A desperate time in which I teach my child the art of the skimming, and explain why I won't be posting till Sunday afternoon

The fifth-grade boys' book club meets at the library in 44 minutes. We have known for several weeks that the book discussed would be From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. We started reading it yesterday, and have 110 pages to go. He is downstairs, watching Mythbusters (season 7 just came out on disc, and it arrived yesterday....making both boys very happy). I am here at the computer (obviously), blogging, not reading. (It is rather important, socially, that we go to the book club tonight--other boys are there, for him to at least recognize next year when he starts the local middle school).

edited to add: home from the library; he enjoyed the book club lots, and enjoyed meeting the other kids. Phew. And he liked the book, which is a nice bonus.

This situation is typical of my life. My college career was a wild, careening roller coaster of procrastination, and indeed, my work life is not dissimilar. I am giving THREE talks on Saturday....and only two are what one might, charitably, call finished. Sigh. (Here's what I'm talking about--1. the possibility of archaeological sites surviving on the drowned lands under the ocean, flooded when the glacier melted at the end of the last ice age 2. The archaeological considerations that go into wind turbine planning 3. Revolutionary War shipwrecks. All things I know well enough to natter on about for ages, but one does want one's power points to be pretty...)

So I'm sure I can read From the Mixed-Up Files to my dear child in half an hour...give or take. But I don't think I will have time to write any review-ish things, or even read, till my conference is over....

And don't look for this Sunday's middle-grade sci fi/fantasy roundup till latish on Sunday afternoon.


Waiting on Wednesday-- Island's End, by Padma Venkatraman

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, where bloggers share the books they are looking forward too. Today I'm waiting for Island's End, by Padma Venkatraman, which comes out August 4 -- it has lots of things I like in a book--disaster, cultures in contact/conflict, and a brave girl.

From Amazon:

"From the acclaimed author of Climbing the Stairs comes a fascinating story set on a remote island untouched by time. Uido is ecstatic about becoming her tribe's spiritual leader, but her new position brings her older brother's jealousy and her best friend's mistrust. And looming above these troubles are the recent visits of strangers from the mainland who have little regard for nature or the spirits, and tempt the tribe members with gifts, making them curious about modern life. When Uido's little brother falls deathly ill, she must cross the ocean and seek their help. Having now seen so many new things, will Uido have the strength to believe in herself and the old ways? And will her people trust her to lead them to safety when a catastrophic tsunami threatens? Uido must overcome everyone's doubts, including her own, if she is to keep her people safe and preserve the spirituality that has defined them.

Drawing on firsthand experience from her travels to the Andaman Islands, Padma Venkatraman was inspired to write this story after meeting natives who survived the 2004 tsunami and have been able to preserve their unique way of life. Uido's transformation from a young girl to tribal leader will touch both your heart and mind."


When the King Comes Home, by Caroline Stevermer, for Timeslip Tuesday

In my experience with time travel books, I've found very few set in fantasy worlds (ie, worlds, including alternate earths, in which magic works). I have only a handful in my list of Time Travel books (link above, down at the bottom). Today's Timeslip Tuesday book is such a book. When the King Comes Home, by Caroline Stevermer (Tor, 2000) is the only book I've read so far in which the time travel happens through necromancy.*

King Julian never came home from the war 200 years ago, but the people of Aravis kept hoping he might. When the king comes home, they said, wishes will be granted, and dreams come true. With their current king old and decrepit, with no clear heir, and rebellion begining to ferment in outlaying provinces, the need for the good king was clear...

For young Hail Rosamar, life has a more immediate focus. She is an apprentice to one of the great artists of the realm, come from the country to learn her trade in the big city. There she becomes obsessed with the artist Maspero, who designed King Julian's crown, and the walls of his city: a man who crafted King Julian's likeness so vividly that it is imprinted in Hail's mind.

Which is why she is able to recognize King Julian when she finds him trying to fish on the banks of a river outside the city.

The King and his great companion and protector have been brought forward in time by sinister magic, and it is not at all clear if their presence will make anyone's wishes come true. Except perhaps the wishes of those who are plotting to take power for themselves, using the return of good king for their own ends...

It's a lovely exploration of what happens when legends come back from their own time, a nice sub-variant of time travel that I'd be happy to see more of.**

Here's what I liked in particular:

I am awfully fond of books in which people learn crafty things. So although some (on Amazon) have criticized this book for the long pages in which Hail grinds pigment, etc., I liked that part lots. I find it appealing, as well, that Hail's interest in the visual arts continues throughout the book (sometimes so much so as to annoy the other characters),*** and indeed plays a key role in the defeat of the evil magician.

Once Hail meets the first victim of necromancy, the story swings into a much more exciting phase. The good guys (including Hail, who ended up embroigled in it all for various reasons, and a very appealing soldier named Ludovic, charged with keeping an eye on her) spend much time dashing around the countryside and doing court-intriguish things in their efforts to thwart the bad necromancer. Interspersed with the dashings and intriguings are sections of contemplative talk, in which Hail, for instance, gets to hear first hand what her favorite artist was really like. All very pleasant, page-turning reading.

I can't tell you what I didn't like, because it is a spoiler. But I am including a spoilery hint at the very end, because it made me not love the book. It is why I was, moreover, actively disgruntled with this book and wanted to shake Hail. Why I then questioned the shallow and frivolous nature of the expectations I bring to books. However, what to my mind was a sad failing in the book was seen as the just opposite by Maureen of By Singing Light, whose mention of the book brought it to my attention....

When the King Comes Home, by the way, is set in the same world as A College of Magics, but there's no real overlap.

*there the bit in A Wizard of Earthsea when Ged calls up the spirit of Elfarran, but that's all that comes to mind, and it's really a minor part of the story, and I wouldn't call it time travel. Are there other better examples?

**there must be more stories along these lines, but I can't think of them. Does King Arthur ever time travel?

***"Istavan looked grim. "She called him. Somehow. We must learn what she's done. Julian's tomb must be opened."

"It's not a tomb. It's an urn," I said. "Alabaster, of Viennese workmanship." They ignored me." (page 127)

Warning--spoilerish hing coming

Here is the spoilerish hint--

I really enjoy books that have a thread of zesty romance (understated is fine, but enough to give fizz). When I am presented with a very fine person (in this case, Ludovic) who seems to like the heroine more than a little, I tend to build up expectations...


By These Ten Bones, by Clare Dunkle

By These Ten Bones, by Clare Dunkle (Macmillan, first released in 2005, re-issued 2011, YA, 240 pages)

In Maddie's small town in the highlands of Scotland, hundreds of years ago, there is a shortage of men. Clan warfare has hit hard. When a young woodcarver comes to town, silent and mysterious, and incredibly talented, Maddie begins to fall in love for the first time...

But he has brought with him an evil shadow, a bloodthirsty being that seeks to kill on the night of the full moon. And Maddie's town is plunged into horror as it begins to hunt. To save the young man she loves from the nightmare in which he lives, and to save her town, Maddie must make a desperate choice....

This is a tremendously atmospheric story, in which the details of the mundane world are contrasted just beautifully with the fear and horror the creature brings. Likewise, the pagan superstitions of the townsfolk (rather justified, in this case), and their fears of witchcraft, co-exist beautifully with the determination of the parish priest to maintain faith and sanity. And Maddie is a tremendously appealing heroine; her love story is convincing, her courage admirable (and she has likable, supportive parents, which is a nice bonus). Also convincing is the difficult choice she makes...it's not unrealistically easy for her to do what she feels she must.

I am not a fan, myself, of horror qua horror, and neither do I have a great love for paranormal romance. But this book is more than the sum of labels. These elements are crucial, of course, to the plot, and Dunkle's careful buildup of suspense and fear, and the dark shadow that stands between Maddie and her beloved, make the book one that should appeal to fans of either sub-genre (although those looking for, um, passionate romance, as it were, won't find it here). But for me, the main appeal was the historical fiction aspect of it--Dunkle makes this place and its people come to life.

I was gripped by this story, and read it in almost a single sitting.

Other reviews at The Book Smugglers, WORD for Teens, Tempting Persephone, and Rebecca's Book Blog


because I am utterly charmed by this picture, I must share it

If I had a rabbit, this would be the rabbit I would want. I love its intent little eyes, and the tension of its tucked up front paws....You can learn more about the high stakes world of competitive rabbit jumping here. (thanks to Jenny Davidson)

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

Welcome to another week's worth of postings from around the blogging world about middle grade (ages 9-12) fantasy and science fiction books (well, one sci fi book). Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

Bless this Mouse, by Lois Lowry, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens, at The NY Times, The LA Times,

The Fairy-Tale Detectives, by Michael Buckley, at The O.W.L.

The Ghoul Next Door, by Lisi Harrison, at Reading Vacation

Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Bookworming in the 21st Century

Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis, at Wicked Awesome Books

The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, at Charlotte's Library

My Sparkling Misfortune, by Laura Lond, at Book Crumbs

The Rendering, by Joel Naftali, at Charlotte's Library (science fiction!)

Sidekicks, by Dan Santat, at Fuse #8

A Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Caron Levine, at Karissa's Reading Review, Small Review, and My Brain on Books

The Time-Travelling Fashionista, by Bianca Turetsky, at Reading Vacation and My Comfy Chair

The Unicorn's Tale, by R.L. LaFevers, at Charlotte's Library

West of the Moon, by Katherine Langrish, at Cem's Book Hideout

Witch Week, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Stella Matutina

A World Without Heroes (Beyonds Book 1) at Eva's Book Addiction, Books and Other Creative Adventures, One Book at a Time, Write About Now, and Charlotte's Library

A Year Without Autumn, by Liz Kessler, at Serendipity

Zita the Space Girl, by Ben Hatke, at Book Nut

Cleverly Inked looks at Shimmer and Radiance, by Alyson Noel

The Interviews:

R.L. LaFevers (the Theodosia series and the Nathanial Fludd series) at The Enchanted Inkpot

Frank L. Cole (The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter) at Manga Maniac Cafe and The Elliott Review

Grace Lin (Where the Mountains Meet the Moon) at Manga Maniac Cafe

Other Good Stuff:

It's Fairy Tale Fortnight, hosted by Book Rat (where you will find the schedule of interviews, reviews, and giveaways).

Marie Rutkoski is giving away three arcs of The Jewel of the Kalderash

And I am giving away the winner's choice of either A Stranger to Command, or A Posse of Princesses, both by Sherwood Smith (the later is a great older mg girl book!)

Finally, fun with Easter Candy Science:

Found via io9-- watch Cadbury Creme eggs scream in the name of science here at Periodic Videos (we especially liked the last video link, where the egg bursts into flame). If you want to interest your child in chemistry, this is the video for you!

And for more Easter Candy Fun, why not give Peep Jousting a try? (warning--this will make your microwave very sticky). In the name of science, Smithsonian.com offers an experiment testing whether fresh or stale peeps are more successful jousters...


A World Without Heroes, by Brandon Mull

I have just finished reading A World Without Heroes, the first book in Brandon Mull's Beyonders trilogy (Simon and Schuster, 2011, 454 pages). On the one hand, I can safely say that this is an action-packed adventure that should delight its target audience; on the hand, I am filled with a poignant (?) awareness that I am not that audience.

This is the story of two young teenagers (Jason and Rachel) who find themselves in a fantasy world that needs saving from an evil dictator wizard (it's a world whose own heroes have been thoroughly squelched -- hence the title). In order to save this world, they must go on a Quest, during the course of which they meet interesting warriors/magical creatures/savage beings of evilness/helpful people with Pasts/giant frogs and many more things of this ilk! This being a trilogy, the reader knows there won't be a successful resolution to the central problem at the end of book 1; although there's an interesting twist to end this chapter of the saga, one is left with much more adventure to come...

The assorted creatures/difficulties/encounters are all nicely imaginative, adding interest to the journey. The pace is fast--once things get going, there are few dull moments as encounter after encounter unfolds during the quest. The characterization could have been richer, I think--since we experience the story from Jason's point of view, he becomes more three-dimensional than Rachel, who never becomes much more than the female sidekick trying to prove herself. But with the rapid sequence of events demanding that the characters (and the reader) stay focused on what's happening, there really isn't much occasion for quiet introspection and concomittent character relevations! And this might well add, rather than detract, from its appeal to 10 to 11 year old kids, boys in particular.

I think I myself would have enjoyed A World Without Heroes lots more if I hadn't read so many similar books already (I think, in particular, that I am tired of long over-land journeys). To the middle grade target audience, I bet it all seems infinitely more fresh and exciting. But I myself never experienced the sort of emotional intensity that makes me crossly reluctant to put the book down when my children, as is their wont, interrupt me (I can tell how much I love a book by how shrill my voice becomes when I'm interrupted).

In a nutshell--fine adventure for the middle grade reader, but not so much a book for me

(disclaimer: my copy received from the publisher, via a book giveaway hosted by One Librarian's Book Reviews)


The Unicorn's Tale (Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist), by R.L. LaFevers

Those looking for enticing, fun fantasy books to offer their eight or nine-year-old child should look no further than Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist. Nathaniel is an engaging young hero, the latest member of the Fludds to take on the familial responsibility of studying and protecting "mythical" creatures, and the stories tell of fun, adventures encounters with these creatures, encountered by Nathaniel and his aunt as they travel from one mission to the next.

In the recently released fourth book of the series, The Unicorn's Tale (Houghton Mifflin, 2011, 160 pages), Nathaniel and Aunt Phil, accompanied by Nathaniel's young gremlin friend, Greasle, are summoned to the forest of Broceliande, where a unicorn is ailing (although first they must finish up the little job of transporting a water dragon to a new home). But there's another member of the Fludd family who has been dogging their steps--Obediah Fludd, whose broken from the family tradition of helping creatures. He is taking an interest in the unicorn too--a most unsavoury interest--and would do almost anything to get his hands on a copy of Aunt Phil's book of beasts. If he had that book, no mythical creature would be safe from his greed.

And in exchange, he's offered to tell Nathaniel where his parents, presumed to have died on an expedition of their own, can be found.

It's a nice emotional twist that ratchets up the intensity of the story of the sickly unicorn, and adds impetus to the on-going saga of Nathaniel's life as a young beastologist. And I especially liked that Greasle, the gremlin, gets a larger role in this one--as a young female, she's chosen by the unicorn as a friend--continuing another ongoing plot thread about whether Aunt Phil will ever fully accept her as member of the Fludd household.

Even though this is clearly continuation of the earlier stories, it can stand alone. But there's no need for that, as the three earlier books are delightful in their own right. And it's so pleasing to have a series of books to offer one's young reader when that reader tends to be picky--my own such reader (now eleven) has been enjoying these books since the first one (The Flight of the Phoenix) came out in 2009. He pounced on The Unicorn's Tale the moment it came into the house, and read it cover to cover with great pleasure.

The Unicorn's Tale, is, incidentally, an apt choice for Earth Day--there's a message (understated but very present) about the importance of conservation, and the consequences of human greed.

Here's another review at Strange and Random Happenstance


The Rendering, by Joel Naftali

The coffee maker was more than it appeared to be. No ordinary coffee pot, for instance, delivers messages like this:


But the coffee maker that 13-year old Doug meets in the top secret government facility where his aunt worked isn't ordinary. Nor is the refrigerator, or the skunks, and the scientists weren't working on any ordinary weapons...

I was predisposed in favor of The Rendering, by Joel Naftali (Egmont, 2011, middle grade) before I even picked it up to read, because my 10 year old boy got a hold of it before I did, and for the next few hours was deaf to the world. So from the get go, I knew that Naftali was writing straight to his target audience.

And indeed, The Rendering reads very much like the feverish computer-game-dreams of a ten or eleven year old.

Doug, an ordinary boy, finds himself trapped in a maelstrom of science running amok. Unimaginable technology (the sort that transforms skunks into computer-enhanced super heroes) has been seized by a renegade, power-hungry mad man who wants to remake the world to his own computer-controlled specifications. Fortunately for Doug, the skunks are on his side. And so his his aunt, despite not having a body anymore, and so is Jamie, the really smart girl who's his best buddy....so all hope is not lost. Even though everyone is his town has been, um, removed from their corporeal existence, and digitized.

The Rendering, told in the form of Doug's blog entries, moves swiftly from hectic moment to even more hectic moment. Young readers will appreciate the short swift sentences, and the cascade of adventure. Unless they are overwhelmed by the weirdness of it all, they will chuckle at the cyberskunks, and thrill to the tension of Doug and Jamie's desperate efforts to foil the bad guy and his cyber-enhanced henchman.

It's not a book for everyone. It will probably be a tad overwhelming for the reader who prefers more meditative stories, and not every young reader will find the oddness of it appealing (alas, my own son was one of these, and put the book down when the skunks showed up), and the characterization is very much of the "tell don't show" variety.

But for kids who like fast page-turners of technologically driven insanity/death-defying adventure, this should be a winner right to the end (and end which, incidentally, leaves lots of room for sequels to come).

Here are other reviews, at Sci-Fi Fan Letter, Lisa and Laura Write, and Gelati's Scoop.

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)


To thank Norilana Books for A Stranger to Command and A Posse of Princesses, I'm giving a copy away!

The random number generator spoke, and the winner is Melissa of Book Nut!

Back in 2009 I was serving on the Cybils sci fi/fantasy panel, and Norilana Books generously sent us copies of their two nominated books--A Posse of Princesses, and A Stranger to Command, by Sherwood Smith. I'd never read any Sherwood Smith, and I enjoyed both these books immensely. Here's my review of the former--it's a great light read.

But I liked A Stranger to Command even more. And I realize, to my very great shame, that I never reviewed it!!!

It's a prequel to Crown Duel, featuring young Vidanric Renselaeus, sent as a boy to a foreign military school. There he undergoes an incredibly strict, but exhilarating, education in the arts of war--with a bit of magic and lots of intrigue thrown in. And there he is shaped into the fiercely intelligent leader we meet in Crown Duel. It is wonderful character-driven fantasy set in a school (yay for fantasy schools!) and I enjoyed it lots.

The woman behind Norilana Books is caught in a nightmarish situation right now (which I learned of via Chachic), and has put out a plea for folks to help out by buying her books. And to thank her for sending me two books that I treasure, not just in their own right but because they introduced me to Sherwood Smith, I'm giving away a copy of one of the books she sent me. Not my own copy, of course--I like them too much to give away! Instead, I will buy a new copy of either Stranger or Posse (their choice) for a lucky winner.

Just leave a comment to enter! I'll close this at midnight next Tuesday, April 26. I don't usually do any extra entry things, but this time it's different--it's to help a great independent publisher. So I'll give an extra entry to anyone who posts about Norilana Books! (just let me know when you do--it doesn't have to be in your first comment). Thanks to the magic of the Book Depository, this is open internationally.

The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, for Timeslip Tuesday

A while ago, I read The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (my review)--a fantasy quest story set in India. It didn't quite make it onto my list of books I truly enjoyed, but I liked it well enough to seek out the sequel, which I had heard was a better book. And now, having finished The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming (2005), I am happy to say that yes, indeed, the sequel is much better! And, as an added bonus, it is a time travel book--one set in Bengal, during the time of the Moghul Empire. As one who loves time travel, and as one who is always seeking out books set outside the Euro-American fantasy scheme of things, this made me very happy indeed.

The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming picks up right where The Conch Bearer left off (although it's not necessary to have read the first one). Young Anand's ability to communicate with the mystical conch shell that empowers the brotherhood of the hidden valley has won him a place among their number, but as he struggles to learn the ways of their magic, he wonders if he really belongs there. His friend Nisha, the first girl allowed to stay in the valley, is taking to the study of plant magic like a duck to water...but Anand is having no such luck.

(I enjoyed this part of the story lots, given my affection for schools of magic).

But Anand doesn't have much time to learn new abilities. When his mentor, the Master Healer Abhaydatta, sets off to combat a newly emerged evil power, and doesn't return, Anand and Nisha ask the conch to take them to him, so that they can save him from whatever ill fate has fallen him (their loyalty exceeds their common sense in this, although with the help of the immensely powerful conch shell, they might have a chance...). Their journey goes awry, and throws them back in time to an era when the Muslim nawabs dwelt in palaces of amazing beauty, filled with deadly intrigue. It's especially deadly in this case--an evil sorcerer is bent on using an unholy djinn to gain power for himself.

Master Abhaydatta is there in the past too, but his powers are almost non-existent. Worst of all, Anand lost hold of the conch on the journey, and it's wise and powerful voice is lost to him. All he has left with which to defeat the sorcerer and return home is a small shard of the magic mirror through which he travelled...

It's an engrossing picture of a long-ago part of India's history; the author is unstinting with the small details of the texture (and taste-there's lots of food) of everyday life. All three characters slip easily into roles in the past (Anand, for instance, finds employment as a punkah wallah--a fan puller), and there are no tricksy difficulties of language or customs that sometimes beset time travellers, and slow the progression of the story.

In the first book, I had trouble suspending my disbelief about the magical conch shell. Here, however, the conch, and the magical mirror, were somehow easier to accept--there was more sense to them, and they were more immediately integral to the story. The magic didn't ever reach great depths of numinous enchantment, but it was solid enough to avoid feeling like an awkward add-on.

My one main issue with the book involves a rather startling bit of character development toward the end, which wasn't that easy to accept. But despite that, it's a book I enjoyed just fine. Those who enjoy variants of "the brave boy who's not yet come into his magical powers struggling against an infernal dark Evilness" story, given added interest by the unusual time and place, will probably enjoy it too.

Now I am trying to decide if I want to read the third book, Shadowland; opinions about it seem a mixed (School Library Journal -- no, Amazon Reviewers-- yes).


The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Real Princesses for Non-Fiction Monday

Over the weekend, my boys and I were enchanted by the six books that comprise The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Real Princesses, written by Shirin Yim Bridges, and illustrated by Albert Nguyen (Goosebottom Books, 2010). Each book tells of a different princess, how she gained power, and what she did with it. And each book taught us something new, and kept us engrossed from start to finish.

Important Note: Mothers of sons--don't be put off by the "girls" and the "princesses" of the title. These are books that my boys (10 and 7) loved--they begged me to keep reading, and were sad when we reached the last book!

Not only do these books tell the stories of woman you might never have heard of (but who were really important! who did great things! who should have gotten more page time in the history books!), the writing is spot on for young readers--a slightly wry authorial voice, tricky concepts and vocabulary words nicely explained, and, more generally, swinging story telling, interspersed with kid friendly sections describing what they wore and what they ate.

The series begins with Hatshepsut of Egypt, the woman who became Pharaoh. We had certainly heard of her before, but still were interested in the details of her life.The next three princesses, though, were new to all of us. Artemisia, ruler of the Persian vassal state of Caria (in modern Turkey) who commanded a flotilla of ships in Xerxes' war against ancient Greece, Sorghaghtani of Mongolia, who effectively ruled the homeland of the Mongol empire, and Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman, responsible for the golden age of her country (part of the 13th/14th century Il Kahnate in what is Iran today). Three strong, effective women whose accomplishments were truly remarkable.

Next in the series comes Isabella of Castile (the one who sent Columbus off exploring), and although I had certainly heard of her, I needed reminding about what she had done--driving the Moors from Grenada, and launching the Spanish Inquisition. Not such a nice princess.

The final book features Nur Jahan of India, who was effectively the ruler of the Moghul empire of India in the early 17th century, and who, while riding on an elephant, inside a howdah, shot and killed four tigers with only six bullets. She did other things too--like others of these women, she put her keen intelligence to work promoting trade and efficiency.

I am so very pleased to have been able to share this series with my boys--our knowledge of history and geography went up several notches (for instance, the Moghul Empire was only lightly touched on in my education, and I don't think I'd ever heard of the Il Khanate before). And more generally, I think it's great that they have more powerful women in their mental map of the past.

I wish the publisher had included a bit more back matter of supplemental facts, sources for the information, and where to go to see more pictures and find out more...but mainly this is just because my curiosity has been well and truly piqued! (And I wish Artemisia hadn't been made a blond--both unnecessary and unlikely. Sigh).

But what I really truly hope for is that there will be more books in the series--with more great princesses I've never heard about, from places that weren't front and center in my school education! This series truly fills an educational void (it would have made Third Grade Biography Breakfast so much more interesting if my son's school had had these!!!), and they are great books to share with your kids as read-alouds. I sincerely recommend them (but if you can only get one, my favorite is Sorghaghtani).

Thank you very much, Goosebottom Books, for the review copies.

Today's Non-Fiction Monday round-up is at The Cat and the Fiddle!


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

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week--if I missed your post, let me know! (and if you are a new visitor to these round-ups, here's more info. about how I compile them).

The Reviews:

Bloodline Rising, by Katy Moran, at Charlotte's Library (older mg)

The Broken Citadel, by Joyce Ballou Gregorian, at Just Booking Around (older mg, or possibly even just plain old YA)

The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens, at Booking Mama

Falling In, by Frances O'Roark Dowell (audio review), at Book Nut

Invisible Inkling, by Emily Jenkins, at Book Dreaming

Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis, at Fuse #8

Keeper, by Kathi Appelt, at Challenging the Bookworm

The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan, at Challenging the Bookworm

The Magnificent 12: The Call, by Michael Grant, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

The Mask Wearer (Amos Daragon, Book 1), by Bryan Perro, at Kiss the Book

The Shadows (Books of Elsewhere 1), by Jacqueline West, at Books & Other Thoughts and an audio review at The O.W.L.

Small Persons With Wings, by Ellen Booraem, at Narrative Investigations

My Sparkling Misfortune, by Laura Lond, at Reading Vacation

The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Ravenwood, by Andrew Peters, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Shimmer, by Alyson Noel, at Reading Vacation and The Bibliophilic Book Blog

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horace, by R.L. LaFevers, at Strange and Random Happenstance

Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh, by R.L. LaFevers, at Strange and Random Happenstance

The Time-Travelling Fashionista, by Bianca Turetsky, at Reading Everywhere

Uncommon Magic, by Michelle Scott, at Reading Vacation

Under the Green Hill, by Laura L. Sullivan, at Eating Y.A. Books

A Year Without Autumn, by Liz Kessler, at I Was a Teenage Book Geek (where you will also find the first chapter of the book)

Zeus: King of the Gods, and Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess, by George O'Connorat at Book Nut

Ms. Yingling reviews a trio of sci fi boy books, and at Nayu's Reading Corner you'll find some fun books by Steve Cole (author of the Astrosaurs series and more)

And finally, Anne at Black and White has a post about first read-aloud fantasy chapter books!

Interview and authors:

Nathan Bransford (Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow) at Anita Laydon Miller's Middle Grade Blog

Greg Van Eekhaut (The Boy at the End of the World) writes about "Tarkin’s Jodhpurs and Dystopia for Kids" at Tor

Other Good Stuff:

The authors over at The Enchanted Inkpot offer tributes to Diana Wynne Jones.

Grace Lin is celebrating the paperback release of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by giving away to eight people the free print of their choice from her etsy shop! Here's the one I would like:

My best friend in seventh grade had a series of recurring dreams in which Anne MacCaffery's Dragon Riders of Pern came to the big screen, with dead chickens (painted appropriately, if such a thing can be said of a dead chicken) being used for the fire lizards. That was long, long ago---and now her dream (sans chickens) is becoming a reality-- the dragons are actually coming to the big screen!

And finally, Peter Jackson has posted video diary entries from
The Hobbit on his facebook page (and you can watch it here at Suvudo)


The Oracle Betrayed, by Catherine Fisher

The Oracle Betrayed, by Catherine Fisher (2003 in the UK, 2004 in the US, mg/YA, 341 pages), sat in my tbr pile for about three years. Finally, last weekend, I brushed the dust from it (note to self: dust tbr pile more often), and actually read it.

And it was really, really good.

It takes place in an ancient Greek kind of place, where a young girl, Mirany, is one of chosen Nine who serve the Oracle. Her land is dying from drought...but though the Archon, the god-king, gives his life as a sacrifice, the drought continues.

Mirany can hear the god speaking through the Oracle. He has been reborn, and must be found. But the Oracle has been betrayed. The Speaker, most powerful of the nine servants of the Oracle, plots to install a puppet in the Archon's palace; a scheming general hungers for power. And the rain, a goddess in her own right, seems farther away then ever.

It's up to Mirany, with some unlikely allies close at hand, and the voice of the god (not always helpful) in her ear, to bring back balance...but the layers of treachery run deep, and even the brightest god has a shadow...

That's the gist of the story. I hope I made it sound enticing. Here's the breakdown of what you get:

1. Likable, believable heroine (not preternaturally brave or smart or sassy, and with no special Magical Abilities Through Which She Saves Everyone!!! She does hear the voice of the god, but that's not really due to her own specialness)
2. Nicely done archaic-Greek-type world building (although too sandy, perhaps, to be entirely Greek. Maybe a tad more Egyptian than Greek, environment-wise).
3. Cool deities
4. Engaging supporting characters
5. Utterly absorbing writing
6. Lots of scorpions (not necessarily a bonus feature)

Here's what I'm looking forward too--reading the second and third books (The Sphere of Secrets and Day of the Scarab).

This is the same Catherine Fisher of Incarceron fame, which, if you've read that, should give you some idea of the intricate twisty-ness of her storytelling. This is much more straightforward, but still complex--we, the readers, learn what's going on as Mirany does, which I appreciate.

There's nothing here that's not suitable for an upper middle grade reader--a little violence, a few scorpions, a touch of grave robbing, human sacrifice (tastefully done, in an understated way). But it's complex enough to be a satisfying read for a much older reader (that would be me).

New Releases of fantasy and science fiction for kids and teens--the second half of April, 2011

Here are the new releases of fantasy and science fiction for kids and teens from the second half of April, 2011. Juniper Berry is my pick from the middle grade section, and The Silver Bowl, down in YA, looks awfully appealing....

My information comes from Teens Read Too (whose new release lists also include the non sci fi/fantasy books) and the blurbs are what's on Amazon.

Middle Grade:

THE ADVENTURES OF SIR GAWAIN THE TRUE: THE KNIGHTS' TALES by Gerald Morris "In the third installment in the Knights’ Tales series, Gerald Morris tells the laugh-outloud tale of King Arthur’s most celebrated knight, and nephew, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. With lively illustrations by Aaron Renier, Morris creates a captivating and comical medieval world that teems with humor and wonder.

This chapter book is sure to set young readers on another rollicking and hilarious Arthurian adventure!

DEAD LANDS: LOST SOULS by Mel Odom. "Two months have passed since the events of Burning Sky, and things have changed for Nathan Richards. Incensed by Kukulkan's victory and the unexpected loss of his mother, he refuses to play The Game until he knows what the stakes are-- until he meets a girl named Mavis in the field museum who died mysteriously at the Chicago Columbian Exposition, more than 100 years ago.

With the help of Alyssa and his friends, he will have to immerse himself in the Chicago Expo and the deep rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla to learn Mavis's forgotten secret. This time, though, Nathan might have an advantage. Ah Puch, the Mayan god of the underworld, has offered Nathan his assistance against Kukulkan . . . no strings attached."

A GAGGLE OF GOBLINS: THE UNSEEN WORLD OF POPPY MALONE by Suzanne Harper "Evidence 1. A snicker. Soft but clear. 2. The mess 3. White teeth gleaming in the shadows

Possibilities 1. Vampires 2. Ghosts 3. Goblins 4. Werewolves 5. Fairies

To do 1. Record evidence in logbook 2. Do not tell Mom and Dad! 3. Read (again!) The Little People: A Comprehensive History of Hobgoblins, Pixies, Brownies,and Sprites 4. Set a trap 5. Set up motion-sensor camera 6. Ask Will and Franny for help?"

THE EMPEROR OF NIHON-JA: THE RANGER'S APPRENTICE by John Flanagan Months have passed since Horace departed for the eastern nation of Nihon-Ja on a vital mission. Having received no communication from him, his friends fear the worst. Unwilling to wait a second longer, Alyss, Evanlyn, and Will leave their homeland behind and venture into an exotic land in search of their missing friend.

When they finally catch up with him, they find Horace entangled in a military coup. Determined to protect the imperial throne, Will and his band of Araluens must piece together and train a force in order to fend off the master Senji warriors intent on overthrowing the emperor.

FIRE WORLD: LAST DRAGON CHRONICLES by Chris D'Lacey David and the dragons are back in the latest installment in the NY TIMES bestselling Last Dragon Chronicles!

After destroying a trace of dark fire, David, Zanna, and the Pennykettle dragons vanished. In a brand-new world, Co:per:nica, which runs parallel to that of Crescent Lane, firebirds roam the ancient librarium, a museum for books. But when 12-year-old David and Rosanna accidentally injure one of the firebirds, they are suddenly thrust into a remarkable adventure. The evil Ix have taken over one of the firebirds, turning it to the side of darkness, but the birds have a secret:They know about the existence of dragons. And from across the universe, one may come to their aid....

FOURTH GRADE FAIRY by Eileen Cook "All Willow Doyle wants is to be normal, to fit in at her new school, and to have a best friend. But there’s no way Willow will ever be normal. There isn’t anything normal about her or the Doyle family.

Willow comes from a long line of fairy godmothers and she’s expected to be one too when the time comes. (At the moment she’s merely sprite status.) Maybe that would be cool if it were like the old days when the humans -- known as humdrums -- knew fairy godmothers existed and the fairies didn’t have to keep their fairy status secret. Now they’re stuck helping humans who don’t even believe in them. Rather than help normals, Willow would rather be human. She’s sick of being weird.

When she's given the chance to attend a humdrum elementary school for two weeks, this is Willow's chance to finally experience a normal life -- but will she be able to fit in? And can she find her best friend there, even if her parents discourage making friends with humans?"

INVISIBLE INKLING by Emily Jenkins "The thing about Hank's new friend Inkling is, he's invisible.

No, not imaginary. Inkling is an invisible bandapat, a creature native only to the Peruvian Woods of Mystery. (Or maybe it is the Ukrainian glaciers. Inkling hardly ever gets his stories straight.)

Now Inkling has found his way to Brooklyn and into Hank's laundry basket on his quest for squash—bandapats' favorite food. But Hank has bigger problems than helping Inkling fend off maniac doggies and search for yummy pumpkins: Bruno Gillicut is a lunch-stealing dirtbug caveperson and he's got to be stopped. And who better to help stand up to a bully than an invisible friend?"

JUNIPER BERRY by M. P. Kozlowsky "Juniper Berry's parents are the most beloved actor and actress in the world—but Juniper can't help but feel they haven't been quite right lately. And she and her friend Giles are determined to find out why.

On a cold and rainy night, Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world's secrets bound in a balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn't."

THE LEGEND OF BROWN EYED JAMES: THE ISLAND HUNTERS by N.E. Walford "The legend is real and the man was named James Baako, a merchant, a coppersmith, and voyager turned Treasure Hunter. The key to the Hunter family legacy has been found. But he s not where anyone would expect. And as the Hunter boys find this latest mystery revealed, little do they know who else is looking for him. Now, the journey of a lifetime has turned to chaos as all of their enemies converge in one place. And the knowledge of the past has already begun to bestow power upon the wrong people."

THE POCKET AND THE PENDANT: MAX QUICK by Mark Jeffrey. "Max Quick is a pickpocket, a vagabond, an orphan, and a thief. Even so, nothing about him seems particularly special . . . until one day when time mysteriously stops. Suddenly, nearly everyone in the world is frozen in time—except for Max.

Now Max must journey across America to find the source of the Time-stop. Along the way, he meets others who aren't suspended in time, like Casey, a girl who's never been on her own until now. Together, as they search for the cause of this disaster, Max and his companions encounter ancient mysteries, magic books, and clues to the riddle of stopped time. But relentless and mysterious villains are hot on Max's heels and will do everything in their power to prevent Max from ending the Time-stop. And the closer Max gets to the answers, the more it seems that his own true identity is not what he once believed.

Racing against a clock that no longer ticks, Max must embrace his past to save his future—and the world—from being altered forever."

THE RESISTERS by Eric Nylund. "Twelve-year-old Ethan Blackwood has always known exactly what he wanted—to win the state soccer championship, get into the best high school, and become an astronaut. Then he meets Madison and Felix, who tell him something . . . insane. They claim that 50 years ago, aliens took over the earth, and everyone past puberty is under their mind control. Ethan doesn't believe it. But then he sees for himself the aliens' monster bug robots and the incredible way that Madison and Felix have learned to fight them. So Ethan Blackwood has a choice: he can go back to his normal, suburban, protected lie of a life—or he can become a Resister. This is science fiction on the lines of Scott Westerfield and Cory Doctorow for middle graders."

THE ROTTEN ADVENTURES OF ZACHARY RUTHLESS by Allan Woodrow. "Are you rotten enough to read this book? Ha! And I mean that in a laugh-in-your-face, you’re not- really-rotten-at-all way. Have you ever destroyed the planet? Turned earthworms into your personal army of doom? Refused to eat your broccoli and hidden it in your underwear? Well, never mind that last one. I mean, who hasn’t? But still, no one is as rotten as Zachary Ruthless. In fact, his adventures are so rotten you might want to just put this book down now and back away very slowly."

SPEAK NO EVIL: GIFTED by Marilyn Kaye. "Meadowbrook Middle School is an ordinary school with ordinary students-except for the Nine. These students look like the others, but they're not. You could call it a skill, a talent or a disadvantage, but each of these students is unique - they're gifted.

Everyone in the Gifted class has a secret, but Carter Street is the most mysterious student of all. Nobody knows anything about him - not even his real name. For some reason, he's been put in the Gifted class, maybe because no one knows what else to do with him. He never speaks, but the other students suspect that-like them-there's something going on behind Carter's blank stare. What they don't know is that it's something dangerous…"

Young Adult

101 WAYS TO BECOME A SUPERHERO...OR AN EVIL GENIUS by Richard Horne & Helen Szirtes "Ever wanted to fly like Superman?* Drive a cool car like Batman? Smash things like the Hulk? Well, 101 Things to Do to Become a Superhero is the book for you. Inside is everything you need to transform yourself from mere mortal into exciting, dynamic, total superhero material. Make things, learn amazing tricks, and be inspired by genius ideas in order to complete the transition to object of worship and admiration. Develop your stealth and telepathy! Identify your nemesis! Choose your outfit! Or maybe the side of evil is more your thing? Select a sidekick! Get a villainous chair! Either way, your days as a mere mortal are over. . . .

*Note: Book will not actually teach you to fly."

ABANDON by Meg Cabot. "New from #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot, a dark, fantastical story about this world . . . and the underworld.

Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can't help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she's never alone . . . because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back. But now she's moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid. Only she can't. Because even here, he finds her. That's how desperately he wants her back. She knows he's no guardian angel, and his dark world isn't exactly heaven, yet she can't stay away . . . especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most. But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld."

THE BLACK: MORPHEUS ROAD by D. J. MacHale. "At the end of The Light, Book One of the Morpheus Road trilogy, Marshall learned the truth about what happened to his best friend Cooper. Now in Book Two, the POV switches to Cooper and we get to see his side of the mystery. What does his story have to do with Marshall and the journey along the Morpheus Road? It's time to learn more..."

BUMPED by Megan McCafferty "When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common."

CORSETS AND CLOCKWORK: 13 STEAMPUNK ROMANCES edited by Tricia Telep. "Dark, urban fantasies come to life in the newest collection of Steampunk stories, Corsets & Clockwork. Young heroes and heroines battle evils with the help of supernatural or super-technological powers, each individual story perfectly balancing historical and fantastical elements. Throw in epic romances that transcend time, and this trendy, engrossing anthology is sure to become another hit for the fast-growing Steampunk genre!

This collection features some of the hottest writers in the teen genre, including: Ann Aguirre, Jaclyn Dolamore, Tessa Gratton, Frewin Jones, Caitlin Kittredge, Adrienne Kress, Lesley Livingston, Dru Pagliassotti, Dia Reeves, Michael Scott, Maria V. Snyder, Tiffany Trent, and Kiersten White."

THE COVEN'S DAUGHTER by Lucy Jago "It’s Spring again in the village of Montacute, and people want nothing more than to celebrate the season with maypole dances, festivals, and visits from the nobility. The festivities are dampened, though, when a young boy turns up dead outside the village. Then they learn that three other boys have also disappeared lately. To the parson, this tragedy is a perfect excuse to kick off the only thing guaranteed to get his spring-giddy parishioners back to church – a witch hunt.

Cecily may have occasional visions, but that doesnt' make her a witch! Fatherless and without friends, Cess knows she’s lucky to be employed by a grand estate like Montacute House, even if it is as a poultry girl.

On her thirteenth birthday, Cess finds a precious locket in one of her chicken coops, a strange discovery that’s quickly overshadowed by her best friend John’s disappearance two days later. The parson has already started planting rumors that the missing boys were bewitched, and the villagers think Cecily may be the culprit. The only way Cess can prove her innocence is by finding John, but she’s soon embroiled in a plot that threatens her world and forces her to draw upon powers she never knew she possessed

THE DARK ZONE: A GALAHAD BOOK by Dom Testa "With the help of the mysterious alien force known as the Cassini, the teenage crew of Galahad has managed to navigate safely through the minefield of the Kuiper Belt. But just as they exit the Belt, they are confronted by their next challenge: a group of incredibly fast and maneuverable organisms waiting in their path—like vultures. With no way of knowing if the organisms are friends or foes, Triana and her Council decide to push forward, setting into motion a chain of events that will lead to the opening of a wormhole (a shortcut across space and time), and the first death aboard Galahad…."

DEFIANCE: A STRANGE ANGELS NOVEL by Lili St. Crow "Now that sixteen-year-old Dru's worst fears have come true and Sergej has kidnapped her best friend Graves, she'll have to go on a suicidal rescue mission to bring him back in one piece.

That is, if she can put all of Christophe's training to good use, defeat her mother's traitor, Anna, once and for all, and manage to survive another day..."

EONA by Alison Goodman "Eon has been revealed as Eona, the first female Dragoneye in hundreds of years. Along with fellow rebels Ryko and Lady Dela, she is on the run from High Lord Sethon's army. The renegades are on a quest for the black folio, stolen by the drug-riddled Dillon; they must also find Kygo, the young Pearl Emperor, who needs Eona's power and the black folio if he is to wrest back his throne from the selfstyled "Emperor" Sethon. Through it all, Eona must come to terms with her new Dragoneye identity and power - and learn to bear the anguish of the ten dragons whose Dragoneyes were murdered. As they focus their power through her, she becomes a dangerous conduit for their plans."

ESCAPE VELOCITY: H.I.V.E. by Mark Walden "Pupils and staff at HIVE are horrified to discover that Dr Nero has been captured by the forces of HOPE, the Hostile Operative Prosecution Executive, the world’s newest and most ruthlessly efficient security force. Three months pass without any news of his fate, and Number One has decided to appoint a sinister new headmistress for the school, somebody that the pupils and staff had thought that they’d seen the last of. Meanwhile Otto is also struggling to cope with new abilities that are starting to manifest themselves; can he really be unconsciously interfacing with computers without physical contact? And if he is, what exactly do these new powers really mean? The only way to find Nero and the truth behind the lies is to escape HIVE. Otto must get out, and take the risks which come with being a rogue agent. Then he just has to break into MI6….."

EXILE: AURELIA by Anne Osterlund "Crown princess Aurelia is a survivor. She survived attempted assassination. She survived the king's rejection. She survived her mother's abandonment. And now, in exile, she must survive her kingdom-from hostile crowds to raw frontier to desert sands. But even as unknown assailants track Aurelia and expedition guide Robert, she knows what her greatest risk is: falling [in] love..."

FUTURE IMPERFECT by K. Ryer Breese "Ade Patience can see the future and it's destroying his life. When the seventeen-year-old Mantlo High School student knocks himself unconscious, he can see days and decades into his own future. Ade's the best of Denver's "divination" underground and eager to join the heralded Mantlo Diviners, a group of similarly enabled teens. Yet, unlike the Diviners, Ade Patience doesn't see the future out of curiosity or good will; Ade gives himself concussions because he's addicted to the high, the Buzz, he gets when he breaks the laws of physics. And while there have been visions he's wanted to change, Ade knows the Rule: You can't change the future, no matter how hard you try.

His memory is failing, his grades are in a death spiral, and both Ade's best friend and his shrink are begging him to stop before he kills himself. Ade knows he needs to straighten-out. Luckily, the stunning Vauxhall Rodolfo has just transferred to Mantlo and, as Ade has seen her in a vision two years previously, they're going to fall in love. It's just the motivation Ade needs to kick his habit. Only things are a bit more complicated. Vauxhall has an addiction of her own, and, after a a vision in which he sees Vauxhall's close friend, Jimmy, drown while he looks on seemingly too wasted to move, Ade realizes that he must break the one rule he's been told he can't.

The pair must overcome their addictions and embrace their love for each other in order to do the impossible: change the future."

THE GODDESS TEST by Aimee Carter "It's always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate's going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won't live past the fall.

Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld—and if she accepts his bargain, he'll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.

Kate is sure he's crazy—until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she'll become Henry's future bride, and a goddess."

RAGE OF THE FALLEN: THE LAST APPRENTICE by Joseph Delaney "A dangerous few months lie ahead—ones which some of us will be hard-pressed to survive. Thomas Ward has served as the Spook's apprentice for three years. He has battled boggarts, witches, demons, and even the devil himself. Tom has enemies: The Fiend stalks him, waiting for a moment of weakness. The terrifying Morrigan, goddess of witches, warned him never to step foot on her homeland, Ireland.

But now war has consumed their own country, and Tom, his friend Alice, and the Spook must flee to Ireland. The dark rages strongly there. No one can be trusted. Can Tom defeat the creatures that hunt him most fiercely?"

THE SILVER BOWL by Diane Stanley "Unwanted at home, Molly goes to work for the king of Westria as a humble scullery maid. She arrives at the castle with no education, no manners, and a very disturbing secret: She sees visions, and those visions always come true.

One day, while she's working in the king's great hall, young Prince Alaric passes by. Molly finds him unbearably handsome—but also unbearably rude. But what does it really matter? She'll probably never see him again.

In time Molly is promoted to polishing silver and is given a priceless royal treasure to work on: the king's great ceremonial hand basin. But there's something odd about it. The silver warms to her touch, a voice commands her to watch and listen, and then the visions appear. They tell the story of a dreaded curse that has stalked the royal family for years. There have already been deaths; soon there will be more.

As tragedy after tragedy strikes the royal family, Molly can't help but wonder: Will the beautiful Alaric be next? Together with her friends Tobias and Winifred, Molly must protect the prince and destroy the curse. Could a less likely champion be found to save the kingdom of Westria?"


The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier

The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier (Random House, 2011, YA, 388 pages)

When a volcano destroyes his home town, fourteen-year-old Trei finds himself sent off to the Floating Islands, his mother's home. His father's brother had refused to pay the fee to register him as a citizen of the mainland country of Tolounn.

Despite the pressure of grief, the sight of the islands, raised by dragon magic to float over the water fills Trei with wondering amazement. And from his first sight of the kajuraihi, men who soar through the sky on feathered wings, Trei knows he wants to become one of them. But can a half-island boy learn to see the winds?

His young island cousin, Araene, has dreams of her own--to escape the restrictive life of a woman and become a great chef. But she is fated to find the hidden doorway to the secret school where the island's mages are trained, for she has gifts of magic struggling to emerge (and one neat thing about her magic is that she tastes it, using her talents for cooking to help make sense of the magical).

Trei is accepted by the kajuraihi, and begins his training, and Araene, disguised as a boy, enters the secret school. But the Tolunnese have their hungry eye on the Floating Islands, and when they launch an expedition to seize them, Trie's loyalties, and his abilities, will be put to the test. And Areane finds herself responsible with the one thing that might save the islands--the egg of the dying fire dragon who lives at the islands' heart...

There are two parts to the book. The focuses on the minutiae of Trei and Araene's lives, as they explore the two schools (kajuraihi and magical) where they have found themselves. I utterly adored this part of the book--the secret school, in particular, is now right up there on my list of fictional schools of magic! Neumeier's detailed descriptions make things beautifully easy to imagine, and I could have read a whole book in which nothing more happened.

But then, in the second half of the book, war comes to the islands, and the focus shifts to that conflict, as Trei and Araene must put their new-found gifts to work to save their home. For Trei, this means coming to terms with his Tolunnese past--it is, after all, his father's country. And it is his understanding of the enemy that might tip the balance of the war...

My personal problem with reading about tense war situations in which I care deeply about the characters is that I am desperate to find out what happens to them! So the quality of my reading experience changed in this second part of the book--from happy, peaceful immersion in a beautifully created world to anxious page-turning-ness. I think I will enjoy this second half a lot more on subsequent re-readings (and yes, I will be re-reading this one), now that I know what happens! This part of the book has its own strength--it's here, in conflict, that the characters of the two young protagonists grow and develop.

I recommend this one specifically to those who enjoy books with strange and magical schools where young teenagers find their place in the world. For those who enjoyed Neumeier's first book, The City in the Lake, rest assured that the same beautiful writing is here; for those who were uncertain about that one, be assured that here the story swings along much more swingingly, following a much more straightforward arc of adventure and self-discovery.

Here's another review, at The Book Smugglers


The Jewel of the Kalderash (Chronus Chronicles III) by Marie Rutkowski, for Waiting on Wednesday

I helped shortlist The Cabinet of Wonders for the 2008 Cybils Awards. I enjoyed The Celestial Globe even more. And so I was thrilled (thanks Cat, for telling me) to learn that the third volume of Marie Rutkoswki's Chronus Chronicles will be out October 25! This is one of the most satisfying historical fantasy series being written today--do give it a try, if you haven't already!

"Upon arriving in the Romany homeland to deliver the Mercator Globes, Petra Kronos, Tomik, and Neel formulate a plan to save Petra's father, who has been transformed into a Gray Man. But when a long-held secret is revealed, Neel finds himself bound to his country. The friends are quickly swept up in an epic battle for power. Thrones are at stake. Spies are afoot. Murder is common. Worst of all, Prince Rodolfo is close to becoming emperor, and ruling half of Europe.

How much is Petra willing to sacrifice to defend the people she loves? Her search for answers will take her to castles and cities, through mountains, and even underwater as she tests her strength and gambles her life."

Here's what I especially like-the clock is clearly ticking--you can see the pendulum going back and forth on the covers:

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine

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