7/31/13

Waiting on Wednesday--The Carpet People, by Terry Pratchett

2013 is the year I became a Terry Pratchett Fan with a capital F.   But my personal fascination with carpets as venues for fantasy adventure goes much further back in time--to the island that was the round rug in our living room, back when I was tenish, where our miniature horses galloped and our Fisher Price people had adventures in the caves of its folds (it was always sad, though, that the Island had to be destroyed each evening...strangely, my parents wanted a rug instead).

In combination, these two facts make me, despite not being the age of the target audience, the perfect reader for The Carpet People, by Terry Pratchett, coming out in a new and improved format November 5, 2013, from Clarion.



The publisher's blurb:

In the beginning, there was nothing but endless flatness. Then came the Carpet . . .
That's the old story everyone knows and loves. But now the Carpet is home to many different tribes and peoples, and there's a new story in the making. The story of Fray, sweeping a trail of destruction across the Carpet. The story of power-hungry mouls-and of two brothers who set out on an adventure to end all adventures when their village is flattened.
It's a story that will come to a terrible end-if someone doesn't do something about it. If everyone doesn't do something about it . . .
First published in 1971, this hilarious and wise novel marked the debut of the phenomenal Sir Terry Pratchett. Years later, Sir Terry revised the work, and this special collectable edition includes the updated text, his original color and black-and-white illustrations, and an exclusive story-a forerunner to The Carpet People created by the seventeen-year-old nascent writer who would become one of the world's most beloved storytellers.

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

7/30/13

The Trap Door (Infinity Ring, Book 3), by Lisa McMann, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Infinity Ring series tells of the adventures of three kids (two middle school aged, one teen) as they travel through time, fixing things that went wrong with the flow of history.  In this instalment, The Trap Door, by Lisa McMann (Scholastic, Feb. 2013), Dak, Sera, and Riq find themselves in 1850--and they know, from their study of history, that the Underground Railroad is doomed to failure, Abraham Lincoln isn't going to be president, and the Civil War is going to last for fifteen years... But they don't know that history should have happened any differently.   And, as usual, they must make their way through the dangers of an unfamiliar time, not sure that the things they are changing really are what should be changed.

In this case, the dangerous for Riq are particularly high, as he is black.  Almost immediately the threesome walk into a trap--what looked like a safe house turned out to be a snare.  Riq is taken by slave traders...and Sera and Dak must try to find him.  Things get complicated when Riq escapes, along with the woman who is his own ancestor, and he's faced with the horrible dilemma of letting her history happen as he knows it did, or trying to change it, and perhaps writing himself out of existence...

And working against the three time travellers are a rival organization of bad guys, who, for their own greedy purposes, don't want history fixed.

Although I wasn't sure I wanted to read another time travel book that would tell me about the evils of slavery, I soon realized that I didn't need to be worried.  Because this is an alternate America, there was enough excitement from the differences to make it a fresh, fun, read.   And it was really easy to cheer on Sera, Dak, and Riq as they revitalized the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist Movement, paving the way for a shorter Civil War...It was also easy to cheer for Harriet Tubman as she took down bad guys with well-timed swings of shackle chains.

This was very much Riq's book. He's been something of a cipher in the previous installments, but here we see much more of his point of view, and he becomes a real person, which I appreciated.  Dak, on the other hand, was rather annoying in this installment, but you can't win them all. 

In short, another fun read in a series that should appeal lots to kids who like plenty of high stakes action and adventure, with lots of interesting alternate history twists.  The violence is real, but not so much so as to make the books too much for their target audience.

7/29/13

Binnie Latches On, by Marie McSwigan -- "the smell of good newspaper ink"

I continued my recent reading of vintage books from the piles around the house with Binnie Latches On, by Marie McSwigan (1950), and ended up having the privilege (?) of being the person to put it up on Goodreads.  (I've never heard of the author--it was a random grab in a used bookstore--anyone read anything else by her?).

Here's the synopsis from the jacket flap:

"Binnie, one of the four young Hornes and finally editor of the Hornepiper, the neighborhood paper, felt herself badly put upon. All the other children had hobbies, did things, went places, but Binnie was the odd one and she not only took it to heart but let it make her self-centered. Finally, though, when she was about twelve, she went to Dad's office and the smell of good newspaper ink made Binnie realize what she wanted to be: a newspaper woman."

Well, yes, except she doesn't start in on the newspaper side of things till the last quarter of the book, and though that is very interesting and good reading, before that it is just her feeling put upon (with some reason, but it was a bit tiresome none the less).

There was also a plot element of looking for a new home, and finally moving to the house of the family's dreams--only it turned out to be a new ranch style house with modern conveniences, and so not interesting. 

So this is one for those who like vintage family stories, or those interested in girl reporters...not for those wanting "girl moving to new house."  Or for those who want to learn the Lesson that it is better to think of others than to brood about how wronged one is.   I shall try to remember this as I go about my life, selflessly putting my (not quite as appreciative as they could be) family first, as is my wont.

Note on cover--surely by 1950 the mother could wear slacks when picnicking out in the woods?

A Man for Marcy, by Rosamund du Jardin

Sometimes a weekend has to be spent doing things other than reading the enticing/wonderful/overwhelming pile of review copies.   In my case, this weekend was spent cleaning house...did you know that many cat fleas are now resistant to the flea drops you can buy in the grocery store?  I now know this, to my cost.

So anyway, in the course of cleaning, I organized a few book piles, and picked something light and pointless enough so that I wouldn't get distracted from the work at hand--A Man for Marcy, by Rosamond du Jardin (1954).

I cannot really recommend this, except to those who are already interested in teen romances of the 1950s.  Marcy's steady boyfriend, Steve, has gone to college, leaving her a senior in highschool.  Marcy, a very boring girl, mopes.  After Thanksgiving, she stops moping.  Dates other guys.  Plays chess with an old man in the hospital (which is the one really nice thing about her).   She doesn't get that much more interesting, though.  She says she likes reading poetry, but we never see her crack a book.  We don't even get many good descriptions of 1950s fashions.  And, the real nail in her coffin-- she likes it when Steve is masterful.

So yeah, Marcy's mom has gone back to work as a nurse...but Marcy has no ambition to do anything, it seems.  She is so limited in imagination that she never once daydreams about a future farther away than next month.  No plans for college, career, anything.  Just more exciting dates!

And gee, dating was so much easier back then...all you had to do, apparently, was chat to a guy and next thing you know he'll be asking you out for malteds.

But at least I can put A Man for Marcy away now, in the dim recess of the house where fleas don't go, waiting for when I open my used book store.

PS: Oh dear.  I have just gone to Amazon to get a link for the book, and see now that there is a sequel--Senior Prom--and so help me I am tempted...

7/28/13

This Week's Round-Up of Middle Grade Sci Fi and Fantasy from around the blogs (7/28/13)

Good morning, everyone!  Here's what I found in my week of blog reading...please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The 13th Sign, by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb, at Charlotte's Library (giveaway)

The Aviary, by Kathleen O'Dell, at That's Another Story

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu, at Kid Lit Geek

The Capture (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, book 1) by Katherine Lasky, at Novel Attraction

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint, at Kid Lit Geek 

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Kimberley's Wanderings 

The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens, at mstamireads

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, at On the Nightstand 

Grasshopper Magic, by Lynne Jonell, at Jean Little Library

Have a Hot Time, Hades, by Kate McMullen, at Middle Grade Mafioso

Horton's Incredible Illusions, by Lissa Evans, at Xander's Middle-Grade Book Reviews

Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, at So Many Books, So Little Time

The Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Icefall, by Matthew Kirby, at On a Grahampage

Juniper Berry, by M.P. Kozlowsky, at Candace's Book Blog

Kill Fish Jones, by Caro King, at Charlotte's Library

Listening For Lucca, by Suzanne LaFleur, at Welcome to my Tweendom

The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan, at swlothian

Menace from the Deep (Killer Species, book 1), by Michael Spradlin, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

The Ogre Downstairs, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Tales of the Marvelous  and Here There Be Books 

Pegasus: Olympus at War, by Kate O'Hearn, at My Precious

Penumbras, by Braden Bell, at The Write Path (giveaway)

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Kid Lit Geek 

The Reluctant Assassin, by Eoin Colfer, at Guys Lit Wire 

Return to Cardamom, by Julie Anne Grasso, at Mother Daughter Book Reviews (giveaway)

Rules for Ghosting, by A.J. Paquette, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Steph's Stacks Literary Grand Rounds, and Xpresso Reads

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Kid Lit Geek 

The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan, at Fyrefly's Book Blog 

The Seven Tales of Trinket, by Shelley Moore Thomas, at Scott Reads It

Sidekicked, by John David Anderson, at Wonderland and Small Review

Sorrowline, by Neil Bushnell, at The Book Zone 

Substitute Creature (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School), by Charles Gilman, at Now is Gone

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz, at Here There Be Books 

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex, at Tales of the Marvelous 
and books4yourkids

Tunnels, by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams at books4yourkids 

The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, at Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Lovely Reads

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, at Redeemed Reader (with questions for discussion from a Christian perspective)

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, by Kate Saunders, at Book Nut 

Wonderlight, by R.R. Russell, at In Bed With Books


Authors and Interviews

R.R. Russell (Wonderlight: Unicorns of the Mist) at The Book Cellar 

Willliam Alexander (on the importance of masks in Goblin Secrets) at Mr. Ripleys  Enchanted Books and interviewed at Inkygirl

John David Anderson (a scene from the world of Sidekicked) at Small Review (giveaway) and interview at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Stephanie Burgis (Kat, Incorrigible et seq.) at Author Of...

Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who...[did lots of stuff in Fairyland]) at Tor


Other Good Stuff 

Not that it's middle grade, but I am currently running a Sylo giveaway--hardcover, T-shirt, and baseball cap-- here.

Never before seen (although you probably saw them somewhere before reading those words here) Harry Potter illustrations by Mary GrandPre--you can see them all here, and I would love to post one but am worried about copyright...

 A nice list of dragon books, at Project Mayhem 

And a nice list of quotes from Mary Poppins (well worth reading!) at Becky's Book Reviews

Roald Dahl's editor remember The Witches -- "I was gobsmacked!"

Hobbit Houses, in real life (via Geek.com)



and built, life-sized, out of lego (also via Geek.com)


and finally, I hope you all are still thinking about throwing your name into the Cybils hat as MG SFF panelists!  (Still early days, but the middle of August, when the call for panelists traditionally goes out) is coming fast...).  Here's a look from last year about what fall was like for a 1st Round panelist in YA.  I have been a YA panelist as well as a SFF one, and so I can say that MG SFF is a lot lighter on both page counts and content, so don't be daunted!  And remember, you don't have to read every book...

and even more finally, the greatest Geek Girl video of all time, which I mentioned earlier this week, but which deserves mentioning again, because it is so awesome.

7/26/13

Kill Fish Jones, by Caro King

I very much enjoyed Seven Sorcerers, and its sequel, Shadow Spell, by Caro King, and so last Christmas I asked for another of her books, Kill Fish Jones (Quercus, 2011, UK).   I liked it lots too.

Kill Fish Jones is the story of a death bed curse placed by a long dead, nasty man named Lampwick--a curse that requires horrible things to happen to "anyone who bothered him."  Which includes bothering his remains.   Now Lampwick lingers in Limbo, until his curse runs its course (which is to say, until his remains are crumbled into dust), and tied to him is an insignificant demon named Grimshaw, whose job is to kill any botherers.    Work was brisk at the beginning, then slowed as those who had bothered Lampwick in life were disposed of.   But now a new construction project has bothered Lampwick's resting place...and every living person involved in this disturbance is now on Grimshaw's list.

Including a kid named Fish Jones, and his mother.

Fish Jones has a unique gift--he can see Grimshaw at work.  But that might not be enough to save himself and his mother.  When his mother ends up hospitalized, in danger of death (thanks to Grimshaw) Fish tries to hide while he can figure out some sort of plan...any plan...while narrowly escaping Grimshaw's deadly machinations (adding a nice bit of "desperate kid surviving without adults," always a favorite plot line of mine).

But in the meantime Grimshaw is changing.  He is growing conflicted--will he attempt to invoke the Might Curse, and end Fish once and for all (along with the whole world)?  Or will he stumble on some way to escape his own destiny...no longer serving as a killing machine enslaved to a nasty master....

And this fascinating tension in Grimshaw's character makes this an even more gripping, memorable book than the ordinary grippingness of Fish's danger would alone.   The reader is challenged to empathise with a demon who has killed innocent people...and King makes it possible to do so.  Grimshaw is now my second favorite demon (Bartimaeus still takes first place...).

It's a fast, tension-filled story, excellent for those who like a psychological twist to their Middle Grade fantasy.   The zest King brings to the interactions of the various characters--dead, alive, and demonic--makes it not as grim as it might seem, though I wouldn't give this one to anyone currently touched by tragedy themselves. 


7/25/13

Geek girls, and me being one

I did my Parenting for the evening--I brought my 13 year old geek son upstairs to make him watch this video.  Because I never want him to think a girl can't be just as much a geek as him (which I don't think he thinks, but it's good to re-enforce it, especially since his current D. and D. club has only boys in it....).

I am a geek, and have been one for decades. Patrick O'Sullivan and I wrote each other letters in Elvish when I was 12.  And I went to my first Star Trek convention back in 1982.   I played D. and D. before ten sided dice were in general use....and I still have mine.

And now I blog about kids' fantasy and sci fi--yay geeky fun! And have geeky etymological conversations with my husband (not Patrick O'Sullivan, but he also was writing in Elvish at about the same age) just about every day, and make up bad element puns (which element is most like a pirate with laryngitis?  Arrr gone) and make sure the boys watch Star Trek, and I go to Discworld conventions with my geeky friends...

And I work as an archaeologist (geeky)...and get pissed off when male visitors see me in the front office, assume I'm a secretary, and ask me to do their xeroxing.  (I don't like it when they ask the secretary to do their xeroxing, either.   Note to self--make sure my boys know how to make their own darn copies).

Anyway, the video made me a little teary-eyed, and I wanted to share it.

Templar, written by Jordan Mechner, illustrated by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland--a stupendous graphic novel

Templar, by Jordan Mechner, illustrated by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland (First Second, Juley 2013, 408 pages) is an utterly stunning, gripping, heart-breaking graphic novel that tells of the dissolution of the Knights Templar in the early 14th century, and the torture and execution of its members.  

It's the story of three members of the order who escape, discover the location of the Templars' vast treasure (the whole reason why the French king wanted the order dissolved--he was deeply in debt to the Templars), and hatch a daring scheme to recover it from out of the heart of Paris.  It's the story of the love between one of these men and the noblewoman he left behind when he went off to the crusades (she plays an active role in things, despite his attempts to keep her "safe")...and it's a story that knocked the socks off me.

It is the first graphic novel I've ever read that moved me to the brink of tears.  It is the first graphic novel that I've read more slowly than I would a regular book, because I was so invested in the pictures as well as the words.   And it's the first time I can remember in reading a graphic novel having to desperately turn to the end to see...

I just went and read what other people had to say about it....and thought it might be worth adding that other reviews give more import  to the swash-buckling action-filled fun of the three daring dudes and their great treasure heist.  Huh.  I was all focused on the doom, betrayal, loyalties clung too in the face of hopeless odds, human frailty, etc.  In fact, I must confess I kind of went very quickly through the actual heist because of emotional anxiousness. 

Recommended without reservation to older teen and grown-up fans of graphic novels and historical fiction.  In addition to the adjectives used above, I can in all honesty add powerful, beautifully illustrated, memorable, educational, etc.

Recommended, with reservations, for younger teens.  The reservations are as follows:
--the story is complicated, and it's never stated that the whole reason the Templars were disbanded wasn't because anyone really thought they were heretics, but because the Crusades were over, the Templars hadn't won, and they were just sitting around being incredibly rich--much richer than the King of France.  My own younger teen reader didn't get this.   I'm not sure he understood either how torture can make a person "confess" to things they didn't do.

--there's torture, violence (including innocent people being burned at the stake), and a bit of "adult content," though not graphically so.

Incidentally, Jordan Mechner is the creator of Prince of Persia, and Book 1 of Templar was first published independently as Solomon's Thieves.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

7/24/13

Ghost Hand, by Ripley Patton

Ghost Hand, by Ripley Patton, is a truly gripping YA paranormal, with a twist that I've never seen before.

Seventeen-year old Olivia Black was born with a rare condition, fairly new to the world--Psyche Sans Soma.  She was born with her right hand made of mental energy, glowing with blue light, but though it makes some uncomfortable (including, sadly, her own mother), her life is pretty much that of an ordinary teen.  Until one day in class when her hand seems to take on a will of its own, and reaches into the girl sitting in front of her, pulling out of her actual physical razor blades...the girl was a cutter.

Olivia is horrified, but the cute new boy, Marcus, who's just arrived at school seems to take it in his stride, and covers for her.  It's no coincidence that Marcus is right there next to her-- he knows more than Olivia about Phsyche Sans Soma, including the danger that it poses for anyone that has it.  Turns out there is an unscrupulous cabal of scientists, thugs, and haters who are hunting down those with PSS--a cabal who wants to extract their physic energy, whatever the cost to the individual.  And Olivia is next on their list of prey.

Marcus knows this, and he's determined to save her, and others with PSS.   But can a group of teens, even with strange gift of soul-pickpocketing that Olivia's ghost hand has been displaying, foil the twisted mastermind who is hunting them?

It is tremendously, consumingly readable.   Olivia's conflicts (who to trust?) and the danger she's in (how to survive?) keep building in tension as more is revealed and the threat to her life becomes more immediate.   There's forward momentum plot-wise to spare, but the person-hood of the characters never gets overshadowed.   The a romance sub-plot between Olivia and Marcus is perfectly believable and conflicted--how much of it is escape from the tension of the situation into physical attraction, and how much true caring is something that will have to be played out in the next books, though I do hope it is the later.

And the whole concept of PSS is utterly fascinating--the reader is right there with Olivia as her own ghost hand changes into something strange, as she meets others with PSS for the first time, and as she realizes that there are people she's known all her life who think she's an abomination.

Ghost Hand is an excellent book by any measure, and shows just how good self-published books can be--it is absolutely professional in design and editing.

Note on diversity: Marcus is described thus--"He had dark hair, brown, eyes, dark skin; not a tan, but the kind that comes with your DNA" (page 2), which I think is an a pleasingly pithy way to get skin color out there without resorting to food metaphors!

Here's another review, at Finding Wonderland 

Disclaimer: review copy received from the author

(it's currently on sale as an ebook at Amazon for only 99 cents--well worth it!)                                                                                                                          

7/23/13

Mazemaker, by Catherine Dexter, for Timeslip Tuesday

Mazemaker, by Catherine Dexter (1989), sounded like it would be just the sort of time travel book I like--a girl follows a cat along the lines of a labyrinth spray painted on a school playground, and finds herself back in the garden of a 19th century house...in an overgrown maze.  She makes friends with girl who lives there, copes with strange clothes and other issues concomitant with time travel, and figures out some of the history behind the maze and its magic, thwarting a bitter older woman who wants to use the magic for her own purposes.  And then she goes home, wiser and more appreciative.

But...Winnie, the heroine, was never particularly likable.  I can't quite put my finger on why not--perhaps because when the story begins, she is being rather mean to her poor tired mother, trying to cope in an urban setting with a small baby, but more likely because she wasn't noticing enough, perhaps, to make me feel much of anything toward her.   I never particularly wanted to be friends with her.  And the garden was disappointing--all full of mosquitoes and nasty swamp pond, and not lovely.  And the old house wasn't sufficiently described in loving detail...

So the plot was just fine, with nice mysterious elements, and the menace posed by the woman wanting to use the magic for herself made it somewhat gripping.  But emotionally it felt a little flat.  Perhaps a book that I would have enjoyed more as a child myself, though I do think it would never have been one that hit me hard.

Something you wouldn't find in a book written today, and strikes me as odd--12 year old Winnie's best friend is a boy a year younger, and at one point they spend the night in a backyard tent together.   I'm all for boys and girls having innocent friendships, but my eyebrows raised...

7/22/13

The 13th Sign, by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb (signed copy giveaway!)


The 13th Sign, by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb (Feiwel & Friends, January 2013, upper middle grade)

When Jalen unlocks an old book (The Keypers of the Zodiac) picked up at Madame Beausoleil's strange little store in New Oreleans (one stop shopping for all your astrological needs), the world changes.  The opening of the book has let a thirteenth sign of the Zodiac into the world--Ophiuchus, the serpent healer.   And now that there are thirteen signs, instead of twelve, Jalen  is now no longer a Sagittarius, but a child of Ophiucus...and a shift has occurred in the lives and personalities of all those now born under a different sign.  

But the return of Ophiucus to the Zodiac is not welcome to the other 12 signs.  Not only will chaos follow the shift in personalities, but if a human gains control of Ophiucus' powers, they will have power over death.  So Gemini knocks on Jalen's door with a warning--she must find Ophiuchus and cast her back into the heavens.  But the incarnations of the 12 signs, themselves now present in New Orleans, see Jalen as an enemy, and she must somehow defeat each one, and cast them back as well.

So Jalen, her best friend, and her best friends brother set off on a wild journey across the city, encountering the challenges posed by each of the signs of the Zodiac.

It's a fun, wild story, and reminded me of Percy Jackson in its set up--mortal kids becoming players in a deadly game with celestial beings, and having to face them down in the real world, leaving chaos in their wake.  It's high on action and adventure; character development is a tad problematic, because the reader is asked early on to assume that the characters of the protagonists have changed profoundly, making it hard to feel one knows them.   I also had to work just a tad too hard to accept that birth date actually does affect personality--I am not a believer in astrology.  Still, many fantasy books demand that the reader accept even stranger things...and it is a neat idea, nicely executed!

In short--the fascinating premise and the series of dramatic encounters with the Signs of the Zodiac move the reader along briskly, and romance is not a plot point, making this an excellent one to offer the 11 or 12 year old not yet interested in full on YA fantasy/paranormal romance.  That being said, there's enough zing to the story to keep the interest of an older reader too.

Note:  astronomers have been talking about this 13th sign for centuries....but I am a proud Capricorn, and I'm sticking to it.

Courtesy of the author, I have a signed hardcover copy to giveaway--just leave a comment by midnight next Monday, July 29th.

disclaimer: signed hardcover of my own happily received from the author, and read with great enjoyment.

I have another giveaway going on right now--win a copy of Sylo (plus t-shirt and baseball cap) at this post!


Sylo, by D.J. MacHale-- with Author Guest Post and Truly Excellent Giveaway of the book plus more!

So that it doesn't get lost in the rather long post, here is the truly excellent  giveaway:  simply leave a comment, and you can win a hardcover copy of Sylo, a Sylo t-shirt, and a Sylo baseball cap!  (US only, ends midnight next Monday, July 29).




Sylo, by D.J. MacHale (Razorbill, July 2, 2013, YA), is a book that ticks like a time bomb.

All is calm in the begining.  Tucker Quinn is happy with his life on an island in Maine.  He wouldn't mind living there forever.  But when the island turns into a govenment occupied prison, it's just not the same.  Especially since military forces have cut the island off from the outside world, and aren't shy about useing violence to keep people put.

Without explaination, his island has turned into a dystopia.  There are secrets. Lies.  Strange chemicals washed up on the beach Possible UFOs.  People dying.  People he loved becoming strangers.  And Tucker and his friends are pushing back at the mysteries that have come crashing down, risking their own lives.  But answers are hard to come by...and the questions, ever more ominious, keep coming... 

Though it sounds "Exciting!," and there are indeed fireworks of frenetic action, this book takes its time.   The suspense and horror of not knowing what the heck is happening, only that it is bad, bad, bad, is what makes it a page turner. It ends on a cliffhanger...one that I feel really begins the true story.   I want to find out what it's all about, and then come back to this one, reading it again with the perspective of one who knows the answers...

The ample time MacHale gives himself to tell the story gives him room to make Tucker and his allies into interesting characters, reacting in believable ways to the dire situation in which they find themselves.   Their actions and reactions are so much the heart of the story that it almost falls into a favorite category of mine-books in which resourceful kids must fend for themselves because the grown-ups aren't there.   (The grown-ups are still there on Tucker's island, though.  They are just either part of the consipracy/mystery/military tackover, or helpless, or dying, or, at the best, only of minor usefulness).  

And here is that author, D.J. himself, picking up on my thoughts about character, almost as if he knew what I was going to write (I wrote my bit before I read his bit, and vice versa):

SYLO isn’t really an “end-of-the-world” story, though it’s been called one.  It’s more of a mystery where the end-of-the-world (as we know it) is only one of many possibilities. 

I usually do write stories where the stakes are huge.  I think that’s because I have global themes running through each tale and therefore the consequences need to be appropriately massive.  (Besides, it’s fun to write stories with such monstrous consequences) 

But I believe that “small” stories also run through my books.  Going back to the concept of character-driven adventure, I try to create interesting characters who are going through very real and relatable conflicts in their normal lives.  I’d like to think that these characters would be interesting to read about even if they didn’t get involved in the massive conflict.  That’s what makes a really satisfying read.  If you care about your characters and are interested in who they are and what their lives are about (the small stories) then once they get involved with earth-shattering conflicts (the big story) you’ll be right there with them and truly care about what happens to them.


D.J. MacHale is the author of the bestselling book series Pendragon: Journal of an Adventure through Time and Space (which I must read someday), the Morpheus Road trilogy (so spooky that it was too much for fainthearted me), and the whimsical picture book The Monster Princess.  He has written, directed, and produced numerous award-winning television series and movies for young people including Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Flight 29 Down, and Tower of Terror.  D.J. lives with his family in Southern California.  For more, visit www.djmachalebooks.com and http://www.djmachalebooks.com.

The next stop on the Sylo blog tour is at The Compulsive Reader on Wednesday, July 24th!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

(I have another giveaway ongoing right now--win a signed hardcover of The 13th Sign here!)

7/21/13

This week's round-up of Middle Grade Specultive Fiction from around the blogs

What do you all think of the term "speculative fiction," which I am using in my title this Sunday in a tentative sort of way?  "Fantasy and Science Fiction" both come with their sets of expectations, and are rather awkward fits for some books (Ninth Ward, for instance).  

But in any event, here are the speculative fiction/sff blog posts for this week; please let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews:

Bad Unicorn, by Platte Clarke, at Boys and Literacy

The Bell Between Worlds, by Ian Johnstone,  at Lunar Rainbows

The Blizzard Disaster, by Peg Kehret, at Time Travel Times Two

The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg van Eekhout, at That's Another Story 

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint, at Greg Hill

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Bookends

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, at Here There Be Books 

The Eye of Neptune, by Jon Mayhew, at The Book Zone

The Fortune-Teller (The Brightstone Saga, book 2), by Paul B. Thompson, at For Those About to Mock and a look at the whole series at Book Realms

Found (The Magic Thief, book 3), by Sarah Prineas, at Book Interrupted

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, by Mike Jung, at Mister K Reads

Half Magic, by Edward Eager, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at Book Nut

In Search of Goliathus Hercules, by Jennifer Angus, at Charlotte's Library

Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp, by Nathan Beresfort, at Charlotte's Library

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Carstairs Considers

Menace from the Deep (Killer Species, book 1), by Michael P. Spradlin, at Charlotte's Library

The Mysterious Howling, and The Hidden Gallery, by Maryrose Wood, at Kid Lit Geek

Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner, at Pages Unbound  

North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Puck of Pook's Hill, by Rudyard Kipling, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Return to Cardamom, by Julie Anne Grasso, at alibrarymama

Sidekicked, by John David Anderson, at The Brain Lair and Maria's Melange

Song for a Scarlet Runner, by Julie Hunt, at Book Grotto 

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, at Bibliophilic Monologues

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt, at Nerdy Book Club

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at alibrarymama 


Authors visiting Blogs:

Clete Barrett Smith (Aliens on Vacation et cet.) at From the Mixed Up Files

Christine Brodien-Jones (The Glass Puzzle) at Cracking the Cover and The Book Smugglers

Bruce Hale (Playing With Fire) at Great Kid Books, From the Mixed Up Files, and Ms. Yingling Reads

Clare M. Caterer (The Key and the Flame) at Nerdy Book Club

Liesl Shurtliff (Rump) at Nerdy Book Club

John David Anderson shares a deleted scene from Sidekicked at The Brain Lair, discusses bystanders at Maria's Melange, and is interviewed at Heise Reads and Recommends

Greta Burroughs (Gerald and the Wee People) at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Laurisa Reyes (The Celestine Chronicles) at Tales of Goldstone Wood (giveaway)


Other Good Stuff:

For fans of Edward Eager--looking for the real world places of Half Magic in Toledo, at Kalimac's Corner.

The Mythopoeic Awards have been announced, and the winner in the children's literature is Vessel, by Sarah Beth Durst.  Here's the full story...

The Eisner Awards have also been announced; the graphic novel winners in the three youth categories (from youngest to oldest) were Babymouse for President, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House),  Adventure Time, by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb (kaboom!), and A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, adapted by Hope Larson (Farrar, Straus, Giroux).  Here's the full list of winners.

Lee and Low and Cinco Puntos discussing multicultural publishing at ALA (recap), at The Open Book and discussion of multicultural statistics in children's publishing at CCBlogC

From Lx Magazine: Illuminating Luxury, found at Once Upon a Blog-- the miller's daughter wearing baking paper:

7/20/13

Killer Species: Menace from the Deep, by Michael P. Spradlin

So after all that about the pleasures of reading Cold books on a hot day, what did I actually read this week?  A book about a boy moving from Montana to the Everglades, and suffering from the heat something fierce--Killer Species: Menace from Deep, by Michael P. Spradlin (Scholastic, 2013).


Turns out Emmet, the young protagonist, has more to worry about than starting a new school, living next to alligators, and swatting mosquitoes when his father takes on a new job in Florida.   A misguided genius has come up with a brilliant plan to rid the Everglades of invasive pythons--he's genetically manipulated alligators to create a super-predator.  These new creatures are alligators crossed with raptors--and they are, indeed, effective at killing pythons.

But they don't stop there.

And gradually the genius creator gets more and more evil, kidnapping Emmet's father as a hostage, and becoming all to ready to kill people to save the Everglades. It's up to Emmet and his new friend, Calvin, whose mother is the head park ranger, Dr. Geaux, to save Emmet's dad and thwart the evil supergators.

I was doubtful when this book arrived--it didn't immediately look like a book for Me.  But I sincerely enjoyed the fast-paced story, and found the implications of the genetic tinkering and its concomitant ethical considerations fascinating.  The growing friendship between Calvin and Emmet (and between the mother of the first and the father of the second, for that matter--each of them have only the one parent) added character interest, that I appreciated.  Obviously the evil genius never read Jurassic Park, or he might have done things differently--my credulity was strained a tad at his lack of critical thinking viz the implications of creating a new super predator.   And he could have chosen a better nom de publicity for himself--Dr. Catalyst, as the young characters are quick to notice, sounds a tad silly...

A good one for the elevenish year old boy (or girl, for that matter) who enjoys adventure mixed with science.  And it's the start of a new series, which will be nice for the kids who enjoy this one!

Bonus:  Calvin's dad was Seminole, and his mom is non-white (possibly Creole) so there's diversity.


7/19/13

Cold fantasy for a hot summer's night

In the unbearable, un-air conditioned heat of my house, I find my mind turning to cold, cold, books-the sort with feet upon feet of snow, icy winds howling, life or death struggles across frozen lands, and general chilly, soothing, grayness....In short, when it's hot outside, I like to read cold.

I've offered a few previous lists (here, here, and here, which you don't have to click on if you don't want to because I've listed everything at the end), but here are some more additions for those, who, like me, are dreaming of winter in a stifling hot house.


I can't believe I haven't yet mentioned The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin, before--it is set on a planet named Winter, and it is just about the coldest book I know. It's also about what happens when people have no fixed gender, and it's also about politics and anthropology and friendship, which is all to the good.

I just finished Impulse, by Steven Gould, which is a pleasantly wintry book--after all, the teenaged protagonist, Cent (short for Millicent) realizes she has the ability to teleport when she's about to be slammed by an avalanche. She's never, perhaps, quite sufficiently cold, but there's lots of snowboarding. (I enjoyed it to a certain extent, but Cent is rather too wonderful what with her abilities and her crusades for justice, and it got a bit tiresome).

Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett.  This is the third book about the young witch,  Tiffany Aching, and, as the title suggests, lots and lots of nice, cold winter!  Tiffany finds herself taking an all too active role in the balance between winter and summer, when she joins in an ancient dance and the Wintersmith falls in love with her...Hogswatch is of course wintry, and The Fifth Element has a nice bit of frisking around in mortal peril in the snow, but I think Wintersmith is the coldest of the Discworld books.

And speaking of series-es, The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis, is the coldest and dampest and coolingly darkest of all the Narnia books--some very nice slogging through cold wind and snow, and a lovely snowball fight at the end.  (I don't count The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a truly cold book, because although it begins with beautiful snowy-ness, it gets warm halfway through).

There are two nicely snowy books that I read for the Cybils last year--The Ice Castle, by Pendred Noyce, and The Icarus Project, by Laura Quimby.



The Icarus Project is a mix of science and fantasy, and tells about what happens when a young teen joins her father on an expediction to the Arctic, to investigate a mysterious discovery.   Cold weather gear is a must for this sort of expedition, and the killing cold does not disappoint!  I never ended up reviewing this one, but my co-panelist Melissa did, at Book Nut. In any event, this would be a very good one to give the scientifically minded older middle grade reader who likes speculative fiction.

In The Ice Castle, three children have adventures in a cold, cold land where your social status depends on your ability to sing--it's full of music and interesting world building and snow. A tad too pointedly wedded to its central conceit of a society structured by music, perhaps, but a fine read.

And here are the books I mentioned in my previous Cold Reads posts (but if you want my opinion, you'll have to click through the links up at the top):

The Ice Dragon, by George R.R. Martin
Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman
Moominland Midwinter, by Tove Jansson
The Last Polar Bears, written and illustrated by Harry Horse
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken
The Snow-Walker Trilogy, by Catherine Fisher
The Owl Keeper, by Christine Brodien-Jones
Winter Rose, by Patricia McKillip
Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu
Witchlander, by Lena Coakley 
Icefall, by Matthew Kirby
The Snowstorm, by Beryl Nethercliff
Winterling, by Sarah Prineas
City of Ice, by Laurence Yep
The Crowfield Curse, by Pat Walsh
Cold Magic, by Kate Elliot
The Toymaker, by Jeremy de Quidt

7/18/13

Three great picture books from Lee and Low, including one I loved about a kid who types

So back when it was still a (relatively) cool, rainy summer I took part in Armchair BEA...and was the lucky winner of three picture books from the great multicultural publisher, Lee and Low.  In all frankness, I selected this as my prize with my library in mind, and not so much for myself, but to my great pleasure I was able to enjoy one of them as a book for me, which is to say, I liked it especially much.

The other two were fine books.  There was Rainbow Stew, by Cathryn Falwell, about vegetable harvesting in the rain (would that I were so lucky), a picture book told in rhyme, and if you like fun in mud and rain outdoors, and tasty veggies of all colors, you'll enjoy.  And there was How Far Do You Love Me?  by Lulu Delacre, a lovely one about grown-ups loving children all around the world, in beautiful far off places (I lingered at the glacier.  Me want glacier right now), and it's a book I can see making a perfect baby shower gift.




And there was the one that struck a chord for me--As Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck and Eric Velasquez.   It's the story Mason Steele, a black boy in the south, in the 1960s, who serves as a secretary for his father, busy working on civil rights.   Mason's dad gives him an old manual typewriter, and so Mason learns to type on it...and when the issue of school integration is forced, and Mason and his brothers are unwelcome integrators, Mason's typing shows that he is as a credit to the school and brings him honor. 

I like books in which people do skillful things, and this book showed me that I can include typing on that list.  I am not at all kidding when my heart beat more quickly as Mason chose a manual typewriter instead of the snazzy electrics at the great typing competition....was this the wrong choice??!?  Yeah, sure, I was concerned when he was dissed by white "friends" when he got on the bus, and confronted prejudice in various ways, but the typing, and the un-underlined Point of writing as a valuable tool for effecting social justice made the book sing for me.

In any event, I though it was the most excellent picture book on school integration I've ever read, because while all the Issues were there in force, the typing (the practicing, the proving, the showing the value of your ability, the finding the thing you can do and making it your own) made the story one that all of us who try to do things can utterly relate to, and takes the big issue of school integration, and makes it personal.

This could just be me.  But anyway, I thought it was a lovely book....it is fiction, but based on the experiences of the author's father.

7/17/13

In Search of Goliathus Hercules, by Jennifer Angus

In Search of Goliathus Hercules, by Jennifer Angus (Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2013, upper middle grade) sets an unbeatably high standard for fictional flea circuses.

The reason for this wonderful circus is that the protagonist, 10 year old Henri, can speak to insects.  It's set in the 1890s, when his mother leaves him with an elderly aunt in the states, while she sets out to search for his missing father in the jungles of British Malaya.  His intense loneliness and boredom is broken one day when he has a conversation with a fly.    He runs off (in large part to escape his aunt's truly, terribly sinister neighbor) and joins a circus...and there his gift comes truly into its own.

Because Henri can talk to the sideshow fleas, and win their cooperation and loyalty, he can make their act into something truly fantastic--especially when he brings a myriad of other insects on board!  And I truly enjoyed this part of the book--meeting the individual fleas, who were fine characters in their own right, appreciating the world of miniature insect tricks, and being deeply entertained by Henri's life in the circus, and the new friends (humans as well as insects) that he makes. 

But the sinister neighbor has followed him--she is on a quest for a mysterious insect, the Goliathus Hercules, and Henri, and his missing father, are key to finding it.  And she is a horrible, live-insect eating creation of deep distrubingness (though her motivation--world wide power, and her plans for achieving it, were somewhat glossed over).

More disturbing, however (and I'm choosing to put in this spoiler so that you can decide if this book would freak your kids out)  is that Henri realizes about half-way through the book that he is turning into an insect.  Leaving the circus, he travels to Asia with the friends he had made there, to thwart the plans of his evil Nemesis, and maybe find his father, and Goliathus Hercules, himself....

And I have decided that I don't much care for it when protagonists turn into insects.  I loved the flea circus, and can apply all sorts of complementary adjectives to the book--well written, engrossing, intelligent, vividly imagined, beautifully illustrated with pictures of insects and historical photographs, etc., and I will pause here to share an interior image scanned by a Goodreads reviewer:


But what I ended up feeling was repulsion.  Especially when my mind (bad mind) offered me the possibility that turning into an insect, which Henri came to realize gave him a freedom and world of opportunity that he enjoyed very much, was a metaphor for adolescence, and I myself found growing up and leaving home disturbing enough without adding antennae.  And I also don't like it when I am forced to confront the possibility that my own children will turn into insects (unlikely), or something equally foreign, like teenaged boys (almost certain).

Bottom line--didn't work for me personally, but here are other reviews that are more positive--Sharon the LibrarianMs. Yingling Reads, Kid's Books 101, Wrapped in Foil

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

7/16/13

Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp, by Nathan Bransford, for Timeslip Tuesday

Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp, by Nathan Bransford (Dial, upper elementary, February, 2013) --upper elementary time and space travel shenanigans of wackiness!

(That's me trying working on my catchy first lines, which is, I think, more important now that Google Reader has gone away sniff sniff)

In any event, Jacob Wonderbar travelled off into space with his friends in his first two books (J. W. and the Cosmic Space Kapow, and J.W. for President of the Universe), and now is back in a third round of wacky adventures that take him through time.   Turns out that the space overlords, the Astrals, have a small number of keys that allow them to travel through time...and Mick Craken, their president, wants Jacob and his friends Sarah and Dexter to do just that.  Jacob's missing father must be found in order for time to be stable again and for the existence of the Astrals protected from those who wanted to stop them from every travelling from earth into space in the first place.

So Jacob and co. use one of the keys to go off on a series of excursions back into time--visiting dinosaurs, "cave men,"  Napoleon, etc.--and each journey adds distracting layers of change to the present, and layers of difficulty to the tasks at hand of finding Jacob's dad and saving the Astrals.

It's a fun next book for readers who enjoyed the Magic Treehouse books, say, and who are ready for a more complex, non-linear narrative, generously laced with slapsticky humor, that will keep them on their toes.  I was very much on my own toes, trying to keep track of who was who in what present--people are meeting their older selves, futures and pasts shift, and some of the time travel episodes seem at first to be simple vignettes with little point.  But it actually does coalesce into at least a semblance of coherence, given continuity by Jacob's quest for his missing dad, and the bonds of friendship between Jacob, Sarah, and Dexter.  And I think Nathan Bransford is wise not to tackle the complicated paradoxes of the time travel directly--skating over the surface keeps things light and fun.

In short, the young reader (I'd give this to third and fourth graders who are confidence readers) with a tolerance for craziness will enjoy it, but those who want things to make sense in a linear way might struggle...

For those looking for diversity in their reading--Jacob is from a multiracial family, and here's how he's described on page 22 of the first book: 

"He stared at his hands, a soft brown color that was lighter than his mom's dark skin and darker than his dad's light skin. It was proof that he was half of his mom and half of his dad, but since he didn't look like either of them, it also made him something else entirely."

I didn't notice any physical descriptors in this book, but here's an illustration from it that clearly shows his family as described above:


 Jacob's a smidge darker of skin than his friends on the cover, but not quite enough so to make it easy to tell he's multiracial.

7/15/13

The Color of Rain, by Cori McCarthy

The Color of Rain, by Cori McCarthy (Running Press, May 2013) -- human trafficking in space.

Rain, born into a future, hardscrabble, impoverished, violent earth. has only her brother left, and her brother is leaving her.  He has developed the same mental sickness that took Rain's mother, a sickness whose victims are taken by the enforcers, and who then disappear forever.   Rain can't stand to loose her little brother too...and dreams of taking him to the far reaches of space, where miracles of science and technology might save him.

To get off planet, Rain makes a bargain with Johnny, a handsome space ship captain--she'll trade him her body for passage for herself and her brother.   But when it is too late to escape, Rain realizes that she has trapped herself in hell.   She is now just one of the many girls being prostituted by the captain to his passengers and to the crew...and though Johnny wants her for himself, he is a sadistic monster who wants to break her, and this includes pimping her out to other men.  And as the ship travels through space, Rain learns it has other dark secrets...her life, and the lives of the other girls, are not the only ones at risk.

Hope comes from another of Johnny's prisoners, Ben, a young man from the scientifically advanced culture Rain hopes can help her brother.  Rain and Ben form an almost inevitable attraction--but, as it to be expected under the circumstances, their growing feelings for each other are oppressed by the horror of lives controlled by the monstrous Johnny.   There is still hope, however--still room for acts of rebellion on board the spacecraft, still hope that Ben's people will rescue them, and still, in Rain's heart, hope for her brother, whose frozen body lies down in the hold, and, though it flickers, hope that she can cling to herself, and not become just a body to be used.

It's a very edgy premise, and McCarthy does a fine job showing it as such without falling into prurient voyeurism.     And it's a page-turner, although I must confess that, for me at least, the pages turned quickly because I didn't want to linger on scenes of violence and forced sex, and I wanted to read what I wasn't reading--I wanted Rain to get out!   Of course, the fact that she can't is the point of the story-- her journey is a psychological struggle to keep her humanity, to forgive her body to reacting with physical pleasure to sex with Johnny, to balance personal survival with the lives of others...and to keep physically healing from the violence inflicted on her.

The relationship between Ben and Rain was rather a change from your standard YA fare--neither can save the other, and neither has the emotional energy to understand the other and help each other heal (healing isn't an option yet, of course, because new hurts--what they are made to do to others, what is done to them-- are a constant in their lives).   Their love for each other is forced into a more happy and hopeful ending than is perhaps believable, but it did make for an upbeat ending...

So it's not a book I enjoyed, exactly, but it was very vivid and tremendously gripping in a rather bleak way.  

Here's another review at Finding Wonderland, and another at Write All the Words

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

7/14/13

This week's round-up of Middle Grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (June 14, 2013)

Welcome to this week's compilation of what I found in the blog world of interest to fans of middle grade sci fi/fantasy!  Sorry I didn't have a round-up last weekend-- I was in a hotel in Baltimore and the only free internet access was at a computer next to the front desk that you had to stand at, which had a wonky mouse, and my dedication only goes so far.  Please let me know if I missed your post this week!

In any event, it is almost the middle of July, which means August is coming, which means that my mind is turning to thoughts of the Cybils.  The Cybils are awards given by panels of bloggers in various childrens' and YA categories--and one of these panels is Middle Grade Sci Fi/Fantasy.  And though the Cybils website is still quietly waiting for things to start-- the official call for panelists (any blogger can apply) probably won't go out till next month (it came on August 15 last year)-- I'm already thinking about it, and you can too! 

If you're a first round panelist in mg sff, it means helping pick 7 books of great kid appeal plus great writing from a list of c. 150 (a lot of books, but you don't actually have to read every one of them, so do not be daunted by that!).  The role of the second round panelists is to pick the winner from the shortlist (so you only have to read seven books).   I have had the great honor of being involved with the Cybils for a number of years, and it is a great way to energize your reading, make new friends, and get really exited about books you love.  Stay tuned for the official announcement....

The Reviews

The Atlantis Complex, by Eoin Colfer, at Fyrefly's Book Blog

The Circle, by Cindy Cipriano, at My Precious

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Reads for Keeps

Eight Days of Luke, by Diana Wynne Jones, reviewed by C.J. Busby at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun, by Liz Kessler, at A Backwards Story

The Exploits of Moominpappa, by Tove Janssen, a post by Catherine Butler at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

The Glass Puzzle, by Christine Brodien-Jones, at The Book Monsters

Half Upon a Time, by James Riley, at Michelle I. Mason

Hokey Pokey, by Jerry Spinelli, at Granite Media

Hollow Earth, by John Barrowman and Carol Barrowman, at Le' Grande Codex and Juniper's Jungle

Interworld, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, at Book Nut

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at A Reader's Adventure

Lost (The Magic Thief Book 2), by Sarah Prineas, at Book Interrupted

Magician in the Trunk (Time Spies 4) by Candice Ransom, at Time Travel Times Two

The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Annie and Aunt

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail, by Richard Peck, at Waking Brain Cells

No Passengers Beyond This Point, by Gennifer Choldenko, at The Book Monsters

Professor Gargoyle, by Charles Gilman, at Maji Bookshelf

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at For Those About to Mock

Rules for Ghosting, by A.J. Paquette, at Charlotte's Library

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at For Those About to Mock

Scary Tales: Home Sweet Horror, by James Preller, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Dreaming in Books, Bibliophile's Corner, Rachel Reviews All, and The Paper Riot

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood and Co.), by Jonathan Stroud, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, by Nikki Loftin, at Bibliophilic Monologues

Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy, at The Broke and the Bookish

Small Change for Stuart Bibliophilic Monologues

Son of Neptune, by Rick Riordan (audiobook review) at Karissa's Reading Review

Unlocking the Spell, by E.D. Baker, at Nayu's Reading Corner  

The Unseen Guest, by Maryrose Wood, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

The Watcher in the Shadows, by Chris  Moriarty, at Charlotte's Library

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Sonderbooks

Wishful Thinking, by Ali Sparkes, at Juniper's Jungle

The Wishing Spell, by Chris Colfer, at Somewhere in the Middle


Authors and Interviews

Stephanie Burgis (Kat, Incorrigible et al.), at Inkygirls

A.J. Paquette (Rules for Ghosting) at The Enchanted Inkpot

John David Anderson (Sidekicked) at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia and at Ms. Yingling Reads

Christine Brodien-Jones (The Glass Puzzle) at Once Upon a Story , Sharpread, and Read Now Sleep Later

Erika Kathryn (Audie the Angel and the Angel Army)  at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia


Other Good Stuff:

A truly lovely list of twisted fairytales for middle grade readers at Somewhere in the Middle

The Hero's Journey, explained by puppets. at the SCBWI blog

You've probably seen this simultaneously appealing and horrifying infographic from Firstbook.org making the rounds, but in case you haven't, here it is:

Here are my two posts wrapping up the panel I was on at last weekend's Discworld convention--one on useful places to find books on line, and one covering the books we recommended.  And here are Tanita's and Sheila's wrap-up posts.

And if you want to see fantastically beautiful/mind blowing horticultural art, go to Montreal this summer (or click here)  (found at Light Reading)

7/13/13

The Watcher in the Shadows, by Chris Moriarty

So I've been home from vacation for two days now...and, as always happens when I come back from my mother's beautifully tidy home, I am frantically trying to Do Something about my own house.   But in between quickly stripping paint from doors/painting the kitchen trim/scrubbing radiators/desperately weeding etc. etc., I have read a Good Book.

To wit, The Watcher in the Shadows, by Chris Moriarty.   This is the sequel to The Inquisitor's Apprentice (2011), which I enjoyed very much indeed.  The books are set in a late 19th-century New York in which there is magic...and a branch of the police force, the Inquisitors, who enforce the laws concerning its use. Sacha, a Jewish kid from the tenements, and Lily, daughter of the wealth Astral family, are the apprentices of one of these Inquisitors, Inspector Wolf; it's an apprenticeship that involves much trailing around after him while visiting crime scenes, observing him gathering information, and a bit of martial arts training (there's not as much actual "magical skills practice" as one might expect).

This installment of Sacha's story begins with the sudden death of a famous Klezmer player, that is just the tip of the iceberg of a dark dark dark mystery.   The plot is best left explored by reading, so that's all I'll say.

The good:

Fantastic world building.  These books are a MUST for any fantasy reader with any interest at all in the hectic world of late 19th-century/early 20th century New York, with its unassimilated immigrants and racial tensions and crime bosses and striking workers (in this case, the Pentacle Shirtwaist factory workers vs J.P. Morgaunt).   That being said, I am not that reader, but even I loved the fantastic diversity and twisted historical accuracy of it all!

Great characters.  Sacha is the central protagonist, and a very compelling one too, but it's the wonderful swirl of the entire cast, even those with bit parts, that makes the story sing.   That being said, Wolf, who I loved in the first book, disappointed me a bit in this one--he doesn't actually do much that advances the story.

No easy magical sudden rescue from the bad stuff.  Sacha is going to have to figure things out for himself, which is very satisfying.

Jewish fantasy is thin on the ground; quality additions to that subgenre are great to have (and if your kid isn't going to be introduced to Judaism in fiction through All of  Kind Family, because there is no way he is going to read such a girl book on his own and you missed the window of opportunity to read it out loud to him, this is a good alternative).

The things I didn't find as good as I might have wished:

Even more so than Wolf, Lily doesn't do anything much in this book; it's nice that she is a decent, unsnobby friend, but I don't even remember what magical ability she has (surely she has one?).  More Lily, please, in the next book!

The titular Watcher in the Shadows also doesn't get much page time.  I enjoyed very much wandering around this odd New York, and loved the labor history twist, but kept expecting the Watcher to become more a part of things, which never really happened--at the end I had to stop and concentrate to remember what exactly its role in the whole thing was (quite possibly this is because I was really interested in the world-building and the characters, as noted above, and less interested in small details such as the plot).

Wolf has a third, unofficial apprentice, unofficial because he's African American, who's somewhat older than Sacha and Lily.  His name is Philip Payton, but he's called Payton by Lily, as well as by the author.  No one else who's still a teenager is called by their last name like that, and it jarred (Inspector Wolf is called Wolf by the author, but he's a grownup).  Why wouldn't Lily, who isn't racist or snobbish, call him Philip?  I very much want to see more of him and his family (who are about to move to Harlem, where they have bought real estate), but I hope he's "Philip," a  character who's Sasha and Lily's peer, rather than the awkwardly distant "Payton."


Final answer:  despite my small uncertainties, I really, really liked it!  Give this one to the smart 11 or 12 year old in your life, who perhaps, like mine, studied the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in depth last year in seventh grade...

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