9/29/11

The Cheshire Cheese Cat, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright

The Cheshire Cheese Cat, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, with drawings by Barry Moser (Peachtree Publishers, Oct 1, 2011), is an utterly lovely, warm and funny and tense story, highly recommended to all who love children's books, but in particular to fans of cheese and Charles Dickens.

It tells of Skilley, an alley cat with an embarrassing fondness for cheese, desperate to escape the mean streets of 19th-century London. In particular, he wants a home at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese--haunt of famous authors, home of delicious cheddar, and overrun by mice. So Skilley strikes a bargain with Pip, one of the resident mice--he will act the part of a fierce mouser, and in return, the mice will provide him with cheese....

But the path to cheese is not as easy as it might seem. For gathered at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese are an enemy tomcat, a hostile and unscrupulous barmaid, and an injured raven from the Tower of London, who must somehow be returned to his post before the British Empire falls! Observing the developing crisis is Dickens himself, desperate to find the first line for his new book....

I found it all very appealing. The personalities of the cast of characters come through most beautifully, some speaking in simple English, others exhibiting more erudition. The story is tense, and more intricate than it first appears--I found it hard to put the book down. It made me chuckle (especially the passages from Dickens' journal, and the scattered references to his books, though these will probably go right over the head of the young reader), and yet alongside the rollicking story there were thoughtful moments with real emotional resonance, believable and meaningful because the characters themselves so clearly are thinking, caring, fallible beings.

And, although it is not belabored at all, there is a message to be found here of the best kind--that one does not have to be bound by stereotypes and expectations.

"You eat cheese." The words emerged from Pinch's clenched jaws with a slow hiss.

So, he knows.

Skilly allowed himself an instant of surprise to savor how little he now cared. "Yes, I eat cheese. What's more, my truest friend in this friendless world is a mouse. And I would risk my life for him, and for that bird-" (p 211 of ARC).

And so, somewhat to my surprise, this has become one of my favorite books of 2011. That being said, I'm not sure it's for everyone--it's the sort of book that feels like it is being read aloud in one's head, somewhat portentously in places. And this emphasis on the dramatic (for instance, "The alarm turned to dread as his eyes met those of that pitiless malcontent, Pinch."), while it struck me as in keeping with the Victorian setting, might be a bit much for some.

Here's another review, at Fuse #8.

(review copy received from the publisher at BEA)

9/28/11

The Only Ones, by Aaron Starmer

The Only Ones, by Aaron Starmer (Delacorte, Sept. 2011, 336 pages,middle grade)

In trying to convey what this book is about, without giving too much away, because it's a book that really doesn't want to spoiled, I came up with the following comparison--it's kind of like Life As We Knew It (a disaster has struck that leaves buildings standing empty and cars crashed on the roads and canned goods free for the taking) meets Lord of the Flies (children surviving on their own without any grown-ups around, and things not working out terribly well), only with a science fiction underpinning (see that machine on the cover? that's science fiction), and for younger readers (ie, it's much less horribly harrowing than Lord of the Flies, and many characters are appealing, so it's maybe not too good a comparison, although bad things do happen).

I'm not sure how useful that is. Probably not very. But I tried.

I found it utterly fascinating, in large part because I had no idea what to expect. I hadn't even read the blurb on the back, and I vaguely thought the machine might be a space ship of some sort. The unravelling of the mystery that's at the heart of the book is most definitely best approached with no foreknowledge. So if you are reader looking for books for yourself, stop now. Things will now become more spoilerish.

Martin has had a strange life, brought up by his father in isolation on a remote island. His father is obsessed with building a complex machine of unknown purpose, and his one contact with the outside world has been through a boy who's one of the island's summer residents...who, as well as being someone to talk to, is a conduit for books. When Martin is ten, his father leaves the island to find a piece he needs for the machine, promising to come back for Martin's birthday. But only the boat returns, it is empty. And there is no one else on the island.

Martin sets out into the world himself, to try to find answers, only to find it deserted. The only people left are a group of forty or so children, who have made a community for themselves they call Xibalba, each living in his or her own house, each making a life for themselves as best they can. They are a strange and fascinating group, idiosyncratic and eccentric. And there are things they are not telling Martin.

Martin moves into his own house....and begins to unravel the truth about what happened, not just to all the other people in the world, but in Xibalba itself. And as the days pass, his mind turns to the machine his father was building, and he begins to recreate it himself. It will change everything.

There was much I enjoyed about this. The strangeness of Martin's lonely life on the island, the creepiness of a world in which almost everyone has vanished, the community (of sorts) created by the kids, and all the diverse and detailed characterizations of those kids kept me turning the pages eagerly. That being said, I never became deeply emotionally invested in any of them, perhaps because Martin, from whose 3rd person perspective we see them, is himself a somewhat detached observer (in keeping with his upbringing), and this lack of emotional connection (which might have been just me) kept me from loving the book deeply.

The solution to the mystery of what happened to everyone else is a concept I've never seen before in a book, and provides much pleasant food for thought--does it hang together? could it really work the way the author says it does? what will happen next? Most enjoyable.

It's the best sort of upper middle grade book--ie, great for an eleven year old child, and for the mg reading grown-up. The characters are at the stage of beginning to think about luv, but not quite doing anything about it yet. Difficult, sad, disturbing things happen, but not so much so as to make this too dark.

(ARC gratefully received from the author at the BEA kidlit drink night)

And now for the REAL

SPOILER

space

This is a time travel story in which none of the main characters travel through time. And since I want to put this in my list of time travel stories, I felt I had to say that....

9/27/11

A Monster Calls, with a visit from its author, Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd (Candlewick, 2011, 224 pages) is one of the most beautiful, and utterly harrowing, books I've read this year. It tells of a boy named Conor, whose mother is dying, and of the monster who comes walking into his world at night. It is dark and wild and powerful, a creature from the heart of wild magic, but it not as terrifying as the nightmare that torments Conor every night...

And it is calling on Conor for a reason.

"Conor blinked. Then blinked again. "You're going to tell me stories?"

Indeed, the monster said.

"Well-" Connor look around in disbelief. "How is that a nightmare?"

Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt." (page 35, ARC).

And in return for the three stories, Conor must tell a fourth story--the story that he cannot face, the story of his nightmare.

All the while Conor's mother grows weaker, and Conor's life falls apart. Neither his father (back for a flying visit from America, and not much use to Conor) nor his grandmother (not at all skilled at making a sad boy feel loved) are any help.

But the monster keeps calling...until the end.

I don't know exactly what the monster's stories mean -- every time I've read them they speak differently to me. And I don't really know what the monster means either...but I do know that Conor's story, sad as it is, is beautifully told and a pleasure to read. In contrast to a number of books I've read recently, in which I got the sense that the author was deliberately writing a book for "young people," here I felt certain that the author was telling the story he had to tell, as truly as he could. Although I didn't always understand, I was willing to trust, and was repaid by a story that will stick in my mind always.

So I was honored when I was invited to ask Patrick Ness a question, and said yes, please, but then was faced with the vexing issue of what question to ask. The monster, so incredibly powerful, so enigmatic, has filled my thoughts, so this was the best question I could come up with:

Me (shyly): Might Patrick Ness be wiling to share a little about how the monster came to be? Was the monster the Green Man from the get-go, for instance? Was it ever more horrible? more emotional?

Patrick: "The short answer to your first question is actually a little bit "no" (he said, apologetically). I have a really strict rule of writing (which I always recommend to new writers when I teach), which is that no one on earth reads my first drafts. No one, not family, loved ones, agent, editor, no one. That way, my story can grow - and stumble and explore and meander - outside the eyes of anyone and find its proper shape without any self-consciousness. Often it happens, for example, that you get your very best idea 5 pages from the end, and draft two is a process of making it look like you meant that all along. But then no one needs to know that and you come out looking like a genius!

The monster grew and changed, of course it did, but the monster in the book - in all its contradictions and complexities, all its horrible ancient terrors and kindnesses - well, its mystery is part of its construction, part of its identity. I'm one of those awful, awful people who wants all of his papers burned at my death (I know, I can hear the dissents already!) but it's that old saw about how dissecting a joke is like dissecting a frog. You learn a lot about the frog, but at the end, the frog is dead. Everything I wish and hope and dream for the monster is in the book, and I'm loath to let any of his mysteries be solved...

But if you're asking as a writer, I can say that he came to be like most of my characters come to be: by listening to him talk. That's how he (and Conor and his grandma and his father...) all come first to life, by hearing exactly who they are by listening to exactly what they say. The monster's calm interest and surprise when Conor isn't afraid of him was where I knew I'd found him. The rest just became a process of setting him talking and writing down what I overheard."

Thank you very much! I loved the interchanges between Conor and the monster early in the book, when the two are getting to know each other, as it were.

"I am this wild earth, come for you, Conor O'Malley."

"You look like a tree," Conor said." (pp 34-35, ARC)

There's a fascinating discussion with Patrick Ness at educating alice, talking in more detail about many aspects of the book with two readers who lived Conor's experiences (sans monster) themselves, including more thoughts on what the monster means... or not.

9/26/11

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu (with bonus ARC giveaway!)

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu (Walden Pond Press, Sept 27, 2011, ages 9-12, 320 pages)

If it weren't for Jack, Hazel would be unbearably alone. She and Jack are the best possible friends, and have been for years. But then the unthinkable happens--Jack no longer cares about her. Just something that happens when kids grow up, Hazel's mom says. But Hazel knows there is more to the story than that.

And so, when Jack disappears one snowy winter's day, taken by a woman in white, in a sleigh, Hazel follows. In a fairytale world where metaphors become real, she risks everything to keep Jack from being frozen in the realm of the Snow Queen forever.

The first half of the book sets the stage for Hazel's journey, showing the reader in lovely, heart-aching words Hazel and Jack's friendship, and why it is so important to both of them. Jack makes fifth grade in a new school bearable for Hazel--though she fits in not at all, and is taunted by other kids, one quirky look from Jack gives her strength. But more importantly, with Jack, Hazel can be herself.

"Jack was the only person she knew with an imagination, at least a real one. The only tea parties he'd have were ones in Wonderland, or the Arctic, or in the darkest reaches of space. He was the only person who saw things for what they could be instead of just what they were. He saw what lived beyond the edges of the things your eyes took in. And though they eventually grew out of Wonderland Arctic space-people tea parties, that essential thing remained the same. Hazel fit with Jack." (ARC Page 21)

And when Hazel's dad left, Jack gave her his heart--a signed baseball, his most prized possession. Jack's mom is no longer there either, metaphorically speaking--she has become so depressed that she can no longer see him. So Hazel does her absolute best to make sure that she is there for him, making sure that he knows that someone still knows he is there.

And then he isn't. So Hazel crosses into the snowy wood to find him.

"Hazel had read enough books to know that a line like this one is a line down which your life breaks in two. And you have to think very carefully bout whether you want to cross it, because once you do it's very hard to get back to the world you left behind. And sometimes you break a barrier that no one knew existed, and then everything you know before crossing the line is gone.

But sometimes you have a friend to rescue. And so you take a deep breath and then step over the line and into the darkness ahead." (ARC pp 151-152)

And Hazel's adventures begin, in a frightening, magical world where every encounter has a story to it...a place from which almost no-one returns.

This is the sort of book that makes pictures in the mind to treasure. The sort of book best appreciated by those who already have all the stories they've ever read piled up in their own minds, those who sat, or sit, in fifth grade classrooms and stare out the window imagining that there is more out there than a parking lot (and get teased by classmates in consequence). Hazel's unhappiness with her life in the "real" world will call painful sympathy from that reader, and her journey into the world beyond the snowy woods will resonate most beautifully. Especially since Anne Ursu brings this part of her story to detailed, disturbing, lovely life, with words that fly of the page.

The first 150 or so pages, though, before Hazel sets off on her journey, are almost too sad to read. Hazel's unhappiness is all too sharp and clear. The pain of her father's betrayal, the pain of being a different sort of person from the kids around her, was hard reading. Part of her difference is that she was adopted, and her black hair and dark brown skin don't match her mother's light brown and white. But mostly she is different because she is Hazel, who has read and read until her mind is full of stories, who cannot find a kindred spirit among her classmates. Except, of course, for Jack.

So I suffered with Hazel during that first half of the book in the dismal winter of fifth grade, and it was a huge relief to set off into the woods! Suddenly things were real, and in color, and beautiful and deadly, and I wasn't reading a book anymore, but inside a story. And Hazel's determination to find her friend and bring him home made it a story with heart--both fierce and moving.

Highly recommended to imaginative book-lovers, who know just how important it is to find kindred spirits, especially those who don't mind reading a book that will make them ache for the central character....

There are lots of other reviews of Breadcrumbs out there, which I've linked to in my Sunday round-ups; here's another, just posted at Jen Robinson's Book Page, which I'm sharing because she liked the first half best, and I liked the second better (but we both found a quote in common)!

GIVEAWAY: I found myself with two copies of the ARC of Breadcrumbs, and so I'd like to quickly give my second away! Let me know if you'd like it in a comment by midnight EST tonight (Monday) so I can get it in the mail tomorrow!

And the winner is Jen! (I'm trying to find an email for you, Jen--please get in touch if you don't hear from me)

(and I'm also giving away, courtesy of its publisher, two copies of Amulet: The Last Council, here)

9/25/11

This Sunday's Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction Round-up!

Hi, and welcome to the first sff mg round-up of fall! This time next week, Cybils nominations will have opened, and (whether or not I am a panelist), I will be obsessively checking the list of what is getting nominated for mg sff! I myself don't know what I want to nominate in most of the categories--I like to hold back, and see if any books that I love still need putting forward. My one exception is Zita the Space Girl, which I am going to try to get in right at the beginning in the graphics novel category, refreshing my screen over and over as I wait for nominations to open... (Life is more fun if you make as much out of small happenings as you can).

But at any event, I'm sure that the big names of mg sff published this last October to October year will be up there--The Emerald Atlas, The Unwanteds,
Breadcrumbs, The Dragon's Tooth, Kat, Incorrigible, etc. The Cybils, though, is a wonderful place for a lesser known books to find love and attention, so I'm hoping that the list of nominations will include books I've never heard of that I fall in love with!

And now, the Reviews:

The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy, at Candace's Book Blog

Astronaut Academy, by Dave Roman, at Wandering Librarians

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu, at A Patchwork of Books, Fantasy Literature, Read Now Sleep Later, and books4yourkids

The Dark City, by Catherine Fisher, at Reading Vacation

Dragon's Tooth, by N.D. Wilson, at Eva's Book Addiction

Frogspell, by C.J. Busby, at Wondrous Reads and Tor

The Girl Who Cirumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Vallente, at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy.

Goliath, by Scott Westerfeld, at The Intergalactic Academy (a new sci fi ya blog in town!) and at Libri Dilectio

The Inside Story (Sisters Grimm), by Michael Buckley, at Biblio File

Jennifer Murdley's Toad, by Bruce Coville, at Postcards from La-La Land.

Juniper Berry, by M.P. Kozlowsky, at Middle Grade Ninja

Kittatinny: A Tale of Magic, by Joanna Russ, at Tor

The Last Council (Amulet Book 4) by Kazu Kibuishi, at Green Bean Teen Queen There's a Book (who are both giving away copies, as am I, in this post here)

Larklight, by Philip Reeve, at Anita Silvey's Book-a-day Almanac

Nightshade City, by Hilary Wagner, at Geo Librarian

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, at ck2s kwips and kritiques

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, at Fantasy Literature

The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell, at A Backwards Story

Radiance, by Alyson Noel, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

The Rendering, by Joel Naftali, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Search for Wond-La, by Tony DiTerilizzi, at Donna St Cyr (plus giveaway)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, at Undusty New Books

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, at My Favorite Books

Wise Child, by Monica Furlong, at The Accidental Novelist

At Black and White, Anne's gathered a list of four fantasy books she's dubbed lesser known treasures

Authors and Interviews:

M.P. Kozlowsky (Juniper Berry) at Middle Grade Ninja

Laurel Snyder (Bigger Then a Breadbox) at From the Mixed Up Files

Bruce Hale (Chet Gecko) at From the Mixed Up Files

Other good stuff:

"Dubious Monarchy in the World of L. Frank Baum" at Oz and Ends

The LA Times
celebrates 50 years of the Phantom Tollbooth

Chris Riddell's top ten author/illustrator pairings at The Gaurdian

Robin McKinley is having an auction to benefit needy church bells in England--included are signed copies of her books, and a selection of mostly out of print books by her husband, Peter Dickinson. One of Robin's books being auctioned is A Knot in the Grain, which contains one of my most loved short stories ever....and, very temptingly, a signed copy of Anne Bechelier's illustrated Rose Daughter (one illustration shown at right, but do click through here to see more)

9/24/11

New releases of science fiction and fantasy for kids and teens--the end of September, 2011 edition

Here are the new releases of fantasy and science fiction for kids and teens, from the last third of September, 2011! It is a bumper crop, with tons of books I want to read. However, the first one I am going to actually go out and buy is Squish: Brave New Pond, unselfishly (as is my wont) putting my eight year old's reading pleasure ahead of my own!

I always get a bit nervous on behalf of new releases this time of year. Nominations for the Cybils open one week from today, and any book published by October 15 is eligible! One of these books could go on to be a winner--if it gets read and nominated....And in fact one main reason why I started this whole new release business in the first place was to offer an easy way for folks to go back through the year, to remind themselves of books they loved, and nominate them (see note on unselfishness above).

As always, my information comes from Teens Read Too, and the blurbs come from Amazon.

THE MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS


BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX by Laurel Snyder "A magical breadbox that delivers whatever you wish for—as long as it fits inside? It's too good to be true! Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents' separation, as well as a sudden move to her Gran's house in another state. For a while, the magic bread box, discovered in the attic, makes life away from home a little easier. Then suddenly it starts to make things much, much more difficult, and Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be. Laurel Snyder's most thought-provoking book yet."



BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu

"A stunning modern-day fairy tale from acclaimed author Anne Ursu.

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it's up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind."

CITY OF LIES: THE KEEPERS by Lian Tanner "Goldie Roth is a trained thief and a skilled liar. Along with her friend Toadspit, she's supposed to be one of the Keepers of the mysterious Museum of Dunt. But although she desperately wants to be a Keeper, she will not leave her sick parents to do so.

But when Toadspit's sister Bonnie is stolen, he and Goldie are forced to follow the child-stealers to the neighboring city of Spoke. Along the way, Toadspit too is captured, and Goldie is caught up in the Festival of Lies, where every word she says means something else and no one can be trusted. There, Goldie discovers some dangerous secrets—secrets that the child-stealers will kill to protect. She will need all her skills as a thief and a liar if she is to survive and save her friends."

CITY OF WIND: CENTURY by P.D. Baccalario "In the third installment of the Century Quartet, Italian author P. D. Baccalario continues the mystery that will take four cities and four extraordinary kids to solve.

PARIS, JUNE 20
When new information turns up about the Star of Stone, the object they found in New York, Mistral, Elettra, Harvey, and Sheng meet again in Paris. Harvey brings the stone to show to his dad's archaeologist friend. And it turns out that the friend knows much more about the kids' quest than they could have imagined. She gives them a clock that once belonged to NapolĂ©on, and she tells them that if they can figure out how it works, it will lead them to another object of power. The clock sends the kids all over Paris, through old churches and forgotten museum exhibits, in search of an artifact linked to the Egyptian goddess Isis. But a woman with a penchant for venomous snakes and carnivorous plants—and her vast network of spies—is watching their every move. . . ."

THE CREATURE FROM MY CLOSET: WONKENSTEIN by Obert Skye "Twelve-year-old underachiever Rob has better things to do than read. His parents give him lots of books but most of them just end up in the messy pile of junk he keeps locked in his closet that once doubled as a makeshift science laboratory. One day, Rob hears weird sounds coming from behind his closet door and discovers a funny little creature that seems to be a cross between two characters from books he’s tried to ignore. He names him Wonkenstein.

Keeping track of “Wonk” is hard work. But with help from friends and a little off-the-wall magic, Rob and Wonkenstein’s crazy adventures set the stage for great laughs . . . and Rob might even read some good books along the way."

THE DEATH OF YORIK MORTWELL by Stephen Messer "Inspired by the artwork of Edward Gorey, Windblowne author Stephen Messer delivers a mock-Gothic tale about poor Yorick (alas!), son of the Gamekeeper at venerable Ravenby Manor, who meets an untimely demise—in chapter one! Worry not, dear reader, for Yorick returns in ghostly form, intent on revenge. In the course of his hauntings, however, ghostly Yorick discovers that all manner of otherworldy creatures inhabit the manor grounds, and that he has a part to play in saving not only his still-living orphan sister but also the manor and everyone in it.

For every young reader who enjoyed the dour dalliance of A Series of Unfortunate Events, here is Stephen Messer's playful homage to the poor orphans of Charles Dickens, the bleak poetry of Edgar Allen Poe, and the exaggerated characters of Roald Dahl."

THE FINGERTIPS OF DUNCAN DORFMAN by Meg Wolitzer "At first glance, Duncan Dorfman, April Blunt, and Nate Saviano don't seem to have much in common. Duncan is trying to look after his single mom and adjust to life in a new town while managing his newfound Scrabble superpower - he can feel words and pictures beneath his fingers and tell what they are without looking. April is pining for a mystery boy she met years ago and striving to be seen as more than a nerd in her family of jocks. And homeschooled Nate is struggling to meet his father's high expectations for success.

When these three unique kids are brought together at the national Youth Scrabble Tournament, each with a very different drive to win, their paths cross and stories intertwine . . . and the journey is made extraordinary with a perfect touch of magic. Readers will fly through the pages, anxious to discover who will take home the grand prize, but there's much more at stake than winning and losing."

THE FIRE KING: THE INVISIBLE ORDER by Paul Crilley "With humans threatened by otherworldly creatures, orphans Emily and William Snow, and their friends—the pickpocket Spring-Heeled Jack and the wisecracking Corrigan—find themselves two hundred years in the past, trapped in the London of 1666. Desperately in need of help, they go in search of Sir Christopher Wren, who was head of the Invisible Order, an organization dedicated to fighting this threat. But Wren’s never even heard of the Order and has no interest in their story.

Stranded, the four cannot agree on their next step. But they’ll have to decide quickly, because their enemies are on the move and the Fire King is ready to attack and burn London to the ground.

Set against the Great Fire of London, The Invisible Order, Book Two: The Fire King picks up right where Rise of the Darklings left off, weaving adventure, history, and legend into a thrilling, heart-stopping story. "

THE FLINT HEART by Katherine & John Paterson "An ambitious Stone Age man demands a talisman that will harden his heart, allowing him to take control of his tribe. Against his better judgment, the tribe’s magic man creates the Flint Heart, but the cruelty of it causes the destruction of the tribe. Thousands of years later, the talisman reemerges to corrupt a kindly farmer, an innocent fairy creature, and a familial badger. Can Charles and his sister Unity, who have consulted with fairies such as the mysterious Zagabog, wisest creature in the universe, find a way to rescue humans, fairies, and animals alike from the dark influence of the Flint Heart? This humorous, hearty, utterly delightful fairy tale is the sort for an entire family to savor together or an adventurous youngster to devour. "

GOLIATH: LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld "Alek and Deryn are on the last leg of their round-the-world quest to end World War I, reclaim Alek’s throne as prince of Austria, and finally fall in love. The first two objectives are complicated by the fact that their ship, the Leviathan, continues to detour farther away from the heart of the war (and crown). And the love thing would be a lot easier if Alek knew Deryn was a girl. (She has to pose as a boy in order to serve in the British Air Service.) And if they weren’t technically enemies.

The tension thickens as the Leviathan steams toward New York City with a homicidal lunatic on board: secrets suddenly unravel, characters reappear, and nothing is at it seems in this thunderous conclusion to Scott Westerfeld’s brilliant trilogy."

THE LAST MUSKETEER by Stuart Gibbs "Greg Rich has just been catapulted back through time. One moment, his parents were selling their family heirlooms to Michel Dinicouer, a mysterious and suspicious curator at the Louvre in Paris -- and the next thing Greg knows, he's in France in 1615. His parents have come along, too, only they've been captured by the King's Guard and thrown into La Mort, the world's most dangerous prison. Now, Greg has to rescue them... but how?
By uniting the Three Musketeers. Greg soon discovers that the three great warriors from Alexander Dumas's classic novel actually exist -- only they're teenagers as well and haven't met yet. Even stranger, Greg might just turn out to be the fourth Musketeer, D'Artagnan. Together, the Musketeers need to pull off an impossible, death-defying rescue -- and unravel the devious plot of Dinicouer as well."

LIGHTS ON THE NILE by Donna Jo Napoli "Kepi is a young girl in ancient Egypt, content to stay home with her family, helping her father, who was wounded in the construction of a pyramid for the cruel pharaoh Khufu. But that was before she and her pet baboon, Babu, were kidnapped and held captive on a boat bound for the capital city, Ineb Hedj. And when Kepi and Babu are separated, she knows she has only one choice: to make her way to the capital on her own, rescue Babu, and find a way to appeal to the pharaoh. Khufu is rich and powerful, but Kepi has her own powers, deep inside her—ones she herself doesn’t even know about yet.

Donna Jo Napoli, acclaimed author of Zel and Beast, revisits the fabled origin of fairies in this strikingly orig-inal and affecting novel of friendship."


PROBLEMS IN PLYMOUTH: THE IMAGINATION STATION by Marianne Hering & Marshal Younger "The Imagination Station Adventures continue! Patrick and Beth’s next adventure leads them to Plymouth Plantation in 1621. There they meet William Bradford, Miles Standish, and Chief Massasoit, who are trying to establish peace between the Pilgrims and the Indians. Things are anything but peaceful, however, when a musket is stolen and the Pilgrims conclude the Indians are planning war. Only Patrick and Beth know who the real thief is—the traitor Hugh—and it’s up to the cousins to find him and stop him from causing trouble. When the cousins hear a gunshot during the first Thanksgiving feast, their worst fears are realized. They rush to the Mayflower and try to set right history, even as Hugh desperately tries to change it. "

RIDDLES AND DANGER: THE SECRET ZOO by Bryan Chick "Noah, Megan, Richie, and Ella are the Action Scouts; friends whose tree house overlooks the Clarksville City Zoo. When they discover a magical world hidden within the zoo, they are swept away on an adventure in which penguins can fly, a mysterious figure lurks in the shadows, and the scouts are enlisted to help Mr. Darby, who is in charge of the Secret Zoo.

But will the scouts be able to fight against the dangerous sasquatches who have escaped the zoo and threaten their town? There’s only one way to find out if the four friends training as Crossers can help save the Secret Zoo."


RISE OF THE WOLF: WEREWORLD by Curtis Jobling "A swashbuckling new series for Ranger's Apprentice fans!

Imagine a world ruled by Werelords - men and women who can shift at will into bears, lions, and serpents. When Drew suddenly discovers he's not only a werewolf but the long-lost heir to the murdered Wolf King's throne, he must use his wits and newfound powers to survive in a land suddenly full of enemies. Drew's the only one who can unite the kingdom in a massive uprising against its tyrant ruler, Leopold the Lion. But the king is hot on Drew's tail and won't rest until he's got the rebel Wolf's head."


ROGUE: H.I.V.E. by Mark Walden The leaders of the world’s villainous forces are being picked off one by one in a series of mysterious attacks, and when Dr. Nero finds out it is Otto who’s behind them, he has no choice but to issue a “capture or kill” order. Raven and Wing are desperate to save their friend and soon find themselves in a danger-filled race against time to track Otto down before other assassins get to him. Their pursuit takes them to a secret facility hidden deep within the Amazon rain forest, where they face a deadly mysterious operative.

Meanwhile, back at the Higher Institute of Villainous Education, the school’s own automated defense systems turn against the pupils and staff of H.I.V.E.—and there is no one there to stop them…"

SITA'S RAMAYANA by Samhita Arni "The Ramayana is an epic poem by the Hindu sage Valmiki, written in ancient Sanskrit sometime after 300 BC. It is an allegorical story that contains important Hindu teachings, and it has had great influence on Indian life and culture over the centuries. Children are often encouraged to emulate the virtues of the two main characters — Rama and Sita. The Ramayana is frequently performed as theater or dance, and two Indian festivals — Dussehra and Divali — celebrate events in the story.

This version of The Ramayana is told from the perspective of Sita, the queen. After she, her husband Rama and his brother are exiled from their kingdom, Sita is captured by the proud and arrogant king Ravana and imprisoned in a garden across the ocean. Ravana never stops trying to convince Sita to be his wife, but she steadfastly refuses his advances. Eventually Rama comes to her rescue with the help of the monkey Hanuman and his army. But Rama feels he can’t trust Sita again. He forces Sita to undergo an ordeal by fire to prove herself to be true and pure. She is shocked and in grief and anger does so. She emerges unscathed and they return home to their kingdom as king and queen. However, suspicion haunts their relationship, and Sita once more finds herself in the forest, but this time she is pregnant. She has twins and continues to live in the forest with them.

The story is exciting and dramatic, with many turns of plot. Magic animals, snakes, divine gods, demons, sorcerers and a vast cast of characters all play a part in the fierce battles fought to win Sita back. And in the process the story explores ideas of right vs. wrong, compassion, loyalty, trust, honor and the terrible price of war."

SPHDZ BOOK #3 by Jon Scieszka "There may be close to 3.14 million SPHDZ, but there is still a lot to be done. Michael K., Venus, TJ, and the SPHDZ are working hard to keep kids signing up to be Spaceheadz. But Agent Umber of the AAA (Anti Alien Agency) is relentless, and the unseen leader of Spaceheadz is not who anyone expected! The third book in the out-of-this-world series is full of twists and turns—and a bigger mystery is about to be revealed!

Michael K. and the gang only have 100 SPHDZ left to sign up. But something is about to go horribly wrong that will change EVERYTHING forever.

What if the 3.14 million and one brainwaves aren’t for saving the world at all? What if Agent Umber finally catches up with the SPHDZ? What if the AAA Chief has a new plan? What if Fluffy can speak...baby? New twists and new turns await readers. And Michael K. might not know whom he can trust anymore!"

SQUISH: BRAVE NEW POND by Jennifer L. & Matthew Holm "He's baa-ack! It's a brand new school year for everyone's favorite AMOEBA! Will Squish finally get to sit with the cool kids at lunch? Will Pod stop the giant asteroid from destroying the world? Will the LEECHES be the end of Super Amoeba? And what makes cafeteria nachos so delicious anyway? Find out the answers to these questions and more in Squish's second electrifying, action-packed adventure—Squish: Brave New Pond."



STARFIELDS by Carolyn Marsden "An ancient calendar comes to an end in 2012— and many predict the world will end with it. Can one Mayan girl make a difference?

Rosalba is a nine-year-old Mayan girl living in rural Mexico. Like her mother and grandmother, she weaves stories of her people onto blouses, ensuring that the age-old traditions continue. But new influences are entering her life. A ladina girl from the city, visiting with her scientist father, passes on the astonishing news that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world in 2012. Rosalba knows nothing about that, but her village is faced with a bulldozer tearing through the forest, dying wildlife, and cornfields in danger. Rosalba’s new friend tells her she must do something to help, but what? As she ponders, she dreams of an ancient Mayan boy, eyes bound in a shamanistic ritual, who hints at a way she can make her voice heard. Interweaving a contemporary story with a mythical dream narrative, Carolyn Marsden spins a gripping tale of friendship, cultural identity, and urgent environmental themes."

THE SUMMER OF PERMANENT WANTS by Jamieson Findlay "Emmeline is an 11-year-old who contends with a special problem: after a long sickness she can no longer speak. Her illness left her unable to give words to her thoughts, and she can only use the occasional snatches of sign language. Closed off from her friends and the world of kids her age, Emmeline is excited to spend a couple of months with her bohemian grandmother and her newest project: starting a floating bookshop that will sail from port to port all summer long. From the books and people they encounter aboard Permanent Wants, Emmeline travels to places, real and imaginary, that astonish and bedazzle her in turns. From the discovery of a map of a now unheard-of land, to a town whose citizens are no longer able to make music, to the revelation of an island filled with serpents and snakes, Emmeline's adventures show her wonders that help her unlock her own self."



YOU HAVE TO STOP THIS by Pseudonymous Bosch "I always feared this day would come. A secret is meant to stay secret, after all. And now we've come to this: the fifth and final (I swear!) book in my saga of secrets.

A class trip to the local natural history museum turns dangerous, or perhaps deadly--and I don't mean in the bored-to-death way--when Cass accidentally breaks a finger off a priceless mummy. Forced to atone for this "crime" of vandalism, Cass and her friends Max-Ernest and Yo-Yoji go to work for the mummy exhibit's curator, only to be blamed when tragedy strikes. To clear their names--and, they hope, to discover the Secret--the trio must travel deep into a land of majestic pyramids, dusty tombs, mysterious hieroglyphs, and the walking dead. Egypt? Or somewhere much stranger . . .

In the midst of it all, the Secret still lurks. You're our there, reading and talking about it, and now my life--and chocolate supply--is in the greatest danger yet. So please, with a cherry on top, I'm begging you: you have to stop this!"

THE YOUNG ADULT BOOKS

ABSOLUTE MIDNIGHT: ABARAT by Clive Barker
ALIEN BLOODBATH: CHRONICLES OF THE FIRST INVASION by Michael Simmons
A BEAUTIFUL DARK by Jocelyn Davies
BLOOD: THE MERCIAN TRILOGY by K.J. Wignall
COLD KISS by Amy Garvey
COSMIC STORM: A GALLAHAD BOOK by Dom Testa
DARK OF THE MOON by Tracy Barrett
DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE by Laini Taylor
DAY OF THE PREDATOR: TIME RIDERS by Alex Scarrow
ENTHRALLED: PARANORMAL DIVERSIONS by Melissa Marr & Kelley Armstrong
THE FAERIE RING by Kiki Hamilton
FIRST KILL: THE SLAYER CHRONICLES by Heather Brewer
THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson
IF I DIE: SOUL SCREAMERS by Rachel Vincent
THE JULIET SPELL by Douglas Rees

LOST IN TIME: BLUE BLOODS by Melissa de la Cruz
THE MEPHISTO COVENANT by Trinity Faegen
MISTER CREECHER by Chris Priestley
A MONSTER CALLS: INSPIRED BY AN IDEA FROM SIOBHAN DOWD by Patrick Ness
MY BEATING TEENAGE HEART by C.K. Kelly Martin
THE NAME OF THE STAR: SHADES OF LONDON by Maureen Johnson
SACRIFICE: CRAVE by Laura J. Burns & Melinda Metz
SHIFTING by Bethany Wiggins
SLAYERS by C.J. Hill
STEAMPUNK: POE illustrated by Zdenko Basic & Manuel Sumberac
THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin
UNFORGETTABLE by Loretta Ellsworth
VAMPIRE KISSES: GRAVEYARD GAMES VOL. 1 by Ellen Schreiber
THE VISION by Jen Nadol
WHERE THERE'S A WOLF, THERE'S A WAY: MONSTER HIGH by Lisi Harrison
Z: ZOMBIE STORIES by Various Authors

9/23/11

A question about reviewing books for Time Slip Tuesday, when saying there's time travel is a spoiler

I didn't get the review up today I wanted to. Sigh. The pile grows. But I do have a question for all you readers of Timeslip Tuesday. When I review a book for Timeslip Tuesday, it's obviously a time travel story. But sometimes to make that clear from the beginning is to spoil the book--a case in point is When You Reach Me, which I assume enough people have read by now so that spoilers don't matter so much. No one should go into that knowing that time travel is the answer to the mystery, which is one reason I didn't review it ages ago.

At Book Expo America, I was given an ARC of a book by its author, and I just read and enjoyed it lots. I want to review it this week, but to review it under the Timeslip Tuesday banner would be a de facto spoiler. I'm thinking I'll have to cunningly review it on another day, and sneak it into my Time Travel list later...but I hate to waste a nice Tuesday book. I don't have so many time travel books in the queue that I can comfortably afford to let one slide. And I think knowing that there was time travel involved (I would, of course, be very cagey with details) would actually make the book more appealing to a lot of you.

What do you all think?

9/22/11

Wolf Mark, by Joseph Bruchac

Wolf Mark, by Joseph Bruchac (Tu Books, Sept 15, 2011, YA, 392 pages)

Here's one for those who want their paranormal mixed with science fiction (of the set-on-earth laboratory variety), in a story both character-driven and action-packed!

Luke's parents made sure he knew what he needed to know to survive--how to fight, how to think, and how to escape. He grew up accepting that his Dad's work in special, top-secret, missions around the world meant that his family would never live peacefully in a suburb with a nice picket fence.

But he never thought things would become as grim as they have after his mother's death. Luke's dad is seeking a drug and alcohol fueled escape from reality, and the two of them are living in a tin can mobile home on the edge of a middle of nowhere southwest town (that just happens to be home to an international hush hush biochemical corporation). Luke just tries to get by, keep his head down so that no-one will find out just how different he is (which is considerable). He's hoping to maybe, someday, ask Meena, the Pakistani girl he likes more than a little, to come for a ride on his motorcycle, as well as hoping to avoid the sinister attentions of a group of sunglass-wearing, pale-skinned Russians, with pronounced canines, who have arrived at his high-school...

Luke's plan to lay low doesn't stand a chance. When his dad is kidnapped, things get very strange, and very scary. In the course of escaping from his father's enemies (motorcycle chase action, and the thugs don't stand a chance), he finds out that there are lots of things his dad never told him (a mysterious old house full of secrets plays a big role here--always a plus in my point of view). The biggest of these secrets is that Luke is a skin-walker--able, like his Native American ancestors, to take the form of a wolf....

Which proves wildly helpful when taking on an evil corporation that plans to take over the world with its twisted genetic manipulations.

Wolf Mark moves from the slow-paced everyday of life in high school to an action-packed crescendo of good guys vs bad guys. The first part of the book tells of Luke's life as a high-school student...there are disquieting elements, and it's clear that Luke is something far out of the ordinary, though he tries to keep a low profile. But once Luke's father is kidnapped, ordinary goes right out the window, and mayhem, danger, evil plots and extraordinary secrets take over!

Those who read my blog regularly can guess I liked the first part of the book best--the detailed character-driven set-up. Luke's discovery that he is a skin-walker, and his exploration of that part of his heritage, was also most intriguing. Since the book is told in the first person, the reader gets a very nice sense of Luke's motivations and reactions.

On the other hand, the incredibly action-packed end was both too incredible and too action-packed for my taste, and I found a few plot points just a bit too much to swallow.

That being said--those who like thrillers of great thrilling-ness, with the technological and the paranormal operating side by side, will probably like the second half even more than the first. It all hangs together (albeit by the skin of its teeth toward the end), it's tremendously gripping, and the twists Bruchac brings to his story are a fresh and fascinating take on werewolves and vampires (Native American shape-shifting plus old-world legends! How cool is that!).

It's definitely a good one to offer a teenaged boy who's a "reluctant" reader, which is something that Bruchac was thinking about when he wrote it, as shown in this quote from a recent interview with him at Boys and Literacy: "... I love fantasy and horror and always wanted to add something to that genre from an American Indian perspective. And I am very interested in writing stories for the reluctant reader, especially young men who often feel little connection to books at that stage in their lives--even though I believe they need good stories even more in their teenage years."

Other readers say:

"It's just an awesome thrill ride with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. A great book for readers who like action, spy thrillers and are a bit burned out on paranormal. YES paranormal! NO melancholy, love triangles, or wallowy ick." (Biblio File)

"If you’re a fan of action-adventure stories, the darker edge of paranormal, believe there is an element of truth behind every conspiracy theory, and enjoy first-person stories told in an original voice, then I’d recommend reading this one." (Dark Side of the Covers)

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)

9/21/11

Waiting on Wednesday--Ashfall, by Mike Mullin

One of my favorite books as a child was Hill's End, by Ivan Southall. Kids in peril after a natural disaster, struggling to survive with no grown-ups around--lovely stuff. And over the years, I've enjoyed similar books lots. But nowadays, it seems to me that there are just Too Many Zombies around, cluttering up nice survival stories, and I just don't like zombie books. There are exceptions, of course, like Trapped, but still.

So I am looking forward very much to Ashfall, by Mike Mullin (Tanglewood Press, YA, 476 pages)--a zombie free natural disaster story! Technically its release date is September 27, but it seems to be available on Amazon now....

Here's the blurb:

"Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don't realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the Earth forever.

Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when the supervolcano erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter. When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait--to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.

With nonstop action, a little romance, and realistic science, debut author Mike Mullin tells a mesmerizing story. Readers will turn Ashfall's pages breathlessly, and continue to ponder Alex and Darla's fate long after they close the book."

I'm prepped--a favorite dvd in our house is Super Volcano, a documentary about this very volcano! And even though I've never actually sat down and watched it myself (what is the point of non-fiction dvds if not to occupy the young while one does other things?) I've absorbed lots of it....

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

9/20/11

not a review-- Resenting the Hero, by Moira J. Moore

This cover stinks in so many ways. Pretend I haven't shown it to you. I have a vague feeling that I saw this book in the store when it first came out, and felt ill.

But I am open to overcoming cover sickness, with persuasion. And so here I am, writing a quick post to say that Angie, of Angieville, was right to recommend Resenting the Hero (2006) and, presumably, its sequels (although I haven't read them yet. I will be). Lovely character driven fantasy, where the interplay between male main character and female main character is front and center, and both are extraordinarily interesting people, and the clashes of their personalities and suspicious not knowing what to make of each other -ness sweep the reader along in a fascinating world with a very different and most intriguing kind of magic!

The plot did kind of fall apart for me toward the end, because I think that some people should have been acting more than just a tad differently than they were, under the circumstances. But I didn't much care, because Taro and Lee were rocking my world in the lovely escapist way that a working mother with a decrepit house sometimes needs more than anything else....(or the stressed teenager--I would have loved this back then too!).

I just went back and re-read Angie's review of the first book. It is surprisingly ungushing--positive, but not glowing. However, by the time she gets to the sixth book (reviewed earlier this month), her enthusiasm is apparent to the meanest intelligence!

It's so nice to have five lovely books waiting for me to enjoy them. Thanks Angie!

Come Back, Lucy, aka Mirror of Danger, by Pamela Sykes

Come Back, Lucy by Pamela Sykes (1977), published in the US as Mirror of Danger, is one I've been meaning to review for ages--it has an extremely loyal following of readers who were haunted by it, and was made into a television show that seems to have been equally popular.

Lucy has lived a very quiet childhood brought up by her extremely old-fashioned aunt--playing spillikins and croquet, educated at home, and generally out-of-step with modern (1970s) children. When her aunt dies, Lucy is sent off to relatives she has never met (an uncle and aunt with three children of their own) and finds herself in a completely alien environment. The house is noisy--full of popular music, and television, and arguing. It is old on the inside, but in the process of being modernized (personal shudder) inside. And Lucy has nothing whatsoever in common with her cousins, and doesn't even have a room of her own. She doesn't want to be there one single bit.

And her cousins don't know what to make of Lucy either--she makes no attempt to even try to see any good in them, and it's hard to be friendly with someone who clearly doesn't want to be friends.

Lucy, in her loneliness, goes up to the attic alone--a place where the past of the old house has been left undisturbed. And there she meets Alice, who brings her back in time to the 19th century to play. At first, Alice seems like the perfect friend. But every time Lucy goes back to the past, Alice shows more and more of her true character. Alice always gets what she wants, no matter if she has to lie or cheat to do so. And now Alice wants Lucy to stay with her forever....

It's a lovey psychological drama, as Lucy's perceptions, and those of the reader, change over the course of the book. Alice becomes increasingly unlikeable, and downright terrifying at the end, and her modern family grows increasingly more sympathetic. I simultaneously sympathized deeply with Lucy, while wanting, now and then, to shake her just tad. And I sympathized with her new family too, but really wanted to shake the parents, especially toward the beginning of the book! (Honestly, when you bring a grief-stricken child into your home, you should make some effort to cut down on outside obligations and pay particular attention to her, finding out what she likes and what would make her feel safe and at home. Humph.)

It's more ghost story in feel than it is time travel--although Lucy goes back in time to visit Alice, with some small issues of clothing discussed, Alice seems to be actually haunting Lucy (and to a lesser extent, others in the family). It's the relationship between the two girls, rather than going back to the past, that's central, so if you are looking for a trip to Victorian England, you might be disappointed.

But at any event, it's a spooky, character-driven page turner that sticks in the mind, and I can totally believe that if, like so many commenters on Goodreads, I had read it as a child, it would have knocked my socks off.

Especially recommended for reading at during the Christmas season, when the book takes place--it's shows a nice contrast between a proper old-fashioned Victorian-style Christmas and a bright modern 1970s one. (Poor Lucy's horror when she saw her new family's decorating style resonated with me!)

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can watch the 1970s tv show based on this book in the comfort of your own home--here's the first episode.

(Thanks, Anamaria, for lending this one to me!)

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