Moonshadow: Rise of the Ninja, by Simon Higgins

Moonshadow: Rise of the Ninja by Simon Higgins (Little Brown, 2010)

As the medieval period of Japan draws to a close, Moonshadow, a young member of the Grey Light Order, passes the final test of his ninja training. He has learned the arts of various types of combat, he's studied tactics, he can "walk" on water, and he's even been taught to link his mind to animals, so that he can see through their eyes. But is he ready to go on the mission he's been assigned--to capture secret plans from a power-hungry man who plans to destroy the whole warrior code of Japan in his bid for domination? A man who has hired a warrior known only as "The Deathless" to make sure no-one succeeds in stopping him?

Snowhawk too is a young ninja, sent on the same mission. But for her, the price of failure is even greater than shame (and the end of a way of life). If she can't bring the plans home to her own shadow clan, she will be killed.

Moonshadow and Snowhawk are rivals. But the enemies they face are too powerful for either to defeat alone...

In their adventures they demonstrate non-stop ninja fighting skills and sneaking skills and climbing skills (and more) that should prove delightfully entertaining to fans of such ninja-ish things. This is a book I would give in a second to a young fan of martial arts, with ninja dreams...

Which doesn't describe me. There are many, many pages describing violent encounters, and traps, and wall climbing, etc, and I, um, skimmed some of the fight scenes, after the second or third shuriken throw...Yet the book is not without some character development. Moonshadow's training is seen in flashbacks, making him more than just a ninja warrior machine. Not tremendously much more, but enough so that I was engaged enough in his story to keep the pages turning. I would have been even more engaged had Snowhawk gotten more page time; she never quite came alive for me.

(so one walks away from the computer and, lo! The house guest finishes it!

What Charlotte really means to say: If you have a boy reader who wants to read action scenes, give him this novel - and watch him enjoy it!

If your tastes run toward more emotionally dense ninja fiction with fewer fight scenes and more characterization, you may want to give this one a pass.

Here's another review, at The Fourth Musketeer.

(ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter)

After ALA...given added interest by the YA winners

I went back to ALA on Monday...all a quiver to fill my bags with books and to meet folks. And indeed, I came home with just as many books as I could manage--one more and I would have ended up whimpering in the Metro corridors (though there were still books that I would have liked, that chance didn't send my way. And there weren't any ARCs of the new Bartimaeus book...). I didn't get a chance to meet many people (sigh), but I sure enjoyed seeing the people I did manage to hook up with (Pam, Tanita, Kelly, and Laura). And Tanita will be staying here at my mother's with us for two days, which will be lovely.

Now I just need to get reading, which is easier said than done, mainly because of the distractions of summertime fun with the boys here at grandma's house, which make for a certain lack of concentrated quiet time...

Here's the added interest part--the short lists for Canada's Sunburst Award (Canada's big juried sci fi award) have been announced, and here are the YA books in contention:

Megan Crewe, Give Up the Ghost (Henry Holt)
Maureen Garvie, Amy By Any Other Name (Key Porter)
Hiromi Goto, Half World (Penguin)
Lesley Livingston, Wondrous Strange (HarperTeen)
Arthur Slade, The Hunchback Assignment (HarperCollins)

Of which I have read just one (Wondrous Strange). And never even heard of two (Amy and Half World). Oh well.

(thanks to Science Fiction Awards Watch for the heads up)


This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs

Greetings, all, and welcome to this week's gleenings of posts from around the blogs that are relevant to middle grade science fiction and fantasy. If I missed you, let me know!

Just by way of a starter, check out this post-apocalyptic lego diaroma (via io9)--fun with dystopia! (it actually looks a lot like my living room floor).

Breaking News: The date for this fall's KidLit con is Saturday, October 23, 2010. More here, at the Kidlit Con 2010 blog...


The Celestial Globe, by Marie Rutkoski at IMCPL Kids

Chantel's Quest for the Enchanted Medallion, by Oliver Neubert’s at Alita.reads

Dark Life, by Kat Falls, at A Year of Reading and Bending Bookshelf.

The Familiars, by Adam Jay Epstein and Adam Jacobson, at Bookworming in the 21st Century.

Maddigan's Fantasia, by Margaret Mahy, at Charlotte's Library.

Moonshadow: Rise of the Ninja, by Simon Higgins, at The Fourth Musketeer.

Nieve, by Terry Griggs at Critique de Mr. Chompchomp.

The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones at Throwing Up Words.

The Pyramid of Souls (Magickeepers, book 2), by Erica Kirov, at Lori Calabrese.

The Queen Elizabeth Story, by Rosemary Sutcliff, at Charlotte's Library.

The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan, at Beyond Books.

The Secret Lives of Princesses, by Philippe Lechermeier, at A Year of Reading.

Slime Squad, by Steve Cole, at The Book Zone (for boys)

Space Crime Conspiracy, by Gareth P. Jones, at Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

The Water Seeker, by Kimberly Willis Holt at Kid Lit and at Becky's Book Reviews (I asked Tasha of Kid Lit if this was fantasy, and she answered thus "It does have a fantasy element, less about the dowsing and more about the continued presence of the dead mother in many people’s lives and through flocks of birds. It is subtle but there."

The Witches Guide to Cooking With Children, by Keith McGowan at Welcome to My Tweendom.
The World Above, by Carmeron Dokey, at The Compulsive Reader.

At Books4yourkids it was Doll Week! Here are the books that took part, with the links taking your to the post on that particular book: The Doll's House, by Rumer Godden, The Doll House Fairy, written and illustrated by Jane Ray, Big Susan, written and illustrated by Susan Orton Jones, Fanny, written and illustrated by Hollie Hobbie, The Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Goodwin, Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field.

Interviews: Deva Fagan (The Marvelous Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle) at The Enchanted Inkpot. Katie Hine (Guardian) at Jane's Ride.

And other fun things:

Hilary Wagner (Nightshade City) writes about writing creepy for kids at Teresa Frohock

Katherine Langrish offers more of her nice fat posts--this time a two part series on fantasy worlds. Here's Part 1 (three classics), and here's Part 2 (modern writers)

Nick James grades kid's fantasy book to movie adaptations at The Spectacle

Jenny (of Jenny's Books) will be celebrating Diana Wynne Jones Week August 1-7, and invites us to join her!


The Locus Awards--Leviathan wins best YA

The Locus Awards, for books published in the previous calendar year, have been announced-- And the best young adult novel is: LEVIATHAN, by Scott Westerfeld

The others on the short list:

The Hotel Under the Sand, Kage Baker
Going Bovine, Libba Bray
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
Liar, Justine Larbalestier

This award is determined by a poll of Locus Magazine's subscribers....I think that I would have picked Leviathan too, if these books were all I had to choose from. But my favorite YA sci fi/fantasy of last year (to the best of my recollection) would probably be The Demon's Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan. Leviathan was very good indeed (here's my review), but didn't quite fill me with the joy of being alive and having more pages left to turn, the way one's favorite books do...

Which one of the short list would you have voted for?

In which an INFP goes to ALA

I am a rather extreme example of an INFP (according to the Myers-Briggs personality type scheme of things), and truly, my life is just one long stream of INFP-ness. Including my day yesterday, in which I left home for Washington DC and the summer meeting of the American Library Association.

I is for introvert. Introverts tend to become very tired when they spend lots of time with other people...by the time I actually got to the Exhibits at ALA, I had spent six hours travelling with my Dear Boys (we're staying at my mother's house). Six hours in which both of them essentially wanted to sit on my lap, so by the time we arrived, crawling into a corner and hiding seemed like an excellent idea. But instead, the moment we got safely to Arlington, my mother drove back into DC, to get to the last twenty minutes of the exhibits, and then I went over to the SCBWI get together. A large group of strangers is not introvert heaven, and I questioned my sanity, but happily I met some old blogging friends, and met some new ones, and so was glad I went.

N is for intuitive. As opposed to S people, who rely on facts, common sense, and past experience, N people trust vaguely that their intuition will direct them. N people tend to arrive at exhibit halls having left their lists and maps at home by accident, and trust to the fates that they will be led in the direction of the books they want. This doesn't work very well, because sometimes one forgets the name and publisher of the book one really wants (the new Baritmaeus one) and feels futile. However, I did come home with a nice little bag of arcs, including Pegasus, so that was ok.

F is for feeling vs thinking. Which is to say, I am not so very good at approaching situations with calm logic (see above). More crazed, emotional squirrel than calm, thoughtful book reviewer. I tried to hide this--because what publisher wants to give ARCs to crazed squirrels? But I don't know if it worked.

P is for perception. The main distinction in this fourth category is whether a person values closure, or open-endness; the realization, or the expectation. I have spent the past week in just a giddiness of happy anticipation, and so, even if I hadn't gone last night, and hadn't gotten any books or met new people, I would have gotten my money's worth just from how much I looked forward to it.

I don't know when I'll make it back into town...My mother has a full weekend of bird banding, and although I'm very proud that my mom is an ace bird bander, it does mean that she isn't home to keep an eye on the kids. And, trying hard to think logically, based on past experience, it probably would be Very Stressful to take the boys into town with me today....so I'll probably just spend the day anticipating tomorrow afternoon, when I'll be able (d.v.) to go back....maybe even with a list (ha ha--sarcasm laugh).


Neil Gaiman has just become the 1st author to win the Carnegie, the Newbery, and the Cybils

The little Graveyard Book that could has done it again, winning Britian's prestigious Carnegie Medal -- read more about it here in the Guardian.

The longer it becomes since I've read it, the less sure I am just why it is so hugely awarded (it also picked up a Hugo for best novel, which was a pretty tremendous nod to a book written for children). I remember clearly not liking the bad vulture-type spirit things with presidents' names (what did they add?) ; I remember liking very much the bit where the ghosts go out to dance, and I remember liking Bod, and the "boy growing up in graveyard" part of the book, but I don't quite remember it as being so very, very good as all that....Oh well. Maybe it's time for a re-read...

Great grim and gritty YA fantasy--Now with suggestions

Here's a question I was asked in a comment on yesterday's post: "do you think it's possible to do grim and gritty YA fantasy (on a Joe Abercrombie level)?"

I'm not the best person to ask--I've never read Joe Abercrombie, I'm don't much care for grim and gritty (I read almost no "urban fantasy"), and I'm not entirely sure what constitutes "gritty" anyway. I looked it up--Merriam Webster says"having strong qualities of tough uncompromising realism." But since I'm not sure what "realism" means, exactly, when you are talking about fantasy and science fiction, I don't feel all that much more secure...

But regardless, here are some books that I think are rather outstanding examples of grim and gritty YA science fiction/fantasy, books in which there is little comfort to be found, and no easy answers:

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, and its sequels, by Patrick Ness.

Finnikin of the Rock
, by Melina Marchetta.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
and its sequel, by Carrie Ryan.

I note, however, that the questioner wanted fantasy specifically, so the first three mightn't count, and I think I fail. And even though there are lots of YA dystopian books out there, they really aren't all that grim and gritty (and they are mostly sci fi). Like Birthmarked, for instance, which I reviewed yesterday. It was rather a pleasant read, as dystopias go, and not without hope and likable characters for whom one could (just about) imagine happy ever afters...

Here are the suggestions from commentors (thanks, mb, Kate, Angie, Penthe, Chachic and Michelle)

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Magic or Madness and sequels by Justine Larbalestier

The Devil in the Road by Robert Westall.

Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales trilogy, particularly Valiant.

White Cat, by Holly Black

Margo Lanagan's books.

The Boneshaker, by Kate Milford

Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart trilogy

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman


Waiting on Wednesday to get on the plane to ALA on Friday--the books I want most badly of all

I am almost dizzy with anticipation about going to the American Library Association in D.C.--so excited and happy, and squee-ful I can hardly stand it! I will be seeing friends I've already met! I will be meeting friends I've never seen! One of the later is even going to come to a sleep-over at my (mother's) house! And that will be very nice, and I'm looking forward to that part of things considerably.

But really, what is filling my mind is the exhibit hall-- a goblin market of booths with all the tempting book wares displayed... I am practicing Being Strong. I will not give in to greed. I will only ask for/accept books that I really want. Or possibly, just want. But no books that I think maybe I might want next month because they look interesting. There is such a thing as too large a to be read pile, and I have enough guilt in my life....

That being said, there are more than a few books I really want. But of those books, here are the two that I want most. The two books that if I don't get them, will make all other happy things taste of dust and ashes...

Pegasus, by Robin McKinley (enough said)

The Ring of Solomon, by Johnathan Stroud. (Bartimaeus = best demonic being ever. Except maybe Nick (of The Demon's Lexicon et seq.)

My only anxiety is that I won't get to the exhibits hall before 6:30 on Friday (if I'm lucky) and all the arcs of these will be gone...and I will go to the kidlit drink night empty handed, trying to smile bravely...trying to be friendly, despite it all.

Life is so much more interesting when you exaggerate, and make small things into matters of huge importance...

(Waiting on Wednesday is the brainchild of Jill at Breaking the Spine)

Birthmaked, by Caragh M. O'Brien

Birthmaked, by Caragh M. O'Brien (2010, Roaring Brook Press, YA, 361 pages)

Far in the future, there is an enclave of civilization in the middle of an arid wilderness. Behind its walls, the citizens of the Enclave, as it's called, enjoy all the trappings of pleasant life...running water, luxury goods, and the like. For the folk living outside the walls, drawn generations ago from the outside world to the Enclave, life is less easy, but still tenable--and the Enclave offers enough "bread and circuses" to keep folks more or less content. Because the Enclave needs these people; in particular, their children. For the people outside, there's only one way to become an insider--to be "advanced" as a baby. Every month, a set number of babies are taken from their birth mothers, and delivered to the gates, never to be seen again.

Sixteen-year old Gaia is one of the midwifes outside. She was never eligible for Advancement because of the burn scar on her face, and her life has been spent trying to hide behind her hair in a society that has little respect for the imperfect. She doesn't question her responsibility to follow the rules of the Enclave; her own parents had two older children advanced, and she knows that they are now living a much easier life than her own. But when her mother and father are taken away by Enclave guards, and Gaia herself is interrogated, she finds out that there are secrets about the system of child advancement that she had never guessed existed. Apparently her parents knew a lot more than they told her...

Desperate to see her parents again, and desperate for answers, Gaia sneaks into the Enclave. There she finds that all is not as perfect as it seems--the foundation of the Enclave is shaking, and Gaia might hold the knowledge that is a vital piece of the solution planned by those in power. The Enclave wishes to make use of her, and will not stop at cruelty enforce its will. But even among the privileged citizens, there are people who have begun to question the status quo...and outside the walls, the bread and circuses will not keep the people quite forever, as the number of children taken from them continues to rise....

A fascinating story of institutionalized oppression, one that raises ethical issues even as it entertains the reader. O'Brien's world building is compelling, and I found the pacing of Gaia's story first rate. It's the sort of book that keeps the reader briskly turning the pages, trying to solve the mystery right alongside the central character, with no tricksy slight of hand by the author. Action and introspection are nicely mixed--the strong characterization and the circumstances of the particular plot complement each other, rather than competing for the reader's attention. And there's a nice thread of romance, which, even though it stretches credulity a tad, provides a pleasant diversion.

The ending cries out for a sequel, and happily O'Brien is writing one even as I type.


Chalk, by Bill Thomson, a fantasy picture book

And now for something completely different-- a wordless picture book that beautifully tells a fantastical story.

, by Bill Thomson (2010, Marshall Cavendish).

Three kids, on a rainy day, walk through a playground. There they find a ride-on bouncy T-rex holding a shopping bag in its jaws, and inside are sticks of sidewalk chalk. A girl draws the sun, and the sun comes out, dazzling in the brightness reflected by the puddles. A girl draws the outlines of butterflies, and monarchs take flight around her. And what does the boy draw? A T-rex! (typical).

Panic ensues when the chalk works its magic again. But fortunately the boy keeps his head, and draws the one thing that will save them from the T-rex's ravenous jaws....

This one just tickled me to pieces. For a wordless picture book, it sure tells a good story...the sort of imaginative story that makes the reader (looker?) launch into daydreams of their own. It could almost really happen... and the fantasy of the story is given even more magic by its contrast with the realism of the illustrations, which are beautifully detailed. My own boys, at the ripe old ages of 9 and 7, weren't that interested, but for a four year old, or thereabouts, I bet this would be pure enchantment. I liked it lots myself.

Added bonus: the three kids are a diverse bunch-- black, Asian, and white. Drawback (tongue in cheek): Might suggest to girls that boys have poor impulse control and don't always think things through the same way they themselves do.

Other thoughts at Muddy Puddle Musings, My Book Retreat, and The Children's Book Compass.

(Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)

Gender and the writing of sff for the young continued

Last Sunday, I talked about the way in which women writers dominate fantasy and science fiction for children and young adults, and I indulged in some speculation about why this might be the case. The discussion that ensued (thank you all who commented!) has in turn led me to this post. I originally left it as a comment myself, but didn't want it to be buried there. I'm very curious to know what other people think (I'm know how I feel, but I'm not entirely sure what I think).

It's a great time for girls in fantasy, both as readers and fictional characters, and, for women, as writers. I myself couldn't be happier as a reader. But I can't celebrate this wholeheartedly, because I'm bothered by thought that great women writers might be being dissuaded (actively by others, or unconsciously, by subtle societal expectations and assumptions) from writing adult sff, leaving that a male-dominated field.

At Laini Taylor's blog, Grow Wings, where she was sharing the news of her upcoming YA fantasy (which sounds wonderful!) I was struck by this quote from the Publishers Weekly's announcement "[Little Brown Books for Young Readers] is promising a significant marketing push for the title, which it believes will have crossover appeal to adults." If she were a guy, would her book have been marketed straight to grown-ups?

Aside from redressing gender imbalances in adult sff on behalf of women everywhere, is there any reason to want to be shelved in the adult section??? The book would be more likely to win the Hugo or Nebula, and more likely to be read by men. But are there other advantages to the author? Do books by women in fact find a larger readership of both genders when they are marketed as adult books? And these questions add up to the big question I'm asking myself, and anyone else who cares to answer--does it matter if great women authors of sff are being published as YA and not as adult? Will the great books have staying power, no matter where they are shelved?

I have a second, subsidiary question--If a woman starts writing children's and YA sff, and develops a significant reputation in that sub-genre, is it hard, if not impossible, to be published as adult later on? Harder than for a man in the same circumstances? (Eoin Colfer seems to be doing it without a problem).

Edited to add:

And here are the finalists of this year's John W. Campbell Award (a very prestigious award, chosen by committee, honoring "the best science-fiction novel of the year"):
  • The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood (Talese)
  • The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
  • Transition, Iain M. Banks (Orbit)
  • Makers, Cory Doctorow (Tor)
  • Steal Across the Sky, Nancy Kress (Tor)
  • Gardens of the Sun, Paul McAuley (Pyr)
  • The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey)
  • Yellow Blue Tibia, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • Galileo’s Dream, Kim Stanley Robinson (Ballantine Spectra)
  • WWW: Wake, Robert J. Sawyer (Ace; Gollancz)
  • The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling (Del Rey)
  • Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
There a two women on this list, and one of them (Atwood) denies writing science fiction...

(thanks to Science Fiction Awards Watch for the heads up)

Maddigan's Fantasia, by Margaret Mahy, for Timeslip Tuesday

Maddigan's Fantasia, by Margaret Mahy (Simon and Schuster, 2007, mg, 512 pages)

All her life 12-year old Garland has traveled with her family's carnival, Maddigan's Fantasia, through a post-apocalyptic world. It's pleasant enough to perform on the tightrope in scattered settlements, secure in her place in her family and in the world. But then Garland watches in horror as a band of marauders attacks the Fantasia's caravans, killing her father. That same afternoon, two mysterious brothers and their baby sister appear from nowhere. They claim to have come from the future, on a mission to change the dark turn that their history is about to take.

They are accepted on sufferance into the Fantasia, and the carnival moves on, driven by its own promise to bring back to the city of Solis, a bastion of civilization, the solar converter it needs to survive. But two darkly powerful figures have followed the family from the future, determined to stop them before things can be changed. The loyalties and skills of the members of Maddigan's Fantasia, and those of Garland in particular, are put to the test as they meet with constant opposition in their quest to bring light back to Solis, and ensure a better future for their world.

Maddigan's Fantasia is a long book, and one that takes some time to find a tight focus. For the first 280 pages or so, there is a very episodic feel to the story as the settlement travels from settlement to settlement, finding a different thing wrong in each one. These encounters, although not unenjoyable reading in themselves, felt like discrete short stories that didn't contribute much to the larger story arc, which kept me from being deeply involved in the book.

Fortunately for me, Mahy then changes pace, and the tension mounts as the Fantasia races to get the converter home, while fending off the bad guys from the future and their sinister overlord's attempts to manipulate events and people in the present. The journey becomes a more coherent and exciting story, and Garland comes into her own as a strong and plucky heroine, dealing simultaneously with the loss of her father and the external dangers that beset the Fantasia.

Time-travel-wise, though, Maddigan's Fantasia doesn't deliver. It would not be hard to eliminate the time travel element completely, and still have much the same story. The future world characters--bad guy who wants absolute power and the two henchmen he's sent back in time, good guys trying to stop him--could easily be people in Garland's present. The cultural disconnect that adds interest to so many time travel books is barely mentioned. One time-travel episode, in which Garland is taken to her own past, is interesting enough, but is not immediately relevant to the larger story (although it is a chance for Garland's character to develop). It didn't have to be there, and it felt a bit forced.

Although this book never worked for me as a time travel story, the Fantasia itself, weaving the post-apocalyptic world together with the wonders it offers, is a lovely creation, and the reader with the patience to accept that the story takes time to really gather momentum might well enjoy Garland's adventures very much.


The Queen Elizabeth Story, by Rosemary Sutcliff, for the summer solstice

Rosemary Sutcliff is the premire 20th-century author of historical fiction for children. Her books about Roman Britain, in particular, are absolutely must reading. The Queen Elizabeth Story (1950), which I'm talking about today because it starts at Midsummer, is one of Sutcliff's youngest books, and one of her first. It's the only one, as far as I know, in which there is an element of real magic (her one picture book aside).

"...Perdita was born just as the brass-faced clock in the Rector's study struck half-past eleven on Midsummer's Eve; and as everyone knows--or if they do not, they ought to--anyone born on Midsummer's Eve, especially towards midnight, will be sure to see fairies..." (page 12) And so, near midnight on Perdita's eighth birthday, the fairies summon her to receive a birthday wish. Whisking her off to the Broomhill they tell her to wish on the Grey Maiden, the tall grey stone standing at its crest. "I wish to see Queen Elizabeth," she asks. "I wish to see her so close I could put out my hand and touch her." (page 32).

From then on, the fairies fade into the background...but Perdita's story still is magical. It tells how she and her older brother Robin, and Robin's friend Adam, the young heir to the manor, meet the Queen one glorious day. But before that happens, the small doings of life in Elizabethan England are brought to lovely life, made into large happenings through the enthusiasm of young Perdita. And at last her wish comes true...a large happening by any standard!

What really made this book for me, when I was young, was Adam. He was my first book love ( I was nine), and I am awfully fond of him still. He is lame, but so gallant and kind that Perdita doesn't notice it...and in a scene I especially love, he invites a sad and lonely Perdita to a private banquet at the manor, where he makes the lords and ladies of a tapestry come alive for her in a glorious magical wonderful-ness.

There are a couple of stories within the story, that, as a grown-up reader, I find break the flow of the book as a whole. But despite that flaw, it is a lovely book, full of thick description and vivid character and history made real. And its magic is aided and abetted by the wonderful drawings of C. Walter Hodges, my favorite children's book illustrator.

(sorry for the slightly wonky cover image--my own copy doesn't have a dust jacket, or I would have scanned it to make a better image available on line...)


Gender and Writers of Middle Grade and Young Adult Fantasy/Science Fiction

A gender imbalance exists in science fiction and fantasy--male authors get anthologized more, get more awards, and get picked for lists more, as discussed in this article by Alisa Krasnostein--The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction. Stella Matutina picked up on this issue today, and has vowed to spend the next 14 weeks highlighting great women writers of fantasy.

In composing a response to that post, it struck me that there exists the opposite gender imbalance (men getting noticeably less attention) in the genre I care most about--middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction. I see it in my own reviewing--out of the last twenty books I reviewed, only three have been by men. This seems fairly typical of my blog. Looking through all my posts, I seem to review about 4 sff books by women for every 1 book by a man. To see if this bias was unique to me, I went through the last five of my middle-grade science fiction/fantasy roundups, to get data--female writers are reviewed or interviewed 63 times, male writers 37 times. That's just middle grade--I don't have any data for YA, but my impression is that YA bloggers are giving an even greater percentage of their attention to female writers.

Now, one could argue that this bias is because the book blogging community has a similarly disproportionate gender imbalance (I don't think I'm simply unaware of the 100s of teenaged boys blogging about sff books). I myself (female) find middle grade speculative fiction that features non-stop, sometimes icky, slapsticky violence, and/or overt grossness, unappealing, although I have reviewed some such books, and try to be fair to them (even if they aren't the sort of book I love myself). And many of these books are written by guys, for guys, and that is just fine. But it does mean that I won't be seeking them out all that eagerly. I haven't, for instance, been tempted by Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger, by Kevin Bolger.

Turning, however, beyond the day-to-day life of blogs to the awards, one sees the same gender imbalance. Out of the 14 books shortlisted for the Cybils in sff in 2009, only one was by a man (and he was Neil Gaiman). Out of the 8 books shortlisted for this year's Andre Norton Award (the Nebula for children's/YA books), 6 were by women; last year, 4 out of 5 were women, the year before, 5 out of 7. No man has ever won this award. Of the four fantasy books in contention for this year's Guardian's Children's Book Award, 3 are by women.

I looked at my last five posts on new releases of science fiction and fantasy for children and teens, to see if more women were being published. They are--there are 57 books by men, 102 by women. If I were writing this as an academic article, I'd also look at the sales data (NY Times bestseller list, books on display at bookstores), but life is too short...Still, even without that piece of the picture, it seems clear that middle grade/YA fantasy and science fiction is a female-dominated genre.

I thought it would be interesting to throw out all the reasons I could think of (whether I believe in them or not--so please don't assume I do!), under two main categories:

The Gender of the Readers:

Is this because girls ostensibly read more than boys, and, since women more often write girl-friendly books than boys, more women are being published (and more girls then want to read the books, continuing the cycle)? The gender imbalance in published books is more pronounced in YA--are boys moving more quickly into the adult section (for whatever reason), where there are more male authors? Is it the case that grown-up women (like me!) are more likely to "read down" than grown-up men, and publishers are thinking of this demographic (women with credit cards) when they make their decisions?

Larger Social Expectations/Gender Stereotypes

Are there larger social issues at play? Are women, for instance, (I write with tongue in cheek), subtly conditioned to take on the role of those who look after children, and thus choose to write for children? Or are there factors of ego at play? One can argue (although I wouldn't) that writing for children is less "prestigious" than writing for adults. Are women more comfortable with writing for children, because they are more accustomed to being told that what they do is not important? Or because they give less of a hoot about what other people think?

Or, more insidiously, is it because the publishers are suggesting to female authors that they write younger than they had originally wanted to, while marketing male-written sff as adult? An unconscious patronizing attitude, that may be coming into play in the Andre Norton Awards, that writing for children is the province of women.

I have a huge respect for books written for children and teens--those are the books I enjoy the most myself, and I think many of them are gorgeously written, incredibly creative, and all around excellent. I don't mind at all that so many talented women are writing just the sort of book I want to read. But I do mind the possibility that men might be having a harder time getting their mg/ya fantasy/science fiction published than women (if this is in fact, the case), and then getting attention for their books.

And I mind very much indeed that I, myself, have such a glaring gender imbalance on my blog, because I do care very much about boys reading (since boys is what I have at home), and I want my blog to be a useful resource to those looking for books for boys. Moreover, since it's absurd to think that "men write books for boys, and only boys," I would hate to think that I was unconsciously overlooking books by men that I (and other girl-type people) would like lots. So I will try to be mindful of that, when I am at ALA next weekend and pouncing on books. I will try to pounce with gender equity and an open mind.


Another Sunday of Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy Fun

Welcome to this week's round-up of all the posts I could find pertaining to middle grade science fiction and fantasy! Please let me know if I missed yours. Note (so as to forestall letters from unhappy parents): some of these are right up at the top range of middle grade (12 year olds), and so might not be suitable for every kid!

The Reviews:

Edwin Spencer- Mission Improbable, by J.D. Irwin, at The Book Zone (for Boys).

The Faceless Ones, by Derek Landry, at The Written World.

A Field Guide to Aliens, by Johan Olander at Charlotte's Library and at Manga Maniac Cafe.

Found, by Sarah Prineas at Literate Lives.

House of Dolls, by Francesca Lia Block, at Becky's Book Reviews.

Ivy's Ever After, by Dawn Lairamore, at Charlotte's Library.

Keys to the Demon Prison (Fablehaven) by Brandon Mull, at One Librarian's Book Reviews and Beyond Books.

Magic Below Stairs, by Caroline Stevermer, at Book Aunt.

The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle, by Deva Fagan, at Eva's Book Addiction and at Book Aunt.

The Magician Trilogy (The Snow Spider, Emlyn's Moon, and The Chestnut Soldier) at Fantasy Literature.

The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan, at Lucy Was Robbed.

The Shadows (Books of Elsewhere I) by Jacqueline West, at Charlotte's Library.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone, at books4yourkids.com

Smells Like a Dog, by Suzanne Selfors, at Book Aunt.

The Wager, by Donna Jo Napoli, at The Fourth Musketeer.

And here's one I missed last week--The Night Fairy, and a slew of other fairy books, at The PlanetEsme Plan.

The Things that Aren't Reviews:

J. Torres’ and J. Bone’s graphic novels, Alison Dare, Little Miss Adventures, and Alison Dare, the Heart of the Maiden have been on tour-- here's the schedule.

Here's an interview with Danika Dinsmore, author of Brigitta of the White Forest, at The Invisible Sister, and one with Jacqueline West, author of The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere) at Daily Pie.

Stacy Whitman answers the question: What kind of fantasy is Tu looking for? (Tu being a new imprint of Lee and Low books dedicated to publishing multi-cultural children's and YA fantasy/science fiction.

Katherine Langrish discusses "Cultural Appropriate and the White Saviour" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.

Here are Katherine Robert's thoughts on the pirating of her book, The Great Pyramid Robbery. This is the first of what sounds like wonderful series--seven fantasy books about the seven wonders of the world. They came out several years ago in the UK, and have been popular there; why have they not found an American publisher, what with ancient mythological fantasy being so Big?

And finally, here's an article about the stink that Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger, by Kevin Bolger, caused in a Canada school.

That's it for middle grade sci fi/fantasy rounding up, but I do have one more thing--I was honored to receive two blog awards recently, and I'm passing them on today.

Katherine Langrish was kind enough to pass on to me the Unicorn Glitter Award, which honors bloggers who "who post in the spirit of the enchanted mists." Part of the reward is to share one's favorites of various genres. Bookwise, Mistwood, by Leah Cypess, is an obvious enchanted misty favorite of mine for the year so far; a favorite poem is ee cummings' "all in green went my love riding;" a favorite legend of mine is the story of Merlin, specifically as brought to life by Mary Stewart, and I'm sharing Katherine Langrish's choice of the phoenix as a favorite mythological creature! I'm passing this award on to Hermes, whose blog Children's/Fantasy Illustrations, gives me great joy in an enchanted misty sort of way.

Chachic of Chachic's Book Nook was kind enough to bestow on me a Pertinent Posts Award--not surprisingly, the blogs that are most pertinent to me are those that talk lots about middle grade and YA fantasy/science fiction, those whose recommendations I trust for my own reading pleasure, and those that help me find good books for my boys. Chachic passed it on already to some I would have chosen myself, but fortunately there are other blogs I find tremendously pertinent, so I pass the award to --Kate Coombs aka The Book Aunt, Ms. Yingling Reads, Doret aka TheHappyNappyBookseller, and Eva at Eva's Book Addiction.

The King Commands, by Meg Burden

The King Commands, Tales of the Borderlands Book Two, by Meg Burden (Brown Barn Books, 2010, YA, 298 pages), picks up right where Northlander left off (and so, if you haven't read Northlander, you might not want to read any further. I'm going to try to stay away from major spoilers, but it's hard to discuss this book without spoiling the first at least a little).

Ellin Fisher, Southlander healer, had never expected to call the castle of the Northland kingdom home. But the Southland is not a safe place for her--the self-styled Guardians have taken control, and are mercilessly hunting down anyone who has any trace of a magical gift. People like Ellin, who can both heal and compel others with her mind. So it is ironically in the north, where "southern witches" are feared, and anyone from the south is looked on with contempt, that she feels safest. Especially since she has been taken in by the five brothers of the royal family, the oldest of whom has just become king.

But Ellin's fragile peace is broken by echos of the tumultuous events of the past few months (this is me not being spoilerish--lots of stuff happens). And Ellin and the youngest of the royal brothers find themselves running for their lives in the southlands. As they work to first understand, and then foil, the evil plans of the Guardians, they are caught in a web of politics, deceit, and magic that could bring ruin to all they hold dear (me being melodramatic).

Ok, that's the plot out of the way, which is good, because even though it was a fine plot, and very gripping, a fast read, and all that good stuff, I am now going to confess how very Shallow I am. Because what interested me, and kept my little eyes focused tightly on the pages, was my intense desire to know which of the awesomely attractive brothers Ellin would end up with, and then, when that was made clear, whether it would work out for her....

The King Commands is not, actually, a romance--it is an adventure in place where people have magical powers and bad guys are trying to stomp on/exploit those people, and two countries (the north and south lands) are going to have to put their prejudices behind them to make sure that doesn't happen. So even if you think you might not be interested in which of the five lovely brothers (Alaric the Golden, Coll Horse Master, aka Coll the Fat, Finn the Deaf, Erik Archer, and Garreth the Youngest) ends up with our lovely heroine, you might give it a try....

And if you like your fantasy with a nice dollop of swoon-ness, you will definitely want to read this series. For those who already have read the book, at the very bottom, past the postscript, I have more thoughts.

Here are other review at Wands and Worlds and The Merry Genre Go Round Reviews.

A postscript on how the Cybils Awards and Blogging can make a difference to a book's sales:

I read and enjoyed Northlander a while ago, entirely due to the fact that it was shortlisted for the 2007 Cybils. The Cybils, in case anyone hasn't heard of them, are the awards given by panelists of bloggers to children's and YA books to books that combine great appeal to young readers with great writing. The shortlists that the panelists come up with the various categories are Must Reads (the sci fi/fantasy shortlist for 2007 is given in full below).

When Angie began asking for book recommendations every month, I put in a plug for Northlander, thinking it was a very Angie-ish book...and it was chosen, and she read it. She liked it lots too (here's her review), and immediatly wanted the sequel. Now, The King Commands was published in the middle of April. I meant to buy it then, but the middle of April was a tricky time financially, what with other things wanting my money, and so I put it on hold. When I went back to Amazon in May, I saw, to my horror, that it wasn't for sale anymore! It didn't seem to be for sale anywhere, so I sighed and left it...

But then I read Angie's impassioned words when she found out she couldn't get it (from her review): "I have a problem on my hands. I need this book. I'm going insane here. I have to find out what happens..." I wanted to read it too, and I felt vaugly responsible for Angie's unhappiness. So I called the publishers to see if I could buy it for the two of us directly--and found, to my great glee, that orders had just been placed by various distributors, and sure enough, there it was on Amazon again. And lots of other places. I just checked again--a bit more than a week later, The King's Command is sold out/on backorder at Amazon, B. and N., Powells, and the Book Depository. But at least Northlander became available too, and is still there. And I bet that once all the new Northlander readers finish it, the phone will start ringing at Brown Barn Books again....

And this flurry of sales happened (it can't be coincidence...) because Northlander was shortlisted for the Cybils with good reason, and as a result made it into the hands of one of the top YA fantasy bloggers, who wrote a glowing review of it.

(Update on June 20--there's now a new copy for sale on Amazon for $146 !!!! I guess they haven't put in another order yet. Crazy.)

(update August 25--it's now available again for $8.95. Doubtless for a limited time only...)

The 2007 Cybils sci fi/fantasy shortlist (all incredibly awesome)

Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale
Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher*
Northlander (Tales of the Borderlands) by Meg Burden
Repossessed, by A. M. Jenkins
Skin Hunger, by Kathleen Duey

*Incarceron was released this spring here in the US, but came out in the UK in 2007

Spoiler for Romance aspect of the plot of King Commands:

Specifically, thoughts on Coll- I love that even though he is "the Fat" he is not only a sympathetic and nuanced character, but attractive to boot. I would have been happy if Ellin had ended up with him--kudos to Meg Burden for this. At the end, however, the implication is there that Coll will not marry and have children. This would make me sad.


A Field Guide To Aliens

A Field Guide to Aliens: Intergalactic Worrywarts, Bubblonauts, Sliver-Slurpers, and Other Extraterrestrias by Johan Olander (Marshall Cavendish 2010, middle grade, 61 pages).

As the author of A Field Guide to Monsters (2007), Johan Olander is deluged with rumors of mysterious creatures around the world. But in the course of his investigations, he has reached a startling conclusion. "My research," writes Mr. Olander in a letter to the reader, "has made it clear that about forty-five percent of the monsters reported are actually aliens."

And so he created a field guide to the aliens, containing descriptions of twenty-seven variously silly, scary, intriguing, grotesque, kind of creepy aliens. Each alien gets a two pages packed with detail about the aliens' technology, history, and presence on earth, including reproductions of Actual Evidence (these pieces of evidence are one of the most amusing aspects of the book--I chuckled out loud several times). And it is all copiously illustrated.

I liked the Cloudians in particular--"They are abundant in the skies all over the planet, but their perfect camouflage makes them almost impossible to spot." The False Santas, and the sinister Beby, however, would send me screaming into the street if I ever met them....

I found it somewhat tricky to write about this book. I kicked my nine-year old (gently) off the computer, and began the post....then "Oh, you're reviewing that? I want to read it again" and he absconded with the book. Since his reading life is more important than my bloggling life (I guess), I had to put writing this on hold. But that's a most excellent problem to have with a book...and it attests to the strong appeal this book has to the middle-grade reader!

Although I myself can take or leave most of the aliens (Cloudians excepted), the book was not without appeal to me too-- I do so love this type of psudeo-Edwardian book in general, with its faux antiquarian handsomeness, and all the detailed scientific-esque illustrations. And I vaguely feel that when children read books of this kind they are being unconsciously prepared for the multitude of worthwhile careers in which one draws and labels things in notebooks, which is all to the good.

But all that aside, any book that captures and sustains the interest of my picky reader, as this one did, is one that I heartily recommend.

Another blog review can be found at Kinderscares

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)


The Shadows --the first of The Books of Elsewhere, by Jacqueline West

The Shadows, by Jacqueline West, (Dial, 2010, middle grade, 235 pages).

Olive's new home is huge and old and neglected, filled to the brim with all the furniture, clothes, paintings, and miscellany of its previous owner. Her mathematician parents, living in their own world of number-fill fun, thinks its a perfect place (the library the size of a small ballroom was a definite selling point). But as eleven-year old Olive begins to explore, she finds that it is a house with secrets--dark ones--painted into the many pictures that are fixed immovably onto its walls. A house that came with remarkable cats who serve an agenda of their own--one they aren't telling Olive. A house with gravestones built into its basement walls.

When she realizes that the old glasses she found tucked away into a drawer actually let her enter the paintings, and met the painted people within them, Olive finds herself in the midst of a mystery that defies logic. Step by step she begins to unravel the dark secrets behind the paintings...but the cats aren't being as helpful as they might be (are they even on Olive's side?) and as Olive's understanding of her new home's secrets grows, so to does her understanding that she is in terrible danger from an evil force that she may unwittingly be bringing back from the dead.

This is an absolutely lovely read for the connoisseur of fantasy for the young. There's the wonderful setting--I'm a sucker for an old house stuffed chock full of Stuff. There's Olive, who's an ordinary child. Not a scrap of magical ability. Smart and self-reliant and very likable, but not so as to be Special. Not a Chosen One--just a kid stumbling into magic, and trying to figure it out--giving the sense that this story could happen to any of us. And Olive doesn't meet a boy whose older and smarter and braver, with whom romance in the future is a possibility. Instead she meets a boy who's younger and needier and not immediately appealing. Another ordinary (well, in character, at least) kid.

Then there's the story itself, with all the mysteries of the paintings for the reader to explore along with Olive. West's writing carries things along just swimmingly, with enough description to make things come alive in vivid detail without hindering the build-up of tension. I enjoyed it tremendously, and recommend it highly, and eagerly anticpate the next book (although, for those tired of series-es (serii?) this ends nicely and is self-contained). In essence, it's Return to Goneaway, by Elizabeth Enright (a great favorite of mine), with a fascinating dark fantasy element.

Age range: It's scary, but not graphically violent. No "YA" content. So just fine for fourth graders on up, including other grown-up lovers of mg fantasy.

Note on animals: although the cats are front and center (which pleases me, as I am on Team Cat, there is also a dog, who, if you like dogs, is a very nicely dog-like one).

Here's an interview with West at Daily Pie, and another blog review at Kids Lit.

(disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter)


New releases of science fiction and fantasy for children and teenagers--the middle to the end of June, 2010

Here are the new releases of science fiction and fantasy books for kids and teens from the middle to the end of June; blurbs are from the publishers, and my info. comes from Teens Read Too.

All Angel wanted was to help poor nerdy Max break into the popular crowd. But somehow the wires got crossed and she ended up granting all of Gabi’s secret desires instead. Not that Angel has anything against Gabi getting what she wants. It’s just that the things Gabi dreams about on the QT— 1) starring in a reality TV show with Angel at her side and 2) dating Angel’s boyfriend, Cole—just happen to be the stuff of Angel’s worst nightmares.

THE ELEPHANT'S TALE by Lauren St. John Martine and her grandmother discover that they might lose Sawubona, their African game reserve, to the sinister Reuben James. But a prophecy from Grace rouses Martine and her best friend, Ben, into action. To find the truth and save the reserve, Martine and Ben must stow away in an airplane, which strands them in the desert, thwart Mr. James’s creepy henchman, and rescue a herd of very special elephants from the dangerous Moon Valley. The adventure also leads the kids to answers about Martine’s destiny. Jemmy, the white giraffe, and Khan, the last leopard, are alongside Martine and Ben as the Secret Valley reveals its mysteries in this satisfying conclusion to the series that began with the #1 Children’s BookSense Pick, The White Giraffe.

MAGIC BELOW STAIRS by Caroline Stevermer Young Frederick is plucked from an orphanage to be a footboy for a wizard named Lord Schofield in Victorian England. Is his uncanny ability to tie perfect knots and render boots spotless a sign of his own magical talent, or the work of Billy Bly, the brownie who has been secretly watching over him since he was little? No matter, for the wizard has banished all magical creatures from his holdings. But Billy Bly isn’t going anywhere, and when he discovers a curse upon the manor house, it’s up to Frederick and Billy Bly to keep the lord’s new baby safe and rid the Schofield family of the curse forever.

THE RECKONING, BORN TO BE HEROES: QUANTUM PROPHECY by Michael Carroll Not long ago the world thought its superhumans dead after a great battle wiped out heroes and villains alike. Now, new heroes—and new villains— have miraculously emerged in the form of teenagers. The new heroes find themselves on the cusp of WWIII, caused by their very existence. One hero is torn between right and wrong as he falls under the spell of a former ally turned villain, while another must come to terms with his dark role in the battle, as predicted by Quantum’s prophecy years ago. If the planet is to survive, our new heroes will need to prove stronger than even they can imagine.

THE SHADOWS: THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE by Jacqueline West Old Ms. McMartin is definitely dead. Now her crumbling Victorian mansion lies vacant. When eleven-year-old Olive and her dippy mathematician parents move in, she knows there's something odd about the place - not the least the walls covered in strange antique paintings. But when Olive finds a pair of old spectacles in a drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet: She can travel inside these paintings to a world that's strangely quiet... and eerily like her own. Yet Elsewhere harbors dark secrets - and Morton, an undersize boy with an outsize temper. As she and Morton form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself ensnared in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. It's up to Olive to save the house from the dark shadows, before the lights go out for good.

SPACEHEADZ by Jon Scieszka & Francesco Sedita The perfect combination of the age old experience of holding and pouring over a physical book with newest media technology that kids love! Michael K. just started fifth grade at a new school. As if that wasn't hard enough, the kids he seems to have made friends with apparently aren't kids at all. They are aliens. Real aliens who have invaded our planet in the form of school children and a hamster. They have a mission to complete: to convince 3,400,001 kids to BE SPHDZ. But with a hamster as their leader, "kids" who talk like walking advertisements, and Michael K as their first convert, will the SPHDZ be able to keep their cover and pull off their assignment?

THE TALENT THIEF by Alex Williams Adam’s sister is a singing sensation and he is her biggest fan. Unlike his superstar sibling, this twelveyear- old boy excels at absolutely nothing—although his sister would argue that he’s the master of getting on her nerves. But when a mysterious creature as old as time steals her talent, it’s Adam who fearlessly leads the charge to retrieve it and stop the creature before it can take the talents of other children.

ZOMBIEKINS by Kevin Bolger Fourth-grader Stanley Nudelman is about as wimpy as they come—he’s cowardly, shy, and spends most of his time hiding from the school bully, Knuckles Bruzkowski! Then Stanley stumbles upon the yard sale of his neighbor, Old Lady Imavitch, where he buys a mysterious stuffed animal. But this isn’t any old toy . . . it’s Zombiekins! He’s a little bit teddy, a little bit bunny, and a whole lotta ZOMBIE! And he’s coming this way! Stump!—scri-i-i-i-itch . . .Stump!—scri-i-i-i-itch . . .Stanley brings Zombiekins to school and unleashes the worst zombie plague in fourth grade history! Can Stanley find the courage to save the day before his teachers notice the class is full of zombies? Or will he soon join the ranks of the snuggily UNDEAD?

Young Adult

13 TO LIFE by Shannon Delany Everything about Jessie Gillmansen’s life changed when her mother died. Now even her hometown of Junction is changing. Mysterious dark things are happening. All Jessie wants is to avoid more change. But showing a hot new guy around Junction High, she’s about to discover a whole new type of change. Pietr Rusakova is more than good looks and a fascinating accent—he’s a guy with a dangerous secret. And his very existence is sure to bring big trouble to Jessie’s small town. It seems change is the one thing Jessie can’t avoid…

BLOOD FEUD: THE DRAKE CHRONICLES by Alyxandra Harvey It's been centuries since Isabeau St. Croix barely survived the French Revolution. Now she's made her way back to the living and she must face the ultimate test by confronting the evil British lord who left her for dead the day she turned into a vampire. That's if she can control her affection for Logan Drake, a vampire whose bite is as sweet as the revenge she seeks. The clans are gathering for Helena's royal coronation as the next vampire queen, and new alliances are beginning to form now that the old rifts of Lady Natasha's reign have started to heal. But with a new common enemy, Leander Montmarte—a vicious leader who hopes to force Solange to marry him and usurp the power of the throne for himself—the clans must stand together to preserve the peace he threatens to destroy.

BRUISER by Neal Shusterman Tennyson: Don't get me started on the Bruiser. He was voted "Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty" by the entire school. He's the kid no one knows, no one talks to, and everyone hears disturbing rumors about. So why is my sister, Brontë, dating him? One of these days she's going to take in the wrong stray dog, and it's not going to end well.

Brontë: My brother has no right to talk about Brewster that way—no right to threaten him. There's a reason why Brewster can't have friends—why he can't care about too many people. Because when he cares about you, things start to happen. Impossible things that can't be explained. I know, because they're happening to me.

CITY OF SHIPS: STRAVAGANZA by Mary Hoffman The new installment in the critically acclaimed Stravaganza series transports readers to a world much like our own - but where magic and piracy come to life in the Italian town of Classe. The Stravagante is Isabel, a younger twin by a matter of minutes. Her talisman is a pouch of silver mosaic tiles and she stravagates to Classe, where she is met by Flavia, a successful female merchant who trades spices, silks, tapestries, and whose son is an outcast and a pirate. Isabel finds that Classe and Bellezza are under threat from attack by the fierce Gate people. What can she do to help save the city? This is a thrilling story packed with action, pirates and drama.

DEATHDAY LETTER by Shaun David Hutchinson The clock is ticking? Ollie can't be bothered to care about anything but girls until he gets his Deathday Letter and learns he's going to die in twenty-four hours. Bummer. Ollie does what he does best: nothing. Then his best friend convinces him to live a little, and go after Ronnie, the girl who recently trampled his about-to-expire heart. Ollie turns to carloads of pudding and over-the-top declarations, but even playing the death card doesn't work. All he wants is to set things right with the girl of his dreams. It's now or never?.

THE EVIL WITHIN: A POSSESSIONS NOVEL by Nancy Holder In this sequel to New York Times bestselling author Nancy Holder’s Possessions, Lindsay finds out that she, too, is possessed, and must return to creepy Marlwood Academy in order to rid herself of the spirit. Lindsay’s afraid of what the spirit is telling her to do—kill Mandy! But the secrets of Marlwood go much deeper than Lindsay thought. Sometimes the girls who seem like enemies are actually on your side. And the voices you trust the most—the voices that come from within—are the ones that want you dead.

DARK FLAME: THE IMMORTALS by Alyson Noel Ever is trying to help Haven transition into life as an immortal. But with Haven drunk on her new powers and acting recklessly, she poses the ultimate threat—exposing their secret world to the outside. As Ever struggles to keep the Immortals hidden, it only propels Haven closer to the enemy—Roman and his evil companions. At the same time, Ever delves deeper into dark magick to free Damen from Roman’s power. But when her spell backfires, it binds her to the one guy who’s hell-bent on her destruction. Now there’s a strange, foreign pulse coursing through her, and no matter what she does, she can’t stop thinking about Roman—and longing for his touch. As she struggles to resist the fiery attraction threatening to consume her, Roman is more than willing to take advantage of her weakened state…and Ever edges closer and closer to surrender. Frantic to break the spell before its too late, Ever turns to Jude for help, risking everything she knows and loves to save herself—and her future with Damen …

THE GHOST AND THE GOTH by Stacey Kade After a close encounter with the front end of a school bus, Alona Dare goes from Homecoming Queen to Queen of the Dead. Now she’s stuck as a spirit (DON’T call her a ghost) in the land of the living with no sign of the big, bright light to take her away. To make matters worse, the only person who might be able to help her is Will Killian, a total loser outcast who despises the social elite. He alone can see and hear (turns out he’s been “blessed” with the ability to communicate with the dead), but he wants nothing to do with the former mean girl of Groundsboro High. Alona has never needed anyone for anything, and now she’s supposed to expose her deepest, darkest secrets to this pseudo-goth boy? Right. She’s not telling anyone what really happened the day she died, not even to save her eternal soul. And Will’s not filling out any volunteer forms to help her cross to the other side. He only has a few more weeks until his graduation, when he can strike out on his own and find a place with less spiritual interference. But he has to survive and stay out of the psych ward until then. Can they get over their mutual distrust—and the weird attraction between them—to work together before Alona vanishes for good and Will is locked up for seeing things that don’t exist?

IMAGINALIS by J. M. Dematteis What if your dearest friends were trapped in a world that was dying? Mehera Beatrice Crosby has one great love—and it's not following the latest health fads (like her school friend Celeste), and it's definitely not Andrew Suarez (even if he does have a ridiculous crush on her). It's Imaginalis, her favorite book series. When she learns that the long-awaited last book in the series has been canceled, Mehera is devastated—until strange events begin unfolding, and she realizes that her Imaginalian friends are counting on her to rescue them from their fading existence. Soon Mehera finds herself traveling between her world and the kingdom of Imaginalis. But what will happen when she accidentally brings the villain of the series, Pralaya, back to Earth, along with Prince Imagos and his Companions? Has Mehera doomed both worlds beyond repair, or is there a way to save Mehera's world—and Imaginalis, too?

KEYS TO THE REPOSITORY: BLUE BLOODS by Melissa de la Cruz Lavish parties. Passionate meetings in the night. Bone-chilling murders. Midterms. The day-to-day life of Schuyler Van Alen and her Blue Bloods friends (and enemies) is never boring. But there's oh-so-much more to know about these beautiful and powerful teens. Below the streets of Manhattan, within the walls of the Repository, exists a wealth of revealing information about the vampire elite that dates back before the Mayflower. In a series of short stories, journal entries, and never-before-seen letters, New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz gives her hungry fans the keys to the Repository and an even more in-depth look into the secret world of the Blue Bloods.

OUT OF THE SHADOWS: BLADE by Tim Bowler Bleeding and dizzy, Blade wakes up to find himself in the hospital. But how did he get there? With enemies coming at him from all sides, it’s hard to know who attacked him. But he knows that whoever it was will be back to finish him off. And quick. So he’s gotta go. He’s gotta break outta there. Not only to save his own life, but there’s kindly old Mary and little Jaz to think about. Who’s looking out for them? On the run, with grinks hot on his tail and gravely injured, Blade will have to gather all his strength just to survive. And with nowhere to hide, he needs to run. Because this time, if he plays dead, that’s exactly how he’ll end up.

NOMANSLAND by Lesley Hauge Sometime in the future, after devastating wars and fires, a lonely, windswept island in the north is populated solely by women. Among these women is a group of teenaged Trackers—expert equestrians and archers—whose job is to protect their shores from the enemy. The enemy, they’ve been told, is men. When these girls come upon a partially buried home from the distant past, they are fascinated by the strange objects—high-heeled shoes, teen magazines, make-up—found there. What are they to make of these mysterious things, which introduce a world they have never known? And what does it mean for their strict society where friendship is forbidden and rules must be obeyed—at all costs?

SOLACE & GRIEF: THE RARE by Foz Meadows Solace Morgan was born a vampire. Raised in foster care, she has always tried to keep her abilities secret, until an eerie encounter with a faceless man prompts her to run away. Finding others with similar gifts, Solace soon becomes caught up in a strange, more vibrant world than she ever knew existed. But when the mysterious Professor Lukin takes an interest in her friends, she is forced to start asking questions of her own. What happened to her parents? Who is Sharpsoft? And since when has there been a medieval dungeon under Hyde Park?

SOUJON'S JOURNEY by Marlee Morgan Set in the mystical village of Sky Mountain and the city of Cyane, SOUJON'S JOURNEY is the tale of a young girl growing up and discovering life. Finding her gifts and the inner strength that allows her to stand up to adversity and overcome obstacles in her life. In the mystical city there are four basic laws--(1) if harm it does none, do as you will, (2) be kind in spirit, (3) be in harmony with your surroundings, (4) be clean in body, mind and spirit. Soujon embraces the new world around her and finds joy in life beyond her wildest dreams.

THE SPIDER'S WEB by Adrian Tilley A tense, intelligent Young Adult thriller set in Hong Kong in 2056. The city is taken over by a fierce new army, people's liberty has been stripped away, and a disturbing new disease is spreading fast. The story follows the thrilling chase endured by teenagers Jeff and Kathy, who must help each other escape and survive. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, and the message is ultimately about the fragility of daily freedom most of us take for granted.

WAYFARER by R. J. Anderson (US Edition of Rebel) In a time of deadly crisis, Linden alone has the power to save her people. The faeries of the Oak are in danger of extinction, and their only hope for survival rests in fifteen-year-old Linden. Armed with the last of her people's magic, she travels bravely into the modern human world. Along the way she makes a reluctant ally—a human boy named Timothy. Soon Linden and Timothy discover a danger much worse than the Oakenfolk's loss of magic: a potent evil that threatens to enslave faeries and humans alike. In a fevered, desperate chase across the country, Tim and Linden must risk their lives to seek an ancient power before it's too late to save everyone they love.

THE WEB OF TITAN: A GALAHAD BOOK by Dom Testa After triumphing over a saboteur bent on destroying Galahad, Triana and her Council are eager to avoid any further complications. But as Galahad swings around the ringed planet Saturn, they encounter a mysterious metal pod orbiting the moon of Titan. The teens prepare to bring the pod and its contents aboard, only to be faced with a another crisis: an illness that is beyond their medical experience. Dozens of crew members fall into a comatose state, only to awaken with strangely glowing eyes. To make matters worse, the systems of Galahad begin to fail. With time running out, can Triana and her shipmates escape the Web of Titan?


The Clearing, by Heather Davis, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Clearing, by Heather Davis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010, YA, 215 pages)

Amy has left her home in Seattle to spend her senior year with her great-aunt up in the mountains. She's trying to leave behind her relationship with an abusive boy-friend, who wounded her in both body and spirit. But even though it's soothing to split kindling with Aunt Mae, it's hard to let down her guard and become friends with her new classmates...the only new friend Amy feels comfortable with is Henry, who lives in a farm inside a barrier of mist back in the woods.

Amy is trying to put her past behind, but Henry is reliving his. Every day for almost seventy years it has been the same small bit of a long ago summer--doing the same chores, eating the same cake, reading the same books. Safe inside the mist that came in answer to his most heartfelt prayer the night his life was shattered, Henry has kept his mother and grandfather safe. Because Henry's brother went off to fight in WW II, and Henry saw what happened when the telegram came from the army. He never wants it to happen again.

But now that Amy has passed through the mist, things are changing back in the past. She is a catalyst, threatening to shatter the peace that Henry has built. And then they fall in love...even thought they know that there is no time where they can be together.

Told from the alternate viewpoints of Amy and Henry, The Clearing is a poignant story about putting the past behind. Henry's part of the story--the monotony of his eternal summer day and its gradual dissolution--is particularly compelling. I found it fascinating to watch the reactions of Henry's mother and grandfather as they gradually become aware of their situation, and I recommend the book primarily on the strength and originality of Henry's story.

Amy's circumstances are much less magical, but (ironically) are slightly less convincing. Her characterization is less subtle, and her interactions with the other kids in her own time somehow felt forced and superficial. But on the other hand, since Amy's mind is full of both the past she's trying to get away from, and thoughts of Henry, this may well have been a deliberate choice on the author's part, actively reflecting Amy's own feelings toward the "real" world.

Timeslip-wise-- I truly enjoyed the central premise-- a farm frozen in time by the strength of one young man's desire to keep the future from happening. The pacing of the time travel elements was well done too--Amy's comprehension is neither too immediate, or too drawn out. It is an odd sort of time slip, in that years of that one day have passed for Henry...which may explain why Amy is able to bring things out of Henry's time to her own (although I still think this stretches the rules a bit). My one major disappointment with the timeslip element is with the way the ending is handled. I have no objection whatsoever to the conclusion Davis reaches, but the fallout of that conclusion is somewhat jarring.

In short: Fog Magic (anyone else read it?) meets Tuck Everlasting, for young adult readers (there's more than just hand holding...)

other reviews: Lost for Worlds, The Story Siren, and Presenting Lenore.


Ivy's Ever After, by Dawn Lairamore

Ivy's Ever After, by Dawn Lairamore (2010, Holiday House, middle grade, 311 pages)

Ivy is a princess of a tiny kingdom, one that's virtually inaccessible. There she has a had a rather idyllic childhood (with only the shadow of her mother's death long ago, and her father's consequent addle-pattedness, to mar it), enjoying the sort of freedom denied princesses of larger, more important kingdoms. But now that Ivy is approaching her fourteenth birthday, everything changes.

It became clear long ago that Ivy's kingdom has little to offer other principalities, and so it was hard to attract princes to come marry its princesses. But Ivy's kingdom does have one resource, of a sort--there are dragons just to the north, and dragons, as everyone knows, have treasure. To keep bloodshed on both sides to a minimum, a truce had been reached with the dragons. Every princess who was the heir to the throne was imprisoned in a tower, and a dragon came to guard her--tempting bait for any heroic prince who wanted treasure and a kingdom (albeit a tiny one).

And now, generations later, it's Ivy's turn for the tower. Ivy is not at all happy when she learns about this. And she is even less so when a prince arrives early-a truly objectionable prince who sneers unkindly at her kingdom, her father, and herself. When she learns he's simply plotting to use her kingdom as a stepping stone to seizing power back in his own country, and would happily break the truce with the dragons, she is even more appalled.

Her father is oblivious to the truth, and puts her in the tower as custom dictates, but Ivy isn't going to stay put while her kingdom is destroyed. On a rope of sheets and clothes, she climbs down...and almost makes it before falling the last bit.

"Oh dear, oh dear," came a trembly voice very near her right ear. "That was close!"

Startled, Ivy opened her eyes. Her vision filled with an expanse of shiny black skin, scaled like a fish, along with a golden eye as round and wide as the mouth of a soup bowl, which was studying her in distinct alarm.

"Good goat fur," said the owner of the large eye. "I do believe you're actually supposed to stay inside the tower." (page 91)

And so Ivy meets Elridge. A dragon who clearly has no chance of dispatching the objectionable prince, but who is open to the idea of become friends....and gaining the respect of dragon kind by foiling the objectionable princes plans to break the dragon truce. So together Elridge and Ivy set out flee from the tower, desperately seeking Ivy's lost fairy godmother, the one person who might be able to set things right.

Full of action-packed, magical encounters, Ivy and Elridge's quest moves swingingly along. It's a light, fun story, very fairy-tale-ish in feel. Although it didn't, for me, ever become truly enchanting (the light and fun aspects of the book, although diverting, didn't pack that much emotional punch, and the story was not one I found wildly original), it should be enjoyed lots by its target audience. Ivy is a fine figure of a plucky princess, and Elridge, although not a fine figure of a dragon (by draconian standards at least) is a likable and interesting side-kick. Their unlikely friendship makes for entertaining reading.

Also reviewed at Books at Midnight

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)

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