My first beak

My older boy wanted to be a Venetian plague doctor for Halloween (basically a 17th/18th century hazmat suite, in which the beak was full of herbs etc):

So I spent several hours this past week beak making.  I feel that if I were to make two or three more beaks, I'd master beak-making, but at least I produced something adequate, though not nearly as finely wrought as I would have liked: 

Unfortunately there seems to be a cartoon show about spies in which there's a character who looks a lot like this,

and that's what quite a few kids at school thought he was.

Oh well. 


All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin Terrill, for Timeslip Tuesday

All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin Terrill (Disney-Hyperion, September 2013, YA) is a very good book that is best read without any spoilers.   I considered just using the fairly spoiler-free publishers blurb, and adding to it, but I don't think it captures the story all that well.  So.  You can go read the book now, if you want to. 

Or not.

How far would you go to make sure that the present you are living in would never happen?  What would happen if you used a time machine to fix mistakes in the past...and the power that you felt swept you onward, until you changed so much that those who once loved you no longer could?   Would you kill someone, if you knew that doing so would save your future self (and other people)?

Em and Finn have tried 14 different ways to make sure the present they are living (tortured and imprisoned in a brutal police state) won't happen.  14 times they have gone back 4 years into the past...and each time the changes they made weren't enough to keep them from ending up in the same old prison cell, reading the notes hidden in the cell drain from their past attempts.  And now they are going back again, this time knowing that killing the inventor of the time machine is the only thing they haven't tried.

But of course, four years back in the past, there are their young selves, still trusting and all unaware.  There is also James, brilliant, damaged, and best friend to each of them, and maybe more to young Em--he is the sun around which she revolves.  And there is the person who will become their enemy, snarled inexorably into the fabric of their lives....

In a series of alternating narrations, from the points of view of Finn and Em in the present, and the time-travelling Finn and Em, the reader learns how all the snarling came to be.  And in the process, all four characters, and James, become real and human and hurt...and on top of that, there are personal and political machinations, and tension-filled reveals, dolled out with heavy inevitability,  about what happened in the four gap years that led to the point of no return.  Gripping as all get out.

My only substantive complaint  is that I wish it had been made clearer when the arrival of the time travelers began to change things.   I didn't pick up on when that had started, and so I was confused for 25 or so pages.    My only complaint with the story is that Finn and Em have to assume that the choice they are making is better than the alternative...and certainly it is to them, and who knows what other evils the time machine and its master would be capable of.    But they also know, having watched time ebb and flow as things were "fixed," that some of the things that might happen without the time machine are pretty darn awful.   They don't allow themselves to think to much about that, and I guess it's good to have ambiguity and tension, and no happy ever after, but I wasn't sure this was an Addition, as opposed to a distraction.  (This is a long paragraph, and I thought about editing it, but am leaving it in as an example of how the book thought-provoked me).

Just to say--as well as all the exiting and complex and beautifully tricksy time travelling, there is also a very nice and cheer-worthy romance, which lightened the mood in a much needed way. 

I can imagine wanting to re-read it at some point, which is pretty high praise given how many un-read books I have kicking around.

Final thought:  Cristin Terrill has psychically seen the inside of my house, and uses it the model for Finn's:  "None of the furniture matches, and practically every surface has something on it that shouldn't be there: a stack of old newspapers, a half-full coffee cup, a discarded sweater. There's a pile of dishes in a sink and a stack of folded laundry on the sofa, like someone hit the pause button on life."  Except of course that instead of stacks of newspapers, there are stacks of books.  (I do try to tidy up before company comes, but there's not much one can do about the furniture. Or the books).


Villains Rising (The Cloak Society 2), by Jeramey Kraatz

In The Cloak Society (2012), readers were introduced to two warring leagues of super-powered combatants (good vs evil), and saw how Alex, brought up by the villains of the Cloak Society, chose to throw his lot in with the kids of the Rangers of Justice (after the adult Rangers were defeated and Justice Tower came tumbling down in ruins).   Alex was not alone in his defection--a handful of other Cloak kids went with him.  Villains Rising (HarperCollins, October 2013, middle grade) tells how this rag-tag cluster of variously gifted teenagers struggle to a. figure out how to save the adult Rangers from the Gloom where they are trapped b.  work together as a team, putting aside the years of enmity between the two societies c.  stay safe.  And this last is perhaps the most difficult, because they are being hunted by members of the Cloak--three individuals whose powers are truly extraordinary.

I enjoyed the premise of this second volume very much--it's very much a kids on their own in difficult circumstances story (a sub-genre I like lots), with tons of added interest from the various superpowers of the characters.  They are still figuring out just what they can do, and how best to use their abilities, and this, plus the introduction of two new characters with powers of their own, makes for a nice, detail-rich time.  It's pleasantly (for me as reader; much less for the characters themselves) fraught with interpersonal tension as loyalties are questioned, and, even more so, fraught with the crushing weight of fear...the bad guys are almost so powerful that it is hard to imagine them ever being defeated.

For those who prefer the dynamic action side of superhero stories, there is plenty of super-powered mayhem.   The plot as a whole is not advanced all that much (the villains of this particular piece are new introductions, so little progress is made in terms of the Big Confrontation), but it is all pleasantly exciting.

And no-one actually gets killed, making it a suitable choice for younger readers not quite ready for the no-holds-barred level of violence in, say, The Hunger Games, who still want a thrill-filled read.

disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher.


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

Middle grade sci fi/fantasy was somewhat thin on the ground this week...but for what it's worth, here's what I found when I poked at the internets.

The Reviews

The Carpet People, by Terry Pratchett, at Wandering Librarians

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, by Claire Legrand, at Great Imaginations

Circle of Cranes, by Annette LeBox, at That's Another Story

Constable and Toop, by Gareth P. Jones, at Librarian of Snark

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Things Mean a Lot , Books For Boys, Jean Little Library, and Parenthetical

Empire of Bones, by N.D. Wilson, at Readeemed reader

Exile, by Shannon Messenger, at Michelle I. Mason

The Girl Who Cirumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Leaf's Reviews

Goblins, by Philip Reeve, at Sharon the Librarian

Ghost Hawk, by Susan Cooper, at Fuse #8

The Grimm Conclusion, by Adam Gidwitz, at Hidden in Pages

House of Hades, by Rick Riordan, at Book Nut

The Last Enchanter, by Laurisa White Reyes, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsyithia (review follows the excerpt) and alibrarymama

The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian, by Lloyd Alexander, at Tor

Odessa Again, by Dana Reinhardt, at Candace's Book Blog

Pi in the Sky, by Wendy Mass, at Book Nut

The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, at Fyrefly's Book Blog

Rose, by Holly Webb, at In Bed With Books

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at books4yourkids

Substitute Creature, by Charles Gilman, at Mini Book Bytes

Time Trapped, by Richard Ungar, at Charlotte's Library

The Twistrose Key, by Tone Almhjell, at Librarian of Snark

Authors and Interviews

Rick Riordan interview Jonathan Stroud at Myth & Mystery

Laurisa White Reyes (The Last Enchanter) at Akossiwa Ketoglo and alibrarymama


Battling Boy, by Paul Pope

Battling Boy, by Paul Pope (First Second, October 2013, ten and up)

In an alternate Earth, the giant city of Acropolis is infested with monsters, who wreck havoc on its people.   Right at the beginning of Battling Boy, the one hero, Haggard West, who stood against them with his high tech inventions, is defeated.

But Earth is about to get a new superhero--a boy from a clan of god-like beings who are dedicated to fighting the monsters of the universe.   This boy is sent to Earth to prove himself--defeating its monsters will be his rite of passage.  But Battling Boy, as he is known, is young and uncertain, and though he has magical powers at his disposal (in the form of 12 tee-shirts depicting various animals, who can share their strengths with him), he really has no clue how he's going to do his job.  For his first monster face off, he cracks, and calls in his supremely powerful dad for help.  His dad obliges with an incinerating lightning bolt, and so the people of the city assume Battling Boy will have no problem blasting away.  But he himself knows it's not going to be so easy.

In the meantime, Haggard West's daughter, Aurora, is planning to take on her father's role.  And maybe, together, they can become the team who save Earth....

This is one for those who love classic cartoons of heroes fighting against impossible odds.  It is full of brightly illustrated panels of mayhem, and the story moves briskly on from one frenetic confrontation with truly fantastical bad guys to the next.  It was the bits in between the confrontations, though, that held my interest the most--Aurora, desperately working to fill her father's place, and Battling Boy, trying to cope with the adulation of the city's leaders while frantically wondering just what the heck he's going to do...This human element makes all the violence much more meaningful, and is what's going to make me come back for the sequel! 

Battling Boy has gotten stars from Kirkus and Booklist, and should appeal lots to those who enjoy life or death struggles in which young heroes are pitted against formidable, and rather scary, opponents.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Time Trapped, by Richard Ungar

Time Trapped, by Richard Ungar (Putnam, Sept. 2013, upper middle grade), is the sequel to Time Snatchers (my review), and continues the story of Caleb, a boy taken from his family and trained to travel through time to snatch treasures at the behest of a sadistic and megalomaniac boss, known as Uncle.  The central story is set about 50 years in the future, to allow for the technology that makes the time travel happen, but there is much bouncing between other time periods.  And in fact, when Time Trapped opens, Caleb has found a home back in the late sixties, and hopes he has escaped Uncle once and for all...

He hasn't.  He is dragged back into Uncle's clutches, and forced to prove his loyalty, along with the other more experienced minions, kidnapping more children from various pasts and places and training them to become time thieves themselves.   But Uncle's vicious little empire is not quite the watertight dictatorship it once was.  Uncle himself is become less interested in the business of buying and selling the past, and more interested in his own dreams of insane personal power, and isn't there to personally quell resistance among the new recruits; instead, one of the more sadistic kids is claiming power.  And Caleb, having tasted freedom, doesn't want to give it up.  On top of that, there are hints that the past is more unstable than Uncle had realized, adding a nice dollop of tension to it all (although I felt this problem was introduced, and than left hanging more than I would have liked.  Perhaps in book 3....)

And in short, it is a gripping adventure in which the suspense relies not just on completing heists and keeping Uncle happy, but on the efforts of Caleb and his cohort to resist their fate as pawns. Though the ending relies on something of a deus ex machina, it required considerable effort, luck, and cunning on the part of the various kids to get to that point.   Because of this more character-centered story, and because there seemed to be more lighter moments (thanks in large part to the introduction of a young recruit who doesn't take nothing from nobody), I enjoyed this one more than the first (which didn't work all that well for me).

The various technologies, and the imperatives of the plot, mean that the cultural complexities of time travel are glossed over, so it's not one I'd necessarily give to someone who enjoys time travel for the sake of the strangeness of it.   It's more a series I'd give to kids (ten and up) who enjoy brave young protagonists taking down big bad enemies who are trying to control their lives, with plenty of struggle and desperate action.

I myself still had a few problems with the internal logic of it all, but was able to ignore those doubts and go along for the ride happily enough.


A Spark Unseen, by Sharon Cameron

A Spark Unseen, by Sharon Cameron (Scholastic, 2013), is the sequel to The Dark Unwinding, and continues the adventures of young Katharine Tulman as she struggles to keep her mentally fragile uncle and his brilliant inventions safe, and away from England's enemies (and its government).  It is the age of Napoleon III, and the balance of power between the European nations is precarious--mechanical devices that could sink ironclads would easily tip the balance, and that is just one of Uncle Tully's fantastical creations. 

When The Dark Unwinding ended, Lane, the love of Katharine's life, had left her on a mission to France...and when this book opens, so long a time has passed with no word from him that he is presumed dead.  Katharine, though, refuses to believe this is so, and when she is caught between armed men, working from the French, attempting to kidnap her uncle, and her own government attempting to co-opt him, she boldly smuggles him out of the country to a dangerous refugee--the old family house in Paris.

There Katharine, searching for Lane while trying to keep her uncle happily sequestered and secret, finds herself caught in a web of political intrigue and danger, where neither she (nor the reader) knows who can be trusted, and just what the heck is really going on....The pages sure do turn fast, but this is definitely one for the reader who is stronger of heart then me-there was absolutely no respite from distress and danger and tension.  So if you like those things, you will probably like this one lots.

Although I appreciated the suspense of it all (even though it wasn't quite my cup of tea), I most definitely prefer the first book, which was full of Gothic mystery and magically surreal bits, as well as all the lovely smoldering tension between Katharine and Lane.  And that fist book had a lovely sense of place; in this one, Paris, as seen through the desperate eyes of Katharine as just about everything goes wrong around her, doesn't get a chance to shine.

That being said, the sweet relationship between Katharine and Uncle Tully is still as pleasing as ever, and many interesting minor characters added to the interest.

Things are wrapped up more or less at the end of the book (although as long as Uncle Tully is alive, governments will want to exploit him).  Though there are hints of more story to come, I just hope poor Katharine will finally get a chance to catch her breath before new danger comes to find her!

(A peevish aside, of no bearing on the book--I find it annoying to see 21st century hair on a 19th century young woman.  She looks like she's solving a murder mystery on prom night).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Talking about Middle Grade blogging (in general and at Kidlitcon)

So I'm going down to Austin soon (!) for Kidlitcon (yay!), and the official Flyer can be found below.  Note that registration has been extend till Nov. 1 (registration is encouraged because numbers are need for the catering side of things).  Please do come, if you can--it is so wonderful to meet other people passionate about children's and Young Adult books and blogging!  Even if you don't at the moment have an active blog, but are still part of this world (authors, teachers, publishers, etc.), you are welcome to come. 

 This year I was Brave and submitted a session proposal, and lo, I will be running a panel/workshop/forum on blogging the Middle Grade books with Melissa Fox (Book Nut) and Katy Manck (BooksYALove).

I decided to do this not because I am full to bursting of things I want to say, but because I really want to talk to other bloggers who focus on Middle Grade books--I want to share ideas, hopes, anxieties, tips, etc. in a moderated, semi-structured chat. The thought is that there will be particular Topics that we can go through, to keep the conversation going, but that if the conversation wants to go off on its own, that can happen too. 

So if you are at all interested, whether you'll be at Austin or not, we'd would love to hear what topics you would find discussion-worthy!   Here are some that we have in mind:

--who are the various audiences for middle grade blogs, and how we can keep our blogs growing, extending their reach and their depth
--how can we keep the effort of blogging interesting and fun, and work at it without Working --(assuming we want to--some of  blogs may be introverts) how do we connect with each other and form supportive relationships
--blogging with a conscious awareness of race and gender (and other issues of diversity)
--what adults might gain from reading Middle Grade

And other things, like how do you evaluate illustrations in Middle Grade books (I have no idea how to do this beyond visceral reaction--pretty! ugly!  distracting! "there were illustrations?")?  What's an effective book cover?  What useful and supportive memes/round-ups etc are there?  What makes for a good Middle Grade author interview?  Boy books vs girl books?    Why do some blogs get more comments than others, and does it matter? 

That sort of thing.

So if you were coming to such a panel, what would you want to talk about? Please share any thoughts you might have!

And as promised, the Official Kidlitcon Announcement in Glorious Technicolor:


The 200th round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs!

Welcome to the 200th round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs!  I started doing this because I wanted such a thing to exist--middle grade sff reviews are scattered around so many blogs, it's hard for a person to find them all on their own.  So now I follow about 500 blogs (which is why I don't comment much, because of being busy skimming for mg sff), and busily google search several times a week.  I'm sure I miss lots of posts, so please let me know if I miss yours!

I'd hoped the 200th post would have a book for every letter of the alphabet, but it was not to be.  But--if I can achieve that dream in next week's round-up, I will pick a contributor to win any mg sff book they want from the Book Depository that's $15 or under, with an extra entry for books beginning with j, k, o, q, u, y, and z; I have an x in reserve (and I reserve the right, as always, not to include posts that I find too slight in substantive content to include).

The Reviews

Blue Moon, by James Ponti, at The Book Smugglers and Kiss the Book

Constable and Toop, by Gareth P. Jones, at Evil Mutant Librarian

Empire of Bones, by N.D. Wilson, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Exile, by Shannon Messenger, at Carstairs Considers

Fortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman, at Sonderbooks and Reading is Fun Again

The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, by Shweta Taneja, at Literary Grand Rounds
(I'm not quite sure the ghosts are real, but I'm including just because I've never included a book published by Hachette India before...) 

Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Barry Moser, at Book-A-Day Almanac

Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamilo, at Book Nut

Fyre, by Angie Sage, at alibrarymama (audiobook review)

A Hero for Wand-La, by Tony DiTerlizzi, at Madigan Reads

The High King, by Lloyd Alexander, at Tor

How to Catch a Bogle, by Catherine Jinks, at Bluerose's Heart

The Last Enchanter, by Laurisa White Reyes, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Last Present, by Wendy Mass, at Secrets & Sharing Soda
and Not Acting My Age

My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending, by Anna Staniszewski, at Sharon the Librarian

Noah Barleywater Runs Away, by John Boyne, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Old Powder Line, by Richard Parker, at Charlotte's Library

On the Day I Died, by Candace Fleming, at AJ Cattapan

Parched, by Melanie Crowder, at Charlotte's Library

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, at Le' Grande Codex

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu,  at Sonderbooks and A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust

The Rock of Ivanore, by Laurisa White Reyes, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Secret Museum, by Sheila Greenwald, at Charlotte's Library

Seventh Grade (Alien) Hero, by K. L. Pickett, at The Ninja Librarian

Sky Jumpers, by Peggy Eddleman, at LiterariTea

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Texting the Underworld, by Ellen Booraem, at Book Nut

The Twistrose Key, by Tone Almhjell, at The Book Monsters

Villains Rising (The Cloak Society 2), by Jeramey Kraatz, at Superhero Novels

The Witch's Curse, by Keith McGowan, at Charlotte's Library

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at On Starships and Dragonwings

"When Did You See Her Last?" by Lemony Snicket, at Tor and Wandering Librarians

The Wolf Princess, by Cathryn Constable, at On the Nightstand 

Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paulo Bacigalupi, at Charlotte's Library

Authors and Interviews

Laurisa White Reyes (The Last Enchanter) at The (Mis)Adventures of a Twenty-something Year Old Girl

Matthew Kirby (The Lost Kingdom) at Fantasy Literature

Tone Almhjell (The Twistrose Key) at Tidy Books

Morgan Keyes (Darkbeast Rebellion) at Maria V. Snyder's blog
and the post Morgan Keyes/Mindy Klasky didn't want to write about how these series fared in the hands of Barnes and Noble after Borders closed (not pretty).

Caroline Carlson (Magic Marks the Spot), at Cynsations

Anne Ursu (The Real Boy) at Heise Reads and Recommends

Other Good Stuff

A short but solid list of steampunk books for youngish readers at Forget about TV, Grab a Book

Ten post apocalyptic science fiction books (new and classic) for younger readers at Views from the Tesseract

Top ten books about mice, at The Nerdy Book Club 

Other Worlds, Part 2, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

And finally, yesterday was International Uilleann Piping Day, which I think is one of the most steampunky instruments going, what with all the brass fittings (making it round-up relevant), and so here is my husband playing my favorite tune (it's a teaching video at Na Píobairí Uilleann, so he just plays it through once before breaking it down.  He's off teaching pipes this weekend, so I had to scramble to find something that was in the public domain).


The Secret Museum, by Sheila Greenwald

Books sure were shorter back in the day.  The Secret Museum, by Sheila Greenwald (1974), which I just read in a matter of minutes, was a mere 127 pages, though written for upper elementary/middle grade kids, which is about 100 pages less than books for that age being written today...and yet I can't really see that it needed more to it.

It's the story of a girl named Jennifer, whose parents quit their city jobs and moved to an old house in the country where they were going to make a living selling pottery and textiles.   Her parents, however, are much better at their art than they are at marketing, and financial disaster looms...

Jennifer, out on her own picking berries in the shut-up old estate nearby, hears crying...and follows the sound to an old playhouse (of the lavish kind that goes with old estates). Inside, she finds twenty or so beautiful dolls, abandoned and filthy.  And one of them was crying, and they can talk, and Jennifer comes back and washes them while they are talking to her and I think it is REALLY CREEPY to wash a sentient doll, but she does it anyway.  (I think the dolls' clothing would have been  a lot more mouse-eaten than it was, but that I can forgive).

And then Jennifer meets another girl, Lizzie, who is first enemy and then friend, who has the idea of turning the playhouse into a doll museum, and they paint and clean (I liked this part lots; it was outside work, so the dolls didn't have the chance to talk), and they advertise, thanks to Lizzie's gumption in this area, and it is a success.  Except, of course, the house and dolls don't belong to them...The old lady who once played with them, and then abandoned the whole estate, is alive and well and deeply annoyed when she finds out what they are doing.

But it all works out, and Jennifer's parents are inspired by her example to sell their own products more aggressively, and we learn the lesson that you can make your own luck and that multiple signs are better than one obscure one, no matter how beautiful your art.  (I am always open to Learning Lessons from Books, and shall advertise the next library book sale more aggressively).

I would have loved this book except that, as noted above, the fact the dolls talked gave me the creeps, and it made me cross because their talking wasn't necessary for the book to work and was, in fact, totally gratuitous.   However, that could just be me having Issues, and in general  I think it is an excellent one to give a seven or eight year old girl who loves dolls. 

The Secret Museum is available quite cheaply, and is still in the library system of  Rhode Island (I will be returning it on Monday, d.v.).


Parched, by Melanie Crowder

Parched, by Melanie Crowder (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013, middle grade), is a moving and absorbing addition to the (admittedly slim) ranks of speculative fiction set in Africa.  It takes place in what seems to be southern Africa, in a near future.  where rising sea levels have turned fresh water undrinkable, and the cities along the coast have collapsed into chaos and despair.  Water is the most precious thing there is...and there is not enough of it.  

Sarel watches as desperate men come to their family farm, far from the city in the middle of a desiccated wilderness, and kill her parents.  But they do not find her...nor do they find the secret grotto where there is still water to be found.  For a while, she may survive, desperately keeping herself and the family dogs alive...and the dogs themselves wonder, in fairly realistic dog bits of narration, what will become of them.

Musa has a gift for dowsing...if there is water to be found, he can find it.  But all that's left to find in the crumbling city are the lines of the old sewer pipes...and the gang who owns him, keeping him bound like an animal regardless of the festering wounds on his wrists, are not pleased.  So he makes a desperate effort, and escapes...heading out into the dry lands beyond.

And his path takes him, almost dead from thirst, to Sarel.  The water in the secret grotto is gone too, and Sarel knows that if she stays in her home, she will die.  None of her knowledge about plants and animals can save her, when there is nothing to drink.  Musa's coming brings new hope--with his gift they might find the water they need to make a future for themselves.

But the men who owned him will not let him go without a hunt.

Small, precise little details of each kid's life and struggle to survive (and the bits from the dog point of view) build the book into a grim but not hopeless story of grief and desperation.  It's a subtle sort of futuristic dystopia--it's so plausible, even today before sea level has really risen all that much, that the true extent of its future consequences seems like it might already have happened.   An additional sci fi/fantasy element is Musa's ability to dowse-it goes beyond common dowsing into a more preternatural ability.

Memorable, powerful, sad...it's not for the faint of heart, what with beloved people, and dogs, being shot, brutal child-enslavement, and a horribly depressing near future.  But the mater of fact, simple way the story is told keeps  it from being emotionally manipulative.   It would make a good eye-opener for the kid who's always taken water for granted, or a good one that a fan of kids surviving alone (with nice bits of wild plant foraging, etc).   

Final answer--a simple book, but a strong one, that sticks in the mind.

Nominated for the Cybils by Robin.


Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi

If I only ever wrote about books I read for my own enjoyment, Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little Brown, Spt. 2013, middle grade) wouldn't be here on this blog.   I don't like zombies (so terribly messy), baseball (I'm not the sporty type), or really vivid descriptions of nasty meat packing plants and the cattle that are slaughtered there (I've never read The Jungle).

But I did indeed read Zombie Baseball Beatdown (because I  admire Bacigalupi's YA books, because I knew it had a multicultural cast of characters, and because it was nominated for the Cybils) and I find myself able to say a few short words directing it toward readers who might love it (mainly because of the zombies and baseball;  I really don't think there are many readers who pine for more meat-packing).

The heroes of the story three more-or-less ordinary kids in middle America.  They are diverse in personalities and ethnicities (Rabi, the narrator, is half Bengali, Miguel is from Mexico, and Joe is generic Northern European), but they are united by their enjoyment of baseball, by their hatred of the son of the rich head of the local meat-packing company, and, as the story progresses, by their desire to find the truth about the apocalypse of zombie cows (created by chemical cow enhancers gone wrong) that is (horribly) spreading a zombie plague to the people of their town.

For one of the three, Miguel, the desire to bring the meat-packers to justice comes not just from a sense that feeding toxic zombie cow meat to people should be stopped, but from a much more personal place.  His family, illegal immigrants who worked at the plant for a pittance, have been deported because they knew too much, and now Miguel himself faces the possibly of being sent to a country he can't remember.  It's great to see an important social issue incorporated into a zany adventure story, taken very seriously, and giving depth and emotional import to the zombie fun and games.

So basically, it's three kids against the evil pigs who want to make money no matter what the human (and cow) cost, and this part of the book I do like!  And there's a lot of smashing zombies with baseball bats, and creeping around the horrifying meat packing plant, and zombie cows attacking people, written in such a way as to be very appealing to those who enjoy such things (I think the cover will do a good job self-selecting those readers).

Here's a much more coherent review at Ms. Yingling Reads.  I totally agree with her about the major weakness in the plot--all these townsfolk become mindless zombies desperate to bite the living, and the kids whack them to pieces with bats and plow through them with a truck, etc., and we Never Find Out what happens to them all in the end!  If there is in fact a high death toll, there should be some emotional consideration given to these poor people/zombies who were once neighbors, but the ending wraps up with no mention of all the empty houses, deserted stores, etc. that one feels should be there....

Nominated by Pamela, of Reading is Fun Again


Cybils nominations close tonight, and a shout-out for Armchair Cybils 2013

Cybils nominations close tonight, at 12 PST.  It will be a relief to be free from the piteous clamor of all the un-nominated books, but I sure do hope more of them get nominated in the next few hours!

If you would like to join in the fun of reading a massive number of books in the next few months, and picking your favorites based on quality of writing plus kid appeal, sign up for Armchair Cybils 2013 at Hope is the World!

And if you haven't nominated yet, here's the form, here's what's already nominated in EMG SF, and here's my last list of suggestions (most of which I haven't read, so can't vouch for, but which look worthwhile), and there are many more at my original list.

The Hostage Prince, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple.
A Dash of Magic, by Kathryn Littlewood
Bot Wars, by J.V. Kade .
The Winter of the Robots, by Kurtis Scaletta
Fyre, by Angie Sage
The Watcher in the Shadows, by Chris Moriarty
The Whatnot, by Stefan Bachman
City of Death, by Laurence Yep
“When Did You See Her Last?” by Lemony Snicket
Undertown, by Melvin Jules Bukiet
The Alchemist War, by John Seven
Thrice Upon a Marigold, by Jean Ferris
Earthfall, by Mark Waldon
Ghost Prison, byJoseph Delaney

Villains Rising, by Jeramey Kraatz
Code Name 711, by F.T. Bradley

If the Shoe Fits, by Sarah Mlynowski
Through the Skylight, by Ian Baucom
The Glass Puzzle, by Christine Brodien-Jones
Lucy at Sea, by Barbara Mariconda

The Old Powder Line, by Richard Parker, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Old Powder Line, by Richard Parker (Thomas Nelson, 1971) is very enjoyable English time travel story.  It tells how an ordinary kid, fifteen year old Brian, discovers that there is a fourth platform at his local train station that he had never known about (even though he's been a keen train spotter for years), and from there, a steam train travels on an abandoned railway to the old powder mill (as in the ingredients for gunpowder) up in the hills.  Though he knows it's impossible, he boards the train, and when he gets off at the next stop he finds he's gone back in time 14 years...but fortunately, he gets on the train going in the other direction, and is in the present again.  

He's joined in his exploration of the time travel phenomena by one of his sister's friends, Wendy, and by an older man, Mr. Mincing, paralyzed in an accident years ago...at which point the time travel turns tricky.  Mr. Mincing travels the train past the threshold where Brian can safely disembark (his own lifetime), and when he gets trapped in his wheelchair back in the past, Brian must find a way to rescue him.   And meanwhile, Wendy might be trapped in a time of her own when the train schedule starts to change...

What makes it such a good read is not just the very admirable time travel mystery, which is a pleasing one, but the friendship that develops between Wendy and Brian.  He'd never seen her as a person before, but gradually he does, and there is a nice hint of possible romance in the air.  Mr. Mincing's travel back to his past as a healthy, care-free child are also poignant and thought-provoking, though  I do want to make it clear that he is never portrayed as a helpless object of pity.  And what's also nice is that not only is a grown-up an active participant in the adventure, there are other grown-ups who take Brian's story seriously, and believe him enough to actually be of use (as a grown-up myself, I think I appreciate this more than I might have back in the day).

If you like time travel, with ordinary kids having extraordinary adventures, and like older English books of that quintessentially English 1960s and 70s kind (the ones that always seem to come with black and white ink drawings), you will enjoy this one (and Amazon has it fairly cheaply).   My own copy is a library discard...but most libraries have by now discarded the un-circulating English books of that era, and the book sale pickings get slimmer every year....

Apparently Richard Parker wrote many books, though it's hard to find out much about them...I shall be on the lookout for them, because I did enjoy this one very much.


The Witch's Curse, by Keith McGowan

The Witch's Curse, by Keith McGowan (Henry Holt, 2013), takes up right where The Witch's Guide to Cooking With Children left off, with Sol and his little sister Connie escaping from the city where they were almost eaten by the witch who lived next door.  But what Sol had hoped would be a simple bus ride through the forested mountains to their aunt's house turns into a nightmare when the two children find them selves lost in the cursed forest of yet another evil witch.  A witch who turns children into animals, and then sends out her fearsome hunter to slay them.

If they can make it through the forest, they'll be safe, but the power of the witch is strong, and it is all very touch and go indeed.  The witch has had, after all, years of experience entrapping children...and the children are still new at the business of escaping.  And since I don't want to spoil particulars of the plot, that's all I shall say.

It's a  more straightforward adventure than the first book, which was more playful in its juxtaposition of the witch's culinary musings with the danger the children were in of becoming part of her meal plan.   Here we also have glimpses into the point of view of both the witch and her huntsman, but it's a more familiar story of lost children in danger in an evil forest....Though it takes a while for Sol and Connie to realize the extent of the danger they are in, because the reader is privy to the bigger story, what might otherwise have been a slowish start is instead almost immediately tense, and gets more so.  And as was the case in the first book, the relationship between the siblings, sometimes fraught with tension of its own, adds a human element to the supernatural dangers.

Here's what I especially liked--the fact that the hunter himself is under a curse, and is therefore not clearly evil.  I like my antagonists nuanced, and I hope we see more of him in the next book.  That being said, this particular witch is not nuanced at all--at least the witch in the first book was killing children for a reason, not just as part of a sadistic game--but an all out wicked witch is perfectly acceptable, I think, in a fairy tale.

The Witch's Guide was a reimagining of  Hansel and Gretel, and The Witch's Curse is a retelling of the more obscure Brother and Sister.   There's no need to rush out and read the original story first, but having just done so myself after the fact, I appreciate the way it is twisted here lots!  Sol and Connie are not the two original children, but rather follow in their footsteps, walking unwittingly into a nightmare for which they are poorly prepared (for instance, Sol's homemade computer/gps/etc. device, which should have been able to save the day, begs to be recharged at a crucial juncture!).

Highly recommended for intelligent readers who like a nice, dangerous adventure with twists and turns;  though not, perhaps, a series for the child who's already frightened of what's out there in the dark woods...

The Witch's Curse is one of many fine books nominated for this year's Cybils Awards in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction.  Anyone can nominate books they love, but nominations close tomorrow night, so time is short....

disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher


This week's round-up of Middle Grade fantasy and science fiction postings from around the blogs

Next week will be the 200th MG SFF round-up post!  I will try to make it Special in some way... In the meantime, if I missed your post this week (and there were some open tabs on my computer that were closed by certain younger persons in my house, so I might well have) let me know!

The Reviews:

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett, at The Book Smugglers

Exile, by Shannon Messenger, at Book Nut

Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit, at Fantasy Literature

Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamilllo, at Books of Wonder and Wisdom, books 4yourkids, and Book-a-day Almanac

The Ghost Prison, by Joseph Delaney, at In Bed With Books

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Let the Revels There, by Catherynne M. Valente, at A Reader of Fictions

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, by Catherynne M. Valente, at A Reader of Fictions, The Book Monsters, and Good Books and Good Wine

Guys Read: Other Worlds, edited by Jon Scieszka, at A Reader of Fictions

The Handbook for Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

House of Hades, by Rick Riordan, at What a Nerd Girl Says and there are doubtless tons of other, which perhaps you can find for yourself it you are interested :)

How to Catch a Bogle, by Catherine Jinks, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis, at alibarymama

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, at Challenging the Bookworm and Becky's Book Reviews

Listening for Lucca, by Suzanne LaFleur, at The Children's War

The Lost Kingdom, by Matthew J. Kirby, at The Last Entwife

The Magic Half, by Annie Barrows, at Hope is the Word

Magic Marks the Spot, by Caroline Carson, at The Book Smugglers

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield, by John Bemelmans Marciano, at Librarian of Snark

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, at Views from the Tesseract

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at The Book Smugglers, books4yourkids, The Book Monsters,  Bookyurt, and The Brain Lair

The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, at Charlotte's Library

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at She Has Left the Room

The Strangers (Books of Elsewhere 4), by Jacqueline West, at Charlotte's Library

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Twighlight Robbery, aka Fly Trap, by Frances Hardinge, at Things Mean a Lot

Wake Up Missing, by Kate Messner, at Next Best Book

The Witch's Guide to Cooking With Children, by Keith McGowan, at Charlotte's Library

Catherynne M. Valente's Fairyland series review, at Bunbury in the Stacks

Authors and Interviews

Anna Staniszewski (My Epic Fairytale Fail) at Katie L. Carroll

Frances Sackett (The Misadventures of the Magician's Dog) at Paperback Writer Blog

Other Good Stuff:

At Teen Librarian Toolbox, you can find tips for turning your library into Lovecraft Middle School (a series by Charles Gilman)

Three recommended speculative fiction series-es at Project Mayhem

Found at Educating Alice--help Jonathan Stroud write a Halloween story, with the characters from Lockwood and Co.!

A post about Other Worlds at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles (the first of three)

The Cybils nomination period closes on Tuesday--I have several lists of books for those who haven't yet nominated in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, the most recent of which is this list of books that look interesting to me

And just another reminder that Kidlitcon is on in Austin Veterans Day weekend.  I have my Insiders Guide: Austin 2009 guidebook in hand, and am busily reading such gems as  "One startling statistic is that the Austin labor force increased 44 percent in the decade from 1980 to 1990" (page 5) and the fact that the Austin airport has "two runways (as opposed to one)" (page 31).   I have also learned that the residents of Austin are "hardworking."  I'm arriving Thursday and staying over Sunday, and plan to visit the Zilker Botanical Garden (the image below is from their Prehistoric Garden) and as many used book stores as I can find (suggestions welcomed!)

Books that sound intriguing that have not been nominated for the Cybils yet

So nominations for the Cybils close on Tuesday.  We are at about 80 books in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, and last year we ended up with 150....which means that there are lots of worthy books still to be nominated!  A few days ago I compiled a list of books whose lack of nomination surprised me, and today I offer a list of books I've not read, and don't know much about, but which sound interesting to me personally.  Some of them fall into that tricky tween space between Middle Grade and YA, but I've tried to only include the ones that look to me like they tilt toward the former.

And of course if you don't see anything you loved on this list, feel free to check my Really Long List of all the books reviewed by Kirkus that looked eligible to me when I was compiling it...

City of Death, by Laurence Yep

“When Did You See Her Last?” by Lemony Snicket

Back to Blackbrick, by Sarah Moore Fitgerald

Undertown, by Melvin Jules Bukiet

The Alchemist War, by John Seven

Thrice Upon a Marigold, by Jean Ferris

Earthfall, by Mark Waldon

Ghost Prison, byJoseph Delaney

Villains Rising, by Jeramey Kraatz

The Princess of Cortova, by Diane Stanley

The Winter of the Robots, by Kurtis Scaletta

Code Name 711, by F.T. Bradley



The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson

When The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson (Tor Teen, 2013) was nominated for the Cybils in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction,  I looked at the suggested age ranges for the book at all the various sources (Kirkus, for instance, says 10-13, SLJ says grades 6-10; its publisher says Young Adult), read reviews, talked to people who had read it, and considered the fact that it was shelved in most libraries in the YA section... and sent it over YA Spec. Fic.  It got sent back, at which point is was clear that I had to read it myself (which was fine with me--it sounded rather good, and indeed I found it so).

It is a magical school story, set at an institution for higher learning in which a gifted few study the two-dimensional geometric magic of chalk drawings (Rithmatism), and everyone else doesn't.   The main character, sixteen-year old Josh, is one of the ungifted later.  He's a charity kid (his mother's on the cleaning staff), and for him, the chalk is just chalk--his lines have no preternatural force, and his drawings never become squiggling, attacking chalkling creatures.  But still he wants to learn all he can about the history and theory of the Rithmatists, and he's determined not to let their snobbish exclusivity thwart him.  It's very good school stuff, with lots of actual learning, reading books, doing badly in uninteresting courses and getting lectured about what the point of studying really is, combined with interesting personal dynamics between Josh, one of the professors, and Melody, a Rithmatist student struggling with basic circle drawing (but darn good at the chalkling creature side of things!).

Of course, if you are not interested in school type stories in which the main character is obsessed by a single subject, and not only that, but a subject which, though magical and really neat (I think), involves a lot of geometry, you might find the first part of the book boring.  However, things pick up with a vengeance.

We learn more about the alternate Earth in which the story is set--one in which the Aztecs sailed to a Europe conquered by an Asian empire, and in which the European colonists of the United Islands (instead of States) found wild and savage chalklings, basically two dimensional killing machines, lurking in the wilderness.*  And in this alternate world, there is a zesty little element of steampunkness, for those who like their clockwork contraptions.

And, in the second half, we get nicely into the meat of the plot.  The peace of the school has been shattered by the disappearance of some of the Rithmatist students; foul play involving Rithmatism is suspected, and Joel and Melody find themselves embroiled in a very dark, dangerous, and magically fascinating mystery! 

I liked it lots, and will look forward to the next book!

And I agree with Kirkus--10-13 years old is pretty spot on.  There's no romance, no distressingly detailed violence, and the central focus is on the external story, not the emotions of the main characters.  Even though Josh and Melody are solidly teenagers, as written, they could pass as twelve.  On top of that, the little guides to Rithmatism, sprinkled throughout, include drawings of chalklings that will have 10-year-olds reaching for their own chalk so they can play too.

So, since three of the years from 10-13 are Middle Grade, and only one is YA, The Rithmatist is back where it was originally nominated, in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction.

*Although I liked the book, I was disturbed by replacement of Native North Americans by Wild Chalklings.  The world is alternate enough (North America being a bunch of islands, and the Aztec equivalent people being the great seafarers, etc.) that I could have lived with it, if Sanderson hadn't decided to incorporate an actual incidence of a bloody episode in 17th century New England (from the captivity narrative of Mary Rolandson) into his worldbuilding.  He describes a colonial encounter with bloodthirsty Chalklings by replacing the Native Americans involved with Chalklings, and explains that he does this in an author's note, so that even if you missed it while reading, you can't escape the fact that Native Americans are being equated them with monstrous and inhuman things. 


Some middle grade sci fi/fantasy books I'm surprised haven't been nominated yet for the Cybils, with commentary

So nominations for the Cybils have slowed to a trickle, and though there's always a surge at the end, I can't help but wonder which potentially short-listable books will be left outside, crying (probably in the icy rain, this being fall and all hereabouts).

Here are some I'm surprised not to see on the list yet, with reasons why, which isn't the same as "books I personally really liked and wish you would nominate" because that wouldn't be good since I'm judging them and all.  At some point I will offer a list of "books that sound interesting that I haven't read yet but maybe you have and think they should be nominated."  You can also go visit my lists--Kirkus reviewed books and SLJ reviewed books.  And here's what's already been  nominated.

So anyway, it surprises me that no one has, as of this writing, nominated:

No one has nominated The Girl Who Soared Above Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, by Catherynne M. Valente!!!!!

The Hostage Prince, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple.   ? Jane Yolen should have fans, yes???

A Dash of Magic, by Kathryn Littlewood We have three magical dessert books on the list already...it could be four! These things are hot right now!

Bot Wars, by J.V. Kade .  The only eligible robot sci fi book that I can think of. This sub-genre needs to be encouraged.  Edited to add--there a second, just come out robot book- The Winter of the Robots, by Kurtis Scaletta

Fyre, by Angie Sage, is the last of a well-loved series.  I haven't read it yet--maybe the fans don't think it can hold its own???

The Watcher in the Shadows, by Chris Moriarty, the sequel to The Inquisitor's Apprentice.  I don't know if this series has all that many fans, but it deserves them.

Saving Thanehaven, by Catherine Jinks.  I have been on hold for this one at the library for, like, forever.  Maybe everyone else is on hold for it too, and No One Has Actually Read It!  Pause while I do a blog search--it's been read!  Teen Librarian Tool Box said  "Although all readers can appreciate this fun romp, gamers in particular will be enchanted by this unique look at their world.  And in typical Jinks fashion, there is a lot of light humor and fun twists." 

The Whatnot, by Stefan Bachman--it's the sequel to The Peculiar, and I haven't had a chance to read it myself yet, but I loved the Peculiar and am hoping this gets nominated so I can read it with a clear conscience!

and if you are interested in other categories, here's a round-up of other people's lists of The Un-Nominated. 

Originally on this list, but now nominated:

Hokey Pokey, by Jerry Spinelli  got all sorts of buzz when it came out, most of which I missed, because I didn't realize it was fantasy, but people were even talking Newbery....

Sleeping Beauty's Daughters, by Diane Zahler.

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey, by Jane Yolen

The Abominables, by Eva Ibbotson.  It's her last book.  Sniff.

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, by Kate Saunders

The Vengekeep Prophecies, by Brian Farrey  Fuse #8 said this about the book back in November 2012:  "With great humor and dexterity Farrey creates a new fantasy world where magic is kept in check, only popping up once in a while to bite our heroes on the bum. Fast and funny, this is one of those rare 400-page novels where I wouldn’t cut so much as a sentence or a paragraph if it meant making the story any shorter." 

Now Nominated Goulish Song, by William Alexander, because, uh, it's the sequel to a National Book Award Winner?

Now Nominated Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint is another that got lots of good buzz...and he's a famous writer for grown-ups, so surely has fans among readers of MG fantasy?

(Now Nominated--but after looking at it closely, I offered it to YA)  The Reluctant Assassin, by Eoin Colfer.  Another author with fans (at least I think there are fans.  Maybe his fans just don't know about the Cybils).

(Now nominated) Texting the Underworld, by Ellen Booraem.   I thought it would be one of the first to be nominated...There's a Book said "Not only was the premise fantastic, but the characters were strong and well-developed."

The Witch's Guide to Cooking With Children, by Keith McGowan

The Witch's Guide to Cooking With Children, by Keith McGowan (Henry Holt, 2009), is a Hansel and Gretel reimaging--in this case, the children, and the witch who wants to eat them, are nextdoor neighbors in a modern urban setting.  The reader knows from the get go what's up, as the book opens with passages from the witch's journal, describing her nasty dietary habits and the means of procurement she uses.  And it does not take long for eleven-year-old Sol and his little sister Connie to realize that something is very wrong with their neighbor--scientifically minded Sol can't help but notice that her dog is playing with a human femur.  Their father and stepmother (with nasty secrets of their own) have a good reason for wanting the kids gone...but will Connie's cussedness and Sol's scientific smarts be sufficient to keep them out of the pot?

Clearly, if you are disturbed by truly mordant humor of the sort in which children are eaten you will not enjoy this book.  However, I didn't actually find this to be the stuff of nightmares.   Nightmares are lurking threats, looming ever closer, insidiously building in terror....and those sorts of books make me sad and sorry for the kids involved, and anxious to hug my own.  But here, since we see the witch from the beginning, reminiscing about different recipes she's used, the threat is right there up front, in an almost over-the-top, verging on absurd, way.    It's handy that readers are given this perspective immediately, so that they can decide whether to continue or not with little investment! 

I myself was happy to keep going, and found it, as it were, very tasty--a fun, fast read that did not inspire any anxiety viz children being eaten.  There are many little bits that amused me lots, like a nice modern twist on the breadcrumbs that Hansel used to mark the path home.  The sibling conflicts between Sol and Connie added depth, and Sol's character--he's a science geek type, unblessed with sympathetic friends, craving support and understanding-- was appealing (and this is what made me anxious to hug my own older one).  And I found the "let's tell it like it is" perspective of the witch amusing. 

Many kids do have a dark sense of humor (I myself, sweet and nice though I was, enjoyed Edward Gory very much at a young age), and I can imagine mine enjoying this one.  That being said, I can also imagine my younger one (10) asking me how I could give him a book that's so mean.  Hard to know.  

The ending is an ending--as in the original story, the witch gets what she deserves--but obviously Sol and Connie can go home again.  I'm half-way through the sequel right now--The Witch's Curse--and am actually more anxious reading this one.  Even though the danger of being eaten is past, the kids aren't out of the woods yet...

I don't often notice illustrations, because of being so busy reading, but couldn't help but notice that the black and white drawings here added beautiful to the balance between humor and fear--here's an example from the author's website:

Recommended enthusiastically, but cautiously--it won't be for everyone, but those who enjoy it will enjoy it lots!   Here's another blog review from Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Waiting on Wednesday--Death Sworn, by Leah Cypess

I do so like Waiting on Wednesday posts--it's nice to pretend that in the future I will be all caught up on my reading, with posts scheduled in advance (I failed to have a time travel book for yesterday's Timeslip Tuesday, which pained me) and all caught up on home renovation projects, and in possession of children who require no help with anything....and I will order a book I want to read, it will come, and I will curl up (perhaps with cookies) and all will be well....

And perhaps the book will be Death Sworn, by Leah Cypess, which comes out March 4, 2013 (which gives me time to do all of the above, assuming the children cooperate):

From Goodreads:  "When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world."

I like school stories, and this sounds like it might count, kinda sorta.

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


The Strangers (Books of Elsewhere 4), by Jacqueline West

The Strangers, by Jacqueline West (Dial, 2013) is the fourth book about a girl named Olive who moved into a big old house that was home to an evil magic user.  Among other unpleasant things, he trapped people he didn't like alive in the paintings still hanging on the walls of the house.  The first three books saw Olive exploring the magic of the paintings, almost getting trapped in them herself, and trying to foil the scheme of the old man's grand-daughter Annabelle (herself a painted person) to return and reclaim the house and its magic.  The line between foiling and failing, though, has proven to a very thin one indeed, and even with the help of the three cat guardians of the house on her side, Olive has made serious, scary mistakes.

And she is about to make more.  Only this time, the stakes have been upped even higher--Olive's parents have been taken by the enemy.   And the house has secrets (dark and scary ones) that Olive must face to bring them back....while trying to avoid bring Annabelle, or worse, the evil grandfather, back as well.

Here's my review of The Shadows, the first in the series, which won the Cybils Award for Middle Grade Sci fi/fantasy in 2010.  I've been reading each new book eagerly--it is lovely to return to a series one knows one enjoys, especially when the books aren't 400 pages or so long (like having a cup of coffee with a friend vs having a friend over for the weekend; both are good, but sometimes one is better).   I was confident that The Strangers would take about an hour and a half to read (check), that it would be good to see Olive and the cats again (check) and that there would be mysterious tense-ness, with the added enjoyment of exploring a few more of the magical paintings (check).    So that was good.

Something that sets this series apart from most Middle Grade fantasies is that the magic is right there, filling the main character's house.  In most domestic fantasies, there's maybe a magical item that grants wishes, or takes the kids on journeys, but here Olive is surrounded by enchantments in her own home, making it both sanctuary and locus of danger, which adds considerably to the tension.

I didn't expect the tense-ness to be so great that I wanted to start skimming, which I do when I get nervous because of bad things happening to characters I am empathizing with.    Likewise when antiques get broken and books get burned by bad spirits (I hate reading about such things, and for those who share that mindset--it all gets restored to better than it was).   In short, gripping, and the introduction of new characters and new twists that challenged Olive afresh made it interesting.

Jacqueline West has allowed Olive some forward momentum in her battle against evil magic, both externally (one adversary down) and internally (some growing up accomplished), but there is clearly still more to come.  I am committed to finding out what happens next, so when Book 5 comes out, I'll take it out for a cup of coffee...


This week's Middle Grade Fantasy and Sci Fi round-up (Oct. 6, 2013)

Welcome to the 198th round up of Middle Grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs.   I had the idea for it at Kidlitcon four years and a month ago...and it has become a cornerstone of my blog.  The point of this is that Kidlitcon is a great place to go and get ideas and come back all enthusiastic, it really is, and I am going, and I would like lots to see you all there too!

As ever, please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

The Abominables, by Eva Ibbotson, at Sharon the Librarian

Cave of Wonders (Infinity Ring), by Matthew J. Kirby, at Charlotte's Library

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey, by Jane Yolen, at Don't Forget the Avocados

Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Children's Books and Reviews

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Middle Grade Mafioso and Tales of the Marvelous

Eight Days of Luke, by Diana Wynne Jones, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Evertaster: The Buttersmith's Gold, by Adam Glendon Sidwell, at S.A. Larsen

Exile, by Shannon Messenger, at In Bed With Books 
and YA Book Queen

Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo, at Waking Brain Cells

Fortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman, at Manga Maniac Cafe 

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Fyrefly's Book Blog 

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Sturdy for Common Things

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, at The Reader's Patch

How to Catch a Bogle, by Catherine Jinks, at Charlotte's Library

The Misadventures of the Magician's Dog, by Frances Sackett, at I Am a Reader, Not a Writer

North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler, at Becky's Book Reviews

Odessa, Again, by Dana Reinhardt, at Time Travel Times Two 

Other Worlds (Guys Read), edited by Jon Scieszka, at Views from the Tesseract
and The Write Path

The Planet Thieves, by Dan Krokos, at Nerdophiles 

A Question of Magic, by E.D. Baker, at On Starships and Dragonwings and Books of Wonder and Wisdom

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Maria's Melange, The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow, Lynne's Book Notes, and There's a Book

Rose, by Holly Webb, at Wands and Worlds

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Sonderbooks

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, by Nikki Loftin, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

Skyjumpers, by Peggy Eddleman, at In Bed With Books

Starbounders, Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobsen, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Time Fetch, by Amy Herrick, at Puss Reboots

What Came From the Stars, by Gary Schmidt, at CSL Children's Department Blog

Wild Born (Spirit Animals), by Brandon Mull, at Getting Kids Reading

Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi, at Teen Librarian's Toolbox

An abundance of books, Part 2, including The Borrowers and Tuck Everlasting, at Things Mean a Lot 

Authors and Interviews 

(if you're a publicist or author with a relevant book tour, feel free to send me the link to a page with the list of all the stops!)

Artwork reveal and giveaway for The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at  Bunbury in the Stacks and an interview/review at Word Spelunking

L.J. Clarkson (The Silver Strand) at SA Larsen

Frances Sackett (The Misadventures of the Magician's Dog) at Kid Lit Frenzy

Other Good Stuff

The Enchanted Inkpot offers one of its wonderful galleries of cover art featuring fall middle grade books here and here.

At Views from the Tesseract. a Tuesday Ten of Unicorns

The True Meaning of Smekday, one of the first crop of Cybils finalists, is coming to the big screen

Keilin Huang, Marketing & Publicity Assistant, and Hannah Ehrlich, Marketing & Publicity Manager at Lee and Low are over at  DiversifYA  in a two part interview (here's part 1)

And speaking of which, A More Diverse Universe blog celebration returns November 15-17--head to this post at Book Lust for more information, and to sign up.

Here are the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction books nominated for the Cybils so far.  If you haven't nominated yet, you could visit my lists of EMG SF books reviewed in Kirkus and SLJ during the eligibility period (Oct 16, 2013 through Oct 15, 2013), where you will fine many fine, at yet un-nominated, books.

And finally, here's what my son wants to be for Halloween--a Venetian plague doctor.  If anyone has any beak advice I'd welcome it--I'm thinking chicken wire and paper mache, but want to make sure I end up with a beak that has Wearability, because there's a costume contest at school...

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