2/28/18

Cucumber Quest: the Ripple Kingdom, by Gigi D.G.

I have a soft spot for the graphic novel series Cucumber Quest because my little one (now not so little) was very fond of it when it was still a webcomic....Now it is a book series from FirstSecond, and the second book, The Ripple Kingdom, has just been released (the first book, The Doughnut Kingdom, came out last fall).  Those wise grownups who realize that reading kid-friendly graphic novels is a great way to get kids reading, especially when it's a series that's fun and bright and both a bit silly and quite a bit exciting, should be happy to have it to offer any young readers (7-10 year olds) who they might have kicking around the place.

Cucumber is a young rabbit boy whose plans to study magic got derailed by a quest to save the world.  His little sister, Almond, goes with him, and she's thrilled to have her fighting skills put to the test on their quest to find the fabled Dream Sword and defeat the Nightmare Knight.  Cucumber is much less thrilled, and his thrill level goes down even more when misfortune at sea strands him on a lonely beach.  Almond and their companion, the rather hapless Sir Carrot, are no where to be seen.   But on the beach, Princess Nautilus is being menaced by a gang of crab bullies, and Cucumber is able, to his own astonishment, to use his magic to save her.  The two join forces to rescue Almond, Carrot, and Queen Conch from the giant tentacled Splashmaster, and manage, improbably, to succeed.

It's lots of fun, with colorful illustrations that have touches of silliness, and little bits of random story (like a pop-in visit from the superhero Captain Caboodle, Champion of Justice).  And though the perspective hops around from Cucumber to Almond, the adventure is easy to follow, and quite gripping!  A more serious thread runs through it too--can the Nightmare Knight, who makes an appearance at the end of the book, ever really be defeated when there are always evil, power-hungry folk who will call him back to life????

Cucumber and Almond, and the hapless Carrot, must do their best, and so it's onward to their next adventure in the Melody Kingdom, coming this May!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

2/25/18

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantsy from around the blogs (2/25/18)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Arthur Quinn and the Fenris Wolf (The Father of Lies #2), by Alan Early, at Say What?

The Book of Dragons, by E. Nesbit, at Fantasy Liturature

Brave Red, Smart Frog, by Emily Jenkins, at alibrarymama

Clod Makes a Friend by David J. Pedersen, at Sharon the Librarian

Dormia, by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski, at Hidden in Pages

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at Pages Unbound

Granted, by John David Anderson, at Charlotte's Library

How to Sell Your Family to Aliens, by Paul North, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Legends of the Lost Causes, by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, at Cuddle and Chaos

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, at Puss Reboots

The Painting, by Charis Cotter, at alibrarymama

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at What Shall We Read Next?

The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1), by Sayantani Dasgupta, at Mom Read It

Sisters of Glass, by Naomi Cyprus, at The Book Smugglers

The Zanna Function, by Daniel Wheatley, at Sci Fi and Scary

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--11:11 Wish, by Kim Tomsic, and The Beginning Woods, by Malcolm McNeill 

Three more from Ms. Yingling Reads-- The Oceans Between Stars, by Kevin Emerson, Dark Side of the Moon, by Jeremey Kraatz, and Off Armegedon Reef, by David Weber

Authors and Interviews

Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic) at Writers' Rumpus

Sean Easley (The Hotel Between) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

"Nothing About Us Without Us: Writing #OwnVoices Fantasy in The Age of Black Panther" at MG Book Village

LeVar Burton reads a Joan Aiken story!

Warriors Read alikes at Jean Little Library





2/22/18

Granted, by John David Anderson

John David Anderson's latest middle grade book, continues a pattern--a pattern of not writing the same book twice; he's written sword and sorcery fantasy, superhero stories (with twists) realistic middle grade,  and realistic middle grade mixed with fantasy.  Granted isn't like any of those other books, though it is fantasy.  It is a book about fairies making wishes come true (the little magical type fairies with wings), and the problems (more like near disasters) that one fairy, Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets, encounters when she sets off into the human world to grant what seemed like a simple wish.

Sadly, it didn't work for me personally, although this is absolutely a matter of taste (Kirkus gave it a starred review), and I am absolutely certain that other grown-up readers of middle grade fantasy will love it, and that lots, though not all, kids will too.

The book begins by setting up the world of the fairies--they live separate from the human world, busily training themselves to go forth and grant wishes, or go into other fields such as making and healing and technology....It didn't break any particularly new ground for fairy enclaves, but it was fine.  And the problem facing the fairies--that there were fewer wishes every day for them to go forth and grant, and a worrying, interconnected decline in magic in general, was interesting.

The heroine fairy, Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets, did not appeal to me--she's a bossy pants perfectionist type, and although the edges of her sometimes abrasive personality soften during the course of the adventure to come, she's still not my favorite strong fictional girl character.

But the main reason the book wasn't one for me is that I do not like too much to go wrong.  When Ophelia is of on her mission to grant a wish, which should have been straightforward, and she should have had not trouble, it becomes a series of disasters one after another.  Too many times she got close to doing what she had to do, only for yet another thing to go wrong.  Not my personal cup of tea.

And finally,  I am not a dog person, and a large licky smelly dog plays an important roll in the story. Admitedly, the relationship between the fairy and the dog is the most powerful part of the story, so I was glad the dog was there, but still.

On the other hand, the ending is heartwarming, the story is memorable and even thought provoking, and Anderson's writing can be counted on to make clear pictures in the mind.  So basically, if it sounds at all interesting to you, and you love dogs--go for it.

2/20/18

The Girl with the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Girl with the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke (Albert Whitman 2017), is top notch YA time travel goodness! It's the story of a modern American girl, Ellie Baum, granddaughter of a Jewish Holocaust survivor, is visiting Berlin on a school trip.  When a red balloon drifts by, she grabs it....and finds herself in 1988, still in Berlin, but such a different place (there's still a year to go before the wall comes down). The red balloon was not supposed to have found Ellie.  It was supposed to magically carry an East Berliner in particular danger to the west.  But instead of a successful mission accomplished, the runners for the magical balloon operation that night now have Ellie on their hands.

Kai and Mitzi, the runners, don't know what to make of Ellie, but shelter her in their hideaway house.  Her bad German and lack of identity papers and working knowledge of "how not to get arrested by the Stazi" make her a danger to herself and to them, and they are not safe even at the best of times (as well as actively working against the state, Kai is Romani, and dark-skinned, and Mitzi is gay).  The balloon makers, part of a world-wide organization of magical rescuers who bespell each balloon for its intended passenger, don't know what to make of her either.  All are in agreement that Ellie needs to go home.  But how? And why did this happen to her?

 Kai and Ellie don't wait passively for the Balloon Makers to provide answers, but instead start investigate the problem for themselves.  Appallingly, the dead bodies of other time travelers start appearing on the streets of East Berlin--clearly there is some larger wrongness happening than just Ellie's trip from the future.  Why, though, did she live and the others not?

The answer lies further in the past.  Chapters of Ellie's story are interspersed throughout with that of her grandfather, who escaped as a teenager from Chelmno, a concentration camp in Poland, in 1942, with the help of his own red balloon.  (this isn't a spoiler; we know about his balloon almost immediately because he's told Ellie about it many times).

And so the mystery unravels, or more accurately tightens and becomes more dangerous, and as Ellie and Kai spend more time together, attraction, impossible, forbidden, and powerful, builds between them.

So not a comfort read, but a gripping one that I highly recommend.  Ellie couldn't Do much to solve her problems in her position as illegal foreigner in East Berlin, but that didn't make her a passive heroine needing rescue.  She was able, for instance, to stay sane which is saying a lot in her cirumstances!  And she was also able to learn to make little flying paper birds, which weren't much use, but which were intriguing and charming....Basically, she provided a very good perspective to share while visiting 1988 East Berlin, and that's one of the things that makes a time travel story work for me.

Although the particular plot threads are for the most part resolved, there's plenty of room for more, and indeed it is the first of a planned series.  So I recommend it lots (the only down side is that you might have the song 99 Luftballons going through your head over and over and over for the next week....)   Kirkus agrees with me (good job, Kirkus!)-- "An absorbing blend of historical fiction, mystery, and magical realism."


2/19/18

The Tombs, by Deborah Schaumberg

The Tombs, by Deborah Schaumberg (Harper Teen, Feb 20 2018), is a tense and atmospheric story set in an alternate 19th-century New York, where zepplins are common-place, but conditions for workers in the factories are much as they were in real life (which is to say, bad).  Avery is one of those workers; she's a welder, a skill picked up from her mechanical genius father, and despite the fact that she's a girl, her skill has gotten her a job (with miserable hours and working conditions, but still desperately needed).  Her father came back from the Civil War pretty broken, and though he found love, set up a shop selling clocks and mechanicals, and things went while for a bit, he was broken once more when his wife was taken from him.  The crow-masked goons working for the insane asylum in the basement of the Tombs, the city's notorious prison, came for her a few years before the story begins, and Avery hasn't seen her since.

But now the Crows seem to have set their sights on Avery, just as she is beginning to manifest the same psychic gifts that drew their attention to her mother.  Questioning her own sanity, she finds reassurance from the Gypsy community living outside the city.  (NB:  yes, Gypsy is the word used.  The author explains this by saying that this is the word 19th-century New Yorkers would have used.  But since they call themselves Romany, it doesn't seem like it would have taken much effort to have them explain to Avery that Gypsy is offensive, so that she and the author could have quit using it).  With the help of the Romany, Avery begins to understand her gifts, and begins to think that she can rescue her mother from the Tombs.

But the task in front of her gets more monumental when she finds out what the whole sinister purpose of the "mental asylum" actually is.  Horrible experiments are being carried out there, that could jeopardize the hopes of the working classes for a better life.... And when Avery herself is captured, and turned into a lab rat herself, her hope that she can be a rescuer dims even more.

Fortunately, even in dark prisons, there are friends...

So if you enjoy dark urban YA with a generous dollup of romance (two very worthy and helpful young men are present as love interests), a sprinkle of steampunk (incidental mechanicals as well as zeppelins), in which there's lots of atmospheric buildup before thing really get going in the last 200 pages, and if you appreciate a book where the female protagonist is a brilliant welder, has a hawk, and can do cool things with auras and life forces, and most importantly, if you can over look the grating, incessant use of an offensive descriptor, you will enjoy this.  I personally found it very readable, though not exactly my preferred cup of tea (dark and urban isn't my preferred thing), and though it was slow at times, a tad too New Age during the exploration of psychic gifts when Avery is first with the Romeny, and I was grated to the limits of my endurance by the use of "gypsy".  Seriosuly, it wouldn't have been hard to just switch to Romany, or better still, Romani.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


2/18/18

11 years of blogging--looking back with 11 posts

So I have a post due for the Barnes and Noble Kids blog on books for fans of a Wrinkle in Time, so I just spent a good chunk of time scrolling through eleven years worth of posts (though I gave up in 2013).  In doing so I realized that not only is it almost impossible to find good read-alikes for W in T, it is February, which means my blog is now eleven years old.

So I've pulled 11 posts from the 3500 plus I've written, to air them here again today.   Only one is a book review.  I haven't written much in the way of thoughtful posts for the past two years, and I feel vaugly inspired to do so more though since I didn't write any because of being busy with other things, and those things are still needing to be done, this inspiration is more or less a moot point.

--my ten year anniversary post, which I enjoyed writing very much

--a post on when small annoyances turn you against the whole book

--a environmentally inspired post exploring how "green" books are or aren't

--a recap of my Kidlitcon 2014 talk on finding passion in blogging

--a look at a book I'd never have heard about without blogging that I still think is utterly marvelous-the ABC of Fabulous Princesses (nb--they are birds)

--consternated thoughts about gender and middle grade books

--my Kidlitcon 2013 recap post--"2 cute pictures of my cat, or what I learned at Kidlitcon"

--Middle Grade Bloggers as Fans, Gatekeepers, Partners of the Industry, and Members of a Gender-Imbalanced Community, Part 1, and Part 2 

Something I didn't explicitly talk about which I've been thinking more about these past few weeks is the extent to which women in Kidlit do the bulk of the unpaid gatekeeping things that bloggers do (posting, comment, running Kidlitcon, volunteering for the Cybils).  So there's more food for thought here.....

--a post titled "why indexing is hard" which is really not so much about indexing as about what constitutes a "review"

--A post titled "why I wish I could be a guest in my own home" which I found amusing partly because of a comment i left on it--My dear boy ended up throwing up, so it was all worthwhile....

In any event, thank you all for a great eleven years, and if you have any recommendation for books with all of the following things, send them my way!

-brilliant girl unhappy in middle school
-the importance of sibling relationships
-making friends with other odd-ball kids
-travelling through time and space
-meeting helpful angelic like beings
-good vs evil, with inspiring message that we can choose love and fight darkness not just with love but with the arts and sciences
-overthrow of dystopia where utter conformity is required
-visiting strange planets, and learning to love aliens by looking past their monstrous appearance

thanks!

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (2/18/18)

Welcome to another round-up!  Let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent, by Alan Early, at Say What?

Beanstalker and other hilariously scary tales by Kiersten White, at Jean Little Library 

The Countdown Conspiracy, by Katie Slivensky, at Say What?

A Dash of Dragon by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartowski, at Pages Unbound

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic), by Anna Meriano, at Log Cabin Library

The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Say What?

The Eternity Elixer, by Frank L. Cole, at Geo Librarian

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart, at Minerva Reads

Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, at Say What?

Fairy Mom and Me, by Sophie Kinsella, at Middle Grade Mafioso

Gears of Revolution, by J. Scott Savage, at Hidden in Pages

Hitty, by Rachel Field, at Tales of the Marvelous

Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson, at Say What?

Lords of Trillium (The Nightshade Chronicles) by Hilary Wagner, at Say What?

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, at Say What?

A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield, at Charlotte's Library

A Properly Unhaunted Place, by William Alexander, at Say What?

Switched (Fairy Tale Reform School) by Jen Calonita, at Sharon the Librarian

The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Completely Full Bookshelf

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Granted, by John David Anderson, and Redworld: Year One, by A.L. Collins

Three at Minerva Reads--The Nothing To See Here Hotel by Steven Butler and Steven Lenton, Bee Boy: Clash of the Killer Queens by Tony De Saulles, and Night Zoo Keeper: The Giraffes of Whispering Wood by Joshua Davidson, Giles Clare and Buzz Burman

Authors and Interviews

Celine Kiernan (Begone the Raggedy Witches) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Other Good Stuff

The Cybils Award Winners were announced on Valentine's Day! Congratulations to all the finalists, in particular The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis!  The round 2 judges had a hard time picking just one book, and a hard time waiting till after the announcement to share their thoughts!  Mark Buxton, of Say What, got all his reviews up this week (in the review list above), and at Log Cabin Library, Brenda shares her thoughts on the finalists.

The shortlists for the Waterstones Children's book prize have been announced, and include a number of middle grade spec fic books.

The Amelia Bloomer list has been announced, with Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, representing MG Spec Fic.

Great Books for Young Star Wars Fans, at the B and N Kids Blog

"Re-reading Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

2/17/18

A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield

A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield  (Putnam, middle grade, Jan. 2018), is a great pick for kids who enjoy wild and whacky sci fi school stories, and for those who love stories of smart, misfit girls finally finding their people.

Nikola Kross is that sort of girl.  Her intellect and knowledge has antagonized just about everyone in her boring, normal school in North Dakota.  Her father, a mad-scientist inventor type, has rigged up a comfortable enough home of the two of them in an abandoned warehouse store, but although he's taught Nikola a lot, and provided her with a state of the art security system and incredible escape plan just in case things go wrong, he hasn't given her much affection.

Fortunately, when a nasty, non-human monster going by the name of Tabbabitha shows up after school to kidnap Nikola, after already taking her father, the security system and escape plan kick in.  Nikola finds her self a student at the most unusual school on earth, a place for genius kids who are both human (the minority) and not so human kids with extraordinary abilities.  She has a lot of catch up (quantum mechanics and the manipulation of reality not being on the curriculum of her old school), and she has even more figuring out to do.

Questions like "who the heck are these people?" and "can I finally make friends?" keep Nikola busy.  And happily, she does make friends; her new room-mate, though she has little in common with Nikola, turns out to be just who she needs, and vice versa (the way the two of them sort out how they are going to co-habitate is lovely reading!).  And of course the larger, more explosive sort of questions keep her and her companions busy as well, as they try to foil Tabbabitha's evil plottings and schemings for world domination.

It's a fun read, slowed at tad by the amount of explanations readers (and Nikola) need to make sense of things, but not so much so as to be bothersome.  The friendship thread of the story was my favorite part; I found the school slightly less appealing, probably because I am older than the target audience and rather more jaded (does every school have to come with a beautiful mean girl?), but also because the headmistress got on my nerves lots (she's intended to be unhelpful, and succeeds....).  Also perhaps because I'm not personally interested in devices that need batteries and equations.  (Pushing further into introspection-maybe I didn't like the school because I would fail if I went there....).  On a more positive note, I thought the larger conflict part was interesting (I was afraid after meeting the over-the-top Tabbabitha and her henchmonsters that it would be farcical, but it wasn't).

So short answer--I enjoyed reading it, parts very much indeed, but it's not a personal most loved favorite though it is one I'd strongly recommend to readers who do like devices and devisings, and smart girls who are good at both!

Kirkus gave it a star, referencing "an endless parade of jokes (both sly and knee-slapping)." I am now wondering if I need to read the book again, because when I read it yesterday I was amused by many things but cannot recall a single "joke" (unless you count Tabbabitha's name).  Perhaps they are jokes only people who like batteries and equations will notice.  If you have read it and slapped your knee, let me know so that I can appreciate with more precision my failure as a reader!

2/14/18

The Uncanny Express (Bland Sisters book 2) by Kara LaReau


So last week I got lovely book mail--I was a Winner of a prize package to celebrate the release of The Uncanny Express, by Kara LaReau (Abrams, middle grade, Jan. 2018), the second book about the Bland sisters Kale and Jaundice.  Here's a photograph of my treats, using the blandest upholstery in my home as background.  I especially like the little fake moustache, which I have posed ala an Edward Gorey bat between the books....

And today, while home with a sick kid, I treated myself to the Reading.  And such was my reading experience that I'm going to do something I don't usually do.

Usually when I write a review of a children's book (not that I ever write reviews much of grown-up books) I try to cast my mind back to the halcyon days of my own youth, asking myself if little Charlotte would have liked the book, and wondering if "kids today" would like it.

To heck with that.  I read The Uncanny Express as a grown-up, and loved it as a grown-up, and that's a valid experience too!  I enjoyed it so much for two reasons.

1. It was full of very fun Agatha Christie allusions, that tickled me greatly.  A crime (?) is committed on a train full of passengers with secrets.  Kale and Jaundice, the Bland sisters, are passengers on the train, swept up by the self-styled Magique, Queen of Magic (who might or might not be their Aunt Shallot), a magician who's determined to make a comeback in the world of magic (the stage kind, not the fantasy kind, although that one trick at the end.....).  When on the course of the train journey she disappears (murdered?) a  detective manifests on board the train, and Kale and Jaundice are now swept along in the path of his detecting as he questions all the other passengers.  Very much Murder on the Orient express!  Lots of fun!

This is clearly an adult reaction, and I have no clue how kids who don't know Agatha Christie will react.  Probably many will thing its funny in its own right, and than come to A.C and find it a knock off of something they already love.

2.  Kale and Jaundice were not immediately appealing to me in their first outing.  They are, indeed, bland.  But the shells of their blandness are cracking in earnest here, and emotional depths and physiological realizations are bringing them to life and making them loveable.  I truly care about them now.

This is the reaction of me, a mother, an identity so strong in me now that I can't undo it.  Quite possibly young readers will be able to take the girls at face value and appreciate their utterly over the top neuroticness, and empathize with them on the shared experience both real and fiction kids are currently living of growing up and questioning the childhood ways once taken for granted.  That would be fine too.

But in any event, I really enjoyed the book, which is very nice for me!

Thanks, Kara, for the prize package!  I'll be looking forward to book three eagerly.

2/11/18

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs, 2/11/18

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; please let me know if I missed your post!  It was a good week of blog hunting for me, because I found two books to add to my own tbr list that I hadn't heard of before! (in case anyone is curious, I've put asterixes next to them....)

The Reviews

Christmas Carol and the Defenders of Claus by Robert L. Fouch, at Read Till Dawn

The Beginning Woods, by Malcolm McNeill, at Say What?

*The Boy From Tomorrow, by Camille DeAnelis, at Rajiv's Reviews

D Day: Battle on the Beach (Ranger in Time book 7), by Kate Messner, at Time Travel Times Two

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Weezie's Whimsical Writing

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart, at Minerva Reads

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Tales of the Marvelous

The Hubble's Treasure Hunt, by Elaine Horesman, at Charlotte's Library

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano, at Pages Unbound Reviews

Marabel and the Book of Fate, by Tracy Barrett, at The Neverending TBR

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Nocturnals: the Hidden Kingdom, by Tracey Hecht and Sarah Fieber, at Always in the Middle

The Nothing to See Here Hotel, by Steven Butler, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Hope is the Word

Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren at Tales from the Raven

The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd, at Geo Librarian and Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

The Royal Rabbits of London, by Santa Montefiore and Simoon Sebag, at Lemuria Blog

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Rajiv's Reviews

Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin, at Charlotte's Library

The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome, and the Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution, by Jonathan W. Stokes at B and N Kids Blog

*Tin, by Padraig Kenny, at Minerva Reads

The Unicorn Quest, by Kamilla Benko, at Pop Goes the Reader, Ms. Yingling Reads, The Story Sanctuary, Mundie Kids, and Geo Librarian

Authors and Interviews

"Why We Need Portal Stories" by Kamilla Benko, at Nerdy Book Club

Sinead O'Hart (The Eye of the North) at Minerva Reads

Lena Roy and Charlotte Jones Voiklis (Becoming Madeleine) at B and N Kids Blog

Other Good Stuff

"Celebrating Wrinkle in Time With Writing" by Lena Roy, at Nerdy Book Club,and also "Some Things You Might Not Know about Madeline L'Engle" at 100 Scope Notes

2/7/18

Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin

Most middle grade fairy tale retellings use the "original" story as a springboard for wild leaps of imagination, which is just fine and results in some darn good books.  Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin  (Random House Oct 2017), on the other hand, is a lovely and rare example of a retelling for middle grade readers that fills in the blanks of a story so organically that you can hardly see the joins.

Snow White and Rose Red was a favorite of mine--it's about two girls who live with their mother and periodically meet and rescue a grumpy dwarf and a bear who's really a transformed prince becomes their friend...and really there's so much wild imaging going on here that it doesn't need much more!  So Emily Martin doesn't leap with it; instead she gives the girls a backstory of wealth, and then sends them out to live a meager life in the forest, with a father who is missing, and a community of others doing the best they can in the forest to befriend, and warn, and share...And she gives the strange little man a power and point that drives the plot of the story instead of dropping into it and then poofing away.  And adding to the Realness of the story, Snow and Rose are fine characters and good sisters, with distinct personalities and strengths.

As is the case with the original, at first the happenings seem random, but as you read along, you, and the sisters, find that things are more interconnected than they seem.  There is a mystery the girls must unravel...before they, like the bear, are enchanted...

Adding to the enchantment of the story are beautiful illustrations, mostly grey with just touches of read, both double page spreads and chapter decorations.  They are illustrations that make you feel like you are reading a book that matters and has the weight of magic, without being so rich in their own right that they distract.

It's been a while since I read this (I got a review copy from the publisher for the Cybils Awards last fall), so I looked to see if I said anything on Goodreads, and I (usefully, for a wonder) did:

a very nice retelling of the fairy tale; stuck close to the original, but added characterization and details about the world of forest and cottage that made it pleasing reading.

Which reminds me that if you like stories of moving into cottages, a genre that I myself  like lots, this is a good one!

2/6/18

The Hubbles' Treasure Hunt, by Elaine Horseman, for Timeslip Tuesday

One of the fun bonuses of getting your hands on a new to you vintage children's book is at the end of the book where, if you are lucky, you get a list of other books you've never heard of, sometimes with blurbs.  This luck happened to me last month, and as a result I treated myself to a few book purchases, including The Hubbles' Treasure Hunt, by Elaine Horseman (1965).  This is the second of a series about a group of English kids living in an old house in a cathedral town who have found a spell book, that includes a spell for travelling in time, which is the focus of the plot.

It begins when the kids (two sets of siblings, 3 boys, 2 girls; one set living with grandfather, the others the children the housekeeper) discover a clue to a treasure hunt hidden in a doll carved during the English Civil War.  With the encouragement, even collusion, of the grandfather, the magical recipe given in the spell book acquired in book 1 (Hubbles' Bubble) is concocted and an expedition is sent into the past, hoping that it will be the past of the English Civil War so they can find the treasure.  Instead, the grandfather and one of the older boys ends up in far off prehistory, and when they return home, they inadvertently bring with them a baby prehistoric hippo.

A trip to take the hippo home ends up landing the kids in the middle of a Civil War scrimmage, where by happy coincidence they do make contact with the author of the treasure hunt clue, but they come home nott much wiser about where it's hidden.  They do gain interesting backstory for people involved, though, which I liked.  The young man who hid the treasure went down in history as a traitor to both sides, but his story is not at all black and white....

But then it's more hippo wrangling.  The hippo, back in the present, escapes and must be found...another spell is used, so the kids can breath underwater and travel down the river looking for the hippo.

At which point, I'm, like, enough already with the hippo!  I want English Civil War time travel and treasure hunt with tragic people of the past in distress!

But no.  More hippo chasing ensues.  Sigh.

Then finally two of the kids figure out the clue, and find the treasure (with help from the hippo. sigh again), and it is lovely treasure from the cathedral, hidden from the Round-heads, in a beautiful carved chest (one of the most lovely fictional chests I've ever read).  So that is nice.

I almost really liked this one, but too much hippo, not enough good time travel, though  I realize that for many readers, the fun of prehistoric hippos causing consternation amongst the townsfolk might be wonderful.  The kids were a nice lot though, and it was good that there weren't intrusions of class distinction.  If the other books (there are three in total) come my way, I'll be happy, but I won't seek them out.

Kirkus reviewed the book when it came out in the US in 1966, and I don't think the reviewer was at all conversant with mid 20th century UK books, saying that the characters "keep up a steady banter often pleasantly silly, frequently affected, and always very British."  I, who have read hundreds of mid 20th century books, found the dialogue none of the above and I really wonder what is meant by "affected."  I am also baffled by this sentence:  "The transition to fantasy is always smoothly made, although the course of events often seems illogical or incidental."  I myself think that when you are making your own spells out a Victorian spell book, the course of events is de facto not going to be logical...I had not trouble following what was going on, for what that's worth.  Also for what it's worth, I've never once criticized a book for transitioning to fantasy too abruptly....so perhaps I'm just not as keenly sensitive as the Kirkus reviewer of yesteryear.


2/4/18

This weeks mg sci fi fantasy round up (2/4/18)

Welcome to this week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs; please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Edge of Extinction series by Laura Martin, at Redeemed Reader

Fire of Invention, by J. Scott Savage, at Hidden in Pages

The Four-Fingered Man, by Cerberus Jones, at The Write Path

Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Puss Reboots

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans, at Completely Full Bookshelf

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant, at Puss Reboots

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano, at MG Book Village

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella, by Jerry Mahoney, at Log Cabin Library

The Night Gardiner, by Jonathan Auxier, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee, at The Winged Pen

The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd, at Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

Sisters of Glass, by Naomi Cyprus, at Charlotte's Library

The Thrifty Time Travel Guides--Ancient Rome and the American Revolution, by Jonathan W. Stokes, at Small Review

The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Nerdophiles

Tricked (Fairy Tale Reform School) by Jenn Calonita, at Say What?

Tumble and Blue, by Cassie Beasley, at A Resilient Life

The Unicorn Quest, by Kamilla Beno, at B and N Kids blog

Whiskerella, by Ursula Vernon, at Puss Reboots and Ms. Yingling Reads

The Wild Book, by Juan Villoro, at Playing By the Book

Author and Interviews

SinĂ©ad O’Hart (The Eye of the North) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Kamilla Benko (The Unicorn Quest) at From the Mixed Up Files and B. and N. Kids Blog

Other Good Stuff

"Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain Tells a Fresh Story with Old Tropes" at Tor

"Wanting Realism in Fantasy" at Pages Unbound

2/1/18

Sisters of Glass, by Naomi Cyprus

Sisters of Glass, by Naomi Cyprus (HarperCollins, Nov. 2017), is a good pick for fans of middle grade revolution fantasy, a sub-genre I've just coined for myself in which the young protagonists lead the oppressed against tyranny (having just now thought of this subgenre, I haven't gotten a lot of examples together yet, just Westmark by Lloyd Alexander, and Lian Tanner's books, but I feel there are quite a few...).  Neither of the two heroines of this particular book imagined that they would be leaders of a revolution in a world full of magic, where the elite bend material things into enchantments.  Nalah has no idea this destiny awaits because she's from a different world altogether, in which magic is forbidden, which is horrible for her because she's fizzing with it, putting herself and her father in great danger, Halan because she's the pampered princess, only child and heir, and doesn't know the horrible details of the kings oppression.  She just knows that she's bored and tired of being a failure for not having any magic of her own.

But when Nalah crafts a magic mirror, and steps through, she finds that Halan is her twin on the other side, in a world that mirrors her own where her magic can flow freely.  And Halan, who's snuck out of her comfortable cage in the palace, only to be captured by the rebels who are fighting against her father's cruelty, has to decide if she's going to help this strange twin....or support her father.

So of course, this being a classic mg rev. fant, as it were, Halan ends up leading the rebellion (a rather brisk and successful one) and Nalah must then decide whether or not she will stay in the world of magic...

This is a good story, but I had a heck of a time getting into it.  The two girls don't meet until just before page 200, which is a lot of set up before things start actually happening.  I'm glad I pushed on through, because once the two girls meet, there's action and adventure, and plots and magic, and I found myself enjoying it lots.   But half the book for set up really is an awful lot; I loved the craft based magic, and so I stuck with it primarily for that.  And though I then enjoyed it, the resolution seemed almost too quick and easy, and the world building was a little bit throw in the middle of it all.  But for the sake of how quickly the last 100 pages turned, I feel I can recommend it, with just a bit of reservation.  After all, not many books have glass falcons made by the heroine coming to life, and I'll read a lot for a glass falcon....

Kirkus is more enthusiastic than me, so go read their review if you have doubts.

complaint about the cover-the two girls are supposed to be essentially identical, details of hair cut aside, and both dark haired.  Why then is the princess one blond?

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