This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (8/7/22)

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

First-- one of the things that most gladdens my middle grade speculative fiction loving heart is being part of the Cybils Awards, and spending my fall doing a deep dive (even deeper than usual) into all the elementary/middle grade books published in the past year (which for the Cybils is Oct 16-Oct 15).  You can be part of this too!  (in categories other than EMG spec fic too!).  Here's why I think being a Cybils judge is a wonderful thing, and new folks are enthusiastically welcomed. 

Call for Judges: 17 August thru 9 September. (I'll be sharing the link when it goes live)
Announcement of Judges: 21 September
Public Nomination period: 1 October thru 15 October.
Publisher/Author submission period: 17 October thru 26 October.
Finalists announced Jan 1, winners announced Feb 14.

The Reviews

Alex Neptune, Dragon Thief, by David Owen, at  Book Craic

Alliana, Girl of Dragons, by Julie Abe, at The erudite labyrinthA Cat, a Book, and a Cup of Tea, and Charlotte's Library

Beast of Stone, by Linda Sue Park, at Colorful Book Reviews 

The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo, at goodreadswithronna

The Blackthorn Branch, by Ellen Caldecott, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

David Massie and the Hidden Underworld, by Andrew M. Nehring, at Say What?

The Devouring Wolf, by Natalie C. Parker, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Fenris and Mott, by Greg van Eekhout, at Cracking the Cover alibrarymama, and Ms. Yingling Reads

Freddie vs the Family Curse, by Tracy Badua, at Eye-Rolling Demigod's Book Blog 

The Girl, the Ghost and the Lost Name, by Reece Carter, at Scope for Imagination

A Girl's Guide to Love and Magic, by Debbie Rigaud, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Gravebooks, by J.A. White, at Say What?

Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation, by Sylvia Liu, at Say What?

I, Cosmo, by Carlie Sorosiak, at  Rosi Hollinbeck

The Monster in the Lake, by Louie Stowell, at Valinora Troy

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne, by Jonathan Stroud, at Miss Print

Pilar Ramirez and the Curse of San Zenon (Pilar Ramirez Duology #2), by Julian Randall, at Say What?

Race to Fire Mountain (Future Hero #1), by Remy Blackwood, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Spark, by M.G. Leonard, at Scope for Imagination

The Treekeepers, by Kieran Larwood, at The Firebird's Bookshelf

The Way to Rio Luna, by Zoraida Cordova, at Colorful Book Reviews

What Lives in the Woods, by Linday Currie, at The Bookwyrm's Den

The Wizard in the Wood (The Dragon in the Library #3) by Louie Stowell, at Say What?

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher, at The Book Nut

Authors and Interviews

Tom Huddleston (Flood World Trilogy) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Other Good Stuff

New in the UK, from Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books



Alliana, Girl of Dragons, by Julie Abe

Alliana, Girl of Dragons, by Julie Abe (August 2, 2022, Little Brown), is a prequel to the utterly delightful Eva Evergreen series.  Though I very much enjoyed Alliana's adventures, I can't quite call it delightful--it's a Japanese-infused Cinderella story, and it was hard for me to read about Alliana being tormented by her stepmother and stepbrother.  They are truly awful to her, and she is trapped by debts she'll never be able to pay off, no matter how hard she works in the family inn.  Her one hope is to be chosen for the Royal Academy, but her stepmother will stop at nothing to keep her from leaving....

Alliana does have one person who loves her--the grandmother who lives up at the top of the inn, sewing tapestries and always ready with stories of myths and legends.  When the grandmother dies, Alliana's life seems even more hopeless, but magic is real in her world, and so are dragons....

Gathering plants as far as she can get from her stepmother, Alliana saves a baby nightdragon, and they form a strong and loving bond, though she can't possibly take it home with her.  And chance also brings her the friendship of a young witch, Nela.  And then chance pushes even harder at Alliana's life, forcing her to confront a magical danger that is threatening even the most powerful witches of the land.  She realizes, with the help of her friends, that she's a person of value, and is instrumental (along with the dragon) in setting things right.

Great for young readers who:

like kids in unhappy circumstances who not only get magical endings (this isn't a Cinderella story where the girl marries the prince, but the beautiful dress problem, which I always appreciated as a kid, is here!) but who also survive trauma and end the book starting to heal with the help of people who love them.

like stories of kids loving and caring for magical creatures

want to be friends with a witch their own age who will give them broomstick rides!

loved Eva Evergreen! (which I now want to reread* possibly then moving on to re-reading this one, which I will enjoy more than the first time around because of not being sad and anxious for Alliana. )

*I'm glad to have a solid tbr pile because there were dark years when I didn't have enough to read, but I also miss the re-reading I did back then.....

Disclaimer: review copy received at ALA


See You Yesterday, by Rachel Lynn Solomon for Timeslip Tuesday

See You Yesterday, by Rachel Lynn Solomon (YA, May 2022, Simon and Schuster) is a very entertaining and rather moving ground-hog day sort of time slip story.  It's Barrett Bloom's first day of college, and she is eager to put the heavy weight of high school behind her, and start afresh.  But she wakes up to find that she has a new room-mate--a girl she was once friends with in high school, who turned into an enemy.  And her day doesn't get any better--humiliated by Miles, a smart aleck boy in Physics class, flubbing her chance to get a position on the college newspaper, and culminating with setting a frat on fire.  Not the first day she wanted....but it isn't her only chance.

When she wakes up the next day, it is the first day all over again.  And Barrett can't do anything about it but try to do better (and successfully avoid the frat fire).  Then Miles seeks her out--he has also been stuck in a repeating first day loop, in his case for weeks already, and he's glad to have a potential ally in figuring out how to get unstuck.  Gradually Barrett and Miles, thrown together day after the same day, start to appreciate and trust each other, taking advantage of their situation to seize the day and do all sorts of fun and whacky stuff (like treating all 15 dogs in the shelter to a grand day out, wildly spending money on adventures and free ice cream for everyone on campus, and more).  And gradually they open up to each other, sharing their secrets and past traumas.  And as day follows the same day, they fall in love....learning each other, delighting in each other, treasuring each other.

But if time starts flowing like it should again, will their love last?

There's lots to like here.  Barrett isn't a standard sexy YA heroine--she's plus sized, abrasive, prickly, and impulsive.  A lot of the prickly and abrasive part comes from the trauma of her high school experience, which includes a really horrible episode in which the guy who asks her to prom, and then has (consensual, though not great) sex with her, turns that into a public humiliation nightmare for her. She wants to be someone different, but it turns out that Miles loves her for who she is, and she is just the right person to pull him out of his reserve into the flow of life and laughter. Barrett is Jewish, and Miles is Japanese Jewish, and their shared Jewish-ness is a part of their growing relationship, and Barret's mom is about to marry her girlfriend, which also makes this story have a nice outside the standard mold taste to it.

But mostly the fun and interest comes from Barrett and Miles making each new/same day different and extraordinarily, days in which they are able to grow and change.

I'm not sure it needed to be over 400 pages long, but I am sure that YA readers who want entertaining cute and introspection-provoking romance will not care.

A nice time travel touch was Barrett and Miles seeking out a physics professor who was basically forced to resign after her high level course on Time Travel outraged parents.  She wasn't able to give them a magic solution, but did nudge them toward the exit point of their loops, and I liked how the time travel was neither entirely fantastical or entirely scientific, but a bit of both.  I also liked the lost sock that was an important key to it all....lost socks are powerful, mysterious entities!



this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/31/22)

I've finally accepted the fact that Bloglovin is no longer an option, and so much of morning so far has been trying to get all the blogs I regularly read onto feedly.  I am still working on this, so let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Alliana, Girl of the Dragons by Julie Abe, at Bookworm for Kids

Asking for Trouble, by Sarah Prineas, at Puss Reboots

The Captive Kingdom, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at Proseandkahn

Carnival of the Haunted, by Kieran Larwood, at Book Craic

Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traoré, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Crowns of Croswald, by D. E Night, at Herding Cats

The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities, by Rick Riordan, at Say What?

Dark Waters, by Katherine Arden, at Bookshelves of Doom

Etta Invincible, by Reese Eischmann, at Always in the Middle

Every Bird a Prince, by Jenn Reese, at alibrarymama

Fenris and Mott, by Greg Van Eekhout, at Say What?

Ghost Squad, by Claribel Ortega, at Colorful Book Reviews

Imaginary, by Lee Bacon, at YA Books Central

The Last Fallen Moon (Gifted Clans, #2) by Graci Kim, at YA Books Central

Mia and the Lightcasters, by Janelle McCurdy, at Scope for Imagination and A Cat, a Book, and a Cup of Tea

Misfit's Magic, by Fred Gracely, at Valinora Troy

The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill, at Geek Dad

The Pennymores and the Curse of the Invisible Quill, by Erik Koester, at Mousereads

The Revenge of Zombert, by Kara LaReau, at Charlotte's Library

Small Spaces (Small Spaces Quintent, Book 1) by Katherine Arden, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook review)

Spellstoppers, by Cat Gray, at Book Craic

Team Chu and the Battle of Blackwood Arena, by Julie C. Dao, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Thirteen Treasures, by Michelle Harrison, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Witchlings, by Claribel Ortega, at Puss Reboots

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher, at Bookshelves of Doom

Xander and the Dream Thief (Momotaro #2), by Margaret Dilloway, at Colorful Book Reviews

Two at The Book Search--This Appearing House, by Ally Malinenko, and You Only Live Once, David Bravo, by Mark Oshiro

Authors and Interviews

Gemma Fowler (City of Rust) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Greg van Eekhout (Fenris and Mott), at PB Monthly

Derrick Chow (Ravenous Things) at Literary Rambles

Darcy Marks (Grounded For All Eternity), at Writer's Digest

Jonathan Stroud (The Notorious Scarlett and Browne) at Library Girl and Book Boy


The Revenge of Zombert, by Kara LaReau

The Revenge of Zombert, by Kara LaReau (July 2022, Candlewick), is the third installment about a cat who escaped from torment in a lab and the girl who adopted him sees the two of them pitted in a final showdown against the evil corporation, YummCo, that's misusing science to take over the world.

Bert the cat escaped from the YummCo lab, in terrible shape and twisted past normal cat-ness by the experiments to which he was subject.  Mellie adopted him, and the two began to work together to uncover the dark secrets of YummCo.  It becomes an even more urgent crisis in this third book--YummCo. food products are turning everyone who eats them into zombies, desperate to consume more.  And a scratch from Bert's claw has infected Mellie with the same alterations that have made him super smart and super hungry....With the help of friends and some surprising allies, Mellie and Bert use their wits and determination to bring YummCo. down once and for all!

It's very good sci fi adventure for the younger elementary set (ages 8-10).  The cruelty of animals will fire up kids, and some might also appreciate the evil of the corporation so greedy for market control that it will stop at nothing.  The writing is brisk and to the point, capturing each moment in the adventure clearly, and dropping just information about what's really happening to keep readers on their toes.

I was very pleased indeed when this came in the mail so that I could finally find out how it all ended! When I read the first Zombert book book,  The Rise of Zombert (my review), I had the following comment:

"It was an abrupt shock to reach the end of this book only to find that we don't get the answers yet! I myself am suspicious of YummCo Foods, and their economic hold on the town....The sudden stop makes me want to read the next book, but it also was very harsh to be just left there with all the questions. This might annoy some young readers greatly."

Ha!  I was prescient re YummCo!  And now that all three books are out in the world, no annoyance is necessary, unless you read the first one and the other two are checked out or not purchased for you briskly enough....We are given a satisfactory ending, but there is room for more.....and I wouldn't say no!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Hello Now, by Jenny Valentine, for Timeslip Tuesday

 Although it's not always obvious (and doesn't always work) I do sometimes try to plan ahead and make sure I have time travel books read and ready to review on Tuesdays.  So I placed lots of holds last week, and have just finished one of them--Hello Now, by Jenny Valentine.  At about page 100, slightly more than halfway through, it started seeming familiar....and I checked Goodreads, and found I'd read it before.  Not very long before, either--February of 2021.  I wrote of the book then "Not to my personal taste."  And this conclusion still stands.  

What follows is a presentation of why it's not to my personal taste, as opposed to a nuanced, critical and level-headed review.  I'm going to spoil the story, so if you want to go read a book I don't really like without being spoiled off you go!

It's a story of a teenager, Jude (gender never specified), disgruntled at their mother for constantly choosing to move new places when things turn sour.  Another new house, another new town, although this one comes comes with an old man, Henry, living it, which is new  This was interesting; I enjoy people exploring old houses and Henry seemed like he had potential as a character (though I hadn't remembered at this point I'd read the book before).

Then Jude's life is transformed when a magical boy, Novo, who transcends time and space and the laws of physics (literally) appears on the scene (here's another personal thing--I thought the name Novo was silly).  It's basically him appearing, being all magical pied piper (babies stop crying when he smiles on them, etc.) and saying "hi I'm your magical soul mate come transcend the laws of time and space with me" and Jude going yes and being transcended into a pocket universe bubble of space time.  This was odd, and not very interesting, because Novo showed no signs of having any particular character trait other than being mesmerizing, and Jude had no thoughts that weren't about him.  I did not remember reading about Novo a year and a half ago.

Then Jude and Novo are in  their own little bubble of a private Now and it is heady, so heady, with love and lots of description.  Good description of cliff diving, but generally not very interesting to me, except I wondered why Jude wasn't surprised that they both suddenly had wetsuits.  Where did they get wetsuits? If Novo's magicness conjured them, why not conjure more things? Why stop at wetsuits?

We switch back to Henry for a bit, and he does have character and a backstory....and a sad love story of his own (this is where I started remembering!) Turns out he was a being like Novo, who also fell transcendently for a regular mortal, and instead of being content to spend what time  he could with her in a space time bubble, he stuck around until she got old and died, and ended up being trapped in an undying aged body with no ability to flow through doors of time and space anymore. Moderately interesting. 

In any event, Jude decides to keep Novo from getting stuck like that, and good byes are hard but Jude goes off travelling courtesy of Henry's squirreled away wealth and dispassionately observes people and places with no interesting thoughts about them (Jude's main thought is "good for me I'm not home on the couch"), almost as if the  Novo experience fried their brain with transcendentness.

Novo is back in an in-between space finding to find another door to go through.

But anyway, time is certainly slippery, and I've now written a blog post.

In fairness--if you like books with lots of description (nicely written description; it does make good pictures in the mind), that's full of Feelings and Young Love, you might love this.  The Kirkus reviewer liked it more than I did:  "The author deftly handles themes of living in the moment, embracing change, and moving forward after loss. While the conclusions drawn don’t necessarily break new ground, readers will nevertheless walk away with a lot to think about."  

I am still thinking about wetsuits, and how unromantic they are both to put on and take off.....


This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs

So I didn't get a single review written this week (too hot to concentrate in my old non-airconditioned house), but happily many of you did!  Bloglovin was once again no help this week, snarl, so do let me now if I missed your post; I had to rely on googling this week....

The Reviews

All The Queen’s Sons, by Elizabeth Kipps, at Hailey Huntington

Amira and Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, by Samira Ahmed, at AMB 

Cavern of Secrets (Wing and Claw #2), by Linda Sue Park, at Colorful Book Reviews

Etta Invincible, by Reese Eschmann, at Jenjenreviews and The Bookwyrm's Den

Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation, by Sylvia Liu, at Semicolon

J.R. Silver Writes Her World, by Melissa Dassori, at Bit About Books

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone, by J.T. Michaels, at J.R.'s Book Reviews

The Journey Begins: Magic Hunters #1 by Jill and Brad Williamson, at Say What?

Last Gate of the Emperor, by Kwame Mbalia and Joel Makonnen, at The Bookwyrm's Den

Let the Monster Out, by Chad Lucas, at A Kids Book A Day

The Myriad Mysteries of Eartha Quicksmith (BK2), by Loris Owen, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Nightingale, by Deva Fagan, at A Blog of Books and Musicals

Nura and the Immortal Palace, by M.T. Kahn, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Problem With Prophecies ((The Celia Cleary Series #1) by Scott Reintgen, at Say What?

Solimar: The sword of Monarchs, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Our Sunday Project

The Umbrella Mouse, by Anna Fargher, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Two at alibrarymama--It's the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit, by Justin A. Reynolds, and Valentina Salazar is NOT a Monster Hunter, by Zoraida Cordova

Authors and Interviews

M.T. Khan (Nura and the Immortal Palace) with agent Melanie Figueroa, at Literary Rambles

 Reese Eschmann (Etta Invincible) at Nine Bookish Lives

Frank L. Cole (The Die of Destiny), at Journey to Zenobia

Francesca May (Wild and Wicked Things), at Geeks Out

Gemma Fowler  (City of Rust) at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Other Good Stuff

"Fun, Feel-Good, & Empowering Middle Grade and YA Science Fiction and Fantasy" at bookriot

"The best creepy dollhouse books for middle grade readers" picked by Katheryn Reiss at Shepherd

and it's just a few weeks now till the call for judges for this year's Cybils Awards will go out!  Do consider appling to be a panelist this year, and spend your fall reading and chatting about whatever kids/YA book genre you like best (perhaps elementary/middle grade speculative fiction!)  Here are my thoughts on why being a Cybils judge is a wonderful thing. Anyone can nominate in September, and in the meantime there are idea boards over at the Cybils website. It takes a bit of focus to add a book to the idea boards, but it's a great way to show love to your favorite books/authors! Of course, I could add 100 emg spec fic books I think should be nominated off the top of my head, but that's not really the point....


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/17/22)

Bloglovin was not accessible this weekend, so I'm probably missing lots of posts this week; please let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews

The Button Box, by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams, at Charlotte's Library

The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton, at Semicolon

Festergrimm, by Thomas Taylor, at Scope for Imagination

A Flash of Fireflies, by Aisha Bushby, at Rosie Amber

Freddie vs the Family Curse, by Tracy Badua, at Eye-Rolling Demigod's Book Blog

J.R. Silver Writes Her World, by Melissa Dassori, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Last Beekeeper, by Pablo Cartaya, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Lost in the Mushroom Maze (Dungeoneer Adventures #1) by Ben Costa & James Parks, at Say What?
The Mermaid Call, by Alex Cotter, at Book Craic

The Myriad Mysteries of Eartha Quicksmith, by Loris Owen, at Valinora Troy

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, by Tolá Okogwu, at Geo Librarian

Orla and the Wild Hunt, by Anna Hoghton, at Scope for Imagination and Book Craic

Quintessence, by Jess Redman, at Colorful Book Reviews

Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor, by Xiran Jay Zhao, at InkandplasmaReviews

Two at The Virginia Pilot--Healer and Witch, by Nancy Werlin, and The Last Mapmaker, by Christina Soontornvat

Two at Feed Your Fiction Addiction--Lia Park and the Missing Jewel by Jenna Yoon, and Spineless by Samantha San Miguel


MG Readathon Time!

 Ms. Yingling Reads is hosting a 48 MG readathon this weekend, and having completed my tasks for the day, I'm ready to plunge in!

I won't be reading for 48 hours, but I do hope to enjoy these books.

The ones I bought:

The ones I picked up at ALA and some review copies:

And two from the library:

This will make no appreciable dent in my tbr pile of course, but some progress is better than no progress...


The Button Box, by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams for Timeslip Tuesday

The Button Box, by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams (April 2022, Kar-Ben Publishing), is a lovely time travel story for upper elementary/younger middle grade readers (which is to say 8-10 year olds).  It entertains, it educates, it offers wisdom and promotes tolerance, and it has a cat...

Fifth grade is turning sour for Ava, who's Jewish, and her cousin Nadeem, who's Muslim, when a classmate starts bulling them about their religions.  When they tell their Grandma, instead of picking up the phone to talk to the principle, she tells a story about one of their Sephardic ancestors in 8th century North Africa, a girl named Ester whose family are spice merchants.  And she brings out a crystal button box, full of buttons cherished for generations.  Granny's cat, Sheba, somehow triggers its magic, and one of the buttons takes Ava and Nadeem back to Ester's time....

The two modern kids are recognized as the cousins whose visit was expected, and the time-travel magic provides them with appropriate clothes and language skills, so although they are a bit anxious about getting home again, it's not traumatic.  They are pretty sure that there's going to be something they have to do in the past, and sure enough, there is.

The Umayyad dynasty who ruled Syria has been overthrown, and one of the only surviving princes, Abdur Rhaman, aka Abd al-Rahman, is running for his life.  He's desperately trying to get to Spain, just a few miles across the water.  Ava and Nadeem know that he is responsible for a Golden Age where science and art flourishes, and Muslims, Jews, and Christians live peacefully together.  But from where they are standing in North Africa, with an mob trying to capture the prince to claim the bounty on his life, this future seems like it might never happen, which would mean that Ava and Nadeem were never born.

But Ester has a plan to save him, and Ava and Nadeem are in the right place at the right time to help her....

And as an added bonus for the two kids, Abdur Rhaman is able to share wisdom with them that will help them with their modern bully, and they in turn are able to give him the assurance he will need to lead his kingdom.

The past is vividly described, and I very pleasurably learned an important bit of history I was never taught (I have now done a lot of  further online reading and have quickly planned a trip to Andalusia, Spain).   It very thoughtfully offers a view of Islam and Judaism that's respectful and heartfelt, and holds wisdom for the receptive reader without being dogmatic or preachy. And it does all this in only 129 pages.

Please give this to the kid who has just outgrown the Magic Tree House books after reading them all, who's mind is ready to be stretched a bit! Or any other 8 or 9 year old you happen to have around.  Or if you are an adult willing to appreciate a book that might at first seem to young for you but actually isn't, give it a try!  


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (7/10/22)

Good morning from a lovely day here in Rhode Island, where I have far too much yard work to do and far too many books to read!  Here's what I found this week; let me know about anything I missed.

The Reviews

Alliana, Girl of Dragons, by Julie Abe, at Pages Unbound

Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes (Pandava #3) by Roshani Chokshi, at Colorful Book Reviews

The Dragon Flyers Book 1, by Cynthia Star, at Say What?

The Dragon in the Bookshop, by Ewa Jozefkowicz, at Book Craic and Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Double Trouble Society, by Carrie Hope Fletcher, at splashesintobooks

Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation, by Sylvia Liu, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Impossible Destiny of Cutie Grackle, by Shawn K. Stout, at Log Cabin Library

Into the Vortex (Dylan Dover #1), by Lynne Howard, at Say What?

The Last Mapmaker, by Christina Soontornvat, at alibrarymama

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall, at The Fabric of Words

The Mermaid Call, by Alex Cotter, at Scope for Imagination

The Midnighters by Hana Tooke, at Book Craic, Readaraptor, and Magic Fiction Since Potter

The Mirrorwood, by Deva Fagan, at No Genre Left Behind

The Notorious Scarlett and Brown, by Jonathan Stroud, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Nura and the Immortal Palace, by M.T. Khan, at Utopia State of Mind

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, by Payal Doshi, at Valinora Troy 

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, at Proseandkahn

The Train to Impossible Places, by P.G. Bell, at Leaf's Reviews

Valentina Salazar is Not a Monster Hunter, by Zoraida Córdova, at Charlotte's Library

Authors and Interviews

Kerelyn Smith (Mulrox and the Malcognitos) at The Fabric of Words

Ewa Jozefkowiez (The Dragon in the Bookshop) at Scope for Imagination

Other Good Stuff

"Middle Grade Fantasy Series Your Kids Need Now!" at Happily Ever Elephants


Valentina Salazar is Not a Monster Hunter, by Zoraida Córdova

Valentina Salazar is Not a Monster Hunter, by Zoraida Córdova (June 28, 2022, Scholastic) is a fun new middle grade fantasy perfect, just perfect, for kids who have outgrown the elementary magical creature befriending books.  Here we have magical creatures galore, and even rainbow unicorn poop, but there are serious family issues driving the plot, and serious questions about ethical choices.  There's also a wild car trip in a very wild vehicle, a visit to an alternate world where magical creatures live, an evil powerful organization that must be infiltrated, and a kick-ass mom who gets to help (which I appreciated).

Val has grown up in a family of monster protectors, dashing across the country with her parents and three older siblings whenever they hear of a sighting.  Her father was raised to be a monster hunter, dealing with incursions by killing the monsters, but rejected that. Instead, he has taught his family to trap the creatures and send them back to their home world.  But when he's killed by an ora puma (a mountain lion with wings and a scorpion tail), her mother takes the family to a small town where they can have a normal life.  Andie, the oldest sister, leaves home almost immediately to join the monster hunters in a betrayal Val can't wrap her head around.  Lola and Rome seem to be cool with going to school.  But Val is a frustrated, miserable mess, and gets herself into heaps of trouble when she tries to deal with monsters she thinks she sees at school.

But on the last day of school, there really is a fire breathing lizardish chipmunk up a tree...and the situation that ensues not only gets Val one last detention, but it brings her and her siblings a little bit closer.  Then Val sees an online clip of a kid showing off his "dragon" egg, and recognizes it as an ora puma egg.  Determined to live up to her family's creed, she decides, in good middle grade fashion, that she will drive the family monster hunting van cross country to get hold of the egg, and send it back where it belongs.

Fortunately, Lola and Rome aren't going to let her go alone.  

And this is really where the book gets going!  Lots of adventures, new friends, narrow escapes, magical creatures, and more, and it is all most satisfactory. Val's determination and zeal might get her into trouble at school, but it is just what is needed to not only bring her family back together and hold them to the ethical standards by which they were raised, but also to take down a nasty organization that wants to profit from monsters, and will stop at nothing to do so.

Sweetening the pot for the target audience is Val's guilty secret.  She has befriended a cute little sugar loving monster instead of sending it home, and it is rather adorable.  

In short, lots of magical creatures and lots of heart! I enjoyed the whole ensemble lots, especially once the road trip started.

disclaimer: review copy received (aka snatched by my greedy little paws) at ALA for review.



This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (7/3/22)

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

Here's a reminder that being a Cybils judge is a wonderful thing with which to fill your idle hours this fall! Look for the call for panelists in mid August.

The Reviews

The Child of Fire and Earth, by Barry Ryers, at Books are 42

Dragon on Trial, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at No Genre Left Behind

Epic Zero, by R. L. Ullman, at Valinora Troy

Forest of Wonders (Wing & Claw #1), by Linda Sue Park, at Colorful Book Reviews

Freckles: The Dark Wizard, by Jerry Harwood, at Fabulous and Brunette

 Gabe in the After, by Shannon Doleski, at Cracking the Cover

Lark and the Wild Hunt, by Jennifer Adam, at Say What?

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera, at Leaf's Reviews

The Last Mapmaker, by Christina Soontornvat, at Children's Books Heal

The Lonely Ghost, by Mike Ford, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Mapmakers and the Lost Magic by Cameron Chittock & Amanda Castillo, at Pages Unbound 

The Marvellers, by Dhonielle Clayton, at alibrarymama

The Midnighters, by Hana Tooke, at Cracking the Cover

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told by his brother) by David Levithan, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

The Prince of Nowhere, by Rochelle Hassan, at Charlotte's Library

Ravenous Things, by Derrick Chow, at Say What?

Revenge of Queen Rose by Valinora Troy, at  Iseult Murphy

Secret of the Shadow Beasts, by Diane Magras, at The Bookwyrm's Den

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, by A. F. Steadman, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Spineless, by Samantha San Miguel, at GeoLibrarian

Tamarind and the Star of Ishtar, by Jasbinder Bilan, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Twin Stars (The Coseema Saga #1), by Bridgette Dutta Portman, at Bookworm for Kids

Willa of Dark Hollow, by Robert Beatty, at The Children's Book Review

Wretched Waterpark, by Kiersten White, at Always in the Middle 

Two at The Book Search -- Serwa Boateng's Guide to Vampire Hunting by Roseanne A. Brown, and Fenris and Mott, by Greg van Eekhout

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads -- The Dollhouse, by Charis Cotter, and The Clackity, by Lora Senf

Authors and Interviews

Shawn Peters (The Unforgettable Logan Foster and the Shadow of Doubt), at MG Book Village

Shirley Vernick (Ripped Away), at Mom Read It

Shivaun Plozza (A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic) at Better Reading

Other Good Stuff

Ten Science Fiction Books for Elementary Kids, at  Nerdy Book Club 



The Prince of Nowhere, by Rochelle Hassan, for Timeslip Tuesday

I feel a little bad that by making it clear that The Prince of Nowhere, by Rochelle Hassan (May 2022, HarperCollins), is a time slip book, I've spoiled it a little. But it can't be helped, and so I will bravely move on and try to explain what the book is about and why I liked it lots (in a nutshell, great world-building, great characters, a chilling moral dilemma) without spoiling it too much more!

Roda has lived a safe, snug life with her mother in a small town that's protected by an curtain of enchanted, freezing cold mist.  Her adventurous aunt Dora has ventured beyond the mist, travelling through monster-filled lands to other towns, each likewise engirdled, and even to other lands, and Roda dreams of maybe someday following in her footsteps. But adventure finds her first.

Anonymous riddling notes begin to arrive, each with a small prediction about the future that always comes true. So when a note comes instructing her to venture almost inside the mist to find a crow, she does...and brings the almost frozen crow home. It isn't an ordinary crow, but a shapeshifting boy named Ignis, whose clan has just been destroyed by monsters.

Ignis has no home anymore, and doesn't know what he was doing before he crashed in the mist. The anonymous note writer does, though, and has just set a plan in motion that will take Roda and Ignis on an impossible, irrational journey through the mist, through the monsters, to a place called Nowhere.

Nowhere is a pocket universe place, created by the same long-gone magician that set the protective mist in place, that can only be entered, and left, during the three days a great comet passes by. It also is a time portal, where Anonymous is waiting. When Ignis realizes this, he desperately wants to go back in time to save his clan, but Roda is convinced this is a mistake. The trust they've built up in their travels is threatened, as is the course of their lives, and the clock is ticking as the comet passes by...Will they be trapped in Nowhere before it comes around again? Will they be caught in a looping time slip for decades? And what does Anonymous, who (in the words of the Goodreads blurb) "threatens their past, present, and future," want from them?

It is a cracking good read--lots of good build up to the adventure, an exciting journey, a truly magical and wonderous and disturbing destination (I cannot stress enough how fascinating Nowhere is), and a really intriguing high-stakes puzzle. The author tried really hard to make the time travel elements understandable, but it still required careful thought and I'm not quite sure I firmly grasped all that proceeded this episode of a story that had been playing out for years. This did not trouble me overmuch, though, because I was happily reading, and cheering for Ignis and Roda to come out of their adventure with their friendship, and futures, intact.  

Recommended to all who like middle grade fantasy (there is also a pinch of dragon, if that sweetens the pot of my recommendation), and to time travel fans who particularly enjoy one of the central conundrums of the genre--if you could go back in time to set things right, would you go?

The ending is self-contained, but there's lots of room for more, and I hope we get it!


Two great dog picture books

 I was lucky enough to be at ALA this past weekend in D.C., and enjoyed not only seeing friends, but filling tote bags with (mostly) kids books. Now that me and my books are home again, I'm determined to get on top of reviewing the finished books in particular, so that they can get on the library shelves and into the hands of their target audience!

So here are two fun dog picture books that even a cat person can appreciate (although cats won't; my cat, needy after my ALA absence, didn't like how much room they took up in my lap....)

I'm Not Missing, by Kashelle Gourley, illustrated by Skylar Hogan (May 2022 by little bee books)

I'll start by saying how much I adore the side-eye of this book's fictional dog narrator!  He's a dog who grew tired of being a pet--the costumes he was forced to wear, the tricks he had to perform, the lack of toilet privacy, etc.  And so he snapped one day, and took off on his own, looking askance at the missing dog posters adorned with his image, scrounging for food, and finally pooping without an audience.  But then he sees his little girl loving a new dog.  Though he tries to just nonchalantly accept that she's moved on to another relationship, when he realizes she was just pet-sitting, and when he sees her weeping while looking at his missing dog picture, he gives being a pet again another chance.  Fun and adorable, and thought-provoking too with regards to relationships, with illustrations that made me grin.

Woof! The Truth about Dogs, by Annette Whipple, illustrated by Juanbjuan Oliver (June 2021 by Reycraft Books)

This non-fiction book is perfect for young dog-lovers wanting to learn more about their beloveds, but also great for kids who aren't familiar with dogs. Information about all sorts of dog topics is presented in a kid-friendly question and answer format, such as "How do dogs help people?" with lots of pictures of dogs doing their various jobs (helping, guarding, herding, and loving) as well as basic information in the text focusing on service jobs.

There are questions I'd never thought to ask, like "do dogs sweat?" (yes, from nose and paws), questions whose answers are nicely science-y, like "why are puppies born with closed eyes?" and "why do dogs smell everything?" and one that (many) kids might have wondered, and will find transgressively delightful --"why do dogs smell butts?" (which is answered with lovely matter-of-factness). I think two of the most important questions, though, are "how do dogs communicate?" and "how to meet and great a dog." Lots of good information here that might well keep enthusiastic but un-dog- smart kids from harm!

Plus there are lots of cute dog pictures, both illustrations and photographs, and instructions for a tug toy kids can make.


this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (6/26/22)

 A somewhat hasty roundup, as I am here in Washington D.C. to simultaneously visit my mother adn go to ALA!  so let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Aru Sha and the Nectar of Immortality, by Roshani Chokshi, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Freddie vs the Family Curse, by Tracy Badua, at Always in the Middle 

Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse, by Sangu Mandanna, at Valinora Troy

The Last Mapmaker, by Christina Soontornvat, at Cracking the Cover

Onykeka and the Academy of the Sun, by Tọlá Okogwu, at The Bookwyrm's Den

Rise of the Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Puss Reboots

Secret of the Shadow Beasts, by Diane Magras, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Sisters of the Neversea, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, at From the Mixed Up Files

The Shelterlings, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Charlotte's Library

The Strangers, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at  Leaf's Reviews 

Authors and Interviews

Zetta Elliott (Dragons in a Bag series) at Middle Grade Ninja

Julie Abe (Alliana Girl of Dragons) at Just another teen reading books


The Shelterlings, by Sarah Beth Durst

Sarah Beth Durst is one of my favorite middle grade fantasy authors, and her new book, The Shelterlings (June 21, 2022, Clarion Books) is one of her best!  I loved it.

The Shelterlings of the title are rejected familiars, creatures that made the trek to the mountain pool that awakens magic in those who bath in it.  Wizards evaluate the magic that's sparked in each aspirant, keeping those whose new gifts are deemed useful, and dismissing the others to a home for the useless.  Holly, a squirrel, is one of the later animals.  The wizards laughed at her when she conjured pastries, and though the sting and disappointment (she longed to go on useful and exciting magical quests with a wizard partner) are still fresh in her mind, the Shelter for Rejected Familiars has become home, and it's misfit mélange of creatures, with strange and wonky powers, are her family.

Then Charlie, a rejected beaver who conjures flowers, shares his plan to redo the magic spell that gave the pool its magic, so that this time around it would give them proper gifts such as familiars should have.  He needs help from the other creatures to collect the various ingredients, and so Holly and the other animals set out on genuine quests.  Not only do their quirky magical talents turn out to be essential for the success of the various missions, but Holly starts to realize that there was nothing keeping them from venturing out any time they wanted to; quests can happen without wizards (and, it turns out, talking animals can hop on trains no questions asked to travel in search of adventure....the world is their oyster!)

After a very satisfying recounting of questing adventures and the powers deemed useless being used to great effect (I loved this part of the book especially!), things become darker.  There is betrayal, and grave danger to the Shelterlings...but then a happy ending.  

Obviously there's a message at the heart of the book, that you don't have to believe it if you are told you aren't valuable and that your gifts are worthless, and that "useless" gifts can be precious.  I also appreciated that the down side of being used by those in power, as the wizard familiars are, is presented (one of the chosen familiars quits and comes to live with the rejected).  I saw this message coming almost immediately, but that's because I'm an old and experienced reader, who loves stories in which minor magic is creatively used to save the day.  The target audience might not see the message coming.  It was all very nicely done, and I didn't find it belabored (it's also a nice message to hear, even if you aren't the target audience...self-doubt is an enemy at any age!).

Adventure, friendship/found-family, and magical fun, all described with lovely clarity meant that I read this in just about a single sitting with my mind's eye busily making it all real with no effort at all on my part!  Especially (with just tons of conviction!) recommended for the younger MG set, the 9-10 year olds.


The Magical Cupboard, by Jane Louise Curry, for Timeslip Tuesday

I was tremendously pleased when my sister came to visit me this past weekend, bringing with her a copy of The Magical Cupboard, by Jane Louise Curry (1976), which she had cleverly bought for me in a used bookstore along the way.  It's the sequel to Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Time, a classic time travel book that I enjoyed.

Rosemary, the main character of the first book, has only a walk on part here--in the present day of the book, she's anxious to find a magical cupboard that played a part in her first time slipping adventure in 18th century America (at least, I guess the cupboard did, but I don't actually remember it....).  In any event, we soon leave Rosemary to see what's happening in 18th century New England.  

The cupboard, a beautiful thing, with intricate carvings, has been stolen by a nasty preacher and his wife, who have made a living profiting from witch trials and embezzled orphans.  One of these orphans is Felicity, who crawls inside the cupboard one cold night when she's supposed to be keeping watch over the preacher's belongings as they travel west in search of new money making schemes.

Wonderfully, Felicity finds herself in a warm and comfortable room, with strange "dragons" whizzing outside...she doesn't know it, but she's in Rosemary's time.  It is all to brief a visit for my taste, but it does set up events for the cupboard to be returned in the present to the family from which it was stolen.

Much of the book involves the evil schemes of the parson and his wife, and the journey west.  Felicity is a fine orphan, making good and finding love and prosperity after much adversity.  

I enjoyed it, but wish we'd seen more time travel, and more of Rosemary!  


This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (6/19/22)

Bloglovin has been down for a bit, so it's entirely possible that I missed your post this week; let me know if that's the case!   Here's what I did find.

The Reviews

The Doomfire Secret, by Annaliese Avery, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Escape, by K.R. Alexander, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Goblin Market, by Diane Zahler, at cannonballread

The Legend of the Dream Giants, by Dustin Hansen, at Puss Reboots

Lia Park and the Missing Jewel, by Jenna Yoon, at YA Book Central

The Lost Ryū, by Emi Watanabe Cohen, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Map of Leaves, by Yarrow Townsend, at Bellis Does Books

The Monster in the Lake, by Louie Stowell, at Children's Books Heal

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, by Tolá Okogwu, at Mom Read It

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, by A.F. Steadman, at Pages Unbound and Glam Adelaide

Small! by  Hannah Moffatt, at Book Craic

The Thief Queen’s Daughter, by Elizabeth Haydon, at The Obsessive Bookseller

The Titanic Tunnel, by Glen Blackwell, at Scope for Imagination

Authors and Interviews

Sangu Mandanna (Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom) at Valinora Troy

Xiran Zhao (Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor) at Publishers Weekly (scroll down)

Diane Magras (Secret of the Shadow Beasts), at MG Book Village

C.W. Allen (The Secret Benefits of Invisibility) at Andi's Middle Grade and Chapter Books

Other Good Stuff

Here's a blogroll of MG book bloggers, compiled by Ms. Yingling. Do add yourself if you aren't there already!

and your weekly reminder to think about joining in the Cybils Awards fun this coming fall! Here's my post on why you might want to take the plunge. I'm the category organizer for the Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction, and I love welcoming new folks!  There are other categories too--YA spec fic, graphic novels, early chapter books, and more.   I'll be announcing when the application period opens in mid-August.


Halfway Down Paddy Lane, by Jean Marzollo, for Timeslip Tuesday

Halfway Down Paddy Lane, by Jean Marzollo (1981), is the story of 15-year-old Kate, a girl from the early 1980s, who travels back in time to 1850--same Massachusetts town, same house even, but now she's the oldest girl in a family of Irish immigrant mill workers.  Fortunately she's able to do a convincing Irish accent, and she quickly picks up the ability to work in a textile factory.  Even more quickly, she falls in love with Patrick, who is the oldest son in her new family, and the focus of Kate's thoughts shift from "how do I survive this?" (which is very interesting and well done)  to "how can I marry Patrick?"  (less interesting).

But fate has other plans for Patrick, and Kate finds her self back in the 1980s, broken hearted.

I know this is a favorite time travel story for many, and I would have loved this if I'd read it the year it was published (I was a high school freshman then).  The romance (with enough explicit details about nipples and manly bulges to push this to YA)  would have been just right for young me, and I'd have learned a lot of history (the No-Nothing Party, the Yankee prejudice against the Irish, and what life was like as a mill worker).  

As a much older reader, I appreciated the history (though it wasn't new to me) but found the romance kind of icky and not believable. What bothered me more is that Kate didn't do much with her time in the past, but just passively went with the flow of it all, too obsessed with Patrick to be a real part of her new family, and more and more convinced that she'll just stay in the past forever (she does miss her parents, but Patrick is her bright shinning sun).  Right at the end, she does decide to become involved in the struggles of the mill workers, but doesn't get a chance to do anything before going back to her own time.  

The time travel is never explained directly, but it turns out that Patrick is her great-great-grandfather, and the house Kate's mother has just bought in the present is the same one that Patrick and his family lived in.  So kinship and over-lapping in the same house converged into time travel, which is as good a reason for time travel as any, I guess....though not pushed by the author into anything truly magical.  It felt kind of pointless.  Kate didn't change anything in the past (except souring Patrick's relationship with the girl he ended up marrying), and her return to the present is so brief there's no sense of Kate having changed (she just cries about Patrick).

All in all, a bit disappointing; I felt no particular sense of numinous magic or stirring of emotion, which is what I read timeslip stories for. But at 14, my take on it may well have been very different indeed.  I might even have ended up crushing on Patrick myself....


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

But first--As will be the case until the application period for being a Cybils Awards judge closes at the end of August, I want to encourage anybody reading this, who writes or talks about mg fantasy and sci fi somewhere on line, to consider applying to be a panelist for the upcoming Cybils Awards-here's my post on why you might want to take the plunge. I'm the category organizer for the Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction, and I love welcoming new folks! (seeing old friends is nice too, but new folks is even better! I'll be announcing when the application period opens in mid-August.

The Reviews

The Bookwanderers (Pages and Co.),  by Anna James, at Silver Button Books

The Callers, by Kiah Thomas, at Buzz Words Books

The Circus at the End of the Sea, by Lori R. Snyder, at Bookworm for Kids

A Dragon in the Library, by Louie Stowell, at Valinora Troy

A Flash of Fireflies, by Aisha Bushby, at Scope for Imagination

Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse, by Sangu Mandanna, at Book Craic

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera, at Sonderbooks

The Last Fallen Moon, by Graci Kim, at The Bookwyrm's Den 

The Lost Girl King, by Catherine Doyle, at Scope for Imagination

Lucia’s Fantasy World, by Donan Berg, at Literary Titan

Molly and the Machine, by Erik Jon Slangerup,  at Ms. Yingling Reads

Noah’s Gold, by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, at Bellis Does Books

Nora and the Sacred Stones, by Laura Hatch Rupper, at Say What?

Nura and the Immortal Palace, by M.T. Khan, at Islamic School Librarian

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, by Tọlá Okogwu , at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

The Patron Thief of Bread, by Lindsay Eagar, at The Children's Book Review

Pizazz, by Sophy Henn, at Say What?

The Raven Heir, by Stephanie Burgis, at Pages Unbound

The Sea of Always (Thirteen Witches #2), by Jodi Lynn Anderson, at Charlotte's Library

Secret of the Shadow Beasts, by Diane Magras, at The Story Sanctuary

Shadowghast (Eerie-on-Sea #3), by Thomas Taylor, at Puss Reboots

The Sisters of Luna Island, by Stacy Hackney, at Always in the Middle

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, by A. F. Steadman, at booktrailers4kidsandYA 

The Whisperer’s Warning (Secrets of Oscuros #2), by Danielle Y. C. McClean, at Crossroads of Imagination

Witchlings, by Claribel Ortega, at alibrarymama

Wretched Waterpark (The Sinister Summer Series #1), by Kiersten White, at Cracking the Cover and Meg's Book Rack

Zo and the Forest of Secrets, by Alake Pilgrim, at Library Girl and Book Boy

Authors and Interviews

Dhonielle Clayton (The Marvellers) at Kansas Public Radio  

Julie Abe (Alliana, Girl of Dragons) at Her Campus

Sylvia Liu (Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation) at Kidlit411

Other Good Stuff

"Netflix’s School for Good and Evil Opens Its Doors With a First Teaser" at Tor


The Sea of Always (Thirteen Witches #2), by Jodi Lynn Anderson, for Timeslip Tuesday


Yay me!  I have my Timeslip Tuesday book read--The Sea of Always (Thirteen Witches #2), by Jodi Lynn Anderson.   It's the second book in the series, and though it does a decent job standing alone, it  works better if you've read the first, and there's no reason why you wouldn't want to start at the beginning!  It has a totally unique time travel premise, as one of the characters points out:

"There have got to be lots of possible futures.  The time-travelling whales make that possible." (p 215). 

 Yes, here we have a time-travelling whale, who's graciously conveying our heroine, the young witch hunter Rosie, her best friend Germ, the ghost of a young boy, and another young witch hunter from the future, on an impossible quest through time and space.  The kids are desperately trying to save Rosie's twin brother, stolen at birth by the Time Witch, and, while they're at it, it would be really nice if they could foil the evil plot of the Time Witch and the other witches to destroy all that is good in the world.

Rosie's witch-hunting skills are still a work in progress, the witches are incredibly powerful, and the whale unpredictable.  And the Time Witch has set a clock ticking that will end Rosie's life if she doesn't win her brother back.  She can't directly confront the witches all at once, so she set off, with her companions, to steal their hearts, one by one, to destroy en masse when time runs out.

It's a desperate game of chance against horrible odds, but with determination and love, there's hope....

So the journey hunting witches, via the magical whale that transports them through the Sea of Always, is full of fun/disturbing time travel.  Fun because it's time travel, disturbing because the witches are really horrible.  The whale is perhaps the most entertaining part of the story though--it provides the characters with all the comforts and distractions it can, producing party decorations, snacks, music, and the like.  

The main strengths of the book are the vivid pictures it creates in the mind's eye, and in Rosie's inner journey--I really liked her character development.  In particular, it's great to see her, encouraged by her friends, embracing the weirdness of her imagination that makes her magic powerful.   

On the downside, with twelve witches to hunt down (the 13th was dispatched in the first book), there's a lot of travelling through time and place, during which the kids are primarily spectators of the past, and though I found it interesting, there may well be readers who will find it frustrating that there are no Big Happenings and Wild Excitement.  And I found the ending something of a let down--there's a bit of deus ex machina involved that saves the day, without which the kids would have been doomed, and all the hard work of heart stealing didn't, in the end, seem as worthwhile as I was assuming it would be.  

There's a third book coming, so of course not everything is resolved at the end of this one....I will look forward to it, even though it will probably not have time travelling whales!

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