Facing Fire, by kc dyer, for Timeslip Tuesday

Facing Fire, by kc dyer (Doubleday Canada, 2010, middle grade, 224 pages). Sequel to A Walk Through A Window, but it's not necessary to have read that first.

Darcy's feelings about getting an extra week of spring vacation are more than a little mixed, due to the reason for the extended break--her best friend Sarah set fire to a school building. It began as a small act of protest against the racist anti-gang poster tacked to the wall, which showed a dark-skinned hand holding a gun. Sarah, who is black, couldn't stand it--and flicked her lighter...But then the flames spread.

And so Darcy, nervous about being implicated, is glad for the chance to go stay for a week in Kingston with a friend of her mom's, Fiona, who's working on a clean drinking water project. On her last trip away from home, Darcy had had the experience of a lifetime--walking through an old window into past era's of Canada's history. In Kingston it happens again, and another window becomes a gateway into the turbulent past. Her first trip back she is alone, watching as a French settlement is burned by the British. Then, with a new friend, a fellow skateboarder named Zander (short for Alexander), Darcy experiences first hand the terrors of the war of 1812 and the desperate journey to Canada of an escaped slave.

Darcy doesn't know why she's able to travel through time--it's never explained, and she's learned to accept that. She and Zander are simply spectators of the past, powerless to change it. But what they see changes them...

kc dyer does an excellent job with her historical vignettes. Darcy's experiences in the past are vivid and exciting (and education, which I, speaking as one who likes learning history through fiction, appreciate). The connection between the pasts and the present, though, felt rather forced to me.

Obviously Darcy and Zander learn, along with the reader, about the prejudices and injustices of the past, and both are confronting those issues in the present. Darcy is processing Sarah's reaction to the racism of the poster, and the injustices regarding access to clean water in Canada that are a huge part of Fiona's work (the majority of the boil water advisories in Canada are on First Nation lands, and some have lasted years). Zander's family are Mohawk--his parents are academics, but his grandfather wants him to come back to the tribal lands. He's seen his parents fighting stereotypes all his life, and feels ambivalent about his heritage.

But the story of Darcy's week in Kingston (past and present) never quite coalesced as a whole for me. This might be because of the overt didactisism of dyer's approach. I am in total agreement with the points she makes about racism in the contemporary world, and applaud her for spelling them out, but the downside of this is that they are underlined so much as slow the story down considerably. In this context, the time travel episodes seem much more like Lessons than like organic parts of a whole story....

Still, the descriptions of the past are, as I said above, first rate!

(review copy received from the publisher for Cybils consideration).


Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science

Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science, by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Michael Wandelmaier (Kids Can Press, 2010, 88 pages, ages 8 on up).

This is an utterly fascinating book, in which science, history, curiosity and determination (and a bit of luck) come together to solve mysteries from the past. All the nine cases looked at here involve people, and places, that apparently vanished -- Hatshepsut, Hsu Fu (a great Chinese navigator), the City of Ubar, the Anasazi, Sir John Franklin, Anastasia, George Mallory (lost climbing Everest), a lost airplane, the Star Dust, and finally, an Israli sub, the INS Dakar.

Each section begins by describing the disappearance in crime reporting fashion. Then the historical background is given, describing in detail the case in question. And then, enter the scientists and historians! Using a variety of high tech techniques (DNA testing, satellite imagery, robotics) and sheer determination (exploration of inhospitable places), men and women determined to find out what really happen set to work. In almost all of the cases covered, enough evidence was found to provide pretty definite answers. But still, mysteries remain...

The writing is exciting, and the science and history top-notch. The geographic coverage is great, and although there is a male bias in the scientists, women are there too. The illustrations are a nice mix of data presentation, artist's reconstructions, and actual images. But what makes this book really cool is its presentation of how directly applicable science is to history. Forget the white lab coat stereotype--here we have scientists actually doing cool things out in the world, and finding answers to mysteries! Pretty neat stuff!

This book should appeal greatly to any kid with a bent toward science, mysteries, and archaeology (who doesn't mind a few dead people)--at least, my own son loved it to pieces (here's his review, at his own blog, Pickled Bananas). In fact, the reason I am posting this review so late in the day is that I didn't get the chance I'd counted on to read it and write about it last night, when the boys were off downtown with their father, at his regular Irish music gig. Case Closed? ended up going down to the pub too...where it was read for the third time in one week.

The Non-fiction Monday round-up is at Playing By the Book today!

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)


This Sunday's Round-Up of Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction postings from around the blogs

Welcome to this week's mgsff round-up! Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-fu Cavemen from the Future, at The O.W.L. (includes giveaway)

Alcatraz Versus The Shattered Lens. Brandon Sanderson, at Becky's Book Reviews

Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld, at Eva's Book Addiction

The Cabinet of Wonders, by Marie Rutkoski, at By Singing Light.

The Curse of the Were-Wiener (Dragonbreath #3), by Ursula Vernon, at Booked Up.

Elliot and the Goblin War, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at Coffee for the Brain

Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Becky's Book Reviews.

Forgive My Fins, by Tera Lynn Childs, at Booked Up.

Ghost of Heroes Past, by Charles Reid, at Ms. Yingling Reads.

The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson, at Rebecca Reads

The Goblin Gate, by Hilari Bell, at Beyond Books.

Harry the Poisonous Centipede, by Lynne Reid Banks, at Back to Books

Haywired, by Alex Keller, at Read in a Single Sitting.

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, at Bart's Bookshelf

Nightshade City, by Hilary Wagner, at One Librarian's Book Reviews.

Roberto and Me, by Dan Gutman, at Charlotte's Library.

Second Hand Charm, by Julie Barry at The Allure of Books (one that is listed as YA, but seems a good fit for mg too)

Spaceheadz, by Jon Scieszka and Francesco Sedita, at Booked Up

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, at Book Love

The Witch's Tears, by Jenny Nimmo, at Back to Books.

The Mythical 9th Division Series, by Alex Milway, at The Book Zone (for boys) "...the only remaining hope is a secret troop of yeti agents - the Mythical 9th Division."

Things of interest that aren't reviews:

Fuse #8 looks back at the Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling.

I'm not sure if the Samarui Kids series is technically fantasy, but it sounds great, and here's author Sandy Fussell interviewed at Cynsations.

Harry Potter is on the minds of many mg sff readers at the moment--here are two articles of interest -- "Natural Selection in Homo Sapiens Alchemis," at Book View Cafe and Harry Potter is a Good Christian, says Yale professor.

At Seven Miles of Steel Thistles this week's Fairytale Reflections guest is Megan Whalen Turner, and, segueing nicely, there's "Honk if you still love fairytales," at Book Aunt

Finally, the season for gift idea lists is starting--here's a middle grade list from Polishing Mudballs that's heavily mg sff! (if you make one of your own, let me know and I'll link to it!)

(and anyone who wants to know more about how this works can read my explanation post here)


Departure Time, by Truus Matti

Departure Time, by Truus Matti, translated from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier (Namelos, 2010, middle grade, 216 pages).

The girl finds herself alone on a plain of red sand. She can't remember who she is, or how she got there, but a storm is coming, so she looks for shelter. And come upon a hotel...decrepit and desolate. Inside she finds no-one, save for a rat and a fox. Suspicious at first, they become more welcoming...suspicious at first, she finds them to be friends.

In our world, a girl has lost her beloved father, a musician all too often away on tour. Only this time he won't be coming back. And the last letter she wrote to him was a burst of anger--he hadn't come home in time for her birthday.

In the hotel, the rat and the fox prove to be well-intentioned inn-keepers for their new guest. Gradually the fox's cooking improves, and the rat becomes more friendly. But still the girl, now calling herself Mouse, doesn't know why she is there, inside this strange story.

Outside the hotel is an old, old, bus, that hasn't been anywhere in years. Inside, Mouse is haunted by the sound of piano being played...just as she has once played the piano, back when her father was alive. As the mysteries of the hotel are unravelled, the girl in the real world faces her grief and guilt...and the two stories move in parallel to the departure time of the title--a time when life can go forward again.

I found it a haunting and deeply moving story--and it really is one story, with the fantastical nestled into the real. They appear at first to be competing narratives, but quite soon the mystery of the hotel becomes clear, and the pieces fall into place. But this isn't a book for the reader who Wants to Know, who wants to be Entertained and who wants Excitement. It requires a certain acceptance that things, strange though they are, will makes sense. It requires that the reader wait with Mouse, in the strange hotel, for the right time to come. It is full of metaphor, and the gradual clarification of what is happening inside the hotel serves as a lovely imagining of what is happening to the real girl, trying to live a life without her beloved father.

It is a book full of very powerful and poignant emotion, one that will stick with me for a long time.

(Kirkus included this in their 2010 list of best sci fi/fantasy for kids, but it isn't really).

Other reviews at Fuse #8 and Wands and Worlds.

Here's another great book about a fantastical old hotel that offers shelter to a bereaved girl-- The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker (my review). I'd happily read more of this very specific sub-genre...I seem to find it very appealing!


Giving Thanks, book-wise

Today I am thankful that I will have a chance to sit in front of the fire and read. And I am thankful that, if yesterday was anything to go by, my boys will be joining me. Because yesterday, and I am so thankful for this, my seven year old truly became A Reader. He started the first Harry Potter in the morning, and by bedtime he had only three chapters to go. Yep, he read over two hundred pages in one day, and resented having to stop...."I feel that I really am Harry," he said to me. Precious child. My ten-year old, whose reading has always fretted me somewhat, devoured The Wyverns' Treasure, by R.L. LaFevers, in less than an hour, read two chapters of the first book of the Edge Chronicles, and blogged about a non-fiction book he loved at his own site, Pickled Bananas (his fiftieth post!). Just for the sake of completeness- my husband, whose reading doesn't worry me, read Un Lun Dun.

Today I am also thankful that authors are writing excellent books, publishers are publishing, that I have a public library system that gives me access to all the books in over thirty public libraries, for free, and a job that's secure enough so that I can buy books the library doesn't have. And I am very thankful indeed to the authors and publishers who think enough of my blog that they send me books to review, and to the publisher who have supported the Cybils by sending review copies.

Here are some authors I'd like to give especially thanks to from my reading in the last year (I'm eschewing any mg sff thanks, because of being a Cybils Panelist--it would feel odd to start talking about my favorites, since these are my shortlisted books...)

Thank you, Hilary McKay, for writing Wishing for Tomorrow. You gave me a sequel to a book I love, A Little Princess, that manages to be its own wonderful thing.

Thank you, Megan Whalen Turner, for A Conspiracy of Kings. I am so happy your books are in the world!

Thank you, Leah Cypess, for Mistwood--not only did I enjoy it very much, but it makes me happy to anticipate more books from you!

Thank you, Sarah Rees Brennan, for The Demon's Covenant, especially with regard to the hotness of Alan...

Finally, thank you, all of you who read my blog, and thank you, all you writers of the blogs I read!

(and I guess I am thankful that even though the stove's oven doesn't work, we can still cram a small chicken into the convection oven. And I guess I am thankful that two of the sixteen windows in the upstairs sun room are back in place, newly painted and glazed, and I suppose it could have been worse, and each window could have taken 48 hours of work instead of 24 (not including the days of letting the paint stripper work and the week you have to let the glazing dry) and it hasn't really been that cold yet....and I guess I am thankful that our two chickens are still alive, but it would be nice if they started laying eggs again (it was a difficult Molt for them)...and I guess I can be thankful that one of my co-workers is going into the office today, so I will be able to call him to see if I left my purse there (with my own set of work keys attached to it), because I think I was so busy bringing a large box of books home that it didn't occur to me I was leaving my purse behind. At least, I hope that's what happened. Sigh.)

edited to add: my purse and I are now together again, for which I am, indeed, thankful.


In which I find that my blog has a greater chance of being a best seller than Twilight

I misread the title of this post at Galley Cat as "Lulu Titlescorer Tests Your Blog's Title;" it was book in the original. But by the time I realized it, I had already plugged in "Charlotte's Library" and gotten my results--"The title Charlotte's Library has a 45.6% chance of being a bestselling title!"

EDITED TO ADD: If one considers "Charlotte's Library" to be figurative, my chances jump to 72.5%!!!!

I am encouraged (Twilight only gets a 36% chance) and happy to speak with publishers at any time.

Test your own blog's title here!

Hunger, by Jackie Morse Kessler

Hunger, by Jackie Morse Kessler (Graphia, 2010, YA, 180 pages).

I'd read a couple of reviews of this one before picking it up, so going into it, I knew it was about Lisa, a girl with anorexia (and in denial about it), who is chosen by Death to become the new incarnation of Famine, riding around on her Steed of Doom in Horseman of the Apocalypse fashion, famine-ing. I also knew the cover looked Dark (see cover at left--dark). And I knew that people liked it.

So I was expecting well-written Darkness, that tackled a serious issue in a fantastical way.

But I was rather pleasantly surprised to find that Famine isn't just that--it's also incredibly entertaining! It made me chuckle!

Lisa's voice is in turns sardonic, wry, bitter, sincere, and engaging--I cared what happened to her, sympathized with her situation (not just the whole stressful business of having to be Famine, while starving herself to death, but her family circumstances), and enjoyed her company. I also liked the author's voice lots, but I can't quite find the word for it--something along the lines of wry, tongue in check, sardonic but in a nice way, a tad amused by her own story but taking it seriously, sincere but lighthearted, caring deeply about the issue she (very knowledgeably) writes about but not letting it take over the story...that sort of thing.

Anyway, I knew by the end of the second paragraph that I would enjoy the book:

"And yet there she was, Lisabeth Lewis, seventeen and no longer thinking about killing herself, holding the Scales of office. Famine, apparently, had scales--an old-fashioned balancing device made of brass or bronze or some other metal. What she was supposed to do with the Scales, she had no idea. Then again, the whole "Thou are the Black Rider; go thee out unto the world" thing hadn't really sunk in yet." (page 1)

But my favorite character is Famine's horse. Food obsessed (not surprisingly), with a special fondness for pralines. Lisa decides to call him Midnight; "Well," Death said, "at least you didn't go with Muffin." (page 53)

Yet despite light touches such as this, Kessler is tackling a serious issue here. Lisa is killing her self. The Thin voice inside her head is a harpy that gives her no peace...her hair is falling out, she is going weaker, and she isn't sure she has the will to keep on living. Her stint as Famine is the catalyst that forces her to face what she is doing to herself, but it doesn't provide a magical, easy answer or a fairy tale ending. Instead, the ending rings true--Lisa isn't "cured," but at least she's on the path toward a healthier, happier life.

So, in short--thought-provoking (not just in its educational, and very valuable, look at eating disorders, but also viz famine around the world), entertaining, and yes, a little dark, but not so much so as to Depress. Read in what would have been a single sitting if I lived alone on a rock (which I mean as a compliment--I was utterly engrossed, and would have happily read it cover to cover had there been no intrusions of reality).


Roberto and Me: A Baseball Card Adventure, by Dan Gutman for Timeslip Tuesday

Roberto and Me: A Baseball Card Adventure, by Dan Gutman (HarperCollins, 2010, middle grade, 192 pages), is the most recent in Gutman's series about Joe Stoshack (aka Stosh), a boy who has a special gift--when he holds an old baseball card, he can travel back in time to actually meet the player shown.

Stosh's Spanish teacher, Senorita Molina, uses a wheelchair. When Stosh meets with her to talk about how he can pull up his (deplorable) grade, he takes advantage of the occasion to ask a question he's had for ages--why does she have a candle burning on her desk? Turns out, she keeps it in memory of Roberto Clemente, one of the most famous Puerto Rican baseball players of all time. Roberto was more than just a great ball player--he was also a dedicated humanitarian. And one of the things he planned to do was to send a Puerto Rican hospital the hundred dollars that would pay for the drugs that young Senorita Molina needed to cure her spinal infection. But Roberto died before he sent the money, when the plane he was taking to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua crashed.

Stosh knows what his next mission back in time is going to be--he's going to go find Roberto, and tell him not to get on that plane.

Time travel being a tricksy thing, Stosh is never delivered right up to the baseball players he hopes to meet. And this time is no exception--he finds himself at Woodstock, listening (with little enjoyment) to Jimi Hendrix. But fortunately he makes friends with a savvy young teenager calling herself Sunrise, who's run away from home, and she helps him hitchhike to Ohio to find Roberto.

And Stosh gets to see for himself what a great ball player, and a great man, Roberto really is. But changing the past is harder than a person might think....even when you're showing someone the newspaper account of how they are going to die, it might not change the decisions they feel they have to make.

When he gets back to his own time, Stosh finds a further adventure waiting for him--a journey to the future, where his own descendant, a boy with the same time travel gift, begs him to somehow set in motion a pattern of environmental awareness that will change the future. Because the future is a rather hellish place, environment-wise...

Roberto and Me is thus both a time travel adventure (with a generous dose of play-by-play baseball), and a serious disquisition on a variety of issues (especially the last odd journey to the future). I don't, as a rule, leap to insert my political opinions into my reviews, but this book, I think, requires some statement in that regard. I myself agreed whole-heartedly with the humanitarian, anti-racist, anti-war, global-warming-as-coming-catastrophe messages, and so enthusiastically endorse the book from that perspective (even though I wish the author's hand had been less heavy), but those who don't think along such lines might take issue with various elements of the story.

Now, back to the Adventure part. Stosh and Sunshine's trip together, and the ball game they watch, is perfectly fine, fun reading (even for one like myself, who doesn't care a whit about baseball). But what makes the book work is the character of Roberto himself--a true hero, who doesn't require any heavy underlining of messages to make a point. I loved the inclusion of actual pictures of Roberto--they truly made him come alive.

I think there's enough baseball detail to hold the interest of the young sport's fan. And it's not unenjoyable for the time travel aficionado--the baseball card as conduit-to-the-past was interesting, and the author was both convincing and entertaining in his portrayal of Stosh's encounters with hippie counter-culture. It might seem like this book bounces all over the place, but Gutman does a nice job keeping the story going, with humor, historical fact, and baseball combining to keep the reader's attention.

(this one gets a Reading in Color label for Roberto Clemente--I'm very glad to have met him!)

(Here's a much more detailed review at BooksforKidsBlog, and another at Ms. Yingling Reads)


Astrosaurs--The Twist of Time, by Steve Cole

If you are looking for a series for your second grade son (or something along those lines), look no farther than the Astrosaurs. I received a Cybils review copy of Astrosaurs--the Twist of Time, by Steve Cole (of Z-Rex fame), the 17th (I think) in the series, and (very happily) now have a nice long list of books to buy for my own second-grade son!

The Astrosaurs are herbisaurs who live out in the Jurassic quadrant of distant space. Their vegetarian sector abuts that of the carnivores--and the brave astrosaurs, a quartet of dinos led by the intrepid Captain Teggs, are constantly running up against the ferocious meat-eaters. This particular book involves a pool of time water on a distant planet--water that makes anyone (or just about anything) that comes into contact with it become younger and younger.... A vicious Allosaur thinks this could be the Ultimate Weapon...and will use it to seize control of the whole sector, unless Teggs and crew can stop him in time!

When I read this to myself, it was clear to me that I'm not the intended audience. For instance, a bucket of baby dino pee used as a weapon doesn't do much for me, although I want to make it clear that the writing was just fine and the story nicely coherent and not uninteresting. But still, not a book for people much older than nine or so.

But then I put it in the hands of my seven year old...and prised it out of his hands again at bedtime, and when he woke up the next morning, the first thing he said to me was, "Where's my book?" And I could hear him downstairs on the sofa, reading away with gasps and cheers...until he reached the end, and asked for more Astrosaur books! So, based on my (admittedly small) sample, these books have great appeal for the intended audience.

It's a UK series, but thanks to the Book Depository, they are easy to get a hold of. There's a companion series as well, Astrosaur Academy. And as an added bonus, the books come with character cards, which my boy appreciated. He's also intrigued by another series from the same author--Cows in Action.... There's lots of information about all these books here at Steve Cole's website. (By the way, I have a link to the Book Depository at right; any commissions earned help my local public library).


This Sunday's Round-Up of Middle Grade Sci Fi/Fantasy postings from around the blogs

Hi. It's another Sunday, and another round-up of a week's wroth of gleanings from around the blogs of posts relating to middle grade science fiction and fantasy. Please let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews:

Behemouth, by Scott Westerfeld, at Nayu's Reading Corner.

The Coming of the Dragon, by Rebecca Barnhouse, at Journey of a Bookseller.

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, by Anne McCaffrey, at Charlotte's Library.

Flight of the Outcast, by Brad Strickland, at Charlotte's Library.

George Washington's Spy, by Elvira Woodruff, at The Fourth Musketeer.

Good-bye, Pink Pig, by C.S. Adler, at Angieville.

The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman, at My Favorite Books.

How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deutsch, at Welcome to My Tweendom.

The Limit, by Kristen Landon, at Coffee for the Brain.

The Lost Children, by Carolyn Cohagan, at Coffee for the Brain.

The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan, at Great Kid Books, Lucy Was Robbed, and Book Nut.

Lucy and the Green Man, by Linda Newbery, at Journey of a Bookseller.

Luka and the Fire of Life, by Salman Rushdie, at Fantasy Literature and Mostly Fiction Book Reviews

Nightshade City, by Hilary Wagner, at Presenting Lenore.

The Search for WondLa, by Tony Diterlizzi, at Nayu's Reading Corner.

The Suburb Beyond the Stars, by M.T. Anderson, at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz, at Eva's Book Addiction.

Whistle Bright Magic, by Barb Bentler Ullman, at Charlotte's Library.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner, at bookgeeks (and more Garner here at suite 101 which I missed last week)

Windblowne, by Stephen Messer, at Middle Grade Ninja.

Ms. Yingling tucks two mg sff books into this post--Misty Gordon and the Mystery of the Ghost Pirates, by Kim Kennedy, and The Light, by D.J. MacHale, and she has another two-for here--Reckless, by Cornelia Funke, and A Wizard of Mars, by Diane Duane.

Interviews and authors:

Steve Messer (Windblowne) interviewed at Middle Grade Ninja.

Mark Peter Hughes (A Crack in the Sky) at The Enchanted Inkpot.

Katie Hines (Guardian) at The Writing Mama.

(and I'm interviewed at Children's Books and Reviews)

Michelle Knudsen (The Dragon of Trelian) talks about writing a sequel at Through the Tollbooth (I enjoyed The D. of T. lots, so I'm very pleased to here there will be another one!)

Other News and items of interest:

Don't miss this lovely long post, Lessons from Eva Ibbotson, at Book Aunt.

Here's Kirkus' list of the best mg sci fi/fantasy of the year.

Kristi (The Story Siren) has kicked off her 2011 Debut Author Challenge--it includes both mg and ya books. I spotted two excellent sounding mg sff titles-- Stephanie Burgis -- Kat, Incorrigible, and Anne Nesbet -- The Cabinet of Earths. Kristi is happy to add more books to her list, so do check it out and let her know if there's something missing!

Edited to add: This week's Fairytale Reflections author, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, is Cassandra Golds, and I can't believe I forgot to put this in because she is the author of a book I love--The Museum of Mary Child!

And finally, it was Harry Potter Week at Pure Imagination!


The 2011 Debut Author Challenge!

I just had a lovely time going through the list that Kristi (aka The Story Siren) assembled of the Debut Authors of 2011, so as to sign up for the D.A. of 2011 Challenge! Here the 12 books I'm challenging myself to read. Two, Warped and Timeless, I want rather badly for Timeslip Tuesday reviewing purposes. One, The Latte Rebellion, is by a friend (Hi Sarah! Congratulations!), and the rest all sound just plain fabulous (check out the description of Cabinet of Earths, the last one, in particular). If I had time, I'd include all the covers, but I don't, so I am just showing two. The first two because I find them interesting--at first glance they looked utterly lovely to, but the more I look at them, the more, um, disturbing they become (is that neck really that long, or is it just an illusion?). The third because I really want to know if I am the only one who looks at it and sees two pink fish/aliens kissing with strangely elongated lips and weirdly wispy fins (obviously, once I blink a few times I see the humans about to kiss. But the pink fish is my default).

Maurissa Guibord -- Warped
Sarah Jamila Stevenson -- The Latte Rebellion
Alexandra Monir -- Timeless
Eilis O'Neal -- The False Princess
Beth Revis -- Across the Universe
Cameron Stracher -- The Water Wars
Elsbeth Edgar -- The Visconti House
Stephanie Burgis -- Kat, Incorrigible
Dawn Metcalf-- Luminous
Melanie Welsh -- Mistress of the Storm
Nick James -- Skyship Academy
Anne Nesbet -- The Cabinet of Earths

Whistle Bright Magic, by Barb Bentler Ullman

Whistle Bright Magic: A Nutfolk Tale, by Barb Bentler Ullman (2010, Katherine Tegen Books, middle grade, 224 pages).

After Zelly's grandmother dies, she and her mother stay on in the small country town of Plunket, where she had lived, to keep the family bookstore going. For her mother, this is only a temporary break from real life in the city, but for Zelly, it's a chance to relax into life in more friendly school. And it's a chance to find out more about her absent father--this is the place where he and her mother met and fell in love, back when they were young themselves.

The woods outside the town (at least, the remnants that haven't been chopped down to make room for housing developments) hold their own secrets. Magical secrets--Nutfold Wood is home to a fairy town fallen on hard times. Zelly can see the fairies, and one, in particular, a handsome fairy boy nicknamed Whistle Bright, becomes her friend. Their friendship leads to wishes coming true...in Zelly's case, staying in Plunket and finding her lost father, and, for Whistle Bright, new hope for his community.

Don't be put off by the cover and title (which suggest to me a cute little story of rainbowy-ness). What this is, instead, is a very interesting and satisfying story of real world and fairy world problems intersecting. Just so that those expecting grand adventure aren't disappointed, I want to quickly reiterate the main plot points: Zelly goes to a new school and makes friends. She discovers that there are fairies; she becomes friends with one. Her mother, who knew the fairies herself back when she was a girl, has forgotten about them, and wants to go back to the city. Her father, at the instigation of her mother, left when she was young (addiction issues); she wonders about him. A piece of woods is threatened by development, but is saved when it's bought by a man who turns out to be a talented artist (no surprise, really, about who he is...). The woods came with an old house--it gets fixed up.

It might not sound like all that much, story-wise, but I found it rather refreshing to read a magical story that wasn't about Good vs Evil on a Grand Scale, with concomitant violence, Artifacts of Power, etc. There wasn't any Evil at all, in fact, except for a bit of human greed. I enjoyed it lots! (although I do like a nice bit of Good vs Evil now and then...)

The relationship between Zelly and her two new human best friends, Frederick and Lupine, is, in particular, very pleasantly developed and not without bits of humour. Frederick and Lupine can see the fairies just enough to believe, and so become Zelly's companions in the discovery of the secrets of Nutfolk Wood. Whistle Bright, on the other hand, never quite transcended fairy-ness to become a character I cared that much about, but I had absolutely no objections to his story.

In short, a very nice book indeed for the reader looking for a story that blends fairy magic with the (mild) problems of real life, one I'd especially recommend to young fans of fantasy who don't like being scared. I liked it lots, but then, I'm a sucker for the old house gets fixed up sub-plot, and for stories with happy endings....

This is the second book about these fairies--the first (The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood), which I haven't read, is the story of Zelly's mother when she was a girl. It isn't at all necessary to have read that one first.

Added bonus, for those looking for multiracial characters in fantasy--Frederick's mother is African American; he's not described in terms of skin color or ethnicity, but unless he's adopted (and there's no reason to think he is), he's a bona fide kid of color.


Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, by Anne McCaffrey, for Retro Friday

I have a slew of books read for the Cybils whimpering to be reviewed, but my brain is fried. So today I offer two books that blew my mind back when I was 12 or so--Dragonsong (1976) and Dragonsinger (1977) by Anne McCaffrey, for Retro Friday.

I will now try to type the first line of Dragonsinger from memory (it's been a number of years since I've re-read it): "When Menolly, daughter of Yanus Seaholder, arrived at the Harper Crafthall, she came in style, aboard a bronze dragon." (I scored 100%)

Menolly lives on the planet of Pern, a place where dragons flame a deadly organism called Thread (nasty stuff, that devours anything organic it touches) from the sky. The seahold (carved out of solid rock, like most Pernese settlements, so as to be safe from Thread) where Menolly grew up had rigid ideas about gender roles. Menolly, wonderfully talented in every aspect of music, was the protegee of the harper, but when he died, her father regarded her as an embarrassment. After her hand is almost crippled by an injury that puts a stop to her playing, she can't stand life in the repressive sea hold and runs away to live by herself.

Happily for Menolly, she isn't lonely for long. The cove where she chooses to live is home to fire lizards, small cousins of the dragons, and she manages to form a psychic bond with nine of fire lizard hatchlings. They are company, but still she longs for music, and dreams of the Harper Hall, Pern's central institute for music.

Through a somewhat complex series of events, Menolly arrives at the great caverns of the Harper Hall (on board a bronze dragon)....and Dragonsinger begins.

Imagine a boarding school book in which all the lessons are about music--instrumental, vocal, composition....Imagine this boarding school is on another planet, with different customs, technology, and dragons (and marvellous, beautiful, firelizards who can share your heart...), and complicated political situations taking place that Menolly only dimly understands, but which provided much depth to the story. And imagine Menolly herself, whisked from cave life into this setting, confused and disoriented...and facing considerable disapprobation from both the pampered girl students, who are ancillary to the central school, and from masters and boys who resent her for being a girl (and for being better than them!). All the while she has to contend with the challenge of her injured hand--will she be able to regain full use of it, and achieve her full potential as an instrumentalist?

Menolly's journey from scared waif to confident musician is a truly enjoyable experience. McCaffery includes such a wealth of detail in her telling that I can hardly think of any other book that is clearer in my mind (although the fact that I've read it c. 100 times might be a factor). I especially love the detailed music-specific bits--what is it like to play in a string quartet, sight-reading the music, with some the best musicians on your planet? And the scene where she chooses a guitar from the instrument store room is the best guitar choosing scene ever.

I do hope that other 11/12 year olds girls are still finding this book...it is so much fun! And even inspirational, although as a cynical adult Menolly's musical wonderfulness grates just a tad (or maybe a bit more that a tad....).

It's interesting to look a my old paperback copy of this. I've read so much modern middle grade fiction recently that the text of this one looks horribly small and dense--it's 240 pages, but it would probably be about 500-600 as a modern hardcover, with curlicue pictures of firelizards in the margins. The modern version on Amazon, with a very different cover, is 320 pages....(I like the covers from my childhood books, shown here, best!)

Note on age--Menolly's an adolescent girl, just beginning, toward the end of Dragonsinger, to think about boys. They are both perfectly clean reads, but fairly sophisticated, language-wise. McCaffery might be writing about a young girl, but she doesn't write down to her audience at all.

I'm interviewed at Children's Books and Reviews!

Aaron at Children's Books and Reviews has honored me with an interview, which is now up and running! Find out which was the first blog post I ever read! See a picture of me, aged 18, on my first dig! And much more.

And if you are coming here for the first time from that interview, welcome!


Kirkus' list of the best of YA sci fi/fantasy from 2010 (replaces old list)

A kind reader pointed out to me that I had missed the full page of YA sci fi/fantasy best of books from Kirkus. Here are Kirkus' Best Books for Teens: Fantasy and Science Fiction (and sorry for my earlier truncated version!):

WHITE CAT, by Holly Black
MOCKINGJAY, by Suzanne Collins
FACTOTUM, by D.M. Cornish
MISTWOOD, by Leah Cypess
INCARCERON, by Catherine Fisher

SAPPHIQUE, by Catherine Fisher
RECKLESS, by Cornelia Funke

THE ODYSSEY, by Gareth Hinds
THE GENIUS WARS, by Catherine Jinks

PEGASUS, by Robin McKinley
THE LEGEND OF THE KING, by Gerald Morris
I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT, by Terry Pratchett
FEVER CRUMB, by Philip Reeve

A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, by Megan Whalen Turner
MR. MENDOZA’S PAINTBRUSH, by Luis Alberto Urrea

(and here's my post about the mg titles!)

New Releases of science fiction and fantasy for kids and teenagers, the second half of Nov. 2010 edition

Here are the new releases of science fiction and fantasy for kids and teens from the second half of November; not a long list, but some good ones...my info. comes as usual from Teens Read Too, with blurbs from Amazon/Goodreads.

Middle Grade:

"Hidden deep within the crumbling island city of Widdershins lies the Crown of Iron. It's up to Trundle Boldoak, Jack Nimble and the Roamany Princess Esmeralda Lightfoot to find it. And there's nothing that can stop them! Well, except for Captain Grizzletusk and his pirate hordes, a deadly reef of rocks across their path, and armed guards patrolling the very place they need to search. Still, at least the adventurers have Esmeralda's Aunt Millie, the Roamany Queen, to help them. She'll get them out of trouble ...won't she?

Book Three of The Tapestry "... is an unforgettable dystopian adventure across a landscape overrun with goblins and trolls. The world has changed almost beyond recognition, for with the Book of Origins firmly in his possession, the villainous Astaroth now has the power to reshape history at will. Plucking pivotal discoveries from mankind’s past, he has reduced the world to a preindustrial nightmare.

But while most humans toil as slaves within four demonic kingdoms, Astaroth allows those at Rowan to thrive in peaceful isolation. Theirs is a land where magic and nature flourish . . . so long as none dare oppose the new order.

That proves too steep a price for Max McDaniels. Unsure of his place at Rowan, Max sets out to explore the shifting landscape of the world beyond. In the course of his travels, he will become many things: Prisoner. Gladiator. Assassin. But can he become the hero that mankind so desperately needs?"

MOST WANTED by Kate Thompson

(not fantasy, perhaps, but maybe, -ish). "While making his daily deliveries, a baker’s son suddenly finds himself holding a stallion’s golden lead. Soon the boy discovers that this isn’t just any horse, it’s the most powerful creature in all of Rome.

What will the mad emperor do if he finds the boy with his prized horse? Cut off his head? Or worse?"

"The deadly battle between ThunderClan and ShadowClan is over, but the aftermath still echoes around all four Clans. As Dovepaw grapples with the knowledge that there are realms—and cats—her senses cannot reach, Jayfeather and Lionblaze are determined to figure out how StarClan could have allowed this fight to happen. Jayfeather soon finds the answer in the darkest of places, and he and Lionblaze prepare to do whatever they can to staunch the flow of evil into ThunderClan.

The ties that bind the Clans are slowly breaking in the face of the greatest threat that the warriors—and the warrior code—have ever known. As leaf-bare closes its grip upon the territories, Jayfeather, Lionblaze, and Dovepaw realize just how close the battle is, and how far they are from being able to succeed. And before the prey can run again, one more cat will be lost to the fight"

"Ten-year-old Rose lives in New York, the city of bright lights and excitement, and a seemingly endless variety of people, architecture, and food--where extraordinary things happen every day on every block. But Rose wasn't born in New York; she was adopted as an infant from a far-away country. Though Rose loves her home and her adopted family, sometimes she can't help but feel different, like she's meant to be somewhere else.
Then one day in Central Park, Rose sees something truly extraordinary: a crystal staircase rising out of the lake, and two small figures climbing the shimmering steps before vanishing like a mirage. Only it's wasn't a mirage. Rose is being watched--recruited--by representatives of U Nork, a hidden city far more spectacular than its sister city New York. In U Nork, Dirigibles and zeppelins skirt dazzling skyscrapers that would dwarf the Crysler building. Impeccably dressed U Norkers glide along the sidewalks in roller skates. Rose can hardly take it all in.
Then she learns the most astonishing thing about U Nork. Its citizens are in danger, and they need Rose's help, and hers alone..."

Young Adult:

Anna knows her family is crazy. But when she goes to visit her aunt and uncle for the summer and learns that her uncle’s charred body has been found, her life reaches a new level of insanity. Her erratic aunt’s “psychic” abilities are exaggerated by her grief, and have become borderline violent. Alone in an unfamiliar town, Anna struggles to pick up the pieces and establish any sense of normalcy. She desperately wants to trust Zack, the cute boy next door, but even he might know more about the incident than he is letting on.

But when Anna starts feeling an inexplicable pull to the site of her uncle’s murder, she begins to believe that her family’s supernatural gifts are real after all. Torn between loyalty and suspicion, Anna is certain of only one thing: she must discover who killed her uncle or she could be next….

INVISIBLE THINGS by Jenny Davidson
"Sixteen-year-old Sophie knows there is more to the story of her parents' death. And she's on a mission to find the truth. To aid her in solving the decades-old mystery, Sophie has enlisted her best friend, Mikael, whose friendship has turned into something more. It's soon clear that Sophie's future is very much wrapped up in the details of her family's past, and the key lies with information only one man can provide: her parents' former employer, the elusive billionaire Alfred Nobel.

As the threat of war looms in Europe, dangers to Sophie and her loved ones grow. While her determination to solve the mystery doesn't waver, forces beyond her control conspire to keep her from her purpose. Then, news of her great-aunt Tabitha's death sets off a chain of events that leaves Sophie questioning everything.

The more Sophie learns, the more she realizes that nothing—and no one—in her life is what it seems. And coming to terms with the dark secrets she uncovers means imagining a truth that she never dreamed possible. Full of gorgeous settings, thrilling adventure, and romance, invisible things is a novel that dares to ask, what if"

MATCHED by Allyson Condi
"Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow."

THE NATURE OF WONDER: HATTER M VOL. 3 by Frank Beddor & Liz Cavalier
In Volume 3, The Nature of Wonder, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan follows the Glow of the setting sun into America's wild west in search of Wonderland's lost princess. Hatter's adventures will include a shamanic vision quest in the Grand Canyon and tracking Black Imagination through San Francisco's Barbary Coast where he discovers an astounding clue to his own haunted past."

Night Star
continues the epic love story that has enchanted readers across the world. In this installment, Ever and Damen face down bitter rivals, jealous friends and their own worst fears—all in the hope of being together forever.

PATHFINDER by Orson Scott Card
"A powerful secret. A dangerous path.

Rigg is well trained at keeping secrets. Only his father knows the truth about Rigg's strange talent for seeing the paths of people's pasts. But when his father dies, Rigg is stunned to learn just how many secrets Father had kept from him--secrets about Rigg's own past, his identity, and his destiny. And when Rigg discovers that he has the power not only to see the past, but also to change it, his future suddenly becomes anything but certain.

Rigg’s birthright sets him on a path that leaves him caught between two factions, one that wants him crowned and one that wants him dead. He will be forced to question everything he thinks he knows, choose who to trust, and push the limits of his talent…or forfeit control of his destiny."

X RETURNS: EXORSISTAH by Claudia Mair Burney
"Now that Emme Vaughn is finally eighteen, she's ready to strut her devil-whooping diva boots into Saint Dymphna's Psychiatric Hospital and spring her mama out. Only problem is a lady named Jane Doe beat her to it...two years ago. Jane is as mysterious as her name, but she holds the key to saving Emme's mama and revealing exactly how Emme got into this evil-fighting business -- if Emme can find her. To complicate matters, hottie Francis wants her to be his girlfriend, but Emme's not about to come between her man and God's plan. No, the Exorsistah is on a mission that even a scary three-headed demon can't stop (and the Lord knows it is trying). With a lot of prayer, a couple of archangels, and the help of some new soul-friends, X is armed for battle against a malicious force that will do anything to destroy her. But when she needs His Word the most, will she know where to find it?"


Kirkus' Best of -- the sci fi/fantasy section is an interesting mix!

Kirkus has announced its lists of best books for children and teens!

Here are the children's fantasy and science fiction books (Kirkus seems to be defining sff rather broadly....). It's a very nice group of books indeed, and if you click on the links, you can read their Kirkus reviews. (This looks reasonably formated on my computer, but knowing blogger, it might not be on yours. Sorry).


KEEPER, by Kathi Appelt

THE MEMORY BANK, by Carolyn Coman

HEREVILLE, by Barry Deutsch

THE SHADOW HUNT, by Katherine Langrish


SPACEHEADZ, by Jon Scieszka

A WHOLE NOTHER STORY, by Cuthbert Soup

GHOSTOPOLIS by Doug TenNapel

DEPARTURE TIME, by Truus Matti

DRAGONBREATH--Attack of the Ninja Frogs, by Ursula Vernon




Here's my post about the YA books.

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