Pick Me Up, a book of non-fiction goodness from DK

Kids these days have it so easy. When I was I child, I had to read the encyclopedia to learn non-fictiony interesting things, and the problem with that is that encyclopedias also have non-fictiony boring things, but everything is all mixed up so one losses interest sooner rather than later (which is why I know more about things that begin with A than, say, T).

But anyway. Kids these days get really cool books like Pick Me Up: Stuff You Need to Know (DK 2009, 333 pp, middle grade on up). The sort of book that is full of things anyone with the least bit of curiosity wants to learn about. Take sleep, for instance--a two page spread with little paragraphical fact-filled nuggets about reasons we sleep, sleepwalking, dreaming, working the night shift...told in the signature DK style of snappy writing with tid bits of humor. You read the two pages, and voila, you know more about sleep. Or dinosaurs. Or money. Or photo-retouching. Or feminism.

I would have loved it (she says, peevishly). And I bet that if, like me, you leave this book lying around your house, your nine year old will, in fact, pick it up.

The non-fiction Monday round-up is at The Book Nosher today!

(disclaimer--I received a review copy of this book from the publisher)

The Doofuzz Dudes and the Blood Tree, by Roslyn J. Motter

A year and a half ago, an Australian writer, Roslyn Motter, asked if I might be interested in reading a series of children's fantasy books that she'd written. And so the first four volumes of the Doofuzz Dudes arrived at our house, and my son loved them. Here's what I wrote about them back then.

Last month we received the most recent instalment in the series, The Doofuzz Dudes and the Blood Tree (2009, White Hawk Publishing, ages 7-9is, 121 pp). My son was thrilled...

In this adventure, the four dudes, two brothers and their friends, are once more called back to the magical kingdom of Moondor to face another emergency caused by a greedy creature who's determined to hold all of Moondor in his capitalist grasp. This time he wants to chop down the mysterious Moon Tree, a tree that serves as a portal to the past.

And this time, there's a girl joining forces with the Dudes...Will Hillary throw off the balance of the boys' teamwork, or will she (with the help of her ferret) be the one who knows how to solve the problem? And where will the Moon Tree take the Dudes (and Dudette) the journey they must make back in time?

It's lightly written fantasy, with infinitely much more kid appeal than adult appeal. Adults, for instance, might not find Motter's trick of distinguishing her characters from each other through reiterated expressions appealing, and, more generally, there's not a whole of emotional depth.

But for kids who are reading the book for over-the-top adventure, where wild things happen just for the fun of it, might well (like my son) enjoy the story lots. And it is hard for me to think too critically of a book that holds my son's attention from start to finish, keeping him lost in the world of happy reading...

(disclaimer: review copy for me, and signed copy for my son, received from the author)


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

Here are the new releases of fantasy and science fiction for children and teens from the end of this November. It's a rather short list, and December is not exactly full of books either...the beginning of January, on the other hand, will be a nice long one! My list comes from Teens Read Too; the blurbs are courtesy of Amazon.

THE FOURTH APPRENTICE: WARRIORS, OMEN OF THE STARS by Erin Hunter "Four warrior Clans have shared the land around the lake as equals for many moons. But a prophecy foretells that three ThunderClan cats will hold the power of the stars in their paws. Jayfeather and Lionblaze know that they are two of the cats in the prophecy. Now the brothers must wait for a sign from StarClan to discover the identity of the third cat. Meanwhile, Dovekit and Ivykit—kin of the great leader Firestar—are poised to become ThunderClan apprentices. Soon one sister will have an ominous dream—and will begin to realize that she possesses mystical skills unmatched by any other cat. In the midst of a cruel season that threatens the lives of all four warrior Clans, bonds will be forged, promises made, and three young cats will start to unravel the secrets that bind them together."

MINERVA'S VOYAGE by Lynne Kositsky. "Robin Starveling, aka Noah Vaile, is scooped off the streets of seventeenth-century Bristol, England, and dragged onboard a ship bound for Virginia by the murderous William Thatcher, who needs a servant with no past and no future to aid him in a nefarious plot to steal gold. Starveling fits the bill perfectly since he lives nowhere and has no parents. Aboard the ship, Starveling makes friends with a young cabin boy, Peter Fence. Together they suffer through a frightening hurricane and are shipwrecked on the mysterious Isle of Devils. They solve the ciphers embedded in emblems found in Thatcher's sea chest, which has washed up with the wreck. The two boys make their way through gloomy forests and tortuous labyrinths to a cave on the shore that houses a wizard-like old man. Beset by danger and villainy on every side, they finally discover the old man's identity and unearth a treasure that is much rarer and finer than gold."

THE SILVER ANKLET by Mahtab Narsimhan. Sequel to The Third Eye. "What if the only way to get rid of your worst enemy was to sacrifice your brother? When hyenas snatch Tara's brother, Suraj, and two other children from the local fair in Morni, Tara and her newfound companions decide to rescue them on their own. Tara soon discovers that Zarku, her nemesis with the third eye, is back and intent on revenge. A deadly game of hide and seek ensues, and Tara and her companions must work together to survive. But it is soon clear that Zarku is only after Tara; the others are dispensable. Should Tara risk the lives of her friends? Or can she once again defeat Zarku and save her brother, armed only with belief in herself and a silver anklet?"

Young Adult

HOW TO DATE A VAMPIRE by Sophie Collins "For any girl looking for a boy who's more Cullen than caveman, this book is your helping hand to a happy ending. A vampire boy is smart, he's sexy, and he's waiting to discover someone a little bit different; so use this little lifesaver to show him what's so special about you and set his pulse (if he had one) racing. Of course, if like Bella or Buffy, the man of your dreams is more than just a high school crush, you won't find help in the problem pages. Luckily for you, this book is packed full of quizzes, charts and failsafe advice, from finding out if the guy giving you sleepless nights is a real vamp or a fanged faker, to great date ideas that don't involve Type-O milkshakes. With space to write about your own close encounters, plus style advice and beauty tips that are sure to slay him on sight, this is the only guide you'll ever need to spotting a vampire and knocking him (un)dead."

A PRINCE AMONG KILLERS: OATHBREAKER by S.R. Vaught & J.B. Redmond. "The second half of the Oathbreaker story opens at the assassins’ stronghold, Triune, as Aron and his sworn comrades try to find peace in a world on the brink of war. Dari and Stormbreaker grow closer as they search for Dari’s missing twin; Nic and his captors find it harder to conceal their secrets; and Aron must decide whether the bond he keeps to his family will prove stronger than the oaths he has sworn to his closest friends."

THE SEVEN RAYS by Jessica Bendinger. "You are more than you think you are. That is the anonymous message that Beth Michaels receives right before she starts seeing things. Not just a slept-through my-alarm-clock, late-for-homeroom, haven't had-my-caffeine-fix kind of seeing things. It all starts with some dots, annoying pink dots that pop up on and over her mom and her best friend's face. But then things get out of control and Beth is seeing people's pasts, their fears, their secrets, their desires. The images are coming at Beth in hi-def streaming video and she can't stop it. Everyone thinks she's crazy and she's pretty sure she agrees with them. But crazy doesn't explain the gold envelopes that have started arriving, containing seeing keys and mysterious tarot cards. To Beth, it all seems too weird to be true. You are more than you think you are? But here's the thing: What if she is?"

This Sunday's Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction Roundup

Here are this week's reviews of middle grade (9-12 year olds) fantasy and science fiction books from around the blogosphere (click on the book title for the review).

11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass, at Fantasy Book Critic.

The Blue Shoe: A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes, by Roderick Townley, at Enchanting YA Reviews.

The Castle Corona, by Sharon Creech, at Owl in the Library.

City of Fire, by Laurence Yep, at the Jean Little Library.

G-Man: Learning to Fly, a story told in comics form, at Oz and Ends.

The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker, at Eva's Book Addiction.

Imagia and the Magic Pearls, by Monroe Tarver, at Dad of Divas.

Lost Worlds, by John Howe, at Shelf Elf.

The Mysterious Benedict Society, at One Librarian's Book Reviews.

Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments, by Emily Ection, at Charlotte's Library.

Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, at Tor.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, at Tor.

The Revenge of the Itty-Bitty Brothers, by Lin Oliver, at Charlotte's Library.

Sent, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Charlotte's Library.

The Shifter (the Healing Wars, Book 1), by Janice Hardy, at Charlotte's Library.

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, at Fantasy Literature...Frankly.

At Boys Rule Boys Read, you can find Norse Gods, King Arthur, and Kick-Butt Superheros!

Here's an interview with David Lubar (author of Cybils nominee Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie) at Cynsations.

And finally, here are the thoughts on middle grade fantasy from Brian, aka MrChompChomp, fellow mg sff Cybils panelist.

Did I miss anyone? Please let me know in the comments! And if you review or write about middle grade science fiction and fantasy during the week, feel free to drop me an email--charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com.

And come back in a week for more mg sff fun!


The Shifter (The Healing Wars Book 1), by Janice Hardy

The Shifter, by Janice Hardy (Balzer and Bray, HarperCollins, 2009, upper middle grade and beyond, 370 pp) is one of those books that just goes to show that fascinating ideas are still out there, waiting to be written about. That is to say that, I, at least, have never before encountered the magical idea at the center of this book.

In Nya's world, a place of conflict and conquest, Healers can shift pain, sickness, and injuries into a magical type of metal called pynvium. But there is a dark side to this seemingly benign process. Nya's city was conquered by a foreign people when she and her sister were young, in a war that killed her parents, and more war seems close at hand. And in this world pain can be used as weapon. Literally.

Nya's twelve-year old sister was accepted by the Healing Guild, and is safely housed in their headquarters. Fifteen-year old Nya, on the other hand, lives a hand to mouth life on the streets, scrounging for odd jobs, kicked at by the foreigners who are now in charge. Because although Nya can heal too, taking other people's injuries into herself, she can't transfer the pain into pynvium. But she can, however, push it into other people.

Now unscrupulous practitioners of pain and intrigue want to use Nya and her seemingly twisted gift. And dark and unpleasant things are happening back at the Healer's Guild, where the apprentices are falling "sick." Nya and her friends must figure out what's going on, and put a stop to it. In so doing she must find out how to use her gift for good, and, while saving her sister, maybe set in motion a way to save her city...

It's an exciting story, one that raises interesting ethical questions while entertaining the reader with interesting characters and situations. It starts a tad confusingly, but that feeling soon fades as the plot kicks into high gear. Nya is a stubborn and conflicted narrator, in pretty desperate circumstances, and it is a pleasure to cheer her on.

This book is marketed as a middle grade (9-12 year olds)--there are hints of possible future relationships, but no real "young adult" issues. There are some pretty heavy descriptions of injuries and pain, but nothing horribly disturbing, and I think it's fine for confident, older readers in this age group. It felt to me more like a young adult novel, though--Nya is older than most middle grade protagonists, and is engaged in a fairly complicated struggle--complicated ethically, politically, and in terms of day to day survival. And although romantic relationships are only hinted at as possible on the horizon in this book, it seems quite possible that the next book in the series will be moving YA-ward in that regard. At least, I hope it will...the young man in question is rather sweet, although maybe too good to be true.

The UK title of The Shifter is The Pain Merchants, and here's its cover over there. I like the UK title, but the US cover!

Finally, and somewhat tangentially, one thing that added to the book's appeal in my mind is that it is about two sisters. Being a sister myself, I am fond of books in which that relationship is a key motivating factor for the characters , as it is in The Hunger Games, Charlotte Sometimes, and, um, doubtless many other books...so if you have any other recommendations of fantasy books in which the relationship between a little sister and a big sister is important, let me know!

Here's an interview with Janice Hardy at The Enchanted Inkpot.

The Shifter is a Cybils nominee in the Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy category, for which I am a panelist.


Of interest primarily to hard-core Megan Whalen Turner fans

Over at Sounis (the lj MWT community), there has been some discussion over the cover of Megan Whalen Turner's new book, A Conspiracy of Kings--does the character on the cover, who is presumably Sophos, have a moustache?

Today I held in my trembling hands an ARC of COK. I am not able to read it right now (alright, I read some of it. Only a few pages...)

But I did scan the cover and zoom in on the area in question. I think it's just the dark shadow cast by Sophos' still boyishly rounded but becoming more manly by the day cheeks.

Two randomly grabbed co-workers agree it's a shadow. But it's hard to be sure...anyone know the artist?


Two Whacky Middle Grade Fantasies--The Revenge of the Itty-Bitty Brothers and Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments

There's a sub-genre of middle-grade fantasy that embraces the over-the-top and runs with it. These are the sort of books where silliness rules, where characters are caught in situations that break all the rules, books that set out to entertain their intended audience and keep them turning the pages. They are the sort of book that you might give to the child who loved the Captain Underpants books back when they were learning to read, and who might still be re-reading them.

Here are two examples, from my recent Cybils reading--both of these have been nominated in the middle grade science fiction and fantasy category.

Revenge of the Itty-Bitty Brothers, by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin (Simon and Schuster, 2009, 159pp) is the third book of the Who Shrunk Daniel Funk? series. But it's not necessary to have read the first two to enjoy this one. A (moderately gross) encounter with a taco leads Daniel Funk to a breakthrough--through the explosive expulsion of digestive gasses he can control when he shrinks! This is great news for his tiny twin brother, Pablo, who lives a semi-secret life among the detritus of Daniel's room. Now the two can be tiny together, sharing the joys of marshmallow trampolining, soap surfing in the bathtub, and, as the grand finale, shooting into space in model rockets over the La Brea tar pits...

It's straight-forward, light-hearted fun, told in crisp, clear sentences. There are hints that future books in the series might explore some of the intriguing questions that aren't answered here--what happened to the Funk family dad, who disappeared while off on a scientific expedition? Will Pablo always be small? Will his mother and sisters ever get to meet him??? I'd love to know more about these aspects of the story, and less about what it is like to wallow in an ice-cream sundae...but the intended readers who aren't me (fourth and fifth grade boys, I'd say) might well disagree!

Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments, by Emily Ecton (Aladdin--Simon and Schuster, 2009, 229 pages), is a notch up age-wise (seventh grade-ish, I think), and not so much a Boy book--it's narrated by a girl, and there is less burping. That being said, there is a sheep-shaped pepper shaker who has come to life and who is having major digestive issues:

"Eunice patted me on the hand with her little hoof. "We'll be quiet. But if you get a chance?" She did a little hip swivel. There was no sound at all from her insides. "I'm very clumpy," she whispered.

I nodded. "I'll see what I can do." Nothing like adding "find a good sheep innard substitute" to your list of things to do." (p 139)

And the pepper shaker is not the only inanimate thing to come to life. When Arlie and her friend Ty find a mysterious dragonfly pendant, and playfully drape it over the necks of various lawn ornaments and sundry knick knacks, stuffed animals, and Mr. Boots' favorite toy (Mr. Boots being a neurotic Chihuahua), little do they know the mayhem they are about to unleash...

It is non-stop insanity--no quite moments of tranquil beauty and intricate character development here (although I like the "just friends for now" relationship between Ty and Arlie very much)! But Ecton has a way with words that makes the reading fun for all ages, even if it is all, perhaps, just a bit too crazy for my own taste.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for supporting the Cybils by sending us panelists review copies!


Sent, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, for Timeslip Tuesday

Sent, by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon and Schuster, 2009, middle grade, 308pp), is the second book of The Missing. It's not entirely necessary to have read Found, the first book of the series, before reading Sent, but it will spoil Found considerably if you read this one first....so consider this whole review a spoiler for Found.

Jonah, Katherine, Chip and Alex were ordinary 21st century kids. It's true that three of them were orphans, found as babies on a mysterious airplane that appeared out of no where, but other than that, life was normal. But then they learn that all those babies were rescued from certain death back in various pasts, and that the time has come for them to be sent home again to meet their destinies and fix the wrinkles that have formed in time. If, like Chip and Alex, you are the Princes in the Tower, supposedly killed by your wicked uncle Richard III, the smooth course of history might be the last thing on your mind.

When Chip and Alex are sent back to 15th century, Jonah and Katherine travel with them, much to the dismay of JB and the other mysterious time guardians of the future, who are working to Fix things. Chip and Alex gradually take on their medieval identities, caught up in a perilous contest over the crown of England. But Jonah and Katherine are determined to bring them safely back to the present, even if it means donning medieval armor and joining in the Battle of Bosworth Field...

It's a fast, fun read. Haddix is an excellent story-teller, and keeps things swinging along.

Despite the engrossing action, however, there's not a whole lot of emotional wallop to the story. Partly this is because the mechanisms of plot are given more prominence than the subtleties of characterization and emotional response--although the kids have distinct personalities, they are painted with a rather wide brush.

In larger part this lack of emotional punch is due to the fact that these kids have it very easy, time-travel wise. They are in touch with JB for most of their time in the past, and can be pulled out at any moment, and, even in the final battle, there is no immediate sense that they will come to any harm. And they are never modern children forced to act convincingly in the past. Chip and Alex have ready made identities to slip into, and Jonah and Katherine are handily made invisible by a futuristic gizmo that translates for them. Even when they have to leave their translator in the present, after a brief break from the middle ages, they get an injection of linguistic elixir that solves the language problem...

But although this isn't the most powerful story I've ever read, it is a lovely history lesson packaged in adventure, one that (for the most part) steers clear of obvious didacticism. In this aspect of the book I give Haddix high marks. Her Richard III is not a monster, and the princes in the tower are clearly caught in a complex situation for which there is no easy answer. I loved the way she brought Shakespeare's version into the picture, raising the issue of literary propaganda!

In short, this is a good, kid-friendly read that's also a great introduction to the trickiness of the historian's craft. I'll be looking forward to the next books in the series...

Sent has been nominated for the Cybils in middle grade science fiction/fantasy, and its publisher, Simon and Schuster, very generously provided us panelists with review copies--thanks.


This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy reviews

Here's the second installment of my weekly roundup of middle-grade (ages 9-12) science fiction and fantasy reviews of books old and new from around the book blogs. Here's what I've found so far, but please leave me a comment if I've missed yours, and I will add it to the list! (and feel free to spread the word about this too).

At One Librarian's Book Reviews, you can find Found (ha ha), by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Kate at Book Aunt looks at Spellbinder, by Helen Stringer (2009).

Fuse #8 reviews Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin (2009)

At A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Liz has The Witch's Guide to Cooking With Children, by Kevin McGowan, a modern re-telling of Hansel and Gretel (2009).

Jennifer, at the Jean Little Library, talks about Violet Wings, by Victoria Hanley (2009). And at Children Come First, Olgy has another Victoria Hanley book, that's at the top end of my definition of middle grade-- The Light of the Oracle.

At Fantasy Book Review (UK) there's Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth, by Chris Priestley (2009).

The Curse of the Spider King, by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper (2009), is currently on a huge blog tour of Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy blogs--here's one of its first stops, at The Christian Fantasy Review, and there a long list of the other participating blogs.

At Emeraldfire's Bookmark there's a look at The Taker and the Keeper, by Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin (2009), a Cybils nominee that I reviewed a few weeks back here. And it's also reviewed by Anastasia here at BirdBrain(ed) Book Blog.

Eva at Eva's Book Addiction is currently the middle-grade science fiction and fantasy book reviewing champion. Here she has Silksinger, by Laini Taylor (2009), here she has Ottoline Goes to School, by Chris Riddell (2009), and here she has The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan (2009), all Cybils nominees.

Critique de Mr. Chomp Chomp
takes a look at When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (2009), another Cybils nominee.

I myself only reviewed one book this week (here), being rather busy with other things. It was Lost Worlds, by John Howe (2009), a lovely non-fiction book.

This past week saw the Winter Blog Blast Tour of author interviews organized by Colleen at Chasing Ray, where you can find the full schedule. Here are the interviews with mg sff authors:

Derek Landy, of Skulduggery Pleasant fame, at Finding Wonderland.
Frances Hardinge (The Lost Conspiracy and more) at Fuse #8
Patrick Carman (Skeleton Creek) at Miss Erin
Laini Taylor (the Dreamdark Books) at Shelf Elf
Jim De Bartolo (illustrator of the above) at Seven Impossible Things
R.L. LaFevers (the Theodosia books, and also Nathaniel Fludd, Beasteologist) at HipWriterMama
and, because The Thief is middle grade, even if the next two books more YA-ward, there's Megan Whalen Turner at HipWriterMama.

(did I miss anyone?????)


Notes from the world of the library book sale

Our sale is still ongoing....my sale, really, even though I have some helpers. I have moved 6,000 books at least 3 times each.

Library book sales are frustrating things. The preview night is horribly stressful, for small sales like ours--we need the dealers to come, since they are the biggest spenders, but they can be very hard to deal with, making nasty remarks about the quality of the books offered, leaving messy piles for us to put away, and generally being demanding. They weren't bad this time around, but, on the other hand, they weren't buying many books. Sigh.

And the local newspaper put in wrong information about the days the sale was open, just saying Monday, instead of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so business is way down. A couple of people have said to me that they think the newspaper did it on purpose, because (they say) the paper supports the other, bigger, library, which is located in the more affluent part of town, and, they say, that library wants our library to close so they can have the totality of the town library budget (which might well be true). I really, really, don't want to think that the newspaper would be so mean, but I am pretty sad.

On a lighter note, a copy of Twilight showed up in the donations for the First Time! Harry Potters showed up within months of their releases, so I guess the people of my town love Bella more, in that they are so unwilling to part with her...

And I did already get to spend $350 of the dollars buying legos for the library's new lego club, which was fun.

But still. I am thinking of making my oldest dress in a book costume and dance at the intersection tomorrow, to bring in more traffic. If only I had a book costume on hand...Ninja, yes, but that is not Useful...


Passing the buck to Laini Taylor over at Shelf Elf

Because I have a library booksale to run, starting tonight, and because it is mostly all being done by me, I am passing the buck (or book ha ha) to an interview with Laini Taylor over at Shelf Elf, which makes much better reading than anything I am capable of right now! And then I pass the buck some more, to an interview with Laini's husband, artist Jim Di Bartolo, at Seven Impossible Things, where there is much wondrous art of a fantastical sort to admire.

And even though Laini's book, Lips Touch, didn't win the National Book Award for Young People's Literature (the winner was Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose , it is still incredibly cool that it made the short list!

And, speaking of awards, The Graveyard Book won another one--the prestigious UK Booktrust Teenage Prize, and you can read Gaiman's thoughts on all his winning-ness, and some loosing-ness, here at the Guardian. I think that the Cybils (hooray for us!) was the first major award he won, so that at least should have had its first fine freshness...


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

Here are the new releases of fantasy and science fiction for kids and teenagers from the middle of this month! As usual, my info comes from Teens Read Too, and the blurbs are lifted from Amazon.

For 9-12 year olds:

Celia's Robot by Margaret Chang. "Ten-year-old Celia is messy and disorganized, so her father builds her a robot to turn her life around. High-tech Robot is part nanny, part housekeeper, and all friend, but Celia worries that Dad build Robot because he and Mom are too busy to take care of her. Then Robot goes missing, and Celia wonders if she's lost her father's love as well."

Claim to Fame by Margaret Peterson Haddix. "It was a talent that came out of nowhere. One day Lindsay Scott was on the top of the world, the star of a hit TV show. The next day her fame had turned into torture. Every time anyone said anything about her, she heard it. And everyone was talking about Lindsay: fans, friends, enemies, enemies who pretended to be friends....Lindsay had what looked like a nervous breakdown and vanished from the public eye. But now she's sixteen and back in the news: A tabloid newspaper claims that Lindsay is being held hostage by her father. The truth? Lindsay has been hiding out in a small Illinois town, living in a house that somehow provides relief from the stream of voices in her head. But when two local teenagers try to "rescue" Lindsay by kidnapping her, Lindsay is forced to confront everything she's hiding from. And that's when she discovers there may be others who share her strange power. Lindsay is desperate to learn more, but what is she willing to risk to find the truth?"

Clay Man: The Golem of Prague by Irene N. Watts. "It is 1595, and the rabbi’s son Jacob is frustrated with having to live in the walled ghetto known as Jewish Town. Why can’t he venture outside of the gates and explore the beautiful city? His father warns him that Passover is a dangerous time to be a Jew and that the people from outside accuse the Jews of dreadful deeds. But one night, Jacob follows his father and two companions as they unlock the ghetto gates and proceed to the river, where they mold a human shape from the mud of the riverbank. When the rabbi speaks strange words, the shape is infused with life and the Golem of Prague is born."

Everwild (Skinjacker Trilogy) by Neal Shusterman. "There was the rumor of a beautiful sky witch, who soared across the heavens in a great silver balloon. And there were whispers of a terrible ogre made entirely of chocolate, who lured unsuspecting souls with that rich promising smell, only to cast them down a bottomless pit from which there was no return. Everlost, the limbo land of dead children, is at war. Nick the "Chocolate Ogre" wants to help the children of Everlost reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Mary Hightower, self-proclaimed queen of lost children and dangerous fanatic, is determined to keep Everlost's children trapped within its limbo for all eternity. Traveling in the memory of the Hindenburg, Mary is spreading her propaganda and attracting Afterlights to her cause at a frightening speed. Meanwhile, Allie the Outcast travels home to seek out her parents, along with Mikey, who was once the terrifying monster the McGill. Allie is tempted by the seductive thrill of skinjacking the living, until she learns a shocking secret: Those who skinjack are not actually dead."

The Giant-Slayer by Iain Lawrence. "The spring of 1955 tests Laurie Valentine’s gifts as a storyteller. After her friend Dickie contracts polio and finds himself confined to an iron lung, Laurie visits him in the hospital. There she meets Carolyn and Chip, two other kids trapped inside the breathing machines. Laurie’s first impulse is to flee, but Dickie begs her to tell them a story. And so Laurie begins her tale of Collosso, a rampaging giant, and Jimmy, a tiny boy whose destiny is to become a slayer of giants. As Laurie embellishes her tale with gnomes, unicorns, gryphons, and other fanciful creatures, Dickie comes to believe that he is a character in her story. Little by little Carolyn, Chip, and other kids who come to listen, recognize counterparts as well. Laurie’s tale is so powerful that when she’s prevented from continuing it, Dickie, Carolyn, and Chip take turns as narrators. Each helps bring the story of Collosso and Jimmy to an end—changing the lives of those in the polio ward in startling ways."

Grk Smells a Rat by Joshua Doder. "Tim Malt; his parents; his dog, Grk; and his friends Natascha and Max Raffifi have just arrived in India. They are all set to see the famous sights and watch Max compete in a tennis tournament. But after meeting a boy named Krishnan, they learn about the Blue Rat Gang, a group that enslaves children. Krishnan needs help to rescue his sister from a cruel life of forced labor, and Tim and Grk are up to the challenge. Racing against time, Tim and Grk are chased through dark alleys only to find themselves face-to-face with the infamous leader inside the Blue Rats’ headquarters. Can they foil his evil plans before it’s too late?"

Lost Worlds by John Howe. "From the world of Aratta and Mohenjo-Daro to Atlantis and Camelot, this visually stunning book is a window with a view that takes readers on an historical, archaeological, and mythological journey through lost worlds, those abandoned in time, buried and forgotten, and the ones that live in the imagination. Attempting to put the most plausible pieces of history together, John Howe, concept artist for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, begins the journey that will move readers to explore these lost worlds even further."

The Luckiest Boy by Scott Christian Sava. "13 year old Russell Ranger is the unluckiest boy in the world. Nothing ever seems to go his way. Nothing good at least. One day, though, he meets a real, honest to goodness Leprechaun, who grants him a wish... just one wish. So he wishes to be the Luckiest Boy in the World! Suddenly, his family wins the lottery, gets to meet his favorite football player, and even discovers Bigfoot. He's a worldwide celebrity. But something's not right. All of the good luck is going to Russ. But, that means all the bad luck is given to the rest of the world! Now, earthquakes, stock market crashes, and a deadly asteroid threaten the existence of everyone on Earth, and only Russ can stop it... if he can find the Leprechaun to give his good luck back!"

Olivion's Favorites (Marvelous World) by Troy Cle. "When Louis Proof collapsed in pain in front of his uncle's store, he thought he was going to die. Instead he awoke in Midlandia, a place of the impossible. Almost as soon as he arrives, three eNoli -- people who look human but are otherworldly -- try to kill him. In fact, it seems as if everyone in Midlandia is trying to kill Louis and the other two human teens, Cyndi Victoria Chase and Devon Alexander. The three are Favorites. If they survive Midlandia, they will have great powers. That's a big "if," though. Louis must find Cyndi and Devon, who've been flung to different parts of Midlandia. Only when the three are together will Olivion's Gate appear. Then they will be able to cross the Gate, meet the Olivion, and return home. The three teens must also pay attention to everything on their journey. It is not enough to be a Favorite; they need to learn how to use their newfound abilities. Tremendous challenges await them at home. But as they're about to learn, those challenges are only the beginning. A threat is coming that is greater than anyone -- human or eNoli or iLone -- can imagine...."

Scurvey Goonda by Chris McCoy. "In Book One of this two-part story, an endearing misfit embarks on an amazing adventure in search of his friend Scurvy Goonda, an outrageous invisible pirate with an insatiable love for bacon. Part friendship story, part madcap adventure, readers who love stories in which almost-ordinary kids travel to fantastical lands and become heroes will revel in the imaginative landscape and characters featured in this original debut. While adventure-loving vegetarians will find much to savor, this is a must-read for all who love bacon—which plays a key role in the story’s sizzling climax!"

Versus: Warriors by Steve Stone. "Ten of the greatest warriors of history meet for the first time. From Viking vs. Aztec Warrior and Samurai v. Gladiator to Medieval Knight vs. Zulu, Versus explores who would triumph and why, if these fiercest warriors were to engage in deadly battle against one another. Data files compare and contrast weaponry, armor, tactics and codes of honor, while eye-catching background scenes of arenas provide historical and cultural context. With the computer-gamer in mind, designs brings history's warriors into the 21st century and readers will be treated to large, gate folded pages that enhance the experience of each battle In the end, only one can be crowned history's ultimate warrior. Who will it be?"

Young Adult:

Angel in Vegas: The Chronicles of Noah Sark by Norma Howe. "Who is Noah Sark, really? And what is he doing in the men’s room at Angelo’s Donut Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada? No use asking him; he doesn’t know. But he’s gambling that an assignment from above will shed some light — after all, a life depends on it! Only master satirist Norma Howe could craft a provocative meditation on free will from blending one (or maybe two) budding teen romances, a psychic fair, a dead frog, a headful of blond curls, and Las Vegas in all its glitz and kitsch (hello, Elvis!) with the dramatic backstory of Princess Diana in Paris. The jackpot? A wild and witty portrait of an unlikely guardian angel on a desperate mission to save a certain unknown girl from a certain unknown disaster."

Betrayals: A Strange Angels Novel Lili St. Crow. "Poor Dru Anderson. Her parents are long gone, her best friend is a werewolf, and she’s just learned that the blood flowing through her veins isn’t entirely human. (So what else is new?) Now Dru is stuck at a secret New England School for other teens like her, and there’s a big problem— she’s the only girl in the place. A school full of cute boys wouldn’t be so bad, but Dru’s killer instinct says that one of them wants her dead. And with all eyes on her, discovering a traitor within the Order could mean a lot more than social suicide. . ."

The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy. "Heriot Tarbas was born with a gift. Visions wake him in the middle of the night, and others' thoughts invade his head. Heriot's mind already feels torn apart when the King of Hoad decides to tear him away from his family. Heriot quickly discovers that life in the royal court is much more difficult and complex than life on the farm. Being at the beck and call of a King who expects him to read friends' and foes' minds alike is no small challenge, but neither is being caught in a power struggle among three princes and an intimidating Hero of Hoad. As Heriot hones his skills and grows into the role of the Magician of Hoad, the number of people he can trust becomes smaller. Loneliness threatens to engulf him until a chance encounter brings a street urchin named Cayley into his life. Heriot feels inexplicably drawn to Cayley, someone he sees so much of himself in, yet at times feels like he does not understand at all. But even amidst the turmoil, Heriot is certain that his ever-developing power is the key to his destiny...if only he could figure out exactly what that destiny is supposed to be."

Dr. Sigmundus: The Resurrection Fields (The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus) by Brian Keaney. "Beginning where Book 2, The Cracked Mirror, left off, this finale to the Promises of Dr. Sigmundus trilogy takes readers into bizarre realms with fanciful creatures, continuing its signature exploration of the price of freedom and self-determination. Focusing on the ongoing struggles of its teenaged protagonists, Dante and Bea, it is a journey at once thrilling and thoughtful, with plenty to offer for pure reading enjoyment and book discussion."

The Shadowmask: Stone of Tymora, Book II by R.A. & Geno Salvatore. "Though robbed by a masked spellcaster and left for dead by a demon, twelve-year-old Maimun refuses to give up the magic that rightfully belongs to him. After reuniting with dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden and Captain Deudermont's crew, Maimun sets off on a sea-faring chase that will test both the strength of his spirit and of his friendships. As perilous storms rock Sea Sprite and vicious pirates bombard its decks, a mysterious force gathers in the Moonshaes, determined to bring Deudermont's ship - and Maimun's quest - crashing to an end on its shores."

Winter's End by Jean-Claude Mourlevat. "Escape. Milena, Bartolomeo, Helen, and Milos have left their prison-like boarding schools far behind, but their futures remain in peril. Fleeing across icy mountains from a terrifying pack of dog-men sent to hunt them down, they are determined to take up the fight against the despotic government that murdered their parents years before. Only three will make it safely to the secret headquarters of the resistance movement. The fourth is captured and forced to participate in a barbaric game for the amusement of the masses — further proof of the government’s horrible brutality. Will the power of one voice be enough to rouse a people against a generation of cruelty?"

Shadowland: The Immortals by Alyson Noel. "Ever and Damen have traveled through countless past lives—and fought off the world’s darkest enemies—so they could be together forever. But just when their long-awaited destiny is finally within reach, a powerful curse falls upon Damen…one that could destroy everything. Now a single touch of their hands or a soft brush of their lips could mean sudden death—plunging Damen into the Shadowland. Desperate to break the curse and save Damen, Ever immerses herself in magick—and gets help from an unexpected source…a surfer named Jude. Although she and Jude have only just met, he feels startlingly familiar. Despite her fierce loyalty to Damen, Ever is drawn to Jude, a green-eyed golden boy with magical talents and a mysterious past. She’s always believed Damen to be her soulmate and one true love—and she still believes it to be true. But as Damen pulls away to save them, Ever’s connection with Jude grows stronger—and tests her love for Damen like never before…"

For all ages:

Fairie-ality Style: A Sourcebook of Inspirations from Nature by David Ellwand. "Photographer David Ellwand’s eye for natural beauty has brought him international renown. In this stunning new volume, a follow-up to FAIRIE-ALITY: THE FASHION COLLECTION FROM THE HOUSE OF ELLWAND, he uses the same gorgeous array of natural elements — feathers, flowers, stones, shells, and more — to explore the limits of imagination in home design as well as haute couture. Partly an inspirational sourcebook for imaginative DIY projects, partly a showcase of unique fantasy fashion, FAIRIE-ALITY STYLE is an eco-designer’s dream — the ultimate exploration of truly organic materials."


Lost Worlds, by John Howe, for Nonfiction Monday

There are some books which, the moment you see them, invite you to open them. The opening is accompianied by appreciative murmurs, and thoughts of gift giving. Lost Worlds, by John Howe (Kingfisher, 2009, older middle grade on up, 95 pp), is just such a book. Mysterious looking. Engaging. Alluring. And with great content inside!

In his introduction, Howe (who was the concept artist for the Lord of the Rings movies) writes:

"There are two kinds of lost worlds: Those abandoned in time, buried and forgotten, like Aratta or Mohenjo-Daro, and the ones that live in the imagination, from Atlantis to Camelot. The first ones we might call real, since they once had streets filled with people. The latter are real, too, but in a different way; they embody our need for symbols and meaning." (page 9)

And so he sets out to offer a tour of the lost worlds (both real and fantastical) that have captured the imaginations of people for millennia. Howe takes his readers from the Garden of Eden, to Thebes, to Cahokia, Shambhala, Avalon and the Hollow Earth (and many more magical places--24 in all), offering, like a good tour guide, much clearly presented information about each one. Alongside the words are pictures--both beautiful original art, and also photographs of the real places and artifacts from them. The detailed, colorful illustrations bring the places to life--the reader can imagine, for instance, walking the streets of Mohenjo-Daro, or arriving at Timbuktu...

The imaginary places included are skewed toward a European world-view, and even some of the places that aren't in Europe are discussed from the point of view of European eyes. There is, however, considerable cultural and geographical variety. The one striking geographical omission from the lost places featured is East Asia--there are no lost worlds of China or Japan (although there is Shambhala, high in the Himalayas). A few are included in the Appendix at the end, which gives tantalizingly brief descriptions of more lost worlds. Although there's a glossary and an index, I would really have appreciated a map--many of the places described are real, and it would be useful to know where they are.

That being said, this is a beautiful book, one that educates as it entertains. It would a great gift for the middle-school kid (maybe 5th grade up) who is fascinated by archaeology and mythology (and who loves the "ology" books). It would also make a good gift for an older fantasy loving teenager, or even an adult lover of fantasy. And, as an added bonus, there's a forward by Ian McKellen (aka Gandalf).

Review copy received from the publisher.

Today's Non-Fiction Monday is at Tales from the Rushmore Kid.

Interview with Megan Whalen Turner at HipWriterMama, and more Winter Blog Blast Tour goodness

If you are at all a fan of Megan Whalen Turner, you must not miss today's interview with her at HipWriterMama! (there was something in it that made me squee like the fan girl I am). This interview is part of the Winter Blog Blast Tour, organized by Colleen over at Chasing Ray, where you can find the whole schedule.

Here are today's other offerings of particular interest to us fans of speculative fiction/sff:

Derek Landry at Finding Wonderland
Frances Hardinge at Fuse Number 8
Mary E. Pearson at Miss Erin


Introducing the Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy Roundup!

Looking for reviews of middle grade science fiction and fantasy (sf/f) can be something of a hit or miss proposition. Books in this genre are often reviewed at blogs that have a general children's book focus, but you never know when that's going to happen, and middle grade books seem to show up only sporadically (if at all) at blogs whose focus is sf/f. So, inspired by Sherry at Semicolon, who hosts a review round-up every Saturday, today I'm introducing a similar, but more focused, weekly feature here, one that I hope will happen every Sunday.

I'm inviting everyone who's blogged about middle grade science fiction and fantasy (new or old) in the past week to leave me a link to their reviews, responses, reminiscences or remarks (as many as you want from the past week). Then, at the end of the day, there will be a lovely consolidation of mg sff posts that will be a nice and tidy resource for folks looking for the books, and all of us who like to read about them!

Middle-grade generally means books for children 9 to 12 year old, but if you have reviews of books that skew a bit younger than that, that's fine with me (but any older, and you are getting into YA territory, which is a whole different thing....). And, for future weeks, links to reviews can be emailed to me at any time, if you think you might not be commenting on that week's roundup Sunday itself.

So. Here we go!

This Week's Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy Reviews (alphabetical by blog)

At Boys Rule Boys Read:
Salt Water Taffy: The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny - The Truth about Dr. Truth by Matthew Loux (a graphic novel) As an added bonus, this link also gives a review of The Monstrumologist...(YA)
Carl has a whole bunch more links that aren't from this week in his comment below--do check them out! But I couldn't resist linking to his review of The Roar, by Emma Clayton (2009), because it is next up on my Cybils reading list...

Here at my place (Charlotte's Library):
The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance (The Candle Man, Book 1), by Glenn Dakin (2009)
A Walk Through a Window, by kc dyer (2009)
Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel by K.A. Holt (2009)

At Eva's Book Addiction:
Darkwood, by M.E. Breen (2009)
Sent, by Margaret Peterson Haddix (2009)
At The Excelsior File:
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (2009)
At Fantasy Book Critic, Cindy has:
The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker (2009)
Nine Pound Hammer (The Clockwork Dark Book 1) by John Claude Bemis (2009)
The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1, by PJ Haarsma (2008)
At Fantasy Book Review:
Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, by David Benedictus (2009)
At Jean Little Library:
The Runaway Princess and its sequel, The Runaway Dragon, by Kate Coombs (2006 and 2009)

At Owl in the Library:
Powerless, by Matthew Cody (2009)

Please let me know if I am being unclear about anything, and please leave me your links!



The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance (Candle Man, Book One)

The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance (Candle Man, Book One) by Glenn Dakin (Egmont, 2009, Middle Grade, 300 pages)

Theo has lived all his life a prisoner, shut away in miserable confinement by his guardian (the head of the "Society of Good Works) to keep him from contaminating the outside world with his mysterious illness. But on a birthday outing to a nearby deserted cemetery, he finds a mysterious birthday gift--someone out there knows who he is.

Turns out the Society of Good Works are not good at all. Pitted against that society is another, the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance. And Theo might be just the hero they are looking for. But the Dodo, another mysterious bad guy with legions of extinct creatures at his command, wants Theo too...

Theo finds himself swept into a London of sinister underground tunnels, villains large and small, and creatures that he never dreamed existed (the smoglodytes are especially fun, in a polluted sort of way!). It's all a bit much for a boy whose barely even been outside, but with the mysterious powers of the Candle Man to help him, maybe Theo and his new friends can prevail...

This is an action-packed adventure, that takes the familiar trope of orphaned boy with special powers and runs with it like crazy! There are hints of steam-punkishness that add interest--such as infernal machines down in a dark underworld that never existed. It's definitely middle-grade, in that the darkness is leavened with a bit of silliness, and though there is violence, it is not disturbingly wrenching. It's a great one for readers who enjoy rather frenetic pacing, brisk shifts in the point of view from hero to various assorted secondary characters, and a densely packed canvas of villains, good guys, and assorted fantastical creatures.

The problem with all that, though, is that it doesn't leave much room for strong relationships to develop among the characters, or between the reader and the characters, for that matter. I wish there had been a bit more quite time to spend with Theo when he wasn't in mortal peril. He's a rather wonderfully neurotic character (blame it on his peculiar upbringing), and I hope he brings his quirkiness with him into the next book of the series (The Society of Dread, coming Fall 2010). I'm also hoping to find out more about Chloe--the young agent of the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance who plays a pivotal role in guiding Theo to his confrontation with the bad guys.

Here's one of my favorite passages from the book:

"I would be glad to meet anybody," Theo said eagerly. "There have been thirteen so far if you count a skeleton and don't count--what does Sam call those flying things?" Theo asked Chloe, remembering the garghoul.

"Birds," snapped Chloe." (page 84)

But it really was a garghoul, as Chloe well knows....

The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance has been nominated for the Cybils in the Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy category, and the publisher generously provided review copies for us panelists (thanks Egmont!)


Agnes and the Giant, by Anne Adeney

Agnes and the Giant, by Anne Adeney, illustrated Daniel Postgate (Franklin Watts, 2009, 31pp). Here's a great learning-to-read adventure from the UK, one of the Hopscotch series of books that tell the stories of Britain in easy reader form.

Sometimes it takes a brave and clever girl to stop a rampaging giant. Bolster is just such a giant, terrorizing the countryside of Cornwall, always on the lookout for a tasty child to eat for his supper. Knight after knight has tried to slay him, to no avail.

So little Agnes takes matters into her own hands.

"Where's Bolster, the cowardly giant?" she shouted. "I hear even a sheep is cleverer than him."

Bolster roared with rage.

"I can beat anyone and do anything!" (pp 16-17)

So Agnes challenges him to fill a small pool with his blood, and Bolster is sure it will be but the work of minutes. Little does he know that Agnes has tricked him! The pool is actually joined to the sea by a cleft in the rock cliffs, and Bolster grows weaker and weaker as his blood pours into the ocean...and at last, he tumbles off the side himself, leaving the rocks stained red.

And if you go to the Cornish town of St. Agnes, and walk along the seaside, you can still see those red rocks today.

It's a fun and interesting story for the kid who's just becoming an independent reader, and who wants a touch of fantastical gore to spice things up! It hasn't been published in the US yet, as far as I can see, but it's available here at a reasonable price.

Disclaimer: my copy of the book was sent to me by the author, who I am very proud to say is my sister-in-law!


Obituary for Louise Cooper, British Fantasy Author, in today's Guardian

British fantasy writer Louise Cooper died in October at the most untimely age of 57. Here's a link to an obituary in today's Guardian.

Cooper wrote for both adults and children, including, most recently, the Mermaid Curse Quartet, book 1 of which is shown at right. She is perhaps best known for The Time Master Trilogy.

Here's link to a more personal remembrance, at Mundania Press.

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