Bonnie, by Lee Wyndham, escapist romance for the young teen of yesteryear

So I was going to write a Thoughtful Post about what makes a really good middle grade book, and how kid appeal isn't the same thing as universal appeal, and memorable characters etc., but then I realized that all I really had to say about it was that a great book is one that, when you reach the end of the last page, you think "that was a great book"  and how far does that sort of discussion post get you?  Not very.

So instead I will share my thoughts about the book I read for pure escapism because it is Friday and my eighth grader has a french exam Monday and it was a hard week at work.

Bonnie, by Lee Wyndham (a Doubleday Signal Book, 1961).  "A shy young girl finds friendship and romance in her first term at a new school."

Bonnie is shy and young.  She has just moved to the city.  While walking the family dog, she meets a Steve, a handsome boy whose hair is the color of ripe wheat (question--did readers back then have a greater familiarity with ripe wheat, so that they could take it in their reading stride without wondering what exact color ripe wheat really is?).  Like good wheat, he is the golden boy of the school, and he wants to be an athletic director when he grows up (this did not make me swoon).

(pause while I look at pictures of ripe wheat and am not impressed by hair-color-attractiveness of it.  I am thinking my boys both have hair the color of ripe wheat, possibly on a cloudy day.  Neither of them has a future as an athletic director though.)

But in any event,  guess what!  The most beautiful, richest girl in the school is a Spoiled Bitch and wants Wheat Boy for her own! She is Mean to Bonnie.

Bonnie is sad.  But she makes friends with a plump jolly girl who is, in all sincerity, a great friend, transcending the trope.

And then, my favorite part of the book!  Bonnie volunteers in the school library!  She shelves.  She plastic-protects.  She helps other students find books!  The school librarian is young and attractive, defying stereotypes!

But Bonnie is sad.  Steve is still being pursued by Bitch Beautiful girl.  He seems to like Bonnie, but it's not his friendship she wants....

Bonnie and her nice friend become singers from a band of boys from their school.  They enjoy it.

And then a new character is introduced, an interesting boy who seems to have character!  Whose hair is not wheaty!   Surely he and Bonnie will learn together that sweetest of all life lessons--that being tan and having white teeth isn't all there is to life!

Not. I was let down.  Snarl.

This is my second Doubleday Signal books, the first being Nurse in Training, which was the most shallow nursing book I have ever read.  I am not sure I will seek out more of them-- though the list inside Bonnie had many that looked, um, interesting-- Judy North, Drum Majorette, and Nancy Kimball, Nurse's Aide (poor Nancy doesn't even get to train to be a nurse...) and the enticing Fishing Fleet Boy (because not all of them are for girls!  There's also Nat Dunlap: Junior "Medic" [sic], and many more, for the lads.) 

Oh well.  Sometimes books like this are just what one needs, and there it is.   My favorite of this genre, though, far and away, is Fifteen, by Beverly Cleary.  I wish I still had my copy of it!

Bonnie came my way because it was only just now being discarded from my local library, which for many years was a time capsule, frozen forever at around 1970.  I get first crack at discards, because of running the book sale, so it's all worked out very well for me.  But the weeding is almost at an end (the librarian having reached "W" for Wyndham), and now no library in all of Rhode Island seems to have any of the Doubleday Signal books.  Not even "Fishing Fleet Boy" which is the most Rhode Islandish of the lot.  Sigh.

And I wish there were still malt shops.


The Lost, by Sarah Beth Durst, with Armchair BEA giveaway of ARC

It is such a lovely thing, when a book you get for review turns out to be a beautifully satisfying read.  All the pressure to be tactful is off, and you can simply say things like "I really truly enjoyed this book and didn't want it to end."  The Lost, by Sarah Beth Durst (Harlequin, May 27th, 2014) was such a book.  The pleasure of having some of it left to read this morning almost made up for the hideous fact that the cat woke me up at 4:30am.

Lauren was on her way to work one day, driving to a job she didn't like, driving away from the return of her mother's cancer.   But instead of doing what she was supposed to, she just kept going, driving down a highway through the desert with no plans or intentions to speak of.  And she found herself in Lost.

Lost is a place where missing things, missing houses and toys and dogs and library books, and even lost oceans end up.  Its residents are people who have lost their way, or been lost, themselves.    If they find what they are missing, they can leave... And in the meantime, they survive, or not, by scrabbling through the detritus of the lost bits of other people's lives.

Lauren doesn't know what she's lost.   And she doesn't know what she's going to find.

Here's what she finds:

--lots of scavenged stuff (those who like people making home-ish places with scavenged stuff will share my pleasure in this aspect of the book)
--two of the most meaningful relationships of her life (such as made my heart ache).
--what she needs to do

Here's what the book did to me:

--erased reality
--left me with images and emotions that I will enjoy revisiting during the coming summer of yard work (my mind plays books back to me as I weed)
--left me with a strong desire to read the sequel (The Missing, coming this November)
--made me want to enthusiastically recommend it

It is a fact that I mostly read books for young readers, and I think part of the reason I enjoyed The Lost so much is that it is a book written for grown-up that keeps all that I love best about kids books--the deeply, lovingly created world, the characters who are worth caring about, and the sense of wonder and possible impossibility you find in the best children's fantasy.    If I had to pigeon-hole The Lost explicitly, I'd call it New Adult fantasy, because the main character, Lauren, is a New Adult, facing the questions that come with that territory (of the "what am I going to make of this life I have in front of me" type).    It's easy to imagine YA readers also enjoying it just fine.

You can read the first two chapters via Sarah Beth Durst's website.   

And if you are an Armchair BEA participant, I'm giving away my (very very gently read; you might not even notice my reading of it) ARC of The Lost.  Just leave a comment by midnight this Saturday (May 31) making sure that I can somehow find you....

And now, having lost track of time, I must rush off.  (I would so love to find all the time I have lost track of during the course of my life.)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Armchair BEA-- my favorite books of short stories

The thing about short stories is that they are short, and so for those of us who are fast readers desperately trying to escape reality with full-blown immersion in text they sometimes you get to the end just as the edges of life are starting to blur and you are no longer worrying about the cat's overdue vet appointment etc., and this can be frustrating.

That being said, there are three authors whose short stories I return to time after time for my re-reading pleasure (possibly because some of their short stories verge on novellas....)

The first of these is Ursula Le Guin.   Her stories, of which I feel there are hundreds, encompass  science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and historical fiction, and they are twisty, thoughtful, beautiful, disturbing, and above all, memorable.   (Shakes self away from mental wandering through story after story....I have read them so often that I can go into a fugue state where they scroll through my mind).   Happily, her stories have recently been anthologized in two volumes--The Unreal and the Real, from Small Beer Press (2012).   If you are a speculative fiction fan, I'd actually start with Vol. 2, set in various places far beyond earth.  

I don't often say this, but I think reading Ursula Le Guin has made me a better person (or at least someone who tries to be a better person).  She is my favorite author of all, and the most thrilling moment of my blogging career was when she put a link to my review of  her novel, Lavinia up on her webpage.

I have been rereading the same Joan Aiken anthologies since I was nine, and they are pretty much on their last legs.   Some of her stories I wish I hadn't read, because they tip over into horror (at least from the point of view of a kid).   But others have become treasures in the storehouse of my mind.  A good place to start (especially if you are a kid!)  is The Serial Garden--these are all about the same family, and they are funny and magical as all get out (here's my review).   The title story is one of my favorite pieces of short fiction ever.  If  you are a grown-up who likes the darker side of things, you could try to posthumous anthology, The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories. (both of these are also from Small Beer Press).

Finally, I'd like to share my love for the short stories of Robin McKinley.  My third favorite piece of her writing (after The Blue Sword and Beauty), is the title story of the anthology A Knot in the Grain.  It is the story of a girl whose family relocates to a big old house in the country...and the loneliness of her first summer there, her tentative progress into new friendship, and the old magic she finds in the hidden attic above the attic are beautifully described.  I aso very much enjoy her stories in Water and Fire, although some of these you can feel desperatly straining to become novels of their own....as happens a lot to Robin McKinley, which is why she wasn't able to write short stories for the other elements (Pegasus, for instance, was supposed to be an air short story.....)


Armchair BEA--interacting with authors

Twice I have sat at the feet (once literally, once on a chair) of Megan Whalen Turner (author of the Queen's Thief series), and it was great fun, but that was not because of blogging....But through blogging there have been a number of authors I've gotten to know as friends in real life, and as friends on-line.

My first author friend met through blogging was Tanita Davis, and I embarrassed myself a little when we first met in person.  Tanita has been blogging at Finding Wonderland for many years, and we'd become friendly on line.  So much so that when her travel plans grew complicated with regard to the ALA meeting where she was receiving the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for her lovely Mare's War, I invited her to come stay with me at my mother's house for a few days. 

The first time we met face to face was during her ALA signing at her publisher's booth.  And it was so lovely to actually meet her that (this is where I blush) that I became so chatty that one of the booth staffers asked if I wanted a chair next to her, and I realized (better late than never) that monopolizing an author's attention with personal chat during a signing was not exactly what I should be doing. (Sorry, Alfred A. Knopf).   But the visit afterwards was a lovely thing, which just goes to show that inviting strangers from the internet to your mother's house can be a good idea.

Through trips to Kidlitcons over the years I've also had the chance to meet many lovely authors in person, and because of the social setting, as people rather than Authors.  Like Sarah Stevenson (Tanita's blogging partner at Finding Wonderland, who has a new book coming next month--The Truth Against the World), who was my room-mate last year in Austin.  (This year's Kidlitcon will take place in Sacramento in October--come!)

And like so many bloggers, I have authors with whom I'm twitter friendly, who I'd love to meet in real life some day.   But not many, because I don't actually want to Try to be friends with authors--it's nicer to be friends with people (who may be authors!).    That being said, my eleven-year-old was very chuffed when Sage Blackwood (@urwalader) sent him birthday greetings on twitter (thanks, Sage!).

The uncomfortable side of being friends, or friendly, with authors is that sometimes one might read their books and might not be able to write glowing reviews.  

Possible solutions (that are utterly obvious):

--be friends only with authors whose every work is a thing of joy and a beauty for ever (or you could be friends with authors who are so wildly successful that it doesn't matter if you review their book or not, and you can just send a congratulatory email/card).

--be friends with authors who are able to recognize that not every book is for every reader.  If you are going to write a review saying (with tact and grace) that the book didn't work for you, say who you think it will work for.

--write a congratulatory blog post when a friend's book comes out, rather than a review.

And of course, if you are friends with an author, a disclaimer at the end is a good thing. 

(ps:  Kristin Cashore was once my blogger Secret Santa and sent me cookies she made herself!  I still have the tins --plural!  They were very good cookies).


The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni

The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni (HarperCollins, middle grade, April 22, 2014)

Basic premise:  13-year-old kid with new-found powers finds himself a key player in an ancient magical war.

Basic reaction:  Fun, fast, gripping, lots of interesting twists.


Jax's life pretty much sucks.  His parents are dead, and his guardian,  Riley, is an 18-year old who is failing to provide much in the way of creature comforts, cleanliness, and food.  And then Jax wakes up on the morning of his 13th birthday to find himself in a world seemingly devoid of people.  He has found himself in an eighth day, squeezed between Wednesday and Thursday.

But though, on the eighth day, houses are abandoned and cars sit empty on the highways, Jax is not alone--also awake on this eighth day are the descendants of the two sides in an ancient war.   One one side, there are the heirs to the magic of Merlin, King Arthur and the knights of the round-table.  On the other side are the Kin, magic-users who were imprisoned by the creation of the eighth day millenia ago.  Jax is a descendant of the former side, heir to magical powers of his own.  And the war is still going strong...

Jax, along with Evangeline (the mysterious girl next door, alive only on the eighth day) find themselves facing choices that may lead to the destruction of all normal people.  Jax's newly emerged powers are of little use, but fortunately Riley and Evangeline are much more complicated than they first appear....

Personal reaction:

I enjoyed it lots.  The basic premise of the eighth day was tremendously diverting, and helped make the "kid developing magical powers on his birthday" plot interesting. There's some nice obfuscation of the good guy/bad guy dynamic, with some characters in the gray area between, and some uncertainty about whether what the good guys are doing is, in fact, good.  Nicely complicated!   I liked that older characters (Riley and Evangeline, in their late teens) do most of the heavy lifting viz adversary confronting, because I prefer kids with new found powers to be realistically challenged by the difficult situations in which they find themselves.

My favorite part of the book, though, was not the larger set up with all its dangers and plottings, but the relationship between Evangeline and Jax, which is poignant, fascinating, and thought-provoking (I could have happily read a whole book just about that!).  And I liked the relationship between Jax and Riley too--it ended up going to places I never expected. 

Final thought:

This is one to give the young fan of Rick Riordan's books-real world meeting fantasy in a complicated snarl of mythology-inspired story.  The love interests that appear in the later Percy Jackson books aren't here (yet), though, so it is very much for the middle grade reader, as opposed to the teenager.  That being said, this one is not exactly wish-fulfillment fantasy, and there's a touch of real world grittiness in Jax's home life and in the actions of some of the secondary characters--it is not rainbow unicorns and great Heroics, and the magical fun is slow to really get going.  Which means it will appeal more to some readers and less to others...maybe, now that I am thinking about it more, it will appeal most to the kid who almost loved the Percy Jackson books but didn't quite.  I think the cover will do a good job helping the book find the right kids, what with its urban sci fi look, and nary a rainbow unicorn in sight!

I myself am looking forward to the sequel (The Inquisitor's Mark, coming next January) very much.

Armchair BEA 2014--Introducing myself

I'm so happy to be taking part in BEA again this year; it's (I think) my third time.  Here's my introductory post.

Everything I say in my "about me" section is true.

My name really is Charlotte.  It has taken me a long time to accept this fact, because a. I had an embarrassing childhood nickname  b. I couldn't spell Charlotte c.  "charlotte" means diminished, feminine version of manly man.  Ick.

I am an archaeologist living in Rhode Island (having previously admitted to living in New England, I became so find-able via google that there is no point to denying it any longer.  A search for "Charlotte" "archaeology" "new england" takes you to my work, a picture of which is shown at right.  My office is the two basement windows at the right, where they used to hold prisoners awaiting trial.  Now it's just me. 

Back when I was a little girl, I never thought I would live in Rhode Island, but then grad school happened, a job in my field happened, and then marriage (to an Irish piper and ethnomusicologist), house (old and needy, but attractive), and children (boys--13 and 11, also needy but reasonably attractive) all happened, in that order.  For a few years, chickens happened too, but that is behind me now thank goodness.  (The town animal control person only came twice, but that was plenty.  It was a happy day when the local Poultry Whisperer pulled into the driveway to take the last one away....)

Happily for me, Rhode Island has turned out to be a fine place to live.  (Although it could use a few mountains.  We have no mountains.  The landfill is doing its best, but it is not quite there yet.)

And then blogging happened, seven and a half years ago, and it has brought me much joy, many lovely friends, and lots of books. 

I have found myself over the years concentrating my blogging on middle grade science fiction and fantasy (mg sff)--books for kids 9-12 ish.   It is especially lovely to be reading this particular genre at this point in my life, because my 11-year-old and his friends are avid readers of these books as well, which allows fun sharing of books and thoughts.   If any of you all who are new to my blog are at all interested in mg sff, I do a round-up every Sunday of all the mg sff posts and reviews I can find.

And for those who might be new to the children's book blogging side of things, I'd like to put in a plug for the Kidlitosphere, which offers a directory of bloggers, an email group, and an annual conference, all of which new folks can become part of.  The Kidlit Conference (this year in Sacramento in October) is one of the best parts of being a children's book blogger--it is so, so, lovely to be among kindred spirits (and I don't think any of the past participants regret going).

(I'm on twitter as @charlotteslib)


This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (5/25/14)

Greetings from cold, grey Rhode Island.  No beach fun for us today, staying inside and reading is much more appealing!

 Here are the results of this week's blog gleaning--please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

The Ash Mistry adventures--The Savage Fortress, and The City of Death, by Sarwat Chadda, at proseandkahn

The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg Van Eekhout, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at books4yourkids 

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile 

The Children of the King, by Sonya Hartnett, at Becky's Book Reviews

Deadly Pink, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Leaf's Reviews

The Demon Notebook, by Erika McGann, at Mom Read It

The Inventor's Secret, by Andrea Cremer, at Book Nut

Jinx's Magic, by Sage Blackwood, at Semicolon

London Calling, by Edward Bloor, at Time Travel Times Two

The Mark of the Dragonfly, by Jaleigh Johnson, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at thebookshelfgargoyle, books4yourkids, and The Write Path

Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, by D. Robert Pease, at SW Lothian

Northwood, by Brian Faulkner, at Librarian of Snark 

Oddfellow's Orphanage, by Emily Winfield Martin, at books4yourkids

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at Laurisa White Reyes 

The One Safe Place, by Tania Unsworth, at Charlotte's Library

A Question of Magic, by E.D. Baker, at Pages Unbound 

Ripple Effect, by Timothy J. Bradley, at Views From the Tesseract

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at books4yourkids

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, at Charlotte's Library

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Ciao Bella

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at alibrarymama

Small Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy, at Madigan Reads

The Snow Spider, by Jenny Nimmo, at Views From the Tesseract

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, at books4yourkids 

The Spirit Animal series, by varoius authors, at proseandkahn

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, at books4yourkids

Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron, at Tor

The Thickety: a Path Beings, by J.A. White, at Charlotte's Library

The Unicorn Thief, by R.R. Russell, at Sharon the Librarian

Zoe and Zak and the Tiger Temple, by Lars Guignard, at DJ's Book Corner (audiobook review)

Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paulo Bacigalupi, at Bookshelves of Doom 

Authors and Interviews

S.E. Grove (The Glass Sentence) at Shelf Talker

Jennifer Nielsen (The Ascendance Trilogy) at Guys Lit Wire

Jaleigh Johnson (The Mark of the Dragonfly) at The Hiding Spot

Jacqueline West (The Books of Elsewhere) at Literary Rambles and The Book Cellar

Jonathan Auxier (The Night Gardener) at Nerdy Book Club

Laurisa White Reyes (The Celestine Chronicles) at Carpinello's Writing  Pages

Other Good Stuff

A feast of spring MG sci fi/fantasy covers at The Enchanted Inkpot

Exciting Tolkien news--"lost" live speech to be released

I hope all of you who are going to Book Expo America have a lovely time!  I myself am staying home and looking forward to Armchair BEA!  It begins tomorrow, so it's not too late to join in the fun from the comfort of your own home!

For those who are house-hunting- the childhood home of Philipa Pearce, four miles outside Cambridge, is for sale; she used its garden as the setting for Tom's Midnight Garden.  (Given the current owners' taste in interior decoration, it's not at all clear to me why they bought this lovely old house in the first place!).


The One Safe Place, by Tania Unsworth

The One Safe Place, by Tania Unsworth  (Algonquin Young Readers, middle grade, April 29, 2014)

Climate change has brought North America to the brink of collapse.   But shielded from the merciless sun in a remote valley, Devin and his grandfather have managed to keep a peaceful life going.  Then Devin's grandfather dies.  When the work of their farm proves too much for him, Devin sets out to find what's left of civilization.  In a wreck of a city where feral children run wild (but the rich can still afford the water to keep their lawns green) Devin is taken under the wing of Kit, a girl who's a practiced thief.   But then comes the promise of a refuge for children--a place where they will be safe and cared for--and though Devin has his doubts, he allows himself to be persuaded to enter that mysterious sanctuary.

And indeed, the Gabriel H. Penn Home for Children offers all the food, all the divertissements, and all the other creature comforts a kid might want.  But Gabriel H. Penn did not have the well-being of children in mind when he established the Home.  He was thinking solely of himself....and the rich old clients who might join him in benefiting from the "happy childhood" the Home provides for its young residents.

Devin does not fall for it.  He can't help but be appalled by the zombie-like state the children periodically fall into, and senses there is a dark underside to the whole set-up (and boy is he is right!).   And so he sets about solving the mysteries of the Home, and planning an escape.... On the plus side, Devin has perernatural gifts of memory conferred on him by his profound synesthesia, and he has allies among the kids who have their own abilities.    One the down side, the trap they are in is a pretty tight one, and it will take a whole lot of luck for the ragtag group of kids to escape the "safe place" that is their prison.

"Plucky, quirky kids working together in a fantastical setting to defeat evil adults who are keeping them prisoners" is pretty much always a good plot, as far as I'm concerned, and this one was no exception.   It's fun to see the dark side of the Home slowly becoming clear, and to get to know its young residents as they start to work together to escape.   And I don't think I'm alone in this-- there is lots of kid appeal in this portrayal of  the superficial elements that comprise "happy childhood" being horribly twisted, and the children fighting back, especially when the kids are well-drawn enough to have distinct personalities!  Devin's synesthesia is a particularly engaging aspect of the story.  Fascinating in and of itself, and allowing Unsworth plenty of scope for appealing descriptive language, it is a lot more than just an add-on specialness.  It plays a Pointful role in the plot, which I appreciated lots.

I did feel, though, that the near-future climate horror was not quite as well done as may be-- though it certainly helps set up the paradise of the Home, giving good reasons for the kids to end up there, it felt like a bit of an unnecessary dystopian accessory to the sci-fi premise of what is really happening at the Home. I questioned the premise that there still have been enough left of civilization to support an uber-rich class (though the rich certainly good at surviving), and I wasn't able to accept the kids as believable products of  catastrophic climate change.  They were just a bit too much like kids of today (would Kit, for instance, uneducated street kid that she is, really be familiar with IQ tests?).   I think that young readers won't notice or care, but it kept me personally from truly embracing the story.

Short answer--a good, solid story for the eleven year old or so who enjoys creepy sci fi suspense in which brave, resourceful kids are pitted against evil adults.

And now the part of review writing I always enjoy--going to see what the professional reviews said.

Here's the starred Kirkus review-- "A standout in the genre’s crowded landscape. (Dystopian thriller. 10-16)

Me--what's with that upper age range?  The kids are 12ish, some younger...there's no romance...the violence is muted though disturbing...I'd say 12 or 13, tops.  Any older and you run into readers of YA dystopia who will find this too tame.

No star from Publishers Weekly, but a very positive review-- "a page-turning mix of suspense, intrigue, and anxiety. The kids are genuine and quirky, just the right kind of mismatched misfits to snag readers’ hearts. This is a wholly enjoyable journey, and a dystopian vision with some great new twists."  

Me--not sure my heart ever got snagged, exactly, but I agree with the main points here (though I think "dystopian" has become somewhat overused and cheapened these days).  The major twist is indeed not one I can remember seeing before (though I'm not quite sure about this......).

Another star from School Library Journal-- "The suspense and dread build as the mystery gradually unfolds, but it stops short of becoming truly horrific. The conclusion is fast-paced and gripping." 

Me--nothing to disagree with here (although the spectre of old age trying to siphon off the vitality of the young is perhaps something that will be found truly horrific by those concerned about the collapse of Social Security as the Baby Boomers age...).


Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, for Timeslip Tuesday

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague (HarperCollins, middle grade, April 29, 2014), opens with an innocent man being sentenced to death.  Margaret's father was a whistle-blower,  a geologist who publicly decried the fracking that was poisoning the water of Victory.   He was accused of murder and arson, and Judge Biggs, a company man through and through, had no qualms whatsoever condemning him.

Margaret and most everyone else in town knows that the mining company is corrupt and vicious and that Judge Biggs was complicit in the plot to frame her father.   But Judge Biggs wasn't always the hateful corporate toady he became--he was once a good-hearted boy, back in the Victory of 1938,  the year when the miners, driven to desperation by unsafe working conditions and pathetic wages tied to to the company story, took a stand against the company and went on strike, using non-violent protest to press for change.    It didn't work;  two innocent men died, and the life of young Lucas was warped horribly out of true.   But in present day Victory, there's one man, Joshua (the grandfather of Margaret's best friend, Charlie) who remembers Lucas Biggs back before things went wrong.  And Joshua still has faith that his old friend can still be saved.....

The story of Joshua's  life in 1938, alternating with Margaret's in the present, tells of all the suffering of the minors' families, and the heartbreak of how close things got to a peaceful resolution.  Listening to Joshua talk of his old friend, and how he changed,  it becomes clear to Margaret that the only way to save her father is to save Lucas Biggs.

And Margaret thinks she might be able to do this, for her family can time travel.  So she goes back to 1938, and pushes against the weight of  history, as she tries, with young Joshua's help, to keep the innocent from being killed.

Saving Lucas Biggs has memorable characters, an intriguing premise in which details keep getting added to the story back in the past making it kind of like a mystery, and there is tons of truly heart-touching emotion and shoulder-clenching suspense (shoulder-clenching because that's what happens when you read about it). 

The time travelling came some ways into the book, but it was satisfying time travelling--the authors did a fine job of sending her back in time with her mission front and center, and, along with Margaret herself, they refused to get distracted by things irrelevant to the matter at hand.

 In short, I can imagine lots of kids enjoying it lots as an exciting adventure story combining past and present danger.

On the more critical side, the actual manner in which the all is resolved did not strike me as convincing; it was pretty much deus ex machina, and its lack of emotional and narrative heft 

But what I really want to say is Yes! for a book that tackles corporate greed and corruption and puts it in historical context! Yes for a book that uses a kid friendly premise and story to show the atrocities committed by the ruthless companies!  (The atrocities are described--people, just sitting in the tent camp, are gunned down, and are killed and mutilated--but they are described in a factual, un-hysterical way that makes it possible to move through the horror without nightmares).  And Yes for a book that advocates for non-violent resistance inspired by Quakerism!

Maybe it's not, you know, subtle, and the ultimate ease of the ending did kind of disappoint me more than somewhat, but still, how can I not say yes to a book that combines such powerful points with an engaging story?

My response was quite possible colored by the fact that I read this morning (while finishing the book), this piece of news:

"North Carolina legislators are considering a bill that would make it a crime to publicly disclose toxic chemicals that energy companies use in the hydraulic fracturing process, with offenders on the hook for fines or even jail time."  It seems like even medical and emergency personal couldn't talk about the toxic chemicals used in fracking even if they were directly copying with their repercussions.

How can this be?

And continuing with the real world connections--here's a petition to ban fracking in the area of New Mexico's Chaco Culture National Historic Park.


The Thickety: A Path Begins, by J.A. White

The Thickety: A Path Begins, by J.A. White (Katherine Tegen Books, May 6, 2014, upper middle grade/younger YA), is a gripping fantasy full of fascinating magic, but it is a dark one, not for the faint of heart! 

Generations ago, Kara's people had been led by a charismatic leader to an island far from the rest of the world, to live free of the evil taint of magic.   But though the words of the leader were dutifully chanted, and all references to magic shunned, the island was far from being free of it.  For on the boundaries of the settled lands loomed the great, magical, horrible wood known as the Thickety, and only the work of the Clearers--hacking and burning at its fringes (and risking death every day from deadly incursions of its magical creatures and vegetation) keeps it at bay.   And though all on the island are taught that witchcraft is the worst evil, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Kara's own mother was killed for witchcraft when she was five.  For the next seven years, she and her little brother have struggled onward, with no help from her deeply depressed father, and shunned by all the other folk.   Kara, well-indoctrinated, won't admit her mother was a witch.  But she was.

And now the Thickety is calling to Kara....and she crosses its boundary line.   There in the strangeness of its shade she finds a magical book, one that lets her make magic of her own.  But magic comes with a price.  Kara must face supernatural and human enmity, and resist the lure of absolute power, or else join her own mother as a character in the stories of evil witches.  But when magic seems the only way to save her brother's life, and her own, can she keep from letting her wild talents run free?

With momentum that builds from a slowish start to an ever faster turning of page, Kara's journey into magic is fiercely gripping.   And I use "fierce" very much on purpose--this is not a "fun with magic in an enchanted woods" book.   The grim beginning, with shunned, neglected Kara struggling to keep her little brother alive, sets the tone, and Kara's discovery that magic is real is not a joyous release.  Rather, she quickly learns of the terror at the heart of the Thickety, and just as quickly learns that power can be horribly addictive (especially for one who has been powerless and ill-used).  

As the story unfolds, all manner of dark injury, torture, and death become part of it.   There is much to make a sensitive reader flinch, from your basic attack of a swarm of magically-controlled rats to flat-out torture.   The book begins with the terrible death of Kara's mother, which I think is useful for weeding out readers who will be bothered!  I wouldn't recommend this to the younger middle grade reader--as a parent myself, there are images I don't want my 11-year-old to have in his head just yet, though I might well offer it to him next year.   That being said, the grimness is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that Kara never succumbs to the selfish misuse of her power, and stays "good," which keeps things from being too terribly disturbing!

My one quibble with the book is that a lot of physically challenging things happen to Kara (no water for three days, torture, a badly injured leg, etc.), but none of these things seem to hold her back--for instance, at one point, after the three days without water, she and her friend are communicating with hand signals because their mouths are so dry, but then have a long conversation the next paragraph down; at another point her leg is badly hurt, but a few pages later she's perfectly mobile.I think if you make your characters suffer terribly, there should be realistic physical consequences! 

In any event, this is a really truly gripping story, which I read (to the extent my circumstances allow) in a single sitting at a very rapid pace.   If you like dark fantasy with young heroines facing formidable obstacles, you might very well like The Thickety very much indeed.  And boy, does it end with a twist that makes the reader want More Now!

Here's the (starred) Kirkus review; they suggest 11-14 as the readership age,which is just about right, especially if the younger readers have a taste for horror.  And here's the starred Publishers Weekly review (which pushes the age down to 8, making my eyebrows raise).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/18/14)

 I'm starting this week's round-up with two announcements of things near and dear to me.

First-- The Eight Annual Kidlitcon has been announced!  If there is any way you can make it, I urge you to come--it is so lovely to be surrounded by kindred spirits talking books and blogs.   I am going- I found a good deal on my outward bound ticket and bought it already, so I hope I find a good return ticket or else I'll have to start life anew in California....

Second--  The Ninth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge, hosted by MotherReader, has been announced, and this year the focus is on diversity.

Please let me know, as always, if I missed your post! (authors and publicists--you are welcome to let me know of reviews too!)

The Reviews:

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Nerdy Book Club

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, by Claire Legrand, at Log Cabin Library

Dealing With Dragons, and Searching for Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at  Reading is Fun Again (audiobook reviews)

Elsbeth and the Pirate's Treasure, by J. Bean Palmer, at Life's Simple Pleasures

The Fairy Doll & Other Tales from the Doll's House, by Rumer Godden, at Charlotte's Library

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler, at The Bibliomaniac

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at Waking Brain Cells

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, by Christopher Healy, at Charlotte's Library

The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones, at The Emerald City Book Review

Millhouse, by Natale Ghent, at In Bed With Books

Mouseheart, by Lisa Fiedler, at Hidden in Pages,  Kid Lit Frenzy (with giveaway), and Charlotte's Library (also giveaway)

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Nightingale's Nest, by Nikki Loftin, at Semicolon

Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, by D. Robert Pease, at Mother Daughter Book Reviews

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook) and Becky's Book Reviews

The Phoenix and the Carpet, by E. Nesbit, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at Semicolon

Rose and the Lost Princess, by Holly Webb, at Wands and Worlds 

The Runaway King, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Challenging the Bookworm

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Maria de los Santos and David Teague, at Inspiring Insomnia

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at I Heart Reading

Sky Raiders, by Brandon Mull, at Hidden In Pages

Taran Wanderer, by Lloyd Alexander, at Hope is the Word 

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

The Unicorn Thief, by R.R. Russell, at The Book Monsters  and Nayu's Reading Corner

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron, at Tor 

Two super hero books at Ms. Yingling Reads--  Bacon, Lee. The Dominion Key (Joshua Dread #3) and  Jensen, Marion. Almost Super

Author and Interviews

Django Wexler (The Forbidden Library) at Fanboynation

N.D. Wilson (The Boys of Blur) at Nerdy Book Club

Jerry A. White (The Thickety) at Odyssey Workshop

MarcyKate Connolly (Monstrous) at The Book Cellar

Other Good Stuff

Oh my gosh this looks so lovely and it is so timely viz diversity discussions and I want it for my children right now!!!! -- Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa)—"a beautifully illustrated puzzle-adventure game depicting a young Iñupiaq protagonist and her arctic fox companion" created by game designers working with Native storytellers and elders, by a tribally-owned company called Upper One Games. (Found via Once Upon a Blog). 

The Nebula Awards have been announced.  From Tor:

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Winner: Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo)
  • When We Wake, Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin; Little, Brown)
  • The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
  • Hero, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
  • September Girls, Bennett Madison (Harper Teen)
  • A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine)
Winged equines, at Views From the Tesseract and Middle Grade Steampunk, at Bookends

Not strictly middle grade, but just a reminder there's a Sci Fi/Fantasy round-up every week at On Starships and Dragon Wings

And also not strictly middle grade, but still of interest--onn Sunday, May 25th at 2pm,  fantasy authors Leah Cypess, Erin Cashman, AC Gaughen, and Adi Rule will be talking about the challenges of creating historical and fantastical settings and sharing their world-building tips at The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA. 

"Alice, Creator and Destroyer" (as in Alice In Wonderland), at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Rush Limbaugh won the Children's Book Choice Award for author of the year for Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims; here are some reactions rounded-up at 100 Scope Notes
and another look at it at Educating Alice, where Pilgrim alternatives are offered.

 And having gotten that out of the way, let's have  more pictures from Never Alone:


The Fairy Doll & Other Tales from the Doll's House, by Rumer Godden

Oh goodness, if you (or a young reader you know) are at all a fan of dolls, and dollhouses, and making tiny stuff, and like excellent stories that incorporate such things, RUN to get yourself (and the young reader) a copy of The Fairy Doll & Other Tales from the Doll's House, by Rumer Godden (out in paperback this month from Macmillan Children's Books).  This is an anthology of all of Godden's doll stories, and it contains the following stories (with original dates of publication)

The Doll's House (1947)
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower (1961)
Little Plum (1963)
The Fairy Doll (1956)
The Story of Holly & Ivy (1958)
Candy Floss (1957)
Impunity Jane (1955)

So basically what you get is 468 pages of the most beautiful doll goodness you can imagine.  And along with the dolls, you also get the stories of the children whose dolls they are.

Now, I myself had read The Doll's House back in the day, and it distressed me somewhat--one of the dolls is an evil, conniving piece of work and as a result I didn't seek out Godden's other doll books.  This was my loss, because I would have loved them, but on the other hand it meant that I had a lovely, blissful, utterly satisfying time reading all the rest of them pretty much straight through over the past two days!

I especially recommend Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, which I can safely say is the best doll house book I have ever read.  It is the story of a little girl, Nona, who's sent from India to live with London cousins, and who is absolutely miserable.   Then two little Japanese dolls arrive from an American great-aunt, and Nona, seeing in them a mirror of her own cultural dislocation, begins to plan how she can make them feel at home.  The whole family ends up being drawn in to making a Japanese dollhouse, complete with many, many beautiful accessories....and even Belinda, the youngest cousin who took a Skinner to both Nona and the dolls, ends up being won over.  It is very moving, and if you have a child who loves making small, detailed things, this is pretty much a perfect story.

And if you are at all like me, this book will make you want to start building a Japanese doll house of you own (with sliding partitions, and bonsai trees) and it was such a treat to find the story of Belinda, Nona, and the dolls continuing in Little Plum!

The Story of Holly & Ivy made me weep a bit on the bus ride home--it's a lovely Christmas story of a doll and an orphan girl finding each other, and a forever home.   And if you can find a doll with a red dress, like Holly's, I can't think of a better book and doll paring for Christmas than this one.

And I want to mention Impunity Jane in particular as well, for how often do you find the story of how a boy adopts an unwanted doll, and plays with her....while worrying about being found out by the other boys?  It ends happily, because Impunity Jane is such a lovely action figure that she fits just beautifully into games that don't involve traditionally "girlish" pursuits.  Read this one to the young boys in your life, so that they are encouraged to think outside gendered boxes, and so that, if they already have played with dolls and it has worried them, they can be comforted.  (And in Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, the boy cousin is the main builder of the doll house, allowing him to be part of the imaginative fun too!).

Of course, the cover, what with its pinkness and gold trim, is designed to appeal to girls; it would be hard to get your average boy to sit down and read them independently.  Sneaky reading out loud would have to be the way to go.....

In any event, I'm so glad I got a review copy of this one; I loved reading these lovely stories.   Except I didn't read The Doll's House again, because the evil doll was seared into my mind just plenty.

Interesting aside:  here is a description of sushi as enjoyed (!) by  a London family of the early 1960s, from Little Plum:

"She made sushi, which are slices of pressed rice with all kinds of surprises in the middle--meat, shrimps, or a slice of crystallized orange, or a dab of custard with seaweed on top."

Custard sushi....can this really have happened????  There is egg custard sushi, but what with the "dab" I don't think that's what this was....


Goodbye, Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart, author of my favorite romantic suspense novels, died on May 10th.  Here is her obituary, at The Guardian.   My mother gave me my first Mary Stewart romance, The Moon Spinners, when I was twelve, and I couldn't decide which I loved most about it--the beautiful descriptions of place, or the romantic frissons.   This combination, sometimes more successfully than others, makes her an author I still treasure (mostly in memory, because I read her books so often that my mind can just scroll through them at will).    I wonder if my mother ever noticed that I took all her Mary Stewart books away with me....she had them practically memorized too, so perhaps not.

I'm so glad her books got reissued recently, and she found new fans!

And I loved her children's book, The Little Broomstick, and her vision of the Dark Ages, put forward in her Merlin series that beings with The Crystal Cave, had a huge impact on me.

Here's the one thing I hold against Mary Stewart--she made me feel inadequate about my inability to wear crisp linen dresses while traveling (see Madam,Will You Talk).   (No matter how crisp a garment is when I put it on, almost immediately the rot sets in....)


The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, by Christopher Healy (a response as opposed to a measured, critical review)

There are retold fairy tales, there are fractured fairy tales, and then there are stories that might once have said hi to fairy tales in passing but then went on to have rich, vivid, lives of their own.   The Hero's Guide series, by Christopher Healy, is of the later sort--sure, the characters might have started in fairy tales, but they soon transcended the destinies written for them in the original stories. 

You don't want to read The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw (Walden Pond Press,April 29, 2014) until you've read the first to books (guides to Saving the Kingdom and Storming the Castle).  And you don't want to read much about the plot of this one here and now, because it's really best just to read the book. So I shall just describe it in general terms:

Silly.  Fun. Tremendously entertaining.   Pirates, but not so much as to make those who don't like pirates feel burdened.  Likable characters who you want to shake from time to time.  And interesting adventure that asks the reader not so much to suspend disbelief, but to leave it at exit 8 of New Jersey Turnpike (that's where we stop and spend the night on the way to Grandma's at Christmas, which is irrelevant).

Oh, I was doubtful, back when I started the first Hero's Guide.  What manner of farce is this, I asked myself.   My doubts faded in the bright light (or something) of Christopher Healy's rollicking (nod to pirates, who I think of as rollicking) prose, and reading the third book was just plain old relaxing fun, interspersed by bits of me rolling my eyes at some of the characters (in a friendly sort of way).

Though the "hero" bit implies a masculine focus, it's the female characters who actually have the sense, the skills, and the smarts to get things done.  So don't be afraid to give this to handy girls as well as the perhaps more obvious handy boys.

disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher


Kissing Shakespeare, by Pamela Mingle

If you enjoy romantic time travel, written for the YA reader, you may well enjoy Kissing Shakespeare, by Pamela Mingle (Delacorte, 2012) .   If, perhaps, you ask for a tad more than time travel back into a love triangle of sorts, such as political/religious tangles of plot, you will get that tad more.  But if you ask for a lot more...not so much.  

Miranda is a young actress, very much conflicted about the whole acting thing because she is the daughter of famous Shakespearian actors.  Stephan is a young Elizabethan gentleman, with the ability to travel through time,  who has arrived in the present, started watching tv to gain an appreciation of cultural norms, and  insinuated himself into the play that Mrianda's currently starring in (The Taming of the Shrew).   Stephan is pretty sure (based on the shows he's watched) that modern teens throw themselves into bed with each other with delighted abandon, and he's reasonably sure that Miranda won't mind travelling back into the past with him so that she can seduce Shakespeare. She does, rather a lot, especially because (with excellent reason) she is furious that Stephan considers her a wanton wench.

(Teenaged Shakespeare is in danger of become a Jesuit, which is convincingly possible as things are presented here.  Being seduced, Stephan assumes, will make him less likely to leave the world and it's pleasures behind....and the world won't lose his plays, which would, Stephan's visions inform him, be catastrophic).

So there's Miranda, back in the past acting the role of Stephan's sister, and rather conflicted about losing her virginity to Shakespeare (assuming the seduction works).  

And there are a bunch of secondary characters, very much concerned with religion (because many of them are staunch Catholics, which was not as safe as may be under Elizabeth I).

And there is Stephan, to whom Miranda is drawn with passionate intensity....and who is not, in his turn, undrawn to her....

And there's young Shakespeare...working on the first draft of Taming of the Shrew while contemplating religion....

And there are the hunters of Catholics, ready to burn them at the stake etc., closing in on the manor house where all this is happening....

And there are Stephan and Miranda, kissing...and Shakespeare and Miranda, kissing....and Miranda wanting Stephan to kiss her more... (while still Stephan wants Miranda to jump into bed with Shakespeare, which was icky).

Like I said, you have to enjoy romantic time travel to really like this one, and it wasn't quite enough for me, especially since the romance was tinged with ick.   On top of that, my reading experience was rather spoiled by a historical error--  in 1581 you can't pass off a befuddled girl as a servant recently come from the New World.    And so, perforce, I distrusted the historical accuracy of the book from that point on, and though, apart from a reference to leprosy being a thing of the past in England (which, Wikipedia informs me,  it wasn't until two centuries later) I didn't find any thing else that seemed wrong, I never shook off my suspicions.  I was not soothed by Miranda either--although apparently she did a just marvelous job passing herself off as an Elizabethan, I wasn't convinced.

I was glad when the religious element of the plot (Catholics vs Protestants) pushed itself to the forefront of the story about halfway through -- it made a rather slow-moving story more interesting.  And there was the added thought-provoking thread of the role of women in Elizabethan England.  On the down side,  Shakespeare himself barely added any interest--I can't remember him saying anything at all Shakespearean, which was a disappointment.

In any event, read this if you want a bit of historically tangled romance, but not if you want a really satisfying time travel story.

However, you don't have to take my word for it:

School Library Journal, August 2012:
"This novel is definitely a cut above the typical teen romance. A delightful story about star-crossed, time-traveling lovers."

Booklist, September 15, 2012:
"Mingle remains true to the history and events of the era, thus revealing the challenge of living in a time of religious persecution and suppression of women."


Mouseheart, by Lisa Fiedler (with giveaway of great summer reads-- Mouseheart, The Search for WondLa, and Belly Up!)

Mouseheart, by Lisa Fiedler, generously illustrated by Vivienne To (Simon and Schuster, middle grade, in stores May 20, 2014) is the fast-paced story of a mouse of destiny set in the subterranean depths of New York city. I'm happy to be able to offer a giveaway along with my own thoughts--scroll down for details.

When I am about to read a book in which a mouse is the hero, I ask myself my "mouse questions" (which I am actually formulating right now for the first time--they have previously been an amorphous swirl, because that's how I think). If the hero of a book were to be a fish, "fish" could be substituted for "mouse," etc.

1. If all the mice and other animal characters were people, would the plot be appreciably different?  Would my emotional response be any different? 

2. And following from that, is there any "mousiness" to the main character?   If I were never told he or she was a mouse, would I suspect that there was something not-human going on?  Does the fact that the rodents wear clothes and fight with swords distract me?

Maybe these questions wouldn't actually work for fish, because, you know, water.  But the basic point of them is that if I am to read a book in which a mouse is a hero, I want there to be some point to the mousiness.  And so, as I read Mouseheart, I pondered these questions.

Here is the gist of the story:

Down below New York city is Atlantia, small, gated utopia of rats.   It is guarded by cats, whose queen has signed a treaty with the emperor of the rats.  Up above is a pet store, from which three young mouse siblings escape.  One of these, Hopper, our hero, falls into the New York subway system, where he is taken under the paw of a young, swashbuckling rat who turns out to be the utopia's prince.

Hopper wants to find both his siblings and a safe home, but he finds himself drawn deep into the world of those who want to bring down Atalantia.   He does not want to be drawn into revolution and rebellion--he wants to believe in the utopia.    Nor is Hopper enthusiastic when the rebel mice hail him as a chosen mouse of destiny, savior of the rebellion (that bit about him believing in the utopia makes being a hero of the  rebel cause tricky).  But destiny can be hard to avoid...especially once you realize that the utopia comes with a terrible, terrible price (that whole bit about the treaty between the cats and the rats?  It has a Dark Underside of a not unexpected, biologically-sound, sort).

So the fact that the main characters are rodents is absolutely essential for the plot to work, and to have powerful emotional heft when the Dark Underside is revealed.   And allowing the rodents and cats to be rather advanced, viz trappings of civilizations, lifted the above animal adventure into the territory of fantasy epic, that I thinks adds to its kid appeal.   Perhaps more could have been made of the physical qualities that distinguish rodents from people (like keen sense of smell, and the use of whiskers), but I felt I was at least getting a mouse-perspective on the New York subway system, which made up for that.   Though there was a sense that the characters were simply small people, it was not so much an issue that it broke my suspension of disbelief.

Mouseheart is one I'd recommend to readers seeking an animal-based entrée into the world of false utopias--it has engaging main characters, dark undercurrents, and a vivid setting.  That being said, I do have a rather strong reservation about making a blanket recommendation.   In the very first scene, the actions of a mouse and a rat end up causing a hostile cat's eye to be graphically impaled on a spike.  I think many readers, especially those who love cats, will put the book down right there.  I myself was worried that there would be more graphic violence, but this was the worst, and was much more horrible than the confrontations to come (also involving the dark side to rodent/cat relationships, but less specifically so).

I have another minor reservation, that's more something that didn't work for me personally--Hopper's sister ends up messing up their escape from the pet shop because she can't control the desire to bite its owner.  But she blames Hopper, and he just takes it.   This made her totally unsympathetic, and Hopper seem a bit wet.

In any event, Mouseheart has gotten excellent reviews from Publishers Weekly--  "For those who love an underdog and some romping good battles, Fiedler thoroughly entertains" and from Kirkus--"Riddled with surprises, the fast-paced, complex plot features a host of vivid, memorable rodent and feline characters.... Another stalwart mouse with a brave heart will win fans in this captivating underground adventure."  I agree that many young readers will enjoy this lots (just so long as they aren't too terribly fond of cats.....).

Lisa Fiedler is the author of several novels for children and young adults. She divides her time between Connecticut and the Rhode Island seashore, where she lives happily with her very patient husband, her brilliant and beloved daughter, and their two incredibly spoiled golden retrievers.
Vivienne To has illustrated several books, including The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins and the Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series by Octavia Spencer. As a child, she had two pet mice escape. She currently lives in Sydney, Australia, with her partner and her ginger cat. Visit her at VivienneTo.com.

Courtesy of the publisher, I'm happy to offer this great giveaway of Mouseheart plus The Search for WondLa and Belly Up!  Just leave a comment (perhaps sharing your own favorite mouse fantasy) between now and 8:30 am Monday morning and you'll be entered!


This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (5/11/14)

Welcome to this week's round-up, and Happy Mother's Day to all those who celebrate it.   I am celebrating it by cleaning up after my children, in particular cleaning up after my 11 year old's birthday party, which is the reason I'm late getting this post up.

But I would like to take this opportunity to thank my own mother (not that she reads my blog) for reading me The Silmarilian.   Lots of parents read The Hobbit to their kids, many read The Lord of the Rings, but only really special mothers (with special children) read every word of The Silmarilian (which is something I haven't done, but in fairness, it was easier/more interesting for my mother to do it because it was her first time reading it too).

In any event.

The Reviews:

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett, at Fantasy Literature

Ancient Fire, by Mark London Williams, at Charlotte's Library

The Bravest Princess, by E.D. Baker, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at Log Cabin Library

The Door, by Andy Marino, at On Starships and Dragon Wings

Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George, at On Starships and Dragon Wings

The Dyerville Tales, by M.P. Kozlowsky, at Page In Training
and The Book Monsters

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler, at Bestfantasybooks

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage, at Semicolon

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, by Suzanne Collins, at Fyrefly's Book Blog

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, by Christopher Healey, at The Book Monsters and Sharon the Librarian

The Invisible Order, by Paul Crilley, at The Book Brownie

The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones, at Librarian of Snark 

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge, at Tor

The Mark of the Dragonfly, by Jaleigh Johnson, at Nerdy Book Club

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Waking Brain Cells, The Book Monsters, and Karissa's Reading Review

Nightingale's Nest, by Nikki Loftin, at Geo Librarian

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, at Librarian of Snark

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at Kid Lit Geek

The Shadow Throne, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Reads For Keeps

Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run, by Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger, at Madigan Reads

The Thickety, by J.A. White, at The Social Potato

Three Pickled Herrings (Wings and Co.), by Sally Gardner, at Wondrous Reads

The Unicorn Thief, by R.R. Russell, at Word Spelunking

Two Rumplestiltskin retelligs at thebookshelfgargoyle

Authors and Interviews

M.P.  Kozlowsky (The Dyerville Tales) at The Book Monsters and The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia (giveaways)

Nikki Loftin (Nightingale's Nest) at The Book Cellar

R.R. Russell (The Unicorn Thief) at Wondrous Reads 

Daniel Nanavati (Midrak Earthshaker) Carpinello's Writing Pages

Other Good Stuff

The finalists for the Locus Awards (chosen by readers of Locus Magazine) have been announced, and here are the Young Adult finalists, which include two that are more Middle Grade:
Zombie Baseball Beatdown, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown) 
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo) 
Homeland, Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; Titan) 
The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine) 
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, Catherynne M. Valente (Feiwel and Friends)
Zombie Baseball Beatdown, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown) The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo) Homeland, Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; Titan) The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine) The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, Catherynne M. Valente (Feiwel and Friends) - See more at: http://www.locusmag.com/News/2014/05/2014-locus-awards-finalists/#sthash.JBwPc1uv.dpuf
- See more at: http://www.locusmag.com/News/2014/05/2014-locus-awards-finalists/#sthash.JBwPc1uv.dpuf
- See more at: http://www.locusmag.com/News/2014/05/2014-locus-awards-finalists/#sthash.JBwPc1uv.dpuf
- See more at: http://www.locusmag.com/News/2014/05/2014-locus-awards-finalists/#sthash.JBwPc1uv.dpuf

Save the date!  June 6-8 is the 9th Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge, organized by MotherReader.  To continue the momentum of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, this year's challenge is "dedicated to reading, sharing and reviewing books that show diversity in all ways."

And speaking of links, here's a lovely roundup of book diversity links at Jen Robinson's Book Page 

Thoughts on boys and fairy tale movies and gendered merchandise at Once Upon a Blog (my response is to advocate keeping children away from merchandising altogether, raising them in a world as far away as possible from the pressures of late stage capitalism... although I did just buy a Lego Movie tie in lego set.....).

The latest issue of Middle Shelf Magazine is out, with lots of good spec. fic. content.

Thanks for stopping by, and please let me know if I missed your post!

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