This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/30/14)

Here's this week's round-up; let me know if I missed your post!  And feel free to send me links at any time.  Thanks.

The Reviews

Ambassador, by William Alexander, at alibrarymama

Beauty, by Robin McKinley, at Tales of the Marvellous

Black Suits from Outer Space,  by Gene DeWeese, at Views from the Tesseract

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint, at Books and Other Thoughts

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, by Ian Fleming, at A Reader of Fictions

The Egyptian Curse (Time Hunter Book 6), by Chris Blake, at Time Travel Times Two

Eight Days of Luke, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Here There Be Books

The Enchanted Castle, by E. Nesbit, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Forbidden Flats, by Peggy Eddleman, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at Great Kid Books

The Frog Princess, by E.D. Baker, at Leaf's Reviews

Gabriel's Clock, by Hilton Pashley, at Charlotte's Library

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Children's Book-a-Day Almanac

Handbook for Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell, at Leaf's Reviews

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan, at Twinja Book Reviews

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at alibrarymama

The Magic City, by E. Nesbit, at Becky's Book Reviews

Niles Wormwort, Accidental Supervillain, by D.M. Cunningham, at Mom Read It

Pennyroyal Academy, by M.A. Larson, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, at The Bookworm Blog

The Secret of Midway, by Steve Watkins, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Views From the Tesseract

Spellbound, by Jacqueline West, at Librarian of Snark

Authors and Interviews

Anne Ursu is the featured U author at Teen Librarian Toolbox's A-Z feature

Kristin Tubb (The 13th Sign, an upper MG/younger YA that just won a Crystal Kite Award) at  SCBWI: The Blog

Other Good  Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of Cats in Space, at Views from the Tesseract

And also at Views from the Tesseract, a look at the lovely MG Spec Fic coming from Simon & Schuster this spring,

Top 10 things you didn't know about Peter Pan, at The Guardian

A quick shout-out for another nice round-up-- at On Starships and Dragonwings, every weekend (starting Friday) there's a gathering of sci fi/fantasy reviews to which anyone can contribute their posts

and finally, the fourth wish list of books for Ferguson is up--more details here.


Thankfully Giving Books--ways to get them to kids who need them, and the books I'm giving for Christmas to my own family, even though they have lots already

So here were are at Thanksgiving.  Although I'm not thankful for the Pilgrims  (if Europeans had to invade New England, I wish Thomas Morton's Merrymount was the colony we were remembering instead of that of the grave-robbing Puritans) there's lots I'm thankful for.

For instance, I am surrounded by books.  And I'm also thankful that I have the ability to give books, both to kids who need them, and to my own family.

It's an immensely gratifying thing to get books to kids in need, and so I thought I'd share some pretty easy ways to do it. 

--If your library has a booksale, ask the Friends if you can box up the good quality kids books left over and take them to your local Headstart, or check to see if your local food pantry can offer them along with the canned goods.   Homeless shelters, children's hospitals, or organizations helping women in need are other thoughts.  (As President, and pretty much only active member, of my own library Friends group, I would love a volunteer who would get bookmarks printed with basic library info. to put in each book donated to the food pantry and Headstart....your Friends group might appreciate this too).

--If you don't actually want to talk to anyone, you can check to see if there's a near-by Little Free Library in a community that might need books.  This is the case in Providence, RI, for instance, and it is easy peasy just to swing by with a load of kids books and leave them there.

--Right now, the thoughts of many of us are with the kids of Ferguson, and supporting the library that serves these kids is something that we can do.  Here's the library's donation page.   Or if you'd rather send a book, the library is on its third wishlist (yay!) here at Powells.  (Angie, who got the library wish-list going, has more information on how it works here at her blog).

--and of course there's always the lovely Reading is Fundamental, which has strong ties to the world of children's book blogging.

Please feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments!

And just because I like sharing my own gift-giving happiness, here's what I have so far (more will probably be added) for various family members for Christmas:

For my 11 year old son (these were all easy, because they are continuations of stories I know he likes):

The Ring of Earth (Young Samari #4), by Chris Bradford

Goblin Quest, by Philip Reeve (the first book of this series, Goblins, is available in the US and is a very fun read)

Mutts: What Now? by Patrick McDonnell

For my 14 year old son (he loves graphic novels and history which also makes things easy)

Sandman Vol. 1--Preludes and Nocturns, by Neil Gaiman

Propaganda Cartoons of World War II, edited by Tony Husband

The Hidden Doors, by Kazu Kibuishi     

For my niece, who is 13 and who lives in Holland and so won't have read them already:

Smile, and Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier

For my big sister (tricky, because she likes books, but doesn't know in advance what books exist that she might like.  Have had previous success with Brief History of Montmarry and Code Name Verity, which gives some idea of her taste....)

The Demon Catchers of Milan, by Kat Beyer (not sure about this one, because she doesn't generally read about demons, but the Italian setting might well appeal)

Maisie Dobbs, and Birds of a Feather, in one volume, by Jacqueline Winspear (got very cheaply at library booksale, so no great loss if she doesn't like them)

and  The Paris Winter, by Imogen Robertson....

For my little sister, who shares my fondness for school stories and English children's books:

Billie Bradley at Three Towers Hall, by Janet Wheeler (a 1920 American school story that I hope is decent)

(this next one is a book you don't know about, Emily, so don't peek)
Impossible, by Michelle Magorian  because Michelle Magorian, and also my sister is a big fan of Arthur Ransom and so after reading this how could I not.

For my husband (because nothing says Merry Christmas like depressing Irish fiction):

Hello and Goodbye, by Patrick McCabe

And finally, a tentative thought for my mother (because she is a mystery fan and is going birdwatching in Japan this January...I have already lent her my own favorite book set in Japan, Hannah's Winter, which she read and enjoyed; she gets to go the very town in which that book is set!  If you have any recommendations for a sort of comfort read type book set in Japan, as opposed to mystical/situational fraughtfulness and unhappy people books, do let me know!)

Rashamon Gate, by I.J. Parker

(I buy UK books via The Book Depository (free shipping, but the time to do it is now, because it can take a while for the books to make it over the ocean), and if you shop there using the link I have in my right hand sidebar I'll get a small commission.....)


Gabriel's Clock, by Hilton Pashley

Gabriel's Clock, by Hilton Pashley, is a middle grade fantasy published in the UK back in 2013; all the reviews on Amazon UK are five stars, and when it was published here in the states this October, it got good reviews as well.  And indeed, there were many parts that were lovely and magical, and I can imagine many young reader being entranced.  But two things are keeping me from a wholehearted recommendation--a nasty bit of torture, and the absence of God (not something that usual bothers me in middle grade fantasy (because if it did, I wouldn't have much middle grade fantasy to read), but in this particular case I was troubled).

Jonathan is not an ordinary boy--he is half angel, half demon.  His grandfather is the Archangel Gabriel, who fell from heaven years ago (for reasons), imbuing one small English village with his heavenly magic and making it a sanctuary for those of goodwill in need of refuge.  And Jonathan is badly in need of refugee--as the only half angel/half demon in existence, he will have incredible power...and the demon Belial is determined to find him and seize that power for himself.  Jonathan's parents kept him safe and hidden for years, but as the story starts, agents of darkness destroy his home, and capture his father.

So his mother sends him, still ignorant of  his true nature, to the village of his grandfather Gabriel.

All the residents of Hobbes End know Gabriel is an angel and that he has made their village a magical place.  Along with Jonathan, it's a delight to meet the people and beings that inhabit it--the gargoyles, the talking cat, the young daughter of a werewolf, Cay, who becomes Jonathan's friend.   This part of the story I loved unreservedly (great gargoyles always delight me, as do smart-aleck cats).

But the agents of Belial have found a way to by-pass the safeguards of the village....and they come with their horrible violence to seize Jonathan, causing his powers to abruptly awaken.   And though the villagers (gargoyles and all) fight fiercely, Gabriel is kidnapped, and tortured, and Cay too is held hostage.  Belial demands that Jonathan surrender himself, and bring with him the back-door key to heaven that his grandfather made-the clock of the title.  Or else.

And there is exciting action and action-filled excitement, and it is very easy to see the fantasy-loving young reader enjoying things very much.

But with all this war in heaven, and the archangels being real characters, and Lucifer being real, I just couldn't help wonder -- where was God?  It just didn't make sense to me, not because I am a stickler for doctrine, but because the internal logic of it felt off; if you are going to have the Archangels, surely God has to be there somewhere....If there'd been just a smidge of an explanation about divine non-interference or some such, it would have felt more satisfactory. 

I also do not like graphic torture.  Gabriel's wings are ripped from him, and his eyes are gouged out and sent to the vicar with whom Jonathan is living.  And though this happens off-stage, we see the bloody bandage and the fallen feathers, and when the box arrives, though the reader is not told what it holds, it's clear.   Rather strong stuff, and though there's not much of it, it would make me hesitate to offer this one to a sensitive younger reader.

But the village of Hobbes End is lovely, and I adored its inhabitants (there's a rather English quirkiness to the whole ensemble I appreciated), Jonathan is a character to cheer for, and the story is brisk and engrossing.    So I guess my short answer is recommended, with personal reservations.

Note:  that is a dragon on the cover, and it is a very cool dragon who ends up playing cricket with the villagers, but she doesn't get quite enough page time (coming in at the end as she does) to make this a dragon fantasy.

Note 2:  I appreciate that little or no meddling seems to have occurred with the Englishness of the original; it's nice to read an English book that really does feel English!  And moving further down that line of thought--at one point the talking cat is only just stopped in time while reciting a rude limerick about "a young man from Venus, who had an unusual...."  I don't think you'd be able to get away with this in a book first published in the States, prudes that we are...

Disclaimer: review copy sent by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for Cybils Award consideration.


The Other Face, by Barbara C. Freeman, for Timeslip Tuesday

I think I am pretty well read as far as 20th century UK time travel books go, but oh, how nice it is to be proven wrong and to find a new author!

A little while ago, I got the following time slip book id question:
"It's set in England, must have been published before mid-1970s because that's when I read it (I was 11 or 12 at the time so I suspect it was for upper-primary school level).

The girl-protagonist was in the present; in an antique shop she found an old china-cottage pastille-burner (if you know what those are), but it only had a few pastilles left. She took it home and burned a pastille, which transported her into the past (from memory, 19th-C England). Because there was a limit to the number of pastilles left, she knew her visits to that time would have to come to an end (which was very poignant!)."

And I had absolutely no idea.  Happily I am a member of an online community called Girls Own, made up of passionate readers of girls books from the 20th century, and happily a list member recognized the book as The Other Face, by Barbara C. Freeman (1976).   And also happily I live in a state that does not believe in aggressive library weeding, and lo, there was The Other Face still in the system, and it was good.

When Betony was a child, her parents died and she was taken in by her two elderly aunts.  Now that she's seventeen, she's had to leave school to be their caregiver...and slowly she is being ground down by their domestic tyranny.   But a visit to her grandfather, the first since she's lived with her aunts, offers a respite....and he makes her welcome, as do her young cousins.

And in the cupboard of her grandfather's art and miscellany shop she finds an old china cottage (the pastille-burner above--not something those of us in the modern US know anything about!  It seems to be a type of incense whose smoke comes out the china chimneys...).  And the smoke takes her back to the 19th century, where her ancestors need her.

Betony lets herself be needed (it's what she's used to)...and takes on the job of a 19th-century serving girl (years of slaving for her great-aunts means this isn't too much of a leap of face).   And there she meets the young botanist who will be her ancestor, who has fallen in love with an unsuitable girl....one who bears a striking resemblance to Betony.

And things come out right in the end.

The business of time travel has no explanation, and only minimal anxiety for Betony.  Partly this is because her roots in her own time are so stunted by lack of affection, partly because the time travel is an episodic thing, with two short visits in which she successfully returns to her own time before she burns the third, last, pastille and commits herself to a longer stay.  In any event, the reader has to just accept it, and move on....

Books really were shorter back then--this one has only 155 pages--but still it manages to fit in a lot of character, place, and story.   And it is a fine example of  a particular type of 20th century UK book for young readers that is so very recognizable (such as  many books by William Mayne or Ruth M. Arthur).   The reader isn't told what people are thinking and feeling in much detail, but must absorb things through the dialogue and the descriptions.  I think that being a "reader as spectator" in this way can actually be more immediate and moving than being barraged with emotaional information from the main character, because there are never any jarring moments when you are asked to feel thing and think things along with that character that you just don't.   Perhaps (reaching for metaphor, as is my wont) it is like entering a painting vs. going to the movies.....the result in the former being a reading experience that is simultaneously removed and distant from the main characters, while being utterly absorbing (if you are me).

So basically, it's one that those who love mid-20th century UK girls books would love.  Which would be me, and I am very happy to find that Barbara Freeman has written lots of other books, even though only one other is still in the Rhode Island library system.

There are also some nice pen and ink drawings of plants, a smidge of botany, and the prospect of a garden brought back to life right at the end.   I like these things!

note on age:  this was put in the YA section here in RI back in the 70s, I guess because Betony is 17,  and there is a romance in the past (and some hope for one for Betony in the present).  But there is no swearing or sex or violence that would make it unsuitable for the middle grade reader of today, or yesterday.....


This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (11/23/14)

Welcome to another collection of links to blog posts of interest to us fans of middle grade science fiction and fantasy!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Bad Magic, by Pseudonymous Bosch, at The Bookworm Blog

The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, at Fantasy Faction

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at alibrarymama

The Dragon of Trelian, by Michelle Knudsen, at Leaf's Reviews

Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Clarise Mericle Harper, at Charlotte's Library

Dreamwood, by Heather Mackey, at Cover2CoverBlog (audiobook review)

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, by at Becky's Book Reviews

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Fantasy Book Critic and Hope is the Word

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at Diva Booknerd

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, at Worthwhile Books

The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Fantasy Literature and Jen Robinson's Book Page

Jinx's Magic, by Sage Blackwood, at Semicolon and Sonderbooks

The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly, by Ted Sanders, at from my bookshelf

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at WTF Are You Reading?

The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis, at Waking Brain Cells

Masterpiece, by Elise Broach, at Read Till Dawn

My Zombie Hamster, by Havelock McCreely, at Semicolon

Nuts to You, by Lynn Rae Perkins, at Semicolon

Rise of the Wolf, by Curtis Jobling, at Hidden in Pages

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, at alibrarymama

The Secret of the Key, by Marianne Malone,  at Always in the Middle

Shouldn't You Be In School? (All the Wrong Questions, Book 3), by Lemony Snickett, at Semicolon

Storybound, by Marissa Burt, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook review)

The Swallow, by Charis Cotter, at Once Upon a Bookshelf and Hidden in Pages

Tesla's Attic, by Neil Shusterman and Eric Elfman, at Librarian of Snark

The Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, by Bianca Turetsky, at Time Travel Times Two

Vampire Attack (Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird) by Eleanor Hawkin, at Wondrous Reads

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, by Caroline Carlson, at Ex Libris

Winterfrost, by Michelle Houts, at Charlotte's Library

WhipEye, by Geoffrey Saign, at Mother Daughter Book Reviews

The Wide-Awake Princess, by E.D. Baker, at Leaf's Reviews

The Witch's Boy, by Kelly Barnhill, at Heavy Medal

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, by Patrik Henry Bass, at Charlotte's Library

Zombies of the Carribean, by John Kloepfer, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Authors and Interviews

Jake Kerr (Tommy Black and the Staff of Light) at Word Spelunking

Kathleen Andrews Davis (Emerson's Attic) at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Other Good Stuff

A lovely collection of quotations from (mostly middle grade fantasy) books at Semicolon

A Tuesday 10 of "Food Fantastic" at Views from the Tesseract

YA, but of interest nonetheless--dragons of the past few years at Stacked

Neil Gaiman talks about "Why Disney's Sleeping Beauty Doesn't Work" at The Telegraph


The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, by Patrik Henry Bass

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, by Patrik Henry Bass (Scholastic Inc., August 2014, not quite middle grade) -- an exciting story of fourth-graders vs ice zombies!

Bakari Katari Johnson never wanted to be on the election slate for the position of Hall Monitor.  Poised, popular Tariq had always done a fine job, and to go up against Tariq meant encuring the wrath of his most fervernt supporter, tough-as-nails (but sweet as all get out to grownups) Keisha.   But to his horror, Bakari finds this his best friend Wardell has added his name to the list.

That is just the start to a very bad day indeed, one that involves the frozen seven-foot high lord of a land of ice zombies...who just happens to think that Bakari has his lost ring.   Turns out Keisha has it.  And so an unlikely alliance of the four kids is formed in order to take down the ice zombies popping into their school with evil intent.

But disposing of the zombies traps the kids in the ice realm, and the outlook gets rather chilly indeed....

This is one for the older elementary aged kid, the seven to nine year old/third or fourth grader, and it's short (131 pages of generous font with illustrations).  So there's not really room to fully explore the backstory of the ice realm zombies and their overlord, and if there was an explanation of why the ring ended up in this particular school, I missed it.   Those looking for full blown fantasy will therefore be disappointed.

But the four kids avoid being simple stock sterotypes, and the action is fast (zip!  a trip to the ice land!  Zap--more ice zombies after you in the halls!  Cool ice-ring lassoing job, Keisha! etc.). If you have kids who aren't interested in  the heft of full blown fantasy, who are simply looking for a fun book in which real life kids have real life problems alongside the excitement of ice zombie attacks in the cafeteria problems, this might very well be a good one.   The illustrations add friendliness for the uncertain reader.

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone is, as far as I know, unique in that the entire cast is African American--four pretty cool looking kids, as shown on the cover, and not one of them white.   So a good one for those actively seeking out multicultural kids' fantasy.

It is also a nice example of how to gracefully get out of running for an office you never wanted in the first place without loosing face (Bakari does a great job of this at the end of the book), which is truly a useful life lesson..........


Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Clarise Mericle Harper, for Timeslip Tuesday

Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Clarise Mericle Harper (Balzer + Bray, April 2014, middle grade) is a lovely home-based timeslip fantasy to offer the introspective young girl (which is to say, if you don't know me already, it was a lovely book for me!). By "home-based" I mean a story in which the time travelling doesn't lead to grand adventures in exciting elsewheres.   This is one that sticks close to home, and so it isn't one for those who want excitement--more for those who are fans of realistic fiction about ordinary girls, but with a magical twist.

Ashley is miserable.  Her best friend has gone off to camp, and her mother has invited the child of a friend to spend the month with them--a seven year old girl named Claire, who's lost her own mom, and who Ashley is expected to babysit.   But two things happen that make the month the opposite of terrible. 

The first is that Ashley finds herself warming to determined, spunky Claire, whose drive and energy forces Ashley to do things she'd never have done on her own, like hanging out at the local senior center, doing crafts, hunting for thrift store treasures, and talking to people she doesn't already know.  The last is especially hard for Ashley, because she has face-blindness--she cannot recognize people when she sees them out of context, and without her best friend at hand to tell her if she knows people, she's tremendously reluctant to reach out to strangers.  But thanks to Claire, she makes new friends, one of whom a boy she would never have talked to otherwise...

The second thing that happens to Ashley is the discovery of a jar of wishes down in the basement--wishes written on scraps of paper by a girl named Shue years ago.  When Ashley uncrumples each wish paper, she sees Shue living the experience that inspired it....and so, making a chronology of the wishes, she sees the story of all the ups and downs of Shue's friendship with another Ashley (Shue is a year younger than Ashley, and so parts of her story, when Ashley is off with older girls, are rather poignant....)

I've never read a book whose main character has face blindness, aka prosopagnosia.  Ashley's experiences dealing with it seemed convincing, and the effects of it on  her life, and her self-esteem, are made clear without being over-dramatized.  This make it a good one to offer the young reader who's interested in physical/neurological differences and how they affect life experiences.  (It also helps keep one of the sub-plots plausible!)

Both the Claire story and the timeslip story are interesting in their own right for those who like character-driven story full of small happenings and several nice surprises (one of which involves Ashley's favorite author, so especially pleasing for us bibliophiles!).  The whole ensemble comes together very nicely indeed to make the story of this month in Ashley's live a lovely, warm reading experience that I enjoyed lots.


Winterfrost, by Michelle Houts

Anyone looking for a lovely wintery story with bit of Christmas to share with an eight or nine year old should consider Winterfrost, by Michellle Houts. (Candlewick, Sept. 2014).

It should have been an ordinary Christmas at the Danish farm that's home to Bettina and her baby sister Pia.  But this is the first Christmas without their grandfather...and then to make things worse, her parents both have to leave home.  12 year old Bettina is sure she can manage to look after Pia and the animals just fine...but in the rush and confusion, no-one things of the family Nisse, the helpful little magical being who looks after the barn.

Disgruntled that he didn't get his own Christmas treat, the Nisse takes baby Pia off into the winter frosted woods.  Bettina must somehow get her back before her parents come home, so she sets of herself, and finds that the tales of the Nisse are just as true as her grandfather believed them to be.   The Nisse of the woods are friendly and helpful (and Bettina even gets to shrink so that she can join them in their cozy home), but baby Pia isn't with them.   Another Nisse, one with a grudge, has taken Pia further north, and Bettina must bring the divided Nisse family together to reunite her own, flying off on the back of a goose into the magical winter....

Though the anxiety about baby Pia is great, happily for the more sensitive reader the actual danger isn't.   Though Bettina's parents aren't there to help, the Nisse family comes through with support, comfort, and a bit of magic.  The young barn Nisse who was responsible, and who's (rightly) sorry for what he did, proves to be a fine friend and ally, and all is well.

There's a lovely sense of wintery place here, and the descriptions of the secret world of the Nisse are especially delightful (young animal lovers will especially appreciate the Nisses' care for small forest creatures!).*  Thanks to her time with them, Bettina learns to see more clearly the small enchantments of nature, a gift that will stay with her forever.   It might not be believable to grown-ups that a 12 year old could be left in charge of a farm and baby, but Bettina proves her mettle and young readers won't have any problem relating her as they follow on her adventures.

*if you think your young reader would especially enjoy this part of the book--the visiting the Nisse home, and seeing how they live on a small, small scale, the tending of animals, and the whole idea that the woods are full of tiny people--be sure to have a copy of Gnomes, by Wil Huygen, on hand to offer them next.  The gnomes in that book are very Nisse-like!  I loved that book back when I was a child, spending hours pouring over all its many details, and it makes a lovely pairing with this one.

Here's what I am--jealous that we never get winterfrost, which happens when fog freezes, here in New England (at least I haven't seen fog cover everything with frost crystals).  "Wintery Mix" and ice storms just aren't the same.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.


The Halcyon Bird, by Kat Beyer, with Guest Post and Giveaway!

The Halcyon Bird, by Kat Beyer (Egmont, November 2014, YA), is the sequel to The Demon Catchers of Milan (2012), a book I enjoyed lots.  The first book tells how Mia, an American girl, comes to Milan, where her family have been demon vanquishers for centuries, to be sheltered from the demon who has already possessed her, and to be trained in the ways of demon hunting herself so that she can eventually (if all goes well) vanquish him once and for all.   In my review of the first book, I said that it offers "a most enjoyable sense of place and people and family history with enough of the supernatural to keep things very interesting indeed" and having read it in a single sitting, I closed it and began waiting for the sequel.

So I was very pleased indeed to be offered the chance to participate in the blog tour for The Halcyon Bird (not least because it meant I would get a copy of the book!).

And happily I enjoyed this one too.  I was tickled to see Mia falling in love (romance is a pretty big part of this book), happy to see how all the extended family are doing (and as is the case with the first one, envying them their delicious Italian food and wine),, and happy to spend time going through archival materials looking for clues from the past.  Things are somewhat slow to get going on the demonic front (making this not one for those who like their supernatural danger non-stop/ever present), but good for those of us who like descriptions of places and people and slow burning mysteries.   Which isn't to say there aren't mysteries and dangers and threats and supernatural adventures--they just aren't right there in the readers face until just toward the end of the book when BOOM!

As a direct result of the BOOM!, I am now waiting for the next book even more earnestly than I was waiting for this one....

So (just on a personal note) these books are the sort that would make good presents to offer (naming no names) one's older sister who likes Italy and is an ex-pat American and who doesn't really know what sort of books she really wants to read -- lots of engrossing detail and character, some supernatural excitement but not so much as to be off-putting for the reader who isn't already a fan of paranormal romantic suspense.  Also they are Pretty books, which I think helps makes for better gift-giving!

But in the meantime, it's an honor to welcome Kat Beyer!  Kat is sharing a reprint of a flash fiction piece originally published on the Daily Cabal.   She says  that "It’s one of my all-time favorite pieces besides The Demon Catchers of Milan. It deals with a spirit, and in some ways has a feel of the Demon Catchers novels."

The Year’s Question

by Kat Beyer

It was Siobhan woke me up. The smell of honey wine on Summer’s End does it. (Whiskey works too.) To my surprise and hers, it still worked, even after so many years when no one left anything beside my notched stone.

Scared her bowels loose the first time. I got a laugh out of that.

“You’re allowed one question a year, granddaughter,” I said out of the air beside her.

When she got her breath back she said, “I’m not your granddaughter. She must be gone long ago.”

“I know that. I spoke with her for years after; she’s moved on now. I stay. And so does the customary name.”

“Well then,” she said, drawing herself up. She asked grimly, “There’s a man I want. How do I get him?”

Oh, the living.

“The answer is in the question you asked, and the way you asked it.”

“What do you mean?”

“One question a year,” I answered, and went for the honey wine and apples.

“I hate you,” she announced, and went down the hill.

She was back again the next year with a bigger plate.

“You were right,” she said sadly. “This year’s question. There’s a man who wants me. Should I have his child?”

“Certainly not.”

“You were right,” she said next year, holding the baby, a little girl with her same lively eyes and three-cornered smile. But I’d said no because she’d put no value to herself. I’m not all-wise; how was I to know that a baby would help her do that, instead of making the matter worse?

“There’s a job, overseas,” she told me ten questions later. “I want it. They want me. A good job. Will you hear me across the ocean?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “We used to stay at home, your family. Try. The baby and her father going with you?”

She smiled. “Sarah’s eleven. And his name is Ian; I’ve come to love him.”

“I’m glad.”

This year I was up early, moving things around in the grave, scaring birds off the stone, nervous. Well after dark came the scent of honey wine and flowers, candles and apples, drifting across the salt sea, and I climbed up out of my old bones for a taste of it. I heard her voice clearly, but with a sound of waves in it.

“Are you there?” She asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

Thank you Kat!  Here are all the stops on The Halcyon Bird's blog tour, and you can visit Kat at her own blog,  The Real Money’s in Poetry.

And you can win a copy for yourself-- just leave a comment between now and noon next Sunday (the 23rd), US/Canada only.

This week's roundup of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/16/14)

The good part about being the first one up is the peaceful house; the bad part is that there is never a roaring fire and toasty warm house waiting for me.  Today was the first day this fall when my hands were almost too cold to type...but I bravely persevered.

Please let me know if I missed your post!
The Reviews

The Battle Begins (Underworlds, #1), by Tony Abbott, at Hidden In Pages

Bliss, by Kathryn Littlewood, at Pages Unbound

Everblaze, by Shannon Messenger, at The Bookworm Blog and Rcubed's Reads and Reviews (with giveaway)

Faces of the Dead, by Suzanne Weyn, at The Reading Nook (giveaway)

Fat and Bones and Other Stories, by Larissa Theule, at Semicolon

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer Holm, at The Children's Book Review

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage,  at Hope Is the Word

Hook's Revenge, by Heidi Shulz, at The Book Monsters, alibrarymama, and The Quiet Concert

The Jupiter Pirates: the Hunt for the Hydra, by Jason Fry, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Lost City of Faar (Bobby Pendragon #2), by D.J. MacHale, at Twinja Book Reviews

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age, by David Zeltser, at Sharon the Librarian and This Kid Reviews Books

Many Waters, by Madeline L'Engle, at Fantasy Literature

Odin's Ravens, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at alibrarymama

The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman, at Charlotte's Library

Pathfinder, by Angie Sage, at Charlotte's Library

Pennyroyal  Academy, by M.A. Larson, at Semicolon

The  Silver Bowl, by Diane Stanely, at Read Till Dawn

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Becky's Book Reviews

Spell Robbers, by Matthew Kirby, at Semicolon

The Thickety, by J.A. White, at Great Imaginations

Thursdays with the Crown, by Jessica Day George, at Semicolon

The Time of the Fireflies, by Kimberley Griffiths Little, at Semicolon

Time Square: The Shift, by S.W. Lothian, at YA Sleuth

Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, at Leaf's Reviews

The Winter Wolf, by Holly Webb, at Wondrous Reads

A World Without Princes, by Soman Chainani, at Hidden in Pages and Readaraptor

And several posts with multiple reviews:

Mutation, by Roland Smith and Blood of Olympus, by Rick Riordan, at This Kid Reviews Books

Winterfrost, by Michelle Houts, and Moonkind, by Sarah Prineas, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Charise Mericle Harper, and School of Charm, by Lisa Ann Scott, at alibrarymama

Five quick looks at books at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

and at School Library Journal, there are short reviews of The Iron Trial, Sparkers, The Witch's Boy, and Beyond the Laughing Sky.

Authors and Interviews

Piers Torday (The Last Wild, and The Dark Wild) at The Gaurdian

Other Good Stuff

Piers Torday wins the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for The Dark Wild (which made my 11 year old boy very happy!)

At Views from the Tesseract there's a very exciting list of forthcoming MG Spec Fic from HaperCollins

And also at Views from the Tesseract, the Tuesday Ten this week is Science Fiction and Fantasy Militaries

At Tor there's a peek at a book of concept art from the Harry Potter movies (the sort of book that would make a good present).

And finally, this is funny-- "Interview with the Choosing One" at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure  (ever wondered who writes those rhyming prophecies?  find out here!)


Pathfinder, by Angie Sage

It is a lovely thing to be given more books set in a world you've come to love when you'd thought it had come to an end and it was all over. So thank you, Angie Sage, for starting the Todhunter Moon series set in the world of Septimus Heap, the first book of which, Pathfinder, came out this October (from Katherine Tegen Books).

All the things that I enjoyed about the Septimus Heap books are here in Pathfinder (including the appealing illustrations--I mostly don't look at illustrations, but I do for these books because of liking them.  They are the sort of pictures that one can imagine drawing of the people in ones own imagined world).

There's the really large cast of characters to care about (with the added bonus of lots and lots of old friends).  It is true that it would be hard to keep everyone straight if you hadn't read the first series, but I think it would be doable.   There's the very appealing hero of the story, in this case a girl named Alice Todhunter Moon (who likes to be called Tod).  Tod is special, but not Chosen; she's brave despite being frightened; she's a good friend and likable person who just happen to have a strong talent for Magic.  

And there's a story with lots of twists and turns and bits and pieces that all comes together by the end of it (at least I think they all came together, but I was reading for character not plot so can't promise there weren't plot holes), and which I am not going to recap because it would take too long and because I think my attempts to do so would not convince anyone to read it who didn't already want to.   If you loved Septimus Heap, read this too.  If you were unsure about S.H., read this one anyway because I think there is a bit more tightness to it, and it's a faster read.  If you have never read any S.H. books, but want a satisfying story in a richly imagined world, full of people who care about each other, give it a try.

Here's what I admired most about this book, though-- it starts a new series with new additions to the world, making it a fresh and interesting story while at the same time continuing the stories of what the old friends from the first series are up to.   I was very pleased.

In large part because I really did like Tod a lot.

Thing I didn't like--I never find it appealing when there are people who get gills.  I think gills are gross.  Just saying.


The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman

The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman (Holiday House, August 2014, 224 pages) is a lovely, magical story that should entrance any introspective eight to ten year old(ish) child who likes orphan fiction and small furry creatures (which would be me when I was that age).

And I would just like to start off by saying that the cover of this book makes me cross, because I liked the book lots, and think lots of others would like it to, but it looks like it is a book for six year olds or something, and really this is somewhat off-putting for both the nine or ten year olds mentioned above and the parents/gatekeepers who find books for them to read (especially in these days of hypercompetitive parenting, with so many people (seemingly) wanting their kids to read "up.").   On top of that, I think this cover would be almost impossible to sell to a boy, but the story is not in and of itself somehow boy unfriendly.  So please just ignore the cover art.

And now, the story:

In an rather upscale orphanage (the upscale-ness is important to the plot) in the late 1940s, a girl and a mouse met.  Caro, the girl, is ten, and has a badly burned hand from the fire that killed her mother.  Mary, the mouse, is no longer young (she has lots of mouse children).   But between these two unlikely friends a bond of empathy and good will is forged during an unhappy misadventure with the orphanage cat....and this bond ends up bringing them both to a much happier end than they would have otherwise (especially Caro.)

Because.....there are Dark Things happening within the walls and behind the doors of the model orphanage (not least of which is emotional manipulation of a really unkind sort--one's heart aches for Caro).  Those in power (both mouse and human) have let power and material comfort corrupt them,  and it is a good thing for Caro that Mary Mouse and her mouse ally Andrew are there to heroically (risking death by cat) help her put things to rights.  Mice and child expose secrets (the reader gets to see the schemes in action, so it's not really a mystery from the reader's point of view), and things are tense, and the happy ending is happy enough to be gratifying without being insultingly too good to be true.

Mice in this world are not mindless squeakers--they have listened to, and appreciated on an almost spiritual level, the story of Stuart Little.  They collect art (in the form of postage stamps).   Andrew Mouse can even read.  And Caro is not a mindless squeaker either--she is an utterly relatable (to me, at any event!) good child who deserves good things (who certainly doesn't deserve it when the movie starlet is disgusted by her scarred hand).  The combination is a winning one.

I think one of the things that made it work for me was all the stories--stories told, stories imagined, backstories--that swirl around in the book.   Not the sort of "now there will be a story" interruptions, but the much more subtle sense of richly textured and layered interior lives created by telling and thinking.   Characters have stories about themselves that are changeable, and they think about what stories there are to be told, stories that will make life more than the immediate now.   Each postage stamp picture is a window for the imagination...each character has a self they are shaping.   And it is this open-ness to story that makes the friendship between girl and mouse both possible and emotionally convincing, even though they can never speak each other's language.

Note:  as well as the cover issue, a possible problem with this book is this--although the sensitive, small-mammal-loving child is clearly the target audience, it starts with a pretty grim mouse death.  This may well put off the truly tender hearted, and you might have to promise such a child that no other mice die (except one who dies offstage who isn't the nicest mouse anyway and by the time you get to that mouse death the sensitive reader will be so engrossed in the story that it won't matter, but if deceit really bothers you, you can say (truthfully) "the cat doesn't kill any more mice").

Second note:  I decide this is one for my list of disabilities in kids' fantasy books, because it is mentioned that Caro's scarred right hand does pose difficulties for her with things like writing, although this is a very minor point in the grand scheme of the story.


Earth and Sky, by Megan Crewe, for Timeslip Tuesday

For this week's Timeslip Tuesday I offer Earth and Sky, by Megan Crewe (Skyscape, October 2014) --YA sci fi with a bit of romance and cool time travelling technology.

(just as an aside--the first paragraph of my synopses sounds spoilery, but we learn all this right at the beginning of the book, and it's in the official blurb etc. so there you go.)

Skyler has been troubled for most of her life by flashes of wrongness--but unlike premonitions, there's never any manifestation of disaster, just her own disorienting panic.   Sklyer doubts her sanity....until she meets Win, a strange young man who tells her the reason for the wrongness.  Earth is the subject of an alien experiment, one in which time travelers from another planet set and reset events as they choose, and it's these resettings that trigger Skyler's sense of that things are not right.  And not only are Earth's people lab rats manipulated in time, but all the resetting is weakening the fabric of Earth's reality.  Win is part of a rogue faction that wants to end the experimenting once and for all...and in Skyler, with her ability to see the shifts in reality, he thinks he has an edge over the enforcers trying to maintain the status quo of interfering change.

Skyler is not unmoved by Win's need for her help in saving the earth....but as they journey through time to find the four parts of the mechanism that will destroy the time sphere around Earth (which were hidden in different eras by the leader of the rebels) she can't help but struggle with a perfectly reasonable feeling that she is being used.  Win's people don't see humanity as their equal (though he himself is open-minded, there's still a bit of a learning curve there) and on top of that, it takes some time for Win to be fully open with Skyler about the rather complicated plot in which he is involved.  But by the end of the book, she is no longer a means an end to him, and he is no longer a manipulative alien cypher to her, and so the set up for romance has been nicely established.

So there is adventure, as Skyler and Win keep one step ahead of the enforcers, and tension between the two of them, and angst and fatigue on Skyler's part as she a. wonders if time travel can bring back her lost brother, b. wonders if Earth can be saved, c. wonders (a little--the romance angle is there, but not the main point) about her relationship with Win, and d. wonders if she will be killed by the enforcers before getting her (quite possible altered in fundamental ways by the mucking with time that's happing) life back.

I appreciated the interesting premise--it plays up the paradoxes and consequences of time travel very nicely--and I enjoyed especially the gradual revelations by Win of his side of the story, but the book as a whole just didn't transcend "fine" for me.   Skyler doesn't come across as the most deeply individual first-person narrator I've ever read, and the whole plot mechanism of hidden elements of  a device that must be found by the good guys before the bad guys can stop them felt a tad contrived.  I never really understood why it had to be so complicated, and I never really understood why the bad guys were still so set on keeping their experiment in place.   I'm not sure they were getting much out of it.

That being said, I was able to keep squashing my doubts down enough to find it pleasantly readable.  It's the first of a series, and I must say that I am very curious to see where it goes next--I think my main reservation about this first book was it's particular plot of finding the hidden objects, and that being taken care of, there's room for a host of other stories....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Nick and Tesla series, by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith.

If you are looking for books to give to young (8-10 year olds) who enjoy hands-on science fun mixed with adventure, look no further than the Nick and Tesla series, by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith.

Nick and Tesla are eleven-year-old siblings sent to live with their eccentric (to put it kindly) uncle, a mad scientist type of person, while their parents are off being scientists in central Asia.   Uncle Newt has done his best to welcome them to the small town of Half Moon Bay  (they each have their own composting bed!).  Though Nick and Tesla aren't thrilled with their uncle's approach to housekeeping, they are excited by the possibilities of the gadget filled house and the open invitation to treat the place as a maker space for their own inventions.

And they will need to!

In the first of the series (High Voltage Danger Lab) the siblings rescue a kidnapped kid.  In the second (Robot Army Rampage) they thwart a robber, and in the third (Secret Agent Gadget Battle) the stakes get even higher as Nick and Tesla themselves are in danger.  The four book (Super Cyborg Gadget Glove) pits the kids against an assortment of robotic scientists gone haywire...for mysterious reasons!  

It becomes clear as the books progress from simple neighborhood mysteries to actual danger that the kids' parents are not simple soybean scientists, but are in fact involved in something far more consequential....the sort of thing that you wouldn't want falling into the hands of dangerous bad guys.   And Nick and Tesla, there in Half Moon Bay, are not as safe as their parents might hope....

The stories are standard fun adventures of the sort where the kids outwit the grownups, but what makes these books really interesting and appealing is that they make good use of their scientific skills to do so!  The books are full of their neat inventions and contrivances, and best of all, there are clear
instructions on how you can build them yourself at home, using readily available materials. (The series' website has videos in which the inventions are demonstrated for those who need more help!)

I am tempted to build a few bug bots myself!

Here's what I especially liked--Nick gets first billing in the title, but it is his sister Tesla who is really the leader.  If you want fiction to offer an elementary school girl to encourage her scientific endeavours, I can't think of better books.

Here's what else I liked--one of their two local friends, two boys who get to be sidekicks and companions in adventure, just happens to be black, shown that way in the illustrations, adding a bit of diversity that I appreciated.

So in any event, these are the sort of books that would make great presents for a fourth grader who likes science, but do be sure to check out what you will need for the inventions before handing it over, because your young reader might well want to set to work immediately.....


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/9/14)

Welcome to another week of what I found in my blog reading; let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

The Blood of Olympus, by Rick Riordan, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook review)

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Bibliobrit

The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Children of the King, by Sonya Hartnett, at Semicolon

Deadly Pink, by Vivian Vande Velde, at On the Journey

Eight Days of Luke, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at Becky's Book Reviews

Frank Einstien and the Antimater Motor, by Jon Scieszcka, at Semicolon

Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at io9

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle, by George Hagen, at Of Dragons and Hearts

The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Welcome to my (New) Tweendom

Helping Hercules, by Francesca Simon, at Charlotte's Library

How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle, at Nerdy Book Club

The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Finding Wonderland

The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra, by Jason Fry at Semicolon

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at My Brain on Books

Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins, at Charlotte's Library

The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman, at Semicolon

Prankenstein, by Andy Seed, at Readaraptor

Revealed (The Missing, book 7), by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Time Travel Times Two

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at Sharon the Librarian

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, at The Hiding Spot

The Shark Whisperer, by Ellen Prager, at Semicolon

Shipwreck Island, by S.A. Bodeen, at Semicolon

Shouldn't You Be in School? by Lemony Snicket, at Sonderbooks

Sky Raiders, by Brandon Mull, at Semicolon

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Sonderbooks

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Librarian of Snark

Sparkers, by Eleanor Glewwe, at Semicolon and Waking Brain Cells

Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones, at The Emerald City Book Review

The Swallow, by Charis Cotter, at Pages Unbound

Thursdays with the Crown, by Jessica Day George, at Book Nut

The Underground Labyrinth, by Louella Dizon San Juan, at Long and Short Reviews

The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, at Pages Unbound

Authors and Interviews

Lou Anders (Frostborn) at Watch. Connect. Read.

Paula Harrison (the forthcoming Red Moon Rising) at Tatum Flynn

Carrie Ryan shares a behind the scenes look at The Map of Everywhere

Other Good Stuff

Ursula Le Guin reflecting on the concept of the "Inner Child"

A Tuesday Ten of Speculative Residences at Views from the Tesseract

"44 Medieval Beasts that Cannot Even Handle It Right Now" at Buzzfeed (thanks Emily!).  I love this one especially, because Flying Mole:


The Phoenix on Barkley Street, by Zetta Elliott with (pathetically short) list of early chapter book fantasies with kids of color

Quick--think of a fantasy book written for early elementary aged kids of 8 or so, where the fantasy stars a group of minority kids and takes place in an urban neighborhood where gangs and abandoned properties are big problems, just like they are in many places in real life, and where the fantasy part itself is something truly beautiful and magical and hopeful....

I can think of one, because I just read it-- The Phoenix on Barkley Street, by Zetta Elliott (self published, August 2014, ages 7-9), and tomorrow I will take it to a Little Free Library that is in just such a neighborhood, and hope that it falls into the hands of young readers who haven't yet been told that magic can happen to kids just like them.

The city block where Carlos and Tariq live used to be a happy, fun place.  But people moved away, and gangs moved in, and the swings in the park broke and were never fixed.  Then one day the boys find a loose board in the fenced backyard of an abandoned house. They decide to clean up the garden, and make it their own safe place, but before they can even get started, Tariq's little sister and her friend find their way in, and once they are there, there's no point in evicting them because they know how to get back (me--my sympathies are with the boys on this one, but it's nice to have girls in the story too...)

And there in the garden there is a phoenix, a real, genuine magical phoenix-- beautiful, strange, and lovely.  The kids don't know it's a phoenix at first, but happily there's a library nearby (me--yay for kids using the library!), and it seems like the garden, with its magical resident, will be even more wonderful a place than they had imagined.   The cleaning up goes well (me--I love a nice garden clean up story!)...but then disaster strikes.

Older boys who are gang members find their way in and wreck everything (me--noooooo!) and menace the littler kids and are just plain mean and hateful.

Thanks to the phoenix, it works out well in the end (me--except I'd rather have a secret garden than a public park, even though I know that's selfish!).

So it's a good story, and the writing is just right for a third or fourth grade reader getting their reading legs under them, as it were, and yay! for diversity and urban fantasy targeted at this age group.  And yay! for kids of color in fantasy books for elementary school readers--I think it's awfully important to have lots of these, so that every kid can be given a place at the table of the imagination, and there really aren't many at all.  Once you know that you can be in a fantasy story, you can allow yourself to dream whatever you want.....

This is Book One of Zetta Elliott's "City Kids" series--I'll look forward to the rest!

(me--still sad for the ruined garden.  would have liked maybe a hundred more pages of time in the garden fixing it up before it got ruined.  sigh.)

note: this is a self-published book, but the quality and design are such that this is not evident, and it would blend in beautifully with all the other early chapter books on a classroom shelf...

disclaimer: review copy received from the author at Kidlitcon.


Here is my working list of first chapter books/young elementary school books that are fantasies with kids of color:

The Magic Mirror, by Zetta Elliott (2014)

Mouldylocks and the Three Beards, and Little Red Quaking Hood (Princess Pink series), by Noah Z. Jones (2014)

You can also add Captain Underpants, although that's more graphic novel than chapter book.

It sure would be great to have a longer list....


Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins

Although there have been plenty of animal fantasy books that I've loved over the years, I am suspicious of the genre as a whole.  Too often I have read animal books in which there is no clear reason why the characters are that particular sort of animal, which bothers me, and sometimes the cute and whimsical and precious are emphasized at the expense of the story.

So I have been putting off reading Nuts To You, by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow,  August 2014, ages 7-11ish), until yesterday morning.  Had it not been for its nomination for the Cybils Awards, I would probably have put it off forever and ever, despite a. Lynne Rae Perkins being a good writer and b. the book showing up on the Publishers Weekly best books of 2014 list and c. October having been Squirrel Awareness Month and d. being a fan of Scaredy Squirrel.

One of my many admirable character traits (besides modesty) is my willingness to admit I was wrong.

I was wrong in this case.

Because I really truly enjoyed Nuts to You, and thought the squirrel adventures were great and delightfully squirrely, and it was funny and I liked the pictures.   The squirrels were recognizably squirrels (as opposed to, say, voles) and it wasn't sweetly precious at all.

Brief summary:  Jed gets snatched by a hawk...but luck is on his side.  His friend, TsTs, sees him fall from the talons, and she and another friend set off to find him, following the power lines.   The finding part is the challenge, because the characters are, after all, squirrels, and if you have ever watched squirrels you will have noticed that they rarely travel in straight lines, and they scatter easily...

It is a good thing that Jed got snatched, because it turns out that the trees along the power lines are being cleared, and the squirrel homeland is in danger.  Happily this never becomes a Fantasy Danger, in which the chainsaws are sabotaged by heroic squirrels or something like that.  Instead it is the much more plausible "how the heck do you get a bunch of squirrels to believe their home is in danger when all they are thinking about is autumnal nut gathering" sort of story.

And like I said, it is funny, and I liked the individual squirrels as characters.  I especially appreciated the "loyalty to friends" motif not just because I like loyal friendships myself, but because I think it something the target audience of fourth and fifth graders really appreciates too.   Possibly even third graders, possibly even sixth.


Helping Hercules, by Francesca Simon, for Timeslip Tuesday

Helping Hercules, by Francesca Simon (new edition from Orion Press, September 2014, ages 7-9ish) is a fine example of mythological time travel for the young. 

Susan is not a helpful child, not the sort of useful, pleasant child one actually wants to have around.  She slams the door a few extra times when sent to her room (just to make her point), she doesn't think grown-ups should be the boss of her, she doesn't think it necessary that she be responsible for any domestic tasks.  She's really more of an Ideas person (with her main idea being that she shouldn't have to help)....which her family hasn't learned to appreciate.

When an old coin takes her back to the golden age of mythological Greece, seven of the great Greek heros have a hard time appreciating her as well.   Hercules doesn't give her credit for her clever suggestion of rivers as stable cleaners and Orpheus messes up his not-looking-back bit, despite Susan's coaching.  There's nothing to be done about Paris (and Susan finds herself the target of annoyed goddesses, despite her best efforts not to be involved in the doomed beauty contest), but flying on Pegasus is rather lovely for her, though Bellerophon is a jerk.  Perseus, however, is a decent sort, and he actually appreciates Susan's bright ideas (like using his shield for a mirror).  Susan doesn't appreciate finding herself forced to take Andromeda's place (chained to the rock), but all ends well...

And here's Susan's reaction to being turned to gold by King Midas:

"This is boring, thought Susan.
This is very boring, she thought, some time later.
THIS IS EXTREMELY BORING! she fumed.  I always did hate playing musical statues."*

This made me chuckle.  Lots of the book made me chuckle--the Greek heroes (except for Perseus) are such stuck up snots, or else rather wet, like Orpheus, that it was nice to see them helped by/saddled with obnoxious Susan.   And actually Susan rather grew on me--not that she Learned Life Lessons, exactly, from her time in the mythological past, but her brisk egocentrism and forthrightness made a nice foil for the heroic egocentrism she was paired with.

Francesca Simon is the author of the Horrid Henry books, and Helping Hercules would be a natural one to give to any kid who likes those books.   It would also be a good introduction to the Greek hero stories for the kid who is a funny smart aleck, as opposed to a romantic purist mythology snob-- I'm not sure I would have liked the myths mucked with like this back when I was eight or so (although even then I didn't much like Hercules, and I had decided by that point that if I had to marry a Greek hero it would be Perseus, even though he made a Bad Choice at the end, so there you go).  But then again, maybe I would have liked it--I was a Joan Aiken fan, after all, and there is something of an Aiken-ness in the saga of Susan....

Anyway, it's a nice, zippy, funny book, and I enjoyed it at this point in my life and it's easy to imagine lots of kids enjoying it too.

*do kids in the US play musical statues?  My kids never have, and I was overseas at British schools (being very good at musical statues) when I was the right age for party games....


Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater

I enjoyed the first two books of the Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater, very much indeed--the books are a smorgasbord of magic and great characters and a lovely sense of place and they are funny/gripping/piquant and altogether a feast of fat things for my reading self.  So I went into Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Scholastic, October 2014) with the happy certainty that it would be a great read (which it was) and also with a great deal of curiosity about how everything would be wrapped up (which it wasn't! Somehow I hadn't gotten the message that this wasn't the last book in the series!)

We do, however, move closer the ending of the quest to find Owen Glendower, sleeping beneath a powerfully magical lay line in western Virginia.   And new twists, and characters are added, and new complications arise, and the reader moves closer to understanding the people involved, and the people move closer to understanding themselves and each other.

This is the best good thing about the books--the way the four main characters (three Raven boys, students at a posh boys' school) and Blue (daughter of a local family of physic women) care about each other.    This is what makes me look forward to offering the books to my boys (which I'm not doing quite yet--they are still way to old and much to full of the f word (I got a bit tired of Ronan's fondness for it) for my younger one, and I think my older one will like them better in two years, when he's sixteen or so).   It seems to me that it's rare, and rather valuable, to have books in which boys care about each other so much, while making space for a girl in that tight circle of friendship.

This particular book is not my most favorite of the series--it seemed a bit of a filler, not advancing things all that much.  That being said, my expectation that this was the final volume may well have affected my reading, and it may well be that things that appeared less essential to the whole story arc will become important later.  

But even the not most favorite book of a great series is a lovely thing. 

So you will maybe have noticed that I didn't attempt a synopsis-- those who have read the first two won't want spoilers, and those who haven't would just be confused.  But I will say that I'm glad Adam is moving to a happier personal place--I was worried about him.  I continue to be worried about Ronan.   And I am worried that something bad will happen to Gansey (not death type bad, because I refuse to believe that could happen), but something that will make him cynical.  I very much never want him to be cynical, because he is such a Good person and I am very fond of him.... Blue I am not worried about.  She is sane and loved and strong.

Here's what I want to know--is the killer squash song real?  (google searching...searching...searching)  Sadly, it seem not to exist.

Here's the detail I especially liked--seeing flowers Blue planted from an unexpected POV.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

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