kiss, by E.D. Baker, at Puss Reboots

Dragons in a Bag, by Zetta Elliott, at BooksYALove

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch, by Julie Abe, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

The Future King (The Revenge of Magic #3), by James Riley, at Say What?

The Girl and the Witch's Garden, by Erin Bowman, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Grimworld, by Avery Moray, at Motif by Tanya

The Littlest Voyageur, by Margi Preus, at Redeemed Reader

The Lost Soul Atlas, by Zana Fraillon, at Noveltea Corner

The Magic in Changing Your Stars, by Leah Henderson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street, by Lauren Oliver, at Geo Librarian

The Map of Stars (York #3), by Laura Ruby, at Charlotte's Library

The Mostly Invisible Boy, by A.J. Vanderhorst, at Always in the Middle

North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson, at Woodpecker Books

Otto Tattercoat and the Forest of Lost Things, by Matilda Woods, at Charlotte's Library

Rise of ZomBert, by Kara LaReau, at Log Cabin Library

Thieves of Wierdwood, by William Shivering (aka Christian McKay Heidicker), at Charlotte's Library

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows, by J.M. Bergen, at A Garden of Books

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Twilight Hauntings, by Angie Sage, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Wayside School: Beneath the Cloud of Doom, by Louis Sacher, at Of Maria Antonia

The Witches of Willow Cove, by Josh Roberts, at Evelyn Reads

Two at alibrarymama--The Jumbie God's Revenge, by Tracey Baptiste, and Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez

Three at Random Musings of a Bibliophile--Anya and the Dragon, by Sofiya Pasternack, R is for Rebel by J. Anderson Coats, and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia

Authors and Interviews

Malayna Evans (Aria Jones and the Guardian's Wedja) at MG Book Village

Jarrett Lerner (The Engineerds Strike Back) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

Congratulations to Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, for winning the YA Locus Award this year (nb--it's more an upper MG book than a YA)

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