4/28/15

Cleopatra in Space: The Thief and the Sword, by Mike Maihack, for Timeslip Tuesday


Today is the release day for The Thief and the Sword, by Mike Maihack (Scholastic), the second graphic novel installment of Cleopatra's adventures far from her home in ancient Egypt.  In the first book, young Cleopatra triggered a time travel device that sent her off to a galaxy far in the future, where civilization is threatened by an evil megalomaniac, wise cats are part of the governing council, and where Cleopatra's arrival, and her role as savior of the galaxy, were predicted in an ancient prophecy!

The first book, Target Practice,  is tremendously exciting--not only does it set the lovely story in motion, but there's also Adventure in which  Cleo goes off to an alien planet to recover an ancient artifact, a fabled sword, fighting off aliens and robots in the process.   The Thief and the Sword is something of a falling back and regrouping story.   We see Cleo navigating her new reality of school (some things, like Algebra, transcend space and time), and making progress on becoming friends with, and learning about, her young classmates.   For instance, she goes to a school dance for the first time....And I like this slower sort of stuff, so there were no complaints from me (too many panels showing fighting and my eyes get confused--I am a weak graphic novel reader/looker), though my older son found it a bit too slow for his taste.

But all is not peaceful in Cleo's new world (even setting aside the constant threat of universal destruction).  A young thief, a boy named Antony, is hired by the evil megalomaniac to steal the sword Cleo had recovered, and since this particular sword is involved in the prophecy about Cleo saving the galaxy, it must be found again!  So Cleo, her friends, and a wise cat professor set off into space to track it down....and book two ends with a cliff hanger that promises lots of action to come!

This series just cries out to be given to fans of Zita the Space Girl, by Ben Hatke--Zita is perhaps more lovable, and her motivations are different, but Cleo is also a charming heroine to root for--headstrong, plucky, struggling to figure out who she is and what she wants, and cute as a button!  And the world building of Cleopatra in Space is lovely too--I adore the talking cats.  And the addition of Antony promises lots of new character interest--he has lots of potential!

The time travel element of the plot is more overtly addressed here, and an explanation for how it worked, and what might happen if the bad guy got a hold of the mechanism, are part of the story.  Cleo also has more of a chance to think about her circumstances, adding a touch of depth to the story (not much more than a touch--Cleo is not the most deeply introspective heroine, being more liable to pull out her stun-gun than quietly think things through!).

This is a nicely multicultural series-- Cleo is somewhat pink-washed on the cover of this installment, which is too bad, but inside her skin tone is definitely browner than many of her peers, and Antony, also shown on the cover, is brown-skinned (ostensibly he's a bad guy in this book, but I bet that changes!).

In any event, my boys and I are looking forward to Book 3 with enthusiasm and conviction!

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

4/27/15

The Lost Track of Time, by Paige Britt

The Lost Track of Time, by Paige Britt (Scholastic Press, March 31, 2015, middle grade), pretty much begs to be compared to The Phantom Tollbooth--both are didactic-ish books about travel to magical lands full of pun fantasy.  However, I never much liked The Phantom Tollboth, so I shall simply say that I enjoyed The Lost Track of Time more, perhaps because I could more easily relate to its young heroine and her struggle to find the time to do what makes her happy--writing.

Unfortunatly for Penelope, writing is not something  her uber-organized mother values.  Her mother is a professional Planner, with a deep sense that every minute of the day must be used Usefully.  Useful things are those that prepare Penelope for college applications and a well-paid job.  Useless things include sleeping late, doing nothing in particular, and writing.   Penelope hopes that if she can prove that writing is valuble by winning a competition for best story her mother will give her more time in which to do it....but to her dismay, the ideas that have been filling her mind for as long as she can remember suddenly aren't coming anymore!

Thanks to a page turning glitch, Penelope finds that she has a blank day in the planner her mother keeps for her, with nothing planned for her to do...and she falls into this hole in her schedule, ending up in a magical world!  There she finds that world's people caught in similary cirumstances--the greatest creator of imagined possibilities (very real things in this world) is missing, and Chronus has established a regimented clockwork dictatorship.  Accompanied by a semi-fugitive adventurer named Dill, Penelope sets out to recover not only her own ability to come up with ideas, but to come up with some possibility of overthrowing Chronus....

Tolerance for puns made real is required (fancies, for instance, are real creatures who appreciate being tickled), and no new and stunning fantasy ground is broken here.  But I found Penelope's journey and its impetus rather satisfying, and I bet that it will please many young readers who feel they don't have the time to spend doing what they want to!  Penelope is a pleasing heroine, whose actions and desires make sense, and this grounding in the believable carries the story along nicely. 

I do think that it is one that might find more readers if it is read aloud by grown-ups (it's the sort of handsome, generously illustrated, kind of old fashioned looking book, that grandparents might be drawn to buy as a gift) and one that will work better for younger readers than for magic-sword-danger fantasy readers.  

Here's another review at Ms. Yingling Reads.  And Kirkus reviewed it favorabley as well (though that reviewer said it was "not as masterful as Juster’s genre-defining work" which I at first read as "genre-defying" causing me great confusion......and I'm actually not sure I agree that P.T. is "genre-defining" unless "fantasy based on puns" is a genre....)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

4/26/15

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/26/15)

Welcome to another weeks worth of my middle grade sci fi/fantasy gleanings from around the blogs!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

First off--I took the plunge and registered for BEA, and would love to meet up with any of you all who are there too!

The Reviews

The Accidental Keyhand (Ninja Librarians Book 1), by Jen Swann Downey, at Always in the Middle

Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at The Write Path

Almost Super, by Marion Jensen, at Dead Houseplants

The Bell Between Worlds, by Ian Johnstone, at Our Book Reviews Online

The Case of the Cursed Dodol, by Jake G. Panda, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Dreamsnatcher, by Abi Elphinstone, at Middle Grade Strikes Back

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners, at Ms. Yingling Reads, GreenBeanTeenQueen, and The O.W.L.

Genuine Sweet, by Faith Harkney, at The Reading Nook

Graceful, by Wendy Mass, at Read Till Dawn

Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel, by Megan Morrison, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healey, at The Paige Turner

House of Secrets, by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini, at Kid Lit Geek

The Impossible Race, by Chad Morris, at Geo Librarian

The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein, at Pages Unbound

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Bookish Antics

Jinx's Magic, by Sage Blackwood, at Leaf's Reviews

Joshua Dread, by Lee Bacon, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The Long Lost Map, by Pierdomenico Baccalario, at Charlotte's Library

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at Semicolon

Lucky Strike, by Bobbie Pyron, at Redeemed Reader and In Bed With Books

The Mad Apprentice, by Django Wexler, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall, at Views From the Tesseract

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at Cracking the Cover

Pennyroyal Academy, by M.A. Larsen, at Librarian of Snark (audiobook review)

Pip Bartletts Guide to Magical Creatures, by Maggie Stiefater and Jackson Pearce, at A Reader of Fictions

The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell, at Leaf's Reviews

The Rumplestiltskin Problem, by Vivien Vande Velde, at Here There Be Books

Saving Lucas Biggs, by at Rcubed's Reads and Reviews

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Redeemed Reader

Stormbound (Guardian Herd, book 2), by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, at Kid Lit Reviews

The Time Hunters, by Carl Ashmore, at Nayu's Reading Corner

Time of the Fireflys, by Kimberley Griffiths Little, at Michelle I. Mason

The Trap, by Stephan Artnson, at BooksForKidsBlog

Travel To Tomorrow, by Angela Sage Larsen, at Time Travel Times Two

Twintuition: Double Vision by Tia and Tamara Mowry. at The Reading Nook Reviews

Valient, by Sarah McGuire, at Hidden In Pages
Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay, at Nerdophiles

The Water and the Wild, by K.E. Ormshee, at Welcome to My (New)Tweendom and Kid Lit Reviews

Wolf’s-own: Ghost , by Carole Cummings, at Reader Girls

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads-- Evil Spy School, by Stuart Gibbs, and Before Tomorrowland, by Jeff Jensen et al.

And two more at Ms. Yingling Reads--Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, and Amulet Keeper, by Michael Northrup


Authors and Interviews

"I was a weird kid" by Ursula Vernon, at Nerdy Book Club

Abi Elphinstone (The Dreamsnatcher) at The Big Book Project

Django Wexler (The Mad Apprentice) at The Children's Book Review, The Hidding Spot, and The Reading Nook Reviews

Bobbie Pyron (Lucky Strike) at In Bed With Books

K.E. Ormsbee (The Water and the Wild) at Cracking the Cover

Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of Bunnies at Views From the Tesseract

A look at magical objects in middle grade fiction at Middle Grade Strikes Back

Once Upon a Blog visits the Totoro forest Project

A lovely detailed look at re-reading The Magician's Nephew at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

And finally, for Moomin fans--the tv series from 1969 can now be watched on line!







4/23/15

Thirteen, by Tom Hoyle

Thirteen, by Tom Hoyle (March 2015, Holiday House, YA)

Once there were 13 boys, all born in London just past midnight on the New Year's Eve of 1999/2000.  Now, 13 years later, all but one of them has been killed.   Adam, the last survivor, has lived his life not knowing he's being hunted; through lucky chance, he was raised by adoptive parents who use his adoption day for a birthday.  But now the killer has found him, and death is headed his way...

Coron, leader of a cult called "the People," has been told by the Master who lives inside his utterly insane head that one of the Millennial boys will stand in the way of the arrival of the New God who Coron must help bring into power....and clearly, since 12 of them have been dispatched by Coron's cultists (trained to be killers) Adam must be the threat the Master needs disposed of.  It has to happen before he turns 14 years old.   On Adam's side is a brave bright girl named Megan, super observant and determined, and an older boy who escaped from Coron's cult.   But with members of the cult in the police force, using the power of the law to hunt for him, assassins behind every corner, and nowhere truly safe to hide, it's not at all clear if Adam will be able to make it to his next birthday without being horribly sacrificed.....

I did have one area of hesitation with regard to the book-- Coron is literally insane, and it's hard to believe that he is sufficiently rational to keep control of all his minions, though he has done of fine job of brainwashing and terrifying them.  The revelation that the Master is a figment of Coron's mind fairly early in the book lessens the heft of the evil point of it all (I like my villains to have more nuance to their motivations) and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with mental illness being the main motivator of the bad guy in terms of stigmatization.

That being said, this is a fine choice for teens who like action-packed thrillers of violence, grounded by relatable characters (for readers on the younger end of YA--the little touch of romance, for instance, is of the "first kiss" variety) struggling to survive.   It's not actually speculative fiction, but is far enough removed from quotidian reality to appeal to fans of dystopian sci fi.  The writing is tight and to the point, and there's tons of Menace and Danger.   Though possibly a tad slow to really start, it is a page turner once things get going.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

4/22/15

Books--are they green? and how can I be a greener reader? Plus this year's Green Book Awards winners

It is a fact that books account for a relatively small amount of the trash I have picked up in all my life's trash walks.  Books do not kill sea turtles (much, I guess.  Although they could, if they fall into the wrong hands...).  But are they Green?  Or should I plant trees for every book I buy, as Eco-libris suggests?

I have always felt that owning books was a Green thing to do, for various reasons--

1.  having lots of books in the house means there is less air to heat/cool, saving energy

2.  books use less electricity than some other forms of entertainment

3.  bookshelves, strategically placed on north walls of the house (as in my house, below), act as insulation.  (covering all windows with books would work even better).



4.  books are carbon sinks--each little block of paper that's not actively decomposing (which hopefully the books in one's home are not) is a little block of carbon not contributing to global warming.

5.  buying used books or checking them out of the library is easy and cheap

and finally (with Sincerity, even though Sincerity is hard for me),

6.  What we care about, we will work to save, and books help us care about things in nature we don't wee in our daily lives (like sea turtles).

But here's what I don't know much about--what are the environmental costs of making books?  Where do the chemicals come from that are used to make them?  Under what working conditions are they bound?  Do gallons of bleach pour into rivers somewhere in the world for every book I read? 

I found some answers in a report based on data collected in 2007-"Findings from the US Book Industry Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts." (the link goes to a summary of the findings).  The Green Press Initiative, where I found this report, has more information, mostly focused on paper issues.   Many publishers are paying attention, and working toward sustainable paper.   I wasn't able to find anything that addressed the actual environmental impacts of other aspects of book making....anyone who knows anything about this, I'd love to learn more!

So I guess that as a reader, what I will try to do is to buy locally when possible (to cut down on plastic packaging), and recycle when done if I'm not keeping it. (In my town, paperbacks can go out with the rest of the paper recycling, but hardcover books can't. This means that some of us, ie me, spend lots of time ripping the pages out of hardcover books that no one will ever love leftover from the library books sales so as to at least recycle the paper part.  I have not found anything I want to do with the covers....I don't want to make decorative planters, handbags, or picture frames from them. Others might).

Also I will spend more time reading and less time pulling up maple seedlings this summer.  This counts as "planting trees."  And along similar lines, if I don't cut the grass, that will likewise offset the carbon emissions of book production.....I will also almost certainly fill up more of the dead air space in the house with books....

And I can make sure my local library has the Green Book Award winners using my powerful position as President of the Friends (which gives me control of the cash box)-- the 2015 winners were just announced, and here they are (taken from the Green Book Award website)

2015 Winner – Picture Book

The Promise, written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin (published by Candlewick Press)

Book Synopsis:  On a mean street in a mean, broken city, a young girl tries to snatch an old woman’s bag. But the frail old woman, holding with the strength of heroes, says the thief can’t have it without giving something in return:  the promise. It is the beginning of a journey that will change the thieving girl’s life – and a chance to change the world for good. A picture book that at first seems dystopic but is ultimately about the healing power of nature. Recommended Age:  Age 5 to 8

2015 Winner – Children’s Fiction

Deep Blue, written by Jennifer Donnelly(published by Disney-Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group)

Book Synopsis:  Best-selling Donnelly (Revolution, 2010) builds an alluring mermaid civilization and history, filled with painterly descriptions of Sera’s underwater palace and its unearthly architecture, her sumptuous wardrobe, and the menagerie of half-human, half-marine animal denizens. A richly imagined novel. Themes of conquering fear and believing in oneself are woven throughout, along with an acknowledgment of humans’ environmental impact on the sea and its inhabitants. Recommended Age:  Age 10 to 14

2015 Winner – Young Adult Fiction

Threatened, written by Eliot Schrefer (published by Scholastic/Scholastic Press)

Book Synopsis:  After the death of his mother and sister, Luc is left in the hands of a moneylender, Monsieur Tatagani. One of many orphans forced to do Tatagani’s bidding, Luc has found a way to be useful and earn a few coins wiping glasses in a bar in Gabon. One night a man shows up with a monkey and a silver attaché case, claiming to be a researcher sent by the National Geographic Society to study the chimpanzees in the interior. The mysterious man, called “the Prof,” offers Luc a job as his helper. From this modest beginning comes a tale of survival and discovery for both humans and chimps. There are no easy answers here, but deep themes are explored. The plight of the endangered chimps is brought to the attention of readers, as are the challenges of socioeconomic status and geographic realities of Gabon. Recommended Age:  Ages 12 and up

2014 [sic] Winner – Children’s Nonfiction

Plastic, Ahoy!:  Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, written by Patricia Newman and illustrated by Annie Crawley (published by Millbrook Press)

Book Synopsis:  This photojournalistic book follows three young female scientists living and working aboard a small research ship and details the researchers’ process of developing a hypothesis, collecting evidence, and designing experiments to learn more about the impact of the Garbage Patch on marine life. The book is replete with Crawley’s dynamic photos of both the scientists at work and the challenges of life aboard a tiny research boat. Newman successfully summarizes all of their complex research findings into straightforward and doable tips for minimizing environmental impact. An engaging and worthwhile read, this will surely make young readers think twice about their trash. Recommended Age:  Age 8 to 12

2015 Winner – Young Adult Nonfiction

Eyes Wide Open:  Going Behind the Environmental Headlines, written by Paul Fleischman (published by Candlewick Press)

Book Synopsis:  This volume is a call to action that informs students about how they can evaluate environmental issues by using politics, psychology, history, and an understanding of economics and the media. This remarkable book offers young people the tools they need to become informed, responsible global citizens. Thoughtful readers will appreciate this insightful, refreshing title’s broad scope, use of specific examples, and the many references to related books, documentaries, and online articles, lectures, and interviews. The appended “How to Weigh Information” section is particularly excellent. Recommended Age:  Ages 14 and up

2015 Honor Winners

A Bird On Water Street, written by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (published by Little Pickle Press)
A Boy and a Jaguar, written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by Catia Chien (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade, written by Beth Handman, Kenny Bruno, and Antonia Bruno (published by Green Writers Press)
Pills and Starships, written by Lydia Millet (published by Akashic Books)
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, written by Margarita Engle (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees:  A Scientific Mystery, written by Sandra Markle (published by Millbrook Press)
The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature, written by the Education Staff of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, edited by Sarah Schmidt, and illustrated by Laszlo Veres (published by Brooklyn Botanic Garden)
The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans, written by Elizabeth Rusch (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
 

My TBR pile progress, starring Saving the Planet & Stuff, by Gail Gauthier

So at the beginning of the year I signed up for two TBR challenges, the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Roof Beam Reader, and the TBR Double Dog Dare, hosted by James Reads Books.  For the second, I challenged myself to read 100 books in my TBR pile in the first three months of the year, for the first, just one a month (which is what the challenge requires).   Well, the first three months of the year disappeared under foot after foot of snow...we have only just now reached forsythia blooming time here in Rhode Island.  And I did not read 100 books from my tbr pile.  Out of the 96 books I have read so far this year, only 44 were true tbr pile books.  22 were review copies, and I failed at library limits, with 28 library books checked out and read, and two bought.  Oh well.  I shall keep trying to read the TBR pile for the rest of the year....I would like to get the number of books on it small enough, and organized enough, to count. 

But in any event, I am rather pleased with myself for having read a book off my TBR pile that is a perfect Earth Day book, and for remembering to write about it today!  Saving the Planet & Stuff, by Gail Gauthier.  It is the story of a not-high-achieving teenaged boy, Michael, who finds himself accepting an internship at The Earth's Wife, an environmental magazine.  Michael finds it hard to cope with the green lifestyle of the old couple who run the magazine, and he finds it hard to understand the point of what they are doing.  Gradually, he becomes, though not a true die-hard environmentalist, at least more aware of environmentalism, and (pleasingly for those of us who enjoy career type stories) he learns a lot about what goes in to publishing out a magazine. 

It's a good story, with lots of humor, and neither the book nor its characters are annoyingly didactic (although of course for me it was preaching to the choir).   It's a good one to offer a somewhat directionless teen who might need a bit of educating viz what being Green means, or what having an internship means, or what getting along with two old people who seem very alien means.

So now I am only one book post behind on the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge.....


4/21/15

The Long Lost Map, by Pierdomenico Bacccalario, for Timeslip Tuesday

Way back in February I read The Door to Time (Book 1 of the Ulysses Moore series), by Pierdomenico Baccalario (Scholastic, 2006), and was disappointed to find that it was essentially a prequel to a series in which brave children have time travel adventures.  There is no time travel until five pages before the book ends, when we get a teaser glimpse of ancient Egypt, where book 2 takes place.  I have now read Book 2, The Long Last Map (Scholastic 2006) and found it entertaining, and most definitely Time Travel! 

The three kids, Rick, Jason, and Julia, do in fact travel back to Ancient Egypt and find themselves in a burial complex.  Julia doesn't stay very long, and runs back through the  Door to Time to the present when things get scary (they are all running, but Julia just gets there first), but Rick and Jason stay in Egypt, trying to figure out what secret the mysterious Ulysses Moore (the guy who set the whole time travel thing up) left there to be found.  Befriending a girl named Maruk, who is helpfully the daughter of the Keeper of the House of Secrets, the great repository of the legendary city of Punt, they set out to find a long lost map, deciphering a series of riddle to do so before the villainous woman also looking from the present and also looking for the map can do so.  Back in the present, it's not all tea and skittles for Julia either, as she tries to prise answers out of the mysterious caretaker of the Moore mansion and fend off a villain determined to break in....

It is all rather exciting, and a fun read not so much for the mysteries of Time Travel qua Time Travel (it was Egypt enough to be palatable, but not a deeply meaningful cultural exchange full of paradox and difficulty), but from the point of view of clue solving and treasure hunting.  There's plenty of action and tension, and the House of Secrets, an awfully cool labyrinth of antiquities, makes for a great setting.   Many of the things that bothered me in Book 1--the non-Englishness of the supposedly English kids, the fact that nothing actually happened of import till the very end, weren't as bothersome back in Ancient Egypt.  And I am left feeling rather surprised to find that I sincerely enjoyed this installment enough so as to add book 3, The House of Mirrors, to my tbr list....

4/20/15

The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig, by Emer Stamp

The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig, by Emer Stamp (April 28, 2015, Scholastic) is a fun early chapter book in which a not desperately intelligent but pleasant young pig chronicles his life on the farm, with a generous number of illustrations.   Some parts of Pig's life are good--the tasty slops, and his friendship with Duck.  Others are not--the Evil Chickens, and the Horrible Horror of finding out the reason behind the generous servings of slops (which is, of course, Death by Farmer).

The Evil Chickens are not exactly Evil, but they are preternaturally intelligent, and they feel that Pig is the perfect candidate pilot their barnyard-made rocket (powered by poo) on its mission to Pluto.  Pig, embittered by his new knowledge that he's being fattened to be killed, decides to take them up on the offer.  Duck, a good friend, sneaks on board too.  The rocket actually does blast off, and their journey does take them to strange new worlds, though not to Pluto....and ends up offering a possibility solution to the problems of the murderous farmer and the evil chickens.....

It's a friendly sort of book for young readers, especially those who are amused by flatulence, although there are other amusing elements for those of us who aren't particularly fond of farts.  Some emotional depth comes from Pig's predicament, and the whole travel-to-Pluto plot element is full of sci-fi interest.   Adults might well find that Pig's frequent grammatical errors (such as "Today I is very happy!) do not add value; kids might well disagree.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

4/19/15

This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/19/15)

I have nothing to offer this week's round up from my own blog (it was a horrendously busy week), but happily others do!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen, at The Book Rat and The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Darkmouth, by Shane Hegarty, at The Book Zone (for boys)

The D'Evil Diaries, by Tatum Flynn, at Wondrous Reads

Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George, at Becky's Book Reviews

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at The Children's War

The Forbidden Stone, by Tony Abbott, at Claire M. Caterer

Genuine Sweet, by Faith Harkey, at Semicolon

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Librarian of Snark and The Daily Prophecy

Krakens and Lies (Menagerie Book 3), by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Hidden In Pages

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at The Write Path

Omega City, by Diana Peterfreund, at Booked Till Tuesday and  Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Princess in Disguise, by E.D. Baker, at Cracking the Cover

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Disability in Kid Lit

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Sleeping Beauty Dreams Big, by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Pages Unbound

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at alibrarymama

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Rcubed's Reads and Reviews

The Time of the Fireflys, by Kimberly Griffiths Little, at Cindy Reads a Lot

The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann, at Leaf's Reviews

The  Water and the Wild, by K.E. Ormsbee

The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer, at On Starships and Dragonwings

At Ms. Yingling Reads:  Accidently Evil, by Lara Chapman, and Jack, by Liesl Shurtliff

and also at Ms. Yingling Reads:  Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? by Liz Kessler, The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark, and The Murk, by Robert Lettrick


Authors and Interviews

Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl) at The Hiding Spot

Soman Chainani (The School for Good and Evil) at A Backwards Story


Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of Woundrous Wearables at Views from the Tesseract

5 great books about kids in space for younger MG readers at the B. and N. Kids Blog

A Teaser for Netflix's How to Train Your Dragon series, at io9

4/16/15

In the Time of Dagon Moon Blog Tour--Interview with Janet Lee Carey

It's my pleasure today to welcome Janet Lee Carey, who's latest book, In the Time of Dragon Moon (Kathy Dawson Books, March 2015, YA), is the sort of book that will please those who enjoy generous helpings of dragons, romance, fantasy that's an integral part of the world building, and engaging characters!  It is the third of her books set in a sort of alternate Britain (the first being Dragon's Keep, the second Dragonswood), in which dragons and elves are very real, and in which marriage has occurred between those two races and the ruling human family. 



In this installment of the series, Uma, a young girl from the indigenous people of this kingdom tries to save her people's future by serving as the physician to the mad queen, who is desperate to have another child.  The queen has killed or imprisoned all her previous doctors, but Uma has the additional fear for her people, who are being held hostage contingent on her success.... Uma, who has had to push her way into being her father's apprentice in medicine (it was traditionally a male role), is scared and uncertain, but determined to do her best, which means that she must befriend the temperamental red dragon that was her father's friend to find the pharmacological herbs she needs.  And then to complicate matters, she and the king's nephew, Jackrun, who is part dragon and part fey, fall into loving each other while trying to unravel the mystery of the death of the Queen's firstborn son, which has further unhinged her mind...


Thank, Janet, for your lovely answers to my questions (which are in bold!)
 

-Your three dragon books are a series...but each can also stand alone.  I'm wondering if you knew there would be more books to come when you wrote Dragon's Keep, and planned accordingly, or if the second and third books were something of a surprise.  If the later is true, did you run into any problems in which your vision/world building/characterization in In the Time of Dragon Moon clashed with things in the earlier books?
When I first wrote Dragon’s Keep, I hoped there might be more books set in that world, but I did not plan on it. I wrote it before I was a published author and in those days I was still dreaming about and hoping I’d find a publisher who liked my books! That said, I did a lot of world building for Dragon’s Keep. The Kirkus review for In the time of Dragon Moon begins with the line: “Humans, dragons and fey coexist on Wilde Island, but this uneasy peace masks a simmering, mutual distrust.” I created a world rife with simmering tension and that gave me a lot of plot possibilities. I also landed on the idea to move from generation to generation so the reader sees familiar characters from the earlier books. So they meet the witch hunter, Tess and Bion in Dragonswood. And careful readers will recognize Jackrun from the epilogue. He’s just two years old then, and seventeen in this new book.
(me, Charlotte, just saying that here is the lovely cover of Dragonswood, and here's my review of it)


-Now that it’s established as a series, do you think there will be more books continuing the story of the Pendragons?
That’s partly up to the reading community. What I mean by that is authors can sell more books in a series as long as the series has enough of a following. So in that sense, readers have a say in what’s published. Of course I’d love to write more Wilde Island books. I have some ideas brewing.
-Many of your characters are different from those around them, either by virtue of mixed heritage or by physical differences.   Was this something you set out deliberately to include, or is it something that just keeps happening?  (With both your books and with Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, I have been trying to decide when having dragon scales, or other elements of dragon anatomy, constitutes a disability....my answer being, it depends--both on physical ramifications and on people's response to the scales or claws or fire....Is this something you have thought about at all?)
Very insightful question! My main characters are set apart, and do feel different from those around them. That’s partly because it makes good fiction. Someone who sees things differently makes a good protagonist as well as a good antagonist don’t you think? It’s also because I have a heart for outsiders. I felt different from my peers, so I know what it’s like. Your thoughts on dragon scales are wonderful. Yes whether dragon scales or other dragon powers such as Jackrun has, are seen as a disability has to do with the person’s response to them as well as other people’s response to them. In Jackrun’s case, his nuclear family fully accepts dragon scales and sees them as a mark of honor. Uma feels the same, but Jackrun’s other power is more frightening, both Jackrun and his family have a hard time accepting it. Other members of the Pendragon family don’t even accept the dragon scales. The king and his son Prince Desmond hide theirs, and they ostracize Princess Augusta because she has dragon scales on her forehead and golden dragon eyes. 
-Uma, the central protagonist of Dragon Moon, is in an awfully frustrating position for the course of this story.   She has virtually no opportunities to say what she really thinks, because her people are being held hostage, and on top of that, she is struggling for the opportunity to be the person that her culture says she can't be--a woman who is a healer.  And I commend her for carrying on as calmly as she does!  Did this part of Uma's story make it frustrating for you, as its author, to write?  Or did knowing the ending help? 
 
I was certainly frustrated for Uma. And since an author needs to live inside a character’s skin while writing each scene, I felt what Uma felt. She’s in an awful situation. Yet terrible situations are the stuff of good stories. As a captive of the queen, Uma is forced to struggle toward freedom and independence. She carves her own path. I ended up loving that about her.
 
 -I love that your books have a Giving Back component.  Could you share a bit about how this came about, and how you chose the Giving Back direction for Dragon Moon?
 
I first started giving to a charity in conjunction with a book launch when my book The Double Life of Zoe Flynn came out – the story of a homeless girl who lives with her family in a van. At that time I worked with Hopelink, raising awareness of homelessness and we did some wonderful food drives on my school visits. After that I was hooked. As I worked on each new book, I considered which charity I would donate to, trying to match it to the book’s theme in some way. Offering readers a chance to donate, too, seemed right. I was also a founding diva of readergirlz. Outreach was a foundational part of that literacy and social media project and it still is. I chose Nature Conservancy’s Savethe Rainforest  project for In the Time of Dragon Moon after studying indigenous healers like Uma and her father, the Adan. In the course of writing the book, I learned about the ongoing destruction of the rainforests in the Amazon Basin, the place where vital medicinal plants grow. As it says on the Nature Conservancy site; “Probably no other place is more critical for human survival than the Amazon.”
I knew it would be the right charity outreach for the book.
-And finally, what other YA fantasy books, with or without dragons, would you recommend to readers who like this series, and vice versa? 

I love Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series, and her Annals of the Western Shore series including, Gifts, Voices, and Powers. I also love Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell books, Shadowfell, Raven Flight, and The Caller. And I’m a fan of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races.

 
About the Author
(photo credit Heidi Pettit)
Janet Lee Carey grew up in the bay area under towering redwoods that whispered secrets in the wind. When she was a child she dreamed of becoming a mermaid (this never happened).She also dreamed of becoming a published writer (this did happen after many years of rejection). She is now an award-winning author of nine novels for children and teens. Her Wilde Island Chronicles are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She won the 2005 Mark Twain Award and was finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Janet links each new book with a charitable organization empowering youth to read and reach out. She tours the U.S. and abroad presenting at schools, book festivals and conferences for writers, teachers, and librarians. Janet and her family live near Seattle by a lake where rising morning mist forms into the shape of dragons. She writes daily with her imperious cat, Uke, seated on her lap. Uke is jealous of the keyboard. If Janet truly understood her place in the world, she would reserve her fingers for the sole purpose of scratching behind Uke’s ear, but humans are very hard to train.

Visit her website here
Thanks again to Janet Lee Carey for appearing, and thanks to the publisher for the review copy of the book!  For other stops on the Dragon Moon blog tour please click here.

 

4/12/15

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (4/12/15)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week of interest to fans of middle grade sci fi and fantasy; please let me know if I missed your post (or the posts of your loved ones etc.)

The Reviews

The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark, at Charlotte's Library

The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, at Falling Letters

The Brightest Night, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden In Pages

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, at Fuse #8

Fairy Tale Reform School, by Jen Calonita, at Cracking the Cover

Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, at Cracking the Cover

Genuine Sweet, by Faith Harkey, at Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

The Hero's Guide to Being and Outlaw, by Christopher Healy, at Leaf's Reviews

The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein, at Fantasy Book Critic and the B&N Kids Blog

Jinx and sequels, by Sage Blackwood, at the B&N Kids Blog

Lucky Strike, by Bobbie Pyron, at Geo Librarian

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age, by David Zeltser, at Kid Lit Reviews

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, at Log Cabin Library

Rapunzel Cuts Loose by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Pages Unbound

Time Square- the Shift, by S.W. Lothian, at Always in the Middle

The Trap, by Steven Arntson, at Book Nut

The Water and the Wild, by K. E. Ormsbee, at The Book Wars

Authors and Interviews

Ross MacKenzie (The Nowhere Emporium) at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of Circus Fantasy at Views from the Tesseract

"What if Game of Thrones was a Saturday Morning Cartoon?"  Check out Lil Thrones at io9

4/11/15

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman, continues the story of Seraphina, a young woman who's half-human, half-dragon, caught because of who, and what, she is in a war between the two species.  In an effort both to promote the possibility of peace, and to potentially gather the power to defend her homeland, she sets off on a journey to gather together others who are half-human, half-dragon.  She's looking for the specific people she's had living inside her mind--she made mental contact with them years ago, never knowing they were real.    What follows is not a peaceful journey in which new friends fall easily into her real life.  The other half dragons, some whose hybrid nature has resulted in deformities, some who have been rejected and ostracized because of who they are, don't necessarily want to be friends.  And among the denizens of Seraphina's mind was a young half-dragon woman, Jannoula, whose mental control far outstrips Seraphina's....and this woman wants to claim the minds, the wills, and the powers of the half dragons for her own ends. More personally, Seraphina is tremendously anxious (with good reason) about her dragon uncle (left in peril at the end of book 1), and tormented by her love for the prince who's supposed to be marrying the queen who is also her friend.....

So it's a pretty Seraphina focused story, with her internal life as important as external events.  Some interest comes from the travel elements of the story--though the new places and characters kind of just fall into place like beads on a string, some more memorable than others (some of the secondary characters I like very much indeed!).  Some interest comes from watching the progress of Jannoula's march of triumph through just about everybody's mind, although again this lacked tension, as it seemed inevitable and irresistible.    On top of that, Seraphina's romantic conflict left in tense place at the end of the first book kind of fizzles here--she and the prince have agreed to wait and see, and so it's kind of been put on a back burner while the more important issue of dracomachy is taken care of.

It was not till considerably far into the book (around about page 400) that the book really gripped me; I enjoyed the last 200 pages lots more than the first 400, not just because things started moving more quickly, but because of additions to the world building--like the time Seraphina spends with the quigs--despised cousins of dragons who have lots more too them than most people think, and the explanation of the saints of Seraphina's world.  In general, though, I did not think that Shadow Scale needed to be a long as it is, and I can't help but feel that Seraphina the character could have been allowed to face the Jannoula problem more proactively...

So not quite one for me, though if you loved Seraphina, which I didn't quite, you might well like Shadow Scale more than I do....(though I didn't Not like it.  Just thought it was too long.)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher





4/8/15

Shh! We Have a Plan, by Chris Haughton

It is not often that I review picture books these days, but sometimes the stars align such that it happens.  On Monday I had the very great pleasure of visiting Candlewick up in Boston, and meeting author and illustrator Chris Haughton (in town on his way to accept the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award), and coming home with a copy of his most recent book--Shh! We Have a Plan (thank you Candlewick!).

This is the sort of picture book that almost makes me wish I had small children around again, because it would be so much fun to share it with them.   Four wooly-hatted persons are off on a bird hunt, three taking it seriously, the fourth and smallest delighting more in simply seeing the colorful birdy!  The organized efforts to hunt all go wrong (amusingly), and finally fourth person uses crumbs to lure the birdies to him...and lots of birdies, both small ones,  and ones alarmingly large and beaky, arrive!  No more bird hunting (too scary!).  But undeterred, the hunters see a new target--a squirrel!

The birds (and squirrel) provide the only bits of color, but the hunters and their dark landscape are rendered in so lively a way in their dark background that there's plenty of visual interest.  And I know it works well as a read-aloud, because Chris himself read it to us, and it was much enjoyed.

Here's an interview Chris did for the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

I'm now part of the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog team of writers!

I'm so excited to finally be able to announce that I am now reviewing for the Barnes & Noble Kids Blog!  I am now a Professional (and will have to try to act accordingly).  My first post, about Sage Blackwood's Jinx series, went up today.


Here's what I didn't say there-- Sage, it would be lovely if you could perhaps tell us more about Simon and Sophie meeting in Samara-not only is the alliteration lovely, but I want to see the sparks fly!

4/7/15

The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark, for Timeslip Tuesday

Going into The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark (Little Brown, April 14, 2015, middle grade), my attitude was not the best--I vaguely feel that I do not need to read any more books about kids travelling back to the 19th century US and facing the grim realities of slavery.   Fortunately Clark is creative enough in his take on this premise to divert and entertain even jaded, cynical me.

Young Ambrose Bordy (Bro), ordinary middle school child of an Irish father and African-Canadian mother,  is being embarrassed by his dad even more than most adolescents are--his father has realized he is  a "trans-temporal" person, one who  is "not comfortable wearing the clothing of the twenty-first century." Which means his dad shows up to teach at his son's school clad as a Roman, or a Viking, or in some other hideously embarrassing outfit.   And this is not only making Bro uncomfortable; its also putting great strain on his parents' marriage, and might result, if conservative members of the school administration have their way, with his dad loosing his job. 

Looking for a solution to this problem, Bro visits a fortune teller when the carnival comes to town...a visit that does indeed result in a resolution of his problems...after a harrowing trip back in time to the 19th century.  The fortune tellers daughter, a Romany girl named Frankie, manipulates him into helping her find her family's great treasure--a trombone that can send people (as long as they have psychic gifts of there own) through time.   Frankie has her own reasons for wanting to go back to the 19th century, and she had no intention of taking Bro and Bro's best friend, Tom Xui, along with her.

1852 is a challenging time to be a kid of color in the US, even in a northern state, and soon the kids fall afoul of bad guys seeking a quick buck by capturing and claiming as runaway slaves (I'm not sure that Chinese Tom would have been a target, but there it is).   So the three of them have to free themselves, reunite themselves with the trombone, and get a hold of a first edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin (for reasons)....but when they do get home, they find they've altered the path of history (tying things back to the Trans-Temporal clothing issue), and have to go back and do it again.  Some help comes from Tom's realization that the character of the I-Ching can be read as morse code (and the coded words are surprisingly, supernaturally, on target), and some help comes from an old friend of Frankie's family who just happens to be a surviving gigantopithecus

The secret of the I-Ching's morse code messages (and the point of the title) is made clear with a side trip at the end of the book back to ancient China, the sort of thing that always adds freshness to stories about 19th century America (sincere font). 

As you can guess from those last two bits of plot, this is not a Serious and Weight exploration of the evils of slavery, but more a wacky what the heck sort of surreal adventure.  It's all a bit tangly, but is held together by the growing cohesiveness of the team of kids.    And even though it is not Serious and Weighty, it does manage to work in some useful general knowledge, and a nice message about tolerating behavior that, though harmless, is disconcertingly different (trans-temp dressing). 

As is the case with Henry Clark's previous book, What We Saw in the Sofa and How It Saved the World, a humorous framework boarding on farce manages to sustain an interesting and gripping story.  That being said, I think it's safe to say its appeal will be greatest for its target audience of 9-12 year olds (especially those interested in history and time travel, who loved Jon Scieszka's Time Warp Trio books or (perhaps unlikely) kids clamoring for books featuring the I-Ching....)

Thanks Karen (aka Ms. Yingling Reads) for sending this one on to me!


4/5/15

The Week's Round-up of Middle Grade Fantasy and Sci Fi from around the blogs (4/5/15)



I love the utter oddness of Victorian Easter Cards, and this one is a doozy! There are so many difficulties involved in wearing a giant eggshell (not that I've ever tried) that I can't even.  And how is it staying up?

But in any event, here's this week's round-up.  As ever, please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Arctic Code, by Matthew Kirby, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile and The Reading Nook Reviews

Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Views From the Tesseract

Button Hill, by Michael Bradford, at Back to Books

The Eigth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni, at Nerdy Book Club

Fork-Tongue Charmers, by Paul Durham, at Waking Brain Cells

Hook's Revenge, by Heidi Schulz, at Kid Lit Geek

The Inquisitor's Mark, by Dianne K. Salernie, at Otakutwins Reviews

The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly, by Ted Sanders, at books4yourkids

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant, at Waking Brain Cells

The Lost Track of Time, by Paige Britt, at Ms. Yingling Reads (with bonus quick review of the IPhone that Saved George Washington, by David Potter

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at WinterHaven Books

One Witch at a Time, by Stacy DeKeyser, at GeoLibrarian

Rapunzel-the One with all the Hair, by Wendy Mass, at Becky's Book Reviews

Return to Augie Hobble, by Lane Smith, at Mom Read It

The School For Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Pages Unbound

The Spider Ring, by Andrew Harwell, at Charlotte's Library

Story Thieves, by James Riley, at Always in the Middle and Charlotte's Library

The Whispering Mountain, by Joan Aiken, at Read Till Dawn

The Unwanteds,by Lisa McMann, at Kid Lit Geek

The Wide Awake Princess, by E.D. Baker, at Cindy Reads A Lot

Wish Girl, by  Nikki Loftin, at The Hiding Spot

The Witherwood Reform School, by Obert Skye, at The Social Potato

And a time travel twosome linked by Alexander Graham Bell at Time Travel Times Two

Three that lean toward horror (The Jumbies, I Text Dead People, and The Murk) at SLJ


Authors and Interviews

Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl) at Kirby Larson

Other Good Stuff

I loved this April 1 article at Nature suggesting that climate change might favor the reapparence of dragons

Something for Animorphs friends (and foes?) at The Toast

4/4/15

The Spider Ring, by Andrew Harwell

The Spider Ring, by Andrew Harwell (Scholastic, January 2015) is the story of a girl named Maria Lopez, an ordinary book-loving seventh grader whose life is transformed when she inherits a ring from her grandmother that allows her to control spiders.   Her grandmother has also taught her to regard spider in a friendly fashion, so when legions of spider enter her life, she is not utterly horrified.  It helps that the spiders are helpful--finding her glasses,  making her beautiful dresses, helping her revenge herself on a mean classmate.  

But Maria's ring is one of eight (each for a different spider species), and an evil woman is seeking to gather the power of all eight together to take all their magic for herself.  Maria will have to use all the spider force she has at her command to foil her plot....but fortunately, Maria's grandmother has also passed on a message from her days a circus lion tamer-- you can train an animal to be obedient, but only one who is your friend will help you in the end.  And it is this maxim, applied to the spiders, that ultimately saves Maria from falling under the evil thrall of the spider rings herself.

It was with some trepidation that I approached the book, because although I myself am kindly disposed to spiders, and have raised my own children to be blasé about them, the book sounded like spider horror, with slightly too many legs and eyes for my taste (one spider is just fine, thousands of spiders is too many!)--Kirkus says the book "all but oozes spiders" which is an unpleasing image.  But while there is considerable spiderness, with some spider ick (enough so that anyone freaked out by spiders will indeed by horrified), it is nicely balanced by the more quotidian story of Maria as a person, grieving for her grandmother, struggling to navigate the social pitfalls of seventh grade, and trying hard not to just run away when things go bad. 

The result was that I enjoyed the reading of this one more than I expected to, and happily recommend it to kids who like Dark Magic interfering with normal life (as long as they aren't the sort of kids who think all spiders should be vacuumed up on sight).

Based on Maria's last name (Maria's cultural background isn't an issue in the book, except for a bit of European backstory about her grandparents and how her grandmother became a lion tamer), I'm adding this to my list of multicultural sci fi/fantasy.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

4/2/15

Story Thieves, by James Riley

Story Thieves, by James Riley (Aladdin, Jan 2015), is a fast, fun one for 9 to 11 years old (give or take).  Book loving Owen is thrilled when he realizes his classmate, Bethany, has the ability to travel into books, and experience them as reality.  His imagination instantly transports him right to the ending of book six in his favorite series, just as the great Magister is being attacked, and (horror!) killed by the Bad Guy who wants to blow up the Magister's planet of magic in the name of science.  Owen tricks Bethany into sending him into that book for real (he might find a spell in the Magister's book that will help her find her father, a story character who got lost in a book when she was little).   But Owen doesn't head Bethany's injunction not to meddle with the course of the story as written, and tries to be a hero....

And in so doing, he allows the Magister to pinch enough of Bethany's power to show up, along with his apprentice, Kiel (Owen's hero), at the home of the books' author...where the Magister is not happy at all to find himself a fictional character.   Chaos ensues as the Magister sets to work freeing trapped fictional characters and creatures, and Bethany and Kiel join forces to try to hold him back, and in the meantime, back in the world of the story, Owen finds himself playing the part of Kiel in the nail-biting seventh book of the series (magic vs science, with the lives of millions at stake).    It is tremendously page-turnery for those who think books that mix sci fi and magic, and have both dragons and robots, are the best idea ever!   Also good for those who think living fan-fiction sounds like a dream come true.  (I appreciated the fact that this dream come true ended up being something of a nightmare---I myself have a very short list indeed of spec. fic. worlds I'd actually like to be a character in!  Tourist, maybe, but not the hero who actually has to Save the Day.   I don't think I could cope).

It doesn't, exactly, have much emotional depth.  I would not recommend it to anyone who isn't already a strong fan of MG sci fi/fantasy, but the reader who is might well be delighted by the excitement and mayhem and wild adventure!

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