Seventh Grade vs the Galaxy, by Joshua S. Levy, for Timeslip Tuesday

I must start with a bit of a disclaimer--Seventh Grade vs the Galaxy, by Joshua S. Levy, for Timeslip Tuesday isn't a "time travel book."  But time travel does happen in it, getting our young heroes out of a sticky situation....and it having happened once, I'm thinking it might pop again in future adventures (I hope there will be future adventures!).

School 118 is a ship in orbit around Ganymede, which, though it might sound interesting to readers, isn't of particular interest to the elementary/middle school kids who are being schooled there.  Just boring routines of school, made more unpleasant for  seventh-grader Jack by his father's disgrace and the social fallout that's come Jack's way because of it.   But then everything dull and boring is shattered when the ship comes under attack, and  strange "Quarantine" countdown begins. Jack and two classmates, Ari and Becca, sneak off to the engine room to investigate what's happened, and Jack finds that the ship recognizes him, and asks if he wants to "engage."  And with the countdown at it's last second, he says the word, and the ship blasts off into space....and Jack finds his father had transformed the school into humanity's first space ship capable of light speed...

Which ends in the school and its kids and faculty being taken captive by an alien race that keeps a tight hold of their known space.  Not a friendly, welcoming hold for young emergent beings like humanity.

Now it's up to Jack, Becca, and Ari, with a bit of help from Ari's hamster, and whoever keeps sending Jack cryptic warnings, to free School 118 from the aliens clutches and make it back to the solar system. Bluff and chutzpah and luck get them  and the ship free of their alien jailers, though their classmates are left behind.  But how can they find the fuel their school ship needs to get home again? (this is where the time travel, a simple amusement in an alien arcade, comes in handy....)

And then when they get home, having saved their classmates and teachers, it's clear that the story of seventh graders vs a hostile galaxy is far from over....

So this has a lot of kid friendly energy to it, from the zero gravity dodgeball of the beginning to the kids putting their computer game skills to work to get out from the aliens control at the end of it.  The dynamic between the three main protagonists isn't tremendously deep, but it's realistic and amusing enough to do it's part to keep the story engaging. There's a bit of cool gadgetry for the young tech fan to want badly, lots of humor sprinkled throughout, even when things get tense, and the settling of humanity in Jupiter's orbit is good intro sci fi.

In short, this is definitely a solid pick for the sci-fi adventure loving 8-11 year old (both cover and title are very good indications of the sort of book it is, and kids who like those will like the book!)  There are other sci fi stories for this age with more emotional heft to them (Ambassador, by William Alexander, Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson), but this one really stands out for it's friendly-ness for kids looking for entertainment, with  kids like themselves saving the day (although this particular day still has lots of saving to come....)

disclaimer: review copy received from the author


The Deepest Blue, by Sarah Beth Durst

So yesterday evening was the end of a crappy weekend in which nothing went well and the weather was ick and there were no tasty snacks, and I gave up trying to Do all the Things around 7:30 pm and started reading The Deepest Blue, by Sarah Beth Durst, because I really wanted to.  By 8:30 I was not quite halfway through and cursing daylight savings because clearly I'd be staying up late till I finished.  But I read with such happy absorption that it only took me till 9:30, and then I could go to bed at peace!  It's always so nice to be reminded of why exactly one labels oneself a Reader.

But enough about me.

The Deepest Blue is set in the same world as the Queens of Renthia series, a world of bloodthirsty spirits barely (and sometimes not) controlled by strong women.  Unlike the three Queens books, this one is set on the islands out in the ocean, where people also live in the middle of a constant battle of wills between their queen and her heirs and the spirits, but where the structure of power and the training of heirs is not the same at all.

Mayara can sense the spirits, and control them in an untrained way.  She hides this ability, until she must use it to save her village.  Because then, just as she knew would happen, the Silent Ones come  to take her away.   The fact that she was just married is nothing to them.  The fact that they already took her older sister is nothing.  The fact that she has absolutely no interest at all in choosing between training to become one of the Queen's heirs, or being a Silent One, the law enforcers of the islands, is immaterial.

Mayara, believing her husband is dead, choses to try to become a heir.  The heirs of this realm are put to a trial that is most often fatal.  They are taken to an island full of spirits, who have been given one command--kill.   Any woman who survives for a month becomes an heir.

There are lies and secrets and death-dealing spirits in plenty on the island.  But there are also friendships and loyalties, and women helping each other, and actually doing something to fix things and regain some measure of control over their lives!

There's a second story also playing out, but I won't say what because spoilers, that's a lovely bit of intrigue of its own back on the main islands.

In any event, back to me--I loved it and it was just the right amount of intricacy of story and just the right amount of women I really liked spending time with!  And just the right sort of pacing, with lots of small details of ordinary things setting off the extraordinary things very nicely!  I'll give it one of the highest compliments I can-- I would be happy to start reading it all over again right now.

It isn't necessary to have read the Queens of Renthia books first, so if you feel daunted by the thought of a substantial trilogy, you could get your toes wet/bloody here first.  If you have read Queens and liked those books, you must read this because you will enjoy it lots and lots!  For younger readers, this might actually be the best book to start with.  It's not marketed as YA, but I know for certain sure I'd have loved it back at that age, as young as maybe 12, when I found Patricia McKillip and Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley.  The Queens trilogy feels more older-reader friendly to me, but Mayera, though married, felt young enough that an adolescent can live alongside her beautifully.  (Possibly the island where Mayera is trapped full of hostile spirits, where she makes best friends and they survive together and there's Drama will also feel familiar to kids actually in middle school/high school),

Disclaimer: review copy received ever so gratefully from the author


the mg sci fi/fantasy round-ups are on hold till the end of March

What with organizing Kidlitcon (coming up the week after next!) and finishing home renovations before Kidlitcon company comes to stay with me, I have no time for the Sunday round-ups.  But I do have lots of reviews planed for the next few weeks, and I'll be back rounding up at the end of March!


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (3/3/19)

Nothing from me this week (I am busy busy busy getting Kidlitcon 2019 all ready to go!), but here's what other people wrote about mg sci fi/fantasy books (let me know if I missed your post!)

The Reviews

Arlo Finch series, by John August, at Nerdophiles

Dragon Flight (Dragon Slippers #2) by Jessica Day George, at Hidden In Pages.

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie, by Garth Nix and at Sean Williams, at Locus

Loki's Wolves (The Blackwell Pages #1), by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at Say What?

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at Waking Brain Cells

Music Boxes, by Tonja Drecker, at Cat's Corner

A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem: a Dastardly Plot, by Christopher Healy, at alibrarymama

The Secret of Vault 13, by David Solomons, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier, at Imaginary Friends

Watch Hollow, by Gregory Funaro, at Rajiv's Reviews

Who Let the Gods Out? by Maz Evans, at Say What?

Two at alibrarymama--The House in Poplar Wood, by K.E. Ormsbee, and The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker,by Matilda Woods

Two at Geek Mom- Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows, and Maybe a Mermaid

Two at The Book Search--The Storm Keeper's Island and The Flooded Earth

and four at Random Musings of a Bibliophile--Angel and Bavar, The Book of Boy, The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Meddlesome, and Ogre Enchanted

Authors and Interviews

Melanie Crowder (The Lighthouse Between Worlds) at Middle Grade Book Village

Sayantani DasGupta (The Game of Stars) at Kirkus 

Tonja Drecker (Music Boxes) at Author June McCrary Jacobs

Other Good Stuff

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


Last of Her Name, by Jessica Khoury

Last of Her Name, by Jessica Khoury, is a an excellent sci fi adventure for any fans of the fall of the Romanovs and the possibility that Anastasia survived, and a good one simply for those who enjoy sci-fi adventure featuring strong female leads!

Stasia has spent her sixteen years roaming her father's vineyard with her dear friends Pol and Clio on a peaceful planet, one of a group known as the Belt of Jewels.  These planets were settled by humanity eons ago, and each went its own way until they were united through the communicative power of prisms and the family of scientists who discovered that power and became Emperors.   But sixteen years ago, the ruling family was overthrown, and now the planets are  held in the tight fist of  the Direktor Eminent and his Union henchmen.

When a union ship unexpectedly lands in Stasia's home town, on a mission to find the one daughter of the last emperor who might have survived, her life is upended.  The Direktor himself has come to stamp out a suspected Loyalist  insurgency and find the missing girl...and Stasia is that girl.  Pol, himself a Loyalist unbeknownst to her helps her escape on a ship the rebels have hidden, to take her to the Loyalist headquarters.  But Clio is left behind, along with her parents, and Clio in particular pulls at Stasia's heart.  That loyalty is more important than the struggle between the two warring factions, and she'll do whatever it take to save her friend.

That's the set up for a wild adventure, taking Stasia and Pol to many strange world, pitting them against many enemies, with new friends, and traitors, along the way.  Stasia must claim her difficult destiny if she is to save not just Clio, but the whole planetary confederacy, which depends on the mysterious prisms for which she is the only remaining point of access.

Stasia is not just a vessel for the larger plot, in large part because she doesn't want to be.  She doesn't want power, just her handy tool belt and things to fix, and her best friends, and this was perfectly believable.  The fervency of her need to save Clio struck me as excessive, but this passed as the story deepened in complexity (so if that bothers you to, don't let it stop you!).

The political conflict was a clear reimagining of the fall of the tsars and the rise of the Soviet Union, and I found it interesting and convincing.  Neither side of the struggle was clearly the "good guys."  The interplanetary travel and prism technology was a layer of sci-fi goodness that gave the story satisfying crunch (or perhaps the chocolate coating that gave a layer of tastiness.  Sorry.  I'm now thinking of kit kats, which has nothing to do with the book....).  

In any event, though I was doubtful for the first quarter or so because of not being intrinsically interested in more stories of lost princesses coming to power, which is where I thought this was going, it turned out to be not where this was going at all, and I liked it more and more as I read. It kind of reminded me of 1980s sci fi/fantasy--the sort of books I grew up on, and possibly explains why after reading this I reread Anne McCafrey's Crystal Singer (though the two books and their heroines are very different....). So yeah, I think teenaged me would have enjoyed this one lots.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Dragons Love Tacos 2, by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri, for Timeslip Tuesday

Here's a fun picture book for Timeslip Tuesday (which is code for "yet another week in which Charlotte wasn't organized enough to read a longer book in a timely fashion"). I have to confess I have never read Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, illustrated Daniel Salmieri.  I feel, however, that I grasped the point, and the sequel (Dragons Love Tacos 2) gracefully fills in what happened in the first book.

In this sequel, dragons still love tacos, but there are no more tacos to be had!  They are all gone.  The unnamed human protagonist fortunately has a time machine, and he takes a few of the dragons back to when there still were tacos, so they can bring them back and plant them and restore tacos to the grieving world.  Time-travel with taco-eating dragons is tricky; spicy tacos make Dragons flame, which is bad for the time machine, as is accidently using salsa in place of engine grease...so things get a little wonky, and the pure time travel of the first few hops in the machine, looking for a time before the dragons ate the spicy tacos, gives way to surreal alternate universe travel (dragons love diapers!  tacos love dragons!).

As a time-travel purist, I can't quite approve--there's a lack of clarity to the time travel even before it gets weird.  Why did the protagonist think they'd travelled too far back in time on the second hop?  Yes, it's prehistoric (mixing "cave man" and triceratops, sigh), but the tacos look fine... I don't understand why the protagonist kid thought there was a problem.  (If anyone can answer this for me, please do!).

So don't read it for the time travel, but take it for what it is--a silly (in the positive sense of the word) story with illustrations that are pleasantly relaxed and whimsical.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (2/24/19)

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

The Reviews

Beanstalker And Other Hilarious Scarytales,, by Kiersten White, at Reading Books with Coffee

Bone Hollow, by Kim Ventrella, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The  Crimson Skew, by S.E. Grove, at The Crimson Skew

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, at Fantasy Literature and Puss Reboots

Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

Freya and Zoose, by Emily Butler, at Book Nut

The Girl with the Whispering Shadow (The Crowns of Croswald #2) by D.E. Night, at Log Cabin Library

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat #1 and #2, by Johnny Marciano, Emily Raymond, Emily, and Robb Mommaets (illustrations), at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Light Jar, by Lisa Thompson,  at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Mona Lisa Key (Time Castaways #1), by Liesl Surtliff, at Charlotte's Library

The Mysterious World of Cosentino: The Missing Ace, by Cosentino with Jack Heath, at Mom Read It

Nest of Serpents (Wereworld #4), by Curtis Jobling, at Say What?

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Secret in Stone (Unicorn Quest #2), by Kamilla Benko, at Charlotte's Library and Pamela Kramer

Small Spaces, by Katherine Arden, at A Backwards Story

The Song From Somewhere Else by A F Harrold and Levi Pinfold, at Acorn Books

The Star-Spun Web, by Sinead O'Hart, at A Little But a Lot

Storm Hound, by Claire Fayers, at Book Murmuration

The Transparency Tonic (Potion Masters #2), by Frank L. Cole, at Geo Librarian

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Log Cabin Library

Authors and Interviews

Anne Ursu (The Lost Girl) at B. and N. Kids Blog

Claire Fayers (Storm Hound) at Mr. Ripleys Enchanted Books

Kamilla Benko (The Unicorn Quest series) at Geo Librarian

Carlos Hernandez (Sal and Gabi Break the Universe) at Rick Riordan Presents

Caldric Blackwell (The Sacred Artifact) at Books Direct

M. G. Velasco (Cardslinger) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

Monica Edinger has a great review collection in the NY  Times Book Review

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book have been announced. and two are middle grade:

Aru Shah and the End of Time, Roshani Chokshi (Rick Riordan Presents)
Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, Henry Lien (Henry Holt)


Secret in the Stone (The Unicorn Quest 2), by Kamilla Benko

Secret in the Stone is the second book in the Unicorn Quest series by Kamilla Benko (Bloomsbury Feb. 29, 2019). It continues the adventures of two sisters, Claire and Sophie, in the magical land of Arden that they'd entered (in good portal fantasy fashion) by climbing up one of the chimneys of their great-aunt's home.

Arden is a place full of magic, with different guilds each with their own domain of power.  Claire had discovered in the first book that she has Gemmer magic (an affinity with all things stone).  Sophie has yet to manifest any talent. But though Arden still has lots of magic, it's diminished since the unicorns were massacred by an evil queen years ago.   Meeting a unicorn toward the end of book one has given Claire hope that she can find out how to restore unicorns and their magic to Arden, keeping it from falling into civil war.  She and Sophie are possibly the last descendants of Arden's royal family, and if anyone can  wake the unicorns again, it is them.  Sophie is more doubtful.

But their path is complicated by a faction of Royalists, who want to bring the queen who killed the unicorns back (the story many people believe paints the queen in a much more positive light).  And so Claire and Sophie find themselves pawns in a larger game of conspiracies, secrets, and lies, complicated by the rising tensions between the various guilds of magic, and complicated as well when friends require rescuing from mortal peril.  On top of that, there's growing tension between the sisters--Claire's faith in unicorn restoration is not matched by Sophie, who's struggling with her complicated feelings about not having magic of her own.

The dangers mount as the book reaches its end, which comes with many new exciting surprises that will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next book!

It's a very satisfying middle grade fantasy--all the elements that one expects are there, with the interesting addition of explicit tension between the sisters--they love each other, but are frustrated with each other at the same time, and it's complicated by the fact that Sophie was dangerously ill in the real world.   So it's as solid a choice as you can get for offering to the young reader who loves unicorns (though they are actually not physically present in this book), the possibility of other worlds where ordinary kids can become magical, and stories of sisters!  

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Time Castaways: the Mona Lisa Key, by Liesl Shurtliff, for Timeslip Tuesday

If you enjoy quirky time-travel heist stories for middle grade readers, you'll love The Mona Lisa Key, the first book of Liesl Shurtliff's new Time Castaways series (Katherine Tegan Books, Sept. 2018).

Matt, adopted from Columbia, and his two younger (non-adopted) siblings, Ruby and Corey, have grown up spending almost as much time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as they have at home--both their parents work there.  They've also been very sheltered by their parents, forbidden to roam the city and never using public transportation.  Then one morning the kids, running late for school, decide to take the forbidden subway.  And it turns out their parent's rule was warranted, when the subway car turns into a time-travelling sailing ship.

The captain of the Vermillion crews his vessel with kids more-or-less randomly plucked from different times, and a few grown-ups of mysterious origin.  His interest in these particular kids, as it turns out, is not random at all.  Captain Vincent needs Max to solve a centuries old puzzle.

The first step is stealing the Mona Lisa in early 20th century Paris, at the exact same time that would-be art thieves are trying to abscond with her.  Captain Vincent explains that he's not a thief himself; he simply plucks treasures in danger from their moments of peril to be returned later.  And since the kids know the Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre in their own time, they accept that he's not a bad sort of time-travel pirate.

The Mona Lisa has a secret, and once that secret is unlocked, it leads to another clue, even harder to crack. , Captain Vincent become ferociously driven to solve the puzzle, pressing Max to use his gift for puzzle-solving deduction, and pressing the Vermillion on time-trip after time-trip, using the magical compass that lets him pick and choose when and where to go.

At the court of Queen Elizabeth, the kids' suspicions about the Captain prove justified, and only Max's strange rapport with the compass gives them any chance of seeing their own home place and time....

It's a whirlwind adventure.  The kids themselves would have welcomed more peaceful time on the ship in its home ocean between times, getting to know the crew (mostly friendly, all quirky), and the ship herself (she has a mind of her own, and I liked her lots).  Nor do they get to do much sight-seeing back in the past....it's mostly a series of in and out hops, with little interaction with people.  Character development is not a strong part of the story, especially for the two younger kids  (Corey, in particular, was a bit one-note), perhaps that will happen in the sequel.   So not my own personal favorite sort of time-travel book.  That being said, it is a fun mystery-infused adventure, though not, at this juncture at least, wildly original.  The feel of the story reminded a bit of Adrienne Kress, and I think if you like her books you'll like this.

The Kirkus review reaches much the same conclusion as I do: "Time-traveling pirates, whimsical humor, a sentient ship, and cliffhanger predicaments deliver generous helpings of quirky, retro-tinged entertainment." (Except I'm not sure what exactly they mean by "retro-tinged."  The kids had a cell phone, which made it seem totally au currant to me.  But possibly I am so old now that what seems normal to me seems retro to the youth of today....thinking even more about it, perhaps the fact that they shared a cell phone is retro.)


No mg sci fi/fantasy round up today

I have family visiting today, so no time for the round-up!  Come back next Sunday!


Cogheart, by Peter Bunzl

If you are in the mood for a late Victorian steampunk adventure (of the escape the bad guys sort) suitable for younger middle grade kids (8-9 year olds) but a pleasant read for grown-ups too, and like mechanical foxes, pick up Cogheart, by Peter Bunzl (Jolly Fox, Feb 12, 2019).  This has been on my Goodreads tbr list since it was first published over in the UK in 2016, and it was great to get the chance to read it now that it's being published here in the US!  (yes I know I could have gotten it through the Book Depository, but that way lies shopping madness....).

Lily's life at a regimented finishing school is unpleasant.  But when her father's housekeeper comes to fetch her away, things to not improve.  For one thing, tragedy has struck- her father is presumed to have died when his airship crashed.  For another, the housekeeper has taken over the house, tearing it apart in a mysterious search, all the money is (apparently) gone, and orphaned Lily (her mother died several years previously) has no one to care for her, except, perhaps, her godfather (though he is too old and sickly to take her in).

Meanwhile, the mechanical fox belonging to Lily's father survived the crash, and desperately tries to reach her to deliver a message.  But the fox is pursued by two murderous thugs (one of them truly creepy, with glass discs for eyes), and badly wounded by a gunshot, it barely makes it to a safe hiding place in the shed of the village clockmaker.  The clockmaker's son, Robert, finds the fox, who tells him to go get Lily.

Though Lily and Robert make it back to Robert's home safely, the two thugs are now pursuing them as well as the fox, and Robert's father is killed.  Fortunately they encounter a daring young woman who's an aviator as well as a journalist, and they escape in her zeppelin.   But the hunt goes on, and the stakes get ever higher, and the dangers greater...and their path leads to the heart of the mystery--Lily's father's greatest invention, the Cogheart…

Once the chase is on, about a quarter of the way into the book, it's an exciting and vivid adventure.  It had a steampunk Joan Aiken feel to it for me (the evil housekeeper reminded me vividly of The Wolves of Whillouhby Chase), and the mad dash through the skies and wide range of mechanicals was the sort of odd adventure she might have written if steampunk had occurred to her.  (I hope this is useful; if it is not useful because you have not read Joan Aiken, you should read Joan Aiken).

The two kids, Lucy and Robert, both were given the chance to have their characters made clear to the reader before life and death made character development mostly a matter of being brave (which was a greater leap for Robert than for Lily; his self-doubt and personal fears were greater, and it was satisfying seeing him over come them).   I liked them both, Lily for wanting to read forbidden adventures at school, and for appreciating that the mechanical constructs had genuine feelings and personalities, and Robert for being stalwart and endearing.

So all in all, a satisfying story!  Not exactly to my personal taste, because desperate flights from murderous thugs are not my cup of tea, but I enjoyed it nonetheless because of all the interesting details.

(I seem to have used more parentheses here than in any other review I've ever written.  This is probably meaningful in some way, but I'm not sure what way that would be.  In any event, it should not be held against the book.)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (2/10/19)

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

The Reviews

The Adventurer's Guide to Treasure (and How to Steal It), by Wade Albert White, at Say What?

Angel and Bavar, by Amy Wilson, at Crossroad Reviews 

Big Foot and Little Foot by Ellen Potter (series review) at Geo Librarian

The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, at Sonderbooks

The Boggart Fights Back, by Susan Cooper, at BooksForKidsBlog

Cogheart, by Peter Bunzl, at Log Cabin Library, Confessions of a Serial Reader, and Cracking the Cover

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George, at Hidden in Pages

Eventown, by Corey Ann Haydu, at Waking Brian Cells

The Ghost Road, by Charis Cotter, at Puss Reboots

The Girl with the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at By Singing Light

The Hive Queen, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden in Pages

The Ice Garden, by Guy Jones, at Charlotte's Library

Into the Jungle, by Katherine Rundell, at Redeened Reader

The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis, by Sharon Ledwith, at Say What?

Little Red Rodent Hood, by Ursula Vernon, at Jean Little Library

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at Kristi Call and Maria's Melange

Nightbooks, by J.A. White, at Forever Lost in Literature

Outwalkers, by Fiona Shaw, at Charlotte's Library

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, by Roland Smith, at The Winged Pen

A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano, at Charlotte's Library
Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile and Reading in the Middle Grades

Unwritten, by Tara Gilboy, at Sharon the Librarian

Viper, by Bex Hogan, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

We're Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey, at Fuse#8

Authors and Interviews

Henry Lien (Peasprout Chen series) at WriteOnCon

Michelle Harrison (A Pinch of Magic) at A little but a lot

Anna Meriano (A Sprinkle of Spirits) at Nerdy Book Club and Las Musas

Other Good Stuff

The Waterstones Children's Book Prize Shortlists have been announced; here's the "younger fiction:"
all but one (The Mystery of the Colour Thief) is speculative fiction!

A round-up of mythic fantasy at Jean Little Library

SLJ is holding a Middle Grade Magic virual summit March 27


Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano

It's such a lovely thing to enjoy the first book of a series lots (here's my review of Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble) and then to read the second book and not just enjoy it but love it!  A Sprinkle of Sprits (Walden Pond, Feb. 5 2019) continues the story of Leo, a girl whose family runs a magical bakery in a small Texas town, who longs to learn all she can about magic, even though her family thinks she's too young.  The oldest two of her four big sisters are also unencouraging about her friend Caroline; they don't think that magical folk should share too much with ordinary people.  Leo feels pressured to chose between friendship and magic, and she's knows she has responsibilities to the bakery...and now Caroline's feelings are badly hurt.

When Leo wakes up to find her abuela, dead for years, visiting her in very corporal form, she's sure that this time it isn't her fault.  Other spirits are popping up around town as well, and if it isn't Leo's magic at work, whose is it, and how can it be reversed?  The answer is unexpected, and a lovely surprise!

The six spirits all have their own agendas and unfinished business, and thought it becomes clear that they need to be sent back before they fade into nothingness, they aren't easily corralled.   Leo gets her family's permission to call on her friends to help, and a wild ghost chase ensues.  And finally, in the end, peace returns for both the living and the dead, and Leo finds out what her own particular magical gift is.

A Dash of Trouble is primarily about things going awfully wrong, so it was fun, but not desperately relaxing.  Things go wrong here too, but the point of the book is not magical mistakes, but family, communication, trust, and obligations, so it was a much warmer read!  I loved the spirits, each with their own concerns (they were sweetly mundane concerns--checking on family, garden, piano, and town...), and loved how Leo and Caroline's friendship survives its test to become stronger.  Leo becomes more empathetic, as well as more magical; she's much more likeable in this one!

And there are still all the warm, delicious treats being baked in the family business, sweeting the story even further.


For  more Anna Meriano goodness, including giveaways, visit the other blog tour stops!

February 5      Nerdy Book Club
February 7      Las Musas Reads
February 9      Charlotte's Library
February 10    A Library Mama
February 11    Boricua Reads
February 12    YAYOMG
February 13    Pragmaticmom
February 14    Latinos in Kidlit
February 14.   24hr.yabookblog

And finally, Anna Meriano will be here in Rhode Island in March for Kidlitcon Providence, talking about magic in the real world and signing books!


Outwalkers, by Fiona Shaw

Outwalkers, by Fiona Shaw (David Fickling Books, Middle Grade, Feb 26, 2019), is set in a future England that closed its boarders after the Faith Bombings.  To keep people "safe", they are chipped, and warned not to venture into the countryside for fear of the virus that lurks there.  When Jake's parents die, he's sent to one of the government homes, which are basically prisons for unclaimed kids.  Jake escapes, and returns to his old home, where he's reunited with his beloved dog, Jet.  But then he's faced with an impossible journey--escape from England to his grandparents in Scotland, on the other side of a heavily militarized boarder.

Fortunately for Jake, he's found by a band of Outwalkers, kids in circumstances similar to his own, who are also trying to head to the free north.  The Outwalker kids have been on their own long enough to learn how to survive...but even once they remove their chips, the journey north is fraught with danger.  When a security guard accidently dies while trying to catch them in London, the danger gets even more intense.  Escaping into an abandoned Underground station, they are safe for the moment, but it is a trap.  And when a new girl joins their band, wanted by one of the highest government officials in the country, a safe way north seems even harder to believe in.

But they make it in the end, thanks to remarkable luck and a series of helpful grownups appearing like dei ex machina to risk their own lives to get the kids to safety.

It's certainly an exciting story, with lots of peril and uncertainty and close shaves.  If  you like survival stories, you'll find lots to enjoy in that regard;  hunger is a constant in these kids' lives (aside--I appreciate that one of the things the kids steal is tampons; nice bit of realism!). If you are looking for strong friendships, you'll find them here too, to a certain extent.  The reader is expected to believe in the strong bonds that form amongst the kids as they look out for each other (and I did), but the stress of their journey, and the traumas that each one carries with them, means that there's little time for bonds stemming from sharing and talking.   Fiona Shaw's choice to indicate dialogue with beginning dashes, -like this, she said, is jarring, and didn't work well for me, and what will young readers think of it?

So my reaction was somewhat mixed, but if you like kids on the run from the evil government, and it is a very evil government, terrifyingly plausible, you might well enjoy it lots!

In case you were wondering/worrying-- Jet, Jake's dog, has a role in the story, and (spoiler warning) he doesn't die.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Ice Garden, by Guy Jones

The Ice Garden, by Guy Jones (Chicken House, January 2019 in the US), is the story of a lonely girl who finds her way through magic to a frozen garden, a friend, and a terrible choice.

Jess is allergic to the sun, and so her mother keeps her safely, vigilantly working to protect her daughter, which means keeping her inside almost all the time, and letting her go outside only when shrouded against all possible touch of the sun.  So Jess has no friends, and her only escape is in writing stories.  One night she rebels, and walks out of the house unprotected...and finds herself entering a night-time garden all made of ice.  It is a beautiful, magical place, and there Jess finds a friend, a strange boy named Owen.

Owen is not communicative about the garden, though he does hint that there's a dark side to it's beauty.  And Jess is so delighted both to be outside and to have a friend that the whispers of darkness are irrelevant.  In the meantime, her hospital visits become more interesting when she starts sneaking into the room of a boy in a coma to tell him stories.

Then both worlds collide when Owen tests the limits of the ice-gardens magic to give Jess her heart's desire--to stand in the sun, unafraid.  And Jess is faced with undoing the result of that gift, and a terrible choice that will determine the fate not just of herself, but both boys...

One thing bothered me about the book, Jess's mother seems almost pathological in her protectiveness....it seems like she could have given her daughter more semblance of a normal life, but instead infantilizes her, calling her "little one" all the time.   So Jess has almost no agency, which is why sneaking out of the house at night is so important to her.  In the last conversation between Jess and her mother in the book, though, the mother makes Jess promise never ever to do such a thing again, and it's like she wants to trap her daughter forever (quite possibly I'm reading too much into it...but that's how I felt).

The ice-garden is a lovely, magical bit of wonder, such as will delight the young reader who loves beautifully described impossible places.   Jess's friendship with Owen also makes for good reading, and I didn't actually mind the magical healing/unhealing part of the end.  I also wasn't bothered by the complete lack of explanation for the magic; I went as far as to ask myself if I should be, but decided not to be.   Sometimes ice gardens happen.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (2/3/18)

Here's this week's round-up; let me know if I missed your post!  thanks.

The Reviews

The Alchymist, by Michael Scott, at proseandkahn

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin, at Books4yourkids

Cogheart, by Peter Bunzl, at Geek Reads Kids

The Collectors, by Jacqueline West, at Lindsay Maeve Schubert

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1), by Anna Meriano, at Fafa's Book Corner

The Darkdeep, by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs, at Cracking the Cover

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, at Charlotte's Library

Eleanor Roosevelt's in my Garage, by Candace Fleming, at Charlotte's Library

Eternal Seas, by Lexi Rees, at Chrikaru Reads

The Extremely High Tide, by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats, at Crossroad Reviews

Lenny's Book of Everything, by Karen Foxlee, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at For Those About to Mock and Teach Mentor Texts

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book, by Will Mabbitt and Ross Collins, at Puss Reboots

The Midnight HOur, by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder, at The Book Activist

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Suzanne Goulden

The Ropemaker, by Peter Dickinson, at Puss Reboots

Steel Magic, by Andre Norton, at Tor

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows, by J.M. Bergen, at Always in the Middle, Bookworm for Kids, and Smitten for Fiction

Authors and Interviews

Anne Ursu (The Lost Girl) at Publishers Weekly

Author Kim Ventrella (The Skeleton Tree, Bone Hollow) talks about Magical Realism in Middle Grade at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

Congratulations to The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Newbery Honor) and The Collectors, by Jacqueline West (Schneider Family Book Award MG honor) representing MG fantasy in the ALA awards! And congratulations to Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award.


Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee

The most recent book from Rick Riordan Presents, Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee (January 2019), takes Korean mythology on a wild ride into space, and it's lots of fun!  Actually I take that back, it isn't really "fun" because mostly things are going wrong for the young heroine,  Min, a shapeshifting fox girl from a backwater planet.

The book starts by things going very wrong indeed, with a government agent coming to Min's family farm to ask about her older brother, a cadet in the space corps. who apparently deserted to go find the legendary Dragon Pearl, a device of terraforming magic,  Min ends up knocking him out with a sauce pan.

Recognizing that staying peacefully at home isn't a great option for her, Min decides to set out on her own to find her brother.  Finding the Dragon Pearl would be great too--her planet's terraforming never was completed.  Her journey eventually takes her to the very war ship her brother served on.  A newly dead cadet lets her assume his form (something fox magic lets her do), and she, a thirteen-year old girl, has to use all her magic and cunning to pass as a 16 year old boy.  And now she has the ghost's agenda (solving the mystery behind his death) to take care of as well as her own quest for her brother and the Dragon Pearl.

The warship, captained by a shapeshifting tiger, is full of secrets and lies, and there is danger both without and within its hull, both to Min and to the thousand planets...

So there are lots and lots of  times when everything is very tense indeed, making it hard for me to relax.  Happily, there are less fraught elements as well, such as Min's experiences as a cadet, trying desperately to figure out what she's supposed to be doing, and making friends with the friends of the dead boy (which is a little disturbing, but which is all sorted out in the end).  The friends are a female dragon and a non-binary goblin with a snack-conjuring fork among other magics, and I loved the parts of the story in which they and Min are together.

The plot is intricate without being confusing, the world-building is superb, and the characters are well-developed, and Min, in particular, with her mix of cunning and naivete, is fascinating.  Min's magic, and the magic of other supernatural types of persons encountered along the way, add wonder to the sci fi elements.  I now wonder why there aren't more hybrid sci fi/fantasy space stories, because when well done, as it is here, it's great reading!

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