5/20/19

The Queen's Secret (Rose Legacy book 2), by Jessica Day George

The Queen's Secret, by Jessica Day George (Bloomsbury, May 14, 2019), continues the story begun in The Rose Legacy.    I just read through my review of that one, and was struck by this bit:

 "Me being me, I actually liked all the part before the action and adventure gets going best--orphans exploring new homes and learning to ride is right up my alley!  But I can generously appreciate that many readers do, in fact, enjoy Plot, and so I don't begrudge the wild ride and the political intrigue.  The magic of horse/human communication is something that works better for a child reader; the larger political framework, with hints of imperialism, is more interesting to the adult reader than the love story between girl and horse, but less emphasized in the story."

And so on to The Queen's Secret, which is much more about what is happening in the kingdom, and less about horse love (though that's still here!), and of course Thea, the main character, now has a home and horse and a family.  She doesn't get much time to enjoy them though.  A sickness has been spreading through the kingdom, with many deaths, and most of the people think the horses are to blame.  The kingdom itself is on the brink of war with the kingdom of Kronenhof.  Thea and her friends Jilly and Finn are doing what they can to help, acting as couriers of medicine and news.  Then Thea's evil mother shows up again, and the plot takes a fast tight spin with a set up for a third book that might well be the most plot filled of the series!

Along with Thea, we, the readers, see more of the history of the kingdom in this second book, and more of what the Queen is up against in her efforts to change things (the King is not part of these plans....).  Much of this book is a story of frustration--the set-back of the sickness, with the reluctance of people accept help from the horse couriers is hard on the characters!  But as the book opens up to a bigger story toward its end, there's the promise that change for the better might actually happen (if, of course, war can be averted and Thea's evil mother doesn't keep up her nefarious meddling, which she almost certainly will be doing!).

My only complaint about this instalment of the series is that me being me, I would have like to have stayed longer in the old manor house in the isolated village that's a library/museum, with chapters about the kids sitting around reading books and looking at stuff instead of just the few lovely pages we got, and I wish that one particular part of the ending had been different (I had to skim bits of the ending because of not want to be pained).

That being said, and my own personal feelings set aside, this is a solid fantasy series with strong girls and women, lovely horses, tangled histories and families, and strong friendships. 

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


5/19/19

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs 5/19/19

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

The Reviews

Begone the Raggedy Witches, by Celine Kiernan, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Cape, by Kate Hannigan, at Youth Services Book Review

The Clockwork Ghost (York #2) by Laura Ruby, at The Book Monsters and Charlotte's Library

Dragon Pearl, by Yooon Ha Lee, at Sharon the Librarian and Locus

Dragonfell, by Sarah Prineas, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Eternity Elixer (Potion Master #1), by Frank L. Cole, at The Write Path.

Game of Stars, by Sayantani Dasgupta, at Reading Books With Coffee

The Girl with the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Log Cabin Library

In the Lake of the Moon (Arlo Finch #2), by John August, at Say What?

Knock Three Times (Wizards of Once #3), by Cressida Cowell, at Magic Fiction Since Potter 

The Missing Alchemist, by Cladric Blackwell, at Red Headed Book Lover

The Queen's Secret, by Jessica Day George, at Cracking the Cover

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez, at Provo Library Children's Book Reviews

Spark, by Sarah Beth Durst, at BooksForKidsBlog and Charlotte's Library

4 fantasies from outside the US, at alibrarymama

Authors and Interviews

James Riley (Revenge of Magic) at The Children's Book Review

Other Good Stuff

New in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

5/16/19

The Clockwork Ghost (York, book 2), by Laura Ruby

The Clockwork Ghost, by Laura Ruby (middle grade/YA, Walden Pond Press, May 15 2019), continues the adventure begun in The Shadow Cipher without missing a beat.  Twins Tess and Theo, and their friend Jaime, are still following a twisting trail of impossible clues through an alternate New York of mechanical marvels.  They still have more questions than they have answers.  And they still have enemies, most notably a nasty piece of work  and his henchwomen who want to eliminate the threat they might pose to greedy plans to revamp the city.

There's no point in recapping the story.  It is a dream of puzzles and ciphers and mechanical machinations as clues are found and followed.  And it is a very bright and vivid sort of dream, that doesn't make sense exactly but never leaves the reader twitchy and wondering if there will be an ending or not. And the clues and such are cool, and are anchored into the history of the city.

But what I loved most were the three kids at the heart of the story--their person-ness was never overwhelmed by the bright and shininess (or sometimes dimness) of what was happening around them.   Their characters don't Develop in a journey from a to b, but rather become more and more strongly who they are.  As a reader who finds it off-putting when action and adventure leaves a character with no time for me to get to know them, I appreciated this lots.

There are also many touches of humor and whimsy that pleased me very much, as did many direct discussions of social justice issues.

And then the ending.  I hope we don't have to wait two more years for the third book!

I liked the first book lots (here's my review) but I liked this one more, mostly because as someone who works professionally in historic preservation the threat to the historic apartment book in the first book was much too uncomfortable for me!  The threat to historic buildings is still here, in a general sense, in this one, but not right in one's face.

In my review of the first book, I said:

"At one point the kids hear the story of a zoo giraffe who escaped captivity and threw itself into the river, and they sit, "watching the water together, imagining giraffes loping gracefully beneath the surface, making their way home" (page 246 of the ARC).  Which I think might be the overarching metaphor of the whole book (or perhaps not), but which in any event is an image I love."

And this feeling I have about the metaphor of the giraffes (impossible home-goings, the beauty of the unreal and impossible, the graceful loneliness of giraffes/people doing their best)  is even stronger now I've read the second book.

If you want a more coherent sort of synopsis, here's the (starred) Kirkus review.

Note on reader age--this is being sold as one of those 10-14 year old sort of books, not clearly YA because there's no romance/sex/growing up in a YA sort of way, but one that will appeal to kids older than MG.  Basically give it to smart thoughtful kids/grown-ups who have the patience not to want answers right away.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/13/19

Spark, by Sarah Beth Durst

There are times (many of them), when I'm really really really glad I started blogging lo these many years ago!  Mostly these times involve book mail from favorite authors, such as Sarah Beth Durst, whose adult, YA and middle grade books all delight me very much!  

Spark, by Sarah Beth Durst (middle grade, Clarion Books, May 14 2019), is the story of Mina, a quiet girl in a boisterous family, who learns that she can effect much needed change to right a wrong without changing the truth of who she is.  It's also the story of Mina's storm beast, Pixit, and how the magic of the storm beasts shapes Mina's world.

Mina's country is blessed with perfect weather that's gaurenteed by the storm beasts (basically elemental dragons with feathers) who manage every detail of it.  Some bring rain, some soak up the warm and light of the sun, some control the winds...and some can gather electricity, to power the cities.  Selected children are given storm beast eggs to hatch, and telepathically bond with the beasts.  Mina is one such child.  But to her family's shock, quiet, thoughtful Mina's egg hatches one of the lightning beasts.  They can't imagine her going to the training school for such beasts and their riders, who are the most impulsive and wildest of all the types.   But Mina and Pixit, her beast, love each other, and are determined to pass the tests and be a good team, doing what they are supposed to do for the good of the country.  So they head off to the school for lightning beasts, in the barren lands butted up against the mountains marking the boarder of the realm.

And indeed quiet, reserved Mina is overwhelmed by the kids around her.  The book-learning side of things offers some respite, and she's happy spending time amongst the schools books. learning about her country's history (something many of us can relate to!).  It's also a help that her room-mate, though just as exuberant and loud as any of the other kids, is a decent, sympathetic girl, and she starts to make friends with a few other kids as well.  But Mina's confidence is shaken when she can't seem to hold and control the lightning Pixit pulls from the sky the way the other kids can. Maybe she's not meant to be at the school after all...maybe she's a failure.

 But when she and Pixir get blown over the mountains, past the boundary of their homeland, she meets outsiders for the first time. And she finds out that her country idyllic weather comes at a cost.  She can't ignore what she's learned.  But how can a quiet girl make her voice heard?

Happily, Mina doesn't miraculously become a different person in order to achieve what she sets out to do, because she's not alone (being surrounded by confident, uninhibited classmates), and because she realizes just whose voice it is that needs to be heard (hint-not hers, and not her classmates....).  A pebble can start an avalanche without becoming a boulder....and a girl can be brave and do what's right without taking the limelight herself.

So if you love any combination of magical school stories, friendship stories, dragon stories, dark sides of utopia stories, social justice stories, and girls who love reading stories, you will find Spark wonderful! (except that it is perhaps too short.  I'd have liked it to go on longer....)

a second opinion from Kirkus- "Warm, exciting, hopeful, and ethical."

5/12/19

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (5/12/19)

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

The Reviews

Aru Shah and the Song of Death, by Roshani Chokshi, at Marzie's Reads

The Books of Earthsea: the Complete Illustrated Edition, by Ursula Le Guin, illustrated by Charles Vess, at Locus

The Falcon's Feather (Explorer Academy 2), at Always in the Middle

The Halfmen of O, by Maurice Gee, at Tor

Little Apocalypse, by Katherine Sparrow, at Say What?

The Lost Boy's Gift, by Kimberly Willis Holt, at For Those About to Mock

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at A Kids Book a Day

Magic, Madness, and Mischief, by Kelly McCullough, at fangirlknitsscarf

Order of the Majestic, by Matt Myklusch, at Charlotte's Library

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, by Henry Lien, at Fantasy Literature

Playing with Fire (Skulduggery Pleasant #2), by Derek Landy, at Hidden In Pages

The Prairie Thief, by Melissa Wiley, at Intentional Homeschooling

Puddlejumpers, by Mark Jean and Christopher C. Carlson, at Say What?

Ra the Mighty, by Amy Butler Greenfield, at Pages Unbound

Riverland, by Ran Wilde, at Good Reads with Ronna

Sal and Gabi Beak the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez, at alibrarymama

The Strangers, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Middle Grade Mafia

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows, by J.M. Bergen, at The Spine View 

The White Tower, by Cathryn Constable, at Mom Read It


Other Good Stuff 

New in the UK at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

5/7/19

Alice Payne Arrives, by Kate Heartfield, for Timeslip Tuesday

I just gave Alice Payne Arrives, by Kate Heartfield (Tor, November 2018), a four star rating over at Goodreads, despite the fact that this is the sort of time travel that makes my head hurt.

I can say with conviction that if you are looking for a book about a lesbian couple in the 18th century, one of whom is biracial (the Alice of the title) and the other is a mechanical genius inventor (Jane) who get caught up in a time travel war being waged centuries in the future, this is the book you want!  Alice is peacefully maintaining her father's home by moonlighting as a highwayman, carefully preying only on men who have assaulted/molested women and girls.  Jane, who came to live in Alice's home as a companion a while back, is a whiz at mechanics, and has made a handy automaton that serves as Alice's highway robbery assistant.  They make a good team, and love each other lots.

But then things get screwy when the coach Alice holds ups disappears into a strange glimmer-ness,.  Alice, feeling both curious and responsible, heads through the glimmer to see what's happened to it, and finds herself in a future where there's a war going on between two rival groups of time travelers. Each side has the same goal--saving humanity from the coming apocalypse.  Each has the same technique--tinker with past events until you get the desired outcome.  But they have very different ideas about what tinkering to do.  History is getting more and more messed up, disasters are metastasizing (Heartfield's metaphor), and little progress (if any) is being made toward achieving the ultimate goal.

Prudence, who works for one of these groups in the future, is fed up with it all.  She has a plan of her own to put a stop to it.  All she needs is a nice 18th century naïf to push a button....

Instead, she gets Alice when Alice arrives along with the highjacked coach and its passengers and crew.   Alice might be just the person Prudence needs, but with Alice comes Jane, a Jane who's pretty fed up at Alice not treating her as an equal partner and decision maker, who's zinging through glowy spaces into the future without talking it through etc., a Jane who just happens to be smart enough and mechanically gifted enough to maybe throw a spanner in the works...or maybe not.

I'm not entirely sure what exactly happened at the end, and would need to sit down with pencil and paper and make a list of what we know and can surmise etc.  I am glad this looks like it's going to be a series, which will spare me the work of doing that...on the other hand, I'm sad that I don't have to anyone to talk to about the book, because I'd love to go through it with another person to bounce ideas off of--what does Jane know and how and when does she know it, etc.  Fortunately history has so many alternate timelines that very few people in the book know what happened originally, so the sense of being confused isn't unique to me, the reader....

And once I accepted this, I just relaxed and enjoyed the ride!



5/6/19

Order of the Majestic, by Matt Myklusch

Order of the Majestic, by Matt Myklusch (middle grade, Aladdin, May 7 2019), is one to offer kids dreaming of magic, and hoping it will find them one day.

12-year-old Joey Kopecky wasn't one of those kids.  He was content flying under the radar, living an unambitious life of computer gaming in New Jersey, when his life was upended by perfect standardized test scores.  Now he's been offered a place at one of the most exclusive schools in the country, where every kid is a genius.  He feels like a fraud--knowing how to take tests is a skill, certainty , but is it really a hallmark of genius?

But one final test, a strange one involving 150 magic tricks to solve, leads to a 151st trick that transports him to the ghostly shell of a once grand magical theater, the Majestic.  It's fallen into ruins, and to get inside Jack must pass through spooky wraiths, but once he makes it, he finds the magician who once made it famous, the Great Rodondo.  Rodondo was once the leader of the Order of the Majestic, working to keep real magic alive by encouraging his audiences to believe.  Sadly, belief waned, and an enemy order sprang up, wanting the power of magic with no obligation to use it altruistically.

Rodondo sees in Jack the potential for magic, and decides to teach him in one last effort to keep the diminished Order alive.  Two other kids, from offshoots of the order, are invited to join the training as well.  Shazad and Leonora have been brought up with magic, and each thinks they are the one who should be bequeathed the most powerful artifact of the Order, the magic wand once wielded by Houdini.  Jack just wants to learn magic...he doesn't want the responsibility of being head of any order.

But he certainly doesn't want the wand to fall into the hand of the sinister antagonistic Invisible Hand, and he certainly does want to keep himself and the other two kids alive. So he draws on the one talent he can count on to get himself out the clutches of the Invisible Hand--how to solve test questions without actually knowing the right answer...

It's a long book of some 400 pages, but it's a fast read, with humor and  the familiar edge of competition and familiar "kid discovering his powers" story keeping things going briskly.  It's not a book of numinous power and beauty, but it's a perfectly serviceable story.  Jack's solution to the immediate problem is rather lovely, and though there's the set up for more to the story, this installment comes to a satisfying end.

Short answer--not one that moved me in any powerful way, and not remarkably memorable (except for the end, which I did really like!)  but a solid read nonetheless that should please the target audience, especially kids who enjoy doing magic tricks! (a few useful tricks on standardized test taking are gracefully thrown in too, for a bit of added value!)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/5/19

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (5/5/19)

Welcome to this week's round-up; please let me know if I missed your post!

Here's why I do these round-ups--

--for selfish reasons
I started because I wanted someone else to present me with all the mg sff reviews, but had to do it myself

--for another reason
I want to connect with all the other folks reviewing mg sff so that I can plug the Cybils Awards.  I'm the Cybil's organizer for the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category, and in just a few months, the call for Cybils Awards panelists will be going out.  I love all the panelists that have joined me in years past, but it would be great to have some fresh faces, and  I would really love more diversity in my group of panelists. You don't have to have a blog, just an online platform you use to talk about books (goodreads, youtube, podcasting, Instagram, etc.)  In the first round, which is most of the reading, we keep it to folks in North America, but international folks can be second round panelists (fewer books to get a hold of).  Here's a post I wrote a while back about being a panelist; please think about applying when the call goes out, and please let me know if you have any questions.

The Reviews

Aru Shah and the Song of Death, by Roshani Chokshi, at The Reader Bee, Hypable, and the B. and N. Kids Blog (my review) and a look at both books at Books and Waffles

The Assasination of Brangwain Spurge, by M.T. Anderson and You at Book Invasion (YouTube)

The Collectors, by Jacqueline West, at Redeemed Reader

The Fire Maker, by Guy Jones, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Game of Stars (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #2), by Sayantani Dasgupta, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Golden Butterfly, by Sharon Gosling, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Hamilin Stoop series, by Robert B. Sloan, at Tots and Me

Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath, by Jacob Sager Weinstein, at Tales from the Raven

A Long Forgotten World, by Shannon Briwen, at Rising Shadow

The Middler, by Kirsty Applebaum, at Schoolzone

Music Boxes, by Tonja Drecker, at Charlotte's Library

Nell and the Cirus of Dreams, by Nell Gifford and Briony May Smith, at The Lancashire Post

Nevermore: the Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at A Strong Belief in Wicker

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, by Ronald L. Smith, at Always in the Middle

Riverland, by Fran Wilder, at Charlotte's Library

Rumble Star, by Abi Elphinstone, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Runaway Robot, by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, at Minerva Reads

Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier, at The O.W.L.

Trace, by Pat Cummings, at Fuse#8


Authors and Interviews

Kelly Barnhill (The Girl Who Drank the Moon) at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Kim Ventrella (Bone Hollow) shares her thoughts on magical realism in mg at Middle Grade Minded


Other Good Stuff

A gathering of books for Star Wars loving kids at Brightly

5/4/19

Music Boxes, by Tonja Drecker

If "ballet horror (not the gory kind, but the situational kind) for young readers" is your thing, Music Boxes, by Tonja Drecker (Dancing Lemur, February, 2019) might be one you'll enjoy lots.

Lindsay's parents have put her little sister first, moving to New York city so that she can go to the Julliard school.  Lindsay is proud of her sister's talent, but she's devastated that her own ballet training has been disrupted.  There's no money for her to go to a good school in New York, so instead her parents sign her up for classes at the community center.  Which isn't the same.

But then she meets Madame Destinee, who has her own ballet school just around the corner.  Madame thinks Lindsay has talent just by looking at her, and offers her a place in her school.  There Lindsay dances like she never has before, in the company of other wildly talented young dancers.

But it is a very strange school.  The midnight performances, Madame's constant offerings of delicious food, and stranger things that are absolutely impossible.....and Lindsay, though drugged by both the dancing and the praise, and the food, keeps a clear enough head to figure out that she and the other kids are in terrible danger.

It isn't just beautiful music boxes that Madame is collecting....

It's a fast, straight-forward read (by which I mean--there is the one plot, and the one mystery, and we see it unfold as Lindsay does without any twistyness....so basically, the reader gets to sit back and enjoy the ride).  So it's a good one for kids who love creepy!  I myself would have enjoyed it more it had been less straight-forward; I would have liked Madame to be a little more well-developed as a character, and felt the friendships (and anti-friendships) Lindsay makes at the school were pretty predictable.  So for me it was fine, and I can imagine lots of kids (especially young ballet students) loving it, but it's not one I'll feel the need to re-read to get more out of it than I did the first time.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher



5/2/19

Riverland, by Fran Wilder

Riverland, by Fran Wilder (Abrams, April 2019), starts with magic that isn't actually magic at all.  Eleanor and her little sister, Mike, know that when things are destroyed or lost in their house, it's because rules have been broken.  And they know that if they try harder to follow the rules, the house magic will repair everything.  The most important rule is not to talk about the house magic to anyone.   But Mike has just broken that rule, and now Eleanor's one good friend, Pendra, wants to know more about the magic.  And so she pressures Eleanor to let her visit after school, breaking even more rules....

There is no house magic.  There are only rules made to try to placate an angry, physically and verbally abusive father, a mother trying to pretend that everything can be just fine, and the two sisters, increasingly unable to cope as the "house magic" fails.

There is real magic, though, and it's found it's way into Eleanor and Mike's home.  Their hiding place under Eleanor's bed becomes a river, and when they plunge into the water, they are in a another world.  The Riverland is not a safe place either, though; it's no happy fairyland.  It's a place under attack from the snake-headed woman leading the nightmares that spawn there in an effort to break into our world, and the cracks between the worlds are growing.

The sisters learn that their family had helped the Riverland stay balanced in the past, but for Eleanor, the burden of trying to help, without knowing what she can do about anything, is too much, and she and Mike retreat back to the real world.  It's only until the rivers, and the nightmares, have almost broken through that she is able to help.  But what help is there for her own family?

The story is strongest when it tells of the real world; the portrayal of Eleanor and Mike's circumstances is heartbreaking and believable.  In particular, Eleanor's growing fear that she might, in her own anger, be following in her father's footsteps is powerful and moving.  Happily, though the girls keep the rule about not talking about their family to anyone outside it, help does come as their grandmother becomes part of their lives.  I loved the details of the real world--the glass project that Eleanor and Pendra work on, for instance, is now my favorite fictional science project ever (it is both delightful sciency and delightfully metaphory!).

The fantasy element took some time for me to accept it.  The Riverland is not well explained. The reader just to accept the strangely fabricated guardian birds fighting back the nightmares, the antagonist snake woman, and the stranded travelers from our world who, in armored carapaces, work to repair the breaks and keep the nightmares contained, without having the logic of it spelled out.  It's more dreamlike than I myself tend to like, more an allegory than a self-contained alternate reality.  Possibly I wasn't as engaged with it as I'd have liked is because the visits the girls make there don't last very long; possibly if I hadn't been so much more interested in the real world story I've had read the fantasy part more slowly and carefully, and gotten more out of it.  That being said, at the end of the sisters' last journey, the Riverland comes together with their real world story beautifully, giving them catharsis, acceptance of their story, and the possibility of making a new one for themselves.

Sort answer--though not a personal favorite for me in particular (I just couldn't suspend my disbelief quite enough for the Riverland part), it sure is memorable and powerful.  Though perhaps not one you'd immediately think to give kids wanting unicorns and rainbow escapism, it's one to give them anyway.




4/25/19

The Doll's Eye, by Marina Cohen

The Doll's Eye, by Marina Cohen, out in paperback at the end of May 2019, sets a new bar for doll creepiness!   It is not just a creepy book, but true horror, so sensitive readers should beware.

Here is the original cover of the hardback--the insects hint at horror, but it isn't terrifying.


Here is the paperback cover.  It speaks for itself!


Hadley's mother is thrilled by the big old house she and her new husband, Ed, have just bought, and can't understand why Hadley is being so stand-offish to Ed and Ed's little boy (which is a parenting fail in my book, and I had no patience for the mother's cluelessness about Hadley's emotions).  Hadley doesn't like the house, or the new one big happy family life, but she is intrigued by the old dollhouse she finds, which is a replica of the real thing, where the doll family are living a peaceful life....

But both the real house and the doll house are cursed as a result of the poorly thought-out wishes of a little girl who lived there long ago.

And then Hadley wishes for a family like the one in the doll house.

It doesn't go well.

Ed and his boy disappear, and Hadley's biological father shows up (there were very good reasons why her mother won't talk about him).  Hadley realizes she's blundered into a great wrong-ness, and tries desperately to dam the flow of dark magic, before she is doomed like so many others who lived in the house before for her...….

It's a gripping story if you have the stomach for brooding wrongness mutating into full on horror (the original little girl, for instance, is compelled to gouge out her own eye, and Hadley's ending is terrifying).  The narrative switches between Hadley's story and that of the little girl in the past, so the reader knows more than Hadley about what's happening in the present.  It's also an interesting twist on the creepy doll story--the dolls themselves are not what's evil, and they are not actors in the drama.

There are three morals to the story--

--be careful what you wish for, of course

--if your family expands, and the new folks in it are actually potentially good and loving additions, it's worth making an effort to give them a chance

-- if you find an old dollhouse up in the attic of your new fixer-upper, get it out of the house immediately!  Especially, you know, if carrion eating insects seem to be drawn to your new home....

So not one that was to my personal taste, because I'm not a fan of horror, but one which I can see young readers who are liking lots!

review copy provided by the publisher.


4/23/19

Tangled in Time: the Portal, by Kathryn Lasky, for Timeslip Tuesday

Tangled in Time: the Portal, by Kathryn Lasky (HarperCollins, March 2019), is the story of a girl, Rose, who finds herself traveling back to 16th-century England to serve Princess Elizabeth.  She doesn't stay long, but makes repeated visits that she can't control.  In her own time, she lives with her grandmother, who is suffering from dementia, after her mother was killed in a firey car accident.  Though she's made new friends, there are also horrible over the top mean girl bullies in her new school.  In the past, she manages to be mouthy and 21st century-ish and not be accused of treason or witchcraft, or make a fool of herself.  Also in the past, she finds both a good friend, and her father, who she had thought abandoned her and her mother long ago.  And then there's a bit of a set-up twist for further books....

I just didn't care for this, either as time-travel or as larger whole.  The time travel was what I think of as the sight-seeing kind--even though she's looking for her father, she's not emotionally part of the past as a larger whole. And though there is some magic at work that helps soften her foreignness, she never forgets who she really is and doesn't particularly grow emotionally from being in the past.

Also I found reading about her wandering around anachronistically in Tudor times to be incredibly jarring; the author seems to have made a conscious decision not even to try to make her conform to any semblance of cultural or linguist norms.  I don't mind this in other books, but I think the ones where I don't mind it have a protagonist who is filled with anxiety and introspection about it.

As a larger whole I didn't care for the book much either--the past and present stories didn't seem connected, and the present story is overwhelmed by the truly over-the-top nastiness of the bullying girls.  It seemed like all the notes--the tragedy of Rose's mother, the precariousness of the grandmother's mental health, the bad girls, the new awesome friends, and even Rose's hobby of vintage couture (she has a wildly popular blog) are hit too hard and hurt my read ears.

There are two things, though, that did work for me:  the first is the grandmother's greenhouse, which is a marvelous place, and where the grandmother's mind becomes sharp enough that she can converse with Rose.  The second is that all the history seemed solid; the historical details of the Tudor court and its machinations were presented clearly and vividly.

Kirkus liked it more than I do, and I think young readers, especially those who find Tudor history romantic, will probably also like the book a lot better than me, being less picky about their time travel and more accepting of too-muchness.


4/21/19

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (4/21/19)


Happy Easter, those who are celebrating!  I was very tickled to find a steampunk Victorian card for today.

Here are the posts I found this week for us fans of mg sci fi and fantasy, and it was a slightly disappointing haul, and I wish that either there were more folks reviewing mg sff, or that I knew who I was missing! I follow lots of blogs in bloglovin, and also search for posts via google.  This week I also searched for specific new titles.  And still I didn't find many reviews.  So please, if you review mg sff, leave a comment so I can find your blog/Instagram/youtube channel etc!






The Reviews

Aru Shah and the Song of Death, by Rhosani Chokshi, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Take Me Away

Apprentice Needed, by Obert Skye, at Read Love and Cracking the Cover

Bone Hollow, by at YA and Kids Book Central

Dragonfell, by Sarah Prineas, at Charlotte's Library

Game of Stars, by Sayantani Dasgupta, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

The Ghosts of Stone Hollow, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, at Say What?

Ice Wolves (Elementals #1) by Amie Kaufman, at Hasanthi's Book Blog and Say What?

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at Log Cabin Library

The Supernormal Sleuthing Service: the Sphinx's Secret, by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe, at Locus

Watch Hollow, by Gregory Funaro, at Sci Fi and Scary

A Wolf Called Wander, by Roseanne Parry, at Ms. Yingling Reads

a handful of reviews at TheReadingWerewolf (YouTube)

Authors and Interviews

Caroline Carlson (The Door at the End of the World) at El Space

Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic series) at Reading With Your Kids Podcast

Sarah Beth Durst (several mg novels, including The Stone Girl's Story) at Locus

Zeno Alexander (The Library of Ever) at The Winged Pen

Tonja Drecker (Music Boxes) at Literary Rambles

Other good stuff

Holly Schofield talks about "The Big Impact of Small-Scale Fiction" for young sci-fi readers, at steaMG

Thoughts provoked by Anne Ursu's The Lost Girl, at From the Mixed Up Files

An article at the Guardian about why adults should read children's books


4/20/19

Dragonfell, by Sarah Prineas

I racked up enough Barnes and Nobel credit card rewards points to get my $25 gift card reward this month, and it was with great anticipatory pleasure that I visited my local store yesterday.  And it was also with great anticipatory pleasure that I came home with Dragonfell, by Sarah Prineas (middle grade, HarperCollins, March 2019), as I'm a committed fan of hers!  It did not disappoint.

Rafi has always been odd.  He has a strange, fierce look to him, and hair like flame.  He can't be burned,doesn't feel cold, and can see in the dark.  And he likes to go by himself to the top of the fell that gives his village its name--Dragonfell.  Once it was a lair of a dragon, who hoarded china with blue floral decorations. Rafi's differences have started arousing suspicion in his community, and that is exacerbated when two strangers arrive from the city where an coal-powered industrial revolution is taking hold, and seek to take him away with them.

When he realizes the strangers are a threat, the spark inside Rafi turns to flame....making it clear that he truly is different, and potentially dangerous.  He's forced to leave home, and the only way he can find out more about why the strangers want him is to find dragons.  But they are much fewer than they used to be, and quite possibly dangerous predators...

Then he joins forces with Maud, a girl determined to be a dragon scientist and find out all there is to know about them.  Though they become great, loyal friends, each keeps secrets from the other, though Rafi himself doesn't know the secret at the hear of his strangeness (the reader can guess pretty early on!). The two of them make a formidable team, formidable enough to stop the greedy, power-hungry man who's behind the gradual disappearance of the dragons.

This is one I'll enjoy more on re-reading it, when I can savor the lovely details about all the odd things individual dragons hoard, and Maud's curious mind, and such like.  On this first reading, I was caught up in the tension of it all--exploitive industrialization vs the natural wonder of dragons does not make me a calm and happy reader!  But I will indeed be rereading it--the friendship between Maud and Rafi, founded on mutual respect and trust, with their strengths complimenting each other beautifully, was great reading, and the dragons are lovely!  There are welcome touches of humor, too, which I have come to expect in Sarah Prineas' books.

Though the two kids are on a quest, it's a not a high-fantasy adventure (no swords!).  Instead, the quest is a mystery that needs to be solved, with the help of books, sneaking around places they have no business being, and talking to all the dragons they can find.  So this is a good one for kids who dream of fantasy worlds, but don't want violent action.

nb- though reliance on coal and the exploitation of others and of the natural world (the poor extinct dragon flies...) are clearly marked as bad things, and the works of peoples' hands are marked as good things, this isn't an anti-technology book--there's a hope at the end that a clean energy solution can be found :)

4/19/19

In which I review cashmere fingerless writing gloves

When Literary Book Gifts offered me the opportunity to review their cashmere fingerless writing gloves, I jumped at the chance.  My desk at work holds the cold, and the inside of my wrists were suffering from having to rest on it (I'm a slump-handed typist....), and home was not much better.  The thought of warm hands encased in fuzzy cashmere that still allowed me to do things with my fingers was just as appealing as all get out!

Here is what they look like new:



(My review gloves were white, and perhaps I should have taken pictures of me doing all the things before I actually used them for three weeks...)

The gloves are soft and warm as expected.  Writing by hand is easy and comfortable, even when your grip is non-standard, as mine is:


Typing on a keyboard is slightly less comfortable; my fingers felt a bit constricted; the finger band stretches, but its default is snug.  But it sure was nicer for my wrists!


Somewhat unexpectedly, playing the piano while wearing them didn't feel constricting at all, perhaps because my fingers were actively stretching the finger band:


But what they are absolutely best for is reading!  So nice to have warm hands and to be able to turn pages at the same time!


The thumb hole is well-made; there's absolutely no sign of the seam giving way. They are slightly shorter going down the arm than I would have liked, but they still cover the vulnerable inner wrist satisfactorily.

So in short, if you aren't deterred by the price, these are a lovely addition to your reading and writing winter wardrobe, and would make great gifts!  It is almost time to put them away now that warm weather is here (?), and I am going to do so carefully so that I remember to get them out next fall.

4/18/19

Sleeping Bear Books' picuture books!

Sleeping Bear Press kindly sent a package of review copies of their picture books of 2018 for distribution at Kidlitcon 2019 last month, but sadly the package ended up in the shrubbery next to the door I don't use, so I didn't see them until after the fact.  I've mailed them off to folks who follow the Kidlitcon twitter account, but also wanted to spotlight them here by way of a thank you and an apology to Sleeping Bear for not checking the shrubberies….

The Hanukkah Hamster, by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Andre Ceolin

It's December in the city, and Edgar, a young cab driver, is busy taking holiday shoppers to and fro.  One evening he finds a little hamster in the back of the cab, and is charmed.  Little Chickpea becomes his friend, and is company each night Edgar when lights the candles on the menorah, thinking of his home back in Israel.  But Edgar did the right think, and reported the hamster to lost and found--will his new friend be claimed by its rightful owner?  The happy ending is just right for this sweet and poignant story, and Chickpea is cute as all get out!


Aim for the Skies: Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith's Race to Complete Amelia Earhart's Quest, by Aimme Bissonette, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

Jerrie and Joan both loved flying.  In 1964 they independently decided to complete Amelia Earhart's dream of flying around the world alone.  When the press found out, they made it race--which of the two would be the first woman to achieve what Amelia hadn't been able to do?  After careful planning, they took off...and the reader sees all the difficulties and dangers they faced as they flew around the world.  It's an inspirational and exciting story of adventure, and a nice geography lesson, with a bonus backmatter section of social history and additional details.

Kindergarrrten Bus, by Mike Ornstein, illustrated by Kevin M. Barry.

The Jolly Roger Bus company has a new driver--a pirate!  He and his parrot welcome their new shipmates on the first day of kindergarten, and though the little kids are apprehensive, he encourages them to be brave and tough, as is the pirate way.  But when the seas get rough (potholes), and Polly the parrot flies out an open window, the pirate bus driver breaks down.  Now it's up to the kids to encourage him to stay strong, and though he doesn't feel brave at all, they share the lesson that they've learned from their own parents that it's ok to be scared, and to keep doing what you have to do.  So it's off to school, all encouraging each other (and Polly comes back at the end!).  A funny book about facing fears that will hearten young kids!

Hannah's Tall Order: an A to Z Sandwich, by Linda Vander Heyden, illustrated by Kayla Harren

Hannah's a loyal customer of  McDougal's sandwich shop, but not necessarily the most welcome one, because boy can she eat!  When she orders an A-Z sandwich, it's the toughest order yet...Hannah has a list of all the alphabetical foods she wants on it!  And so Mr. McDougal slices and dices everything from avocados to zucchini, creating a towering masterpiece with some dubious ingredients (marshmallow fluff, for instance)--but oh no!  He had to make it on white bread, not the wheat bread she wanted...Written in lively rhyme with detailed illustrations of the towering sandwich growing, it's a fun foody adventure for the young!

Four Seasons of Fun, by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault

Here's a celebration of all the ways kids can enjoy the each season! Rhyming couplets tell of flying kites and exploring pond life  on through summer and fall to building snowmen and painting pine cones in winter.  Most of the activities take place out doors, so parents might well welcome this encouragement to get the kids outside.  The illustrations have a sweetly old-fashioned feel to them (reminding me a bit of the Little Golden Books of my own childhood); though there are a few more white kids than not, there's diversity in the range of kids shown.

Junk: a Spectacular Tale of Trash, by Nicholas Day, illustrated by Tom Disbury

Sylvia Samantha Wright is very good at finding trash treasures to take home with her in her little red wagon.  Every day of the week she finds something new.  She  isn't sure what she's going to do with all her finds (from empty paint pots to a box of discarded party hats), but an elderly neighbor reassures her that the part before you know is the best part.  And when the town's water tower begins to leak, setting in motion a cascade of catastrophe (including animals escaping from the zoo!), Sylvia is able to step in an fix things with the help of her junk!  This fun story celebrates creative thinking, and (possible warning) might inspire kids to fill the family garage with found treasures of their own for future projects!

A Tuba Christmas, by Helen L. Wilbur and Mary Reaves Uhles

Ava's family all makes music, and now it's time for Ava to choose what instrument she wants to learn so she can play with them in the family holiday concert.  But the family is dismayed when Ava chooses the tuba.  And they are dismayed as well by the ghastly noises she makes on it when she's starting out.  On top of that, the kids at school make fun of her.  Her teacher, though, is supportive, and at the end Ava gets to play in the coolest holiday concert of all--a tuba Christmas!  The tuba ensemble includes some diverse musicians, and Ava's teacher is a young black man.  I enjoyed this one lots--it should inspire young readers to follow their dreams!



4/14/19

This week's round up of middle grade sci fi/fantasy from around the blogs (4/14/19)

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

The Reviews

Bone Hollow, by Kim Ventrella, at Charlotte's Library

The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, at Challenging the Bookworm

Cauldron's Bubble, by Amber Elby, at A Cat, a Book, and a Cup of Tea

The Door at the End of the World, by Caroline Carlson, at Charlotte's Library

Dragonfell, by Sarah Prineas, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Eventown, by Corey Ann Haydn, at Redeemed Reader and Kid Lit Geek

Gaurdians of the Wild Unicorns, by Lindsay Littleson, at Books and Wonders

Goblins in the Castle, by Bruce Coville, at Say What?

The Golden Tower, by Holly Black and Cassadra Clare (Magisterium #5), at Say What?

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, by Bruce Coville, at Say What?

The Last Last-Day-of Summer, by Lamar Giles, at My Brain on Books and The Book's the Thing

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at Redeemed Reader and Rosi Hollinbeck

The Portal (Tangled in Time), by Kathryn Lasky, at Log Cabin Library

Riverland, by Fran Wilde, at Marzie's Reads

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hemandez, Book Smuggler review at Kirkus 

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows, by J.M.Bergen, at Throne of Books

A Witch Come True, by James Nichol, at Hidden In Pages

Authors and Interviews

Lamar Giles (The Last Last-Day-of Summer) at The Write Path and SteaMG

Fran Wilde (Riverland) at The Book Smugglers

Caroline Carlson (The Door at the End of the World) at YAYOMG


4/11/19

Bone Hollow, by Kim Ventrella

Bone Hollow, by Kim Ventrella (middle grade, Scholastic, Feb. 2019), is a strange one.  It's not often that the main character of a middle grade book dies in the first few pages, but that's what happens to an orphan boy named Gabe.  When he wakes up after dying to find the neighbors tearfully gathered round, he doesn't realize what's happened; when he wakes up again, in a funeral home, it still doesn't click  that he's dead, because he feels very much alive.  And when he resists being buried, the fact that he's not a typical corpse becomes terrifyingly clear to the community of his small southern town, and he's chased off into the woods, with only his beloved dog Ollie for company.

Can't review this without spoilers, so be warned.

There in the woods he meets a girl, Wynne, who takes him to Bone Hollow, her seemingly idyllic home.  She knows he's dead, but befriends him (and Ollie).  At first Gabe things she's Nico, the Bangladeshi best friend who moved away years ago.  But soon she lets her guard down, sharing her true self--a black girl who died decades ago.  Wynne wants more than his friendship--she wants him to take her place, serving as the local psychopomp, helping the dead pass on through kindness and compassion.

Gabe would rather not; if he's dead, he wants to pass on himself, to be reunited with his parents and grandfather.  But as Wynne teaches him the tricks of the trade, including sharing with him her own childhood memories from decades ago, and as he sees her growing more and more weary, his innate compassion comes to the fore.

In some ways the story is like a vivid dream, full of intense descriptions, and with nightmares (never full explored or explained, which left me feeling unsatisfied) lurking at the edge of the idyllic Bone Hollow.  But Gabe and Wynne (and Ollie) are much more real than dreams, and their strong personalities keep the book rooted in reality.  It's also a page  turner, with the reader and Gabe figuring things out together, and grappling with the ramifications of what Gabe's new job might entail.  And then right at the end Kleenex is needed (for dog loves, I'll just quickly clarify that the tears are not because of anything horrible that happens to Ollie the dog).

It's not a ghost story type adventure, and not one I'd give to readers who want characters rushing about exploring and fighting and questing.  Instead I'd give it to kids who want journeys that are emotional arcs, moving from sadness and confusion to clarity and purpose.  Not quite to my own personal taste, but it might well delight that sort of kid, and Bone Hollow is a fictional place that I'm happy to give houseroom to inside my head.

Here's a link to the starred Kirkus review if you want a second opinion.




4/8/19

The Door at the End of the World, by Caroline Carlson

Tomorrow (April 9th) is the release day of Caroline Carlson's new middle grade fantasy, The Door at the End of the World, which I just a minute ago finished reading!  I wish there'd been more; the story galloped along briskly in that really nice middle grade fantasy adventure way of magical happenings and bright changes of scene and mood (with, you know, a herd of magically intelligent cows arriving on the scene, as they do) and then there was the peaceful gathering of loose ends (which is one of the parts I like best in mg fantasy), and then...the last page and it was over.  Sigh.

It's the story a girl named Lucy, who works for the gatekeeper of the door between the worlds of Southeast and East.  Lucy has never left Southeast herself, though she's taken care of the bureaucratic side of things for many travelers (she's a very organized sort of person).  But when the gatekeeper herself passes through, for a routine maintenance check with her counterpart in East, and doesn't come back, Lucy opens the door to see what's happening.  And instead of the gatekeeper, a boy from East falls through, and then the door won't open again.

So Lucy and Arthur, the Eastern boy, set out to try to find answers from the people who are supposed to be in charge.  What they find instead is a danger to the fabric of time and space.  Instead of the organized doors linking the various worlds, set comfortably apart and carefully maintined, one of the most powerful people in Southeast has a scheme for consolidating and controlling world travel all in one central hub (to the detriment of all the other worlds).  Joined by Rosemary, whose family smuggles contraband between the worlds,  Lucy and Arthur slowly put the pieces of the plot together.

But when the three kids have all the pieces, who will believe them?  And the pace of the story picks up rather dramatically at this point, involving a wild and wonderful chase from world to world (to a happy ending....)

The various worlds all have their own characteristics, some more magical and wonderous than others, and one that's essentially our own Earth.  Lucy's world is the most unremarkable of them all, and Lucy herself at first seems a very unremarkable character.  Fortunately, the premise of the story (the gates between the worlds) is right there at the beginning, so that even during the slow burn of the first part of the book, before the plot really thickens, the reader should be intrigued enough to trust that there will be excitements to come (which there are).

I fussed at the beginning of this post that I was grumpy that the book ended, but actually, I'm glad it did because I actually do like my mg fantasy to be nice, tight, and contained (I feel, without naming names, that some books are rather bloated).   The Door at the End of the World doesn't reach great peaks of emotion, and the secondary characters aren't all that deeply developed (though they were developed just fine for their purposes in the story), but I did not mind that either--if one is enjoying being carried along by a good story, often that is enough.

Short answer--I enjoyed reading it lots, and would happily recommend it to young readers (as young as eight or nine.  A horrible fate awaits one character, but the possibility of escape is left open, so it's not nightmarishly horrible).

Disclaimer: review copy received courtesy of the author.


4/7/19

This week's round-up of midddle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/7/19)

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

The Reviews

The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, at Kid Lit Geek

Children of Exile, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Say What?

The Clockwork Ghost, by Laura Ruby, at Hidden in Pages

Cogheart, by Peter Bunzl, at The Book Monsters

Goblins in the Castle: Goblins on the Prowl by Bruce Coville, at Say What?

Grump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Book Nut

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, by Lamar Giles, at alibrarymama, Books4your kids, Ms. Yingling Reads, Charlotte's Library, and Word Spelunking

Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen,by J.L. McCreedy, at Middle Grade Minded

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at Children's Books Heal and Charlotte's Library

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Nevermore: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Kid Lit Geek

A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano, at Puss Reboots

The Wizenard Series, by Wesley King (created by Kobe Bryant), at Always in the Middle

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Kid Lit Geek and Completely Full Bookshelf

Other good stuff

New in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books



4/4/19

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu (Walden Pond Press, Feb. 2019), is my favorite of all her books; anything about sisters appeals greatly, and when you throw in magic and girl power and vivid, detailed characterization, I am utterly sold!

Lark and Iris look identical, but they are very different people--Lark is a dreamer, and Iris is a rational organizer and doer.  They are used to using their strengths to help each other out, and they make a great team.  But when fifth grade is about to begin, they find to their horror that their parents and their school have decided they should be separated.  For the first time, they have to get through the school day without having each other right there, communicating surreptitiously and helping each other out.

That's not the only strange thing.  Something weird is happening--things are going missing.  And when Iris starts visiting a most peculiar antiques store that's just popped up, she finds herself entangled in the story of girl lost years ago, and her brother, the store's owner, who's determined to find her again.  No matter what it takes.  Even if it's dark magic....

So there are two entwined stories here--the sisters, forced to learn to stand on their own, and the magic that Iris stumbles into, and that all her desire for order can't control.  Both are good stories in their own right, and together they make for a wonderful reading experience.  I thought Lark would be my preferred sister, but Iris is the main pov character, and she grew on me lots during the book. The sisters relationship, with the stress they feel when kicked out of their co-dependent rut and the blossoming of their independence, is really well done, and perhaps stronger than the magical story, although that too was lovely.

A special shout-out to the "Awesome Girls" club at the local library that Iris is forced to attend (without Lark).  Iris is all prickly and hostile about it, but the other girls really are awesome in their own ways, and their girl power helps save the day when the confrontation with the villain is reached!





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