Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House, by Michael Poore, for Timeslip Tuesday

Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House, by Michael Poore (Random House, middle grade, September 2019) my time travel read for the week, was one that I enjoyed, while simultaneously giving it side-eye....

It starts with the main character, a girl named Amy, scientifically testing to see how easy it would be to steal a butterfly hoodie (it has antennae).  With the help of fake vomit, she finds it's very easy indeed.   She tells herself she'll return it tomorrow, but by the time tomorrow comes, the hoodie has been through much too much to be returnable. I have strong residual side-eye feelings about the store never getting paid for it, and her parents being more appreciative of her scientific mind than appalled by her theft....

But her parents aren't exactly focused on parenting, because they are camping out in a field with a big x on it, awaiting the arrival of the Big Duke, the largest mining machine in the world.  It is on its way to mine "hyperzantiummetachondrite (a green substance used to make tennis balls."  Amy's parents are scientists, who know the digging is going to poison the groundwater.  But since no one is paying attention to what they say, they are going to block the digger with their bodies....

Much side-eye from me (not about the ground-water, but about the tennis ball stuff).  I remember when I read this thinking "this book must have been written by someone who usually writes for grown-ups [I was right], who is trying too hard to be whimsical."  And writing this after reading the whole book, I am thinking "I bet the kids who'd enjoy this book would have liked it better if it had just been regular old mining."

So that's the first ten or so pages.

Amy, in her stolen butterfly hoodie, next goes off on a walk through the countryside to visit her friend, Moo.  Moo sits on the porch of her house, wearing a cow hoodie, watching the herd of wild cows (escapees from an overturned cattle truck years ago), and occasionally saying "moo." Though we are told she has intelligent brown eyes (which made mine roll), "moo" is the only word she can say, and she cannot move independently (if lead, she can follow), due to a brain injury inflicted by her father (who is now out of the picture).  Amy calls her Moo, never having asked the girl's mother her real name, but is otherwise a good friend, talking to her and bringing her interesting rocks.  So points for Amy.

Clearly this will take forever if I keep on like this.  I will try to be brisker.

Then Amy gets struck by lightning, which enables her to hear Moo's cogent, articulate thoughts, and thrilled by this chance for real friendship, she takes Moo for a walk into the woods, despite having been told by her parents to avoid the woods because of the witch living in them who kidnaps children (in whom Amy believes, because her parents are scientists and wouldn't try to frighten her with stories).  The girls find a house with a clock in it and Amy sees green streamers of time magic around it and they travel about thirty years back in time.  Moo is now able to move independently, thanks to Amy's residual lightning strike magic (or something).  But she still can't talk, except in Amy's mind.

There in the 1980s they meet the witch, who isn't a witch but is in fact a brilliant scientist, who helps them get home again.  Other things happen, some of them eliciting more eye rolls, but enough synopsis is enough.  And  then the two girls arrive back in time to confront the mining machine, and thwart it.

So lots of eye rolling at little things, and bigger things, like the magical alleviation of Moo's disability.  I can't speak for most young readers, but I myself don't like whimsical playfulness of this sort in disability representation, and I'm not entirely sure, thinking about it, if Moo's disability was intrinsically necessary for the plot, which then seems to be making me wonder if the time travel really was necessary for the plot, and what exactly this plot might have been.....though of course I know that it's "two brave girls who travel back in time, and become close friends thanks to magical communication, must find a way to travel forward in time again to stop some bad mining."

In any event, despite all this, I enjoyed reading the book. Amy and Moo's friendship and banter is very entertaining, and managed to make it all worthwhile.

Having written this, I go to Goodreads for the link and picture, and find myself side eyeing other reviews on Goodreads.  One says this book is "a mash-up of A Wrinkle in Time and the Wizard of Oz." It is not.  Just Not. Here's another mash-up from the official blurb-"Combine the thought-provoking time travel of When You Reach Me with the humorous storytelling of Lemony Snicket, and you get a wholly original journey through time, space, and the depths of the human heart."  I have many thoughts about this too.  For one thing, Lemony Snicket isn't a book, so ditch the italics.  For another, the time travel doesn't come close to the emotional tension of When You Reach Me, and is only mildly thought-provoking.

But do remember, I enjoyed reading this book, and did so in almost a single sitting.  And I chuckled more than once, and will remember one of those chuckles fondly for a long while....


The Dragon Warrior, by Katie Zhao

For those looking for mythology infused adventure, ala Rick Riordan, there's more out there than just the Rick Riordan Presents books!  One excellent pick is The Dragon Warrior, by Katie Zhao (Bloomsbury, October 2019).

It starts out with a familiar story--a girl who finds herself the Chosen One.  12-year-old Faryn Liu and her little brother Alex have been trained by their grandfather (their father's missing, and their mother is dead) in the warrior tradition of the Jade Society, fighters who protect humans from attacking demons.  But there have been no demon attacks for ages, and Faryn's family is despised by the elite of the society--her mother was not Chinese.  Then one night Faryn finds herself confronting an actual demon, and with the help of  a celestial being, she defeats it.  Maybe she's destined to be a warrior in the Jade Society after all.

Turns out she's more than just a warrior.  She (very unexpectedly) finds that she's been chosen by the gods to be the next Heaven Breaker, fighting demons for the Jade Emperor with a weapon only she can use.  But to assume that mantel, she must overcome a series of challenges and make it to the island of the gods bfore the Lunar New Year. Setting off in a chariot drawn by flying horses, with her brother at her side to put his intellect to work deciphering the riddles of the challenges, and with her former best friend, who had turned against her like all the other Jade Society kids, Faryn takes on demons, and other challenges, to prove herself a hero.

And then there's a twist....because gods (and there are many divinities in the Chinese pantheon, moving in and out of Faryn's story) are tricky, and don't necessarily have the best interests of ordinary people in their hearts, and the story kicks up a gear, leaving readers longing to find out what happens next!

So if you like brave girls, lots of mythological magic, dragons and wonderful weapons, and some solid demon whacking, you'll enjoy this lots! It might not seem like it's breaking new ground at first, but even the "old" ground of questing is made fascinating and fresh by the Chinese immortals and their interventions.   There's perhaps a tad too much stress on how mean the former friend turned, and her change back to an ally is more convenient than convincing, but it furthered the plot just fine.  Many young readers appreciate friend drama more than I do, and it allowed readers to understand where Faryn is coming from in her journey toward self-confidence.

In short, a fun introduction to Chinese mythology (there's a nice guide to demons and deities at the end of the book) that will leave readers hungry for more!

disclaimer: review copy gratefully received for my reading as a Cybils Awards panelist last year, read when I got, and now happily reviewed so  I can pass it on to my local library!


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (2/23/2020)

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

The Reviews

The Alchemist's Shadow (Watch Hollow #2), by Gregory Funaro, at J.R.'s Book Reviews

Dead Voices, by Katherine Arden, at Twirling Book Princess

Demelza and the Spectre Detectors, by Holly Rivers, at bookloverjo

Dragons in a Bag, by Zetta Elliott, at Books4YourKids

Ghost and Bone, by Andrew Prentice, at A Garden of Books

The Hippo at the End of the Hall, by Helen Cooper, at Cover2CoverBlog

The House of One Hundred Clocks, by A.M. Howell, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

In the Cirle of Time, by Margaret J. Anderson, at Charlotte's Library

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Book Craic (nb--the series has just been released in the UK)

The Last Last-Day-of-Sumer, by Lamar Giles, at Rosi Hollinbeck

Lightning Girl, by Alesha Dixon, at Always in the Middle

The Mad Hacker (Escape Game #1), by Remi Prieur and Melanie Vives, at Pick a Good Book

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Latinxs in Kid Lit

Master of the Phantom Isles (Dragonwatch #3), by Brandon Mull, at Say What?

The Mystwick School of Musicraft, by Jessica Khoury, at Charlotte's Library

A Path Begins (The Thickety #1), by J.A. White, at Here There Be Books

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidiker, at Sonderbooks

A Sprinkle of Sorcery, by Michelle Harrison, at Book Murmuration

Superhero Squad (Lightning Girl #2), by Alesha Dixon, at Always in the Middle

The Windreader, by Dorothy A. Winsor, at A Dance with Books

Authors and Interviews

Kevin Emerson (Lost in Space: Return to Yesterday) at From the Mixed Up Files

Tara Gilboy (Unwritten, and its sequel, Rewritten) at Mrs. Book Dragon

Other Good Stuff

Oprah's magazine offers a book list for those who enjoyed Harry Potter--some of the recommendations are middle grade, but others are for adults.  I disagreed with some, but it's a reasonable, if not exciting or tremendously diverse, list.

What's new in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

A list of recent (ish) diverse girl-centered mg fantasy at From the Mixed Up Files

All but one of this year's Andre Norton Award finalists are middle grade! Congratulations to Cog
by Greg van Eekhout, Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee, Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien, Riverlandby Fran Wilde, and Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez (congratulations also to Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer)

This is the last round-up post of February.  What's your favorite MG sff book of the year so far? (or multiple favorites).  My own two so far are Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan (April 2020) and The Mulberry Tree, by Alison Rushby (July 2020 in the US).


The Mystwick School of Musicraft, by Jessica Khoury

The Mystwick School of Musicraft, by Jessica Khoury, is a fun read for those who like magical school stories with determined kids finding their true gifts.

Amelia Jones is the best in her village at musicraft-the art of mixing music and magic-and she's determined to gain admittance to the Mystwick School, one of the most prestigious in the world.  It's where her mother, who died when she was little, went, and it's all Amelia wants.  When she botches her audition, she's sure she hasn't gotten in, but to her great surprise, she gets an acceptance letter.  And so she's off on a magical trip around the world, in a dirigible powered by magic organ music, that gathers her classmates and takes them to the school off in the Colorado mountains.

But once she's there, it's discovered that she is the wrong Amelia Jones.  Another Amelia, brilliant at both piano playing and spell crafting, was supposed to have gotten the letter, but she has just tragically died.  The staff at the school are very doubtful about giving the wrong Amelia her place, but decide to take her on a trial basis.   She's determined to work harder than everyone to prove her worth, but her flute playing isn't nearly as good as everyone else's music, and her magic doesn't always work out right...and on top of that, her new roommate was best friends with the other Amelia, and of course resents her tremendously, and to make things even worse, she realizes she's being haunted...possibly by the other Amelia.

But eventually her roommate, and a friendly boy in her class, start helping her figure out what's happening.  In order to try to set things right, they break school rules and experiment with a forbidden dark spell, which doesn't go well.  And in the end, the whole school is in danger and Amelia realizes that she has a special, valuable gift after all and deserves a place in the world of magical music.

It doesn't break tremendously new ground, but it's a pleasant read with enough new interest provided by the music.  The growing threat posed by the ghost and the dark magic add nice tension, while remaining a problem the kids can solve by working together.  There's nothing really to find fault with, but it never quite became a book I found myself loving, though I can imagine many 9-11 year olds enjoying it more than I did.  Amelia isn't a brilliant instrumentalist, and so there was never the passion for the music in and of itself taking over the pages, which I would have liked.  Apparently the audiobook, where you get to listen to all the music powering the magic, is wonderful, and in fact sounds so appealing I want to check it out.


In the Circle of Time, by Margaret J. Anderson, for Timeslip Tuesday

Margaret Anderson is perhaps best known for Searching for Shona, but she also wrote several time travel books that many people remember fondly. Back in 2014, I talked about one of these, In the Keep of Time, and I enjoyed it enough that I mentioned I wanted to seek out her other books....but only now in 2020 did I actually check to see if the library had any of them.  Happily, the Rhode Island library system is not, in general, known of its vigorous weeding, and so In the Circle of Time (1979) came home with me last month.  It's not a direct sequel to Keep of Time, but is a companion to it, beginning a few years after it, with two different main characters.

Robert lives on a lonely Scottish farm with a father who has no time for his interest in art, and who wants him to work harder on the farm, despite his having a weak leg from polio.  Jennifer's an American girl whose family has just moved to the area.  They'd seen each other at school, but it's not until they both decide to visit the stone circle out on the moors on the same morning that they start to really know each other.  When you share an experience of mist coming down and time starting to go off kilter, it brings you together....

The first time they don't actually travel in time, though Jennifer does see people who aren't there in our time.  They pay a second visit to the stones, though, not because they want the strange experience to happen again, but to test it, to see if it was real.

It was, and this time they are transported to the year 2179. The stones are still there, and there's a boy about their age who is willing to befriend them.  But the stones are much closer to the ocean than they were back in the 1970s.   Sea level rise and global warming caused by fossil fuels has caused mass extinctions, and human migrations. (so prescient of Anderson to predict this; I remember in 1977 reading a newspaper article about the coming ice age....).  This part of Scotland is now home to a community whose ancestors came from India, and they are living in low tech harmony, eschewing violence.  Sadly, this isn't true for another group, who still cling to technology, using slave labor to mine the coal they need.  These "Barbaric Ones" are, on the day Robert and Jennifer arrive from the past, in the middle of a mass kidnapping of their new friend's peaceful people.

Robert and Jennifer understandably don't want to be kidnapped, and don't understand why these people aren't fighting back.  They do manage to thwart the Barbaric Ones for long enough that Robert and Jennifer can see what their peaceful, idyllic life is like--full of crafts, gardens, and communal child rearing, with visits to the library of the abandoned, collapsing city nearby at intervals.  But though Robert almost prefers it to his own harsher life, they must return to their own time....and here their story overlaps a smidge with the four kids from Keep of Time.

I really really liked the introductory part of the story, introducing the kids and the circle of stones and setting everything up beautifully and atmospherically!  And in general, Anderson is an excellent describer.  I had trouble, though, with the future peaceful society because being jaded and cynical it seemed to me more like a hippie commune (sans pot) and less like a believable future community.  It gave a fantasy feel to the story, that was at odds with the tangible bits of the past, like the abandoned robots in the old city.  And the emphasis on the power of love and good will made me twitchy.

Basically I'd have loved it if I'd read it the year it came out...I was 11.  And quite possibly my library (Arlington VA Central Library) had it, though maybe not, because it seems like the sort of thing I'd have found appealing, and I browsed and browsed those shelves lots.

Still, it was a fast and enjoyable read!  I have just now requested another of her time travel books, The Ghost Inside the Monitor....Several of her books, including Keep and Circle, are available as ebooks, for those with more ruthless libraries.  And looking at her website, I found myself intrigued by her memoir, From a Place Far Away  (Lychgate Press, June, 2017) covering her Scottish childhood before and during World War II.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (2/16/20)

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

The Reviews

All the Impossible Things, by Lindsay Lackey, at Redeemed Reader

Beneath the Weeping Clouds (Riders of the Realm #3), by Jennifer Lynn Alverez, at Childen's Books Heal

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #3), by Anna Meriano, at Sonderbooks

Gloom Town, by Ronald L. Smith, at BooksForKidsBlog

The Good Hawk, by Joseph Elliott, at Whispering Stories

Hamstersaurus Rex vs. The Cutepocalypse, by Tom O'Donnell, and Tim Miller, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Ice Bear Miracle, by Cerrie Burnell, at bookloverjo

The Library of Ever, by Zeno Alexander, at Susan Uhlig

The Lifters, by Dave Eggers, at a Garden of Books (audiobook review)

A Mixture of Mischief (Love Sugar Magic #3), by Anna Meriano, at Always in the Middle

Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse, at Charlotte's Library

The Silver Tree, by Ruth L. Williams, at Charlotte's Library

Skycircus (Cogheart #3), by Peter Bunzl, at Log Cabin Library

A Sprinkle of Spirits (Love Sugar Magic #3), by Anna Meriano, at Sonderbooks

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia, at Sonderbooks

Authors and Interviews

Peter Bunzl (Cogheart) at From the Mixed Up Files

Sarah Cannon (Twist) at Spooky MG

Other Good Stuff

The program for this year's Kidlitcon, in Ann Arbor March 27-28, is up!  And includes many MG Sci/fi fantasy authors!  There's no charge for registration, but if you want your free lunch courtesy of the Ann Arbor library, register by the end of the week!

And finally, congratulations to Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, winner of this year's Cybils Award for Elementary/MG Speculative Fiction!  Here are the winners in all categories.


The Silver Tree, by Ruth L. Williams, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's timeslip story is an older one--The Silver Tree, by Ruth L. Williams (1992), and in face I was surprised to find it was a recent as it was; I would have thought it was a few decades older....

When we meet Micki Silver, she's a sulking, unpleasant sort of girl, making no effort to behave pleasantly to her parents or her little sister.  When she sulkily goes off by herself in a rather strange toy museum, and goes into a room marked "private," she finds a most remarkable dollhouse.  The child dolls inhabiting it are alive....

She travels back to the time of the original house and its inhabitants, the 19th century, where she's accepted as the orphaned cousin the family had been expecting.  It's a largish family of five siblings, one of whom is a girl her own age.  But tragedy strikes right at the beginning of her time with them, when the oldest boy has a bad fall from a tree, and his life hangs from a thread.  A strange old woman appears and disappears sporadically, giving warnings and enigmatic utterances involving branches and trees, and as Micki mulls over her words, she realizes that her own angry and pointless impulse in her own time caused the accident.

She wished she'd never been born, and to her horror, it seems like her wish might be granted....because the 19th century boy in danger of dying is her own ancestor (hence the branches and trees in the warnings--it's family trees....)

So the dollhouse and enigmatic old women are strange and have to be swallowed with many gains of salt, but the actual time travel part is good time travel reading, with Micki learning to be a 19th century girl, and becoming friends with her cousin in the past, and travelling back and forth between her own time and the past.  This is the sort of book that I think if you read it young, and it was one of your first time travel stories, would make a huge and very favorable impression.  Indeed, this is what the Goodreads review indicate.  

And even for a veteran reader of time travel it's soothingly familiar and yet still interesting, though it would have been tidier if there'd been some explaining about just who or what the old woman was....and also the dollhouse aka ancestral home in the toy store is not explained at all.  That being said, the toy museum's manager seems to be the same old woman, so I guess it's all a set up to teach Micki a lesson, although why is the old woman bothering? Fortunately it's not overly didactic in its message that Micki has a lot of growing up to do with regard to recognizing that actions have consequences, but I was really glad to see her being taught this lesson! 

Short answer--a fine choice to give to a 9 or 10 year old who you think might enjoy time travel, but no particularly compelling reason to read it if you are older than that, unless you like quick reads about modern girls in Victorian families (that lack any grappling with difficult history, or social and economic issues, except for Micki's aggravation about clothing and embroidery lessons....).  

Here's its Kirkus review, which pretty much agrees with me....This seems to be the author's only book, which is a bit disappointing, because despite being somewhat lukewarm about it, I'd have read more by her....


Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

36353103Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse (January 2020), is the latest offering from Rick Riordan Presents.  It's an exciting story of a Navaho girl facing a heroic destiny as a monster hunter.

Nizhoni Begay has dreams of greatness, that aren't working out real well for her.  Being a star baseketball player, for instance, is pretty much of the table when she takes a ball to the face.  It's not entirely her fault, though--sitting in the bleachers is a monster.  To everyone else, he's just a man in a nice suit, but Nizhoni knows a monster when she sees one.  This monster is Mr. Charles, her dad's new boss at an oil and gas company, but he seems more interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, 10 months younger than her.

The next day, her dad disappears, leaving a note that says "run!"  Fortunately, Nizhoni has help and guidance from a most unexpected source--her stuffed horned toad, Mr. Yazzi, is alive, and very knowledgeable about monsters.  So Nizhoni, Mac, and Mr. Yazzi, along with her best friend, Davery, set off on a rescue mission.

Their journey takes them deep in to the world of Diné Holy People and old stories, like those of the Hero Twins, coming true before their eyes, as they race to the Sun to find the weapons they need to take on the monsters hunting them.  It's a journey full of trails and danger, in which Nizhoni and Mac discover a heritage of magic.  (Davery, though not destined to be part of the magical world, is nevertheless a crucial player in the adventure; he contributes knowledge, smarts, and level-headedness  to the mix).

The ending is very satisfying, with Nizhoni a hero, and her family together.  But there are still monsters out there...and one can hope for more adventures!

I enjoyed it; it's always fun to see the stories of cultures you aren't tremendously familiar with come to life.  There was one thing, though, I didn't like at all...Mac, the little brother, is supposed to be almost Nizhoni's twin--he's only 10 months younger than her.  But boy, he is incredibly immature!  I think his immaturity is meant in many instance to provide comic relief, but I expected him to grow up and shoulder more responsibility as his sister's partner and step into his role as the other manifestation of the Hero Twins, and he never does.  He is never a full team member.

That being said, this is a solid page-turner of a story with a great heroine, a great friendship (Davery's a treasure of a best friend!), and a great horned toad person.


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (2/9/20)

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

The Reviews

Brightstorm, by Vashti Hardy, at Book Craic

Britfield and the Lost Crown by C.R. Stewart, at Log Cabin Library

The Darkdeep, by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs, at Say What?

Darkwhispers, by Vashti Hardy, at Book Craic

Geeks and the Holy Grail, by Mari Mancusi, at Charlotte's Library

The Girl with the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Book Nut

Homerooms and Hall Passes, by Tom O'Donnell, at Sonderbooks

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at Sonderbooks

The Mark of the Dragonfly, by Jaleigh Johnson, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The Monster Hypothesis, by Romily Bernard, at Say What?

Orphans of the Tide, by Struan Murray, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, by Ronald L. Smith, at BooksForKidsBlog

The Potter's Boy, by Tony Mitton, at Sonderbooks

Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse, at Puss Reboots

The Red Casket (Del Toro Tales #2) by Darby Karchut, at Log Cabin Library

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker, at Welcome to my (New) Tweendom

The Secret Deep, by Lindsay Galvin, at Charlotte's Library

The Seeking Serum, by Frank Cole, at Geo Librarian

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia, at Book Nut

Authors and Interviews

Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic series) at Always in the Middle and From the Mixed Up Files

P.J. Hoover (Homer's Excellent Adventure) at From the Mixed Up Files (with giveaway)

Other Good Stuff

New in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books


Geeks and the Holy Grail (Camelot Code #2), by Mari Mancusi, for Timeslip Tuesday

The first book in the Camelot Code series, The Once and Future Geek, mixed time travel between the medieval world of King Arthur and our own, and it is a very entertaining book.  The second book in the series, Geeks and Holy Grail (Hyperion, October 2019), is also entertaining (though not quite as funny; King Arthur as a modern day high school student is hard to beat....).

When Morgana, sworn enemy of King Arthur, attacks the druids of Avalon, Nimue, the youngest of them, takes the Holy Grail and runs with it.  King Arthur is dying, and only the Grail can save him.  Desperate to keep it from falling into Morgana's hands, she stumbles into Merlin's Crystal Cave.  But instead of Merlin there to help her (he's on vacation in Los Vegas, in our time), there's only his very inexperienced apprentice, Emrys.  His attempt to hide the grail works, in a sense--as a small, flatulent dragon, it sure doesn't look much like a grail.  But it isn't much use to Arthur as a dragon....

Fortunately, help is on the way.  Sophie, in our world, gets a message that she's needed in King Arthur's time and immediately ditches shopping for bridesmaid dresses with her soon to be stepmother to go the rescue. Unfortunately, she takes along her soon to be stepsister Ashley, a sparkly and annoying cheerleader girl with nothing in common with geeky, gameplaying Sophie. Ashley, however, soon becomes useful as a grail dragon wrangler...Sophie isn't good with animals.

Merlin must be found to restore the grail to cup form ASAP, so Sophie and Ashley head for Las Vegas to find him, making a quick stop at home to pick up Sophie's partner in adventure, Stu. Emrys and Nemue head directly there from the middle ages, with Morgana hot in pursuit.  The Excaliber hotel has never seen such a vivid and convincing co-play extravaganza as ensues when they all meet at the medieval feast....but in order to turn the dragon back to a grail, fairy magic is needed, and the modern kids head off to the land of fairy to get the magic herb they need.

In any event, it all works out well.

It's light-hearted entertainment, given some depth by Sophie's discovery that there's more to Ashley than just glitter; Sophie does some nice growing up in realizing that other people have feelings and points of view worth respecting....Nimue and Emrys are solid additions to the cast of main characters, Merlin's time bending use of modern technology is always fun, and the Vegas high jinx, and the dragon grail, are delightful.  I look forward to the next book!


The Secret Deep, by Lindsay Galvin

The Secret Deep, by Lindsay Galvin (Scholastic, Feb 4 2020), is a sci-fi mystery/adventure that's difficult to review, because it's best read without spoilers, but hard to talk about without them.  So conclusion first--this is a fun adventure with science pushed to fantastical limits, with lots of ocean adventure, and a thought-provoking consideration of the ethics of medical consent.  It's upper middle grade (classic "tween")-- 11-14 year olds. There's some nascent romance, but it's not a plot point.  It wasn't really a book that hit all the right notes for me, but if you look at Goodreads you'll find lots of readers who loved it.

It begins with two sisters, Aster and Poppy, flying to New Zealand to live with their aunt after their mother dies from cancer.  Aunt Iona is an oncologist, but she wasn't around to help her sister; instead, she was travelling frenetically around the world, helping various disadvantaged communities, seemingly unaware of how dire the situation for her nieces had become.

But after several months living with a family friend, the girls are on their way to their aunt.  Who turns out not to have a real home for them.  Instead, she takes them to a wilderness camp, where she's gathered refugee and homeless teens for an experiment in healthy living.  It is an odd set up, but the girls try to make the best of it.

It gets odder when Aunt Iona bundles all the kids onto a boat, ostensibly for an enriching expedition, and odder still when a sleeping gas fills the boat, knocking all the kids out.  At this point the reader can't help but realize that Aunt Iona is a piece of work, though just what work that is still unclear.

When Aster regains consciousness, she's on a small island, and is joined by two other teens.  Things are strange, and get stranger still....and (skipping over lots of the strangeness), it turns out (and this isn't a spoiler really because all the clues are there) Aunt Iona has been doing medical tinkering on the kids, without their consent, in the name of making them safe from cancer, and things haven't gone the way she planned.

Meanwhile, a second point of view character, a young New Zealand teen named Sam, who met the girls on their journey, is following his own trail of clues into this mystery.  He's motivated by his desperate need to help his grandfather, who's dying from cancer, and unwittingly he brings the most dangerous piece possible on the board of this medical chess game, another scientist who Aunt Iona was emphatically trying to cut ties with, whose ethics are even more questionable than hers....

Aster is in the middle of a mystery, and desperately worried about her sister, but can't do much in the way of solving things.  She's more a spectator than an instigator in the events that unfold.  Sam also doesn't actually do anything that helps the situation.  And I think this is why the story, for all it's entertaining science gone crazy, felt a little flat; yes, it's interesting to see the two of them noticing the strangenesses and starting to put the pieces together, but the resolution happens without their direct instigation, although both play parts in the violent final confrontation.

But what really left me feeling a bit cheated is that the most gripping story of all isn't told.

(Spoiler here! really real spoiler)

While Aster and the two other teens are on their island, all the other kids from the camp, including Poppy, are living underwater, breathing with gills, unable to talk to each other and afraid to try to breath air again.  For nine months they live like this.  And yet this experience, so fascinating, so awful, and so strange, gets almost no page time.  And Aster, when she realizes she too can breathe underwater, doesn't seem to give it much thought.  

Oh well; I did enjoy reading it though I didn't love it...

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (2/2/20)

Welcome to this week's round-up of mg fantasy and sci fi!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

All the Impossible Things, by Lindsay Lackey, at Imaginary Friends

Cryptozoology for Beginners, by Euphemia Whitmore and Matt Harry, at Kid Lit Reviews

The Dark Lord Clementine, by Sarah Jean Horwitz, at Sonderbooks

The Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee, at Sloth Reads

Frostheart, by Jaime Littler, at Arkham Reviews

The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted, by Conor Greenan, at Say What?

Interview with a Robot, by Lee Bacon, at Hidden In Pages (audiobook review)

Midnight on Strange Street, by K.E. Ormsbee, at Eli to the nth, J.R.'s Book Reviews, and Ms. Yingling Reads (and many more--full list at Eli to the nth above)

A Mixture of Mischief (Love Sugar Magic #3) at alibrarymama and Charlotte's Library (and many more--see either of the links above for the full blog tour)

Monster Slayer, by Brian Patten and Chris Riddell, at Book Murmuration

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby, at Rosi Hollinbeck

Ogre Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, at Susan Uhlig

The Reckless Rescue (Explorers #2), by Adrienne Kress, at Pages Unboud

The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost (Johnny Dixon #4), by John Bellairs, at Say What?

Sauerkraut, by Kelly Jones, at Youth Services Book Review 

Snow White and the Seven Robots, by Stewart Ross, at Twirling Book Princess

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia, at A Dance With Books

What We Found in the Corn Maze and How It Saved a Dragon, by Henry Clark, at TRB Next

Where the World Turns Wild, by Nicola Penfold, at Book Lover Jo

Authors and Interviews

Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic series) at Nerdy Book Club

Kaela Noel (Coo) at Middle Grade Book Village

Other Good Stuff

A loving look at Lloyd Alexendar's Chronicles of Prydain at Tor

The latest famous singer/song writer to pen a middle grade fantasy is Dave Matthews; If We Were Giants comes out March 3.

SCBWI announces the new  A. Orr grant for writers of middle grade sci fi and fantasy

As I predicted, there was no Newbery Award medal for mg sci fi; however, there were several mg sci fi/fantasy books recognized.  Congratulations to:

Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker (Newbery Honor)

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia (Coretta Scott King Author Honor)

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez (Pura Belpré Award Author winner)


A Mixture of Mischief (Love Sugar Magic #3), by Anna Meriano (blog tour)

A Mixture of Mischief (Walden Pond Press, February 4, 2020) is the third and final book of Anna Meriano's Love Sugar Magic series, that tells the story of how Leo, the youngest daughter in a family of magical baking burjas, finds her own gifts for magic and her own place in her family.

Leo, still fed up about her place as the youngest sister (there are four older ones), is chomping at the bit to learn all she can about the magic that makes her family's bakery so successful.  Finally, her mother is starting to teach her, but before she can relax and enjoy being a dependable part of the bakery, dark clouds appear.  A rival bakery is about to open in town, and her family's magical heirlooms, part of what makes their baking magic work, start to go missing.

But most disturbing at all is the appearance in her life of her father's father, who abandoned his family when he found they hadn't inherited his magic.  Her grandfather has discovered that Leo's' magical gifts might make her just what he wants-an heir to his work as slayer of dangerous magical creatures.

Leo's smart enough to realize he's a threat.  Frustrated by the fact that her parents keep acting like everything is under control, she decides to take matters into her hands.  Her developing magic lets her turn invisible, and with the help of her friends Caroline and Brent, and her cousin JP, she sets out to foil her grandfather and set things right.

It's not a smooth path to figuring out just what her grandfather is up to, but Leo rises to the occasion beautifully (after a few steps in the wrong direction).  All the lovely family dynamics that made the first two books such fun are here, and it's a pleasure to see Leo setting of on the path of magic (and increased bakery responsibilities!).  If you loved the first two books (as I did), you'll love this one too!  


Walden Pond Press is kindly offering a giveaway of this book for American readers. Leave a comment  by February 4 for a chance to win!

Here's the full book tour (for more chances to win!)


Anna Meriano is the author of the books in the Love Sugar Magic series, A Dash of TroubleA Sprinkle of Spirits and A Mixture of Mischief. She grew up in Houston, Texas, and earned her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in writing for children from the New School in New York. She has taught creative writing and high school English, and she works as a writing tutor. Anna likes reading, knitting, playing full-contact quid- ditch, and singing along to songs in English, Spanish, and ASL. Her favorite baked goods are the kind that open hearts. You can visit her online at www.annameriano.com.

NB for teachers--there's a great educator's guide for the series available from the publisher!

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