New Releases of Fantasy and Science for Children and Teenagers, the Cybils Eve edition!

Tomorrow the 2009 Cybils begin!

The Cybils are book awards given by the children's and young adult book blogging community. Everyone (blogger or not) is invited to nominate the books of the past year they love best in a number of categories, including Science Fiction and Fantasy. From these nominations, a panel of readers selects a shortlist, which then goes on to a group of judges. Any book in English published from October 16th 2008 to October 15, 2009 is eligible--this includes books published this past year in the US that might have already been published in their home country, but have not yet been nominated for the Cybils. There will be more details about how to nominate books on the Cybils Website tomorrow. Please spread the word!

Science fiction and fantasy are divided into two age groups (M.G. and Y.A.), and I am fortunate to be on the nominating committee for the younger group. I hope that lots of great books end up on our list! Last year there were c. 60 middle grade books, and c. 100 YA books; I bet there are many more than that this year....

I hope that my lists of new releases prove helpful to people like myself who have trouble remembering books they read in the past year. I only started doing this in April, though, so I have only the faintest idea what books were published from October, 2008, through March, 2009...

So, that being said, and much more about the Cybils to come, here are the new releases of science fiction and fantasy books for children and teenagers from the end of September, taken from the list at Teens Read Too, with help from Amazon.

THE APOCRYPHON: FABULOUS TERRIBLE by Sophie Talbot. "In your first year as a student at Trumbull Woodhouse school for girls, your secret psychic gifts have led you into the depths of a mythic side of the school known only to a select few. The elite school has a powerful history that has been kept secret for the past 125 years. Warring factions, strained alliances, and a hidden magic all lurk beneath the posh surface of your exclusive school. At the center of the mystery lies The Apocryphon, a book of secret texts and prophecies written by school founder Emma Woodhouse. The Apocryphonshifts the tide of power between Lionhead, a group of adults who claim you are “The One”: the girl who was prophesied in the book, someone who will change the future with her unprecedented abilities and powers. Lionhead has controlled The Apocryphon for decades- but if you can locate it and unify the two factions, your school will change forever. You've always been ambivalent about your psychic powers. But what if they are the key to making you an insider for the first time in your life?"

THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX: NATHANIEL FLUDD, BEASTOLOGIST by R. L. LaFevers. "Nathaniel Fludd’s life has taken a turn for the worst. With his parents lost at sea, he lands on the doorstep of a distant cousin—the world’s last remaining beastologist. Soon Nate is whisked off on his first expedition, to Arabia, where the world’s only phoenix prepares to lay its new egg. When disaster strikes, Nate quickly finds himself all alone. Will he be able to see the phoenix safely hatched, keep his accidental pet gremlin out of trouble, and rescue his guardian from the Bedouin? If he fails, nothing will stand between the world’s mythical creatures and extinction. Too bad Nate’s not the sort of boy who enjoys adventure . . .yet."


SPELLBINDER by Helen Stringer. "Belladonna Johnson can see ghosts. It’s a trait she’s inherited from her mother’s side of the family, like blue eyes or straight hair. And it’s a trait she could do without, because what twelve-year-old wants to be caught talking to someone invisible. It is convenient, though, after Belladonna’s parents are killed in a car accident. They can live with her the same as always, watching the same old TV shows in their same old house. Nothing has changed . . . until everything changes. One night, with no warning, they vanish into thin air—along with every other ghost in the world. It’s what some people think ghosts are supposed to do, but Belladonna knows it’s all wrong. They may not be living, but they’re not supposed to be gone. With the help of her classmate Steve, a master of sneaking and spying, Belladonna is left to uncover what’s become of the spirits and to navigate a whole world her parents have kept well-hidden. If she can’t find her way, she’ll lose them again—this time for good."

by Angie Sage. "In this fifth book in the Magykal series, Septimus ends up on a captivatingly beautiful island, one of seven set in a sparkling sea. He's stranded there with his badly injured dragon, Spit Fyre, along with Jenna and Beetle. There are some strange things about the island, including a Magykal girl named Syrah, a cat-shaped lighthouse that has lost its Light, and an eerie presence that sings to Septimus—can he escape the persistent call? Trouble is also brewing for Lucy and Wolf Boy, who have become entangled with some nefarious sailors at sea, and for Milo Banda, Jenna's father, who is harboring a mysterious treasure chest in his ship's hold."

THE SEED OF HOPE by Quinton Wall. "Growing up in Devon Grove, kids are used to magic talents. After all, magic grows on trees --- literally. One bite of the magical apples, and your wildest dreams could come true. Turning invisible, flying, and even talking to animals are all just part of everyday life. Like any kid in Devon Grove, thirteen-year-old Charlie Parker has been waiting for his talent apple his entire life, but he has even more at stake: his father is the caretaker of the Talent Tree, the source of the town's magic, and someday Charlie will inherit the responsibility, whether he wants to or not. But when Charlie's apple is stolen from him and the great Talent Tree falls, killing his father, Charlie and his five companions must embark on a quest to find the mythical Bag of Brakka. The Bag, said to foretell the future, holds the key to Charlie discovering who stole his talent, and why his father died. Friendship, loyalties, and magical abilities are put to the test when the companions discover they are in the center of a plot that threatens to destroy the world they live in."

Young Adult

RAPTURE OF THE DEEP: BLOODY JACK ADVENTURES by Louis A. MeyerOn the very day that Jacky Faber is to wed her true love, she is kidnapped by British Naval Intelligence and forced to embark on yet another daring mission—this time to search for sunken Spanish gold. But when Jacky is involved, things don't always go as planned. Jacky has survived battles on the high seas, the stifling propriety of a Boston finishing school, and even confinement in a dank French prison. But no adventure has quite matched her opportunistic street-urchin desires—until now."

THE SQUIRE'S QUEST: THE SQUIRE'S TALES by Gerald Morris. "And why is it, after all of these years, that Terence is still just a squire, offering advice on how best to scrub the rust spots from armor? But Squire Terence has more to worry about than his place on the social scale. For all the peace and prosperity that has made England famous across Europe, Terence is uneasy. After nearly six months without contact with the World of the Faeries – not even from his old friend, the mischievous sprite Robin – Terence is sure something is rotten in King Arthur's court."

BETRAYING SEASON by Marissa Doyle. "Penelope (Pen) Leland has come to Ireland to study magic and prove to herself that she is as good a witch as her twin sister, Persy. But when the dashing Niall Keating begins to pay her court, she can’t help being distracted from her studies. Little does Pen know, Niall is acting upon orders from his sorceress mother. And although it starts as a sham, Niall actually falls deeply in love with Pen, and she with him. But even if he halts his mother’s evil plan, will Pen be able to forgive him for trying to seduce her into a plot? And what of Pen’s magic, which seems to be increasingly powerful?"

BLOOD RELATIVES VOL. III: VAMPIRES KISSES by Ellen Schreiber. "Raven's romance with her dreamy vampire boyfriend, Alexander, has been complicated once again by Alexander's menacing half-vamp cousin. Now that Claude and his fearless gang have been tricked out of the blood-filled vials that can turn them into full vampires, Claude will stop at nothing to find the real vials. Raven's family and friends could be in danger. When Claude teams up with Raven's longtime nemesis, Trevor, invitations soon go out for a vampire-themed masquerade party. Could Claude be scheming to turn all of the students at Dullsville High into vampires if he doesn't get what he wants? Raven and Alexander must try to stop Claude—but also ask themselves what really matters most in the end."

DEMON PRINCESS: REIGN OR SHINE by Michelle Rowen. "As if trying to fit in at a new school isn't stressful enough, sixteen-year-old Nikki Donovan just found out that her long-lost father is, in fact, the demon king of the Shadowlands—the world that separates and protects us from the Underworld. When she is brought there by the mysterious—and surprisingly cute—messenger Michael, she learns that her father is dying, and he wants her to assume the throne. To complicate matters, a war is brewing between the Shadowlands and the Underworld, her half-demon qualities are manifesting, and her growing feelings for Michael are completely forbidden. Ruling a kingdom, navigating a secret crush, and still making it home by curfew—what's a teenage demon princess to do?"

DREAMS OF THE DEAD: THE WAKING by Thomas Randall. "Sixteen-year-old Kara Foster is an outsider in Japan, but is doing her best to fit at the private school where her father is teaching English for the year. Fortunately she’s befriended by Sakura, a fellow outsider struggling to make sense of her sister’s unsolved murder some months ago. No one seems to care about the beautiful girl who was so brutally murdered, and the other students go on as if nothing has happened. Unfortunately, the calm doesn’t last for long. Kara begins to have nightmares, and soon other students in the school turn up dead, viciously attacked by someone . . . or something. Is Sakura getting back at those she thinks are responsible for her sister’s death? Or has her dead sister come back to take revenge for herself?"

DUPLIKATE by Cherry Cheva. "By the time Kate Larson accidentally fell asleep at three a.m., she'd already done more work in one night than the average high school senior does in a week. Getting into Yale has been her dream for years—and being generally overworked and totally under-rested is the price of admission. But when she opens her eyes the next day, she comes face-to-face with, well, her face—which is attached to her body, which is standing across the room. Wait, what? Meet Kate's computer-generated twin. Kate doesn't know why she's here or how to put her back where she belongs, but she's real. And she's the last thing Kate has time to deal with right now. Unless . . ."

THE EVERAFTER by Amy Huntley. "Madison Stanton doesn't know where she is or how she got there. But she does know this—she is dead. And alone, in a vast, dark space. The only company she has in this place are luminescent objects that turn out to be all the things Maddy lost while she was alive. And soon she discovers that with these artifacts, she can reexperience—and sometimes even change—moments from her life."

THE LOST TRAIN OF THOUGHT: THE SEEMS by John Hulme & Michael Wexler. "Fixer Becker Drane never thought things could get so bad: he's in deep trouble with The Seems for breaking so many rules, he never gets to see his girlfriend, and it looks like his days as a Fixer may be numbered. So when a train carrying a load of Thought destined for The World disappears, Becker reluctantly agrees to join a crew of fixers to solve the mystery—in The Middle of Nowhere. The mission leads Becker into a scenario more terrifying and dangerous than he could have ever prepared for. Getting the Train of Thought back on track is just a temporary Fix. Becker's real mission may prove to be saving The World from ending—forever."


  1. I've got a few issues:
  2. I'm a vampire now.
  3. One of my classmates was found dead, with telltale fang marks.
  4. I didn't do it! (really!)
  5. Nobody believes me, so . . .
  6. I'm going to have to find the real killer. I've already got three suspects. (three very cute suspects.)
  7. One more problem: I am seriously falling for one of them . . . but what if he's the killer?
PASTWORLD by Ian Beck. "What if all of London were really an amusement park—a whole city returned to Victorian times to entertain visitors from the twenty-first century? That's the wildly original premise of Ian Beck's Pastworld, a high-stakes mystery set in a simulated past. Eve is a lifelong resident of Pastworld who doesn’t know she’s living in a theme park until a mysterious threat forces her to leave home. Caleb is a visiting tourist who finds the lawlessness of the past thrilling—until he suddenly becomes a fugitive from an antiquated justice system. And in the midst of it all, in the thick London fog a dark and deadly figure prowls, claiming victim after victim."

The Lost Key, a Mystery with Whole Numbers

From the Graphic Universe line of Lerner books comes the "Manga Math Mysteries"-- books that combine elementary math with graphic-novelish, elementary-level, mystery stories.

The first of the series is The Lost Key, by Melinda Theilbar, illustrated by Tintin Pantoja (Lerner, 2009). In this story, a group of kids from a Kung Fu School must confront older bullies who have stolen the key to school and used it to make off with some of the school's gear. "If kung fu makes you so smart," reads the note they left behind, "maybe you can figure out where we hid your stuff." The kids must track down the lost items, using very simple math to make sure everything is there, and recover the lost key. (I thought, based on the title, that it might be fantasy-ish, but it is just really and truly about a lost key).

Both as a read aloud for my six-year old and an independent read for my nine-year old, this book worked just fine, and they both enjoyed it. I'd be very happy for more books in the series to throw their way. My older boy is a picky reader, but graphic stories of this level are something he eats up like candy (if he enjoyed eating candy, which he doesn't).

I'm not sure, however, that the deliberate insertion of math into the text quite works. The math was much more basic than I expected, at least a year or two, if not more, below the level of the text. Although the math was used by the kids to make progress in solving their mystery, they seemed to old to have to be actually counting out loud...I think, though, that the level of math involved gets higher in later books in the series, which would make sense.

What made this book really stand out in my mind, however, was this:

Isn't she a kick-ass karate teacher? The kids are a pretty multicultural lot too.

Here's another review, at Comics Worth Reading.

(review copy received from Lerner)

Ask Charlotte

Welcome to this week's edition of Ask Charlotte, in which I answer the questions typed into search engines by the masses of desperate people seeking help, and finding my blog instead.

This week's questioner appears to be a would-be author, looking for inspiration, a cool plot that hasn't been taken, or possibly just searching for a void in the literary world that needs filling.

He or she is looking for "books to write." Google gives you 17,700,000 hits on this, but there is no specific list available.

From perusing my stats, I know of two books that lots of people would like to see written: "why didn't make ricky ricotta neptune"? and while we're at it, why didn't ricky ricotta pluto, either?

If anyone does, in fact, know if these last two Ricky Ricotta books ever will be written, over a thousand people have tried to find out by reading my blog, and we'd all appreciate an answer...


Kindred, by Octavia Butler, for Timeslip Tuesday

Kindred, by Octavia Butler (1979, adult fiction/fantasy).

What if you found yourself whisked away from your world of 1976, from your husband, to a slave plantation in early 19th-century, and the horror of slavery became real? What would it mean, to be black, to be a woman, to be a person used to having choices, to be a person trying to defend your Self, and to be pulled into in a world where those in power own your body, and would own your soul, if they could?

This is what happens to Dana, drawn through time whenever death threatens her white ancestor, Rufus. With each of his brushes with death--as a boy, and as a man--Dana is compelled to save him, so that his daughter, the child of one of the slaves on his family's plantation, can be born.

Saving Rufus from death is relatively straightforward. Spending months at a time there is not. Rufus is alternately charming and vicious, loving and hateful, not entirely blameless, but guilty as sin. Just as he holds the power of life and death over Dana, for a black woman can be killed or sold with ease, so she holds it over him, each time she is pulled back to save him. Dana tries to use this power do what she can to influence Rufus so that he breaks at least a little from the patterns of injustice that have been the norm for his family, while struggling with the brutal and hideous facts of life on a slave plantation.

One of the most powerful uses of the timeslip in fiction is to let people from the present describe the horrors of the past. Seeing the past from the framework of the present, the time travelling character is a removed observer, an anthropologist bringing back stories of the other, and the author doesn't have to worry about pesky anachronisms. Things that are horrible are seen as such by the character from the future, without any gloss of familiarity.

In a 2003 (I think) interview at Writers and Books, Butler says this herself: "It’s one thing to read about it and cringe that something horrible is happening. I sent somebody into it who is a person of now, of today, and that means I kind of take the reader along and expose them in a way that the average historic novel doesn’t intend to, can’t."

Butler takes the potential of this situation and uses it to heart-rending effect in her portrayal of early 19th-century slavery. It is a stunner of a portrayal, making the book difficult reading, and I highly recommend Kindred on this account alone.

But this is only part of the story. For me, the larger interest lay in the character of Dana, black, yet "whiter" in behaviour, speech, and education, than the slaves in Rufus' household. She is there at least partly through her own choice (she can return to her own time, anytime she wants to try to kill herself), taking punishment and pain and degradation, but never acting strongly to affect change. She is conflicted in her feelings about Rufus--wanting to save him, wanting to simply hate him.

The story asks what a person would be will to do to save themselves, provided they have an idea who that "self" might be. It asks how much a person might push against an intolerable situation, or how they might come to tolerate what was unimaginable. At the end, Dana must choose which she will do, and be forced, at last, to act.

Postscript re timetravel, science fiction, and serious subjects:

Here's more from the same interview I quoted above:

Butler: When I first wrote the book, I got a little bit of criticism for trivializing slavery. You know, writing what they thought of as a science fiction novel about it.

W&B: Do you consider yourself a science fiction writer?

Butler: I consider myself a writer. As you probably are aware, it’s unbelievably boring to have people continually trying to get you to define, oh, are you writing speculative fiction or science fiction or… You know, is it a good story? And if so, then accept it as that.

W&B: You don’t consider that just the use of time travel makes a book science fiction?

Butler: It would be science fiction if I had presented a mechanism, maybe some phony physics. But no, I didn’t do any of that—it’s a grim fantasy.

Three Writing Contests

Via Finding Wonderland, via Yat Yee, comes news of the "2009 Genre Wars Fiction Writing Contest! We invite fiction writers to submit your 1 to 2,000-word short stories to us. The contest deadline is December 1, 2009 at 11:59 p.m. PST, and we plan to announce the winners on January 7, 2010, which marks the Literary Lab's 1st anniversary. Multiple submissions allowed."

Over at The Spectacle, we've been challenged to "Write the beginning of a spooky/scary/suspenseful story (up to three sentences). Make it original, make it surprising, make us want to read more." The cool part about this one is that us blog readers get to vote on the winner.

And there's a Flash Fiction competition at New Scientist: "Send us your stories set one hundred years into the future, and a panel of judges headed by acclaimed science fiction writer Stephen Baxter will pick the best to be published in a future issue of New Scientist. We'll publish a selection of the most entertaining and thought-provoking online.
Your story should be no more than 350 words in length.... The closing date is 15 October 2009."


Ballad, by Maggie Stiefvater

Ballad, by Maggie Stiefvater (Flux 2009, YA, 352pp), picks up where Lament (2008) left off. Dierdre and James, having survived an emotionally wrenching, and in James' case, physically damaging, encounter with the Faerie, are now at a boarding school for the musically prodigious. In this second book, the story focuses on James--the smart aleck, eccentric, funny, loving bagpiper that I wanted more of in Lament. This change of focus makes Ballad work as a stand-alone; Dee, the central character of Lament, is mostly off-stage.

And this is breaking James' heart, because he loves Dee, and she, still caught up in the tangle of her love for the souless fairy assassin of Lament, seems to be shunning him. Or using him. Or both.

Into James' life comes Nuala, the Leanan Sidhe, who inspires supernatural heights of creativity in the men whose lives she uses to feed her own. But James says no to her offer of unlimited inspiration (and added bonuses), and sets their relationship down a path that will change both of them forever.

And the hills outside the school are echoing with the sound of faerie revels, and the song of the King of the Dead....and Dierdre, James, and Nuala are drawn into a darker story then they had ever dreamt of.

Gosh, I did so enjoy this one! Nuala is, hands down, my favorite fictional faerie lover. She's uncertain, smart, conflicted--just beautifully three-dimensional. James is a most excellently drawn character too, and their relationship is fascinating.

So much so that it's hard for me to think critically about this book. If I had stopped occasionally while reading to look closely at the plot elements of the faerie side of things, I have a feeling that I might have unresolved questions. But I wasn't at all in the mood for nit-picking as I read, and, frankly, I wasn't that interested in that part of the story. I just wanted to find out what happened with James and Nuala.

Because, you see, Nuala has only a few weeks to go before she must burn alive in a bonfire in order to come back to life, a cycle she has been enduring for centuries. So the question of her relationship with James is rather a, um, burning one.
"If you know you're going to die in a bonfire on Halloween, why not just lock yourself in a room somewhere? Then when they light the fires and ask you to come out, just tell them they can put their matches where the sun don't shine."

Nuala gave me the most scathing look in the history of scathing looks. "What a clever idea I've never thought of that. And I'm sure all the previous versions of myself never did either. Idiot."

"Okay, okay. Point taken. This will probably earn me another scathing look, but are you sure?"

"Sure about what? You being an idiot?" Nuala laughed, but her fingers were trembling in mine; I held her fingers tight to still them." (page 225).

A fantastic, fun read, told in the alternating viewpoints of Nuala and James, interspersed with text messages from Dee that she never sends...Even if you think the faerie thing has been done to death, this might well change your mind.

Here at Maggie Stiefvater's blog you can find both the playlist for Ballad, and an amazing contest...

At Angieville, you can enter to win a copy of Ballad (ends October 1). Here is Angie's review, and another review at In Bed With Books.

(review copy received from the publisher)

Flowers for Algernon, for Banned Books Week

I wasn't surprised to see Slaughterhouse Five show up when I did a google search for banned or challenged science fiction and fantasy books. But I was pretty stunned to learn that Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes (published as a novel in 1966), was number 43 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999.

Flowers for Algernon tells the story of a young man of very low intelligence whose IQ is raised to genius level through a miracle of modern medicine. And that's all I'll say, not wanting to spoil any of the rest of it.

Apparently, the parts of the book where Charlie struggles to understand himself as a sexual person are troubling. In January 1970, for instance, two school boards in Canada banned Flowers for Algernon from their ninth-grade curricula and the school library, after a parent complained that it was "filthy and immoral". From Wikipedia: "The president of the BC Teachers' Federation criticized the action. Flowers for Algernon was part of the BC Department of Education list of approved books for grade nine and was recommended by the BC Secondary Association of Teachers of English. A month later, the board reconsidered and returned the book to the library; they did not, however, lift its ban from the curriculum."

I was in eighth grade when I read it the first time. I don't remember the "filthy and immoral" bits.*

I remember how much I cried.

I remember how my arrogant attitude that intelligence was the standard by which to judge people received a powerful and much needed kick in the tail.

I remember crying more.

Why anyone would want to keep their kids from reading this lesson in compassion is beyond me. They probably hadn't read it.

* Ant this is not because I was hardened and jaded--my mind was still very much that of a pure and innocent child. I think. It was, after all, not until ninth grade that I read Clan of the Cave Bear et al., by Jean M. Auel (frequently challenged) and Forever, by Judy Blume (which of course is so challenged as to not be worth mentioning).


The Mammoth Academy in Trouble

Last year my children fell hard for The Mammoth Academy, by Neal Layton. It is a perfect book for the young reader venturing into "real" books-- simple but substantial text, lots of pictures, and a fun story involving a school for mammoths and other prehistoric creatures and their encounter with primitive humans.

So there were excited noises from both of them when I presented them with The Mammoth Academy in Trouble (Henry Holt, 2007 in the UK, 2009 here, early middle grade, 141 pp). In this sequel, we meet again the young mammoths Oscar and Arabella as they arrive at the Academy for a new semester, looking forward to taking part in the Founder's Fiesta! But their spirits are damped by the sinister graffiti on the school walls--"We is gonna git you!!"

The humans are back, and closing in on the school. Inside, preparations for the Fiesta move on apace, but outside winter blizzards are brewing. The students are trapped inside by the fierce snows, and the humans are preparing to attack....

Will Arabella's smarts and Oscar's ingenuity be enough to save the pupils of the Academy from the bellies of the hungry savages?

I love the Mammoth Academy. Here's their science lesson:

"And now, start mixing things in test tubes..."

Fox's test tube turned brown.

Oscar's test tube turned orange.

But Arabella's test tube started to fizz and spit little silver sparks all over the place, finally going POOF! in a cloud of thick green smoke.

"Fascinating!" said Dr. Van Der Graph. "I think you have just made a scientific discovery!" (page 35)

And I love the dance class, where the mammoths are told to "imagine you are tiny feathers floating on the breeze...." (page 37)

Adventure, humor, funny and engrossing drawings, and charming characters...what's not to like. I recommend them very, very, enthusiastically to the five or six year old who loves the Ice Age movies, and the parent reading this out loud, or the older kid just becoming an independent reader of longer books.

There are two more chapter books out in the UK--they would make such lovely Christmas presents for my six year old that I might not be able for them to come out over here. I am also very tempted by another of his books, The Story of Everything...


New Releases of Science Fiction and Fantasy for Children and Teenagers--the almost the end of September edition

Here are the its-almost-but-not-quite-the-end of September new releases of science fiction and fantasy for children and teenagers. And boy, it is Staggering how this genre outnumbers realistic fiction--it was about six to one. Part of this, though, is that the Teens Read Too website list from whence I get my information doesn't seem to have middle grade fiction other than fantasy, so it's skewed. But still.

THESE ARE ALL ELIGIBLE FOR THE CYBILS AWARDS! Someone must quickly read them, to see if they are worth nominating! Nominations for the Cybils begin October 1, and end October 15.

9-12 year olds

THE DRAGON IN THE DRIVEWAY: DRAGON KEEPERS by Kate Klimo. "It's been raining for days, and dragon keepers Jesse and Daisy have been stuck inside with their dragon, Emmy. As soon as the rain stops, they are out of the house in a flash. First on their list of things to do? To find out what the villainous Dr. St. George—a dragon slayer in disguise—is up to. But Dr. St. George isn’t in his office at the college, and all of his stuff is gone! Jesse, Daisy, and Emmy quickly discover St. George’s latest evil plan: to take over the forest and find the magic golden ax that is buried there. To make matters worse, he has also enslaved the mythical beings that are returning to Goldmine City. Can the two dragon keepers and their dragon free the hobgoblins and dryads under St. George’s power and return the forest to right?"


LEAVING THE BELLWEATHERS by Kristin Venuti. (not really fantasy, but a long way from reality). "The young Bellweathers–fourteen-year-old Spider, thirteen-year-old Ninda, and the ten-year-old triplets, Brick, Spike, and Sassy–and their equally peculiar parents have brought constant chaos to the once-peaceful village of Eel-Smack-by-the-Bay. Still, no one has suffered more than their loyal butler, Benway, who has finally had enough. He is secretly writing his tell-all memoirs, packing his bags, and planning his move to a tropical location, Far, Far Away.
But when the siblings discover Benway is preparing to leave their lighthouse home, they band together to prove how much he’s needed, as only Bellweathers can. . . ."

THE MONSTEROLOGY HANDBOOK: A PRACTICAL COURSE IN MONSTERS edited by Dugald A. Steer. "Is it true that a humble stone can summon a sea serpent to your aid?
Do you know the best way to remedy a cyclops’s "lazy eye"? What bison-like creature burns its enemies with venomous dung (and must be approached from the front)? How does one reliably tell true beasts from false, and what do stitches and glue have to do with it? Even monsterologists who know their bigfoots from their bakus can be stymied by the unexpected, and here is a no-nonsense source brimming with fun hands-on lessons guaranteed to leave the reader confident and prepared."

ODD AND THE FROST GIANTS by Neil Gaimann. "In a village in ancient Norway lives a boy named Odd, and he's had some very bad luck: His father perished in a Viking expedition; a tree fell on and shattered his leg; the endless freezing winter is making villagers dangerously grumpy.Out in the forest Odd encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle—three creatures with a strange story to tell. Now Odd is forced on a stranger journey than he had imagined—a journey to save Asgard, city of the gods, from the Frost Giants who have invaded it. It's going to take a very special kind of twelve-year-old boy to outwit the Frost Giants, restore peace to the city of gods, and end the long winter. Someone cheerful and infuriating and clever . . .Someone just like Odd "

THE SOCIETY OF UNRELENTING VIGILANCE: THE CANDLE MAN by Glenn Dakin. "Murder, mystery, and adventure aren’t your typical birthday presents . . .But for Theo, anything that breaks up his ordinary routine is the perfect gift. A mysterious “illness” and Theo’s guardians force him into a life indoors, where gloves must be worn and daily medical treatments are the norm. When Theo discovers a suspicious package on his birthday, one person from the past will unlock the secret behind Theo’s “illness” and change his life forever."

THE UNFINISHED ANGEL by Sharon Creech. "In the ancient stone tower of the Casa Rosa, in a tiny village high in the Swiss Alps, life for one angel has been the same, well, for as long as she (or he?) can remember. Until Zola arrives, a determined American girl who wears three skirts all at once. For neighbors who have been longtime enemies, children who have been lost, and villagers who have been sleepily living their lives: hold on. Zola and the angel are about to collide. Figs start flying, dogs start arfing, and the whole village begins to wake up. Zola is a girl with a mission. And our angel has been without one—till now."

Z. REX: THE HUNTING by Steve Cole. "You’re 14 and find yourself on your own. Your father, who has developed the world’s cutting edge research on virtual electronic game-playing, has been missing for weeks. And suddenly you’re being hunted by men with guns, your picture is on the news, and, worst of all, something seemingly impossible is chasing you—a savage, man-eating dinosaur. How can that be? Why is everyone trying to capture you? And what is your strange connection with this 21st-century prehistoric monster?"

Young Adult

CANDOR by Pam Bachorz. "In the model community of Candor, Florida, every teen wants to be like Oscar Banks. The son of the town’s founder, Oscar earns straight As, is student-body president, and is in demand for every club and cause. But Oscar has a secret. He knows that parents bring their teens to Candor to make them respectful, compliant–perfect–through subliminal Messages that carefully correct and control their behavior. And Oscar’s built a business sabotaging his father’s scheme with Messages of his own, getting his clients out before they’re turned. After all, who would ever suspect the perfect Oscar Banks? Then he meets Nia, the girl he can’t stand to see changed. Saving Nia means losing her forever. Keeping her in Candor, Oscar risks exposure . . . and more."

DEVOURED by Amanda Marrone.

GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray. "All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure—if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most."

THE HUNCHBACK ASSIGNMENTS by Arthur Slade. "The mysterious Mr. Socrates rescues Modo, a child in a traveling freak show. Modo is a hunchback with an amazing ability to transform his appearance, and Mr. Socrates raises him in isolation as an agent for the Permanent Association, a spy agency behind Brittania’s efforts to rule the empire. At 14, Modo is left on the streets of London to fend for himself. When he encounters Octavia Milkweed, another Association agent, the two uncover a plot by the Clockword Guild behind the murders of important men. Furthermore, a mad scientist is turning orphan children into automatons to further the goals of the Guild. Modo and Octavia journey deep into the tunnels under London and discover a terrifying plot against the British government. It’s up to them to save their country."


THE LONG WAIT FOR TOMORROW by Joaquin Dorfman. "What if, in a Freaky Friday moment, a wise and humble 40-year-old man woke one morning to find himself transported back in time, into his body more than 20 years before, when he was the popular, entitled, and arrogant quarterback of the school football team? Could the man do anything to stop a tragedy initiated by the cruel actions of the boy, or is fate too strong a force?"

THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST by Rick Yancey. Will Henry is the "orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore War throp, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet."

PRETTY DEAD by Francesca Lia Block. "Something is happening to Charlotte Emerson. Like the fires that are ravaging the hills of Los Angeles, it consumes her from the inside out. But whether it is her eternal loneliness, the memory of her brother, the return of her first love, or the brooding, magnetic Jared—she cannot say. What if it's something more... Something to do with the sudden tear in her perfect nails. The heat she feels when she's with Jared. The blood rushing once again to her cheeks and throughout her veins. For Charlotte is a vampire, witness to almost a century's worth of death and destruction. But not since she was a human girl has mortality touched her."

THE PRICKER BOY by Reade Scott Whinnem. "He was human once, or so they say. The son of a fur trapper, he was taunted by his peers and tricked into one of his own father’s traps. By the time anybody found it, the trap’s vicious teeth were empty, pried open and overgrown. It was said the brambles themselves had reached out and taken pity on that boy; that his skin had hardened to bark as thorns grew over every inch of his body. Maybe it’s true and maybe it isn’t. But anyone who knows anything stays out of the woods beyond the Widow’s Stone. That used to be enough. But this is the summer everything changes, as Stucks Cumberland and his friends find a mysterious package containing mementos of their childhood: baseball cards, a worn paperback, a locket. Offerings left behind in the woods years ago, meant to keep the Pricker Boy at bay. Offerings that have been rejected."

VOICES IN THE DARK: THE LAST DESCENDANTS by Catherine Banner. "Anselm Andros has clearly defined roles in his family and they are roles he plays very well—he is confidante to his mother, Maria. He is the confessor to his stepfather, Leo, a man haunted by the secrets of his past. And Anselm is also the patient, caring brother to his precocious sister, Jasmine. When the political landscape of Malonia starts to shift, this unassuming family begins to unravel. Even though they’ve spent the past fifteen years leading a quiet life, Maria and Leo’s actions are forever linked to the turbulent history of Malonia and its parallel world, modern-day England. With so much uncertainty at home and in his world, it is more important than ever for Anselm to put all the pieces of the past together. He must listen to his own voice and acknowledge his fears and desires—whatever the cost."

THE WELL by A.J. Whitten. "If Hamlet thought he had issues, he should have talked to Cooper Warner. His mother’s normally sunny demeanor has turned into something—homicidal. And what’s worse, she has help in her hunt for Cooper: A ravenous monster living at the bottom of the old well in the woods behind their house. She’s determined to deliver her 14-year-old son straight into the creature’s eager clutches. Cooper turns to his girlfriend, Megan, for help, but then, to his horror, the creature takes her prisoner. Now, it’s up to Cooper to fend off his murderous mother, finish his Hamlet paper, and enter the putrid lair at the bottom of the well to rescue Megan. And when he confronts the creature, Cooper must make the toughest decision of his life: kill, or be killed. Inspired by Hamlet, THE WELL puts a terrifying twist on the Shakespearean classic."

WISH YOU WERE DEAD by Todd Strasser. "The day after anonymous blogger Str-S-d wishes the popular girl would die, Lucy vanishes. The students of Soundview High are scared and worried. Especially frightened and wracked with guilt is Madison Archer, Lucy’s friend and the last person to see her the night she disappeared. As days pass with no sign of the missing girl, even the attention of Tyler, an attractive new student, is not enough to distract Madison from her growing sense of foreboding. When two more popular students disappear after their names are mentioned on Str-S-d’s blog, the residents of Soundview panic. Meanwhile, Madison receives anonymous notes warning that she could be next. Desperate to solve the mystery before anyone else disappears, Madison turns to Tyler, but can she trust him when it becomes clear that he knows more than he’s sharing? The clock is ticking. Madison must uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearances . . . before her name appears in Str-S-d’s blog."

Ask Charlotte

Last week I started a new feature, one that demonstrates just how Caring I truly am. I derive great pleasure from reading the search terms that lead people here, and felt that I should try to answer the burning questions of those who seek me out. Some I will never answer (What happens in the first chapter of Roland Smith's Peak? What are the main themes of Peak? Where can I find a book report for Peak online? Just read the book, for crying out loud). But some of the questioners have more interesting problems, and are people that I feel I can Help.

Like this poor person, caught in a Kafka-esque nightmare, seemingly unable to confide in family or friends, and finally turning, in desperation, to the internet, with this pitiful cry for help:

"Am I a bunny?"

Answer: No.

Not even if your name is Nicholas and you live in a hollow tree.


Prada and Prejudice for Timeslip Tuesday

Prada and Prejudice, by Mandy Hubbard. Razorbill (Penguin), 2009, YA, 238 pp.

Poor Callie is most definitely not one of the crowd of cool girls with whom she is sharing a high-school trip to London. She listens, awkward and excluded, as the others make plans to sneak off to a nightclub. But she has with her an emergency credit card, and maybe, just maybe, all she needs is the right shoes--shinny red patent leather pumps, from Prada. The tall heels are too much for her, however, and she slams into the sidewalk, knocking herself out cold.

When she comes to, London has gone. Making her tortuously high-heeled way down a muddy road, she arrives at a mansion. There she is mistaken for the American cousin of the family, expected in a few weeks, and finds herself the guest of Alex, a young duke, in the year 1815.

Callie is not one to blend gracefully into her surroundings, and she stirs up the social order of the household with her modern American ways and opinions. Matters come to a head when she sets in motion a scheme to save Emily, Alex's cousin, from an arranged marriage--a plot that could ruin Emily forever. To set things right, she needs Alex's help, and her relationship with Alex has been one of flying sparks from the beginning...

"Alex escorts me to the carriage, and I'm hyperconscious of how close he is. He steps to the side of the door and offers me his arm to climb in. I notice how the cuff of his jacket is turned over his hand; his knuckles almost disappear into the sleeve, and there's another shiny brass button near his wrist. Yes, his jacket definitely costs more than anything I own--even my shoes.

He's standing there with his face turned upward and such an arrogant look in his eyes that I flirt with the idea of ignoring his hand and climbing in on my own, but I don't want to anger him. So I rest my gloved hand momentarily on his fingertips and pretend I don't feel the hot tingles shooting up my arm at his touch.

Why is he being nice? Is he doing this because that's who he is, or is this one of those required things for guys of his...rank?" (page 103)
It's a frivolously fun read, not deep or emotionally powerful, not wildly original, but certainly entertaining. I enjoyed the fluffiness of the descriptions of clothes and dances, and the thorny romance of Callie and Alex was diverting. But the characters never became truly real to me--they stayed set pieces, moving through their English country dance. And I was never entirely convinced that I was in 1815 (there were small things that bothered me--one older woman, for instance, is named Victoria, which was in use on the continent, but wasn't in general use in England until the queen of that name was born and her name chosen by her German mother).

Timeslip wise, there is absolutely no reason within the story why the Prada shoes sent Callie back to 1815. The dislocation of Callie in the past, however, is rather nicely done. Because she is American, she has an excuse for her strange behaviour and her modern attitudes...and at times this is funny, but at times she strains the credulity of both co-characters and me as reader.

This book got a rave review at Austenprose, where all things Jane are celebrated. Although I enjoyed it myself, Callie and Alex are no Elizabeth and Darcy...but then, who is?


Leaving the Bellweathers

Leaving the Bellweathers, by Kristin Clark Venuti (Egmont 2009, middle grade, 242pp)

In a lighthouse far away, a butler sits down to write in his diary, dreaming of the day when he can hand over his duties to another.

"One of the largest difficulties my would-be-successor will face is due to Dr. Bellweather himself. He is most indiscriminate in choosing targets for his blustering, ranting, and glass-beaker throwing. The villagers in Eel-Smack-by-the-Bay do not share his "sense of humor." In addition to seeing to the creature comforts of this family, the duties of my replacement will include occasionally convincing townsfolk not to riot on the Bellweathers' property. This is a task that anyone not subjected to a Wretched Oath of Fealty will unlikely be willing to perform. In fact, anyone not bound by such an oath may end up joining those rioting." (page 81)

Two hundred years ago (minus 8 weeks, 2 hours and 27 minutes) Nigel Benway pledged his life, and the lives of his descendants, to two centuries of service to Horatio Bellweather and his. Now Tristan Benway is counting down the minutes until he is free to walk out the door of the lighthouse that serves as chez Bellweather. He has been the perfect butler for years, coping with the children's little eccentricities (14 year-old Spider's dangerous animals, 13 year-old Nita's bagpipes and over-zealous Good Works, and the playfully destructive antics of the young triplets), not to mention the difficult peculiarities of the Bellweather parents (a mad scientist and an obsessive wall painter). Benway spends his last weeks penning a Tell All book about the tribulations he has endured at their hands, and dreams of his own peaceful cottage (7 weeks, 1 hour and 3 minutes to go...)

But as the weeks pass, filled with Spider's albino alligators, Ninda's imprisonment of a family of circus performers (an effort to free them from oppression), and the plans of the triplets to take over the local art show (move over, Mona Lisa), Benway's resolve begins to weaken. When the Bellweather children realize they might loose him, and focus the powerful force that is their collective will on convincing him to stay, will he be able to escape? (1 week, 8 hours, and 27 minutes to go...)

Interspersed with Benway's journal entries (diverting dry) are episodes showcasing the energies and enthusiasms of the various Bellweather children. I was concerned at first that the Bellweather family might be simply a collection of two-dimensional eccentrics, but by the end, along with Benway, I was able to appreciate them as people. A very fun read, one with quite a bit of heart inside an outer shell that manages to be both facile and engaging.

(I was nervous about the Mona Lisa sub-plot. I don't like it in books when things get broken. But nothing terrible happened, in the end...and I rather liked the tidying up of the albino alligator sub-plot. The imprisoned circus performers and their tame seal was a bit much, though...I was never quite able to Believe in them. But maybe that's my own cynical fault, and the younger, fresher reader will accept them with amused and uncritical interest).

As the passage I quoted above indicates, the vocabulary, particularly in Benway's journal entries, is rather advanced, so although this is most definitely middle-grade in tone and story, it might not be a good fit for the less confident reader.

A sequel, tentatively titled "The Butler Gets a Break," is apparently in the works, which is nice to know! And other reviews can be found at Steph Su Reads and Never Jam Today.

(arc received from the publisher)


Sylvie and the Songman

Sylvie and the Songman, by Tim Binding, illustrated by Angel Barrett (US edition 2009, Random House, 340 pp, middle grade).

There was a Book Blogger Appreciation meme last week that asked us to share a book that we read because of a fellow blogger's recommendation. Sylvie and the Songman is a book I read because not one, but two fellow bloggers recommended it--Kate at Book Aunt, and Doret at TheHappyNappyBookseller. So when we went to the bookstore as a treat, and everyone else was getting a book, which meant I had to get one too, this is what I chose.

I can see why Kate and Doret recommended it.

In some books, the magic hits you in the face on page one. On others, it comes creeping in on little cat feet...this book falls in the later category. Nothing magical happens at Sylvie's school, until the day George's kite almost flies off with their teacher, and even that could be explained by physics. There is nothing strange about Sylvie's dad, until we see the instruments that he's built, hidden in the locked shed--strange constructions that search for the notes between the notes, that might yield "the songs of the sea, the songs of the earth, and, the most precious of all, the songs of the animals" (page 16). But even these instruments--the Furroughla, the Shinglechord, the Featherblow--can be believed

And there is nothing too terribly strange about Sylvie's life in general, until her father disappears, and reality is left far behind. The terrible Woodpecker Man begins to hunt her, and two of the passengers she's shared her train ride with every day for years turn horribly wrong:

"The woman with kid gloves had thrown open her canvas bag and was beating out a violent rhythm with her wooden knitting needles on what looked like an egg-shaped drum. Rabbit-teeth was beside her, doing the same with his walking stick, now somehow broken in two. A savage beat seemed to be rising from the carriage floor, turning Sylvie's bones to jelly, her feet to lead. The woman turned towards her, her face alight with fury.

"Drum her fast," she cried. "Don't let her get away!" (page 94)

But Sylvie and her friend George escape from the train, and are taken under the paw of a friendly fox. From him they learn that they must somehow foil the Songman, the mastermind of all the evil pursuing them. It is he who has sent the Woodpecker Man and the Drummers to catch them, he who has taken Sylvie's father prisoner, and he who will stop at nothing to gather all the songs of all the animals to himself, so that his is the only voice heard throughout the world...

I was enthralled. I delighted in the imagination of the author, and even wept a bit.

The author sets up the Woodpecker Man and the two Drummers beautifully--they are scary, and wonderfully unique, and just all around excellent sinister villains.


And this is a huge but, one that spoiled the book for me. About halfway through, once the story gets to the Songman, Binding seems to have decided these three excellent villains weren't necessary anymore and we never learn who they are, or why they are, or what happens to them in the end! Not even in a "I'm not saying because there might be more stories about these sinister villains" way. There's even a bit where it would have made perfect sense to have a barrage of crazed woodpeckers attack, and instead we are given a random encounter with a seemingly unmotivated seagull. The Drummers get to feed some imprisoned animals. And the Songman lacked the mythic dimensions that the other three had in spades, so he didn't make up for it. Sheesh. So disappointing....

So although this was in many ways a lovely book, I can't recommend it wholeheartedly. Sigh. But do go read Kate and Doret's reviews--they liked it lots!


Hannah's Winter, by Kierin Meehan

Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan (Kane/Miller, 2009, published in Australia, 2001, 205pp, middle grade).

"...this medicine is so powerful that it can warm cold stone and make dragons happy. Keep it safe, keep it with you. The time of the deep snow is coming and you may find it useful." (page 141)

The time of the deep snow is coming...and I read faster and faster, caught up in a haunted Japan where three children are following a trail of clues that will bring peace to the ghost of a restless boy. Cold winds are blowing, and a malevolent presence is fighting against them. But strengthened by delicious donuts, and guided by wonderful, magical signs and coincidences, they will prevail...

12 year-old Australian Hannah has been left to stay with a Japanese family while her eccentric mother searches for the secret gardens of Japan. When a surprise delivery arrives at the family's stationary shop (the father is a collector of antique paper and ephemera), Hannah and Miki, the daughter of the family, find an ancient message--a riddle that tells how they can help "the ocean boy." Following the clues the riddle gives them, the girls, along with Hiro, a boy with his own sad past, set out to bring the ocean boy (a slightly rascally, donut-throwing ghost) back to his family. From the temple of secrets to the place where the old mountain god waits, they travel through a magical, story-filled Japan, where the deep snows of winter are falling...

"We say western Japan lies in the east's shadow. Perhaps in our winter dark, the screens between past and present thin and weaken, and ghosts slip more easily between the two." (page 39)

This is an utterly wonderful book. If it doesn't make you want to go to Japan, nothing will. It has magic in spades, yet the fantasy elements are set in a funny, matter-of-fact story that even the non-fantasy reader should enjoy.

Here's one of my favorite bits:

"Granny," said Okaasan, "today I don't want to hear one word about souls or ghosts or small samurai boys. Not one more word. It's bad enough that the great suit of armor in the living room has been blowing out yellow smoke for the past hour. I don't mean I don't like the samurai, because I do. But why does his smoke have to smell? I'm not saying it's not a good smell, it's a little like freshly cut timber. I'm just saying that if he must blow smoke around, I'd prefer it was odorless." (p 153).

I love this book. Give it to your older middle school child who loves fantasy, who loves things Japanese, who loves stories of travel. Read it yourself. Appreciate the appendix, which gives a nice historical and cultural background to the story. Go to Japan and find a donut shop.

Note on the cover--this might appeal to kids already drawn to Japan, but it gives No Clue that this is a fantasy book. They should have put a dragon on it. I don't much care for the Australian cover either.

Other reviews: A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, A Fuse #8 Production, and at 3T News and Reviews, a blog where three library turtles share their thoughts...It's interesting to see how people pick up on different things in the same book. For Liz at Tea Cozy and Betsy at Fuse #8, the main strength of the book seems to be its portrayal of Japan. From Liz: "Japan and Hannah's Japanese family are never portrayed as the "exotic other." From Betsy: "Meehan has a dead keen talent for conjuring up the feel of different places, temperatures, colors, and sights. You don't just get a sense of Japan in this book. You live it." Atlas the Turtle, on the other hand, wrote that "The first part of the book begins to feel like a travel guide, trying to cram in as many Japanese words and cultural tidbits as possible."

But none of these reviews mention the haiku-loving dragon.


Silksinger, by Laini Taylor

"Whisper Silksinger knew two kinds of death. There was the peaceful kind, quiet as eyelids fluttering shut, and there was the kind with teeth, sudden as a spurt of blood, a devil pounce, a scream. She had seen both. Of her whole clan only three faeries remained, and now death had come for them too.

And it had come with teeth."

So begins Silksinger, the second book of the Dreamdark series (Penguin Young Readers, 2009, middle-grade, 441 pp), by Laini Taylor, with illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo (released today!). In Blackbringer, the first book, we met Magpie Windwitch, who is now the champion of the Djinn King. Having awakened him, and begun a new age of hope, Magpie now sets off to find the other djinn, the great magical beings who had made the world, but who withdrew from it long ago. Little does Magpie know that one of the djinn she seeks is inside a small kettle, clutched to the heart of a small fairy girl, Whisper Silksinger, who has just seen her grandparents incinerated in a battle with demons.

Whisper is now the last of her clan, the Silksingers, weavers of flying carpets and guardians of the djinn Azazel. Alone, with no shoes, no money, and no friends, she sets out to restore Azazel to his far-off home in the high mountains. It is a hopeless quest, until she meets a young caravan guard, Hirik, whose own secret mission runs parrellel to hers. Together they journey by fairy caravan, borne by dragonflys up into the mountains. But armies of demons pursue them, and dark treachery awaits. Even when Magpie finds them, all her powers as the Djinn's Champion might not be enough to defeat Ethla, the hideous enemy who has set the devils against them. So it's a good thing that there's more to Whisper and Hirik than meets the eye...and a good thing that a small, miserable, abused, and utterly poignant demon slave can be a hero too.

There are many things that make this book special. There are the characters, whose emotions, motivations, and interactions make them truly people to care about. Whisper, in particular, is a wonderful character--so helpless (at least to appearances), but so brave and with so much more to her than is apparent at first. There's the story--a great arc of story--with its desperate journey, its mysteries, and its tender friendships and fierce loyalties. And then there's the worldbuilding. In Silksinger, Laini does not quite recapture the feeling of being inside a truly fairy world that she did in Blackbringer (the trading settlements with their mercenary inhabitants that are the setting for much of the story are certainly colorful places of bustling, exotic, commerce, but didn't clearly convey "fairy" to me). But the magical details that she weaves into the story, that I think are particularly delightful for the visually-oriented reader, make up for this. Little things like this:

"But the real treasure was at Iceshimmer, where the local clan laid out a sparkling array of tiaras and jewelry that looked to be made of diamonds and crystal but were really ice, spelled not to melt. There were skeins of lace knit of real snowflakes too, and magical ice mirrors that disclosed visions to the gazer." (pp 154-155)

And things like this:

"And the skeins of death-polluted silk heard, and responded. Dozens of threads rose and danced, swaying with the tide of her voice, and merged, weaving themselves together to make the edge of a carpet. Color flushed into them as she sang, blues and reds mostly, the colors of bruising and dried blood, deepening at the edges to black." (p 330)

I first read Silksinger for a 48 hour reading challenge, and happily galloped through it. It was a great book for a fast and diverting read. I next read Silksinger over the past few days, peacefully and thoughtfully, and enjoyed it even more with time to savour the details, and to revisit the characters at a more leisurely place. It was a great book for a slow and contemplative read.

I enjoyed Blackbringer very much, and happily cheered Magpie on, confident that she would prevail (and it was a pleasure to meet her and Talon again, and to see their relationship developing). Silksinger, with its underdog characters, and its message that even the small and seemingly helpless can save the world, I enjoyed even more. It is a story complete unto itself, but I'd strongly suggest reading Blackbringer first!

Other reviews (lots of them!)
Book Nut
Bound Treasures
Fantasy Cafe
Finding Wonderland
Green Man Review
Jen Robinson's Book Page
Lessons From the Tortoise
Monsters & Critics
PRES Library
Reader Views
Sonder Books
Stop, Drop & Read
The Baryon Review
Wands and Worlds

(two disclaimers: Laini is a blogging friend, and I got an arc from the publisher)


Quick, go enter to win a signed copy of Blackbringer!

Tomorrow is the release day for Silksinger, the second volume of Dreamdark, by Laini Taylor (my review goes up tomorrow, barring catastrophe). The first, Blackbringer, introduced us to my favorite fairy ever, Magpie Windwitch. Head over to Grow Wings, Laini's blog, to see how you can win your own signed copy of Blackbringer--and enter by the close of today. You can also read the first chapter of Silksinger while you're there...

These are both lovely books. One could describe them as Cecily Mary Baker (Flower Fairies) meets Bosch
if one wanted to, which perhaps most people wouldn't. But Laini combines the delicacy and beauty of the one with the wild imagination and super-full canvases of the other, so it works for me...I think. Anyway, I mean this as a compliment.

Ask Charlotte

Many readers of Charlotte’s Library come here looking for advice, and I often feel that I should answer their questions for them. Some are sad: “How do you say sorry when a friend’s sister dies?” And some are silly. Knowing they probably won’t come back to read the answers, though, has kept me from spending any effort on this.

Until now.

Today I was asked:

“How to hook up with a random girl at school library.”

It seems easy enough—you go up to her when she is reading and say “What are you reading?” Or ask her for advice--"Do you know any good books about x y or z?" That sort of thing. Or sit next to her reading a funny book, and start laughing--maybe she'll ask what's so funny.

But my questioner has a more subtle problem—the need for randomness. How can you truly know if the girl you see in the corner is a random girl?

My suggestion here is to map the library on graph paper ala Dungeons and Dragons, number each square, and start rolling your twelve sided dice…until you get a square that has a girl in it. A girl who comes over to ask what you are doing would, de facto, not be random.


The House on Mayferry Street, for Timeslip Tuesday

I'm cheating a little bit with today's Timeslip Tuesday--it's a book I reviewed way back in 2007. But so few people were reading my blog back then, and I'm so very fond of this book, that I thought I'd re-post what I said then (with edits), so as to convince more people to read it. It's The House on Mayferry Street, by Scottish writer Eileen Dunlop (UK title A Flute in Mayferry Street, American edition 1977, recommended for 10-14 year olds, on up...).

There are some children's books that, if you read them for the first time as an adult, seem dull and insipid, yet you know that if you had read them when you were younger, they might have had magic to them. This is not the case for The House on Mayferry Street. I read it for the first time three years ago, and thought it one of the most magical (in the non-spells and fairies meaning of the word) books I've ever read.

The house on Mayferry Street, in Edinburgh, is the large, old, partly empty family home of the Ramseys, 11 year old Colin, his older sister, Marion, and their mother (as well as two tenants). Soon after their father died, a few years before the story begins, Marion was hit by a motor cycle, and now uses a wheelchair. But she won't go out in it, and sits at home, growing increasingly depressed, and giving up hope of ever walking again, despite what the doctors had (almost) promised her.

An old letter from 1914, found while dusting the family bookshelves, brings the first glimmer of interest to her mind for months. In it, a man named Alan asks Charles, a long forgotten Ramsey, to keep for him an old chest...Soon afterwards, an old picture of a young man in uniform is found in a crack in the floorboards, and Marion feels sure it is Alan.

Marion clings to thoughts of Alan and Charles to keep her unhappiness at bay. Colin is happy to go along with her quest for answers about the two young men, as a distraction from his own desperate unhappiness that he himself cannot have a flute of his own. As they unravel the story, clue by clue over the course of the year, the past and the present begin to merge. The music of a lost flute begins to haunt the house, and at last draws Marion and Colin back in time, for a brief glimpse of the boy who had once filled their house with its music.

And in the end, the two modern children find the lost chest, and gain a gloriously happy ending.

This is much more a family story than a timeslip story, although the supernatural elements are central to the plot. The past never overshadows the beautifully drawn characters of Colin and Marion. They are lovable, but allowed to be imperfect and become furious with each other, and to learn from their mistakes. Edinburgh, Mayferry Street, and the house itself are never "described" in a "here is the description" way, but they become real places in the reader's mind. The mystery (leaving out the slippery-ness of time), is perfectly believable. And there is a smidge of romance at the end, which is a nice treat for those like myself who are suckers for sentiment.

Here's another blog review of it, just to show that I'm not alone!

Libraries all over America seem to have bought this book when it came out, just when I would have been the right age for it. Why didn't I read it then???? I would have loved it so very much. But if you haven't read it, it is not too late--all those libraries have now discarded it (except my own, because I keep checking it out), and so you can pick it up on line for a few bucks. It was reprinted in the UK as a paperback in 2000, so is quite available over there.

Eileen Dunlop also wrote Elizabeth, Elizabeth (UK title Robinsheugh), a time slip story that scared me somewhat when I first read it at the age of 8, but which I appreciate more now, and which I will be reviewing at some point...

New Releases of Fantasy and Science Fiction for Children and Teenagers--the middle of September edition

Just in case anyone doesn't have enough books on their TBR pile, here are the new releases of fantasy and science fiction for kids and teens for the middle of the month (September 14-17th), taken, as ever, from the list at Teens Read Too, and please let me know if there are any I've missed!

There are three really exciting ones (to me at least), which you can try to guess if you want. Or you could, if you wanted to comment, share the ones you find most exciting!

9-12 year olds:

BANG GOES A TROLL: AWFULLY BEASTLY BUSINESS, by Dave Sinden, Matthew Morgan, & Guy Macdonald. "When a messenger bat arrives at the RSPCB, boy-werewolf Ulf receives a warning that beasts are in trouble in the wild. Unaware of the danger he is facing, Ulf soon uncovers foul play: A rare colony of trolls is being smoked out from their caves to be used as game in an evil beast-hunting preserve. It's up to Ulf to save the day!"

BE A GENIE IN SIX EASY STEPS by Linda Chapman & Steve Cole. "When new step-siblings Milly, Michael, Jason, and Jess move to a town in the middle of nowhere, the last thing they expect is to find a magic book. But when they stumble upon The Genie-s Handbook, their lives are changed forever. Each chapter in The Genie Handbook contains one of six stages of training to be mastered, and the kids are thrilled at the prospect of becoming genies. Then they discover Skribble, the crotchety, magical bookworm who lives inside the book. Unfortunately, he-s eaten a lot of the important bits, and seems to have a secret agenda of his own. Both helped and hindered by the bookworm, the four kids attempt to train to be genies-with results both comic and chaotic. Will it take a near-disaster for the family to realize that you have to be very careful what you wish for?"

THE BIG TALL WISH: THE TWILIGHT ZONE by Rod Serling, Adapted by Mark Kneece. "Washed up boxer Bolie Jackson is about to be knocked down and counted out when Henry, a young neighbor with magical powers, makes the biggest, tallest wish he could think of—for Bolie to win the match. But believing in magic doesn’t come easily to some people. Rejecting Henry’s wish could end Bolie’s career and ruin a young boy’s faith in magic. They each have to the count of ten to make their choice . . . in the Twilight Zone."

D.A.N.G.E.R. SPELLS THE HANGMAN!: HARDY BOYS GRAPHIC NOVEL by Scott Lobdell. "Frank and Joe go undercover at a national spelling bee where a mysterious madman known as the Hangman is determined to erase the competition! Teens from across the globe have been invited to attend, and A.T.A.C. and the Hardy Boys have to do everything they can to keep the Hangman from spelling disaster!"

DOOMRAGA'S REVENGE: MERLIN'S DRAGON by T.A. Barron. "Basil becomes Merlin's partner as they battle the mysterious shadows that threaten the new Avalon. A dark magic has been spreading across Avalon. Initially, the events seemed unrelated: a war in Fireroot between the dwarves and the fire dragons, blight in Stoneroot, and disputes throughout the realms. But as Merlin and Basil scour the realms, they begin to realize that looming behind the growing chaos is a single dark threat—an enemy that they’ve never encountered. One that must be stopped before all of Avalon is lost."

JASPER DASH AND THE FLAME-PITS OF DELAWARE by M.T. Anderson. "It is a land of wonders! It is a land of mystery. It is a land that time forgot (or chose specifically not to remember). Cut off from the civilized world for untold years, this land is called: DELAWARE. It is into the mist-shrouded heart of this forbidden, mountainous realm that our plucky and intrepid heroes, Jasper Dash: Boy Technonaut and his friends Lily Gefelty and Katie Mulligan, must journey to unravel a terrible mystery.Come along on a tale of grand adventure that includes in its pages: Lost cities! Tentacles! Monks! Dinosaurs! Gangsters! Cheap suits! Eye doctors! And, of course, the fabled CURSE OF THE JAGUAR!"

LONGITUDE: ZERO DEGREES by Dianne C. Stewart. The second book in the Quimbaya Trilogy, about a boy who travels through time. (sorry, couldn't find a picture)

A PEARL AMONG PRINCES by Coleen Murtagh Paratore. "Gracepearl Coal is the cook’s daughter on Miramore, the island all princes visit for their summer program in the Charming Arts. Each year, the princes-in-training arrive on gallant seacraft, guided by captains trained to navigate the island’s treacherous waters. Passage on one of these boats is the only method to leave the island—thus betrothal to a royal is the only way for Pearl to find her far-off destiny, the one thatÂ’s started haunting her dreams. Luckily, this year’s crop of princes include some promising prospects, but how will Pearl leave behind her ailing father or—hardest of all—marry a boy other than her long-time beloved, Mackree . . . who now finds it too painful to even speak to her?"

SILKSINGER: DREAMDARK by Laini Taylor. "One faerie, the last of her clan, must fight to complete her sacred duty. Whisper Silksinger is the last of the secret guardians of the Azazel, one of the powerful Djinn who dreamed the world into being. Relentlessly pursued by bloodthirsty devils, she flees to the city of Nazneen to restore the Azazel to his temple. At the same time, Hirik Mothmage is also on a secret quest, to find the Azazel and restore his disgraced clan’s ancient honor. And behind them all flies Magpie Windwitch, first champion of the new age of faeries, desperate to rescue Whisper and the Azazel alike before they fall in the clutches of a sinister hidden enemy."

SWORD OF FIRE AND ICE: THE CHRONICLES OF ARTHUR by John Matthews. A graphic novel about the teenaged years of King Arthur.

WILL THE REAL MARTIAN PLEASE STAND UP?: THE TWILIGHT ZONE by Rod Serling, Adapted by Mark Kneece. "On a cold, snowy evening state troopers track footprints from a mysterious crash site to a nearby diner. There, a group of bus passengers waits out the storm, but oddly, there is one more person in the eatery. Who is he, and what are his intentions for planet Earth?"

Young Adult

BENEATH, by Roland Smith. (I can't find a picture or blurb for this one; sorry).

DEMON CHICK By Marilyn Kaye. "Jessica may not have the warmest relationship with her mother, aspiring presidential candidate Margaret Hunsucker, but it still comes as a shock when she discovers that her mother has sold her to the devil. Will she have to spend eternity in hell with one of Satan’s minions, a demon named Brad? Brad takes pains to explain that they live in one of hell’s better neighborhoods, and he seems like a nice enough guy—but still! And things only get worse when Jessica learns the full extent of her mother’s evil plans. Can she and Brad come up with a plan to save the world?"

FOREST BORN by Shannon Hale. "Rin is sure that something is wrong with her…something really bad. Something that is keeping her from feeling at home in the Forest homestead where she’s lived all her life. Something that is keeping her from trusting herself with anyone at all. When her brother Razo returns from the city for a visit, she accompanies him to the palace, hoping that she can find peace away from home. But war has come to Bayern again, and Rin is compelled to join the queen and her closest allies—magical girls Rin thinks of as the Fire Sisters—as they venture into the Forest toward Kel, the land where someone seems to want them all dead."

GIVE UP THE GHOST by Megan Crewe. "Cass McKenna much prefers ghosts over “breathers.” Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody…and Cass loves dirt. She’s on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school. But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass’s whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees. As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim’s life, she’s surprised to realize he’s not so bad—and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it’s time to give the living another chance…."

TIME OF THE WITCHES by Anna Myers. Possibly not fantasy. "An orphan named Drucilla has finally has a place to call home with the Putnam family in Salem. Although her adopted mother is strange—haunted by a troubled past—Dru feels drawn to her as the mother she never had. When a new reverend and his family move into town with their servant Tituba, life takes a strange turn as young girls begin to fall ill and accusations of witchcraft begin to swirl. Reluctant to turn her back on the Putnams or her peers and overwhelmed by the power of groupthink among the other girls in town, Dru becomes one of the accusers herself. But when her best friend Gabe is accused, she must find a way to end the hysteria, or risk losing him forever."

ONCE A WITCH by Carolyn MacCullough. "Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and she was supposed to be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin's magic never showed up. Now seventeen, Tamsin attends boarding school in Manhattan, far from her family. But when a handsome young professor mistakes her for her very Talented sister, Tamsin agrees to find a lost family heirloom for him. The search—and the stranger—will prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the sins of her family, and unleash a power so vengeful that it could destroy them all."

THE OTHER SIDE: A TEEN'S GUIDE TO GHOST HUNTING AND THE PARANORMAL by Marley Gibson, Patrick Burns, & Dave Schrader. "It used to be you needed a crystal, a psychic, or a Oijia board to make contact with the spirit world. So who would think science would make it possible for just about anyone to experience a ghostly connection? Cameras, recorders, computers, magnetic field readers and other scientific means are now the tools of the trade. But there’s so much available, how does the average teen weed through it all to create the best possible ghost hunting team? Here to help sort it all out are three of today’s leading investigators of the field."

THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT AND OTHER TALES FROM THE CIRQUE DU FREAK by Darren Shan. "Darren Shan is just an ordinary schoolboy who loves to ride bikes and hang out with his three best friends. Then one day Darren and his friends stumble across an invitation to visit the Cirque Du Freak, a strange and mysterious freak show. Almost as if by destiny, Darren wins a ticket and what follows is his horrifying descent into the dark and bloody world of vampires."

THE SILVER BLADE by Sally Gardner. Sequel to The Red Necklace. "The year is 1794. With his beloved Sido safely in England and the Reign of Terror at its height, mysterious Yann returns to revolutionary France to smuggle out aristocratic refugees who will otherwise face the guillotine. But while the two are apart, Yann’s Gypsy origins prejudice Sido’s guardian against their marriage, thwarting their longed-for reunion. When Sido is kidnapped under strange circumstances, however, Yann must use all his strength and courage to outwit the evil Count Kalliovski, rescue Sido, and help save all of France."

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