Bonjour, Lonnie, by Faith Ringgold, for Timeslip Tuesday

April is such a hard month--all I want to do is to be outside, getting everything weeded and planted and spruced up, but it's the busiest month at work, busy with the kids' homework, busy busy busy...and so no time to read the big long book that was supposed to be this week's Timeslip Tuesday offering.

So I turned to a quick picture book read -- Bonjour, Lonnie, by Faith Ringgold (Hyperion Books for Children, 1996), and, um, it's kind of strange.

Bonjour, Lonnie, is a picture book that uses rather vague magical bird-assisted time travel in order to show an orphaned boy, Lonnie, his family, and to give him loving guardians in his own time.   The magical bird in question is a singing French one, known as Love Bird, and when it visits Lonnie, it takes him back to early 20th-century Paris...and then vanishes, leaving him to wander past famous monuments to look for it (basically three pages of Paris is great, that don't advance the plot, but are not uninteresting....).

Then Love Bird shows up again, and leads the little boy to a small house wherein are his grandparents--a black man and a white woman, which surprises Lonnie.  His grandfather explains he came to France to fight in WW I.  He was a great singer  (and we have a rather nice introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, and black culture flourishing), but  when he went back home, he was oppressed by the prejudice that he found there, and went back to Paris, married a beautiful French girl, and became a famous opera singer.

The scene then changes; Lonnie sees his parents and himself as a baby...he finds out his father was killed as young soldier in WW II, and his Jewish mother sent him to the US to safety with a young friend.  She in turn fell ill, no-one could find the kin she had hoped to leave Lonnie with, and so he was there in the orphanage, waiting, all unknowing, for Love Bird to find him.

And because of the love bird, the missing kin are found (and Lonnie's mother reassures him that his new Aunt Connie "has dyed her own graying locks red like yours," which I find very odd) and all is well.

So it's rather strange (the love bird device in particular).  The reader knows it's timeslipish, because of being told so, but basically it reads like a dream of shifting scenes and flashbacks.  It's not a story, so much as an explanation of the family history with underlinings of African American and WW I and WW II history.  It's not un-compelling, and it is rather interesting (especially in it's multicultural emphasis) but I find it hard to imagine curling up and reading it with a child...especially since it might provoke a child to ask questions that they might not be ready to fully grasp--like why Lonnie's Jewish mother felt she had to send him to safety.   It's definitely one to read yourself before you read it to a child, so that you can expect what's going to happen next.

Ah gee.  I know Faith  Ringgold is a famous artist, but her people didn't appeal to me personally (speaking frankly, they looked like zombies, with stiff arms and staring eyes--vibrant, colorful zombies, but still).  This, I'm quite prepared to admit, is just my own reaction.

(if you look it up on Amazon, be warned that the blurb given is for another book, so it won't be useful)


Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George

I utterly adored Tuesdays At the Castle, by Jessica Day George (2011-- my review), and so was naturally looking forward to its sequel, Wednesdays in the Tower (Bloomsbury, 2013; technically May 7, but in my local B and N right now).   I found it utterly engrossing.

Castle Glower has a habit of tweaking with its layout--adding and subtracting new rooms, shifting the floor plan, making the rooms of welcomed guests much more pleasant than those of less welcome ones--and generally, though not always, these things happen on Tuesdays.  Celie, the youngest princess, knows the castle better than anyone, and she's been mapping its changes through the years.

Then the castle starts to surprise even Celie.  First there's the never before seen armory, full of enchantments, but that was just the beginning. One Wednesday Celie finds a new tower, and in it is an egg...and when it hatches, Celie finds herself the surrogate mother to a baby griffin...even though griffins are mythological creatures, with no place in Celie's world.

The Castle won't let her tell anyone but her oldest brother, Bran (the Castle Wizard), making things a bit difficult for her...but more distressingly, the Castle seems to be going haywire. More and more rooms are appearing, and none are leaving, with little regard for the wishes of its current inhabitants.

Celie (not unnaturally) tries to find out all she can about griffins.  Gradually she finds clues that lead to a past when the folk of the castle lived side by side with griffins, riding them through the air.

But there's someone in the castle who knows more about its ancient secrets than Celie can imagine...and he's determined to keep all knowledge of griffins from her.   Will she be able to keep her own griffin safe?  Just what is this strangers mysterious agenda?  (and what on earth is the Castle up to?!!?).

It's a more tense read than the first book, which was light-hearted fun (though with emotional twists...). This is essentially a suspenseful mystery, and though there's plenty of lovely castle-magic whimsy, and the young griffin is charming, the sense of possible impending castle-doom made it a gripping page turner.

And though it ended with the primarily mystery resolved, George added a heck of the twist at the end to make it clear that there are many more adventures to come....

Like the first, this is great stuff for the younger reader of fantasy (the eight to ten year old).  It's heavy on Mythological Creatures appeal (Celie's bond with her griffin, and her wild flights on its back, are the stuff of many a young reader's wish-fulfillment), with a very likable main character, suspense without violence, and friendships without romance.   I liked it lots myself and recommend it whole-heartedly.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/28/13)

 Here's what I found in this week's internet hunt for reviews and such of middle grade sci fi and fantasy books.  Please let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews:

The Accidental Time Traveller, by Janis Mackay, at Guys Lit Wire

The Big Bank Burglery (St. Viper's School for Super Villains), by Kim Donovan, at Log Cabin Library

Deadweather and Sunrise (Chronicles of Egg), by Geoff Rodkey, at Becky's Book Reviews

Deadly Pink, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Books & Other Thoughts

Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun, by Liz Kessler, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

Fyre, by Angie Sage, at Deseret News

The Gliter Trap (OMG--Oh My Godmother) by Barbara Brauner & James Iver Mattson, at Books Beside My Bed

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at Geo Librarian

Ghoulfriends Forever, by Gitty Daneshvari, at Paranormal Sisters

Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski, at Charlotte's Library

House of Secrets, by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini, at Pub Writes, Reading Rumpus, Leisure Reads, and There's a Book 

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile 

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Xander's Middle Grade Book Reviews

Lizzie Speare and the Cursed Tomb, byAlly Malienko, at The (Mis)Adventures of a Twenty-something Year Old Girl

The Magician's Tower, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

Mira's Diary: Home, Sweet Rome, by Marissa Moss, at Kid Lit Frenzy and Rebecca  Behrens

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Bookworm1858

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, by Nikki Loftin, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Space Bingo, by Tony Abbott, at Time Travel Times Two

Syren, by Angie Sage, at Leaf's Reviews

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R.L. LaFevers, at Deb A. Marshall

Toothiana, Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies, by William Joyce, at Wondrous Reads

The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine, at Tales of the Marvellous

Unnatural Creatures, by Neil Gaiman, at A.V. Club (Kirkus says this is for ages 10-14...have any of you all read it?  Is it really?)

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Karissa's Reading Review

When the Butterflies Came, by Kimberly Griffiths Little, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Authors and Interviews and Art

Soman Chinani (The School for Good and Evil) at Harvard Magazine

Two artwork reveals for The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, at Candace's Book Blog and The Hiding Spot

Kit Grindstaff (The Flame and the Mist) at From the Mixed Up Files

Anna Staniszewski (My Epic Fairytale Fail) at Sharon the Librarian

Suzanne Selfors (The Sasquatch Escape) at The Write Path

Claire M. Caterer (The Key and the Flame) at Cynsations 

Rick Riordan on Reading Myths and the Myths of Reading 

Ned Vizzini (House of Secrets) at The Book Zone

Liesl Shurtliff (Rump: the True Story of Rumplestiltskin) at Project Mayhem 

More Good Stuff

Adorable robots learn to walk, at io9

Adorable knitted hedgehog (I needed a picture, so I googled "knitted hedgehog" cause I like hedgehogs, and "knitted baby otter" didn't yield anything good):


Can you identify any of these time travel books for kids? I can't....

Though I am moving steadily forward in my effort to read every time travel book for kids ever written (except I'm never going to read every Magic Tree House book--there are limits), there are still lots of books out there I've never encountered.

Out of the last four requests I've gotten for help identifying half-remembered books, I could only answer one; here are the other three, and if you recognize any of them, please leave a comment!

"I am looking for a fantasy novel I read partially when I was barely ten. The cover was ripped so I can not recall the title except that the story involved a young boy and girl who come across a talking talisman or artifact that was able to take them back in time every hundred or so years until the come to a medieval era in which mankind was enslaved by aliens, apparently the true origin of the talisman is revealed to be alien. I can not recall how the story ends but it is a very humorous novel with the talisman coming across as sarcastic yet funny."

"My boyfriend has a book in mind that he loved when he was younger.  He said it was about someone who went into a tree and traveled way back in time, like to the dinosaur era.  He's sure that it wasn't the series with the tree house though."

Sam has an answer for this one-- The Ancient One, by T. A. Barron; if that's not it, Reading Is My Life wonders if it might be a Ruth Chew book.

"When I was in middle school, which I'm not entirely sure when that was (I think it was around 98), we read a book about a girl who would go back and forth through time. All I can remember is the cover- A brunet girl stands in the middle, cut down the half, on one side she wears a tank top and blue jeans, and the other, some Civil war, or older dress. The scene that I remember is that she is running down an alleyway, trying to avoid being seen by surveillance cameras, and slips through time. She winds up in a tunnel, where she hides behind a wagon to avoid soldiers of some sort."

HumbleIndigo has suggested Running Out of Time, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, which definitely meets the cover criteria:

Deb also suggest Both Sides of Time, by Caroline Cooney, for this one.

I really wish someone would guess the alien one...sarcasm in mg sff is not as common as it should be, in my opinion.


Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski

Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski (Tu, 2013, upper middle grade/YA).

Young Baltasar has grown up in late 15th-century Spain, a time when the Spanish Inquisition was going strong, listening to the stories told him by his uncle Diego--many of which were drawn from the Jewish heritage Diego and his wife ostensibly renounced when they chose to become nominal Christians (it was either that, or living in terrible fear of discovery--Ferdinand and Isabel did not want any Jews in Spain).    But of all his uncle's stories, Baltasar thrills most to those of the brave warrior Amir al-Katib, who fought for the Christian kingdoms of Europe, was betrayed by them, and ended his life fighting on the side of the Moors who were being driven from Spain.  Or so Baltasar has always believed.

But that's not actually how Amir al-Katib's story ended.  When a sinister oranization, known as the Hammer of Witches, dedicated to fighting witchcraft with any means deemed necessary, imprisons Baltasar, he is questioned under threat of torture about Amir.   And he intensively responds with a gift for magical storytelling he didn't know he had--and raises a golem, who carries him home.

Where, of course, the nice folks (not) from the Hammer of Witches know where to find him.

Now his aunt and uncle are dead, and Baltasar is on the run.  But he's not alone for long--his uncle has passed on a slim golden chain that belonged ot Amir al-Katib himself, and, much to Baltasar's wonder, it summons an Ifritah--a girl who is have spirit, half human, and full of magic.  And when the Ifritah, Jinniyah, takes him to Baba Yaga for advice, Baltasar finds that a great evil is about to head west from Europe across the sea...and that he might be able to thwart it.

And so Baltasar and Jinniyah sail off with Christopher Columbus....a journey wherein the little fleet is beset by magical enemies.   But Baltasar can answer each magical creature with one of his own; the real evil (obviously to the modern reader) doesn't come until land is reached, and the Columbian consequences begin.

So. It is tremendously exciting, what with magical adventures, the voyage of exploration, the fact that the Hammer of Witches has a spy embedded in the voyage, the mystery of Amir al-Katib (which plays a large part in the story), and Baltasar's own growing control of his storytelling magic.  In particular,  Baltasar's time spent with the Taino people, who are describe in rich detail, and who seem much saner than the Europeans, is worthwhile reading.

Just about any reader who likes excitement will appreciate the high-stakes, fast-moving story; those who are Readers to begin with will especially appreciate the strong link here between magic and storytelling.   It is a fascinating take on the story of Columbus' voyage, one that respects the Taino and gives them equal agency to the Europeans.  There is a strong young female character, too, to round things off gender-wise, and to my surprise it wasn't Jinnyah but someone else....

I didn't find it a perfect read, though, primarily because Baltasar is a very distant first-person narrator.  He's awfully good at describing (his words made beautifully clear pictures in my mind), but not so good at sharing enough of his feelings to make me care deeply about him as an individual.  And, in fact, at one point I actively disliked him--after the aforementioned girl character witnessed the rape of Taino women, it was creepy of Baltasar to kiss her uninvited, and then, a few pages later, jokingly say to her that "we both know you're dying for another kiss" (page 286). 

I was also disappointed by the fact that Jinniyah, the Ifritah, doesn't end up having much of a role in the story--I kept expecting her to be responsible for some major twist in the plot, but she never took center stage, and was often shunted off onto the sidelines. 

Still, there was much to enjoy, and it was refreshing to read a book whose main character not only embodies the clash of cultures in 15th century Europe between Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam, but offers an unflinching look at the horror Columbus' voyage unleashed on the native peoples he encountered.

For another perspective, here's the Kirkus review.

Note on age:  This one felt rather tween-ish to me, which is to say for readers 11 to 14.  Baltasar himself is fourteen (though, I think, a rather young 14), and a few specific instance of violence, including what happened to the Taino women, pushes this beyond something I'd give to a ten-year old.

disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher


The Sterkarm Handshake, by Susan Price, for Time Slip Tuesday

The Sterkarm Handshake, by Susan Price (Scholastic, 1998).

Imagine that, round-about our present time here in the 21st century, capitalist entrepreneurs have discovered how to travel in time.  The thought of all the natural resources back there in the past, waiting to be exploited, makes them happy.

One of the time tunnels they have constructed leads to the sixteenth century in the wild boarder lands between England and Scotland.  The Sterkarm clan who rule the patch of this land are fierce, treacherous, loyal to each other and not giving a damn about anyone else, and they are cognizant that the time travelers have much to offer (the aspirin tablets are a hit).

Andrea is a young anthropologist, embedded back in time among the Sterkarms.  Literally--she and Per, the son of the chief are passionately involved.   For Andrea, deemed unattractively large by her own society, it is nice to be lusted after, and Per does genuinely care for her....it might even be love (although I couldn't help but wonder about how much her emotions were colored by her new desirability, and this made me uncomfortable).

But all is not well.  The problem with greedy exploitation is that often the people being exploited fight back, and things go sour.   The trouble in this case begin when Per, gravely wounded fighting off raiders (all in a days work for the Sterkarms), is taken by Andrea to the 21st century.  The director of the company, a nasty piece of work, wants him as a hostage.  Per escapes, makes his way through the tunnel home, and then he and his people declare war on the 21st century, burning what they can of the tunnel.

It is rebuilt, and the 21st century comes to make war in the past.  It seems as though its an uneven match--heavy artillery against bows and arrows.  But arrows can kill, and the Sterkarms have years of experience with treachery and guerrilla warfare...

So it basically stopped being fantasy neo-colonialism (interesting), and became a military sci fi story (not my cup of tea), and by the last hundred pages I was skimming because everyone was running around bashing each other etc., and I ws really tired of hearing about Andrea's predicament (torn between two conflicting loyalties, and not wanting any one to be killed, and not wanting the boy she's been sleeping with to be a ruthless killer even though he clearly is etc).

And did Andrea, intelligent anthropologist, save the day with intelligent anthropologizing?  No.  She went to pieces, and was all "Oh Per if you love me you will be kind and do something and not kill the people from the 21st century." Disappointing.

What it needed was more characterization and less fighting, in my opinion.  The bad guy was one dimensional, and so uninterestingly bad that there was little point to him.  Per and Andrea are two dimensional at best.  In as much as they are already sharing a bed by the time we meet them, there is no subtlety to their relationship, and I never believed that they were actually in love with each other as people, as opposed to fond bedmates (I have nothing against affectionate lust enjoyed by both parties, but it's not as interesting as the tension of love being realized), and like I said, I didn't need Andrea's dilemma drummed into my head quite so much.  A few minor characters come to interesting life, most notably Joe, a homeless Sterkarm descendant of modern times, who travels back to find a better life for himself--his is a fascinating little side-story.  But this wasn't enough to actually make me care all that much.

Final thought--loved the premise, and thought the story was fascinating.  If the book had been about 150 pages shorter, I might well have enjoyed it lots.  As it was, it kind of oozed over the edges of its central story, and I lost interest. 

However, don't necessarily take my word for it---The Sterkarm Handshake won the Guardian's Children's Prize, and got lots of critical acclaim, and is pretty much a classic of military/capitalist time-travel.


Three new non-fiction books for kids for Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day!

By Happy Chance I got three new picture book non-fiction books for little kids last week, all of which are great picks for Earth Day (or any day) reading.

Ocean Counting, by Janet Lawler (National Geographic Little Kids, May 2013), with photographs by Brian Skerry, starts thus:

"Explore our beautiful blue ocean while learning how to count.  Visit colorful coral reefs, warm and sunny seas, sparkling ice packs, and other special spots where marine animals live and play.  And on your way, discover new ocean friends on a worldwide counting adventure."  For the numbers one through ten, there are double spread pictures, and short blurbs and supplemental "did you know" insets that offer interesting information.  A very nice book!

The cute baby seal and its mama (for Two) are particularly kid-friendly, although I myself was especially taken by the four reef squid--a stunning picture in which the squids obligingly arranged themselves in a line by size (sweet squids!).

Flowers by Number, by David Shapiro, illustrated by Hayley Vair (Craigmore Creations, April 2013).

This is one for the child who appreciates beautiful illustrations--the flower paintings are lovely, in a calm, painterly way.  They aren't your common or garden flowers either--instead, they are wildflowers from across the country, including new ones for East Coast me, like the six Pacific Starflowers.   The text is minimal, but interest is added by occasional metaphorical language.  For the nine lupines, for instance, the text says "Named after the wolf, they howl in purple when many flower at once."

The Latin names of the flowers are included, though a little note explaining what these foreign words are might have been useful. 

This one is strong on aesthetics and floral interest, could for peaceful appreciation of the beauties of nature.  I particularly liked that it started with Zero, which so often gets overlooked--it's a snowy landscape with no flowers at all.

The World is Waiting for You, by Barbara Kerley (National Geographic Children's Books, March 2013), is a photographic invitation (and a very compelling one) to get outside!!! From woods to water to fossil hunting in the desert, the imperative commands, like "Dig deeper" or "Take a peek.  Go on--get a little nosy" reinforces the beautifully clear message of the pictures that there are wonderful things to do out there in the great big world of nature.  And if that cave full of huge crystals really is real (I assume it is, but it boggles the mind!) I want to go there myself!  It is a joyful celebration of the outdoors that manages to enthuse without any sense of didactic preaching.

This is a truly inspiring one that I wholeheartedly recommend.

So, have a happy Earth Day!  And just to close, here is my own go-to saving the earth tip--keep a bucket in your shower, to catch the water while its warming up, and use that water to flush the toilet.   If you have four shower-ers in your family, like me, and an old plumbing system that takes ages to warm the water, you'll save hundreds of gallons a year.

For more great non-fiction for kids, visit this Monday's Non-Fiction Roundup at A Mom's Spare Time

disclaimer:  review copies received from publicist


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy (4/21/13)

Welcome to another week of links from my blog reading of interest to fans of middle grade sci fi and fantasy!  Please let me know if I overlooked your post; I have been known to forget to include my own....

The Reviews

Cloneward Bound, by M. E. Castle, at Akossiwa Ketoglo (with giveaway)

The Colossus Rises, by Peter Lerangis, ongoing joint review at Maria's Melange and The Brian Lair

The Cup and the Crown, by Diane Stanley, at The Book Smugglers

A Dash of Magic, by Kathryn Littlewood, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

The Dragon's Tooth, by N.D. Wilson, at Word Lily

The Drowned Vault, by N.D. Wilson, at Semicolon

Fyre, by Angie Sage, at Lunar Rainbows

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at One Librarian's Book Reviews 

The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman, at Becky's Book Reviews

Gustav Gloom and the People Taker, by Adam-Troy Castro, at Stratton Magazine

Hollywood, Dead Ahead, by Kate Klise, at Geo Librarian

Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, at For Those About to Mock and By Singing Light

The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Karissa's Reading Review and Good Books and Good Wine

My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, by Anna Staniszewski, at Sharon the Librarian

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at alibrarymama 

Professor Gargoyle, by at Middle Grade Ninja

The School For Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Reading Rumpus

The Secret Prophecy, by Herbie Brennan, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Story's End, by Marissa Burt, at Bibliophilic Monologues

Tanglewreck, by Jeanette Winterson, at Time Travel Times Two 

Time Tangle, by Frances Eager, at Charlotte's Library

Teacher's Pest (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School), by Charles Gilman, at Bookish Way of Life

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Trap Door (Infinity Ring Book 3), by Lisa McMann, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, by Kate Saunders, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Authors and Illustrators and Interiviews

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle artwork reveal and giveaway, at Bunbury in the Stacks and There's a Book

Marissa Moss (Home Sweet Rome) at The Book Cellar

Charles Gilman (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series) at Middle Grade Ninja

Liesl Shurtliff (Rump) at Daydreaming Bookworm

Other Good Stuff

An op-ed about violence in fantasy books at Adam Callaway's Senswunda.  Which inspired me to go take a look at the Cybil's shortlists for mg sff...and indeed, most of them center around violence in various forms (although of course they are about many other things as well).   The most peaceful sub-genre of mg sff I can think of is time travel--there you have a conflict set up that doesn't require violence.  Which might, now I think of it, be one reason why I like time travel books so much!

It's time for the annual spring book fair for Balou High School!  I enjoy perusing the wish list lots--I can't by every book I'd like to, so I spend quite a bit of time choosing.  Can I find an author I know personally and support them? Is there a book so good I think every library should have it?  Do I put my money where my mouth is, and buy a book showing, front and center, a main character who isn't white?  Such fun.  (My final choice this year--Awakening, by Karen Sandler, supporting the publishing of diverse YA sci fi/fantasy)

And finally, I just learned (here) about the sport of Extreme Ironing.  Not one I'm going to take up, for many reasons....


Fun with books in the home, a homage to The Happy Hockey Family

My younger son, quite reasonably, asked that I remove my books from his room.  Strangly, I had no empty bookshelves ready and waiting.  This is the what happened, told as a pale imitation of the brilliance that is  The Happy Hockey Family, by Lane Smith. For those who have read it--isn't it a wonderful book?  For those who haven't--you should get a hold of it right away.

Shelf Story

The pantry cupboard has just been tidied.  See the empty shelves!  Nice shelves.  Clean shelves.  Empty shelves.

What likes to go on shelves?  Books!  Books like to go on shelves.

Now those shelves will stay tidy forever.

Drawer Story

I have a drawer full of books!  Do you have a drawer full of books?  My drawer is full of books!


I have the chance to teach my boys how to fix drawers! Can you teach your boys how to fix drawers?  I can teach mine!

(In case anyone looked closely at the books, and wondered why I have them in the first place--they are stock for when I have my new and used children's book store).

Magyk, by Angie Sage

The release of Fyre, the seventh and final book of the Septimus Heap series last Tuesday, means that now is the perfect time to introduce any young readers of fantasy in your life to what I think is just about the most satisfying series of the past decade (right up there with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson). 

And this is what I did--last Saturday my nine-year old started Magyk, the first in the series (HarperCollins, 2005).  Here's how I sold it to him--boy with magical abilities finds dragon egg.  Here's what I didn't say--the boy doesn't know it's a dragon egg, and it doesn't hatch till book 2.  But I was pretty confident that once he got started, he'd be hooked.

Indeed, he was.  He read with an all-consuming emotional commitment, and I wish Angie Sage could have stopped by our house to hear the stream of exclamations, questions, excited comments, predictions, gasps, etc. coming from the comfy chair in our living room.   In all sincerity, I truly do not think any author could ask for a better reaction to their book.

Less than a week later, he has almost finished the fourth book (the fact that is was spring break helped).  Listening to his questions and remarks (he wanted me to stay in the same room, so as to facilitate this social aspect of his reading enjoyment) made it clear to me that my memory of the early books has gotten fuzzy, so I've started a re-read of the series myself in anticipation of Fyre.

Magyk is, in a nutshell, the story of how brave kids, with the help of useful adults, defeat a dark wizard.   As the story begins, young Septimus Heap, seventh son of seventh son, born to a happy, though not wealthy, family of magic users living in the shadow of a magic filled castle.  Septimus is pronounced dead by the midwife...but that very day his father finds a baby girl left outside in the snow, and little Jenna becomes the Heap families daughter.   Fast forward ten years.  An evil wizard, thought to be dead, but clearly not, returns to try to reclaim the castle.  Jenna and the Heap family flee with the help of Marcia, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard.   A boy, Boy 412, from the sinister Young Army (sort of a Soviet Youth training horror) finds himself reluctantly fleeing with them (he doesn't yet grasp that he is being saved).

Moving right along in a bald summary that doesn't do justice to the story--bad wizard wants Jenna (she is the missing princess), and sends sinister forces against the refugees.  The boy from the Young Army turns out to have great magical gifts.   The adults do what they can, but things go wrong.  Jenna, Boy 412, and the next oldest Heap son save the day with the help of an ancient, living, dragon boat.

That's the plot in a nutshell, but what makes this book so very fun to read is the zest with which Angie Sage has packed it with Magyk (highlighted thus in the text).  Magical creatures abound, there are lots of charms and potions and just plain old fun with magic.  And it is packed with characters too--although Sage wisely moves a whole chunk of Heap brothers off-stage, there are more than enough people busily engaged in fending off danger to keep things humming. 

I really enjoyed it this second time through.  As for my son, he thinks these books are just about the best he has ever read, and plans to book-talk them up a storm to his wide circle of reading friends on Monday.   For the younger reader in particular, who still reads with the wide-eyed wonder of the not-yet-cynical, this is great stuff. 


Waiting on Wednesday--The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

So this morning, in my usual state of last minute-ness, I went over to Above the Tree Line (if you aren't familiar with this, it's a place where publishers share their forthcoming catalogues), and checked out Macmillian's Fall catalogue looking for a W. on W. book.

There were a number of shiny books that caught my eye. (Did you know, for instance, that there's going to be a sequel to Dead End in Norvelt--From Norvelt to Nowhere? And there  Conjured, by Sarah Beth Durst, which looks great, and I'm looking forward to Dark Lord, a Fiend in Need, by Jamie Thompson, and lots more.)

And then I got to The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, by Catherynne M. Valente, coming October 8, 2013. 

I wasn't desperately taken with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but I really, really liked its sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (or, as us Middle Grade sci fi/fantasy panelists for last year's Cybils called, it, The Girl with the Really Long Title).  Here's my review of that one.  So I'm looking forward to this new one lots!  (And I think the cover is great).

Here's the blurb:

"September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers."

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


Time Tangle, by Frances Eager, for Timeslip Tuesday

Time Tangle, by Frances Eager, was published way back in 1976, and if I had gotten hold of it back then (when I was eight) I would have loved it to pieces.   Alas, as an adult reader I couldn't quite feel the love--it just didn't go far enough with the magic of its time travel premise to make it wonderful.

Beth is a girl at a boarding school run by nuns in England, whose mother died a few months before the book begins--she is full of (mostly) repressed, and totally understandable, grief, and spends most of her time indulging in extravagant daydreams, which she narrates to herself.  Her journalist father was supposed to come back to England to spend Christmas, but he can't.  So Beth is going to stay with the nuns, crossing over to their side of the campus, an old manor house (unknown and exciting territory!).  She doesn't mind, exactly; though she misses her father, Christmas without her mother was going to be horrible regardless.

One day Beth, wandering the cold woods outside the school, dressed up in her Elizabethan costume from the school play (which strikes me as a sensible thing to do, if you are going to wander around imagining things), and singing Greensleeves to pass the time (as one does), meets a boy named Adam.  Turns out, Adam is an actual Elizabethan, who's gotten involved with the Catholic priest underground.   And he shares with Elizabeth the information that a Catholic priest hidden in the manor house, and she agrees that she will be the next link in the chain of messengers, and warn him that he must not go to the next house on his itinerary, where he will be captured.

But though Adam can come and go through time (he seems to be visiting the present), Elizabeth, with exception of one vision of the Elizabethan past, cannot.  And though she tries to twist the heavily painted-over Tudor rose that opens the hidden priest hole, she cannot...and the chain of warning is broken.

So its a fine story, with lots of bonus points for interesting and sympathetic nuns running a school (not something you see much of, and I've always liked a. boarding schools and b. In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden, which is the best book about nuns ever), and Elizabeth is a girl who reminds me of me (not the dead mother part, but the narrated imaginings part), and that is just fine, and Adam is enigmatic and appealing, and the tension is great.

But the ending fizzles, and Adam doesn't get enough page time.  Fifty or so more pages, with more time travelling, and I probably would like it lots more, but as it was the balance was off.  The two stories-- Beth's life in the real world, and Adam's problems in the past-- seemed to be two separate pieces of bread (unobjectionable bread) with no tasty sandwich filling making them into a glorious whole.

Short answer:  if you see this in a library booksale for 25 cents, go for it.  If you have an imaginative and introspective book-loving girl around your house who is eight or nine years old, you could even look for it activly.

Note on ghost vs time travel:  I am categorizing this as time slip rather than ghost, because Adam is still very much within his own time, objects from the past are solid, and Elizabeth at one point sees backward into the past.  But I did get a sense of the author being reluctant to fully commit herself to one or the other, and this, now that I come to type it, may be the root of my dissatisfaction.


Mind Games, by Kiersten White

Mind Games, by Kiersten White (HarperTeen, Feb 2013, YA), is a book so gripping that it held my attention while I read almost all of it cover to cover while waiting for my car to be fixed--and given that I was in a hideously uncomfy plastic chair, in anxious circumstances viz the fate of the car, this says a lot, I think.

If I had to sum it up in one sentence, it would be "a psychological mystery/thriller, with a smart, fierce heroine,  similar in vibe to The Hunger Games but with a narrower focus viz world-building, cast of characters, and premise."

But since I generally allow myself three paragraphs, or so, here they are:

Two orphaned sisters, each with a psychic ability, are imprisoned in an institution masking as a magnificent school.   For Annie, the older sister, who is blind, the "school" offered all the educational opportunities she craved.  And so, though every preternaturally honed instinct in Fia's mind screamed that it was wrong, the sisters were enrolled.

Those who ran the school were at first only interested in Annie's ability to see the future.  But when they realized just what Fia's gifts entailed, and how easily she could be controlled by threats to her sister, they knew they could never let her go.  And so Fia is made into a tool of violence, sent out on criminal missions for her mysterious masters...and Annie is a hostage.

If it goes on much longer, Fia will break.  But Fia is about to find out who she can trust...and to finally chose her own path for the first time since her nightmare began.

So the story is told in the present, as Fia is beginning to follow a path that might lead to escape, but there are plentiful flashbacks that tell of violence and tension and really gripping psychological manipulation verging on horror, and some scenes from Annie's perspective as well.  By the time events come to a head, the reader knows both sisters pretty well, and I felt nicely invested in Fia and her situation, curious about the mystery behind the "school," and anxious to know how it all played out.

My one reservation is Annie.   She's the older sister, but her parents set up (with the best of intentions) a kind of nasty dynamic of Fia being the one to look after her, because of Annie being blind.  And Annie has lived her life accepting this, not fighting much against it.  She does have  spurt of being an Active Participant in events toward the end, but mostly she is "passive blind sister,"  and her journey to active participation isn't desperately well-developed.  (In plain English, Annie annoyed me).

Once sentence summary: Gripping, disturbing, and a good one for the YA reader who wants wants a thrilling read, starring a kick-ass heroine, that is neither a Dystopian with a capital D (although the particulars are far from Utopian) or a paranormal romance (although there is a whiff of love story).

Will I read it again?  Perhaps, though it isn't a book I'll keep assuming I will want to.  I can easily imagine, though, being happy to read it again if, in two or three years, I went back to the car repair shop and someone has left a copy of it there....

disclaimer:  ARC received from the publisher, left by accident in car repair shop (I think), finished with the help of a library copy.

Note on cover:  I do not think the young woman on the cover is a good representation of Fia.  Her eyes look a tad too limpid, and it is not clear that you are about to read a book about a teenage girl who is forced to kill.  However, the UK publishers of Mind Games decided to make sure there was no ambiguity:


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi/fantasy from around the blogs (4/14/13)

Here's what I found this week; enjoy and let me know if I missed your post!

(Publishers, publicists, and writers--you are welcome to send me full schedules of blog tours, reviews I missed, etc. etc.)

The Reviews:

The Abandoned, (aka Jennie), by Paul Gallico, at In Bed With Books

Aliens on Vacation, by Clete Barrett Smith, at Maria's Melange 

The Beyonders: Chasing the Prophecy, by Brandon Mull, at SciFiChick

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles De Lint, at Mundie Kids

Cloneward Bound, by M.E. Castle, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Colossus Rises, by Peter Lerangis.  Ongoing joint review at Maria's Melange and The Brian Lair, and another review at the American Book Center blog

Fake Mustache, by Tom Angleberger, at Books & Other Thoughts 

The Flame in the Mist, by Kit Grindstaff, at YA Bibliophile (audiobook)

A Greyhound of a Girl, by Roddy Doyle, at Reads for Keeps

Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault, by Adam-Troy Castro, at Pass the Chiclets

Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski, at Finding Wonderland

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at The Book Smugglers and Sonderbooks

Johnny and the Bomb, by Terry Pratchett, at Charlotte's Library

The Key and the Flame, by Claire Caterer, at From the Mixed Up Files

The Last Free Cat, by Jon Blake, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Charlotte's Library

Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris, by Marissa Moss, at That's Another Story 

Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, at Fantasy Literature

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Book Nut and books4yourkids

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, at Kid Lit Geek

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, at Abby the Librarian
and One Librarian's Book Reviews

Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile  and Sonderbooks

Undertown, by Melvin Jules Bukiet, at Sharon the Librarian

Whatever After: Fairest of All, by Sara Mlynowski, at Becky's Book Reviews

Authors, Interviews, and Artwork

Shana Mlawski's Hammer of Witches is this week's Big Idea at Whatever

Liesl Shurtliff (Rump) at All For One and OneFour Kid Lit  and I Like These Books

Kit Grindstaff (The Flame in the Mist) at Steph Su Reads and  Literary Rambles (giveaway) 

Claire M. Caterer (The Key and the Flame) at GreenBeanTeenQueen,
Nerdy Book Club. IceyBooks, The Hiding Spot, Fantasy Book Addict, and The Book Muncher (with giveaways)

Art work reveals (and giveaways) of The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healey, at Ms. Yingling Reads and The Book Smugglers

Marissa Moss (Mira's Diary series) at That's Another Story

Kate DiCamillo (talking about the metaphor matrix of Tiger Rising) at Cynsations

Other Good  Stuff

The Victorians were strange, or perhaps just very much like us.  They would have made great Peep Dioramas, in between creating headless portraits (from PetaPixel, where there are lots more, via io9).

Actually I think they were weirder than us.  (These are really taxidermied kittens, from the museum of Walter Potter, who didn't have Peeps to work with....).

Moving back to books, if you want to feast your eyes on award winning picture books of many lands (many of which are fantastical, and so relevant!), Tasha at Waking Brain Cells has a gallery of the nominees for the 2014 Hans Christian Anderson Award.  I can't decide if this one, published in English as Great Book of Animal Portraits, by Croatian illustrator Svjetlan Junaković, which is now stuck in my mind forever, is one I Must Have, or the stuff of nightmares (or possibly both, but at least these animals aren't taxidermied):

 I see on further perusal that many of the other illustrations (re-imaginings of Old Masters with animals) are less disturbing....so I am very tempted.  Here's "Vermeer's Study of a Young Frog:


Fearless, by Cornelia Funke

Yesterday's book (The Menagerie) was one I happily recommended to nine-year olds wanting fantasy fun; today book I can also recommend whole-heartedly, but it is very different...one I think that has as much cross-over appeal to adult readers as it does to the YA readers to whom it is marketed.

Fearless, by Cornelia Funke (Little, Brown, April 2, 2013, YA), is the sequel to Reckless (my review), which told how Jacob, a boy from our world who became a treasure-hunter in a mirrorworld where fairy tales are true, sacrificed himself to save his younger brother.   And now Jacob, waiting for the fairy curse to strike that will end his life, is on the greatest treasure hunt of his life, this time looking for the last thing he hopes can save him.  It is a weapon crafted by an evil witch king long ago, full of powerful (and potentially horrible) magic...and Jacob isn't the only one hunting for it.   Pitted against him every step of the way is another treasure hunter, one of the stone-skinned Goyl, and their race across an alternate Europe of magic come true might well kill them both.

Fortunately, and heart-rendingly, for Jacob, he is not alone--Fox, the shapeshifting girl who almost broke my heart in the first book, is with him, and here in this book they both have come to understand that their love for each other is the bedrock of their lives.  But Jacob is dying...and so desperate fear tempers their relationship.  They have saved each other countless times before, but now they are stretched so painfully thin by this most horrible quest that hope would seem impossible, if the alternative was not so unthinkable. 

Note:  The relationship between Jacob and Fox is so real, so immediate, so beautiful, and so rooted in their complex pasts that I can't think of any other romance that comes close (except that of Eugenides and Irene, in Megan Whalen Turner's books).  But it is not a physical romance (understandable, given the circumstances) so those looking for swoonish kisses should look elsewhere.

Unfortunately for Jacob's opponent, the Goyl Nerron, not all travelling companions are a good thing.  Nerron is saddled with a nasty teenaged prince, along with his ass of a tutor, and a bodyguard--an inhuman Waterman, with motivations of his own, and their internal power struggles add a somewhat grimly diverting second layer of conflict to the story.  Despite the handicaps who travel with him, Nerron pushes Jacob and Fox at every turn....but fascinatingly, though he seems at first to be the ostensible "bad guy" opponent of the piece, and though up to the last minute the suspense is killer, he is still nuanced, and even sympathetic....

So what we have, to summarize, is killer characters in a killer story.  Added to that are episodes of fairy tale-ness that made bright vivid pictures in my mind--for instance, the book includes one of the most memorable Bluebeard retellings ever.

That being said, this isn't a fast read of magical zipping-ness.   The pages turned slowly, not because I wasn't interested, but because I was so absorbed, even when I wasn't in places where I wanted to be.   Those place weren't the dark scary exciting bits, of which there were many, and which I did enjoy, but rather those times when the burning ache of Fox's and Jacob's desperation surfaces.  Though they must be fearless, they can't help but fear.

So no, not happy escapist fun.  Not a book that kids would necessarily appreciate, though many teens might.   I mysef found it a darn good book (mainly because I love Fox so very much!).  I think it has stuck in my mind so firmly that, although I can imagine re-reading it, I won't need to for a long while.

Here's another review, at In Bed With Books

disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher for review


The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland

Oh yeah.  You want a book that hits the sweet spot for the nine-year old mythical creature lover?  This is what you are looking for:

The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (HarperCollins, March 2013, middle grade), is your basic ordinary boy meets a family who tends mythical creatures, and finds he has a knack for baby griffin wrangling.   It's your basic new kid in town finds a niche and makes friends, with a bit of family dynamic stuff thrown in.   And it's your basic scary government bad enforcement types and sinister sneakers off in the background threatening everything.

And the sum of these somewhat unremarkable plot points is an adventure with a generous dose of mystery that is eminently readable and very enjoyable, especially, I think, if you are nine years old.  Even more especially if you are my own nine-year old, who turned right around after reading it in one day to begin it over again, and who can't wait for the sequel.

Things I especially appreciated:

1.  Great baby griffins!  The main story revolves around the escape of six young siblings, and their escapades all over town, which vary depending on their personality (one ends up in the library, because books are her favorite sort of treasure, another makes a hoard for himself with the pirate coins in a toy shop, etc.).
Logan, our central character, has the remarkable ability to converse telepathically with griffins, and here he is talking to baby Flurp (her thoughts are in bold) in the library:

"Flurp ready to write fabulous tales of grand adventure.  Flurp ready to be most famous author of all time!  From nice warm safe cave with much fish.  She clacked her  beak. Nothing to eat in here but BOOKS.

"Did you actually--?" Logan glanced through the play-house window.  The floor was covered in Harry Potter books, as if Flurp had been been making a nest out of them.

Eat books?! Flurp would NEVER! Flurp would STARVE first!

The griffin cub let out a tiny burp that smelled of crayons."  (p 105)

Plus Logan knows about griffins because he's seen one on a Diana Wynne Jones book, which made me, DWJ fan that I am, smile!

2.  The fact that Logan is African American, and that this has nothing whatsoever to do with anything that happens.  It's just who he is.

3.  The nice balance of description (cool creatures!) with happenings, and an equally nice balance of the funny with the tense----it felt just right to my own internal nine-year old.  

4.  The fact that Logan has a cat named Purrsimmon.

And, as a small but worthwhile added bonus, "menagerie" is now in my son's vocabulary.

So give this to the kid who isn't ready for Fablehaven yet, who loves mythical creature fiction, and watch the pages turn...

One last thing regarding my own boy's experience with it--after taking it to school, and talking it up, he came home to report that at least ten kids, including ones he hadn't expected to be interested, all wanted to read it.  But he was a good child, and brought it back home to his mama...


Johnny and the Bomb, by Terry Pratchett, for Timeslip Tuesday

Terry Pratchett is, of course, best known for his Discworld books, but he also wrote (among other things) a three book sci fi/fantasy series for readers 9-12, about a boy named Johnny Maxwell and his friends.  Johnny and the Bomb, the third book (1996), takes Johnny and co. back in time to World War II, just as their town is about to be hit by German bombs....

Johnny knows the bombs are coming, and that people will be killed because the air raid siren isn't going to off and warn them.  If he can sound the alarm, he can save them...but caught in the temporal paradoxes of changing the past, and hampered more than he's helped by his companions in adventure, he might not be able to.

Johnny and his friends are a somewhat confusing bunch of mis-fits (three boys, and one girl)--they are all rather mad, in the British sense of the word.   The madness that they create just by existing is compounded when they encounter the shopping cart of a bag lady, who just happens (though they don't know it) to keep time (or something very like it) in the grotty plastic bags she wheels around.  When Johnny and the friend who is a girl (mostly named Kirsty though sometimes she chooses not to be) start poking at the cart (not that they really wanted to, but these things happen), it starts whisking them through time.

And eventually all five kids are back in 1941, not adding much to moral, and not, at first, realizing that if they don't do something, the bombs will kill the very people they are meeting.  It does not help that one friend has decided to travel through time wearing a German uniform.

I rather think that I had read the other two books first, I would have been altogether calmer and more receptive, happy to see Johnny and all instead of confused and unconvinced by them (although not un-entertained).    But I had not, and so I was.   Fortunately, I was curious enough to continue on (chuckling, it must be said, quite often), and was rewarded by a cracker-jack time-travel paradox gem when Johnny must slide around the linear path of time to sound the alarm.  That part was really good (or fully realized, if you want something fancier).

Short answer:  read the first book first.  Read this one first only if you are a. a passionate devotee of WW II juvenile fiction b.  reading every time travel book for kids you can.

Bonus:  interesting bit of grim humor regarding how the residents of WW II England might react to a black boy (one of Johnny's friends)

Final note:  it is never explained how or why the mysterious bag lady and her shopping cart travel through time, so don't expect to be any wiser by the end of the book.


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

Here's what I found this week in my search for middle grade fantasy and sci fi related blog posts--though I tried really hard to find as much as I could, I'm sure I missed lots, so do let me know!

The Reviews:

Bliss, by Kathryn Littlewood, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Book of Doom, by Barry Hutchison, at Bart's Bookshelf 

City of Ember, by Jeanne dePrau, at Madigan Reads

The Colossus Rises, by Peter Lerangis, at Maria's Melange and The Brain Lair (a joint, on-going project)

Dark Lord: The Early Years, by Jamie Thomson, at Emily's Reading Room 

A Dash of Magic, by Kathryn Littlewood, at Becky's Book Reviews 

Dragon Magic, by Andre Norton, at Charlotte's Library

The Fellowship for Alien Detection, by Kevin Emerson, at For Those About to Mock

Fraser's Voices, by Jack Hastie, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman, at Bunbury in the Stacks (audiobook)

Frogged, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Random Musings of a Bibliovore

Garden Princess, by  Kristin Kladstrup, at Charlotte's Library

The Goblin Gift, by Conrad Mason, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Hashbrown Winters and the Whiz-tastrophie, by Frank L. Cole, at The Write Path

Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, by Dale Basye, at Middle Grade Mafioso 

Hokey Pokey, by Jerry Spinelli, at Kid Lit Geek 

The Hollow Earth, by John Barrowman, at The Hiding Spot

The Incorrigible Childreon of Aston Place, by Maryrose Wood, at Hope is the Word (series review)

Keepers of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at The Hiding Spot and Deb A. Marshall

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, at alibrarymama

Magic Zero, by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski, at Little Willow

The Name of This Book is Secret, by Pseudonymous Bosch, at The Book Monsters

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, at Hope is the Word

Quest for the Spark, Book 3 (Bone), by Tom Sniegoski, at Back to Books

The Rope Trick, by Lloyd Alexander, at Fantasy Literature

The Runaway King, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Bookshelves of Doom

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

Skellig, by David Almond, at Bibliophilic Monologues 

Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at The Book Smugglers and  Charlotte's Library

A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graff, at A Foodie Bibliophile

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, by Kate Saunders, at Becky's Book Reviews

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, at Mister K Reads 

Two by Diana Wynne Jones--Charmed Life, and Archer's Goon, at You Can Never Have Too Many Books

And finally, the Horn Book has a nice look at The Hero's Journey, incuding The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, Jinx, The Cabinet of Earths, and Poison

Authors and Interviews

David Almond, at The Telegraph--"Children's books shouldn't sit still and behave"

Stephanie Burgis (Stolen Magic) at The Book Smugglers and Cari's Book Blog

Marissa Moss (Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome) at The Hiding Spot

Jennifer Nielsen (The Runaway King) at Book Nut 

Barry Hutchison (The Book of Doom) at Bart's Bookshelf

William Alexander (Goblin Secrets) at The Enchanted Inkpot

Kit Grindstaff (The Flame in the Mist) at Random Acts of Reading

Claire Caterer (The Key and the Flame) at All Four One and OneFour Kidlit

Other Good Stuff

The New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards have been announced, and include some interesting looking sff; the judges, however, decried the "'girl power' void in new books for Kiwi kids."  Huh. 

On the subject of girls, it is Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy Month at Fantasy Cafe, and this week The Book Smugglers swung by with a list of great YA and MG SFF books by women.

And for those, like me, who find the world of competitive rabbit jumping incredibly appealing, here are bunnies in action!  (thanks to Jenny at Light Reading)


Garden Princess, by Kristin Kladstrup

Weeding time has begun hereabouts, a time of mixed joy (I find weeding soothing) and despair (I can't weed fast enough).  But regardless, I am a weeder.  As well as a reader.

So of course I had to get hold of Garden Princess, by Kristin Kladstrup (Candlewick, March 2013), the first example I have ever come across of a juvenile fantasy whose heroine is a weeder!  (Weed fantasy--the next big thing? Probably not).

Adela is a princess--plain and somewhat awkward, but royal none the less, which conflicts with her gardening (I hear you, Adela--my job conflicts with my weeding something fierce too!).   And because of her love for plants, she gatecrashes a garden party to which she was not invited (though the handsome young castle gardener, and her vapidly beautiful young step-aunt both got invitations) simply because the thought of visiting the fabled garden of Lady Hortensia is irresistible.

Lady Hortensia has a way with plants.  An evil, twisted, magical way...let's just say, all the beautiful people who get invited to her parties are changed by the experience...and Adela is about to see her in action!  Adela's fortunate escape from the attentions of Lady Hortensia, and the brave efforts of a thief (in enchanted magpie form--he was the most interesting and entertaining character of the story), foil the evil Hortensia, and all is well.

It's a pleasant, fast read--light, fairy-tale fun.  There's not much in the way of deep substance to the plot or to the various romances (which were rather rushed), and the moral--that "a beautiful person was someone who was good and kind" (p 190) is underlined repeatedly.  But Adela's desire to do her own thing outside societies expectations of what a princess should be, and her growing determination to make those desires come true, are appealing. 

A nice one for younger middle grade readers, who don't require their princesses to be beautiful, or their romances more than fairy-tales.

Here's another review, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.

And now I'm trying to think of other fantasies involving gardening--Petunia, in Princess of the Silver Wood, by Jessica Day George, and several of Robin McKinley's heroines, love gardening...anyone else?


Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis

Stolen Magic (Atheneum, April 2, 2013, middle grade) by Stephanie Burgis, is the third book in a series about an incorrigible Regency girl, Kat, who just so happens to be a powerful magic user.  Unfortunately for Kat, any magic other than that of the Guardians (snooty upper class types) is tremendously looked down on.  Although Kat has inherited a place among the Guardians from, she's also inherited more than a little of her mother's distasteful, distrusted, witchcraft....as have her sisters.

In this third book, one of her sisters, Angeline, is about to marry a very high-breed young man, whose mother is a snobby harridan of the worst kind.   Kat, Angeline, their father and stepmother arrive at the finance's grand estate....and immediately mayhem ensues.

There are ordinary questions:

Will the schemes of the nasty mother keep Angeline from finding happiness?

Will Kat disgrace her family more than she usually does with her lack of regard for decorum? 

There are magical questions:

Will Kat ever get another portal that will allow her to be a true member of the Guardians?   She sacrificed hers in the previous book, and unfortunately all the spare portals have been stolen.

Will she and the woman tasked with working with her on finding them (a nasty piece of work from the previous books) come to blows?

Just what sort of spell does Angeline think she is doing?

And there are mysteries:

Who is stalking Kat with Malevolent Intent?

Who is the mysterious marquise who seems to know so much about Kat's family?

And then there is the Really Big Mystery:

Who is trying to kill Angeline?

And then there's a bonus kicker-- a plot by the scheming French that needs foiling (this being the Regency, and things not being too friendly between the French and the English).

So a very busy, entertainingly swirling plot that ends with the introduction of such a delightful appealing new twist that I hope rather a lot that there are more books to come!!!

I couldn't help but wish, as I read this one, that Kat would grow up just a bit more....she seems to have regressed somewhat in impetuosity and lack of empathy. Although that being said, there were times when I would not have blamed her for utterly loosing her temper, and she managed not to!   But of course, the fact that I was caring about this as I read shows that Kat was very real to me.

The second book, Renegade Magic, is still my favorite (it has a more mythologically rooted plot, and more sympathy for Kate's poor, put-upon, unappreciated stepmama), but this was a fun, rollicking read, and I highly recommend offering this series to any ten or eleven year olds you happen to have on hand.

Here's another review at The Book Smugglers

Disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher.

Free Blog Counter

Button styles