9/30/12

What will you nominate for the Cybils?

We can all go nominate books for the Cybils starting at midnight, PST, which means that when I wake up and rush to the computer at c. 5:30 EST (rushing carefully, so as not to spill my coffee), I will get to see hundreds of people's favorite books.  Yes, there are people who are on their own computers right at the stroke of midnight, nominating away...

Two Notes:

Note:  you can nominate one book for each of the disperate categories.  Any book published in the US and/or Canada, from October 16, 2011 to October 15, 2012 is eligible.  This is always a little scary for the books published in these first two weeks of October--fewer people, of course, have read these and fallen hard for them.  However, the Cybils organizers, with great sagesse, have changed the rules so that the publishers can fill in at least some of the blanks, so it will not be quite as tense this year as in years past.

Note 2:  The Cybils panelists look for two things in the books under consideration: quality writing of a knock the readers' socks off variety, and young reader appeal of the sort that reduces a pristine book to a tattered mass of pulp because it's been passed from hand to hand so often.   The winners won't necessarily be the same books that one might chose if one were awarding the prizes to "children's books with tremendous appeal to adult readers."

End of Notes.

So anyone can nominate one book per category.  Or just one book, in one category.  These nominations from the floor (from readers, bloggers, parents, publishers, authors--in short, anyone in the whole world who loves children's and YA books) shine lovey bits of light on the dear books you feel should be loved more, and this is good. 

However, it's also a chance to nominate the books that are being loved plenty.  Zita.  Seraphina.  The Fault in Our Stars.  Code Name Verity.

And this is where all those people nominating at the stroke of midnight have an advantage.  A book can only be nominated once.   So if you want your name up on the Cybils website in glowing lights as The One Who Picked the Winner in a specific category, and if the books you have in mind fall into the much-loved category, you might want to plan accordingly. 

I myself have planned not to get up at four in the morning (I did it for Charles and Diana when I was a kid, and that was plenty).   So, just for the record, here are the books I'll nominate if they aren't taken already in the really, really small number of categories of genres I read:

Younger graphic novels:  I love Zita, and Legends of Zita is just as good as her first book.  But I'm giving my nod to Giants Beware! (my review) which tickled me tremendously.

YA Sci Fi/fantasy:  I really liked Vodnick, by Bryce Moore (my review)

YA:  The Fault in Our Stars.   Out of the six straight YA books I've read this year, this was my favorite....

And I'm waiting and seeing on the MG SFF, because of being a panelist in that category.

(and so now I leave this post, feeling a little sad that I've read so few picture books and children's non-fiction books....what was I thinking??????  Of course the Cybils Short Lists, coming earlier January, will tell me which ones I must go back and find.  But in the meantime I just might head over to the bookstore and try to quickly fall in love before the nomination period ends....)

This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (9/30/12)

I'm on my way back from Kidlitcon today...with 26 middle grade fantasy and science books to read!   Later this week I'll do a recap post of the two publisher previews I went to on Friday, from whence about twenty of these books came (the others came from the ARC swap trolley on Saturday).  But in any event, Kidlitcon was as fun as ever, and every year there are more lovely people who I know who I'm so happy to see again, and every year I make new friends.  It is good. 

So here's this week's roundup of what I found in my blog reading viz middle grade sci fi/fantasy.  Please let me know if I missed your post! (it somewhat more likely than usual that I did because of being at Kidlitcon)

First, an news item:  Nominations for the Cybils open tomorrow, Oct. 1.  At midnight, Pacific Time.  Go forth and nominate!

Second:  the reviews this week are slightly more diverse (ie they have characters who aren't white and they are written by authors of color) than usual.  This is entirely due to this blog event--A More Diverse Universe-- which I hope we see again! (It was a week long carnival gathering reviews of speculative fiction by authors of color, so there are lots of books for older readers too!)

The Reviews:
 
3 Below, by Patrick Carmen, at Good Books and Good Wine

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor, at Jenny's Books and Starmetal Oak Reviews

Ante's Inferno, by Griselda Heppel, at Fantastic Reads

Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda, at BookLust and The Novel Life

The Atomic Weight of Secrets, by Eden Unger Bowditch, at Charlotte's Library 

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, by Claire Legrand, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Claws, by Mike Grinti and Rachel Grinti, at Small Review 

Dust Girl, by Sarah Zettel, at library_mama and Oops...Wrong Cookie

Emily Knight I AM, by at A. Bello, at The Children's Book Review

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Lead the Revels There, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Karissa's Reading Review

The Golden Door, by Emily Rodda, at Charlotte's Library

Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie, at Reading on a Rainy Day and Iris on Books

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Semicolon and  library_mama

The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate, by Scott Nash, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

The Hunt of the Unicorn, by C.C. Humphreys, at Book Sake

Justice and Her Brothers, by Virginia Hamilton, at Charlotte's Library

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messegner, at The Book Cellar

Knight's Castle, by Edward Eager, at Tor

Look Ahead, Look Back, by Annette Laing, at Charlotte's Library

Mutiny in Time, by James Dashner, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Professor Gargoyle (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, 1) by Charles Gilman, at The Elliott Review and The Reading Date

The Robe of Skulls, by Vivian French, at Wandering Librarians

Rosemary in Paris (The Hourglass Adventures), by Barbara Robertson, at Time Travel Times Two 

The Sea of Monstors, by Rick Riordan, at My Precious

The Second Spy, by Jacqueline Wilson, at Michelle Mason

The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan, at Biblio File

The Spy Princess, by Sherwood Smith, at Sonderbooks

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, at I Make Up Words 

Authors and Interviews

A.J. Hartley (Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact) at A Thousand Wrongs (giveaway)

Shannon Messenger (Keeper of the Lost Cities) talks about books she loved as a kid at Project Mayhem

Other Good Stuff:

All Hallow's Read approaches.  Neil Gaiman explains it.

There's a fiftieth anniversary celebration of The Wolves of Whilloughby Chase, by Joan Aiken, coming up in NY toward the end of October.

And finally, haven't we all wished, at one time or another, that we had an inflatable unicorn horn to tie onto our cat?

Now we can live that dream.

If I want to make my 12 year old son shriek, all I have to do is say, in a cloyingly sweet voice, "rainbow unicorn kittens."  So when I saw this, I thought of him...(thanks to Tor).

9/29/12

The Diviners, by Libba Bray (with a bit of Kidlitcon to start with)

I am writing from New York, where I am busily attending Kidlitcon.  Yesterday I attended two lovely publisher previews, at Random House and Harper Collins, where us bloggers heard about many wonderful sounding books (about which more later), enjoyed tasty snacks, and left with generous bags of books.  It was then banquet time, where very good company (I sat with Kelly from Stacked and Leila from Bookshelves of Doom, neither of whom I'd met before today), and more tasty food combined to make a very pleasant evening. 

The particular upshot of all this is that, due to the generous bags of books, there is no way I want to take my ARC of the Diviners, which kept me company on my journey, back home with me.  So I am quickly sharing my thoughts.

The Diviners, by Libba Bray (Little Brown, YA, Sept 18, 2012) --paranormal historical fiction in which the excitement of life as as party girl in  New York in the Roaring Twenties turns into the excitement of trying to stop a murderers, would-be Antichrist!

The Basic Plot:   Evie is a flapper girl, desperate to plunge into life and (this is my opinion) immerse herself in sensory overload so that she doesn't have to think about things she'd rather not thing about (such as her dead brother.  Such as the effects of her actions on other people.  Especially the effects of her preternatural gift--the ability to hold an object, and see things about its owner).   So when her parents send her off to her uncle in New York (curator of a museum of the occult), she's thrilled.

When the first bizarrely grotesque murder victim is discovered, and Evie's uncle is asked by the police for his opinion on the occult elements of the crime, Evie goes along for the ride, excited to see her first New York crime scene.  And finds herself into very dark and dangerous waters...because this is no ordinary murder, and no ordinary police force can stop the inexorable progression of killings.   Killings that might lead to hell on earth....

And in the meantime, the canvas of New York on which the murders are being played out is as full of characters as a Bruegel painting.   All of whom have secrets...

My Thoughts, written in haste because of needing, like Evie, to hurl myself back into the giddy excitement that is Manhattan (although I don't think Evie would be interested in Kidlitcon):

--Evie annoyed me at first, but grew on me.  I decided that I liked having a flawed character front and center--she was very believable, but with room to change as she became more mature.  And she has her good points.
--the first few murders, before the identity of the murder was confirmed, were very interesting indeed.  After Evie and co. figure it out, the next murders are still interesting, but not as much so because we know what's happening.
--there were too many characters of interest with secrets and too many bits of unresolved or apparently extraneous side plot.  I really really did not think it added anything to the book, for instance, for Jericho to have the particular secret that he did.  I'm sure that it will all be useful in future books, but I do think that The Diviners could have been trimmed and tightened.   It was very long (the final version, according to Amazon, is 608 pages) and I don't think it really needed to be that long.

Final Conclusion:  Even the snappy dialogue, interesting characters (even though there were perhaps too many of them, they were all interesting), and a creepy, supernatural mystery weren't quite enough to keep the ball rolling as briskly as I would have liked.  



9/27/12

The Atomic Weight of Secrets, by Eden Unger Bowditch

The Atomic Weight of Secrets,  or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black, by Eden Unger Bowditch (Bancroft Press, March, 2011, middle grade, 339 pages) is the first book of The Young Inventors Guild, a historical sci fi story of five brilliant children.  Their parents were extraordinary too, so much so that one day in 1903, when the mysterious men in black came calling, they had to go.   But the men in black had a plan for the children too, one that involved sending them off to rural Ohio, where they went to their own special boarding school, under the loving care of Miss Brett (the first adult to ever read out loud to them--the brilliant parents were too busy being brilliant to have much time for their kids). 

Twelve-year-old Jasper Modest (a young inventor) and his six-year-old sister, Lucy (gifted with a perfect memory), were taken from London.  Nine-year-old Wallace Banneker, determined to follow in the footsteps of his family of African American scientists, inventors, and mathematicians, was taken from New York.  Twelve-year-old Noah Canto-Sagas, brilliant both mentally and musically, was taken from Toronto.  And the oldest child, the thirteen-year-old Faye Vigyanveta, taken from the luxurious home of her parents, Indian scientists, is fiercely determined to find out the secret of the Mysterious Men in Black who have torn apart their lives for no clear reason.

And they are indeed Mysterious.  "In black," for them, includes black tutus.  Black bear suites.  Black scarfs concealing their faces, which are shrouded by black sombreros, Easter bonnets, and the like.  All manner of grab bag bits of clothing, concealing them utterly.   And they are not exactly forthcoming to the children--which is to say, they don't say anything. 

Although the children's strange school is a virtual prison, and their weekend trips to loving foster mothers carefully orchestrated to make escape impossible, this bizarre situation is one where the children can thrive, becoming each other's first true friends.   All the delicious food they want, adult attention and love, and beautiful lab equipment.

Except that there is no getting around the fact that their parents are missing (and though they might have been distant, un-nurturing parents for the most part, this is still disturbing), the men in black are their jailors, and if they want answers, they are going to have to escape.  And being brilliant young inventors, the answer comes to them--they must build a flying machine...

This is a book that requires from its reader an acceptance of the bizarre.  The children's situation is like a dream, and the reader knows no more about the men in black then they do (although this reader, at least, has read more science fiction than the kids have, back in 1903, and has a theory....what do they actually look like, under all that black concealment???). 

Acceptance is also required regarding the pacing of the book.  We meet all five right at the start of things, just as they are about to try to escape.  But then the author goes back to the start of things, but doesn't introduce us properly to all of the kids at once, instead, doling the introductions out at intervals.  She doesn't rush it--we don't get Wallace Bannaker's back story, the last one, until page 182, which I found extreme.   So it wasn't until the final third of the book that I felt I had a really firm handle on the kids, and could really appreciate their interactions and character arcs.    Likewise, although the book starts with the escape plan getting underway, it then goes back to tell all the story up to that point.

So I read much of the book with a slightly uninvested feeling (though I liked the kids, enjoyed the details of their strange school life, and was curious to learn more about the mystery).  It was not till the story catches up to closer to where the book begins, with the great escape project well underway, that the pieces all clicked for me.   At that point, all the disparate gifts of the kids combine to make things really start humming, the tension grows, and the reader waits with baited breath for the Great Reveal....and realizes she's not going to get it.  Nope, no little wrapping up the plot threads here, just waiting for the next book...

Still, though I have reservations, it never occurred to me to put it down.  And I think it might work well for the right young reader--smart, lonely kids in particular! 

(Thanks to Wallace and Faye, this is one for my list of multicultural sci fi/fantasy, and it's also one for my spec fic school list too!)








9/26/12

Justice and Her Brothers, by Virginia Hamilton

This review is my contribution to the More Diverse Universe blog fest, a week of bloggers highlighting speculative fiction books by and about people of color.

I've chosen to fill in a gap in my own reading, by taking a look at Justice and Her Brothers, by Virginia Hamilton (Greenwillow Books, 1978).

This is a book that's floated around on the edges of my book browsing consciousness for years...but the cover I would have seen in the library as a child (shown here) looks like one of those regular girl growing up and learning life lessons kind of stories, and it didn't appeal.  But I think I may have tried it at one point.  I can imagine having tried it, excepting fantasy or science fiction, (because that's what you find out it is when you read the jacket flap--children with "supersensory powers"), but never making it past the first slow chapters of very realistic hot, sticky summer, and the inescapable fact that there are indeed, as the title suggests, older brothers involved.  I am a sister kind of person myself, and although Rush and Oliver Melendy would be lovely brothers, Justice is not that lucky--her older twin brothers have, um, issues.

So in short, you would never know from the first few chapters, or from the hardback cover,  that one of Justice's twin brothers is a deeply disturbed, bullying megalomaniac psychic who has been systematically oppressing his twin and who is about to start work on Justice.   It takes quite a while to realize, buried as it is in the hot summer of bike riding and snake hunting, that Justice has psychic powers too!  Really powerful ones.  Justice, it turns out, is not having an ordinary summer...instead, she is one of two kids being trained in to use their mental powers by a teacher who erases her memories of each session.

It makes for slightly odd reading.  There one is, with skinned knees and mosquito bites, having an ordinary few pages of deep immersion into the ordinary life of a little sister, and then, like a spouting whale, comes a psychic bit and they come faster and faster until, in the last ten pages, there's a confrontation between Justice and her brother,  but then the three siblings plus Justice's classmate in phsycic home school form a unit of phsycic power bonding destined to do great things in the future because they are the first of a new class of mutant humans (or something) and they kind of travel through time and space to see a future that they are going to have to save.   Her bad brother isn't all that sorry, or willing to cooperate, but he has some magical phsycic healing thing happen, and it's implied that at least he's not going to be a total psychopath anymore.  And so it ends, just as they are all gathered together and ready to adventure.  (I had some issues with the pacing of this book).

And that concludes the summary portion of this post.

It was, as my summary suggests, a mix I found a tad diconcerting.  So though I found it a fascinating, and gripping, read, it wasn't a book that entirely worked for me as a reader.  Justice and her Brothers reads very much as a prologue to future adventures, which, in fact, it is.  In the subsequent books of the series, Dustland (1980), and The Gathering (1981), the science fiction is front and center, and I'm hoping I'll find those more completely satisfying.

Justice and her Brothers is a groundbreaking book.  It is the first English language speculative fiction novel, as far as I know, that was written for children with a black girl as its protagonist.   It's clear from the hardback cover that Justice and her brothers are black kids.  However, Hamilton never makes a point of underlining it; she just drops in small descriptors here and there that do not compare skin color to any sort of food or beverage (as is so often the case in today's books).  Justice's family is an ordinary family, with caring parents, without poverty, racism, the legacy of slavery etc. driving any part of the story.  Instead, what you get is sci fi mixed with realistic fiction, starring a girl who is black.

I wish it had been followed by a slew of other multiculural science ficiton and fantasy books for kids, but the ground that Hamilton broke here was left pretty much unplanted.  Here's an article that Yolanda Hood wrote that addresses this--"Rac(e)ing into the Future: Looking at Race in Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels for Young Adults by Black Authors" (The Alan Review, 36(3), 2009).  (Thanks, Ebony of the Child_Lit List, for the link!)

Secondly, I have a feeling (that doesn't have enough research and thought behind it to count as a real argument) that this is also ground breaking in its combination of a very real, very richly described setting with fantastic elements.  Just as Alan Garner did with Elidor in 1965 (a fantasy in which the grit and rubble of the real world keep the fantasy from becoming an escapist journey to a magical realm), Justice's story in this first book is firmly anchored in her place in real life.   It, too, does not offer a fanciful other world into which young readers can escape.  But again, I don't think that writers of the 1980s, or even the 1990s, took this approach to speculative fiction for kids and ran with it.   It's not until recently that books books like Ingrid Law's Savvy (2008) start turning up that do something similar.  (Please let me know if you think I'm wrong about this!)

Finally, here are more covers for Justice and Her Brothers, some that emphasize the sci fi, and some that don't. (And they are all in an aesthetically unpleasing line on the left and in different sizes cause the new blogger stinks and I don't have a decent photo editing program here at home.  It hurts).


My own favorite is the Leo and Diane Dillon cover--the one with the tree. That version of the book is clearly being marketed as speculative fiction (it has the imprint "Flare Fantasy" on the cover). The snake cover is both icky, deceptive, and disturbing. The desert cover is wrong (they don't go to a desert in this first book). And the Column of Light cover is too far tilted toward science fiction.




9/25/12

A More Diverse Universe blog tour is well underway....


This is the third day of the More Diverse Universe blog fest, celebrating the works of speculative fiction authors of color. The full schedule can be found here at Aarti's blog (she's one of the fabulous organizers), BookLust, and I have already added several new to me books of wonderful sounding-ness to my reading list....

I'll be chiming in tomorrow with the book that I think is the first ever middle grade spec. fic.  novel written in the US that has, as its main character, an African-American girl...

Look Ahead, Look Back (The Snipesville Chronicles #3), by Annette Laing, for Timeslip Tuesday

Look Ahead, Look Back, by Annette Laing (Confusion Press, 2012), is the latest adventure of three time travelling kids from Georgia.  When Hannah and Alex Diaz moved from California to Snipesville, they suffered all kinds of culture shock, but were fortunate to make a new friend, a boy named Brandon.  But Brandon, whose black, doesn't go to the Diaz's snooty private school... However, for these three kids, there is a lot more to life than school.  When they stumble across a skeletal body eroding out of the ground, they find themselves embarking on their most nail-biting time travel adventure to date.  And this time, the mysterious professor who masterminded their previous travels doesn't seem to be on hand to provide her usual safety net.

In mid-eighteenth century Georgia, slavery has just been legalized, and Hannah, Alex, and Brandon are about to see for themselves just what that means.  And this time around, time travel has played a trick on the boys--Brandon is now the white kid, working as a servant for a newly immigrated Anglican minister.  And Alex is now a black slave, the property of an ambitious, vicious man.   As for Hannah, she finds herself the indentured servant of that same man...one notch up from the horror of slavery, but still virtual property.    In a world where old beliefs and Christianity both hold sway, in a world where some have the power of life and death, and some have only the power to resist, Alex, Brandon, and Hannah survive as best they can, seeking not only the answer to the mystery of the skeleton in the woods, but a way to get back home....

Laing explores difficult questions with a confident hand.   The relationships between Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans in the remote Georgia frontier are fraught with fear and danger, and, without sugar-coating anything, she makes this complexity clear to the reader.   In what I think is a wise move, she avoids Alex's first person perspective on what it is like to be a white boy turned into a black slave.  But she does give him a clear voice, and allows Brandon and Alex to reflect and react both meaningfully and believably on their changed skin color, and the social consequences of that change.  The evil of slavery is confronted in a forthright way, not only through descriptions of physical abuse and hardship, but more philosophically as well--can you own someone, and still be a good person, or will having such power corrupt you?  Likewise, religion is tackled head on.  Brandon is a Southern Baptist, and a sincere Christian.  Hannah and Alex aren't.  Rather than being avoided, this is something that is talked about in the open, and something that affects Brandon's motivations back in the past.  

The historical world building is excellent.  Annette Laing quit a tenured university job teaching history to write, and it's clear that she knows her stuff.  This is not a place or period that's within my own area of historical expertise, but the details of the social structure, and the three cultures intersecting, seemed pretty good to me (although the Native Americans were mostly off-stage--the setting was primarily the cleared land of the nascent plantations.   I had only one moment of doubt in the whole book, which is pretty darn good, because I am very picky about my historical fiction.*   Others with more knowledge might, of course, find more to question.  But in short, from an educational standpoint, I highly recommend it. 

And finally, it's a pretty darn exiting story, qua story!  The three kids are not just sock puppets of Time Travel, but are very human, and the book is as much about the relationships between people as it is about the adventures of time travelling.  Hannah, in particular, is a complex and interesting character--her mother died not long ago, and she is still working through her feelings of resentment, loss, and failure.

This is my favorite of the three books in the series, and I think it can be read as a standalone--there are lots of reference to other characters met in the past in other books, but there's enough context to keep the new reader from being too confused.

*  As I said above, I found almost nothing to bother me in the details of the history.  But just for the record, my one moment of doubt occurred when Alex actually saw (or thought he saw, in a fever dream) one of the Little People who lived alongside the Native Americans--I certainly don't mind them being part of the world, because they were, and still are, here,  but the description of this Person was rather stereotypical, and the episode as a whole struck me as somewhat odd (edited to add--in that this was a manifestation from outside Alex's own culture)

"His visitor was a minuscule but perfectly-proportioned Indian warrior....He had bronzed skin, very long black hair, almost down to his ankles, and he wore only a loin cloth.  he carried a tiny bow and arrow." (page 137)

It's fine to say that people from different cultures inhabit different worlds, but it stretches credulity when things specific to one world cross into another.  But this is the only detail that actively bothered me in the whole book.

Note:  This series is independently published, and the page formatting is not standard (the top margin is very small).  But do not be put off by this! The editing is spot on, and soon you'll get used to the layout.

Disclaimer:  review copy received from the author

9/24/12

The Golden Door, by Emily Rodda

The Golden Door, by Emily Rodda (Scholastic Press, October 1, 2012 in the US).  If you are looking for a book that will introduce your young reader (8 or so years old) to the delightful tropes of the Quest Fantasy, you can read The Hobbit out loud, which is a lovely thing to do.  However, if you want said child to read independently (which so many of us do),  you could do much worse than offer him or her The Golden Door.  Which is to say, I think it achieves what it set out do -- it tells an entertaining story in a very appealing way.

Weld is a world within a wall.  Not a big world...actually more like a densely packed settlement.  But the space protected by the wall and its magic is the only world Rye and his brothers have ever known.  It's clear, though, that there is something outside the wall, a place where the fearsome Skimmers fly from each night, preying on the unlucky and the unwary (which is to say, eating them).

And there are those inside Weld who are getting tired of their Warden's impotence in the face of this danger:


And this graffiti-scrawled sign made me laugh out loud (I love this sign) and settle down to enjoy the story.

In a nutshell, it involves Rye's two older brothers volunteering to go hunt skimmers outside the wall, and never coming back; Rye (in good third brother style) going off to look for them.   The way out of Weld gives the traveller a choice of three doors--gold, silver, and wood--and Rye, trying to think which his oldest brother would choose, heads off through the golden door.  (It's nice that Rye's motivation is to find his brothers, whom he loves, not the usual honor and glory heroicness).

He doesn't go alone--Sonia, a girl whose been hanging around the Warden's keep for ages, trying to get through herself, convinces him to let her come with him. And they're off, confronting a strange world that holds its own strange terrors...

It is a pretty much note-perfect fantasy adventure for the eight or nine year old.  The critically reading adult might find plot points they don't care for, and have passing disbelief suspension issues (did I myself, in my adultish way, embrace it and love it to pieces? Not so much, though I read it very happily), but I think its target audience won't see any problems with it.  For them, the story of the third brother and the magic that awaits him in woods beyond the world is still fresh and new, and the splashes of humor and everyday details that Rodda throws into her mix makes this particular tale and its two main characters veryappealing.  For what it's worth, there are also scary bits, and anxious bits, and gross bits.

disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher.

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Download the Weird

There's a new Ripley's Believe It or Not! book out in the world: Download the Weird (September 11, 2012).  Those of you who are familiar with these books know how very kid friendly they are--leave out on your coffee table and it will invariably attract any fact-hungry, curious young readers (who don't mind a bit of grotesqueness) living in your home.  

They won't read it cover to cover (that would be a bit much) but they will dip into it repeatedly, drawn by the fascinating (how a California aircraft plant was camouflaged during  WW II), the remarkable (microscopic statues), the distressing (live amphibians and fish sold in gel packs as key chain ornaments) and the yucky (the extraordinary vomit artist).  It is not just straight weird factoids--as usual, there are interviews with some of the individuals featured, making them more three dimentional, and little side boxes of extra scientific information.

I asked my own resident fan what he thought of this latest offering; it turns out that is one of his favorites, because it references other types of media (ie,YouTube) of which he is an enthusiastic consumer.  

Here's what I myself learned:  there is an island in China that I have no desire to visit.  It is only 180 acres, but is home to over 15,000 deadly pit vipers.

And here's a final thought:  if you want to give a book to the sort of fact-hungry, curious kid as a gift, but aren't certain about what they've read and haven't read, a new Ripley's book is a pretty safe bet.

disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher.

9/23/12

This week's mg sff round-up (Sept. 23,2012)

 Good morning.  Here's what I found this week, scouring the internet in search of middle grade sci fi/fantasy related posts--please let me know if I missed yours!

Next week's round-up might be delayed, as I will be on my way home from Kidlitcon in NY, and my plans for Sunday morning are more along the lines of "have brunch with sister" than "get mg sff round-up done."


Update:  registration for Kidlitcon has closed, having maxed out at 175 attendees.  Wow! So many new people to meet!

Nominations for the Cybils start Oct. 1.  Here are the mg sff panelists (which includes me).  Every year, there are more Young Adult books nominated (not that I'm competitive about pointless things or anything).   Every year, worthy MG books don't make it.  Although the nominating procedures have changed somewhat, giving publishers the opportunity to fill in gaps, nominations from the floor (ie, anyone reading this!) are the backbone of the Cybils (or something).  So please feel free to nominate!  

Back to our main program.

The Reviews:  (now with all the reviews that were in the draft post I forgot about...)

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor, at Sonderbooks

Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, at Fantasy Literature

A Circle of Cranes, by Annette LeBox, at Charlotte's Library

Circus Maximus (History Keepers), by Damian Dibben, at The Book Zone

Darkbeast, by Morgan Keyes, at Shannon Messenger

The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman, at The Guardian

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at Becky's Book Reviews 

Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, by Dale Basye, at Michelle Mason 

The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate, by Scott Nash, at Karissa's Reading Review

The Icarus Project, by Laura Quimby, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Liesl and Po, by Lauren Oliver, at Books and Other Thoughts and sprite writes

Malcolm at Midnight, by W.H. Beck, at Good Books and Good Wine

Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris, by Marissa Moss, at The Fourth Musketeer 

A Mutiny in Time (Infinity Ring Book 1), by James Dashner, at Charlotte's Library

Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at Bookishness 

The Peculiar, by Stephan Bachmann, at My Precious

Rewind, by William Sleator, at Time Travel Times Two

Seeing Cinderella, by Jenny Lundquist, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

The Seven Tales of Trinket, by Shelley Moore Thomas, at Night Writer

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, at Imaginary Reads, My Brain On Books, and Karrisa's Reading Review

Starry River of the Sky, by Grace Lin, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

The Sweetest Spell, by Suzanne Selfors, at The Write Path and Cracking the Cover

Sword Mountain, by Nancy Yi Fan, at Semicolon 

Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, at Semicolon 

What Came From the Stars, by Gary Schmidt, at Maria's Melange (second of a two part joint review with part 1 from last week at The Brain Lair), and at Faith Elizabeth Hough

Two mg horror stories from Ms. Yingling Reads-- Goosebumps Most Wanted: Planet of the Lawn Gnomes, by R.L. Stine,  and Professor Gargoyle: Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #1, by Charles Gilman.

And a brief look at  two great mg fantasy series--The Theodosia books, by R. L. LaFevers, and The Joy of Spooking series, by P.J. Pracegirldle, at Charlotte's Library

Authors and Interviews

Philip Pullman talks about rewriting Grimm at The Guardian

Morgan Keyes (Darkbeast) at The O.W.L. 

Derek Taylor Kent (aka Derek the Ghost, author of Scary School) at Cracking the Cover 

Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (Ordinary Magic) at Chicklish

China Mieville is interviewed by a very smart 12 year old at The Guardian

And also via The Guardian is this podcast of Jacqueline Wilson reading from, and talking about, her new Nesbit homage/sequel, Four Children and It.

Other Good Stuff:

Of course, the best of the Good Stuff is the new Hobbit trailer

The short list for the Roal Dahl funny prize has been announced (here's The Guardian's discussion), with sff nicely represented

Terri Windling talks fairy tales at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Pottermore has new back to school content (via The Guardian)

Vintage ads for libraries and reading...if you want to become a scary robot looking girl, there's nothing like a book (the larger the picture gets, the scarier it looks--the expressionless face, the staring eyes...):


And finally, a random tip:  If you buy expensive art wallpaper, don't wipe it with a wet sponge.  You will wipe off the expensive art part.

9/22/12

Catching up with Cybils review copies from yesteryears....Part 1--two smart, eccentric girls

Nominations for the upcoming Cybils season start on October 1 (which I find just tremendously exciting, even though I am sad that I am never awake right when the starting line happens, and when I do wake up, other people have beaten me to my best loved books....).   However, some of us just happen to have little shelves next to our computers on which there sit books received for review from Cybils past...there are just so many of them to read and review (150ish in mg sff last year) that one can't do them all during the fall.  And then after the Cybils, I kind of want to catch up on everything else I missed while reading the past year's mg sff....and so every year a few books that I really enjoyed and wanted to review end up gathering dust.

So today, with mingled thanks and apologies to the publishers who sent these books to me, I am Catching Up. 

These two books are perfect for the intelligent, quirky girl reader (although if an intelligent boy were to read them, he'd probably like them too).

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus, by R. L. La Fevers (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) .   You might recognize the name of the author--she's just made a big splash with Grave Mercy, a top notch YA historical fantasy.  But before that, she wrote two lovely mg serieses--Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, and the Theodosia series.  The titular heroine of the later series is a 19th century Egyptologist, who practically lives in the London museum of Egyptian antiquities run by her parents.  Theodosia has a preternatural sensitivity to Egyptian magic (which involves lots of nasty curses), which gets her into trouble on more than one occasion, but which also allows her to save the day when bad guys want to steal priceless magical artifacts and use them for nefarious purposes....

Theodosia is smart and appealing, there are lots of interesting side characters, and the Egyptian magical side of things is fascinating (even for those of us who aren't particularly fond of Egyptian fantasy).

This is the third of the series; you can read about all four books here.

Unearthly Asylum, by P.J. Pracegirldle (The Joy of Spooking, Book 2)

Here's another somewhat overlooked series that features a smart girl with a mission.  In this series, Joy Wells is determined to prove that famous horror writer E.A. Peugeot lived in her home village of Spooking, using it as fodder for his stories.  And Spooking, barely clinging to any semblance of habitable village-ness, and home to a really really sinister asylum, certainly offers fodder aplenty.

When Joy starts hearing what she assumes are the guns of long dead stories, as described in a Peugot story coming from the asylum, she's determined to get to the bottom of what exactly is going on behind its locked gates.  What she unravels is a horror story of madness and greed...

If you are looking for a series to give to the ten or eleven year old girl who loves mysteries and scary stories, with smart and eccentric heroines, the three books in the Joy of Spooking series are pretty perfect.


(and just a small rant--I hate you new blogger.  I hate that I cannot easily make these two book covers the same size.  grrr.).



9/21/12

The Broken Lands, by Kate Milford

Wowzers (and bang goes my resolve to write coldly crisp, analytical reviews of great intellectual rigor).   But when a book knocks your socks off, sometimes a wowzer or two is just called for.

The Broken Lands, by Kate Milford (Clarion Books, Sept. 2012, YA), takes place in New York, just after the Civil War; the title is both a reference to the raw wounds of the war, and is the name of a hotel on Coney Island.   It's on Coney Island, with its crime, poverty, and exuberant energy, that we meet young Sam, making a living beating holiday makers from the big city at cards....

And to this place, through coincidence (possibly) or design, come others.  The Chinese firework maker, and his adopted daughter, Jin (who becomes a central character).  Tom Guyet, black veteran of the Civil War, now guitar playing Traveller of the roads.   And other travellers, those who live lives that cross the borders of what is real.  But a sinister evil is drawing close to New York as well.   Jack Hellcoal seeks to make New York his own literal hell on earth.  And his sinister henchmen have been sent before him, to open the city to him through the death its five guardians.

Sam and Jin become inexorably drawn into this bloody, supernatural struggle.  And in a new reality of things impossible to believe, they must believe in themselves, and their unique abilities. Or else the city will fall.....

So intricate is the world building, so scary the story, so fond I grew of Sam and Jin and their friends (and so happy to watch Sam and Jin moving cautiously toward love), and so poignant the flashes of pain from this wounded land and the wounded people I cared for that I fell, hard, for the book.   But so twitchy the book made me--the middle two hundred pages or so of darkness encroaching and things being scary--that though I wanted desperately to find out what was going to happen, I had to keep putting it down!  And then so riveted I was in the last hundred pages that I stayed up too late to finish.

In short, I really really liked The Broken Lands.  I couldn't quite love it, because of being made so twitchy (a weakness in me, rather than the book), and because of a niggling feeling that maybe it could have been pared down just a tad), but boy did I appreciate it emotionally and intellectually.   The Broken Lands is a prequel of sorts to The Boneshaker (2010), though it stands alone, and that one I only was able to appreciate intellectually.  Here, though, the characters won my heart (the good guys are good, and well intentioned, and vulnerable, and care about each other; it's about how families can be made from friendships, about healing from emotional pain), and my intellect was more than satisfied by the tremendous, intricate world of Milford's New York, with supernatural tendrils stretching along the roads that cross the country.  This one, also, differs from The Boneshaker in that it is most definitely Young Adult-- the central characters are teenagers, with age-appropriate concerns, as it were, and there is much dark violence of a savage kind.  This is primarily of the supernatural sort, but there are shadows of human violence too (Jin's feet, for instance, were bound when she was an orphaned child being raised for a single, unsavory, purpose).

Here's what I loved best of all:  the supernatural card game based on medieval haigiography.  It is my Favorite Fictional Card Game Ever.   Here's a bit of it:  "By the strange logic of Santine, Sam had defeated the black plague (remembering this time to use a Nothelfer rather than a Marshal), a deluge, and a plague of locusts.  He'd lost a few of his cards to torture and apostasy" (pp 372-373).  And then Sam gets to counter a play of two Stylites (the dudes that sat up on pillars all day) with a pair of Cephalophores (the saints that get to carry their own beheaded heads in their arms)--

"Walker jabbed a finger at Sam's cards.  "What the hell kind of play is that?"
Sam shrugged.  "Figured they could throw their heads and knock the Stylites down." Sam had no idea whether this was a legal move, but as far as he could tell it followed Santine's logic"   (p 373).

Highly recommend to fans of historical fantasy, paranormal horror that doesn't involve vampires/zombies etc., and teenagers saving the world (or city) while falling in love.   Also recommended to fans of fireworks.  They play an important part in the story.

Here are other reviews, at The Book Smugglers, Book Aunt, and Random Musings of a Bibliophile.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


9/20/12

The Secret of the Stone Frog, by David Nytra


The Secret of the Stone Frog, by David Nytra (Toon Books, September 11, 2012, 79 pages), is the first Toon graphic novel.  The premise of Toon, for those who aren't familiar with this great line of easy readers, is to combine comic book/graphic novel style illustrations with easy to read stories.   It's a wonderful idea, that resulted in some truly child-friendly books with appeal to reluctant readers and more confident ones alike.

With The Secret of the Stone Frog, Toon is moving up in age.  This is a more sophisticated story than the earlier books (both word-wise and picture-wise), and it's in black and white.  It's also a little scary. It tells the story of two children, Leah and Alan, who wake one night to find themselves in an enchanted forest, their beds nestled among the roots of an enormous tree.  But the stone frog they meet reassure them that there is, in fact, a path home...but they must stay on it.  Being children in a fantasy world, it's only to be expected that they don't.  And soon they are in danger from a sinister women and her flock of enormous bees...(Ack!  The woman's head is horribly, disproportionately large!)


But all is not lost. There are more stone frogs (or perhaps the same one, reappearing), and not all inhabitants of this strange land are hostile.   For instance, giant rabbits give rides to the children for part of their journey, which is fun!  However, the peaceful rabbit leaping doesn't last long, and the last two adventures--a train ride with passengers who look like deep sea creatures/monsters, and a turn of the century-like city of nightmarishness--were too much for my easily alarmed young mind.

So this is one that will appeal most to readers able to appreciate the somewhat dark surreal, and so I'd hesitate to give this to a younger child.   The seven, eight or nine year old, though, who is busy drawing his or her own surreal pictures of dark imaginings (my own is fixated on zombie teddy bears engaged in brutal conflicts right now) might well appreciate it, especially if they are the sort to enjoy patiently exploring detailed illustrations (the flip side of which is that those who look at it and immediately want color won't make it through the book).   It's not book candy for the reluctant, easily distracted reader (it's more like, perhaps, sushi for the young book gourmand), but I think that there will be child readers who will be utterly fascinated.  And it has lots of cross-over, grown-up appeal too (especially for grown ups who don't want to run and hide from disproportionately large heads and scary cities).

Though the lack of color might off-put some readers. The drawings, with their intricate, fine-lined detail, are things of beauty.  Anyone looking for inspiration on how to draw with pencils should study this book. 


Other reviews at Waking Brain Cells, Fuse #8, and books4yourkids

Disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher

9/19/12

Circle of Cranes, by Annette LeBox

Circle of Cranes, by Annette LeBox (Dial, April, 2012, upper middle grade), is the story of an orphaned Chinese girl, 13 year old Suyin. Her father died, and her mother disappeared when she was little, and her paternal grandfather was so angry at this that he forbid any of the women in the village to teach Suyin any of the embroidery for which her mother was famous. So she has grown up passed from one family to another, and deprived of the heritage of her Miao ancestors--the women from this minority group define themselves in large part by their skill with the needle.

But Suyin is blessed with a preternatural skill for languages. And so, when a clearly untrustworthy human trafficker offers passage to America for one of the villagers--at a steep price--Suyin, who speaks English, is chosen to go. The expectation is that American dollars will flow back to the village, paying of the dept and bringing prosperity.

Suyin does not want to go. How can she leave her beloved cranes, the birds with whom she feels a strange kinship, birds that she has actually visited and spoken with in their own dream-like land? They had promised that someday she might be one of them--a crane woman, able to fly--but how can this dream come true in America?

The voyage is hellish--children packed for weeks in the hold of a derelict vessel. And instead of being the promised Golden Land, New York is a land of sweatshops and virtual slavery for the children, a place where brutal enforcers deal with any attempt to rebel, or escape. Suyin, who cannot sew, earns only a pittance in the garment making sweatshop, and her future seems bleak indeed.

But the cranes have not abandoned her. Indeed, they are pinning their own hopes on her. For the Queen of the Cranes was Suyin's mother, who disappeared years ago, and without her, there is no future for the clan. If Suyin can prove herself worthy (and if she can learn to sew, for the cranes, like the Miao women, pass down wisdom and beauty through their stitchery), there is hope.

Except that it is hard to be worthy when being ground down by the miseries of a life of brutal labor.

But cranes teach her embroidery, and messages written in the secret language of women, passed down through the generations, and hidden in plain sight in the stitches, brings comfort and wisdom. And finally Suyin finds the courage to speak up in public about the plight of the garment workers....and it all resolves to a happy ending.

Circle of Cranes is two stories. There is the realistic story, of the horrible working conditions faced by illegal immigrants--they work in fear of the government, in fear of their bosses, and with little hope. Prostitution is the only clear alternative for these young girls. Then there is the fantasy story, a reimagining of the story of the Crane Wife (the story of a woman torn between life as a bird and her human family is Japanese, not so much Chinese, but the author's endnote says has "roots in many Asian cultures"). Each is vivid and compelling in its own right, with the realistic elements being a grippingly eye-opening story, and the fantasy elements making a magical counterpoint.

It didn't, however, work perfectly for me. Though I was fascinated, especially by the details of the embroidery, the contrast between the two aspects of the book was great, so much so that I was not always convinced by the magical reality of it as a whole! I have to confess that a personal prejudice of my own came into play--I really get creeped out when a human person starts to sprout feathers (Suyin only has one feather, and it falls out quickly, but still). But that is just me. And the tidy resolution, in which the human identities of the crane women were revealed, seemed a bit much (all the important women in Suyin's life seem to be crane women...).

But in any event, this is one I'd give to the young (11 to 13 year old) lover of fairy tale retellings, for whom the magic of the cranes might well ring true, and whose heart might be deeply moved by Suyin's horrible experience in New York. It might especially appeal to those who want a lovely, magical daydream to lift them out of quotidian, possibly unpleasant, reality....

Final though: I think this is my favorite cover of the year so far. Isn't it beautiful?

9/18/12

Infinity Ring Book One: A Mutiny in Time, for Timeslip Tuesday


Infinity Ring Book One: A Mutiny in Time, by James Dashner is the start of a seven book series, to be written by six different authors (ala the 39 Clues series). The premise of the 39 Clues was a treasure hunt; the premise of this series is a time hunt!

Dak and Sera are best friends, leading more or less ordinary lives at Benedict Arnold Middle School. Except that they aren't exactly ordinary themselves--Dak has an over-the-top fondness for historical information, and Sera is rather brilliant when it comes to physics....And there's the fact that their world is rather different from ours--it's a somewhat dystopian version of reality, with the sinister SQ controlling things, and odd moments of dissonance, known as Remnants--strange sensations of missing someone or something. And finally, there's the fact that Dak's parents have almost completed a time machine, and Sera is able to finish the job.

Before the fact of time travel can sink in, Dak's parents have whisked them off for a jaunt to Revolutionary War America (and geez, if I were time travelling, I think I would try to go somewhere where there wasn't a war going on. Like the middle of an Iowa cornfield in 1950. I'd work up to war gradually). But in any event, it goes wrong, the parents get left behind, and Suddenly! Dak and Sera are being introduced to a secret cabral of Hystorians, who are most keenly interested indeed in the time machine.

Because, you see, the time machine is necessary to fix history. The Bad Guys have broken the past, disrupting the natural flow of events (did you pick up on the Benedict Arnold middle school, for instance?). And because Dak and Sera are the only ones tuned into the time machine, they have to become agents of the Hystorians, travel back to the broken bits, and fix them, and if things aren't fixed, the present is going to go even further down the drain.

There are some things that will make the time mission easier--technology solves the language problem, and the prep. work of the Hystorians over the centuries (agents from the past, waiting in their time period for time travellers to come) provides some guidance once they get there. But just as the explanations are winding down in the Hystorian Headquarters, there's an attack from the SQ bad guys, and the kids must quickly travel into the past to start their work. Chance pushes one of the Hystorians, Riq, into their journey--he's an older kid, and not at all warm and fuzzy.

So there Dak, Sera, and Riq are back in 1492. Columbus is about to set sail, and the famous mutiny that displaces him from his destiny as "discoverer of America" is about to take place....And that, I think, is enough summary!

Well. It is interesting, and exciting, and with lots of middle grade appeal (for, perhaps, the ten year olds, give or take, in particular. The adult reader might find the characters annoying at times (Dak and Riq both grated on my own nerves, with their know-it-all, antagonistic jockeying for relative status), and might be thrown out of the book occasionally with questions about temporal paradox and historical accuracy. But of course, this isn't for the older reader. The history seemed to me accurate enough (though, of course, accuracy is tricky here, cause of history have been warped) that I had no burning issues with it, and the characters might well be more warmly embraced, or at least better tolerated, by the younger reader....

This was one of those time travel books when it is all made easier than it would be if you were time travelling in real life. Technology and insider helpers are key to the kids' success, and they are able to pass successfully as ship's urchins. The result is that this is more of an adventure story, propelled by time travel, than a time travel story, propelled by adventure. Which is fine--the former category almost certainly has broader kid appeal than the more introspective, character-reaction focused, type of story.

To add to the enjoyment of the target audience, there's an online game component. I tried it out, and didn't get very far, and don't actually have a useful frame of reference with which to form an opinion. It seems fun, and not without educational value...I was worried that each physical book granted access for just one user--there's a map tucked into the book that has an access code, but there is a way for multiple users of the book to set up accounts. Librarians might want to black out the access code on the map, and perhaps write a little note where the map goes saying that if you go to the web site, you will find a way to access the game by referencing particular pages of the book.

Note on divesity: The game shows images of the characters--Dak white, Sera Asian, and Rak as clearly black (he is described in the book as dark of hair and skin). I am going to have to go back to see if there is textual description of Sera (hmm, long dark hair was all I found; will keep checking); Rak is still a secondary character in this book, so I'm not putting this on my list of multicultural sci fi/fantasy just because of him...maybe in later books, he'll move to primary status!



Final note: it is a bit ironic, at first glance, that Columbus not discovering America is something broken that needs fixing, because of course there were many, many unfortunate consequences to that discovery. However, in the alternate history it gets discovered anyway by the same ships, just with different guys (who are not any more altruistic) in charge.

9/17/12

Cybils!

Today the Cybils Panelists were announced! I'm so excited to be back doing mg sff, with a fine slate of co-panelists. That being said, I'm sorry there wasn't room for everyone, and if you applied this year and weren't chosen, do try again next year! I would be happy to be on a panel with any of you all whose blogs I turn to for mg sff reviews...

Here's the list of mg sff panelists:

Round 1

Anamaria Anderson
Books Together
@bookstogether

Sherry Early
Semicolon
@semicolonblog

Sondra Eklund
Sonderbooks
@Sonderbooks

Melissa Fox
Book Nut
@book_nut

Jessalynn Gale
Garish & Tweed
@jessmonster

Charlotte Taylor
Charlotte's Library
@charlotteslib

Cheryl Vanatti
Reading Rumpus
@Tasses


Round 2 - MG

Hayley Beale
From the Children's Room

Kristen Evey
Bookends (& Beginnings)
@kristenevey

Rosemary Kiladitis
More Coffee, Please
@roesolo

Gina Ruiz
AmoXcalli
@ginaruiz

Amelia Yunker
Challenging the Bookworm

And now, the reading begins, because even though nominations don't start till October 1st, there are some books that are clearly going to be there, and time is marching on! I've read close to fifty eligible books since last time around, but I'm hoping there are many most excellent ones out there that I haven't read...

The Age of MIracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, has a fascinating premise. What if the rotation of the earth gradually began to slow? What effects would this have on the environment, on the social and economic fabric of society, and, most particularly, on the life of one eleven year old girl, Julia?

Short answer: nothing good. Before the slowing began, Julia led an uncomplicated life of California suburban-ness. But the disruption of the slowing, with its cascade of catastrophes, destroys the old normal irrevocably. Through Julia's eyes we see the birds falling from the sky...onwards to near total environmental collapse. In this new abnormal, Julia's personal life and hope of happiness is stretched gossamer thin--her's is a pretty hellacious version of seventh grade.

The Age of Miracles
is tremendously gripping. At the start of the book, I was so wrapped up in the beginning of the catastrophe that it was hard not to turn on the news myself, and sit riveted while scientist after scientist explained that they had no explanation. It's clear from the beginning that the story is narrated by a future Julia---it's full of dark premonitions ("we didn't know then that...."). And along with Julia, caught up in her life, we see these premonitions come to pass.

Though the heroine is a child, this isn't a children's book; it was written for the adult market. And it reads as such--there is a cold adult overlay over Julia's experience. Children's books have an immediacy of emotion to them, and the child character almost invariably has agency. The intrusion of the adult Julia into the story is a distancing, and I never felt truly privy to the depths of her feelings. And the poor girl has almost no agency whatsoever. She is like an oil-slicked bird, with a life that goes on, but senselessly darkened by circumstance over which she has no control whatsoever. So for me personally, inveterate reader of children's books that I am, it's a book I enjoyed, but didn't take to my heart.

But boy, is it riveting as all get out. I read it in two hours straight through, unable to put it down, and now I've passed it on to my husband, who, when given the choice, would rather read a book for grown-ups than a book for children, and he is enjoying it lots.

So if you, or a teen for whom you procure books, are looking for a dystopian read with no paranormal elements, where teen romance isn't a major plot point (although there is a bit of it), where the sci fi premise is the driving force of the story, and a block of time to spare (because of the strong possibility of not being able to put it down), give it try. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this ended up getting attention from the Alex Award committee (books written for adults that have teen appeal). This is the author's debut novel--I will be very interested indeed to see what she writes next!

Thoughts on the title--the perky Paul Simon song ran through my head as a sound track to the book, an ironic contrast to Julia's life. And the title itself read as ironic to me--adolescence is (if you chose to look at it in an optimistic way), supposed to be a miraculous time of becoming adult, with first love, unlimited possibility, and hope for the future front and center; here the miracles are those of end times, not beginning times.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


9/16/12

Hocus Pocus Hotel, by Michael Dahl

If you have a young reader (say, 9 or 10) kicking around who loved the Encyclopedia Brown stories, and who also is intrigued by magic (of the stage kind, not the fantasy kind) give that reader Hocus Pocus Hotel, by Michael Dahl (Stone Arch Books, Aug. 2012, middle grade, 216 pages). You can, of course, give it to other readers as well. I certainly don't fit that description, but still I read the two mystery stories that comprise this book so quickly and happily that I finished it a long time before my bus got home...

It all starts when young Charlie Hitchcock, a brainiac geek type gifted with a photographic memory, gets a note from the school tough guy, Tyler Yu, saying to meet him after school. Charlie is convinced the end is nigh, but actually Ty just wants Charlie's help. Ty's mother is the manager of an old hotel, the Abracadabra (which also serves as a retirement community for former magicians), and Ty, who works for her, is afraid he's going to take the fall for the mysterious happenings around the hotel...because one of the magicians has disappeared (before paying his rent)!

So Charlie and Ty set out to crack the case of the missing magician. No sooner is that case solve, however, when more trouble strikes. Why, wonder the two boys, would anyone want to steal shower curtains??? But the other things begin to vanish...and Charlie and Ty are off in pursuit of the culprit.

There are secrets galore in the Abracadabra Hotel--and Dahl has lots of fun incorporating magic tricks into his story, complete with explanatory diagrams (great for the geekish child, or curious adult). I liked the premise of a hotel full of elderly magicians lots--much more fun than Encyclopedia Brown's crime- ridden, but boring, town. The reader might guess that there's magic behind the mysteries...but still there's room for plain old logic and deductive reasoning.

The characters--two very different boys who become friends and colleagues--are also appealing. Although Dahl makes no effort to underline the point in a Lessony way, it's in large part the story of two very different types of kid, who hadn't said a word to each other at school, seeing beyond stereotypes. I must say that Ty is much more interesting (why is he a bully at school, but hardworking and thoughtful when he's at home?); Charlie doesn't get much deeper as the story progresses. In any event, I'll be curious to see how their friendship develops in the next book of the series!

(and speaking of stereotypes, it was somewhat refreshing that the Asian kid wasn't the smart, geeky member of the team!)

In short: Great for the mystery loving 4th grader (or thereabouts. The confidently reading 3rd grader, or the less confidently reading older kid might well enjoy it too). Fun for those who aren't kids as well, but it's not one I'd actively recommend to adult readers of 4th grade books (which isn't a criticism--some books just happen to work better for their target audience than they do for grown ups!)

And yay! I actually have a post to send off to Marvellous Middle Grade Monday!

This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (9/16/2012)

Welcome to another week in which I round up all the blog posts I could find which I would like to have read in someone else's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy, if it weren't for the fact that I am the rounder upper....Please let me know if I missed your post!

And isn't that a lovely origami Smaug? (found at Tor).

The Reviews:

Any Which Wall, by Laurel Snyder, at Time Travel Times Two

Bigger Than a Breadbox, by Laurel Snyder, at There's a Book

The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander, review by Bit, bibliophile in training, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu, at Sonderbooks

Claws, by Mike and Rachel Grinti, at My Precious

The Crowfield Curse, by Pat Walsh, at books4yourkids

Darkbeast, by Morgan Keyes, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Sharon the Librarian (giveaway--extended from original date)

Deadweather and Sunrise, by Geoff Rodkey, at The Book Monsters

Ely Plot (The Wickit Chronicles, book 1) by Joan Lennon, at A Thousand Wrongs

Half Magic, by Edward Eager, at Tor

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

In a Glass Grimmly, by Adam Gidwitz, at Waking Brain Cells

Invisible World, by Suzanne Weyn, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Island of Silence (Unwanteds, book 2), by Lisa McMann, at Heise Reads & Recommends

Lily's Ghosts, by Laura Ruby, at Read in a Single Sitting

Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at Book Nut and Becky's Book Reviews

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, at Literary Rambles (giveaway)

The Prince Who Fell From the Sky, by John Claude Bemis, at Ex Libris

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, at Books Together and Becky's Book Reviews

Princess Academy, and Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at Slatebreakers

Seeing Cinderella, by Jenny Lundquist, at The Children's Book Review

The Serpent's Ring, by H.B. Bolton, at Candace's Book Blog

Seven Tales of Tinket, by Shelley Moore Thomas, at Book Aunt

Spellbound (the Books of Elsewhere 2), by Jacqueline West, at Jean Little Library

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schiltz, at Good Books and Good Wine

The Sweetest Spell, by Suzanne Selfors, at Book Aunt (note: this is one of those marketed as YA that seem upper mg appropriate)

The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons, by Barbara Mariconda, at Book Aunt

What Came from the Stars, by Gary Schmidt, at Book Nut, Librarian's Quest, and a joint review/conversation at The Brain Lair and Maria's Melange.

Wooden Bones, by Scott William Carter, at Charlotte's Library

Monica of Educating Alice reviews Splendors and Glooms, and The Peculiar, in today's NY Times.

At Black and White, you'll find a look at three lovely read aloud fantasies for the younger set--The Robe of Skulls, by Vivian French, The Serial Garden, by Joan Aiken, and Mr. and Mrs. Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire, by Polly Horvath

Authors and Interviews:

Liz Kessler (Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun) at Nayu's Reading Corner

Lisa McMann (The Unwanteds) describes an inspiring school visit at the Nerdy Book Club

Morgan Keyes discusses the rituals of Darkbeast at Stiching Words, One Thread at a Time

Other Good Stuff:


It's Roald Dahl's birthday week, and The Guardian has rounded up a lovely set of "links, articles and teaching resources to help you celebrate in class."

Lots of book to movie news: Dragonlogy, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and The True Meaning of Smekday are all on their way to the big screen.

M is for Merrow at Scribble City Central

At the Nerdy Book Club, you can find a list of the top ten middle grade graphic novels (and in a comment you can find more suggestions from me....).

For those looking for mg sff ebooks, visit Fantasy Books for Kids, where every Friday five such ebooks are showcased.

Megan Whalen Turner talks about the Provensen book of fairy tales (and its scary pictures) at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.

And finally, a lovely picture from the Etsy story of artist Elly MacKay, and boy was it hard to chose just one picture. I might very well ask for one of her pictures for my birthday...and maybe even try my own hand at doing something similar--if I do it with boys, it becomes Educational and process will matter more than (lack) of beautiful product. (Thanks to Chasing Ray for the introduction).

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