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

Here's another week of my gleanings, from around the blogs, of posts about middle grade (readers 9-12, ish) fantasy and science fiction! Please let me know if I missed your post, or the posts of your loved ones.

The Reviews:

Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld, at Book Nut

Dragons of the Valley, by Donita K. Paul, at Christian Fantasy Review (where you can find a full list of other stops on this book's blog tour).

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deutsch, at Lucy Was Robbed

Keeper, by Kathi Applet, at Book Nut

My Sparkling Misfortune, by Laura Lond, at Brizmus Blogs Books

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings, by Héléne Boudreau, at Bookworm Readers

Runaways, by Joe Layburn, at Nayu's Reading Corner

Savvy, by Ingrid Law, at Alison's Bookmarks

Scumble, by Ingrid Law, at Alison's Bookmarks (I find it rather pleasing that the series is thus far in alphabetical order)

Starcrossed, by Elizabeth Bunce, at Charlotte's Library (another of those books marketed as YA, but just fine for a 12 year old....)

The Thirteenth Princess, by Diane Zahler, at Library Chicken

A True Princess, by Diane Zahler, at Bookscopes (the alphabetical thing is happening here too)

Zita the Space Girl, by Ben Hatke, at Penny Candy and Shady Characters (this is a graphic novel, and I don't always include them, but sometimes I do when I feel like it. Today I felt like it because this sounds like a cool book and it is a long time since I had a mg sff title that started with z).

Book Infinity revisits the Molly Moon series.

The Other Good Stuff:

Michelle Harrison (13 Treasure et seq.) has a guest post up at The Book Smugglers.

Just for fun, I made a list of favorite fantasy foxes.

Someday I will get my cat list up...it's a work in progress. One of the books on it is The Tygrine Cat, whose author, Inbali Iserles, is the Fairytale Reflections guest at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.

The School Library Journal Battle of the Books approaches, and here are the contenders:

* THE CARDTURNER by Louis Sachar
* A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner
* COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles
* THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan
* KEEPER by Kathi Appelt
* THE ODYSSEY by Gareth Hinds
* ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
* THE RING OF SOLOMON by Jonathan Stroud
* SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
* A TALE DARK AND GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz
* THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE K.K.K. by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
* TRASH by Andy Mulligan
* WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan

The middle grade sff books (Dark and Grimm, Mirka, and Keeper) are all fine books, but I'm going to root for The Ring of Solomon. Go, Bartimaeus!


Foxes in fantasy books--a list of my favorites

For the last time in my life, I am blogging from my family home in Arlington, Va (it's been sold, which had to happen, but is still sad, and I'm down here for just two nights to frantically load a Uhaul full of things I want to take from it, both the useful and the sentimental). Outside the enormous window is a beautiful, snow-covered, woodsy garden, and, as often happens early in the morning, a fox just trotted by. I love watching foxes--they combine keen-ness and cuteness so perfectly, as they pad along briskly with pricked ears and bushy tales...(the fox above is someone else's picture, but it's very close to my own fox).

So in honor of all the fox sightings I've had from this window, here's a celebration of foxes in fantasy.

My favorite fantastic fox might well be Loki in fox form, in Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman (my review). Sharp, witty, snappish, smart--Gaiman's imagining of Loki as fox is just brilliant.

I loved the fox and the rat who are the proprietors of the derelict hotel in Departure Time, by Truus Matti (my review). In particular, it was a joy to watch the fox's cooking improve!

The character I cared most about in Reckless, by Cornelia Funke (my review), is a girl who spends most of her time in fox form. I so very much want for her to have a happy ending...

My foxophilia manifested again with Thief Eyes, by Janni Lee Simner (my review)--my favorite character was the talking fox, who plays a pivotal role in this story of two teenagers faced with the reality of one of the grimmest of the Icelandic sagas.

I picked up The Old Country, by Mordicai Gerstein (my review) purly because of its lovely fox cover! It's an evocative, fairy-tale-esque story of a girl shapeshifted into fox form, and (to a lesser extent) what happens to the fox shapeshifted into girl form.

Another girl in fox form story is Wild Magic, by Cat Wetherill (my review). Turned by Pied Piper into a fox, Marianna can see no way to become a girl again...unless her brother Jakob can find his way in to the land beyond, to save all the children of Hamlen town, and the piper himself...This is a rather good book, that never got much buzz.

In Sylvie and the Songman, by Tim Binding (my review) two children escaping from some very fantastical villains are taken under the paw of a friendly fox. I didn't care all that much for the book, but I did, as usual, like the fox very much!

The Daring Adventures of Penhaligun Brush is a fox fantasy I haven't read myself, but it's a favorite book of my older son's, and here's his review at his own blog. And just to be fair, when I asked my youngest if he could think of a fantastic fox, he suggested Reddy from the Old Mother West Wind books, a series he loves.

I suppose I have to mention Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl, even though I don't much like it...but I only read it once, and that was long ago....

And some day I will reivew a book I love, The Innkeeper's Song, by Peter Beagle, which has a magnificent fox character....

Any other great foxes of fantasy that I've missed? They don't have to be kids books.


Mad Love, by Suzanne Selfors

Suzanne Selfors has written fantasy for both kids (the very quirky Fortune's Magic Farm and even more quirky Smells Like Dog) and teens (Saving Juliet and Coffee House Angel). "Humor and charm" are pretty good adjectives to describe her writing. They certainly apply to her newest book for teens, Mad Love (Bloomsbury, 2011, YA, 320pp) but here the subject matter is more serious than in her past books.

Alice's mother is the best-selling Queen of Romance. At least, her mom was the Queen of Romance until she stopped writing and fell into a chronic depression, and had to be hospitalized. Now sixteen-year old Alice is on her own, trying to pretend to the world, and most importantly her mother's publisher, that everything is just fine. Happily there are two caring friends of the family to help her out, but still she's essentially alone. And when the letter from the publisher arrives, asking for repayment of her mother's last advance, Alice is afraid she reached the end of the line, unless a miracle happens.

So she decides to whip out her mother's new book in the next few months. How hard can it be, for one who has grown up breathing in the tropes of the romance novel? Answer--pretty impossible. So when she meets Errol, who asks her to write the romance story he lived, she agrees (after much very understandable hesitation) to give it a shot.

Errol's story is much more interesting than Alice dreamed. He's the one and only Cupid from mythology, and he doesn't have much time left on Earth in which to get the true version of his romance with Psyche down on paper. He'll do anything to get Alice to work with him--and he has arrows of passion that he isn't afraid to use...

Alice wants her mom back, and her life back, especially now that she's met the very cute and very likable Tony, who likes her back. But Cupid can be very persuasive....and when she starts hearing his voice inside her head, Alice wonders if she, like her mother, has gone mad...

In short, Mad Love combines realistic situations, and believable romance (Alice and Tony, just to be clear), with a whumph of the fantastic. This can be a tricky mix to pull off well--too much of the fantastical, and there's the danger of farce, too much of the realistic, and the reader wonders why the author bothered to have a Greek god in the book at all. Selfors blends her humor and her discussion of serious issues very well, I thought (although the clam juice wavered on the edge of farce, as clam juice so often does....), but still, the two sides of the story (the real and the fantastic) weren't strengethened by their juxtaposition as much as I had hoped they would be.

Despite that nagging feeling, I did enjoy this one lots--I really liked Alice and enjoyed her foray into the world of romance writing very much.

(disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher)


Starcrossed, by Elizabeth Bunce

Starcrossed, by Elizabeth C. Bunce (2010, Scholastic, YA, 351 pages)

"Well, we're stuck with each other now, it seems," said Lord Cardom, accepting a goblet of wine from Eptin Cwalo. "It'll take weeks to dig that out."

"Weeks?" I echoed, my voice a strained squeak. I turned to Lord Antoch. "But won't it melt, or something?"

"The folk of Breijardarl are no strangers to avalanche," Antoch said....."This looks like it's shaping up to be a hell of a snowfall, though." (page 101)

It is snowing quite hard as I write this, school is already cancelled for tomorrow, and snow is forecast until Saturday. But it probably won't take weeks for us to be free...unlike the rather desperate narrator above.

Digger (who goes by Celyn, a generic religious name, when she's consorting with lords) hadn't planned on going to a remote keep in the middle of winter, as a maid to the daughter of the house, a lovely girl named Marista. But she hadn't planned on getting a knife wound either, when the robbery she was part of went awry, and having to flee for her life through the streets of her city, just one step ahead of the Inquisitor's enforcers. Her path took her onto a boat crewed by four wealthy teenagers were out on a pleasure trip, and one thing led to another...

Now this young thief can steal from the rich all she pleases, but she can't escape. And when she's caught in the act by a ruthless man with an agenda of his own, she finds herself blackmailed into spying on Lord Antoch's family--people who have offered her nothing but kindness. But they too have secrets. Gathered into the snowbound keep are all the major allies from an old attempt at rebellion against the king and his Inquisitor, and they are plotting again. It is their hope that someday the working of magic would no longer be punishable by death, a hope given urgency by the fact that Marista has the gift of magic....

Digger has secrets of her own (which are rather teasingly held back from the reader) to which the secrets of those around her accrete. The tension builds, as she works her way through a chess game of ambiguous motives, and an all too clear build-up to treason....

I enjoyed this one lots. It's a complicated and tricksy plot, that unfolds slowly and subtly; a mind game, more that a fast-paced thriller, although there is Action and Violence toward the end, for those that like blood in the snow. With the claustrophobic walls of the keep, the destiny of Digger's country is being determined...and she is right there in the thick of it.

My main complaint as a reader was that Digger was not a reliable narrator--it was clear that there were many things she wasn't letting on right from the beginning. The big thing about her past was revelled toward the end, but I still never felt as though I had a clear handle on her life before I met her. I think I will like the sequel (yay! it's called Liar's Moon) better in this regard, because I will not be harboring slightly unfriendly feelings toward the main character for not telling me her secrets from the get go.

I also couldn't help but feel that Digger was not behaving as I wished her too, with regard to stealing from her hosts and spying on them...and because her background is only fitfully revealed, I didn't feel like I had enough sense of her character to decide how harshly to judge her. Happily, this feeling had faded by about halfway through the book, at which point I rooting for her, regardless of my own scruples.


Playing Beatie Bow, by Ruth Park, for Timeslip Tuesday

Playing Beatie Bow, by Ruth Park (1980). By happy chance, I am writing about this Australian classic on Australia Day, it being already the 26th there (I'm pretty sure... time is a slippery thing).

"It's Beatie Bow," shrieked Mudda in a voice of horror, "risen from the dead!" (page 10). And all the children ran screaming away from the girl covered in a white cloth.

It was just a playground game, scary, but fun. But what the children didn't know was that Beatie Bow was a real person, a 19th-century Australian girl whose family had immigrated from the Orkney Islands, bringing with them their family Gift of preternatural powers.

Even teenaged Abigail, watching the children play, finds the game strangely compelling. But when she meets the real Beatie, pulled forward in time by the sound of her name, and follows her back into the 19th-century, it's no longer any fun at all. Beatie's family takes her in, and treats her well, but still she is frightened--unsure what has happened to her, and even more terrified by the prospect that she will never go home again. The last time she had seen her mother, they were in the middle of horrible conflict--Abigail's father, who left when she was ten, wants them to try to be family again, a prospect that makes her furious (and she's a prickly, stubborn sort of person to begin with). It's not till she faces the prospect of never seeing her parents again that she realizes just how much their happiness means to her.

Abigail's journey into the past isn't random--she been called back to help Beatie's family pass on their Gift to the next generation...and until she does that, the way home is closed to her. But no one can tell her what she must do. And so the days in the past move along, bringing strange clothes and customs, and a growing closeness to Judah, a boy only a few years older then herself. But Judah is intended for another girl--kind, gentle Dovey. And sharp-tongued Beatie won't let Abigail forget it....

Park creates an incredibly detailed and evocative picture of the 19th-century life of a respectable but poor working family, and the book's worth reading for that historically pleasurable side of things alone. But it's the dynamics between all the disparate characters, seen through Abigail's eyes as she becomes less self-centered, and the rather tense mystery of what she needs to do to make it home, that make the book truly excellent.

Although the happy ending is, perhaps, a bit hard to swallow (three years later, an all grown up and much nicer Abigail finds love), I'm glad the author made sure we find out what exactly happened to everyone! In short, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I see why it won the Children's Book Council of Australia Award for Book of the Year in 1981.

Ruth Park died this December; here is her obituary from the New York Times. This was the first book of hers I've read, but happily my library system has others....I think I'll try My Sister Sif next; its an ecological fantasy with merpeople.

(Note on age: this isn't a book for younger kids- Abigail is most definitely teen-aged-ish in her preocupations and concerns, and there's a description of a brothel that isn't for the faint of heart).

A movie version was made of this, back in the 1980s. Here's an excerpt. It was a bad time hair-wise, the 1980s, both for Abigail, apparently, and for me...I had the same hair cut. Sigh.


How the Sphinx Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland, for Nonfiction Monday

How the Sphinx Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland (2010, Blue Apple Books)

I love a picture book that I can leave lying around the house, certain that my ten year old will pick it up and enjoy it! Which happened as planned, and so I was predisposed to like this one. And there's the fact that I'm an archaeologist, and I've worked in museums, and done some conservation work...so this one seemed an obvious choice for me!

Hartland starts with specific question--how did the battered and broken sphinx of the Pharaoh Hatsheput get from a pit in Egypt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Her answer mirrors the story of "This is the house that Jack built," taking the sphinx from its beginning back in 1470 BC, when the Pharaoh ordered it, all the way to the museum.

Along the way we meet the cast of characters who played parts in its life story, starting with the ones that aren't a great surprise--the sculptor, the stepson who destroyed it, and the archaeologist who found it. But then things get really interesting, when we meet all the people who worked in the background -- the representative of the Egyptian Dept. of Antiquities, the art movers, the curator and conservators...and other staff members of the museum that the public seldom get to meet.

As the list of all the people involves grows, Hartland keeps things interesting with her discussion of each one's role in the process. The cumulative list is, by nature, repetitive, but it's spiced up by using different words to describe everyone's role each time the come around (and it seemed to amuse my children). The the illustrations, detailed but with a simple friendliness, help move the sphinx along nicely. And the sphinx's story is a fascinating one, not just for the fateful life of the sphinx itself, but because its journey required so many people bringing their particular areas of expertise to its journey from Egypt.

A perfect book to read to the young child who you think might do well later in life working museum (I liked the nice gender balance--the curators, for instance, are split fifty/fifty), or anyone with an interest in museums and Egyptology (a section with "more history" at the end will add to the book's appeal for this later audience). This is definitely one to read to your child before your first visit to see Antiquities, but it might well be enjoyed lots by any random kid who likes a swinging story with real life people.

The Non-Fiction Monday round-up this week is at Great Kid Books.

My main Bloggiesta task completed--a spruced-up list of multicultural sci fi/fantasy

I've achieved my main goal for Bloggiesta--to tidy up the list I'm keeping of my reviews of multicultural science fiction and fantasy for kids and teenagers.* I'm up to 53 books, plus three books for adults that I think have cross-over teen potential.

One of the things I did was put the year of publication in, which makes for interesting reading-- 2010 has 21 books, more than the 15 from 2009. But that's not a number that's all that meaningful, because I started the list in 2010...and there are egregious gaps from earlier years. Like Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon, which I read back when everyone was raving about it on their own blogs--I didn't feel as though I could contribute a fresh perspective, and so never reviewed it myself. And I don't know why I never read Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves; I've wanted to since it came out. I know there are a number of older books I need to add as well, but I'd love to see what recommendations you might have for me! I just found this great list of multicultural sff, compiled by Marie Brennan, that has lots of books I haven't read....

One of the things I tried to do today was to add some pictures, and I ran into a mess with Blogger. There doesn't seem to be a way to manipulate the sizes of the picture much, and I would really like them to be smaller.

My next problem I struggled through--I'm now able to put in the pictures I want! (thanks for the help, commentors!). I am pretty happy with the cover pictures I have up now, but I think I'll change them when I put new books up, so the pictures show the most current reviews.

*I've tried a few times to define "multi-cultural," and gotten into some sticky semantics trying to clarify to myself what I mean. And I toyed with the idea of avoiding an all-encompasing definition by explaining the multicultural-ness of each particular book, and things got even stickier. So the books will have to speak for themselves....

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

Welcome to another week of middle grade science fiction and fantasy posts from around the book blogging world! Pleased let me know if I missed any posts...either by commenting, or emailing me-- charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com (and I welcome links at any time during the week!).

I've been asked to recommend other book blogs that review a lot of mg/ya speculative fiction--I have a list to the right of those I read regularly, and of course I link to a lot of other blogs during the course of these weekly round-ups. But if anyone would like to recommend their own favorite blogs with this particular focus, please leave a comment!

The Reviews:

13 Treasures, by Michelle Harrison, at The Book Smugglers

Airman, by Eoin Colfer, at Books For Youth

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, by R.A. Spratt, at Cloudy With a Chance of Books

Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld, at Biblio File

Between the Forest and the Hills, by Ann Lawrence, at Charlotte's Library

The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni at Charlotte's Library

Cloaked, by Alex Flinn, at Book Aunt (this seems to be one of those younger YA books that's a good fit for upper mg readers)

Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at The Book Smugglers

Crossing Over (Suddenly Supernatural 4), by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, at Reading Vacation

The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens, at Shannon Whitney Messenger

The End of the World Club, by J. & P. Voelkel, at The O.W.L. and at Brooke Reviews

Fused, by Kari Lee, at Reading Vacation and Magic Bean Review

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, at Lucy was robbed

Jane and the Raven King, by Stephen Chambers, at Mother Daughter Book Club

The Kings of Clonmel, by John Flanagan, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

Modern Fairies, Dwarves, and Other Nasties: a Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate, by Lesley M.M. Blume, at Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them

The Old Country, by Mordicai Gerstein, at Charlotte's Library

Scumble, by Ingrid Law, at Library Chicken

Small Persons With Wings, by Ellen Booraem, at Book Aunt

TIM: Defender of the Earth, by Sam Enthoven, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A True Princess, by Diane Zahler, at Book Aunt

The Undrowned Child, by Michelle Lovric, at Book Grotto

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, at Book Grotto

Wintercraft, by Jenna Burtenshaw, at Beyond Books


Ellen Booraem (Small Persons With Wings) at The Enchanted Inkpot

Kari Lee Townsend (Fused) at Reading Tween
Other Good Stuff:

Jane Yolen is this week's Fairytale Reflections guest at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

The writers over at the Enchanted Inkpot ask us to ponder "What's So Different About Children's Fantasy?"

Still more good stuff, though not mg sff:

At the Brown Bookself, there's the announcement of the 24 authors and 4 illustrators to be spotlighted in the 4th 28 Days Later initiative, "a month-long celebration of veteran and emerging children’s authors of color."

Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves, will be the book discussed for the African-American Read-In, a discussion organized by Ari, Edi, and Doret -stay tuned for the February date (I have been meaning to read Bleeding Violet for ags, so this makes me happy).

And finally, this week's random thing, which raises the bar something fierce for parents who are sff fans.

A personal TARDIS, made of cardboard (read more at io9).

My own cardboard skills clearly don't cut it (pun intended).

one last thing: I'm giveway two YA arcs (Sean Griswold's Head, by Lindsey Leavitt (March 1), and Jenna and Jonah's Fauxmance, by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin (Feb 1), both from Bloomsbury), so leave a comment on the post where I talked about it first by midnight EST tonight if you'd like them!


Bloggiesta--challenges (including advice I can give!) and a YA Giveaway!

I'm taking part, a tad sporadically, in Bloggiesta this weekend--tidying up a few things, organizing a few things, and (I hope) writing lots of reviews and organizing my tbr pile.

I also will be dipping into the challenges (which come with Prizes!!!), and I'll be using this post as a catch-all for every one I do.

The first, from My Friend Amy, challenges us to think about our Blogging Goals. I love Amy's own goal: "to keep trying to write the blog I want to read." And I think that the most faithful readers of my blog are people like me who like reading the same sort of books I like, and so one of my goals for the coming year is to write more about the books I love, and to try to avoid cliches, and to try to have more fun with it all.

I will also be trying to have my Timeslip Tuesday books read before Tuesday morning (and an immaculate house ha ha).

The second, hosted by Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books, challenges us to Help Others. I love helping others, and will look for opportunities to do so as I read other people's Bloggiesta posts. And anyone who thinks I might be able to give them advice is welcome to contact me....I can, for instance, talk for hours on the subject of "How Bloggers Who Can't Spell Can Overcome the Embarressement (sp?) Of Bad (really really bad) Proofreading." And I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to every author whose name or character name I've misspelled, especially Laura Resau and A.C.E. Bauer.

The next challenge (I had to skip the one that implied organizational aptitude) is about buttons and banners, hosted by SMS Book Reviews. Do I need a button/banner for my middle grade sff roundups???? What should it look like????

Here's the giveaway part:

As part of blog related housekeeping, I went through the ARCs I have on hand, and there are forthcoming books that I'd like to pass on to readers who will enjoy them more than me:

Sean Griswold's Head, by Lindsey Leavitt (March 1), and Jenna and Jonah's Fauxmance, by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin (Feb 1), both from Bloomsbury.

Leave a comment to let me know if you'd like these by midnight EST on Sunday. THE RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR SPOKE, AND THE WINNER IS LAUREN!

Or, even if you don't want the books, feel free to leave me a comment telling me how to make my blog a brighter, better place...

The Old Country, by Mordicai Gerstein

I am fascinated by shape shifter books--not so much the paranormal variety seen in so many contemporary YA books, but the quieter kind of shape shifting, the sort that has a magical, fairy tale quality to it. The Old Country, by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook Press, 2005, middle grade, 144 pages), has this fairy tale quality in spades (although I think it is perhaps more fable than fairy tale, because there is a Moral). It tells of a girl who stares too long into the eyes of a fox, in country long ago and far away.

"In the Old Country, every winter was a hundred years and every spring a miracle; in the Old Country, the water was like music and the music was like water. It's where all the fairy tales come from, where there was magic and there was war. It's where I was a little girl, and where I was a fox" (pp 2-3).

When the fox and Gisella meet each other's eyes, the fox steals the girl's human form from her. Gisella, lonely and bereft in her new shape, must learn to hunt; the fox hopes to learn to make music. But war comes soon after the forced exchange...and the fox girl disappears along with Gisella's family, who have become refugees displaced by the cruelty of the senseless violence. To get her human self back, Gisella must find the fox...and so, in the company of a cat, a chicken, a bear and a fairy (of the small winged variety) she sets off on her four fox feet along a path that takes her to the court of the king.

So far so good on the plot front--a company of magical animals, performing as a circus act to travel through a war torn country is fine with me (the fairy doesn't do much, and is unobtrusive). But then it gets a bit odd.

Once in the king's court, where they find Gisella's people imprisoned behind barbed wire, her brother blinded by the war, and the fox girl unable to play music (turns out foxes aren't great at music) things get strange. The magical folk of the world (kin of Gisella's fairy) are in trouble--the war has destroyed their place on earth. So all the birds and beasts and magical creatures bring the rival rulers to trial, the rulers are found guilty, and anarchy (with the hope of stability to come) ensues.

I wasn't convinced by the story at this point, and my doubts about the book as a whole were intensified by the following issues I had.

My Issues:

--Popping up within this somewhat strange story are elements of magic that are almost random, such as a chicken that lays golden eggs, and the magical healing of Gisella's brother's blinded eyes (involving dew from a corpse).

--The level of violence and horror is great, but almost farcical at times, and the moral (war is bad) is both obvious and intrusive.

--The story is being told by an old woman to a young child, in somewhat formal language, and perhaps because of this I felt a certain distance between myself and the characters. I was interested, but not deeply vested emotionally.

--I don't think the fairies added anything useful to the mix.

You might conclude from this that I didn't like the book...but it was fascinating, and I read it in almost a single sitting. Gisella the fox is a beautiful creation, poised at a tipping point between the world of animals, the world of magic, and the unhappy human condition. I might not have loved this one, but not only did I find it thought-provoking, I even found it, at times, full of the Magical Storieness that is that is the main reason I read fantasy--the sense of wonder that the words of a skilled writer can bring into the reader's suburban living room.

Although I think that basically what my reaction boils down to is that I like shape-shifting foxes, but prefer them unaccompanied by Fairies and Morals.

Here's a thoughtful (positive) review at Collected Miscellany, that discusses two opposing reviews (negative from SLJ and positive from PW).

Anyone else read this one?


Between the Forest and the Hills, by Ann Lawrence

Oh, the very great pleasure of discovering the works of an author who wrote books that just perfectly matching one's reading taste! Since I was nine or so, I have loved Ann Lawrence's medieval fantasy Tom Ass, and now I am savoring the other books she wrote, after coming to the belated realization that they existed! The latest of her books to utterly delight me is Between the Forest and the Hills (1977, middle grade, republished in 1999 by Bethlehem Books, and still available).

Imagine, if you will, the book that would result if Angela Thirkell or D.E. Stevenson collaborated with Rosemary Sutcliff to write a book about early Dark Age Britain for children, and they decided to throw in a touch of fantasy. The result would be this book.

The Romans built a fort at Iscium, in eastern Britain, for no obvious reason, but gradually over the years people came, and built houses, and eventually a church, and there it was, a small city. When the Roman empire crumbled, the soldiers remained, training the next generations. Astragolus, the old commander, and his old friend and verbal-sparring partner, Father Malleus, between them provide the civic backbone to keep things going. But when a young Isciumite named Falx finds a lost Saxon girl in the forest outside the town, and brings her home with him, it seems the days of Iscium might be numbered--the Saxons, after all, have a habit of sacking towns.

An enigmatic one-eyed traveller, two talking ravens, and the pluck and resourcefulness of the townsfolk conspire to bring peace between the two peoples is utterly magical (it involves a rousing rendition of the one and only Hallelujah chorus) and completely delightful. The fantasy element is understated, and ambiguous--the question of Odin or angel is left unanswered--yet it is has sufficient weight to make the story literally magical. Lawrence makes no particular effort to strive for Authenticity, yet she doesn't offend my historical sensibilities, and though her characters would be at home in a mid-20th century story of English village life, she creates a Dark Age Britain that rings true to me.

I love her characters, her world-building, her writing, and her message of hope that even in dark times, people can come together (with a bit of divine intervention) and keep the light of civilization burning.

(I could, however, have done without all the parts of the body puns used for names. Fortunately, being dense that way, I didn't pick up on it till about half way through).

Ann Lawrence wrote 15 books, and I hope to find them all, although most are out of print, and I couldn't, just now, find a list of them to link to (any help appreciated). So far I've reviewed Tom Ass and The Good Little Devil.


All Clear, by Connie Willis, for this Wednesday's Timeslip Tuesday

I started reading All Clear, by Connie Willis (2010) Monday morning...but it's a long book, and I didn't finish till Tuesday night, too late to make my Tuesday Timeslip deadline....so here it is today!

All Clear is the second half of a time travel saga that began with Blackout (my review), and the two need to be read back to back. It picks up right where the first book ended (anyone who hasn't read Blackout will be completely lost), with three historians from the 2060s stranded in World War II London. Polly, Eileen, and Mike are growing increasingly desperate--their paths back to the future are blocked, and no-one seems to be coming back in time to save them. For all three, every day in the past brings dangers from the blitz, and the worry that they will somehow do something that will change the course of history. But for Polly in particular, there is a greater danger. She had already gone back in time to observe the celebrations of VE day...and to be there again will kill her.

Much of the story involves the desperate circumstance of London in the blitz, a frenetic background for the three historians efforts to find a way home. Interspersed are flashes from Polly's future trip a few years after the blitz, along with the adventures of of a young man named Ernest, up in Scotland in 1944, trying to fool the Nazis into thinking the allied invasion of France will take place anywhere but Normandy. It's a busy, busy series of events and excitements, as bombs fall, buildings burn, and lives are saved, and lost. Small acts of courage abound, as do desperate acts of bravery, and there was almost too much Happening, in a fates conspiring against the central characters way, for me to enjoy large sections of the story.

Yet through all this chaos I had faith (having read all her other books) that Willis knew exactly what she was doing, and I was rewarded. As the book races towards its conclusion, the emotional intensity keeps ratcheting upward...and it became utterly un-put-downable and profoundly moving. The implications of time travel, the ramifications of the actions of ordinary people in horrible situations, and the question of what constitutes heroism all come together at the end to make this much, much more than an interesting look at World War II (although it is that).

Although this didn't, for me, have quite the devastating emotional punch those of Willis' novels that effected me most profoundly (Lincoln's Dreams and Passage), because I do think that some of the frenetic action could have been pruned somewhat (1,168 pages, the combined total of the two books, is rather a lot), it is still an incredibly powerful story, masterfully told.

Here's a review of both books at The Children's War.


New releases of sci fi and fantasy for kids and teens-the second half of January 2011 edition

Here are the new releases of sci fi/fantasy for kids and teenagers from the second half of January; I'm not even going to try to put pictures in today because it is one of those days when the computer is not being Good. My info. comes from Teens Read Too; the blurbs come from Amazon, Goodreads, or, in one case, the book's web page, and any oddness of formatting comes courtesy of Blogger.

And just in case anyone should, by any dim chance, be wondering if there will be a Timeslip Tuesday post--Timeslip Tuesday will fall on a Wednesday this week, because I haven't finished the book yet (All Clear, by Connie Willis).

Middle Grade:

ANIMAL CRACKERS by Scott Christian Sava
"From the creators of Gary the Pirate comes the incredible tale of Animal Crackers. When 10 year old Owen and his little sister Zoe go to the Zoo with their Uncle Doug, they're looking for excitement and laughs. Little did they know that they would be drawn into an adventure where Magic Animal Crackers give them the power to turn into any animal they want! Suddenly the Ringmaster of the circus and all of his minions, Petunia the bearded lady, Stabby the tiniest ninja, and even the acrobatic group of the Flying Zuccinis, all want to take the children away and use them for their own profit. But with the help of a bunch of Circus clowns and a kindly old gypsy woman, Owen uses the magical box of animal crackers to turn into Lions, Tigers, and even Bears (...oh my!) to defeat the evil Ringmaster and rescue the stolen animals from captivity."

GOBLIN AT THE ZOO by Victor Kelleher
"When Gibblewort wakes up at the zoo, he thinks he's in deepest, darkest Africa. So he squeezes his way into a nice, safe cage—only to find he's become the object of affection for a female chimpanzee. Every time Gibblewort manages to escape her clutches, he finds himself being thrown, kicked, tossed, shaken, and even electrocuted back into the chimps' enclosure . . . and Daisy's long hairy arms. How is everyone's favorite nasty little goblin going to get himself out of this one?"

"Gibblewort the goblin is filled with joy when he crawls out of his postbag to find damp earth, falling rain, and the sound of the wind through the trees. He's made it home to Ireland at last. Except it's not Ireland, it's the Australian Rainforest, and Gibblewort soon finds himself being stung, squeezed, sucked, nipped, and pecked by all sorts of strange and unusual creatures."

"Kira and her dusk dragon, Longfang, must find the third orb to save the Oracle, leader of all dragonkind. Following a path beset with dangers and traps, the four dragon riders must reach the twilight world of the Castle of Shadows. Kira knows enough to be anxious. What twisted sacrifice will this orb demand?"

"Classic Indian folk tale brought to life with an exciting new story and wonderful illustrations."

"Cast out of the city of Agora where they were left at the end of The Midnight Charter, Mark and Lily must now survive in a dense forest. The strange villages, terrifying nightmares, and powerful witches they find there are even more frightening than Agora with all its slums and secrets. In an adventure that expands with every turn of the page, David Whitley delivers a novel as thrilling and horrifying as his characters' darkest dreams."

"Poppy is just an ordinary girl. In fact, the only slightly strange thing about her is that she's great at squeezing into small spaces. So it's a pretty big shock when Poppy finds out that she's a genie! Suddenly she has to get used to wearing weird clothes and high ponytails, riding magic carpets and granting wishes. At least squeezing into a tiny genie bottle is one thing that comes naturally..."

THE RENDERING by Joel Naftali "Thirteen-year-old Doug narrates in a series of blog posts (many interrupted by either his best friend, smart girl Jamie, or the artificial intelligence who mothers him, the avatar) how he came to temporarily save the world and to be branded a terrorist and a murderer. He was innocently playing video games in the employee lounge of the biotechnology center where his aunt was a director when an insane genius ex-employee broke in, stole the equipment to digitize anyone and make his own biodroid army, killed Doug's aunt, and blew up the center (and soon the nearby town). Doug managed to escape, accidentally creating three super-powered creatures, and gaining a electronics-destroying superpower of his own with which to fight the evil Dr. Roach."

SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS by Ellen Booraem "Thirteen-year-old Mellie Turpin once declared to her kindergarten class that she had a fairy living in her bedroom. But before she could bring him in for show-and-tell, he disappeared. Years later, she is still trying to live it down, taunted mercilessly by classmates who call her “Fairy Fat.”

Her imagination got her into this. She’s determined to keep it turned off.

When her parents inherit an inn and the family moves to a new town, Mellie sees a chance to finally leave all that fairy nonsense behind. Little does she know that the inn is overrun with...you guessed it. Oh brother.

There's no such thing as fairies, she keeps telling herself. And if there were, they wouldn’t hurt a fly.



BLESSED by Cynthia Leitich Smith "Quincie P. Morris, teen restaurateuse and neophyte vampire, is in the fight of her life -- or undeath. Even as she adjusts to her new appetites, she must clear her best friend and true love, the hybrid werewolf Kieren, of murder charges; thwart the apocalyptic ambitions of Bradley Sanguini, the seductive vampire-chef who "blessed" her; and keep her dead parents’ restaurant up and running. She hires a more homespun chef and adds the preternaturally beautiful Zachary to her wait staff. But with hundreds of new vampires on the rise and Bradley off assuming the powers of Dracula Prime, Zachary soon reveals his true nature -- and a flaming sword -- and they hit the road to staunch the bloodshed before it’s too late. Even if they save the world, will there be time left to salvage Quincie’s soul?"

THE CHARMED RETURN: THE FAERIE PATH by Frewin Jones "By the light of the pure eclipse, two worlds will be as one . . .

She was once a princess of Faerie, the seventh daughter of King Oberon. But sixteen-year-old Anita Palmer has no memory of the Faerie Realm; her true Faerie princess identity; her love, Edric; or her quest to save Faerie from a deadly plague that ravaged it. With the help of an unexpected ally, Anita must figure out a way to reawaken Tania, her Faerie self—but how?

Now Anita—or is she Tania?—doesn't know who, or what, to trust, including her own memories. With no time to spare, Anita must act. A thrilling final battle is soon to be waged that will affect not only her destiny but the fate of both Faerie and the Mortal World. Loyalties will be tested, true love questioned, and nothing is what it seems"

DARK BEGINNINGS: THE PHANTOM DIARIES BEGINNINGS by Kailin Gow "Love in Paris During the Time of Napoleon's Reign... Veronique, arrives in Paris to be groomed into a fashionable noble lady. As soon as she meets the aristocratic Philippe Aragon and his darkly attractive cousin Martin Aragon, her life is changed. Romance, magic, intrigue, and action follows in this lush historical paranormal romance between the Aragons and the one woman who would be the greatest influence on Eric, known as the Phantom in Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. A stand alone novel, Dark Beginnings, is also a prequel to The Phantom Diaries."

DARK GODDESS: DEVIL'S KISS by Sarwat Chadda "New enemies, new romance, and new horrors. Billi's back, and it seems like the Unholy just can't take a hint. Still reeling from the death of her best friend, Kay, Billi's thrust back into action when the Templars are called to investigate werewolf activity. And these werewolves are like nothing Bilil's seen before.

They call themselves the Polenitsy - Man Killers. The ancient warrior women of Eastern Europe, supposedly wiped out centuries ago. But now they're out of hiding and on the hunt for a Spring Child -- an Oracle powerful enough to blow the volcano at Yellowstone -- precipitating a Fimbulwinter that will wipe out humankind for good.

The Templars follow the stolen Spring Child to Russia, and the only people there who can help are the Bogatyrs, a group of knights who may have gone to the dark side. To reclaim the Spring Child and save the world, Billi needs to earn the trust of Ivan Romanov, an arrogant young Bogatyr whose suspicious of people in general, and of Billi in particular."

DROUGHT by Pam Bachorz "Ruby dreams of escaping the Congregation. Escape from slaver Darwin West and his cruel Overseers. Escape from struggling to gather the life-prolonging Water that keeps the Congregants alive--and Darwin rich. Escape from her certain, dreary existence, living as if it's still the early 1800s, when the Congregation was first enslaved. But if Ruby leaves, the Congregation will die without the secret ingredient to the Water: her blood. So she stays, and prays to their savior Otto, who first gave Water to the Congregants... and fathered Ruby before he vanished.

When the Congregants discover Ruby's forbidden romance with an Overseer, they beat Ford to stop her from running away with him. Ruby steals their store of Water to save Ford's life and is banished. Ruby has everything she's dreamed of: a modern life with Ford. But the modern world isn't what she thought it would be, and Ruby can't forsake the Congregation. Love and loyalty push Ruby to return and fight for her family's freedom...at a terrible price."

THE FALSE PRINCESS by Eilis O'Neal "Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia's led a privileged life at court. But everything changes when it's revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection. Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she's ever known.

Sinda is sent to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt who is a dyer in a distant village. She is a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, and Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks. But when Sinda discovers that magic runs through her veins - long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control - she realizes that she can never learn to be a simple village girl.

Returning to Vivaskari for answers, Sinda finds her purpose as a wizard scribe, rediscovers the boy who saw her all along, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor's history, forever."

HERE LIES BRIDGET by Paige Harbison
"Bridget Duke is the uncontested ruler of her school. The meanest girl with the biggest secret insecurities. And when new girl Anna Judge arrives, things start to fall apart for Bridget: friends don't worship as attentively, teachers don't fall for her wide-eyed "who me?" look, expulsion looms ahead and the one boy she's always loved—Liam Ward—can barely even look at her anymore.

When a desperate Bridget drives too fast and crashes her car, she ends up in limbo, facing everyone she's wronged and walking a few uncomfortable miles in their shoes. Now she has only one chance to make a last impression. Though she might end up dead, she has one last shot at redemption and the chance to right the wrongs she's inflicted on the people who mean the most to her.

And Bridget's about to learn that, sometimes, saying you're sorry just isn't enough…."

THE IRON QUEEN: THE IRON FEY by Julie Kagawa "My name is Meghan Chase.

I thought it was over. That my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices of those I loved, was behind me. But a storm is approaching, an army of Iron fey that will drag me back, kicking and screaming. Drag me away from the banished prince who's sworn to stand by my side. Drag me into the core of conflict so powerful, I'm not sure anyone can survive it.

This time, there will be no turning back."

MYSTIFY: A MYSTYX NOVEL by Artist Arthur "Sasha Carrington has grown up feeling like an outsider, and her parents are too concerned with scaling the Lincoln, Connecticut, social ladder to even notice her. They'd be really horrified to know about the supernatural abilities Sasha and her friends Krystal and Jake possess. But as part of the Mystyx, Sasha has found her place.

Now her parents have suddenly taken an interest in everything she does, and their timing couldn't be worse. Sasha's father wants her to become BFFs with snooty Alyssa Turner, who hates Krystal for stealing her boyfriend. Then there's Antoine Watson, the boy Sasha has liked forever, the boy her parents would never approve of. But with the dark side getting more dangerous by the day, and the Mystyx's own powers growing in unexpected ways, Sasha is facing choices that could affect her friends, her love life—and even her destiny…."

PARADISE LOST by Steven L. Layne "The highly anticipated sequel to This Side of Paradise-which Kirkus heralds as an "an entertaining, suspenseful thriller"-Paradise Lost delivers the same chilling scenarios and head-scratching secrets that fans expect from author Steven L. Layne. After a summer break, former wallflower Chase Maxfield returns to school with a new found confidence to match his sudden, yet classic, good looks. But Jack Barrett suspects something sinister is behind Chase's unexpected transformation, and his skepticism only grows as other eerie events occur. When Jack's grandmother is mysteriously poisoned, his brother disappears, and his girlfriend soon develops an interest in someone else, Jack becomes even more determined to discover the truth. Packed with action and off-the-wall incidents, this fast-paced novel invites readers on an adventure that builds momentum until the very last page."

RED RIDING HOOD by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright "The body of a young girl is discovered in a field of wheat. Her flesh mutilated by telltale claw marks. The Wolf has broken the peace.

When Valerie learns that her sister has been killed by the legendary creature, she finds herself at the center of a dark mystery, one that has plagued her village for generations. It is revealed that the werewolf lives among them, and everyone in the village immediately becomes a suspect. Could her secret love Peter be behind the attacks on her town? Is it her betrothed, Henry? Or someone even closer to her?

As the men in the village hunt for the beast, Valerie turns to her grandmother for help. She gives Valerie a handmade red riding cloak, and guides her through the web of lies and deception that has held her town together for so long. Will Valerie discover the werewolf's identity before the town is ripped apart?

This is a dangerous new vision of a classic fairy tale, the happy ending could be hard to find."

SUBJECT SEVEN by James A. Moore "Years ago, scientists began developing the ultimate military weapon: deadly sleeper assassins housed within the bodies of teenagers. Now, Subject Seven, the dangerous alter-ego living inside a 16-year-old boy, has escaped the lab and is on a mission. His objective? To seek out others like him and build an army capable of destroying their creators.

Hunter, Cody, Gene, Tina, and Kylie: five teenagers leading typical lives, until the day they each receive a call from a mysterious strangerÑand learn that their destinies are intertwined. Subject Seven holds the key that connects them all. And a vicious, bloody battle for their lives is just beginning."

THROAT by R.A. Nelson "R. A. Nelson takes us on a supernatural thrill ride, a modern-day vampire story set on a NASA base and filled with space-and-science intrigue. Seventeen-year-old Emma feels cursed by her epilepsy—until the lost night. She's shocked to wake up in the hospital one morning, weak from blood loss. When her memories begin to return, she pieces together that it was a man—a monster—who attacked her: a vampire named Wirtz. And it was her very condition that saved her: a grand mal seizure interrupted Wirtz and left Emma with all the amazing powers of a vampire—heightened senses, rapid speed—but no need to drink blood. Is Emma now a half-vampire girl? One thing soon becomes clear: the vampire Wirtz is fierce and merciless, feared even by his own kind, and won't leave a job undone."

VESPER: A DEVIANTS NOVEL by Jeff Sampson "Emily Webb is a geek. And she’s happy that way. Content hiding under hoodies and curling up to watch old horror flicks, she’s never been the kind of girl who sneaks out for midnight parties. And she’s definitely not the kind of girl who starts fights or flirts with other girls’ boyfriends. Until one night Emily finds herself doing exactly that . . . the same night one of her classmates—also named Emily—is found mysteriously murdered.

The thing is, Emily doesn’t know why she’s doing any of this. By day, she’s the same old boring Emily, but by night, she turns into a thrill seeker. With every nightfall, Emily gets wilder until it’s no longer just her personality that changes. Her body can do things it never could before: Emily is now strong, fast, and utterly fearless. And soon Emily realizes that she’s not just coming out of her shell . . . there’s something much bigger going on. Is she bewitched by the soul of the other, murdered Emily? Or is Emily Webb becoming something else entirely— something not human?

As Emily hunts for answers, she finds out that she’s not the only one this is happening to—some of her classmates are changing as well. Who is turning these teens into monsters—and how many people will they kill to get what they want?"

WARRIOR: DRAGONS OF STARLIGHT by Bryan Davis "The Dragon Prince Has Hatched In book two of the Dragons of Starlight series, the stakes are raised when the foretold prince is crowned. While Koren and Jason race to the Northlands of Starlight to find the one person who can help them free the human slaves, Elyssa and Wallace strive to convince the captives that freedom is possible. Soon, all four discover that the secrets of Starlight extend much further than they had imagined. Meanwhile, Randall and Tybalt have returned to Major Four and struggle against the dragon Magnar, who has arrived to manipulate the governor. No one knows how the prophecy will be fulfilled, but one thing is clear: more than ever, the survival of the dragons depends on humankind, and they will do anything to prevent the slaves from escaping."


The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2003, Roaring Book Press, middle grade, 265 pages) is the latest addition to my collection of multiethnic middle grade fantasy and science fiction books. It's a fantasy set in India, that tells of a boy named Anand, who must restore a Magical Object (a mystical conch shell) to its proper place in a high and hidden valley where a community of wise men live in secret. Anand has been chosen to go on this journey by one of the wisest of this brotherhood--an old man with mystical powers. The old man and the boy, along with a street girl named Nisha (feisty and spirited) who insisted on intruding herself into the quest, set off for the high mountains, with Anand carrying the Conch Shell, whose magic he has been told is too dangerous for him to try to use himself.

But there is a bad, power-hungry enemy trying to get his own hands on the conch...an evil man with magical powers who will do anything to thwart Anand and his companions. When their mentor exhausts all his strength fending off an attack from this enemy, the two children are left on their own, to battle their way to their final destination...But as Anand travelled with the Conch Shell, it began to speak to him, and though it cannot guide him directly, it sets him on the path toward wisdom...(There's a much more detailed plot summary on Wikipedia, if you are curious).

So, it's not the most Original of plots. And aspects of it are a bit hard to swallow (a magical, sentient conch shell???), and I really didn't think the encounter with the bad Yeti tribe added much (that being said, I don't think Yetis in general ever add anything, the only exception being the one in Monsters Inc. I never liked Tintin in Tibet, for instance). However, there is a nice mongoose. I think mongooses add value every time. And I think I am too old and jaded and cynical to deal well with hidden valleys where wise brotherhoods live.

On the positive side, The Conch Bearer is smoothly written and fast-paced, and the two kids are interesting characters presented with interesting dilemmas, not just of the Daring Adventure sort, but the sort that require them to make ethical and moral decisions. The Indian setting of the story by default made book interesting to me, and Divakuruni does a fine job making its places and people (and its tasty food) come alive.

The net result is a book that will broaden the imaginative horizons of fantasy reading kids while staying within the confines of a familiar story-line. But I myself didn't find anything quite exciting enough here to make me want to recommend this one enthusiastically to grown-up readers of mg fantasy...

(And especially I wouldn't recommend the original hardcover, shown at right, because what the Heck were they thinking to stick a pair of blue eyes on it??????? It is also an unpleasing image in general; the more I stare at it, the more the mountains are looking like hair, with a green sweat band over the white kid's forehead. I wonder if this is what they meant to happen. The paperback cover is a little odd too, but at least conveys the fact that this book takes place in India).

That being said, I have read good things about the sequel, The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming...and so I shall seek that one out. I hope there is more Nisha in it, livening up the complacent world of the Brotherhood!


This Sunday's round-up of middle grade sci fi/fantasy posts from around the blogs

A rather short list today...I haven't had time to do much combing. So do let me know if there are posts I missed!!!!

The Reviews:

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, at Beyond Books

King of Ithaka, by Tracy Barrett, at Charlotte's Library

The Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner, at Charlotte's Library

Reckless, by Cornelia Funke, at Beyond Books

Scumble, by Ingrid Law, at Jean Little Library

The Search for WondLa, by Tony DiTerlizzi, at The Picnic Basket

Seven Sorcerers, by Caro King, at Beyond Books

The Time Keeper's Moon, by Joni Sensel, at Middle Grade Ninja (and Sensel is also interviewed by Middle Grade Ninja)

At Bookworming in the 21st Cenury, there's a post with short reviews of The Fairytale Detectives, by Michael Buckley, The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan, The Tale of Emily Windsnap, by Liz Kessler, and Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins

Other Good Stuff:

Grace Lin has a fascinating post at the Enchanted Inkpot on using symbols when writing multicultural fantasy.

This week's Fairytale Reflections guest at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles is Leslie Wilson.

This year's Amelia Bloomer List is out, with some fine sff (the blurbs are from the list):

Kate Coombs.
The Runaway Dragon. 2009. Princess Meg’s dragon escapes from the palace grounds. Meg and her scrappy band of friends set out to find the dragon and encounter many adventures along the way.

Eleanor Davis. The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook. 2009. When the Secret Science Alliance loses its notebook to a rival inventor, the team of science wiz kids springs into action to retrieve their notebook and protect a treasure.

Kathryn Lasky. Hawksmaid: The Untold Story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. 2010. Maid Marian uses her unusual gift of communication with her falcons to conspire with Robin Hood and their band of friends to escape her captors and rescue a ransomed king.

Jewell Parker Rhodes. Ninth Ward. 2010. When Hurricane Katrina breaks New Orleans’ levees, 12-year old Lanesha’s dreams of becoming an engineer and a builder of bridges anchor her determination to survive the flood and inspire her to rescue others as well.

Gail Simone. Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian. Illus. by Bernard Chang, Aaron Lopresti, and Matt Ryan. 2009. Wonder Woman battles the supervillain Genocide to reclaim her lasso and her power.

Jane Yolen. Foiled. Illus. by Mike Cavallaro. 2010. Ace fencer Aliera bravely takes up the mantel of the world’s defender.

And the 2011 Waterstone's Childrens Book Prize shortlist has also been announced:

Janice Hardy, The Pain Merchants (The Shifter in the US)

Candy Gourlay, Tall Story

Anna Kempe, et al. Fantastic Frankie and the Brian-drain Machine

Jobling, Curtis, Rise of the Wolf

Stead, Rebecca, When You Reach Me

Mayhew, John, Mortlock

(the blurbs for these can be found via the link above)

And finally, you can watch A Wrinkle in Time in 90 Seconds, from James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish). Along with the New York Public Library, Kennedy has created the 90-Second Newbery Video Contest!


King of Ithaka, by Tracy Barrett

King of Ithaka, by Tracy Barrett (Henry Holt, 2010, mg/ya, 261 pages)

On the small island of Ithaka, young Telemachos waits--for his beard to show up, for his father, Odyseus, to come home from Troy. There's nothing particularly urgent in his waiting (and there's nothing about his character that screams Hero), until it becomes clear that there are some on Ithaka who think that enough is enough, and that it is time for Telemachos' mother to accept a new husband, and for the little island kingdom to accept a new ruler.

So Telemachos, his best friend (a centaur, even thought they don't do so well in boats), and a stowaway (a plucky girl hoping to find a place in the world outside of Ithaka), head off to the mainland to seek news of Odysseus. It is a journey that broadens Telemachos' horizon, almost killing him in the process, as he travels to the court of Nestor at Pylos, and then on to Sparta, where bitter old Menelaus lives with his recaptured wife, Helen. It is a journey that Athena herself is watching closely--it is she who is responsible for pushing Telemachos into action. And when he comes home to Ithaka, Telemochos meets the greatest challenge of all--his father.

My gold standard for historical fiction about Bronze Age Greece is Mary Renault's retelling of the story of Theseus (The King Must Die), and it's a pretty darn high standard. Barrett manages to tell an engrossing story, but she never quite achieves Renault's extraordinarily rich recreation of an ancient world where the gods were real--that was a book that rocked my world, this was a book I found interesting, one that passed the time pleasantly without (except for toward the end) ever pulling me in emotionally. But it's not a fair comparison anyway, because, quite frankly, Telemachos' quest is rather small beans on the scale of epic mythological quests. He's more a footnote to a larger story. And unlike The King Must Die, The King of Ithaka is a book for younger readers--it's perfectly appropriate for seventh and eighth graders.

And as such, The King of Ithaka is, I think, an most excellent book to give a specific sort of fan of the Percy Jackson series. Not the sort who's looking for read-alikes, because, although there's a centaur and some monsters and some danger in this one, it is much more measured in its pacing, and less crammed with Adventure on Every Page. Rather, I'd give this one to the reader that wants more of the backstory, the reader whose interest in Greek mythology has been well and truly piqued (and that fact that mythological creatures are alive and well, and take an active role in the story, should add to its appeal).

That reader should, like me, enjoy Telemachos's journey across Greece, a journey that takes him from extremely naive (almost unlikable) boy to a worthy young man, tested and found true-hearted.

Here's another review at Manga Maniac Cafe.


The Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner

The Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner (Delacorte 2010 mg 312 pp)

In the city of Jewel, the children are Safe. There is no sickness or danger that can harm them. They are chained to their beds at night (so as not to be kidnapped) and chained to their parents whenever they venture outside (so they won't get lost or do anything dangerous), and the Blessed Guardians of the city work to keep all things under control.

But sometimes, even when they are as safe as can be, it's not possible to keep every child under control. When young Goldie gets the chance to be free of her chains years before she expected it, she escapes from the Guardians, and desperately tries to find somewhere to hide in the city. What she finds is a place she hadn't known existed--the Museum of Thieves--and there she finds her true home.

The Museum of Thieves is no ordinary museum. It holds within its deceptive walls all those things that are deemed unsafe--the wars, the plagues, the strange creatures (including my favorite character, Broo the last Brizzlehound). But to keep the museum from imploding from the force of all it contains, it must be kept calmed and contained. Only those with tricksy minds (and dubious talents, like lurking and pickpocketing) are suited for this work--and what they have stole is all that the city of Jewel and its Blessed Guardians have rejected.

As one of the Museum Keepers puts it:

"....there are some things, child, that you should steal. That you must steal, if you have enough love and courage in your heart. You must snatch freedom from the hands of the tyrant. You must spirit away innocent lives before they are destroyed. You must hide secret and sacred places." (page 123)

Goldie is right at home here, and joins the museum's four keepers (one of whom, a boy her own age named Toadspit, isn't very glad to have her on board). But the Blessed Guardians are looking for her. When they realize that the Museum is not yet part of their Safe City, they try to bring it under their control--and its walls begin to weaken. All the danger it holds might be released in a flood of violence, unless the Guardians can be foiled.

And Goldie and Toadspit are right there, doing some very nice foiling!

I enjoyed this one lots, I liked the world building, and the concept of the museum in particular. Not only did I find it a fast, fun, read, but I appreciated the thought-provoking Message that freedom should not be surrendered for safety (not a subtle message, but a worthy one). Sometimes I am bothered by Messages in books, but in this case, the Museum that carried the message enchanted me sufficiently that I was not Bothered.

This first book in the series comes to a nice end, and is a complete story in and of itself, but I am looking forward to the sequel, City of Lies (September 2011) lots!

Here are some other reviews at Book Aunt, I'd Rather Be Reading, and TheHappyNappyBookseller

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