A Wicked Thing, by Rhiannon Thomas

Did Sleeping Beauty really wake to find a happy ever after with the prince who kissed her?  The answer, as told in A Wicked Thing, by Rhiannon Thomas (Harper Teen, Feb. 2015), is no, and the result is a very good story, if you like slower, introspective fantasy (which I do). 

Princess Aurora was sheltered all her life, kept in a virtual prison with almost no contact with anyone from outside the castle for her own safety.  But the curse found her, or perhaps she found it, none the less.  And she fell into her enchanted sleep, and was woken by a kiss a hundred years later.  The prince is nice enough, though shy and awkward, but at first Aurora can hardly think about him as a person; he is more place-holder in the story of her life.  Questions swirl madly about her--what has happened in the past 100 years, and why isn't she being filled in?  What do the current king and queen really want from her?  What does she want for herself, and is there any point to asking that?  For once again, she is being kept a virtual prisoner, locked in her room at night for her own safety.  The common folk are hungry and fed up, and the king's ruthless disregard for their lives fans the fires of their rebellion.  Aurora's awakening is supposed to be a miraculous cure-all for the woes of the kingdom, bringing magic and prosperity back to the land, but Aurora has no clue what she is supposed to do to achieve this (other than stand quietly while her wedding dress is fitted around her).

She is more than a helpless pawn, though--in her first life she learned a secret escape path from the castle, and she uses it again to visit the town outside.  There she meets a young revolutionary, who sweeps her off her feet--but does he really care for her, or simply want her for his cause? And then there is the prince of a neighboring country, were dragons awoke and flew out of mythology into reality while she slept.  He to is playing a game of his own, with Aurora as a game piece, but there is clearly more to him than meets the eye....And then on top of that, the enchantress who cursed her a century ago is not yet finished with her.

Aurora lacks experience with political intrigue, with romance, and with rebellion; the only experience she has is living passively under the threat of a curse.  She must decide how to use herself, and the magic within her, to make things right...and to do that, she has to figure out what constitutes "right." She has no reason to expect much from herself, and so she has no clue what expectations might be reasonable in terms of personal choice and agency.  And she has to stay alive in a new age where there are those who might well want her dead...

Because so much of the tension comes from Aurora deciding how and when to act, and because the story mostly takes place inside her head, and because it take her a long time to actually do much acting, some might find this a rather slow read.  I didn't; it was pretty much a single sitting whip through for me.  I really like character-driven political intrigue, and books where the characters question the roles life has assigned them, and I found Aurora's claustrophobic situation easy to empathize with and utterly believable.   I think the sequel will be more dramatic (and perhaps have dragons!) and I'm looking forward to it lots. 

Here's another review at The Book Smugglers.


The Devil's Dreamcatcher, by Donna Hosie, review and interview for Timeslip Tuesday

The Devil's Dreamcatcher (Holiday House, YA, 2015) is the sequel to The Devil's Intern (my very enthusiastic review), which told how four young people confined to Hell (for not good reason--they aren't bad people) got ahold of the Devil's time travel device and used it to try to prevent their own deaths.  They weren't successful.  Now their more or less peaceful lives in Hell (the overcrowding is the most unbearable day to day torment) are disrupted again when the Devil's main lieutenant, a Roman General named Septimus, sends them on a second time travelling adventure outside of Hell--the Devil's Dreamcatcher, an innocent boy forced to serve as the vessel for the Devil's nightmares, has been stolen away, and must be brought back before insomnia drives the Devil truly over the edge.

The adventures that follow are told from the point of view of Medusa (known in life as Melissa), who is struggling to make sense of her past (it's complicated) and make sense of the task at hand.  The task at hand becomes even more complicated when a foursome of angels, including Jeanne of Arc, arrive on the same mission--finding the Devil's Dreamcatcher.  Angels and Devils end up having to cooperate, something especially hard for Jeanne, and friendships and loyalties are tested to the limits of (dead) human endurance as the eight-some struggles to make sense of the web of demonic lies in which they've been snared.

It really is quite complicated, and confusing at times, but I found that if I relaxed and just went with the flow of things, trusting that there would be explanations, I'd understand eventually. I did...more or less, and just in time to get to the end of the book, which sets things up for the next installment, an even more worrying adventure.    What makes this story work well is the focus on the friendships the characters have for each other, and their love and loyalty.  The depth of their caring for each other makes the reader care for them.  This book was perhaps less fun than the Devil's Intern, whose plot was more straightforward, but I was certainly glad to continue the adventure.

Note to Time Travel fans--The Devil's Intern is a solidly time travel book, but here time travel is more a means of moving the characters around, and less important in its own right. The characters jump from place and time lots, but don't linger long enough to enact all that meaningful with past times and peoples (although the people whose WW I England village they accidently set on fire might disagree).   So I wouldn't seek this one out if time travel is your main goal.

It's my pleasure today to welcome Donna Hosie; my questions are in red, her answers in black.

1.  Which came first, your vision of Hell in all its crowded hellishness or the characters that form the core of your story?  (and speaking of crowds, your Hell is basically an introvert’s worse nightmare!) 

Septimus came first, then The Devil. The first scene I ever wrote was with just the two of them, and as I wrote that, the world-building for Hell really started to take shape. As an Atheist, if you asked me what my idea of Hell was, I would say having to work in an office for the rest of eternity. That's my basis for this Hell. It's work, it's hot, it's overcrowded and claustrophobic. Hell is bureaucracy gone mad!
And you just know the Grim Reapers would send introverts to Hell instead of Up There!

2. Your characters come from several different time periods; did you pick periods you already knew something about, or did these decisions happen for creative reasons that then required you to go do research?

It's all creative. Medusa was the first character from Team DEVIL that I imagined. I knew straight away she was a 60s girl from San Francisco, but definitely not a stereotypical flower power girl. Alfarin came next, and I chose a Viking because my mum likes Vikings! Because there's a thousand years separating Medusa and Alfarin, I knew I needed a character who slipped into the middle of those two time periods. I did a lot of research on historical world events because I wanted a character whose death came about because of a specific moment in history. When I realised that the Great Fire of London was in 1666, all those sixes was too great a plot point to miss, and so Elinor was created. But I knew nothing about all three time periods and so research has been key to writing this series. Mitchell arrived last of all, and he's modern day, but even then I've had to research Washington DC for his back story. I love research though. As an English girl, I've grown up learning about culture and time and history. It's great fun to learn whilst I write.

3.  Do you have a favorite character?  If you do, are you more likely to spare their feelings in the story telling by easing their fictional path as best you can?

Mitchell is my favourite character. He's so well-meaning and loyal, even if he is clueless around girls! I have a lot of fun writing his scenes, but for some twisted reason, he is the one character I'm hardest on. He really gets put through some horrible events in book three, and what I do to him in book four (which I'm currently writing) is beyond comprehension! It doesn't pay to be liked by me!

4.  I see there's a third book in the pipeline, and that youre working on the fourth.  Will there be more to the series, or do you find yourself thinking of some next thing?

Writing a book from each character's perspective was an idea I had before my agent even sold THE DEVIL'S INTERN, but I can't imagine finishing with this world until there has also been a book from Septimus's perspective, or at least with him as the MC. He's a former Roman general, The Devil's accountant and number one advisor, and his story arc becomes quite Machiavellian as you progress through the series. He's almost like my version of Dumbledore!

5. Do you find writing the first books in a series easier, because there's all the room in the fictional world for them to explore, or later books easier, because the characters' paths are clearer to you?

I find writing first books in a series harder because I don't plot. By the time I get to subsequent books in a series, I know my characters, their voice, and I have a rough idea of what horrors I want to do to them!

6.  I see on your website that you were a writer of fan fiction before you were published.  Has this had an effect on you as a writer or on your writing career?  Is it a path you'd recommend to young would-be writers, or would you discourage them from it?

I used to write about the Marauders, especially Lupin and Sirius who I shipped! It had no effect on my writing career, but it was great practice, so I wouldn't discourage anyone from doing it. In fact when I talk to schools, I suggest that as a route would-be writers go down. It's far easier to write about something you already love. You just have to stay respectful to intellectual property law and not profit from it.

Thank you Donna!  I will look forward with particular interest to Septimus's point of view!!!


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (9/27/15)

Here's what I found this week!  Enjoy.

The Reviews:

Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Fantasy Literature

The Ashtown Burials series, by N.D. Wilson, at Dead Houseplants

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Vanlente, at Falling Letters

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, at Waking Brain Cells and Log Cabin Library

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at WinterHaven Books

City of Thirst, by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis, at Hidden in Pages

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, by Michelle Cuevas, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Michelle's Minions and Charlotte's Library

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at Maria's Melange, Book Nut, Great Kid Books, and The Book Wars

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Dragon of the Month Club, by Iain Reading, at Cover2CoverBlog

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Dungeoneers, by John David Anderson, at alibrarymama

Eden's Wish, by M. Tara Crowl, at Cracking the Cover

The Fairy Tale Matchmaker, by E.D. Baker, at Pages Unbound

Ghostlight, by Sonia Gensler, at The Book Monsters and Prose and Kahn

Hamster Princess: of Mice and Magic, by Ursula Vernon, at Mom Read It

Headwinds, by Gretchen K. Wing, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud, at Log Cabin Library and Sonderbooks

The Hypnotists, Gordon Korman, at The Reader's Perch

Loki's Wolves, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at Hidden in Pages

Loot, by Jude Watson, at Read Till Dawn

The Lost Girl, by R.L. Stine, at Red House Books

Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention, by J. Scott Savage, at Log Cabin Library, Always in the Middle,  From My Bookshelf, Charlotte's Library, and Geo Librarian

The Neptune Project, by Polly Holyoke, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Steifvater, at alibrarymama

The Sleepwalker Tonic, by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, at WinterHaven Books

Switch, by Ingrid Law, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Sword of Summer, by Rick Riordan, at Snuggly Oranges

Talking to Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Fantasy Literature

The Toymakers Apprentice, by Sherri L. Smith, at SLJ

Upside-Down Magic, by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Westley, A Spider's Tale, by Bryan Beus, at Geo Librarian

The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud (audiobook review), at Sonderbooks

Three at Ms Yingling Reads--The Taken, The Hollow Boy, and Upside-Down Magic

Authors and Interviews

Toni Gallagher (Twist My Charm: the Popularity Spell) at Supernatural Snark

Sonia Gensler (Ghostlight) at The Book Monsters and The Hiding Spot

Katherine Applegate (Crenshaw) at Nerdy Book Club

Other Good Stuff

A list of tiny people books at the Gaurdian

Nominations of books for the Cybils Awards open Oct 1--anyone can nominate!  (1 book for category).  Books have to have been published in the US or Canada between Oct 16 2014 and Oct 15 2015.  Head over the Cybils blog to read the category descriptions.

The Fire Pit of Barad-dur is an inspiration for us all.


Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention, by J. Scott Savage

Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention, by J. Scott Savage (Shadow Mountain Publishing, Sept 29, 2015, middle grade) is a great book to give to any young reader fascinated by making things, particularly steampunkish sorts of things, especially if they like dragons.

Years ago, a mountain was hollowed out to be a refuge for humanity.  The children of Cove are told how pollution caused by unbridled innovation in technology drove their ancestors underground, and are told that creativity could unbalance the precision of their society.  Everyone in Cove is supposed to be a good little cog in the machinery of society, never changing the way things are, because everything works just right.

Trenton is not a good little cog.  He's the sort of kid who looks at machines and gets ideas, creative ones.  And this gets him into trouble; instead of being assigned to a career maintaining the mechanical infrastructure of Cove, he's sent to work in the food production department, with nothing but plankton tanks to entertain him.  But then he meets Kallista, the daughter of one of the worst cogs at all, a genuine inventor whose tinkerings apparently lead to an explosion that caused many deaths, including his own. 

That's not the real story. When Trenton finds the first clue to the truth, one leads him to Kallista, the two set them off on a dangerous path of unbridled creativity and utterly forbidden mechanicals.  For the trail of clues left by Kallista's father include the plans for a coal-powered mechanical dragon, and directions to the upper levels of  Cove where the two of them can assemble it.

Her father wasn't just leaving her a fun project that he knew she'd enjoy.  There were deadly reasons why the mechanical dragon should be built, reasons that threaten to tear Cove apart.  It turns out that only invention and creativity can save the settlement....but it takes near disaster before its leaders, wedded to the status quo, can acknowledge this truth.

There really aren't that many middle grade speculative fiction books set outside of the real world about maker kids, who tinker and invent and weld and solder their inventions together.  This book is perfect for that sort of kid, especially if they also like dragons and solving puzzles!   Trenton and Kallista's journey to the truth is gripping; although the story gets off to a slightly slow start.  It seems somewhat derivative at first, what with its authoritarian government stifling the individual, and the narrative of civilization's collapse due to the fouling of the world through pollution.  But the momentum builds and builds until the last half of the book flies by in a blur of quickly turning pages; I didn't see the main twist coming at all, and found it very exciting. Elements of realistic middle school life, such as tensions from parental expectations, and tension with nascent romantic relationships, ground the more extravagant elements of the story, and make Trenton and Kallista relatable protagonists despite their extraordinary situation. 

What I myself liked best about the book is that it celebrates creativity and the questioning of received wisdom, without being didactic about it.  The ending resolves the immediate problem, but sets the stage for a sequel that will take Trenton and Kallista off on another hunt, beyond the questionable safety of Cove.  I'm looking forward to it!

And I have to say that the cover of the book, with its magnificent steampunk dragon, does just a tremendous job of appealing to young readers who would like it.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher at BEA.


Fable Comic Blog Tour, starring James Kochalka and ‘The Fox and the Grapes’

Welcome the  Fable Comics blog tour!  This book is the third in a series, following in the footsteps of Nursery Rhyme Comics and Fairy Tale Comics, Fable Comics is an anthology in which brilliant cartoonists were each assigned one of Aesop's Fables to reimagine in their own particular style.  The result is a smorgasbord of 28 little edifying (?) tidbits of story with bright (or dark, as the case may be) illustrations that is tons of fun!  Because each story is in a different style, it keeps things fresh and interesting.  Parents who care deeply about raising culturally (for a given value of culture) literate children might well want to seek this out for its friendly rendition of the fables; comic-loving readers of all ages will appreciate the stories as entertaining comics (they are both suitable for the young, and appealing to the old).

Chris Duffy, the editor, kicked off the blog tour yesterday at School Library Journal; that interview is a great place to learn more about the book as a whole.  Each subsequent day of the tour will feature a different artist and their fable.  It's my pleasure to welcome here today James Kochalka, whose fable assignment was "The Fox and the Grapes."  That's the one where the fox wants grapes that are out of reach, can't get them, and goes off in a huff of "they probably weren't any good anyway/I didn't really want them."  James Kochalka has a number of books under his belt, some for grown ups and some for kids, his most recent work for kids being the Glorkian Warrior series (the first book of which is The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza).  He did a really bang up job with his fable, and I enjoyed it lots!

Here are my questions for James, in purple (to go with the grape theme), with his answers in black (not deliberately meant to echo the frustration and negative energy of the fox).

Did you get to pick the story yourself, or were you assigned it? Were you familiar with it enough to start your own version of the top of your head, or did you read up on all the various incarnations of it?  (I just was reading up on it myself, and was interested to find that it is, according to one academic, a model of "adaptive preference formation..."

Chris Duffy, the editor, assigned the story to me.  I didn’t do any research at all, I just went entirely on my own memory of the classic Fox and the Grapes story.  I know I must’ve read a few versions when I was a kid, but I didn’t try to look them up.  I just went from memory.

Also, I find the Fox and the Grapes story-equivalents popping up in real life all the time, in my own reactions to things and others' reactions to things.  That’s why it’s a great story… it’s “true” in a human sense.

I did have to do a little research on grape vines, so that I could draw them right.

Was this your first fox?  (not because it looks like a "first fox" but because maybe it was your first fox, and you were glad to finally have the opportunity to draw a fox.....)

I’ve tried a couple times in my life to draw foxes, but this is the first fox that I ever drew that I was happy with.  I’m definitely looking forward to drawing more foxes.  I have an idea for a character called Banana Fox… I even wrote a theme song for him.

Did you find it hard to work with a pre-set text?  How did you go about making it your own story? (I appreciate that you did your best to help the fox get the grapes by giving him a jet pack.  Was the jet pack in your mind from the beginning, or was did the idea come to you en route?) Was it more "work" than creating something all your own from scratch?

It was easy, really easy, and a joy to write and draw.  I just used my vague memories of the story, and started drawing.  Really, all I ever start with when I begin writing a story are these sorts of vague feelings, so it felt exactly like writing one of my own stories.

 I didn’t feel at all like I was adapting an existing story. I knew that Chris Duffy wanted me to go full Kochalka-style on it.  If I had to do a straight retelling of the story, it would’ve felt more like a “job.”  But being free to do what I wanted, I felt energized.

I threw the jetpack in there because I knew it would be exciting… I’m pretty sure it was an impulsive decision.

I am impressed that you are the First Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont.  How did this come about?  Do you get to keep the title for life, or are there other cartoonists in Vermont trying desperately to push you aside?

I am no longer the current Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont, but I will always be the FIRST Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont.  Ed Koren, the great New York cartoonist famous for drawing fuzzy monsters at cocktail parties, is the current Laureate.  I’ve loved his stuff since I was a kid.  We have many other cartoonists in Vermont worthy of the title, so I expect we’ll see more in the future.  It’s a 3 year appointment.

I have a photographer friend who wanted to be named the Photographer Laureate… there currently is no such thing… and he was asking me like, how do you make it happen?  But the truth is, you don’t go out campaigning to be honored, it just doesn’t work like that.  It just falls into your lap.

How did it happen for me?  Well, I guess the Center For Cartoon Studies nominated me and then the state legislature made it official.  It wasn’t a huge deal at the time, but it’s become more important since that first day.  It’s the best part of my “bio.”

Vermont is a cool state!

Do foxes actually like grapes?

Probably?  But I hear that grapes are poison to some dogs, so maybe they’re poison to foxes too.  But I have no idea for real… I haven’t researched it at all.  I’ve seen dogs eat grapes and they didn’t even get sick or anything.  I bet foxes LOVE them.  And jetpacks too.

Thank you so much, James Kochalka! 

Here's a list of all the stops on the blog tour, which also serves as a list of all the contributors and their fables.

And thank you, First Second, for the review copy of Fable Comics!


The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Back and Cassandra Clare

The Copper Gauntlet (Magisterium Book 2), by Holly Back and Cassandra Clare (Scholastic, MG, Sept 2015), continues the story of three young wizards in training in an underground school of magic, who were introduced in The Iron Trial (my review).  I enjoyed that one very much, being a huge fan of schools of magic, and although the adventures of this second book actually didn't much take place at the school, I am at this point committed to the characters and the story and will follow along happily wherever they choose to go.

What makes the series interesting to me is that the dynamic is not so much about learning to be powerful, or learning necessary skills to triumph over the bad adversary, but much more about the dynamics of friendship and trusting not only your peers but yourself.  For Callum, the central protagonist, this is all a rather fraught issue, because he is a reincarnation of the Big Bad Guy, who stuck his soul into Callum's baby self so he could try to bring his plans (defeating death) to fruition with better luck next time.   Although the Number 1 henchman, who survived that first big face-off, is totally a tool with no obvious redeeming features other than strength of conviction and loyalty, the Big Bad Guy is actually not necessarily bad (he was, after all, Callum's father's best friend), and his reasons for trying to defeat death are not unsympathetic. 

This doesn't particularly set Callum's mind at rest, though.  Callum spends a lot of time wondering when the seeds of Dark Lord are going to sprout within him, and wondering if his father really wants him dead, so he doesn't turn into Darklord 2.0.  And Callum's friends, who he is keeping this a secret from, spend a lot of time being his good friends, while trying to come to terms with who they themselves are, and what family, school, and fate, expect from them. 

Callum is also a rather rare middle grade hero who has a disability that doesn't either contribute to his abilities or which is magically healed (though I guess it might be in a future book).  He has a badly damaged leg, and walking is painful for him.  This disability doesn't define him, but it does affect him in a realistic way, and the authors keep it nicely in mind when moving him from place to place within the story.

So lots of character stuff, which I like!  And an exciting storyline involving near-death magical encounters, lots of questions raised and a few answered, and plenty of page time for Callum's pet chaos ridden wolf cub (although he's almost not a cub at all anymore).  This is one of my favorite on-going MG series, and I can't wait till the next book.

Although this series is pretty clearly "middle grade" I think it's a good one for older MG readers moving toward YA-ness; I think older readers will appreciate the ambiguities more, and the interplay between the various characters (which don't, thank goodness, appear to be heading toward a love triangle) feels more complicated than is often the case in younger MG. 

Ripley's Believe It of Not: Eye-Popping Oddities

I always enjoy a browse through a new Ripley's Believe It or Not book, and I enjoy seeing my kids enjoying them too.   Eye-Popping Oddities (September 8, 2015) is the newest addition to the series, and it does indeed feature a bunch of people who are able to pop their eyes out to grotesque effect (I tried, and find that I unable to do this myself.  Perhaps if I had started at a younger age....).

But it's kind of hard to "review" a Ripley's book.   Some enteries are utterly fascinating bits of knowledge, accompanied by fantastic pictures, some things are kind of cute (I really liked the cabbage walkers in this one!).  I was fascinated that a Danish grad student got a $430,000 grant in 2014 to study the existence of trolls...On the other hand, there are some things that strike me as not all that interesting,  some things are just gross (like the woman who blew one of her own teeth out her nose), and others oddly inspiring (like a  gopher pelvis pendent).  So Eye-Popping Oddities, in other words, will please any fan of the series.

I kind of want to try the extreme watermelon carving art myself now (it's absolutely amazing!)....maybe next summer, but I think I'll pass on the snail poop carpet.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


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

 Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Air Keep, by J. Scott Savage, at The Write Path

The Arctic Code, by Matthew Kirby, at Bibliobrit

The Astounding Broccoli Boy, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Brain Sucker, by Glenn Wood, at Always in the Middle

Calling On Dragons, by Patricia Wrede, at Fantasy Literature

The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, Doing in the Wizard, and Finding Wonderland

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStafano, at Good Books and Good Wine

Diary of a Mad Brownie, by Bruce Coville, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB, by Adam Shaughnessy, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Fierce Winds and Fiery Dragons, by Nan Sweet, at Nayu's Reading Corner

Foxcraft: The Taken, by Inbali Iserles, at Books Beside My Bed

Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at WinterHaven Books

Ghostlight, by Sonia Gensler, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Charlotte's Library (giveaway)

The Glass Gauntlet, by Carter Roy, at This Kid Reviews Books (giveaway)

The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Hope is the Word

Jinx's Fire, by Sage Blackwood, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

Oliver and the Seawigs, by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, at Redeemed Reader

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Log Cabin Library, Becky's Book Review, and Guys Lit Wire

Milo Speck, Acccidental Agent, by Linda Urban, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Nightmares!, by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels, WinterHaven Books,  and The Reading Nook Reviews

The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House #1) by Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester, at Adventures in Polishland

The Sleepwalker Tonic (Nightmares! book 2) by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Snow in Summer, by Jane Yolen, at Read Till Dawn

Switch, by Ingrid Law, at Book Nut

Trapped Between the Lash and the Gun, by Arvella Whitmore, at Charlotte's Library

The True Story of the Unbelievable FIB, by Adam Sahughnessy, at Squinklebooks

Upside Down Magic, by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins, at Not Acting My Age

The Vanishing Island, by Barry Wolverton, at Great Imaginations

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, by Tania del Rio, at Mom Read It

A World Without Princes, by Soman Chainani, at Leaf's Reviews

At The Social Potato, a whole slew of reviews

Authors and Interviews

Jonathan Stroud (The Hollow Boy) at The Horn Book

Heidi Schulz (The Pirate Code) at Pop Goes the Reader

Sonia Gensler (Ghostlight) at The Book Smugglers and Cracking the Cover

Other Good Stuff

Six great books featuring Norse Mythology to get readers in the mood for the new Rick Riordan series, compiled by me at the Barnes and Noble blog

October brings the RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril) reading challenge, hosted this year by the Estella Society

The panelists for this years Cybils Awards have been announced; here's the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction cohort (please apply next August if you want to join the fun!).  The next step is nominations, which open Oct. 1.

And today is the last day to get the discounted rate for Kidlitcon registration; come to Baltimore Columbus day weekend for lots of MG spec fic goodness (and other sorts of goodness too)


Ghostlight, by Sonia Gensler, with giveaway!

I went into Ghostlight, by Sonia Gensler (Knopf Books for Young Readers, August 2015), expecting Gothic southern horror, tilted toward Young Adult readers, but instead I found an engrossing not-quite-Gothic horror that's solidly middle grade, where the ghosts don't overwhelm the middle grade concerns of growing up, making friends, and figuring out old mysteries in true middle grade style!

Avery has always loved spending the summers at her grandmother's old farm, with its sprawling acres of woods and fields.  Over the years she and her older brother have made up a whole imaginary kingdom, full of stories, and she can't wait to play again.  But her brother sends that plan crashing down to earth--he says he's too old now for make believe games.   Then Avery meets Julian, an aspiring film maker staying with his dad in a cottage her grandma rents out to summer visitors.  And Julian ropes her in to a new project--making a horror movie about the Hilliard House, once the main family home, abandoned for  years.

Avery is willing to be educated in the nuances of horror movies, and she likes Julian well enough.  But she's been strictly, firmly forbidden by her grandmother to go near the old house...and there are reasons.  She goes along with Julian's plans regardless, and learns for herself the reasons for her grandmother's prohibition.  Hilliard House holds secrets of long ago tragedy, and is indeed haunted.  Avery and Julian become detectives looking for clues about the child who died there long ago, but will they be able to learn enough to set the dead at rest before new tragedy strikes?

It is a creepy ghost story, sure, but not one that is so horrific or gory so as to be the stuff of nightmares.  And the ghost story is so nicely set within the friendship/film-making/historical detection/family tension stories all going on that it is more than just a creepy story; many middle grade readers will find much to relate to here, even if they aren't necessarily ghost fans themselves. This one is particularly perfect for the budding cinematographer (I loved Julian's tips on the tricks used to make scary movies scary), a good one for those who like to explore big old fictional houses, and a good one for just about anyone who likes ghostly mystery! I liked this particular ghost lots, and enjoyed the twists of the historical mystery. In short,  Avery's journey from a somewhat whiney beginning (which unfortunately might put a few readers off) to a confident teller of stories in her own right makes for very good reading indeed. 

I'm happy to be able to offer a giveaway of a copy of Ghostlight; please leave a comment before midnight on midnight, Sept. 23rd to enter (US address only).

Sonia Gensler is also the author of the young adult novels The Dark Between and The Revenant. She grew up in a small Tennessee town and spent her early adulthood collecting impractical degrees from various Midwestern universities. A former high school English teacher, she now writes full-time in Oklahoma. 

To learn more, and to download a free curriculum guide, visit soniagensler.com or visit  @soniagensler
Follow the Ghostlight tour!

Mon, Sept 14
Cracking the Cover
Tues, Sept 15
Ms. Yingling Reads
Wed, Sept 16
Charlotte's Library
Thurs, Sept 17
The Book Smugglers
Fri, Sept 18
Unleashing Readers
Mon, Sept 21
The Hiding Spot
Tues, Sept 22
Wed, Sept 23
Word Spelunking
Thurs, Sept 24
The Book Monsters
Fri, Sept 25
Mon, Sept 28
The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
Tues, Sept 29
Kid Lit Frenzy
Wed, Oct 1
Mother Daughter Book Club

Check out the trailer!


Trapped Between the Lash and the Gun, by Arvella Whitmore for Timeslip Tuesday

There are time travel books whose point is to be didactic.  Trapped Between the Lash and the Gun, by Arvella Whitmore (1999), is written explicitly (I know this from the author's note, but I could have figured it out myself) to teach primarily about the horror of slavery, and secondly, to teach how the reverberations of slavery affect African Americans in the present. 

In the present, an urban black boy named Jordan is getting in over his head with the local gang; he is treading on very thin ice.  To get the money the gang leader wants him to produce, he steals the ancestral watch from his grandfather....but before he can pawn it, it takes him back through time to a plantation where he is assumed to be an errant slave.  Through Jordan's progressively more horrified eyes, the reader sees the human misery and evil of slavery, and he learns how the human spirit can triumph despite it all.   And he helps his ancestor escape, and comes back to the future having Learned Valuable Life Lessons, defies the gang, and ends up getting shot (but not fatally).  

He then learns that his missing dad is in prison for embezzlement, something his grandfather explains is a consequence of the systemic oppression of black people in America causing his father to give up on himself, linking this to reasons why boys join gangs (I feel there could have been a more powerful point made; this felt like a somewhat facile fizzle), and then Jordan moves out of the inner city.

I guess every kid should read at least one "this is the horror of slavery book" and the point of the past not just being past is one I think could be made more often, but there really wasn't anything about this particular book that transcended its didactic point.  Although the vivid descriptions were in fact extremely vivid, and gripping, and although several of the supporting characters were appealing, there wasn't quite enough to Jordan's character to make me care that much about him.  And so the book felt rather flat.  If you are looking for a quick intro to horrors of slavery from a modern kids perspective, it's not bad at getting its points across, but if you are looking for a really good book for middle grade kids I'd recommend instead, Delia Sherman's Freedom Maze, and for older readers, Zetta Elliott's A Wish After Midnight, or Octavia Butler's Kindred.  (All of these are time travel, and use the tension of that situation to much greater effect).

Here's the Kirkus review if you want another opinion.

Frankly, the most interesting part of the book was the author's note, in which she tells how she found out that she herself was not just white, as she'd always believed, but a descendent of slaves herself.   The true story of her ancestors was fascinating and emotionally more stirring than the book itself.


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

Here are my blog reading gleanings from the past week!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber, at Pages Unbound

Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Nerdophiles

Bloodguard, and The Glass Gauntlet, by Carter Roy, at Geo Librarian

Book of the Dead (Tombquest, book 1), by Michael Northrup, at Hidden in Pages

The Broken Spell by Erika McGann, at The Write Path

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier, by Michelle Cuevas at Jen Robinson's Book Page, Always in the Middle, and Teen Librarian Toolbox

The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at Geo Librarian and Random Musings of a Bibliophile

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Randomly Reading and Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf

Divide and Conquer (Infinity Ring Book 2), by Carrie Ryan, at Time Travel Times Two

The Galaxy Pirates by Zoë Ferraris, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible, by Ursula Vernon, at Books Together

Hoodoo, by Ronald L. Smith, at Cover2CoverBlog

Into the Dream, by William Sleator, at Views from the Tesseract

Jinx's Fire, by Sage Blackwood, at alibrarymama

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at @homelibrarian

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd, at Bibliobrit

The Last Changling, by Jane Yolen and Adem Stemple, at Read Till Dawn

A Nearer Moon, by Melanie Crowder, at Word Spelunking

Nightares, by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, at Xpresso Reads

Nightmares!  The Sleepwalker Tonic, by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, at Word Spelunking

Of Enemies and Endings (The Ever Afters), by Shelby Bach, at Log Cabin Library

The Pirate Code, by Heidi Schulz, at The Quiet Concert

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Small Review

School for Sidekicks, by Kelly McCullough at Working for the Mandroid

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, at Log Cabin Library

Twist My Charm: The Popularity Spell, by Toni Gallagher, at Word Spelunking

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire, at Leaf's Reviews

Three at Ms. Yingling Reads--Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, Switch, by Ingrid Law, and Heroes of the Dustbin, by Tyler Whitesides

Other Good Stuff

Cressida Cowell presents a How to Train Your Dragon tour in pictures at The Guardian

A new issue of Middle Shelf Magazine is out, with plenty of good MG sci fi/fantasy content

Artemis Fowl is moving toward the big screen, with Kenneth Branagh set to direct it.


The Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow

Erin Bow's YA books are not exactly comfy--the heroines of her stories (Plain Kate, Sorrow's Knot) must navigated complicated worlds in which contentment is precarious, and is balanced with darkness and loss.  The Scorpion Rules, her most recent book, fits this description to a t. 

In a future world, desperate for peace, a collective bargain was made.  An artificial intelligence known as Talis keeps watch over the various nations of Earth, enforcing peace with the threat of death.  Cities are destroyed when the peace is broken.  And hostage children, the dearest ones of the various rulers, are gathered together in an enclave, knowing that they will be killed if their nations go to war. 

One of these so-called Children of Peace is Greta, daughter of a queen of North America.  If she can make it to 18 years old, she will be free, and so she calmly goes about her life, being instructed by her AI teacher, working on the enclaves farm, keeping to the pattern of the days dictated to her.  She is so much the good hostage child that she doesn't even sneak off with the other teens to play "coyotes" (euphemism!)  in the dark night outside.   But then a catalyst from outside shatters the calm of her life.  Elian, son of a new American alliance that is threatening to make war with Greta's homeland, arrives, and he refuses to be a docile hostage.   He is tortured as a result, while the other Children of Peace watch.  And Greta knows that his people declare war on hers, which seems likely, the two of them will die.

Her  peace of mind is cracked both by the horrible implications of his presence, and by his stubborn defiance.   And a new Greta emerges from the structure of her controlled life, one who questions, who loves, who wants a future of her own making....But Talis is watching, always watching, and for him, death is not just an abstract threat.

So basically the book is about Greta growing from Good Hostage Child to strong, passionate, questioning young woman, and as this happens, there's a very gripping ratcheting up of the tension not just of her personal situation but of the lives of those around her, and the lives of thousands of strangers who Talis could kill at any time.  I was so afraid reading it that it would have a heartbreaking ending, and was glad that although tense as all get out, it wasn't all devastation and darkness....There is lots and lots of room for a sequel, but it ends at a good ending point, where there is hope (hanging fro a thread) for a different sort of peace to come.

I don't want to spoil things, but I do want to say, to help those who want to find such  books, that the teen romance at the heart of the book is LGBT, and this was an unexpected and tender romance that tightened the knot around my heart just beautifully!

In short, The Scorpion Rules isn't exactly a comfy kids at a farm school fooling around with each other sort of book, although almost it is (I put my boarding school label on it!); instead, it's that sort of book but with the very real threat of death, and no possibility of escape, hanging constantly over the kids, beautifully written and achingly engrossing.  I read it two months ago, and it is still crystal clear in my mind.


Katie and the Dinosaurs, by James Mayhew, for Timeslip Tuesday

This is the sort of Tuesday when I fall back on a picture book--Katie and the Dinosaurs, by James Mayhew (1991), because I am a pathetic reader in terms of what would make sense to read (instead of reading a nice time travel book over the weekend, I read some nice books that don't come out for months and months....

But in any event.

So Katie's grandma takes her to the museum to see the dinosaur bones, and promptly sits down to have a nap, leaving little Katie to explore on her own. Bad idea!  Katie, after happily viewing all the fossils, goes down a dark corridor, opens a forbidden door, and finds herself in Dinosaur-time!  There she meets and greets and sees from afar various dinosaurs, helps a hadrosaur find its family, and is chased by a T-rex.

It is an old book, so there are no dino feathers in evidence.  It's also dino stew--with dinos who didn't live in the same time period all running around together.  So though it feels written as a first guide to dinosaurs, it's better not read as science, but more as a merry little story for the very young (3 or 4) who won't become agitated by factual inaccuracies.   So should you bother at all with it?  There are many more accurate dino books around these days, I imagine, but the art here is rather charming, and the timesliping through a forbidden door is a magical twist of memorableness.  Here's a sample page:


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (9/6/15)

Happy Labor Day weekend!  Here's what I have for you this week; please let me know if I missed your link.

The Reviews

Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Geo Librarian

Backyard Witch: Sadie's Story, by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge, at Books Together

Beneath, by Roland Smith, at Guys Lit Wire

The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at The Book Wars

Crown of Three, by J.D. Rinehart, at Log Cabin Library

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Cracking the Cover

Diary of a Mad Brownie, by Bruce Coville, at Books Together

Fierce Winds and Fiery Dragons, by Nan Sweet, at Cindy Reads A Lot

The Glass Gauntlet, by Carter Roy, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

Heroes of the Dustbin (Janitors #5), by Tyler Whitesides, at Geo Librarian

Hoodoo, by Roland L. Smith, at Laurisa White Reyes

The House on Stone's Throw Island, by Dan Pobloki, at Charlotte's Library

The Ice Dragon, by George R.R. Martin, at Pages Unbound

The Irish Wizard, by Avril Sabine, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Magic Thief: Lost, by Sarah Prineas, at Leaf's Reviews

A Nearer Moon, by Melanie Crowder, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, at Word Spelunking

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce & Maggie Stiefvater, at Readaraptor

The Pirate Code, by Heidi Schulz, at The Daily Prophecy and Log Cabin Library

Redeemed (The Missing, Book 8), by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Read Till Dawn

School for Sidekicks, by Kelly McCullogh, at The Reading Nook Reviews

The  Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Sonderbooks (audiobook review)

The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow, by Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, at This Kid Reviews Books

Seven Dead Pirates, by Linda Bailey, at School Library Journal

The Sixty-eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

Space Hostages (Mars Evacuees #2), by Sophia McDougall, at The Book Smugglers

The Vanishing Island, by Barry Wolverton, at books4yourkids

Wild Robert, by Dianna Wynne Jones, at Charlotte's Library

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads:  Hoodoo, by Ronald Smith, and Took, by Mary Downing Hahn

And another two at Ms. Yingling Reads:  The Flintwood Factor, by Pete Hautman, and Shadows of Sherwood, by Kekla Magoon

Two at Postcards from La-la Land-- Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, and The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt

Three at SLJ--Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel, and The Disappearance of Emily H., by Barrie Summy

Authors and Interviews

Roland Smith (Hoodoo) at Literary Rambles

Lauren DeStefano (A Curious Tale of the In-Between) at Nerdy Book Club and Fuse #8

Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday 10 of 2015's animal fantastic, at Views from the Tesseract and another of Fractured Fairytales

The deadline to apply to be a Cybils judge is the 9th of September, which is this Wednesday; all of you whose blogs appear in these round-ups might want to apply to be panelists in the best category of all (maybe)--Middle Grade Speculative Fiction.  Though there is also YA speculative fiction, where the books are longer and there are more to read (they get about 200 nominations in YA, we get about 150 in MG).  In particular, YA non fiction and Book apps could use a few more interested people.  More information from me can be found here, and here's where you apply.

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