5/31/12

An introvert's guide to having a good time at BEA

I am going to BEA, and the book blogger convention, and two night time book events. And I am anxious.

Not because of being shy--there will be lots of people there who I already know and can't wait to see again, plus blogging friends who I can't wait to meet in real life!

But I am anxious because I am an introvert, and I wilt easily in a hothouse environment of excitement and gaiety and noise and chatter. So I thought that, in case there were others of the introvert persuasion who were similarly anxious, I would offer some advice, based on my experiences last year (and encourage myself, in the process!).

General Advice:

Yes, you are going to want to meet people and talk to people. But you do not have to talk to everyone! It is much less tiring to have a few in depth conversations than many excited ones.

It is not a competition. You do not have to prove anything to others. You are going because you love books, and love talking to people about books. Allow yourself to enjoy that, without fretting about what other people are thinking about you! Chances are, they aren't, anyway. They are probably thinking about books.

Drink lots of water. Finding water fountains and spending time drinking can give pointfulness to idle minutes during which you might feel that you aren't Doing Enough.

On the exhibit floor:

--when you are on the exhibit floor, don't spend all your energy being diffident at the big and busy publishing booths, where folks are trying to talk to lots of people. Seek out the smaller, though equally interesting, publishers. Last year, my best publisher conversation was at the Kane Miller booth--nicely one on one.

--If you want to get some conversation with larger publishers, or publishers you don't know about, find an extroverted friend who will do the ice-breaking. I had a nice few hours last year riding the coat-tales of Pam, aka Mother Reader.

--it can be hard for the introvert to initiate a conversation. In the heat of the moment, the introvert might nervously find herself saying "I blog about middle grade science and fiction and fantasy what books do you have coming out are there arcs I can have." This is Bad, and will not happen to me this year! Instead, I will be Prepared! I will have a little cheat sheet for each publisher, so that I can say, "Oh, I really enjoyed book x. And I'm really looking forward to book y." This will be both honest, and pleasingly friendly.

--lines are the introvert's friend. There is a peacefulness to just sitting there, waiting for a signing to begin. You may, if you wish, chat in an idle way with line-mates, but it is not necessary. Do not waste physic energy being vaguely jealous of groups of people who all know each other and who are sitting in a closed circle laughing and chatting! You will have plenty of opportunities to socialize; take advantage of the peace of queueing to regroup.

--you do not have to spend every moment of your life on the exhibit floor or in the cafe, talking and networking and being excited! The Javits center does not offer much in the way of restful retreats--I explored it pretty well last year, looking for one. But I did snatch some down time all by myself sitting outside around the corner from where the buses come, just having a little snack and enjoying the sun. Totally unscenic, but calming (although you will look pretty eccentric sitting all by yourself on the curb). There are also conference rooms off to the left of the exhibit hall. Some will be in use, but others will be empty. Use these empty rooms as a place to sit and look at the books you've acquired, and, as you gradually feel more peaceful, you'll be better able to make sane decisions about whether or not to keep them.

Off the exhibit floor

The introvert might feel that everyone else already has friends they want to talk to, and may be anxious that no one wants to talk to her. Let's just assume, for the sake of peace of mind, that this is false. There will be people who will be too busy with others to talk to you, but that is not your problem. Look for those standing on the outskirts. Say hi. They will either be friendly, or, if they are hostile, not worth talking to anyway.

If you are going to an after hours event, be aware that you might not have much energy to throw yourself into a wild and noisy fray. Allow yourself to be a spectator. There is nothing wrong with spectating. (Dark, comfortable clothes can give a sense of security when spectating, although they should be livened with sparkling accessories to show that you are a scintillating person once approached).

Although it might be tempting, I suggest not taking a break from humanity during the hour or so you may have on your hands between the daytime events and the evening events--the danger in doing this is that you might completely run out of steam and just want to go home before the evening event gets going (and then you will kick yourself). Instead, I'd advise (and hope I'll be able to take my own advice) finding a few safe friends (ie, ones you can just be yourself with), and maybe finding a peaceful cafe (if such a thing exists in Manhattan) where you can hear yourselves talk.

When you are tired of being at the evening events, which will probably be before others are, congratulate yourself for having gone, and leave.

In conclusion, remember the words of Eeyore: "We can't all, and some of us don't." And it's just the way we are, and we can still have a good time.

(here is Part II--How to leave home (and go to BEA) if you are an introvert)

5/30/12

Ordinary Magic, by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

The story of Abby Hale, the hero of Ordinary Magic (Bloomsbury, May 8, 2012, middle grade) by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, is, in one significant respect, the opposite of Harry Potter's story. Harry, of course, finds out that he's a wizard, and is sent off to a magical boarding school. Abby, on the other hand, has grown up in a world full of magic, and is confident that when she is tested (as all 12 year olds are), she will be proven to be a magic user like all the rest of her family.

But Abby fails the test. She is a despised "ord," and to many people, ords are less than human. Ordinary children are shunned as if they were contagious, not welcome in school, discarded by their families. An ord's only use is to be used as a tool by adventurers on magical quests--spells that would zap a magic user to bits have no effect on ords; unfortunately for the ords, however, there are many other dangers on such quests that do prove almost inevitably fatal. So ords are valuable possessions, very much in demand, and Abby's family could have sold her off for a considerable chunk of change.

But Abby's family refuses to abandon her to such a fate. Instead, her oldest sister, an incredibly powerful magic user who is a confidant of the king, arranges for Abby to attend a special boarding school--one for ordinary kids. The primary point of the school is not to educate the children (although there is that) but to keep them safe, and teach them to defend themselves. Not only are adventurers eager to kidnap them, but supernatural creatures see ords as easy prey....as Abby and her new friends learn to their horror, when the defenses of their school are breached.

It's a very fun twist of the standard magical kid tropes. Abby is a likable main character, and the school and the dangers that beset its students make for truly entertaining reading. The world-building is done well, I thought, with all the magical-ness dropped into the story in a pleasantly casual way, with no awkward information dumping.

Perhaps more could have been made of Abby's feelings about being ordinary--only passing mention is made of what is surely a more traumatic experience for both Abby and her family, and so there's not a lot of emotional punch to it. But the plight of the ords in general--pariahs and possessions--added depth to the story. Though the grown-up reader might have to work a bit to suspend disbelief about the premise of kids being cast aside, I think the target audience won't have this trouble. And I think the whole idea of shunned children is one that has a visceral appeal to the anxious young. That being said, the fact that Abby's own family continues to be loving and supportive lessens the trauma, so sensitive young readers shouldn't be too distressed!

I'm looking forward to the next book--especially because I'm more than somewhat interested in the hints of romance viz Abby's big sister!

5/29/12

At the Firefly Gate, by Linda Newbery, for Timeslip Tuesday

Most time travel stories take a person back, or forward--they are still themselves. More rarely, the central character becomes part of someone else's life, thinking that person's thoughts, seeing what that person saw. At the Firefly Gate (2004) by Linda Newbery, uses that later sort of time travel, and mixes it, very gently, with a bit of ghost story.

Young Henry is cross at the world, but in particular with the parents who moved him from his happy life in London off to a village cottage in Suffolk--the summer ahead seems lonely and pointless. But although Grace, the slightly older girl next door, lives up to his expectations and is hostile, Henry's first weeks in his new home are not at all what he expected. There's Grace's old aunt, Dotty, slowly dying but full of life. There are friendly kids in the village, who take Henry into their world.

And then there is the man who stand by the gate outside Henry's house in the late evening, smoking, and waiting...while all around him flash the lights of fireflies (and the author actually does make clear that these are glow-worms, this being England, just in case you were worried about that point).

Henry feels drawn to this mysterious man, who no one else seems to see. And stranger still is that, from time to time, Henry finds himself briefly living bits that man's memories....of life as a young man in the air force, in World War II.

In the garden next door, Dotty still wonders what happens to the Henry she lost long ago, when his plane never came home. The modern day Henry's memories of the past hold the answer, if he can bring himself to talk to her about what he has seen.

And by the fire fly gate, the other Henry is waiting...

I first read about this one over at The Children's War, where you can find a more detailed synopsis, if you are so inclined. I heartily agree with what Alex says about this one--that the main characters, Henry, Grace, and Dotty, are believable individuals, who, more to the point as far as my reading pleasure is concerned, I found likable and interesting (even prickly Grace!). And it was just simply nice to read about a moving, unforced and unpreachy friendship between a boy and an old woman.

The timeslipiness and ghost-ness added just the right amount of poignant magic, and if I never was that much the wiser for why Henry in the present was able to channel Henry from the past, I didn't care.

So all in all, a very satisfying mix of the mundane life of kids in an English village with memories and mysteries from World War II. Strongly recommended to people who like the same books I like,* who will find it pleasantly diverting.

*which is totally different from recommending a book to all and sundry. This is why I dislike giving stars--this one, for instance, I feel is a solid 4.3381 (I thought about that number for a long time; it is not meant to be funny) on the scale of my personal taste, but yet I hesitate to press it wildly and extravagantly into the hands of all comers, because it is driven by character and emotion, with not much that happens, and it has a dream-like quality that some might find chaffing (and Henry's blossoming social life would be hard for a cynic to swallow). In short, it's all very Difficult, this reviewing thing.

But I'm glad that Alex recommended it strongly enough so that I picked it up.

5/27/12

Another week's worth of middle grade sci fi/fantasy postings from around the blogs

Welcome to this week's roundup of posts relating to middle grade fantasy and sci fi that I found in my blog reading; please send me your link, or leave it in the comments, if I missed it!

Sad news, first. Peter D. Sieruta, who wrote the incomparable blog, Collecting Children's Books, has died. This is just really a sad, huge loss for the world of children's books, and of course my heart goes out to his family, and real life friends. I myself never had the pleasure of meeting Peter, but knowing that he was in the world, able to share his vast knowledge of children's books at the drop of the hat, was a great thing. Jules of Seven Impossible Things has more.

The Reviews

Always Neverland, by Zoe Barton, at A Room With Books

Amulet: The Last Council, by Kazu Kibuishi, at Book Nut

Bigger Than a Breadbox, by Laurel Snyder, at Library Mama

The Boggart, by Susan Cooper, at Book-a-Day Almanac

Deadly Pink, by Vivien Vande Velde, at Book Aunt

Giants Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre, at Library Mama and Wandering Librarians

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Slatebreakers

The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson, at Wandering Librarians

A Greyhound of a Girl, by Roddy Doyle, at Waking Brain Cells

Grimalkin, the Witch Assassin (The Last Apprentice), by Joseph Delaney, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Gustav Gloom and the People Taker, by Adam-Troy Castro, at Shannon Messenger

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at books4yourkids and Random Musings of a Bibliphile

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans, at books4yourkids

Knight's Castle, by Edward Eager, at Hope is the Word

Lawn Mower Magic, by Lynne Jonell, at Secrets & Sharing Soda

The Mapmaker and the Ghost, by Sarvenaz Tash, at Bookworm1856

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-Detectives Extraordinaire, by Polly Horvath, at Oops...Wrong Cookie

Once Upon a Toad, by Heather Vogel Frederick, at Book Aunt

Ordinary Magic, by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, at Small Review and at Book Aunt

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, at Parenthetical

Phoebe Alleyn and the Quantum Sorcerer, by S.P. Brown, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Prince Who Fell From the Sky, by John Claude Bemis, at My Precious and Bunbury in the Stacks

Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley, at Charlotte's Library

The Rifts of Rime, by Steven Peck, at The Write Path

Searching for Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Book Nut

Seeds of Rebellion, by Brandon Mull, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

Spaceheadz, by Jon Scieszka, at Wondrous Reads

Snivel, by Dale E. Basye, at Back to Books

Storybound, by Marissa Burt, at Carina's Books

The Wizard of Dark Street, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, at Sonderbooks

A two for one, at Candace's Book Blog--The Thief Lord and The Magician's Elephant

Authors and Interviews

Marissa Burt (Storybound) at Literary Rambles (plus giveaway!)

James Mihaley (You Can't Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, Please!) at From the Mixed Up Files and at Project Mayhem

Alyson Miers (Charlinder's Walk), at A Thousand Wrongs (plus giveaway!)

Other Good Stuff:

For those of us interested in books out in the UK, the Bookbuzz 2012 list has just been posted (and includes some mg sci fi/fantasy books that I had never heard of before and now want to read....)

A meditation on Fakelore vs Folklore, by Jane Yolen, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

"It's Complicated"
a blog dialogue hosted by CBC Diversity (an orginization "dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children's literature -- encouraging diversity of race, gender, geographical origin, sexual orientation, and class among both the creators of and the topics addressed by children's literature.")


And having nothing to do with mg sff, here's a poignant image I felt compelled to share (via Jenny Davidson). "The ordeal left him with minor wounds...." More at the BBC

5/24/12

Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley

Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley (Dial, April 2012, middle grade)

In the town of Remarkable, where "the air was always fresh and the weather was always pleasant" (page 1), just about every resident lives up to the high-standards of remarkability. The adults are world-renowned practitioners of their various vocations, and there's even a most remarkable sea monster living in the town's remarkable lake (about which more later). The children are so extraordinary that they all go to the school for the remarkably gifted...all, that is, except for Jane Doe.

She is the only ordinary child in the whole town, and the only pupil at the public school.

But Jane's life is about to become extraordinary, when two twins with a remarkable talent for mayhem arrive in town and manage to get themselves expelled from the school for the remarkably gifted, joining Jane's class. Under the chaotic influence of the Grimlet twins, Jane's teacher casts aside the cloak of normalcy--and begins instructing her three students in the ways of piracy.

And this is not the only intrusion of piracy into Remarkable. A stranger has come to town, clearly a former pirate himself...and he is being hunted by other pirates.

Suddenly Jane finds herself at the center of events as piracy threatens the peace of Remarkable (in mildly absurd ways). But there is a bigger problem. The town's lake monster (the most remarkable one in the world, of course, though a shy and retiring creature), is threatened by the construction of a new (utterly remarkable) bell tower. And Jane's grandfather, a man even more normal than Jane (so much so that people forget he's even in the room), is the only one who knows what must be done to keep the monster safe.

It's a light and funny story. The extremes of specialness exhibited by the townsfolk, not least of whom are Jane's siblings, make for entertaining reading, as do the shenanigans of the Grimlet twins and the over-the-top piraticisms of Jane's teacher. Foley keeps a somewhat wry and humorous tone throughout--even when she's detailing the remarkable things that make her fictional town special, it's clear that she's enjoying the over-the-topness of it all, which made me enjoy it myself.

That being said, I must confess I wanted to shake sense into most of the town's inhabitants, and wish Foley had stirred them up considerably more than she did! As an adult reader, the arrogance of the people of Remarkable is more distasteful than I think it would be to a child reader. I think that the average child is, perforce, more used to not having all the knowledge and abilities of the grown-ups around them, and more used to wanting to be special--to be seen, heard, and appreciated (although goodness knows some of us (ie me) have moments (hours, days...) of wanting to be Special Snowflakes). In short, though, I think this is one with much more child appeal than appeal to grown up readers of middle grade fantasy.

However, something I did appreciate about the book is that the author stays true to her central character. Jane never does develop some miraculously special gift of her own (although she does end up happier at the end of the book). It becomes clear to the reader (although not to the majority of the remarkable characters themselves) that being extraordinarily gifted isn't enough to bring happiness, that sometimes you have to take control of your own life (and run off to sea in a piratical way, if that appeals, as two character's did with mixed results).

And in a similar vein, Jane's Grandfather, the most ordinary character of them all, proves himself a hero through a very ordinary (though slightly illegal) course of action (though his bright and sparkling townsfolk don't really realize what he's done, which is fine with him).

A good one for the child who appreciates tongue in cheek humor of a light and fun kind, especially one who has, like Jane, always wanted a dog. Or wanted to run away to sea, or sing to a lake monster....or who simply is tired of being ordinary.

Other thoughts at Mother Daughter Book Reviews, Humbleindigo, and Book Nut

And here's an interview with the author at Presenting Lenore

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/23/12

Transcendence, by C.J. Omololu, for Waiting on Wednesday

Browsing through new and forthcoming YA fantasy covers over at The Enchanted Inkpot, I found a book that I knew I had to buy, based on the cover alone. I can't, at this point in my life, support diversity in books for kids and teens by actually writing them myself, but I do have a credit card, and I know how to use it. It is also nice that it sounds like a book I'd have been interested in, regardless (but when and why did Cole become a girl's name??? For how much of the book will this bother me?)

Transcendence, by C.J. Omololu (Walker Books, June 5, 2012, Young Adult)

"When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.

As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.

Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live?"

I find the placement of the male and female characters on the cover interesting too--I can't decide if the dude is the passive one, with the girl being in charge, or if she is hiding behind him. I think she looks too fierce for the latter...

(Those interested in writing diversly for kids and teens might want to visit this week's series at CBC Diversity. And anyone interested in the representation of divesity on YA covers should check out this post at Kate Hart's blog)

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

5/22/12

Why I didn't post a time travel review today-- Macbeth, performed by ensembles from 18 schools

Just got back from watching a performance of Macbeth, performed by kids from 18 different schools from around my city. There were at least 30 different Macbeths, sometimes as many as five on stage at once....and some scenes were funny, and some moving, and some (like my son's scene--he was McDuff's son) were utterly brilliant. Or would have been, had he not had his back to the audience for one key line. Still, he did an excellent job being a smart alack to his mother.... almost as if he had had practice.

Happily, the Edwardian news boy hat we bought at a Steampunk festival a little while back was perfect for his role, and he was smothered by it most realistically at the end of the scene.

It's been about thirty years since I read or saw Macbeth, and (bringing this post on to bookish topicness), I was pleased to hear two quotes I recognized from books--"thou cream-faced loon" and "What, all my pretty chickens and their dam?" (although I don't remember the character quoting the later using "pretty.") I'm not saying what books they're from, in case anyone wants to play along at home...

5/21/12

Unraveling, by Elizabeth Norris

Unraveling, by Elizabeth Norris (Balzer + Bray, YA, April 24, 2012) is a sci-fi romance thriller, that I found a gripping (though perhaps overly busy) read.

When we first meet seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner, she's finishing up a day as a lifeguard at a San Diego beach, making plans with her new almost boy friend, and finding her car tires slashed by bitchy jealous girls.

My thoughts: Nothing unusual. She seems nice enough, the boy seems nice enough, the girls are bitchy.

But then Janelle decides to jog home...and is hit by a pickup truck and killed...except that the one person on earth who can bring her back to life just happens to be there--Ben Michaels, a high school classmate from the stoner fringe, a boy who Janelle had barely noticed. And Ben heals her broken body.

My thoughts: is Ben an angel???? (this isn't the vibe I got from the cover--there's nary a feather in sight--but you never know).

Being killed and brought back to life is strange and disturbing, but worse is to come. Janelle knows her Dad, a high-up guy in the FBI, will have started a file on her accident--finding out who the driver was, and the circumstances. But when she starts snooping through his files, she opens a can of worms.

My thought: lax security, Dad.

Here's what her Dad is investigating--bodies of unidentifiable people turning up, hideously, horribly burned by radiation, and an extraordinarily high-tech countdown clock. Both Janelle and her father reach the same conclusion--that there is a bio-terror assault on its way. Janelle enlists her best friend, a guy named Alex, to help her find out more.

My thoughts: ok, an interesting FBI-ish mystery/plot to be unravelled by clever teens. Fine.

And meanwhile, at high school, J. is (naturally--the dude brought her back from the dead) drawn to Ben. He is More than he Seemed. We see J.'s mom, caught in the grips of horrible depression, and see her trying to look out for her younger brother--she is the caretaker of her family.

My thoughts: I liked the high school bits, where Ben and J. spar in English class and conduct physics experiments, lots. He is showing no signs of being Angelic--but obviously there is something up with him (like, the ability to bring people back from the dead).

Then someone close to Janelle is killed. The darkness grows. The clock is ticking...

My thoughts: I am interested in this book, but there is still lots and lots of it left to read! The bioterrorism plot doesn't seem to be advancing much. Ben is still not an angel.

THEN. A twist! An unexpected leap into sci fi! A sudden game changing revelation, that ups the stakes (both in terms of Ben and J.'s romance, and the fate of the world).

My thoughts, on reaching the end of the book: Goodness. What a lot just happened. It all makes sense now...but I think I liked it best when we were just concerned with horrible dead bodies and the threat of bioterrorism...the sci fi part was not so gripping, plus the romance plot begins to take up a lot of room...

My general thoughts about Janelle: All her life J. has been the person who saved others--even as a kid, she was pulling kids out from under waves; as she grew older, she had to save her family when her mom became depressed (and her little brother is only three years younger--she is way too over-protective).

Added to that, she is (understandably) disturbed about having been (possibly? she doesn't know) date-raped at a party a few years earlier. This is only tangentially relevant.

Now, as a seventeen year old, she has to help save the world. By the end of the book, she has fallen hard in love, she has lost loved ones, and her city has been devastated by horrible earthquakes. Yoicks.

A more believable, though possibly less interesting, story would be one in which J. cracks under pressure, tells her little brother to help more with the household tasks, and gives voice to the anger she feels towards her father viz. dumping the burden of her mother on her, and possibly runs screaming out of the house.

But no, she decides to play Girl Detective.

Thoughts on J.'s best friend, Alex--Alex is basically the guy next door, the only person who is consistently there for J. He is half-Asian, has a controlling mother, and seems to have no point in life (or the story) except being there for J., and being a voice of reason. Spoiler: highlight to read--I never like it when a minority side-kick gets killed for no good reason, as is the case here. Adding to J.'s burden of grief is unnecessary, plot-wise, at this point in the book.

Final thought about the book: a brisk read with lots of X-file-esque appeal. Some suspension of critical disbelief required. Perhaps too full of minor bits of story that don't advance the plot directly enough.

Note on sex: yes, there is
Note on graphically described dead people: yes, they are.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/20/12

This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction (5/20/2012)

Welcome to this Sunday's round-up of the middle grade fantasy/sci fi related blog postings (at least, those that I, in my week of blog reading, found and remembered to save the links to after finding). Please send me links I missed! And also, since the point of this whole round-up business is to make it easier for us mg sff fans to find reviews (I myself started doing this because I wanted someone else to have already started doing it), feel free to spread the word that these round-ups exist (thank you those who already have!)

Biggest news of the week: The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman, has won the Andre Norton Award! (Nebula for YA sci fi/fantasy), and the novel winner is Among Others, by Jo Walton. (Here's the whole list). And City of Lies, by Lian Tanner, has won the Aurealis Award for Children's Fiction (Australian sci fi/fantasy)

The Reviews

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor, at Bibliofile

Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, at Wondrous Reads

Beware the Ninja Weenies, by David Lubar, at Intergalactic Academy

The Cabinet of Earths, by Anne Nesbet, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Cold Cereal, by Adam Rex, at Book Nut

The Dragon's Eye, by Kaza Kingsley, at Fantasy Literature

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, edited by Kazu Kibuishi, at Book Aunt

A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, at Fantastic Reads

The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, at My Brain on Books

Flora's Fury, by Ysabeau S. Wilce, at TheHappyNappyBookseller

Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rodaso, at Book Aunt

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins, at Wandering Librarians

Grimalkin the Witch Assassin, by Joseph Delaney, at Karrissa's Reading Review

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Chris Healy, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Into the Dream, by William Sleator, at Back to Books

The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan, at Fyrefly's Book Blog

Medusa the Mean (Goddess Girls 8) by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Small Review

Ordinary Magic, by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, at Popcorn Reads, Known to Read, and Steph Su Reads

Project Jackalope, by Emily Ecton, at BooksYALove

Return to Exile, by E.J. Patten, at Gamila's Review

The Rock of Ivanore, by Laurisa White Reyes, at The Book Cellar and The Write Path

The Saga of Rex, by Michel Gagne, at Karissa's Reading Review

Seeing Cinderella, by Jenny Lundquist, at Shannon Messenger

The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan, at The Brain Lair

Swipe, by Evan Angler, at artsy musings of a bibliophile

Talee and the Fallen Object, by Jacquitta A. McManus, at The Children's Book Review

The War at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks, at Book Aunt
A Well-Timed Enchantment, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Charlotte's Library

The Whisper, by Emma Clayton, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Witch Week, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Small Review

A three for one post at Ms. Yingling Reads-- 13 Hangmen, by Art Corriveau, Sir Seth Thislethwaite Seeks the Truth of Betty the Yeti, by Richard Thake, and Bridge of Time, by Lewis Buzbee,

Authors and Interviews

Jasmine Richards (The Book of Wonders) at The Enchanted Inkpot

Danika Dinsmore (The Ruins of Noe) at Just Deb

Stephanie Burgis (Renegade Magic) at Smack Dab in the Middle and distraction no. 99

Laurisa White Reyes (The Rock of Ivanore) at Cynsations and The Children's Book Review

Barry Wolverton (Neversink) at Jean BookNerd

Other Good Stuff:

A celebration of dragons at Scribble City Central

From Flavorwire (via 100 Scope Notes) comes 10 of the Weirdest Children's Book Authors of All Time

Neil Gaiman gives the commencement address at Univeristy of the Arts

And finally, for those of us who miss our dollhouses, the most beautiful miniature food I've ever seen (more pictures here, at Jules; found via Light Reading)

5/17/12

Shadows on the Moon, by Zoe Marriott

Shadows on the Moon, by Zoe Marriott (Candlewick, April 2012, YA)

In an alternate Asian world, perhaps closer to Japan than anywhere else, Suzume lives the ordinary life of a well-born, sheltered girl. She's still too young for marriage, and, as far as she knows, she's lacking any extraordinary talents or beauty. She is wrong.

On her fourteenth birthday, the Prince's men come riding up the road, and slaughter her father, her cousin Aimi, and the household retainers. But Suzume escapes, instinctively disguising herself as a hare, and then concealing herself in the chimney flue under a magical blanket of ash. Youta, now the family's old ashman, but with a sad story of his own, finds her, and explains that she is a shadow weaver, one who can spin illusions.

Her mother, away from home during the massacre, almost immediately marries an old family friend, Terayama--who has been determined to possess her mother for himself for years. At Terayama's estate, Suzume's shadows keep a demure smile on her face, but she turns to self-harm to find release from her grief and her situation of forced passivity...and her growing fear that Teryama does not wish her well. When she learns that Teryama himself was responsible for the killings, her shadows are not enough to save her from his need to kill her, too.

Disguised from Teryama's eyes in the mundane rags and filth of a drudge, the only light in Suzume's life comes from clandestine meetings with a young foreigner--Otieno, one of a group of visitors from a land of dark-skinned people whose culture is very different from her own. But her desire for revenge, and her constant self-harm, stand in the way of her happiness, and when she does something unforgivable, she flees into the night.

Fate crosses her path with the one person who might help her take her revenge on Teryama once and for all. If Suzume, well-born girl turned drudge, can transform herself into a courtesan of unparalleled mystery and charm, she can become the Shadow Princess, and destroy her enemy. And give up on the love between herself and her young foreigner....despite the promise he offers of a life of hope.

It is a dark story, with flashes of light--just as the title, Shadows on the Moon, promises. I became emotionally invested in Suzume very quickly, and so I found it especially hard going to read about her time as a drudge--the hopelessness and pain are pretty intense, and I was anxious for the story to move onward more quickly than it did. But the immediacy of the darkness does lift, although, until the end, it remains unclear if revenge will swallow Suzume's life.

There is magic, but it is not the Point of the story; this isn't a "girl learns to use her magic powers" tale, although the shadow weaving plays an extremely important role in her journey. This kept the magic intriguing, and tantalizing--only gradually do we learn what Suzumi, and other gifted friends she meets, are capable of.

As might be expected from the above, this is very much a character driven book. If the reader doesn't care about Suzume, there isn't much to keep the pages turning--there are no magical battles, or monsters, or supernatural beings of any sort to be confronted. Instead there is intrigue, and plotting, and grief, and internal tension, a mix to which Suzume's romance, doomed or not, brings much needed relief.

If it were not for the rather protracted time in which Suzume is a miserable drudge, I would have loved this--despite that, I liked it quite a bit (although aspects of the story required some firm suspension of disblief). Clearly, I'm shallow--I liked best the part where Suzume is preparing herself to be chosen the Shadow Princesses, and learning dances, and playing music, and falling even more in love with Otieno...

Shadows on the Moon was previously published in the UK, which I'm mentioning as an excuse to show the lovely UK cover, shown at right.

Side note on diversity: as well as being set in an Asian inspired country, with the foreigners seeming to me to come from a West African inspired country, there is also a very important character who, though born male, lives as a woman fully and completely, without this being a source of internal conflict for her.

5/16/12

What Came from the Stars, by Gary Schmidt--Waiting on Wednesday

I recently came across news of a forthcoming book that made me sqee (gently) and add it tout suite to my list of must haves--What Came from the Stars, by Gary Schmidt (Clarion Books, September 4, 2012).

Now, the blurb itself wasn't exactly what made me want the book--it doesn't, for instance, feature an orphanage, an old house, a plucky girl, or enchanted birds/foxes/horses, to name a few things I like in books. But it sounds reasonable enough (although any mention of a dark lord makes me feel a tad twitchy):

"The Valorim are about to fall to a dark lord when they send a necklace containing their planet across the cosmos, hurtling past a trillion starsall the way into the lunchbox of Tommy Pepper, sixth grader, of Plymouth, Mass. Mourning his late mother, Tommy doesn't notice much about the chain he found, but soon he is drawing the twin suns and humming the music of a hanorah. As Tommy absorbs the art and language of the Valorim, their enemies target him. When a creature begins ransacking Plymouth in search of the chain, Tommy learns he must protect his family from villains far worse than he's ever imagined."

No. It was not this blurb that made me want this ever so much. It is that GARY SCMIDT, author of my dearly beloved The Wednesday Wars (and Okay for Now), has written a middle grade fantasy! Which I call very thoughtful of him, because a. this is what I read most and b. I will read anything he writes.

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

5/15/12

A Well-Timed Enchantment, by Vivian Vande Velde, for Timeslip Tuesday

A Well-Timed Enchantment, by Vivian Vande Velde (1990, middle grade--that's the original cover shown at left).

Deanna is not happy to be spending her summer with her French relatives in the middle of the country, with only the cat, Oliver, for company. But she becomes even more unhappy when she accidentally drops her Micky Mouse watch down an old well...it was a treasured memento of the last time her father was a happy member of her family.

And she becomes still more unhappy when two rather snooty elves (although they don't think much of that term) appear, and proceed to scold her for having dropped the watch into a time-displacement vortex (the well is no ordinary well). Unless she can get it back, they inform her, it will alter the middle ages, and, in a domino effect, the entire course of world history will be changed.

So without any choice in the matter, Deanna is plunged back to the middle-ages...but the elves have thoughtfully provided her with a companion--Oliver the cat, in human form.

The middle ages to which Deanna travels is something of a deliberate caricature, with bumbling would-be-knights, a vain and mopish lady of the castle, pigs, greasy chunks of meat, etc. And Deanna and Oliver have no clue how to behave--the elves failed to provide lessons in castle etiquette for Deanna (although they did bestow the gift of medieval French), and Oliver, being a cat, is even more at sea. Over-the-top medieval romance complicates matters, but more seriously, the castle is home to a rather terrifying alchemist who has some genuine magical abilities, and naturally, he's the one who ends up with the watch...

It's all a bit silly, with plenty of deliberate eye-rolling moments, some slap-stick, and flashes of the sharp humor I appreciate in Vivian Vande Velde. The best part of the book, by far, is Oliver the cat--we see through Deanna's concerned eyes as he struggles with being human. Sometimes this is poignant, and sometimes amusing, especially when dogs are mentioned:

"Well," [said Deanna], "you heard Leonard and Baylen were fighting to see whose fiancee is the fairest. It turns out since Leonard lost so badly, he figures his lady must be a real dog, so he wants to replace her with me."

Oliver stopped and stared at her. "Leonard is marrying a dog?"

Deanna sighed. She reminded herself that he had come to her rescue twice already today. She sighed again. "It's just another expression, Oliver." (page 57)

Not only does Oliver add great interest to the story, but he is also the catalyst for change in Deanna. She not a very strong character, being kind of lonely and passive, and she knows it, but her concern for Oliver does, by the end of the book, force her to greater depths of personality. "Will Deanna and Oliver fall in love?" becomes a much more interesting question than the slightly MacGuffiny story of the watch.

I found this a pleasant enough read of the faux time-travel sort (there's no point in expecting historical accuracy), and the cat-loving girl suffering through the blahs of sixth and seventh grade would probably enjoy it a lot more.

5/13/12

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs

Welcome to this week's round-up of middle grade (ages 9-12, ish) blog posts that I found in my reading this week! Please let me know if I missed yours.

The Reviews:

Chronal Engine, by Greg Leitich Smith, at Charlotte's Library

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, at Strange and Random Happenstance

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, at Gina Carey

A Greyhound of a Girl, by Roddy Doyle, at books4yourkids

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Good Books and Good Wine and The Book Smugglers

How the Camel Got its Hump, and How the Leopard Got its Spots, by Rudyard Kipling (graphic novel editions) at Back to Books here and here

Inkheart and Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke, at Adventures of a Book Wyrm here and here

Keeper, by Kathi Appelt, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

Magyk, by Angie Sage (audiobook review) at Wandering Librarians

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at That's Another Story

Ordinary Magic, by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, at Popcorn Reads

Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley, at My Brain on Books

The Sixty-eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Storybound, by Marissa Burt, at library_mama

A Tale of Time City, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Finding Wonderland

Time Snatchers, by Richard Ungar, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Winterling, by Sarah Prineas, at Geo Librarian

The Wrath of Zozimos (Stickman Odyssey) by Christopher Ford, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Eight Days of Luke, and Witch Week, by Diana Wynne Jones at The Book Smugglers

From the New York Times Book Review--The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, and The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy

Giveaways:

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente at Tor (ends midnight, May 15)

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Alison's Book Marks

Barry and the Fairies of Miller Street, by Barry Dickins at Read In a Single Sitting (Aussie only)

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Small Review (May 19)

Authors and Interviews:

Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (Ordinary Magic) at My Precious, Yearning to Read, and Small Review

Laurisa White Reyes (The Rock of Ivanore) at The Book Cellar

Danika Dinsmore (The Ruins of Noe) at Dead Houseplants

Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland) at Tor

Anne Ursu (Breadcrumbs) at StorySnoops

Marissa Burt (Storybound) at Cynsations

Jonathan Auxier (Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes) at From the Mixed Up Files...

Christopher Healy (The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom) at The Book Smugglers

Other Good Stuff:

City of Lies, by Lian Tanner, has won the Aurelis Award (Australian spec. fiction) for children's fiction told primarily through words

A list of fantasy cat books at Charlotte's Library

Seth Adam Smith is working on a documentary about Lloyd Alexander; you can watch the preview at his website

Maurice Sendak (as you doubtless know) died this week. I am wondering how many writers of fantasy for children were inspired (directly or not) by Max's journey to the land of the wild things--it was probably the first book I ever read in with the ordinary was transformed into a portal to a fantasy realm, and this was the part of the book I myself loved best: "That very night in Max’s room a forest grew and grew and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around...."

5/12/12

Fantasy cats (starring Golden Cat, by Albert Bigelow Paine)

We are, if all goes well, getting a kitten tomorrow! (Hopefully one that actually will catch mice. I have caught more mice with my own two hands than our current kitty has). So here's a short list of some cat books, in which magic, or at least the supernatural, plays a big part. I know I'm missing lots--please feel free to leave your favorites in the comments!

First off, in honor of Mother's Day--Golden Cat, by Albert Bigelow Paine, illustrated by Pelagie Doane (1934). This was my mother's most loved book when she was a girl, and she passed that love on to me and my sisters; as result, the book (that's the actual one shown at left) is now in pieces, but still cherished. It's the story of an orphan girl named Cathy, who lives with a cruel step-aunt. One night Cathy is wakes to find a large golden cat outside her room. A cat that can talk: "I come on an errand, a secret errand...you are supposed to help me." It turns out that Cathy's aunt is a wicked witch--and also a cat. With the help of a magic potion, she can keep her human form--but this magic potion is also desperately needed by a Fairy prince transformed into a cat by the witch's magic. So Cathy and Golden cat find the potion, and take it to Fairy Land, but through mischance, there's not enough of it to do the job properly, and Prince Florizel is left with a white paw. Cathy, Golden Cat, and a rough old Tom cat set off on a journey, partly in Fairy Land, and partly in our world, to find the ingredients of the portion, before it is too late.

It is full of lovely descriptions, and magic, and Cathy and her cat friends are charming characters. And it is just perfect for the eight year old or so cat-loving girl, especially with the added bonus of the lovely black and white illustrations!

Sadly, it's long of print, and rather expensive...but if you ever see a copy for a reasonable price, snag it!

Another favorite cat book from my own childhood (which you can get for two cents at Amazon) was The Little Broomstick, by Mary Stewart. A girl named Mary is sent to her Great Aunt's house deep in the English countryside; there are no children her own age, and the only two creatures at all friendly are the gardener and a black cat, Tib. Mary finds a little broomstick, Tib leads her to the rare Fly-by-night flower, and next thing you know, Mary finds herself flying through the sky... and the broomstick lands in the stable yard of a school for witches.

This is not a friendly wholesome school. Horrible magical experiments are being performed on animals, including Tib's brother Gib. Gib's own owner, a boy named Peter, is desperately searching for him, and the two children, and Tib, end up rescuing the animals from their cages, and escaping the evil witches and warlocks in an utterly brilliant chase sequence that is one of my favorite bits of fantasy ever.

And here are some I read as a grown-up, and enjoyed lots!

The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber. A very charming and beautifully illustrated picture book about a cat called Mowzer who lives in the Cornish fishing village of Mousehole. When storms trap the fishing boats inside the harbor, Mowzer and old Tom, her personal fisherman, set out to test the power of the Great Storm-Cat, who's plays with fishing boats as though they were mice....The sweet songs of Mowzer tame the savage beast, and she and Tom make it home safely with a boat full of fish.

And here's another picture book by Antonia Barber--Catkin (Candlewick, 1994) A little girl has been kidnapped by fairies, and Catkin, her kitten, must journey under the hollow hill to save her. He knows not to drink from the willow stream, and never to give the fair folk his name, but will his wits be sharp enough to best the fairy king in a game of riddles that will determine his fate, and that of his friend? It's a beautifully illustrated fantasy, the type of picture book that is most excellent for the independent reader, as well as making a great read aloud.

Highway Cats, by Janet Taylor Lisle Three tiny kittens are dumped onto a highway median one night, and miraculously make it across the traffic to a scruffy patch of woods that's home to a community of cats. Hardscrabble, down-on-their luck cats, who make a living scrounging in the dumpsters of the strip mall (except for one wily Siamese, who runs a rat farm back among the trees). It's not much of a life, but the ones that are tough and self-centered survive.

This creed is disrupted by the arrival of the kittens, who melt the hearts of the toughest cats of all. And when the cats small and scraggly place in the world is threatened by a new highway ramp, it is the cats' love for the kittens (who are much, much more than ordinary kittens) that will save them all.

My older boy loved this one when he was ten.

Carbonel, The King of the Cats, by Barbara Sleigh (originally published 1955, brought back into print by the New York Review of Children's Books). Rosemary and her mother share a small flat, and there's very little money. So Rosemary decides that she'll clean houses during the summer to earn a bit herself, and sets off to the market to buy the broom she'll need. There she meets a strange old lady, who sells her a second-hand broom, one that comes with a cat...Neither the old lady (a witch) or the broom (it flys) or the cat are ordinary. The cat is Carbonel, a Prince of the Royal Blood, bound into servitude by the witch's magic, and desperate to become free so that he can save his cat people, denizens of the rooftops, from falling victim to tyranny and chaos. Rosemary and her friend John resolve to break the spell, with the help of the magic of the broom, and some tricks that Carbonel has up his paw...

It's a charming story of magic intersecting the ordinary world, that fans of Edward Eager should enjoy. And there are two sequels, The Kingdom of Carbonel, and Carbonel and Calidor, which continue the fun.

And finally, Catwings, and it sequels, by Ursula Le Guin, are utterly lovable books. Winged kittens making their way through a dangerous world! So cute! So utterly engaging!

My nine year old is reading these now, and finding them very good. (He's also engrossed in the Warriors series, and I the new kitten, which is going to be his very own, is probably going to end up being called "something" kit).

And just to give a nod to Young Adult cat books--there's White Cat, by Holly Black, and Cat Girl's Day Off, by Kimberly Pauley. I'm not doing well with fantasy or sci fi cats for grown ups--all I'm coming up with is the flying cats of Ursula Le Guin's Rocannon's World.

Edited to add:

Thanks to an anon. commenter, I've now read The Blue Cat of Castle Town, by Catherine Cate Coblentz, which can be summed up thus: magical kitten as catalyst for creative joy and artistic integrity in an early 19th century Vermont town. Here's my full review.

Like I said up top, please feel free to share your own recommendations!

5/10/12

The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi

In my review of Ship Breakers, by Paolo Bacigalupi, I said that "...the main reason I kept reading was Tool--an utterly fascinating character who is the most science-fictiony part of the book, what with being a product of genetic manipulation. There is clearly more of his story to tell--I hope it plays a large part in the sequel, coming out sometime next year."

And lo, the sequel (or rather, the prequel) is out, and Tool is a central character! And it was good.

The Drowned Cities (Little Brown, YA, 2012) takes place before the events of Ship Breaker. Tool, a human/animal hybrid, bred for war, has broken free of his captors. Half-men like himself are supposed to lose their will to live when their master dies, and they are the last of their pack, but Tool is different. Through the jungles and swamps of a future world of flooded cities and chaos a ragtag army pursues him...but he is a survivor, and even weakened by wounds that would have killed a lesser creature, he escapes...

And is found by two children, Mahlia and Mouse. Both are unwanted flotsam in this war-torn world. Mahlia, the daughter of a Chinese peacekeeper and a Drowned Cities woman, became a despised outcast when the Chinese withdrew and her father left. She escaped into the jungle, putting her own survival ahead of any altruistic thoughts for others, but lost her hand to one bloodthirsty faction in the process. Marked by her Chinese features, she's a lightning rod for fantastical hatred. Mouse's family was killed in more random slaughter--in this world, random slaughter is pretty much the order of the day-- and neither Mahlia or Mouse can envision a happy ending.

But when Mahlia and Mouse meet Tool, and the soldiers hunting him, things change.

It is a fearsomely dark place, this story. The children suffer. There is death--senseless, brutal, and bloody. There isn't a whole lot of hope. But still, Mahlia, and Mouse, and Tool are characters to care fiercely for. And Tool, impossible, unpredictable, unimaginable, makes it seem almost as though there can be a happy ending after all....keeping me reading as the characters wade through a swamp of near-death experiences and the horrors of insane, chaotic war.

I'd actually suggest reading this one before Ship Breakers, as this allows the reader to meet Tool for the first time here. In this book, a lot of the internal tension comes from not knowing if Tool can be trusted, not knowing if he can care for anything outside his own survival. Will he turn on the children, or will he help them? Is he a person to care about, or a monster?

The second reason (Tool being the first one) that the book is not entirely grim is that, even though every page makes it seem more likely that Mahlia and Mouse will be broken by violence, there is always just enough hope that they can survive with their fundamental selves intact, and make it through. In describing what happens to them, there's just the right balance of distance vs. immediacy. The reader is right there, caring fiercely, but is also able, like Mahlia herself does, to think about abstractions-- morality, altruism, and the effects of war on ordinary people.

In short: riveting, dark, powerful, and not one I'm giving to my eleven year old to read. However, I'd give this one to a YA reader who loved the Hunger Games, in a somewhat testy way: "ok, kid, you want senseless violence and struggle to survive in a dystopian world (one that seems much more horribly probable), and kids hurt and twisted through no fault of their own, take this!"

5/9/12

Waiting on Wednesday--Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I am sure that by July I will have read all the two hundred plus books on my tbr piles/dispersed scatters, and will be casting around desperately for something new to read. (Yeah right. I'll have paid off the mortgage too). But in any event, school will end, and with it the stress of homework (not my homework, but my sixth grader's; for instance, he came home yesterday announcing that he had to memorize a considerable portion of Patrick Henry's Give me liberty speech by Friday on top of everything else, and I'm sure that twenty years from now it will come in useful (maybe to impress a date with?) but at the moment it's a source of stress). At any event, after June 11 I will have more time to read!!!!!

One of the books I'm most looking forward to is Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. Those who have read it on net galley have raved about it (like my blog friend Stella Matutina), and it just popped up on my radar again when it was recommended in response to my request for place-centered, character-driven, political fantasy books (see this list for more). At any event, it sounds wonderful; here's the blurb lifted from Amazon:

"Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life."

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

5/8/12

Bitterblue winners, plus recommendations of place-centered, political-intrigue-filled, character-driven fantasy

Bitterblue, by Kirstin Cashore, is a lovely example of a place-centered, political-intrigue-filled, character-driven fantasy. Bitterblue's city, with its three wondrous bridges leading to swampland, and her castle, with its strange art filling its halls and garden, are vividly described, and the book is set firmly in these two settings. Bitterblue's struggles to understand the reverberations of past atrocities in the politics of her present drive the plot, and Bitterblue herself--young, uncertain, lonely, determined, and just plain nice--is a lovely character (here's my review).

I was happy to host a publisher-sponsored giveaway of two copies of Bitterblue, and I encouraged entrants to leave (optional) recommendations for books that shared those three elements.

The two that occurred to me were King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner, and Star Crossed, by Elizabeth Bunce, and I'd also add The King Commands, by Meg Burden, to that list (although it's not quite as one-place-eseque as I had in mind). Here's what was offered in the comments (thanks very much, all of you!), with my own thoughts in parens.:

abookandashortlatte suggested:

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith (especially the second half, Court Duel, and I would add to this Smith's Stranger to Command)

The Lumatere Chronicles
books by Melina Marchetta (yes to these on politics and character, but I'm not sure these are tightly enough centered in one place--I'm looking for things that are more claustrophobic! Erin also recommend these...)

The Study series
by Maria V. Snyder (definitely the first one has all three elements!)

The Nightrunner series
by Lynn Flewelling (I've never read these, and have added them to my list!)

Meg S suggested Malinda Lo's books (Ash and Huntress); although I love these, they are not quite the political fantasy type of book I was thinking of!

Melissa at One Librarian's Book Reviews offered her whole list of Courtly Intrigue, and suggests Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (which is waiting for me downstairs next in the tbr line)

Michelle suggested two books I haven't read that sound fantastic--Seraphina by Rachel Hartman and Candlewax by C. Baily Sims

The False Prince (of course!), from Natalie (of Literary Rambles)

Theft of Swords, by Michael Sullivan (from KT)

From Katy (aka library-mama) comes Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion, and Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson; from her husband the Steven Brust Taltos novels (I haven't read any of these!)

Chime,
by Franny Billingsley, and Boneshaker, by Kate Milford were also mentioned, but I don't think either has the political intrigue I'm looking for...

and the winners of the two copies of Bitterblue are: KAREN and KATY!

More recommendations always welcome!

Chronal Engine, by Greg Leitich Smith, for Timeslip Tuesday

Chronal Engine, by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion Books, 2012, middle grade, 192 pages) Imagine being transported back to the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, desperately driving your time-transported VW Bug across a landscape filled with danger, while searching for you kidnapped sister and wondering if you will ever get home. That's what happens to Max, the narrator of Chronal Engine.

Max and his siblings didn't want to dumped on their grandfather while their mom was off on a dinosaur dig in Mongolia. 13 year old twins, Kyle and Emma, and Max, a year younger, had never met their grandfather, or visited his isolated ranch in Texas (famous for its trail of fossilized dinosaur footprints). But they have no time to be bored or mopish. Just a few hours after they unpack and meet Petra, the housekeeper's daughter (a crack shot with a bow, as indicated by the rabbits she's killed for supper), their grandfather makes a surprising announcement.

"It is time," Grandpa began...."for you to see the family legacy. Downstairs. In the workshop. Petra, this concerns you as well."

"You don't want dessert?" Mrs Castillo asked, setting her napkin beside her plate and looking vaguely alarmed. "The pecan pie will be ready in a moment."

Grandpa stood. "Perhaps the children would like some when we're done. As for me...." He hesitated. "Thank you, no. In fifteen minutes the ambulance will be here to take me to the hospital after my massive heart attack." (page 12)

In that short space of time, Grandpa shows the kids the Chronal Engine--built by an ancestor in the early twentieth century, and perfected (?) over the years. It's a working time machine. But then the heart attack happens, as predicted. And then, the next day, Emma is kidnapped, and taken back in time. The three other kids must use the Chronal Engine to go after her...and fortunately Grandpa had predicted this too, stocking a Volkswagen bug with all the gear they'd need for a trip back to the time of the dinosaurs.

The days that follow will push the kids (and their car) to the limit as they race across the prehistoric landscape, outwitting/desperately fleeing from the assorted fauna (many big scary things with teeth!). It's non-stop action as they follow the sparse clues that will, they hope, lead them to Emma...if they don't get eaten first.

Max is a dinosaur buff, and his knowledge proves very useful.   The author generously shares lots of it with the reader--the kid who already knows dinosaurs will doubtless be pleased, the kid (or adult) who doesn't will be educated. Much as I like being educated, though, I found this information dropping to be a bit much in places, overlaying the emotional tension of the dinosaur encounters with too heavy a hand.

And indeed, in general the emotional side of the adventure plays a distant second-fiddle to the survival quest aspect of it. Which is fine--it's fast paced, fierce, and exiting story! But don't expect much nuanced character development or even much reflection on the part of the characters about what is happening--they are too busy surviving. Petra's archery skills come in very handy...the Volkswagen, however, bites the dust (although I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did...).

This very straightforward, descriptive and to the point approach to the story makes this a good one for young middle grade readers, those who enjoyed the Magic Treehouse books, perhaps, and who are looking for something a tad older and more sophisticated. Older readers, however, might feel the lack of emotional responses. And they might, as I was, be disappointed that the climax of the story is rather abrupt, and is accompanied by a brief third party explanation. The central characters don't directly figuring out things for themselves, and turn out to be latecomers to a pre-existing story, The way the ending is written, however, clearly sets things up for a sequel in which, perhaps, the kids will have a more active role.... (and in which we might find out what happens to the baby dinosaur Petra has adopted!)

So, in short, a good one for a younger reader who likes adventure stories; not so much one for anyone much older than twelve.

Note on diversity:  Max and his siblings are half Japanese, half Caucasian; here's Greg Leitich Smith talking about this (and other aspects of the book) at Writing With a Broken Tusk.

Here are a few other, more enthusiastic, reviews: Jen Robinson's Book Page, BooksYALove, and Popcorn Reads

5/7/12

My boy's ninth reading year

Today my little one turns nine. I don't have a review post written yet for today, which is a direct consequence of hosted a sleepover this weekend. The many small boys (there seemed to be more of them then there actually were) enjoyed themselves with great enthusiasm long past the point at which I wanted to go to sleep....

I like, on my boys' birthdays, to make a small record of their reading year--here's last year's post for this child. This past year, his ninth as a reader, was pretty much the fulfilment of my expectations--he read. He read Percy Jackson. He read Narnia. He read many Warriors books. He's well into The Mysterious Benedict Society, and re-read The Hobbit to himself. And there were many others. He put down finished books, and asked for the next, immediately....

And most gratifyingly of all, he's been living the books. He's so lucky to have friends who are reading the same books as he is (which isn't a coincidence--all the books I mentioned (except the Hobbit) he picked up because his friends were reading them. And they played these books together on the playground at recess--my son right now is Sticky (indignant about being whitewashed)--and at home he has been going off to the woods by himself to the woods to be a Warrior cat.

And he also read lots of graphic novels, his favorite of which was Giants Beware! His most anticipated book of next year is Legends of Zita. I love both Giants Beware and Zita myself--great books that boys love that show strong girl characters!

His father finished reading him The Return of the King three nights ago, which was a poignant moment, because it was so important to both of us that our kids have that experience, and now it's over...and they are growing up. Now it's my turn to be the reader...and he's going to meet Alice.

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