4/30/14

In the Keep of Time, by Margaret J. Anderson, for (the Wednesday's) Timeslip Tuesday

At first glance, In the Keep of Time, by Margaret J. Anderson (1977) seems like a standard time travel story--four siblings, unwillingly spending the summer with a great aunt in the Scottish boarderlands, explore the ruined castle nearby.  Their aunt is its chatelaine, and has given them the key to the tower...and when they turn it (after it starts glowing, the way magic keys do), they travel back in time to the 15th century.   But soon a twist appears--the youngest child, Olivia, has no memory of her contemporary self.  Instead, she is Mae, grand-daughter of the castle's lord, with a family who loves her, and absolutely no inclination to trust her three siblings. 

And to make things even more exciting, the castle is besieged by an English army, and its own fighting men are away on a cattle raid.  Andrew, with Mae as his guide, is sent to warn them  (exciting adventure in the past bit happens, including a battle between James II of Scotland and the English).  

But for me, things really picked up when the three older kids drag Mae/Olivia back into the present with them.  They had expected her to become Olivia once more, but to their consternation, she remains Mae.  Child of the middle-ages that she now is, she is terrified and wonder struck in turn by the marvels of the present.   And her siblings, seeing no other recourse, desperately work to make Mae into a child of the 20th century who their parents might not realize is someone who misses her "real" mother back in the past....In the process, the siblings come to appreciate each other more (which was something their parents were hoping to accomplish by sending them off together for the summer).

Then the key glows again...and the kids head back to the keep.  Once more they travel through time, but now they find themselves several centuries in the future, and this might be the earliest example in a children's book of a future that imagines the consequences of sea-level rise from global warming caused by over-reliance on technology.   The only inhabitant of the keep in this time period is an old, mysterious woman....who is able (off-stage) to return Olivia to herself (at least, enough so that she isn't Mae anymore....).

This book is the sort to knock the socks off the nine or ten year old who's never read a time travel book, the sort of book they might well remember for life.    It's one that is best read as young as possible, though...I found it a pleasant read, but certainly it was not as emotionally powerful as it would have been to a younger me, whose relationships with siblings and parents were of primary importance. 

I had read Margaret J. Anderson's Searching for Shona, but had not realized she'd written time travel books, two of which appear to be connected to this one.   I'll be looking out for them!

4/28/14

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

If The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner, met the City Watch books of Discworld and Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore, the resulting book might remind one of The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison (Tor Books, April 1, 2014).  Basically, it's about a decent young man (who reminded me of Sam from Discworld, because both have compassion that transcends social boundaries), thrust into a world of dysfunctional corruption and political intrigue, who is lonely, and trapped by power, who has to learn really really quickly who he can trust and how to get things done....

Plot Summary:

Maia never expected to be Emperor--his father, ruler of the Elflands, had other sons much more pleasing to him then the despised child of a despised goblin wife.   And so, after the death of his mother when he was eight, Maia lived far from the imperial court, abused both physically and mentally by a bitter, drunken guardian.

Then the Emperor's airship explodes--and Maia is the only son left.  Half-goblin though he is, he becomes the Emperor, and all unprepared he's forced into a world of daunting etiquette, court intrigue, power struggles, corruption, and treason.   Still a teenager, innocent in many ways, Maia is at first at sea in the swirling morass of the court, and he struggles to shake the viciously critical voice of his abuser from his head.  But as Maia grows in confidence and power, he must, for the sake of his own sanity, cling to the core of his self--and it is his compassion and basic decency that bring the greatest ripples of change to his empire.

The Fantasy Elements

The fantasy elements are pretty straightforward.  The world is at a nascent industrial revolution stage(airships and mechanical are being build).  There's some "magic," most obviously in the ability that some individuals have to communicate with the dead. 

But of course the main fantasy element is that the people of the world are elves and goblins, and both have ears that convey body language (this disconcerted me right to the end).  The elves and the goblins differ from each other in appearance (the goblins have dark skin and red eyes, and are more robust, the elves white skin and blue/green eyes) and in culture, but they intermarry, and there's a lot of that on the boarder between the two realms.    Maia's mother was despised by the emperor not because she was the dark-skinned daughter of the Barizhan goblin king, but because he had dearly loved his previous wife, who died in childbirth.  That being said, Maia's abusive guardian did not spare him racial taunts.   

Issues of race and identity

I'm always a tad  leery of books where the characters are "elf" or "goblins," words so loaded with preconceptions.   And I make a habit of asking "Is it really necessary for these characters to be "elves/goblins?"  In this case, it's not actually crucial; this could have been an alternate Europe/Africa world, with human people who had different skin tones. But I appreciated how the choice to make the characters "fantasy others" allowed Addison to come at issues of race and identity from a different direction.  Fantasy such as this allows the familiar to be remigned afresh and strange, which, done well, is thought-provoking. 

In any event, Maia is a dark-skinned person in a court where everyone else in power is light skinned, and he'd keenly aware of it.   And it's not just mentioned once--his self-consciousness about his physical appearance, his observations of others, a large part of his sense of self,  are shaped by this fact and it keeps coming up in his mind.   Here's an example, when Maia is at a reception hosted by the Barizhan ambassador:

"It was the first time in his life Maia had been surrounded by people who were like him instead of only snow-white elves with their pale eyes, and he missed several names in the effort not to faint or hyperventilate or burst into tears." (page 195)

So in a nutshell, the issue of race pervades the story, and it's pretty thought-provoking. 

(Here's what I'd like to see someday--beautiful dark-skinned elves and short, stocky white goblins.  Because if your using fantasy to confront racism, why not go all the way.  Except then the main character would be white, so it wouldn't be confronting racism in the same way.  And without the negative-ness of "goblin" a lot of who Maia is in relation to the elves would be lost....)

This is also the only fantasy book I can think of in which a young male character is traumatized by an occasion when he was almost very horribly raped.   It is also a book in which there are characters who are gay, and characters who might well be gay (or not).  Sometimes in some cases this leads to complications.  Heterosexuality is the norm, but it's nice to see some diversity.  The role of women in a patriarchal society is also addressed, and very nicely too.  Maia, himself oppressed and denied an education, is sympathetic to the women he meets who want more than marriage and children.

A specific criticism (or, how my personal reading experience could have been better)

It is a very complicated world that Katherine Addison has created here, not so much in terms of the big picture, but because there is a very large cast of characters, many of whom are related to each/plotting against each other/with complicated backstories.   And her world comes with complicated naming conventions--perfectly believable, but rather hard to pick up quickly.   Fast readers like me, who are bad at names in general, will be confused.   I wish the explanatory note and the index had been put at the beginning instead of at the end, and I wish Addison had not relied on names as identifiers, but put in helpful phrases like "his father's aunt" or "the woman he would marry." 

The book would have been a more pleasantly immersive experience if I hadn't been reading slowly because of not being at all sure who people were.

(In fairness, the confusion occasioned by naming conventions worked beautifully to make me empathize with Maia, who was experiencing his own confusions right along with me, so as a rhetorical device I can't really fault it.)

And finally, my Final Thought:

I liked it a lot.  I don't have the urge to turn around right this sec and re-read it, but I can imagine I will want to in the future.   I imagine I might enjoy it more a second time, knowing who everyone is.

4/27/14

This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (4/27/14)

Welcome to the last middle grade sci fi/fantasy round-up of April, a month in which I reviewed fewer mg sff books than I have for years, and I am really glad I have nothing to do other than go to work (hopefully without calls from the medical examiner's office this month; even deer bones can suck up time) and clean/repair the house/children (can we fix the leak ourselves, or will it require costly repairs?  Will my ten year old let me cut his hair?) and do an unending amount of yard work and run the library booksale in the next month. and probably other things, like maybe BEA, and so I am sure I will have hours and hours of time in which to read and review.

In any event, I didn't have time to search as hard as I might have for posts this week, so please let me know if missed your post this week!

The Reviews:

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Views From the Tesseract

Constable and Toop, by Gareth P. Jones, at Sonderbooks

The Curse of the Thrax (Book 1 of the Bloodsword Trilogy) by Mark Murphy, at thebookshelfgargoyle

Dragon on Trial (The Menagerie, Book 2), by  Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Guys Lit Wire

Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo, at Rcubed's Reads and Reviews

The Foundry's Edge (The Books of Ore, Book 1), by Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz, at Librarian of Snark

The Ghosts of Trupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage, at Reads for Keeps

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Speculating on Spec Fic

The Gliter Trap, by Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson, at Wandering Librarians

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins, at SW Lothian

Heir Apparent, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Leaf's Reviews

Horizon, by Jenn Reese, at On Starships and Dragonwings

The House of Arden, by E. Nesbit, at Becky's Book Reviews

How to Catch a Bogle, by Catherine Jinks, at School Library Journal (audiobook review)

Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel by K. A. Holt, at Original Content

The Nightshade Chronicles Books 2 and 3 (The White Assassin and Lords of Trillium), by Hilary Wagner, at Log Cabin Library

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand, by Jen Swann Downey, at The Book Monsters, Charlotte's Library, and Word Spelunking (with interview)

Rose and the Lost Princess, by Holly Webb, at The Emerald City Book Review (with giveaway)

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Search for WondLa, by Tony DiTerlizzi, at The Overstuffed Bookcase

The Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde, at Geranium Cat's Bookshelf

Sky Raiders, by Brandon Mull, at Fantasy Literature and The Write Path

Switched at Birthday, by Natalie Standiford, at Not Acting My Age

Unforseen, by Ridley Pearson, at Manga Maniac Café

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Tales of the Marvelous

The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman, at Time Travel Times Two

A World Without Princes, by Soman Chainani, at AP Book Club

Two at Supernatural Snark--Bite Size Magic, by Kathryn Littlewood, and The Finisher, by David Baldacci

Two by Diana Wynne Jones at The Book Smugglers-- Homeward Bounders, and Black Maria

Authors and Interviews

Maureen Doyle McQuerry (Beyond the Door) on Why Kids (and Parents!) Need Myths, at Working Mother

Diane K. Salerni (The Eighth Day) -- Heroes and Villains #3: The Evolution of an Antagonist, at Project Mayhem, and also interviewed at Project Mayhem

Jonathan Auxier (The Night Gardener) is on tour, discussing what happens "After the Book Deal." You can find all the stops at his site.

Soman Chainani (A World Without Princes) at A Backward Story


Other Good Stuff

At Tor, you can browse a selection of the best Clone Trooper action figure pictures ever, from artist ZahirBatin

A Tuesday Ten of environmental spec fic for kids at Views from the Tesseract

Shannon Hale talks about Altered Perceptions, an anthology in which she has a story written to support Robison Wells, beset by the financial difficulties that have come with his struggle against mental illness.

Some folks have organized a call for action regarding the lack of diversity, and the lack of attention paid to diversity, in children's book publishing.  The first three days of May has been set as a time for readers and reviews to raise their voices to make a difference.  More detailed information can be found here at weneeddiversebooks

4/24/14

In which Kate Milford talks about self-publishing, Bluecrowne, and working with young artists

For my 2,500th post (!)  I have the pleasure welcoming Kate Milford, sharing her adventures in self-publishing.   Her latest venture, Bluecrowne (Arcana Project #2) takes place in and around the world her traditionally-published novels The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands (which I loved; here's my review), and the forthcoming Greenglass House (Clarion, August 26, 2014, and I can't wait!) and The Left-Handed Fate (Holt, 2015--this is the first I've heard of this one!  Exciting!).  

Kate is self-publishing Bluecrowne with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, which runs through tomorrow, April 25th.  Here's the description over at Kickstarter:  "Bluecrowne is a work of moderately frightening historical fantasy rooted in folklore. In it you'll meet villainous itinerant peddlers, young fireworks prodigies, privateers, and even the odd immortal or two. You'll learn why ship's biscuit is awesome, especially if it's stale (spoiler alert: WEEVILS). You'll learn the properties of cald-fire and lyke-fire, and the Chinese term for red massicot, just in case you ever need to know."

It sounds great.  And now, here's Kate, explaining more about it, with illustrations by some of the young artists involved in the project.

What I Learned While Self-Publishing (and it isn’t what you think)

            There are a lot of reasons to self-publish, even if you already work with publishers you love. But whatever the reason or reasons, you learn things in the process. Here are some of the things I learned with the first volume of the Arcana Project, and the reason I decided to do it again.   

            I wrote The Kairos Mechanism in February and March of 2012 and published it in September after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Part of the project was the reader-illustrated edition, which was something I’d added to the whole thing as sort of an afterthought. It turned out to be my favorite part of the project. The idea was that I’d find young artists to illustrate the book, one per chapter, and with their work we’d create a special ebook and that edition would be free or pay whatever, and that way the artists could share their work with their friends and family at no cost. Any money made from folks who did buy the edition would go toward the next volume of the project.

            I spent half of 2012 assembling the group of artists. Some I had known through social media, some were referrals from teachers and librarians, from friends and friends of friends. The youngest artist was eleven; the oldest had just turned twenty. The rest were everywhere in between. I sent each a copy of The Kairos Mechanism and asked them to send their top three choices for chapters they’d like to illustrate, then I went through and made sure I had each chapter and each scene covered that I felt really needed to be represented.
           
     We corresponded on and off throughout the summer. Some of that correspondence was for purposes of clarification about practical details. Sometimes I got communications that weren’t about input, just about excitement. I decided to use this style, and I did research about it. I picked this moment to illustrate because I wanted this character to have something beautiful. And, of course, I got a few emails asking for feedback about what they’d done. I learned a lot about my own shortcomings, artistic and otherwise, as I tried to be cautiously helpful.

            My feeling is that it’s my responsibility to be as clear as possible about whatever needs to be clear in the text for purposes of the story, but details beyond that are up to the reader. I don’t want them feeling like they have to fill in the blanks just to make the story make sense, obviously; but I want them to feel empowered to make interpretations and create mental pictures for themselves—to own the story as they read it and afterward. The last thing I wanted to do was have any of the artists involved in the illustrated edition not follow his or her instincts because I had weighed in and changed their minds or made them question their own interpretations.

            But in at least one instance I caused just exactly that situation to occur. The artist had emailed me a draft and asked my opinion, and although I loved it I’d posed some food-for-thought questions anyway, and taking those questions for instructions, she re-did her work. Both versions were wonderful, but it hadn’t been my intention to make her second-guess her first instincts. I learned my lesson and tried to do better after that. I wanted the art to reflect the text accurately, but beyond that, I wanted the artists to make their own choices.

 
           Another thing I learned is that everything takes longer than you anticipate. A dozen-plus kids and young adults having to work around summer travel, summer reading and summer projects of their own? (This is not a complaint.) But the point when art started arriving was up there with the highlights of 2012, which had already turned out to be a good year. Some sent their pieces by mail, others emailed them. They were all so different from each other—of course, it couldn’t be otherwise, with so many different people at work, but it was still fascinating. There are several variations on Natalie, the main character, and several different versions of the villain, Trigemine; but each interpretation reveals something unique and special about those characters.

            The original plan was to have one illustration per chapter, but some of the artists lobbied to be able to do more than one (and some just went ahead and sent more than one), and since a couple folks had to withdraw due to scheduling issues, that worked out well. Still, as the project neared its end, I had to find one more kid. That last artist to join was a referral from my cousin, who works with inner-city Baltimore youths. Hassan, who was twelve at the time, is a gifted artist, but my cousin had hinted that he might not be a big reader. When I asked him how he’d like to work, what we settled on was that I’d mark suggested scenes in the book, then he could pick which ones he wanted to do and I’d clarify as needed. My first set of notes involved highlighted sections in the paperback and post-it notes with what amounted to TL;DR summaries. Old-timey bar; a man sits with his head on the bar. Statues: an African man with a candle, and old woman with a harp, a young woman with long hair and a ring on one hand. Hassan’s was among the art that just showed up, and I wound up asking him a couple of times to redo one of the scenes he’d settled on, for the sake of accuracy. We wound up doing research more or less together in order to get Hassan the information he needed to be able to complete a piece that matched the text, and the result is one of my favorite images, the statue in Chapter Ten, which he signed along the ragged edge where he’d torn the page from his sketch book.

            By the time I finished the first completed draft of Bluecrowne, I had enough in the bank from sales of The Kairos Mechanism and from royalties from an anthology to know that even if the Bluecrowne Kickstarter failed, I could afford to pay the cover artist, designer, and editor. But what I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford was the illustrated edition, and it was that more than anything that made me decide to attempt crowdfunding for the second time. Now that the campaign has reached its goal, I know I have another illustrated edition to look forward to, and I absolutely cannot wait.

 Thank you Kate!  Though the Kickstarter has been fully funded(congratulations!),  contributions are still welcome, and will allow Kate to keep working on more awesomness.

4/23/14

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL, Day Three: "I Hate Networking" - Guest Post by Jonathan Auxier, author of the forthcoming The Night Gardener

Today I'm pleased to welcome Jonathan Auxier for Day Three of his After the Book Deal blog tour! Jonathan is the author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, and The Night Gardener, which I'll be reviewing closer to its May 20th release date. 

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL - Guest Post by Jonathan Auxier

The Internet is full of great advice about how to sell a book, but what about after the sale? When my first book came out, I found it was surprisingly hard to find answers to some basic questions. Like most authors, I learned most of the answers through trial and error. And so in anticipation of the launch of my new novel, The Night Gardener, I’ve decided to write down everything I learned so I don’t make the same mistakes twice!

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is a month-long blog series detailing the twenty things I wish someone had told me before entering the exciting world of children’s publishing. Each weekday from now until MAY 20, I will be posting an article on a different blog. Follow along and please spread the word!
 
 
DAY THREE - I Hate Networking
Yesterday we discussed how to craft your online identity, and today I want to look a little more closely at how to navigate the world of social networking. There is no shortage of advice about online marketing, so I won’t waste time trying to convince you that it’s important. Instead I’ll just list a few things I have observed that might be helpful.
 
TWITTER – The first thing you should do is read author Nathan Bransford’s excellent post on how to use Twitter. Twitter is an invaluable tool for connecting with strangers. It was through Twitter that I discovered my favorite bloggers. It was through Twitter that I met authors, booksellers, teachers, and librarians who shared similar interests—in short, it helped me find my tribe. Case in point: when I was registering for my first ALA conference, someone shouted my name from across the room. It was an author I knew from Twitter who introduced me to a whole group of other authors, who ended up becoming friends (more on that in Week Two).
 
FACEBOOK – Now that I’m a bit more established, I have found that Facebook has become a more valuable tool than Twitter—it’s a way to maintain and deepen the connections that I made through Twitter. Think of Facebook as “phase two” of your social networking plan. The easiest way to do this is by accepting friends on your private Facebook account. I would recommend that you NOT make a separate “author page.” Managing two different pages can be a hassle—plus with new changes to Facebook, author pages no longer reach a wide audience (unless you pay an advertising fee!). If you worry that your current Facebook profile might turn off potential readers, then this is a good time to examine the sorts of things you’re posting. While it’s fun to vent about politics or a neighbor you hate, you should probably save such things for real-life interactions. Keep Facebook friendly, but professional.
 
GOODREADS – Goodreads is a unique tool insofar as it is designed specifically for the publishing world. Before Peter Nimble came out, I reached out to a group of family and friends who had read my book and asked them to review it on Goodreads—many of them obliged, which resulted in my book having a strong star rating right out of the gates. That was nice, but along with those strong reviews, I got a few zero-star reviews from total strangers who had not read the book. Why did they decide to give me zero stars? I don’t know. All I know is that it drove me crazy. I learned when talking to other authors that my experience was pretty much universal. Every new writer spends a dark week where they obsess over star ratings ... ratings over which they have no control. So here’s my advice on Goodreads. Don’t do it. Stay away. It will make you crazy. Beyond rallying a few troops to give you reviews, it’s not worth your time. Goodreads is designed for readers, not writers.
 
YOUR AUTHOR WEBSITE – A few years ago, author blogs were a fairly important part of online marketing. Things have changed in recent years, and author blogs are no longer essential. (Some of this might be the death of the Google’s Reader, which results in fewer blogs being read overall). When I was preparing to launch my first book, I spent a LOT of energy in crafting a thoughtful, well designed website. I was posting four times a week, which may not seem like much, but I am a SLOW writer, which meant I was spending 25+ hours per week maintaining a website. While I won some early fans and am proud of the work, the time commitment was exhausting and unsustainable.
 
These days, author websites seem to serve two basic functions. First, they provide a place for readers to visit and learn more about you (and about your other books!). Second, they provide a way for schools/libraries/bookstores to screen authors before booking them for events. (I know this because when people contact me for an event, they always mention that my website sealed the deal for them.) So, by all means, make an author website that is professional and reflects your platform—but don’t feel pressure to update it more than once a week. That time is better spent elsewhere—mainly in starting your next manuscript (more on that in Week Three).
 
That’s it for day three of AFTER THE BOOK DEAL! I should mention that you should follow me on Twitter and be my friend on Facebook, and visit my awesome website. Tomorrow I’ll be at The Lost Entwife discussing the pros and cons of book trailers!
 

***
JONATHAN AUXIER writes strange stories for strange children. His new novel, The Night Gardener, hits bookstores this May. You can visit him online at www.TheScop.com where he blogs about children's books old and new. 

4/22/14

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand, by Jen Swann Downey


The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand, by Jen Swann Downey (Sourcebooks Jaberwocky, April 2014, middle grade) is a zesty romp of a read that I thoroughly enjoyed; really truly thoroughly enjoyed.  Stripped to its barest bones, the plot might seem an old chestnut, but here the old bones are made fresh and new.  To wit:

Old Bone 1:  There is a secret society of time travellers trying to set history "right" and a bad society working against them.

But these time travellers are librarians (aka Lybrarians)!  Who combine mad shelving skills with mad sword fighting skills!  And who live in Petrarch's library where it's all a lovely geek and combat fest for both the residents and the reader, a place where books and scrolls are combined with swords and axes, and beautiful peaceful outdoor places and architecture of many times,  and tasty snacks (which appear when magically "read" from books.  (Not everyone can read snacks into material things; some can, for instance, make extinct auroches materialize).

And the Lybrarians mission of setting things right is focused on the preservation of knowledge and valuable writings!  They head back in time on dangerous missions to save books!  

Viz the bad society--they remain on the periphery for most of the book, which was fine with me because there was enough internal tension without dragging Good vs Evil into it.  And after all, epic confrontations don't have to happen every day.

Old Bone 2: two kids from our time stumble into the secret society and find out they are special.  They make friends and enemies.  An alpha girl hates the girl main character.   The boy main character gets a crush on a pretty girl.

Well, yes, Dorrie and her older brother Marcus do fall into a Magical World, and they are kind of special.  They've opened a portal to our time, and are therefore the "keyhands" who can open it for others to travel through, and keyhands are a rather special type of librarian.

But no, Dorrie and Marcus aren't all that special, and the fact that they are keyhands actually irks many people rather a lot, and other people don't trust them, and they aren't particular ept at anything of particular value.  Dorrie, for instance, is a sword-fighter, but finds to her chagrin that the standards of 21st-century amature re-enactors are horribly low...

Despite their lack of obvious talents, Dorrie and Marcus get to make places for themselves at the library, grow up a bit, appreciate books more, and start acquiring useful fighting/stealth/ninja skills--which they have to put to the test at the end of the book when things get truly dicey.  (Dorrie gets lessons in sword fighting from Cyrano de Bergerac!)

Moving on to other lines of thought:

--The library, as seen in this book, is rather focused on European civilization (I hope gets broadened in subsequent books), but there are Lybrarians and apprentices from places besides Europe, including Dorrie's new best friend Ebba, whose parents are from Mali, and who almost (but not quite) gets enough page time to be a main character.

--Time travel qua time travel is the heart of the plot (people going back to deliberately change the past), but the lived experience of travelling into different times isn't important to this particular story (and it's time travel made easy with translation magic and wardrobe help).   That being said, the story does end with an emotional zing that's dependent on time travel....

Final thoughts:

The whole set up of the library is just FUN as all get out, and the story zips along just beautifully.   And though I kind of suspected a key plot twist, this in no way reduced my enjoyment.

Best of all in my mind (given the number of books that I have put aside in the past month) I was never once kicked out of the story because of the writing. Which means that either the plot was so fun I didn't notice infelicities, or the writing was very good, or, quite possibly, both.  I think this is my favorite middle grade fantasy of the year so far, and I look forward to more!







4/20/14

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (4/20/14)

Welcome to this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Fuse #8

The Bravest Princess, by E.D. Baker, at The Flashlight Reader

The Carpet People, by Terry Pratchett, at alibrarymama

Charmed Life, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews

Conrad's Fate, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews

Diego's Dragon, by Kevin Gerard, at Middle Grade Mafioso

The Dyerville Tales, by M.P. Kozlowsky, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends, by Shannon Hale, at Literary Omnivore

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler, at On Starships and Dragon Wings, Writer of Wrongs, and The Book Zone (For Boys)

Game of Clones, by M.E. Castle, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Sharon the Librarian (audiobook review)

Key to Kashdune, by Claudia White, at A Woman's Wisdom

The Last of the Dragons and some others, by E. Nesbit, at Jean Little Library

The Lives of Christopher Chant, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews

Lost Children of the Far Islands, by Emily Raabe, at Charlotte's Library

The Merman and the Moon Forgotten, by Kevin McGill, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand, by Jen Swann Downey, at Fanboynation

Northwood, by Brian Falkner, at The Book Monsters

The Orphan of Awkward Falls, by Keith Graves, at Good Books and Good Wine

The Pinhoe Egg, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews and Tales of the Marvelous

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at 100 Scope Notes

Rose and the Lost Princess, by Holly Webb, at Debz Bookshelf (giveaway)

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Fairytale Fandom

The Shadow Throne, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Cracking the Cover and Becky's Book Reviews

The Shadowhand Covenent, by Brian Farrey, at Book Nut

Smasher, by Scott Bly, at Charlotte's Library

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, at Supernatural Snark

Suitcase of Stars, by Pierdomenico Baccalario, at Librarian of Snark

The Twistrose Key, by Tone Almhiell,  at Log Cabin Library

Who Could That Be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket, at Reading the End

Witch Week, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews

Wonder Light, by R.R. Russell, at Sharon the Librarian


Authors and Interviews

Erin Cohn (Spirit's Key) at OneFour KidLit

Soman Chainani (A World Without Princes) at The Children's Book Review and The Enchanted Inkpot

R.R. Russell (Wonder Light) at The Hiding Spot

Delia Sherman (The Freedom Maze) at Big Blue Marble Blog


Other Good Stuff

Conversations about diversity were popping up all over last week, such as this post on Race, Power, and Publishing

For fans of the Queen's Thief series-Megan Whalen Turner has agreed to a video interview; if you have any questions for her you can submit them here.

It's Fairy Tale Fortnight; you can join the fun at this link up post at A Backwards Story

The pictures are copyrighted, I assume, but click through to see Fantasy Fiction Made Real aka a 13 year old Mongolian girl and the golden eagle she hunts with.   (Me--I would launch my eagle, my eagle would take off, and I would fall backward off the rocks.  Sigh).

And finally, here's a happy Easter greeting from days of yore, which I like because it shows the sport of rabbit jumping might be older than we had thought....

4/19/14

The Martian, by Andy Weir

The Martian, by Andy Weir (Random House 2014), was delightfully gripping.  The basic premise--Mark Watney is an astronaut abandoned on Mars after his spacesuit is punctured by a rouge antenna during a storm.  His crewmates, in a desperate hurry to leave the planet before it's too late for them all, are sure he is dead.  But he's not.

And now he is stuck on Mars, alone.  The next manned mission won't arrive for four years; he has food for only a few months.  He has no way to communicate with Earth.   But Watney is nothing if not resourceful, and he refuses to give in....

What follows is a harrowing survival story, in which human ingenuity is pitted against an environment where the smallest mistake can become deadly.    Basically, it's a grown-up version of My Side of the Mountain on Mars, and I enjoyed it very much.

Mostly it's told in Watney's log entries (in which he records all the various technical jury-rigging and repurposing projects that fill his days--don't try these at home), but when he finally manages to communicate with Earth, we get to see how NASA desperately does what it can to rescue him, and how the whole planet becomes riveted by what's happening out on Mars.   A lot of what concerns Watney is fairly technical, and I confess I read lightly over his engineering endeavours.  But I was riveted by his potato farming adventures--Watney is a biologist, as well as an engineer, and the 12 potatoes that flew to Mars for Thanksgiving turn out to be life-savers (composting for the win!).

I was sad this nearish-future vision of the scientific world hadn't made many strides with regard to the inclusion of women as full fledged geeks- true, the commander of the original mission is female, but NASA command is still pretty much all male.  And there were two gratuitous bits of nerd culture slamming that I wish hadn't been there (Watley wonders why one crew member is a nerd when she is so beautiful, and the PR woman at NASA sneers at colleagues who reference the Council of Elrond, which she's never heard of).  But I guess it's believable; attitudes take a while to change.

There's some strong language (the first sentence, for instance, is "I'm pretty much f***ed"), but I'd be comfortable giving it to my own eight-grader because there's really no point in pretending he doesn't know the f word at this point.

Anyway, I pretty much read it in a single sitting, and recommend it enthusiastically to anyone who enjoys harrowing survival stories that are chock full of science--instructive as well as entertaining.  And of course it could conceivably described as "a testament to the indomitable will of the human spirit" etc. etc. which is, you know, not a bad thing in thing to be reading in these difficult times when one's own spirit might be daunted by all there is to do at home and work.  At least I don't have to combine hydrogen and oxygen in the kitchen in order to wash the dishes.

4/15/14

Smasher, by Scott Bly

Smasher, by Scott Bly (Blue Sky Press, March, 2014, middle grade)

The future is in jeopardy--a madman who has managed to combine incredible technology with the psychic energies of nature (the Hum) is about to enslave mankind by with an infections cocktail of computer code and manipulated DNA. In the 16th century, a boy named Charlie can manipulate the hum even more wonderfully than the madman in the future.  And Charlie's ability to solve puzzles has been honed to a razors edge by his grandfather, and his survival instincts have been honed to a razors edge by fear of bullies and inquisitors....

Travelling between the two times is a girl named Geneva, a robot with miraculous powers of her own.   She comes to get Charlie, and take him to the future, where the two will stand together as last hope for humanity.  (There's a dog too, a very nice indeed puppy with enhancements of her own....there's also an enhanced gorilla, which you don't see that often, but he plays a relatively minor role).

And there's plenty of action, as the bad guy and his minions try to hunt down Charlie and Geneva, and they try to escape while foiling.

It was an enjoyable read, and it's a very good introduction to that fine speculative fiction question of how human a robot can be.  I liked Geneva very much!  Charlie was fine too, but with a relatively straightforward, what you see is what you get, character.  Geneva comes with Mysteries and Questions. 

This is one I'm happy to recommend to kids of ten and eleven or so, moving into sci fi action books.  It offers a nice serving of age-appropriate violence, which is to say there are deaths, and torture, but not disturbingly graphic, and balanced by a lot of sewer-related discomfort.   (Even if a kid's read The Hunger Games  and Ender's Game already, I don't think there's any reason to hurry toward ever more violence.)  However, there is considerable cruelty toward animals, which the bad guy is manipulating in  his lab of evil--this could well cause distress!

The action is balanced by dashes of (not tremendously subtle) philosophy about good vs evil, and by the friendship between Geneva and Charlie, which was a pleasure to read about.  And I think the time travel element will appeal to that audience as well--there's a friendliness to a protagonist who's plunked, like the reader, into a strange and alien landscape where much is confusing at first.

That being said, I myself found the time slip element unsatisfactory.  There's not a lot of time spent in the 16th century, and were it not for the fact that we are told the year is 1542, there's really no way to know.   Likewise, I felt Charlie's easy acceptance of the future somewhat unconvincing.  (It's also hard for me not to care about details like names--as I know the name Charles hadn't made it across the English Channel yet....and how can a boy living in a remote mountain village have three tutors, unless he's the aristocracy, which he doesn't seem to be?).

I also wasn't quite satisfied with the back story--when I'm told right at the beginning of the book that the protagonist's harsh grandfather has blood on his hands, and is apparently a murderer, I expect this to be explained, if not resolved, clearly and with conviction, and (even though I read fast I don't think I missed anything) the details stayed pretty murky.

But I don't think my two issues are the sort that will affect the reading pleasure of the target audience, especially the target audience for fast-paced sci-fi excitement.  Especially recommended for the computer geek kid-coding plays a bit part in the story!

Here's the Kirkus review.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

4/14/14

Lost Children of the Far Islands, by Emily Raabe, with thoughts on how I judge "kids with destiny" stories

Lost Children of the Far Islands, by Emily Raabe (Knopf, April 2014), is a middle grade fantasy that takes the magical creatures of the oceans around the British Isles and transplants them to the coastal waters of Maine.   It's the story of three siblings who find themselves visited one night by a mysterious messenger, and taken out to sea to the island far off the coast where their grandmother lives....where they find that they are shapeshifters, able to take seal form.  And they find (much more disturbingly!) that their destiny is to take part in a age old battle against the darkest creature of them all--a destroyer who wants to ravage the oceans until there is no life left.

I found it a gripping, fast read that I was able to enjoy even in the midst of a frenzied, stressful week, and I appreciated the fact that it stands alone just fine (there's one unanswered question, but it doesn't materially affect this particular story).

When I read a book about children in our world facing off against ancient folkloric evil, I have a rubric (which I am putting into words for the first time here, so I might well be missing something obvious!) by which I judge it.  Here's how Lost Children of the Far Islands came out in my mind.

1.  Are the young protagonists distinct people, or simply child-shaped spaces?  The kids here are two almost 11-year-old twins, a girl (Gus) and a boy (Leo), and their little sister, Ila.  The story's told mostly from Gus's point of view, but the other two gets some page time as well.  Gus is a girl primary character of the sort whose gender is a non-issue-- if you want your random boy to read books with girls, this is one that won't present problems in that regard.

All three kids are all individuals, especially young Ila, who is tremendously vibrant (she can also shapeshift into fox form, and I have a fondness for young fox shifters).   There are tensions between the siblings that all of us who have siblings can relate to just fine.  The kids have interests and personality traits that set them apart which for the most part become clear organically in the story, as opposed to traits that appear blatantly pinned on the character by the authorial hand.

2.  Is there a reason for these particular kids being the ones that have to help save the world?   I like to have a clear sense that only these particular characters are in the position to do what needs to be done, and I like it when "specialness" is balanced by a dash of reality.  Harry Potter is convincing as a hero because he has so much support; likewise Will Stanton from The Dark is Rising couldn't have done squat alone.    I get especially nervous when a prophecy is involved (as is the case here), not just because so many fictional prophecies are truly tortured verse (this one was unobjectionable), but because there's often not a satisfying reason why a particular character is the Destined Child of Prophecy.  I think destiny is a fine thing, and can be a good source of character tension, but sometimes I can't help but feel that prophecies are window dressings.  And if I'm not clear that there's a reason it's these particular kids by about a third of the way through the story, it's hard for me to care.

Lost Children of the Far Islands passes this test just fine. The kids aren't simply plunked down into the middle of Destiny...it sneaks up on them with a nicely growing sense of danger, and they have to discover secrets about their mother, and their ancient grandmother, before realizing what exactly they are part of.  Likewise, the catalyst for confrontation comes not from the playing out of predestined roles, but because something goes wrong--there is a betrayal--which is more satisfying, I think.

3.  Are the mythological elements made into something fresh and convincing?  Does the fantasy make sense?   I think in metaphors, and I'm finding myself thinking of this question in Christmasy terms--the single tree, made beautiful, as opposed to the sensory overwhelmingness of Christmas-tree land box stores, too shiny-full for any coherent story to emerge.   This test is also passed just fine--  Emily Raabe doesn't try to bring every single last bit of Celtic mythology into the story--she sticks pretty much to the mythological creatures, and they fill the story just fine.

4.  (This one might be just a matter of personal taste)  Is there a reason for the places that are important in the story to be those places, and are the places described in such a way as to make clear pictures in my mind?  My favorite part of this book was the time spent on the mysterious far island where the magical grandmother lives--it is a lovely island, with lost mundane treasures and a library holding a far from mundane book.   It's not at all clear to me why all the magical opposition of good and evil should have ended up off the coast of Maine, instead of home in the British Isles, but this didn't bother me enough to be an actual objection.

So in short, Lost Children of the Far Island is a fine story, though best, I think, for those that don't already have tons and tons of fantasy under their belts already.  It's one I'll offer to my ten year old, who has yet to meet any seal folk in his reading, but I don't think it's appeal goes far beyond that target audience, which isn't a criticism, just a reality.  I think that to be a book for grown-ups to truly love, there has to be something of the numinous--the sort of magical beauty that leave the reader stunned--and that's a very rare thing indeed, so much so that I don't even include it in my list of mental criteria.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

4/13/14

This Week's Round-up of Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction from around the blogs (4/13/14)

I myself have nothing to share in this week's round-up for the first time ever (it was a busy busy week), but happily I found lots of other posts.  Please let me know if I missed yours!)

The Reviews

The 13th Sign, by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb, at Lovin' los libros

Battle  of the Beasts, by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Blue Sea Burning (Chronicles of Egg Book 3), by Geoff Rodkey, at Kid Lit Reviews

The Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Librarian of Snark, Books and Movies, and Pages Unbound

Chase Tinker and the House of Magic, by Malia Ann Haberman, at Blog of a Bookaholic

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at alibrarymama

Dark Days (Skulduggery Pleasant 4),  by Derek Landy, at Book Badger

Deadweather and Sunrise (Chronicles of Egg book 1), by Geoff Rodkey, at Books Beside My Bed

The Dragonlord's Heir, by Christina Kenway, at The Tale of an American Librarian

The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni, at Views From the Tesseract

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends, by Shannon Hale, at mstamireads and Fantasy Literature

Faery Swap, by Susan Kaye Quinn, at This Kid Reviews Books

Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo, at Youth Literature Reviews

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler, at The BiblioSanctum

The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Lost Children of the Far Islands, by Emily Raabe, at Librarian of Snark

The Mark of the Dragonfly, by Jayleigh Johnson, at My Precious and On Starships and Dragonwings

Mixed Magics, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Tales of the Marvelous

The Nethergrim, by Matthew Jobin, at Ms. Yingling Reads, The Social Potato, and The Midnight Garden

Nightingale's Nest, by Nikki Loftin, at Waking Brain Cells

North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler, at The Book Monsters

Rose and the Lost Princess, by Holly Webb, at A Backwards Story, Sharon the Librarian, and Word Spelunking (all giveaways)

Summerkin, by Sarah Prineas, at The Book Monsters

Wildwood Imperium, by Colin Meloy, at Fangirl Chelle

Wonder Light: Unicorns of the Mist, by R.R. Russell, at Geo Librarian

A World Without Heroes, by Brandon Mull, at Log Cabin Library

Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paulo  Bacigalupi, at Kazumi Reads

Two by Ruth Chew at Becky's Book Reviews--Magic In the Park and The Trouble With Magic

Three at Ms. Yingling Reads--Aviary Wonders (fantasy?), In the Stone Circle, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmell, and Listening for Lucca, by Suzanne Lafleur

Authors and Interviews

"Living Up to Your Character" by Jennifer Swann Downey (Ninja Librarians) at Nerdy Book Club

Suzanne de Montigny (Shadow of the Unicorn) at Katie L. Carroll

Other Good Stuff

Project Mayhem's series on Heroes and Villains in Middle Grade Literature continues with editor and author Harrison Demchick talking about how villains are people too.

At The Book Zone (For Boys) thoughts on focusing on a specifically gendered audience, and a nice list of (mostly speculative fiction) books starring girls with appeal to boys.

Visit Views From the Tesseract for a sampler of poetry in stories

Yes, there is someone whose hobby is carving bananas; you can find more on the craft of Keisuke Yamada here (via Rachel Neumeier)

4/9/14

Moldylocks and the Three Beards, by Noah Z. Jones

Some weeks life is busy, and there just isn't time to read and write lots, and so the blogging is slow.  And it's been even slower for me because most of the books I have managed to finish recently didn't move me to write about them, mostly because of me not having the mental energy to figure out and express eloquently why they hadn't worked for me.

So last night I turned to a book from a series (Scholastic's Branches) that promises to build "reading confidence and stamina," both of which I feel I need right about now.

Moldylocks and the Three Beards, written and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones (Scholastic, published in paperback in Jan 2014, and in a hardcover library edition April 29) is the first book in a series--"Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe."   My eyes rolled when I read the words "Princess Pink," but not so much so that I was unable to look at the cover more closely.  And lo, Princess Pink seemed pretty cool. 

So I tried it last night, and rather enjoyed it, and can happily recommend it.  If you are a young reader who enjoys the absurd. and who is looking for something fun and easy, this is what you get here.

Princess Pink is not a princess; after seven boys, her mother wanted a one, and so that's what she was named.  She hates pink.  She turned her pink fairy dress into a cowboy caveman outfit.   (Perhaps her hatred of pink, and her taste in dirty sneakers and bugs is a tad polarizing--does the cheesy pizza she enjoys really have to look so gross?  And one can enjoy the outdoors without one's shoes stinking.  But this is not a book that aims for subtly, so I shall let it pass).

And in any event, Princess Pink opens her fridge one night, and falls (literally) into a the Land of Fake-Believe, where she visits the home of three beards (not nice) in the company of a girl named Moldylocks.   The whole beard premise was rather effective, and I enjoyed it.

Recommended for those who don't mind negative portrayals of pink princess stuff.  

Not particularly recommended for those who don't like whimsical stories whose primary point is to make learning to read entertaining.  Also not recommended for those who loath spiders.  There are too many spiders for those readers to take.

Not really recommended to their adults for their own reading pleasure, although it was kind of exactly right for my tired brain last night...........and I might well find myself picking up Little Red Quaking Hood when it comes out in August.

Note:  Princess Pink's family looks to be African-American--pretty darn rare in easy-reader fantasy books!  (quick--name another girl character of color in an easy reader fantasy book.............those dots are me not being able to).

Disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher

4/6/14

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (4/6/14)

Another week, another collection of links!  Let me know if I missed yours.

The Reviews

Aunt Maria, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews

Beyond the Door, by Maureen Doyle McQuerry, at SciFiChick

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Brightest Night (Wings of Fire book 5), by Tui T. Sutherland, at Charlotte's Library

By the Grace of Todd, by Louise Galveston, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Children of the King, by Sonya Hartnett, at Waking Brain Cells and Charlotte's Library

Dreamwood, by Heather Mackey, at Views From the Tesseract

Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo, at Librarian of Snark and Ex Libris

Game World, by Chrisopher John Farley, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Girl Who Cirumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Speculating on Spec Fic

Horizen, by Jenn Reese, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Hunt for the Hydra, by Jason Fry, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Guys Lit Wire

Luminescence, by Braden Bell, at The Write Path

The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Marvelous Tales

The Mark of the Dragonfly, by Jayleigh Johnson, at books4yourkids and The Hiding Spot

The Ninja Librarians: the Accidental Keyhand, by Jennifer Swann Downey, at Sharon the Librarian and The Reading Nook

Rose and the Lost Princess, by Holly Webb, at The Book Monsters, A Backwards Story, and Geo Librarian (all with giveaways)

The Seer of Shadows, by Avi, at Fantasy Literature

The Serpent's Ring, by H.B. Bolton, at Log Cabin Library

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Song of the Quark Beast, by Jasper Fforde, at Claire M. Caterer

Switched at Birthday, by Natalie Standiford, at Becky's Book Reviews

Tesla's Attic, by Neil Shusterman and Eric Elfman, at Booklady's Booknotes

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt, at Bunbury in the Stacks (audiobook review)

West of the Moon, by Margi Preus, at Educating Alice

"Who Could That Be at This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket, at Sonderbooks

 Wonder Light, by R.R. Russell, at The Book Monsters

Ms. Yingling celebrates the reissuing of two Ruth Chew books--The Trouble With Magic, and Magic in the Park.

Authors and Interivews

Maureen Doyle McQuerry (Beyond the Door) at Literary Rambles

Geoff Rodkey talkes about Blue Sea Burning, the final instalment of The Chronicles of Egg series, at Whatever

Jennifer Swann Downey (Ninja Librarians) at The Reading Nook (giveaway)

Marissa Burt (Storybound and Story's End) at From the Mixed Up Files (giveaway)

Other Good Stuff

At Views From the Tesseract, a Tuesday Ten of girls disguised as boys

Kathrine Langrish talks about the colours in fairy tales at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

The winners of the 2013 Aurealis Awards (recognizing Australian sci fi, fantasy, and horror) have been announced (click through for the full list):

Best Children's Book
The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie, by Kirsty Murray

Best Young Adult Short Fiction 
By Bone-light, by Juliet Marillier

Best Young Adult Novel (Tie)
These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
&
Fairytales for Wilde Girls, by Allyse Near
 















4/3/14

The Children of the King, by Sonya Hartnett


Sometimes I read a book and am stunned by its kid appeal, and other times I read a book and want to urge other grown-ups to read it, and this is not a judgment of book goodness or lack thereof, but simply how the story feels to me.   Falling firmly into this later category is The Children of the King, by Sonya Hartnett (Candlewick, March 2014 in the US).

One the face of it, it seems like a book young me would have loved, back in the day (for starters, the cover art is total eye candy for the romantic young girl).  Cecily, her older brother Jeremy, and their mother leave London during WW II, retreating to the old family home deep in the countryside of northern England.  There is a bonus additional child, an interesting little girl, taken in along the way.  There is the crumbling old castle on the edge of the estate, that holds secrets of a mysterious past; Uncle Peregrine tells the children its story, which involves Richard III, and does so most grippingly.  There is a strong element of fantasy, lifting it all out of the ordinary.  And the writing is lovely, with pleasing descriptions of food and bedrooms and the books in the library (three things I like to read about).

But yet it felt more like a book for adults, and I'm not at all sure young me would have found it entirely pleasing.

For one thing, Cecily, whose point of view we share, is ostensibly a twelve year old, but she acts much younger, and is thoughtless, somewhat unintelligent, and not really a kindred spirit.  The way she behaves is all part of a convincingly drawn character, but it is not an appealing one.   May, the younger evacuee, is much more interesting, but she is off at a distance from the reader.   I think young readers expect to like the central character; Cecily felt to me like a character in a book for grown-ups, where there is no such expectation.  Likewise, the dynamics among the family (and May), strained by the war, involve lots of undercurrents of tension that are complicated and disturbing.

For another thing, and this gets a tad spoilery, it is clear pretty early on that the two boys Cecily and May meet in the ruined castle are from another time, and what with the title being what it is, anyone who knows the story of Richard III can put the pieces together (it will, of course, take longer for the child reader who has No Clue).   But these two boys aren't directly players in the story taking place in the present, nor does the fact of their existence bring about obvious change.  They are more like ghost metaphors or something and the book would have a coherent story (though a less lovely one) without them, and so they disappointed me.  These sorts of ghost aren't  exactly what I expect in a book for children, but I'd love to talk to a grown-up about them!  And this ties in with a more general feeling I had, that I was being expected to Think Deeply and Make Connections, and I almost feel that I should now be writing an essay on "Power and Metaphor in The Children of the King."

So, the upshot of my reading experience was that I appreciated the book just fine, but wasn't able to love it with the part of mind that is still, for all intents and purposes, eleven years old. 

Here are other reviews, rather more enthusiastic:

The Children's War
Waking Brain Cells
The Fourth Musketeer

I've reviewed one other book by Sonya Hartnett --The Silver Donkey (it was one of my very early reviews, back in 2007).  I seem to have appreciated that one more, but it amused me that I had something of the same reaction to the stories within the story:  "I'm not a great fan of interjected stories in general, because I resent having the narrative flow broken, and also because I feel challenged by them. The author must have put them in for Deep Reasons, I think, and will I be clever enough to figure out what they were?"

4/1/14

Echo, by Alicia Wright Brewster, for Timeslip Tuesday

I love the premise of Echo, by Alicia Wright Brewster (Dragonfairy Press, YA, April 2013).  On an alien planet, settled by two waves of colonization from Earth, the apocalypse has been foretold.   But the council, whose members can control the elements with their minds, is determined to prevent it.  And they are willing to keep trying, even when things don't work out--they simply turn back the clock, rewinding time to give themselves another chance.

When Echo begins, it is the fifth rewind.  The council has tried four times already to avert a disaster whose very nature they were at first uncertain of--and with each rewind, they've gained more information.   And they've determined that what they need this time around is a teenaged girl named Ashara Vine.  This comes as something of a huge, mind-blowing surprise to Ashara, who had no idea that she was one of the very few with the ability to manipulate the ether itself.   And it comes as an additional surprise that the man chosen by the council to train her and a small cohort of other young manipulators is her ex-boyfriend, Loken.

Tension builds as Ashara learns about her powers, and the nature of the threat menacing her planet...and builds as she and Loken rekindle their relationship....and builds still more as information from the previous rewinds is revealed, and plots and machinations within the council, and within her world's society, make it more than somewhat uncertain if this time around, the world will be saved.

Do not, however, expect that because this story takes place on an alien world, it is truly science fiction.  The world building is not such that I felt I was on a different planet, despite the two suns, and the powers of the elemental manipulators read like fantasy. 

Do expect that the romance between Ashara and Loken will sometimes overshadow the end-of-the-world plot, sometimes so much so that I was annoyed (there are times when passionate is appropriate, and times when it is really not to the point).   I would recommend this one to those who like romance books that happen to be speculative fiction, rather than to speculative fiction fans who happen to like a bit of romance.

If you enjoy reading about groups of teenagers being trained together to fight with magical powers, you will enjoy that part of the book.  However, if your mind follows more or less the same trains of thought as mine, you too might find it odd that the fact that there's a coming apocalypse is broadcast to all and sundry, causing rather pointless stress (there's no escaping the countdown clocks).  And you might agree with me that the nature of the threat is ultimately rather unconvincing. 

All in all, it's not possible for me to recommend the book wholeheartedly.  However, I did truly like the premise of time travel being used to figure out how to avert catastrophe, and the interesting ramifications thereof!  And your millage may totally vary; here are some other reviews:

Kirkus
Apocalypse Mama
All In One Place
The Urban Paranormal Book Blog

Final note:  this is one for my multicultural book list--Ashara's father is of African descent, which is made beautifully clear in the front cover picture of Ashara! 

Free Blog Counter

Button styles