no mg sci fi/fantasy round up for the next three weekends

 I am off to England next Sarturday, where I will be giving at talk on Timeslip Ties that Bind at the 20th Century English School Girls and Their Books conference in Bristol.  I have not yet written this talk, and the clock is ticking, so that is what I will be doing today....

See you all later in August!


Drumbeats! by David Severn, for Timeslip Tuesday

 I was not drawn to the cover of Drumbeats! by David Severn (1953), which promises a wildly exaggerated colonialist encounter with "African" culture experienced through the medium of an entitled British boy.  This is not what I look for in a book (and also I don't like title with exclamation marks.  Wow me with story, I say.  Not with punctuation).  But since I have set myself to reading every time travel book published in English for children in the 20th century (with exception of long series for younger children), I bought an affordable copy when one came my way).  And the book delivered on the promise of its cover!

Four English boarding school kids, 2 girls (one of whom is the narrator) and 2 boys, come across an African Drum in the school's "museum."  When Oliver, the musician of the bunch, starts playing it, the kids find themselves observers of an English expedition in central Africa.  One of the Englishman has just stolen the drum. 

Oliver plays it again.  The kids see another episode in the explorers' journey.  Edith, our first person narrator, finds it disturbing.  She finds it more and more disturbing as the events seen during the drum's windows to the past are echoed in the boarding school present.  Oliver drums on.  It culminates with disaster striking both expedition and school.  

Through this, the kids argue about what's happening--is the drum a window to the past or a fantasy, is it causing the connections between past and present, or predicting them?  These arguments are not interesting.

Edith is also not interesting.  She has no rich inner life.  Possibly the author thought it would make her humorously relatable to constantly put herself down "I am an ordinary person"  "I was ashamed of myself" "I keep making mistakes."  If so, the author was wrong.  It just made me not to spend time with her dull pov self.

Some episodes are mildly entertaining, when Edith is describing external events and not sharing the oatmeal-like working of her thoughts.  There were not enough of these episodes.

The actual timeslip via drumming was fine (again, this was in large part due to Edith describing and not thinking...).  Yes it was stereotypes of Africa presented by a 1950s Englishman, but it wasn't as so grotesquely awful as to be unreadable.  What was happening to the expedition was not uninteresting. And the kids at least recognized that stealing the drum was a wrong thing to have done.

short answer--I will not be re-reading it.  But since I did enjoy another book by the author, I will not give up on him if I find his books going cheaply.  


this week's roundup of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (7/14/24)

Good morning all!  I'm back with a Sunday round-up after my break to deal with work stuff...enjoy adding to your tbr pile, and let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Beast of Grubbers Nubbin (Stitch Head 5), by Guy Bass, at Mark My Words

Farrah Noorzad and the Ring of Fate, by Deeba Zargarpur, at Kiss the Book

The Flicker, by H.E. Edgmon, at Kiss the Book

I Am Rebel, by Ross Montgomery, at Scope for Imagination

The Legend of the Last Library, by Frank L. Cole, at  Mark My Words

The Magician Next Door, by Rachel Chivers Khoo, at Bookworm for Kids

Marnie Midnight and the Moon Myster, by Laura Ellen Anderson, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

Mr. Whiskers and the Shenanigan Sisters, by Wendelin Van Draanen, at Kiss the Book

The Pale Queen, by Ethan M. Aldridge, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Paper Dragons: The Fight for the Hidden Realm, by Siobhan McDermott, at PBC's Book Reviews 

Princess Protection Program, by Alex London, at YABookNerd

The Secret of Splint Hall, by Katie Cotton, at Pages Unbound  

Time After Time, by Sarah Mlynowski and Christina Soontornvat, at Puss Reboots

Westfallen, by Ann and Ben Brashares,  at  Mark My Words: 

Wicked Marigold, by Caroline Carlson, at Log Cabin Library

The Wishkeeper’s Apprentice, by Rachel Chivers Khoo, at Pages Unbound

 A Whisper of Curses, by J. Elle, at The Story Sanctuary

Witchspark, by Dominique Valente, at Scope for Imagination

Authors and Interviews

Deva Fagan (A Game of Noctis) and Jenn Reese (Puzzleheart) in conversation at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Katherine Rundell (Impossible Creatures), at Publishers Weekly

Other Good Stuff

"Let in the Magic" is this month's Hot Off the Press theme at CBC

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


The Grave, by James Heneghan, for Timeslip Tueday

 That was the longest break I ever took from blogging!  But the desperate times of moving out of work are pretty much over, and so here I am again, ready with a time travel book for this Tuesday!

The Grave, by James Heneghan (2000), cannot be described as a comfort read (although it has a happy ending).  It starts in 1974 in Liverpool with its 13 year old protagonist, Tom, climbing down into a mass grave of Irish famine victims.  The stacks and stacks of rotting coffins are being cleared away to make way for new construction in a very hush hush way, and Tom was curious about what was happening.  Surrounded by the dead, Tom travels back in time to Ireland during the famine, arriving in an isolated community just in time to save a boy from drowning.

The boy's family extends to Tom all the hospitality they can, though they have little food to share.  The Monaghans do, though, have love for each other, and this is something that's been in short supply in Tom's life.  Abandoned as a baby, he's spent his life bouncing between foster parents.  His current ones are awful, abusive, and spitefully mean.  

He returns to his own time, but is drawn back to the Monaghans, briefly living episodes of their life (being evicted from their home, the starving journey to find passage to Liverpool, the sickness and despair they find in the city once they reach it).  But though he keeps returning to his own life, he spends enough time with this family that they become his family as well.  Two of them even survive (like I said, not a comfort read).

And back in the present, Tom finds himself more protective of the special needs boy he's fostered with, until Brian too is family.  Even more miraculously, because he travelled in time, he's able to find his birth parents, and so there is a happy ending that would not have been possible if he hadn't suffered alongside the Monaghans.....

Can't say I enjoyed it, but I think it is a good book--the writing is very vivid, the character growth satisfying, and there is enough relationship between past and present to make the story hang together well.  It is grim, but not as depressing as you might expect; Tom's first person point of view is lively and sharp, and entertaining except for in the darkest moments. I may well have enjoyed it more if graves dug up for construction projects weren't something I have to think about for work.

(this might be the worst cover of all the 400 or so time travel books I've reviewed.  Who thought his hair sticking up in that weird way added anything of value????)


middle grade sci fi/fantasy roundup hiatus

 I'm taking a break on the round-ups because of work--we have to vacate our building for six months starting in July and move everything out, and for me that includes all the artifact boxes in the state's repository, and it is getting to be crunch time.  So I'm about to go into work to move boxes.....I might get some review posts written, but Sunday mornings need to be all about moving.

See you again July 14th!


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (6/9/24)

Benji Zeb is a Ravenous Werewolf, by Deke Moulton, at Fuse #8

Braided (Sisters Ever After #5), by Leah Cypess, at Charlotte's Library

Cat's Magic, by Margaret Greaves, at Charlotte's Library

The Cursed Moon, by Angela Cervantes, at Kiss the Book

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Michelle Isenhoff

Farrah Noorzad and the Ring of Fate, by Deeba Zargarpur, at Mark My Words

 Greenwild: The City Beyond the Sea, by Pari Thomson, at The Story Sanctuary

The Haunting of Fortune Farm, by Sophie Kirtley, at Scope for Imagination

Heroes of the Water Monster, by Brian Young, at Kiss the Book 

The Last Dragon, by Polly Ho-Yen, at Scope for Imagination

Lei and the Invisible Island, by Malia Maunakea, at Mark My Words

The Minor Miracle, by Merideth Davis, at House full of Bookworms

Murray Out of Water, by Tracy Taylor, at Cracking the Cover

The One and Only Ruby, by Katherine Applegate, at Children's Books Heal  

The Raven Throne, by Stephanie Burgis, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

Tidemagic: The Many Faces of Ista Flit, by Clare Harlow, at  A Journey of Words  

The Whisperwicks: The Labyrinth of Lost and Found, by Jordan Lees, at Bookworm for Kids

The Witching Wind, by Natalie Lloyd, at YA Books Central

Authors and Interviews

Highlighting Ancestral Veneration and Hoodoo: A Q&A with Nyasha Williams About Saturday Magic (slj.com)

Interview with Meredith Davis about THE MINOR MIRACLE – MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

Congratulations to the winner and the short listed books for  Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, with an especial nod to The Ghost Job (my reviewmy review) for representing middle grade!

The Winner--To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose 
The Inn at the Amethyst Lantern by J. Dianne Dotson,  
Liberty’s Daughter by Naomi Kritzer
The Ghost Job by Greg van Eekhout

And congratulations to me for another successful library book sale outing yesterday! My mother, as is her wont, commented "you need more books like you need a hole in your head," but need and want are two different things....


Braided (Sisters Ever After #5), by Leah Cypess

I've been enjoying all of Leah Cypess' middle-grade sisterly twists on fairy tales as they've come out, but Braided, the newest in the series (May 28, 2024,  Delacorte Press), is my favorite.  It's a reimagining of Rapunzel, from the point of view of a little sister, Cinna, growing up knowing her big sister was imprisoned in a far-off tower.

Cinna is thrilled when Rapunzel is rescued and comes home again, but Rapunzel seem less than thrilled by the role of princess that's she's expected to assume.  Yes, she has the family's magical hair, that enables the kingdom to confine the fey (more or less) to their own realm (as does Cinna).  But unlike their mother, the Queen, who devotes all her energy to this task, Rapunzel just doesn't seem to see the point.  

Cinna wants Rapunzel to be the big sister she's always wanted, but Rapunzel wants more for Cinna, and for herself, than being trapped by a giant wall of responsibility.  And Rapunzel must return to the fey realm after only three days....

The bond that the two of them manage to build, and the magic and wits that they have in plenty, will save them both, despite fierce challenges both from the fey realm and from their own circumstances.  

I loved the sisterly part of the story lots, especially all the letters that Cinna wrote (but never sent) to her missing sister that start each chapter),  It was both sweet and emotionally rich, and when combined with dragons (as shown on the cover), some monsters, wonderful hair magic, and the machinations of both the fey and the people of the court, the result was a lovely gripping story! Cinna, and the reader, must question what is good and what is evil, and what they owe to others, and what they owe to themselves.

Young readers just meeting this series with Braided will almost certainly want more!


Cat's Magic, by Margaret Greaves, for Timeslip Tuesday

I'm working my way, as finances allow, through all the time travel books of the twentieth century, and although Cat's Magic, by Margaret Greaves (1980), is free on open library, I like reading physical copies much better.  And this is a book I'm happy to have added to my collection, even though it isn't one that I loved deeply.

Louise is an orphan, and the money set aside by her mother to keep her at boarding school has run out.  Now she must go stay with an aunt in the middle of the English countryside, in a somewhat dilapidated farm house.  I would like this, but Louise does not, and she is keenly aware that Aunt Hester is not thrilled about it either.  Aunt Hester expects Louise to pull her weight, but Louise has no desire to pull anything, and no desire to read the works of Sir Walter Scott as Aunt Hester suggests, but prefers the escapist fluff for girls she has to keep hidden in her room lest Aunt Hester throws it away.

But all is not terrible.  A friendly village boy, Charlie, teaches her how to ride a bicycle, which Aunt Hester has dragged out of one of the barns, and although we don't get a lot of fun rural expeditions (which I rather like), it was a bright spot in her life.  More importantly, though, she rescues a kitten slated to be drowned.  And miraculously Aunt Hester lets her keep little Casca.

Even more miraculously, the ancient Egyptian cat goddess, Bast, appears in her room that night to reward her for her cat kindness.  She offers Louise a boon, and Louise impulsively says that she'd just rather be anywhere else.  So she gets the gift of being able to travel anywhere she wants.  Bast is good at place, but being an immortal goddess is more than a bit loose with regards to time.  When Louise asks to be sent to Egypt, she ends up in ancient times, where Casca, who's travelled with her, gets a good chunk of worshiping and Louise has a slightly hungry, but interesting, visit to the past.

At this point I was thinking it was just going to be episodic time travel, but I was pleased that this was not the case.  Her next jaunt takes her to a Victorian seaside town, where she befriends another orphan, who serves as an unpaid drudge at her (much more unpleasant) aunt's boarding house.  It is a miserable situation, and Louise decides to rescue her from the villainous aunt, and takes her back to the present.  

There is more back and for between this past and the present before everyone gets happily settled, and it was rather good reading.  Aunt Hester and Louise gradually warm to each other, which was nice.  And though the author doesn't give deep consideration to culture shock and bureaucratic challenges, there's plenty of detail and cozy found-family-ness.  So though it didn't hit hard emotionally (mostly because it stayed on the surface level of things), I enjoyed it.  (Casca the cat played a very small role, so don't expect much kitten cuteness if you do pick this up.  But if miserable Victorian orphans are your jam, there's pleanty of that).


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (6/2/24)

Here's what I found this week, and now I will scamper off to fight invasives outside....

The Reviews

Aya and the Star Chaser, by Radiya Hafiza, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander, at  Semicolon  

Braided (Sister's Ever After #5), by Leah Cypess, at Log Cabin Library and Always in the Middle…  

A Chance Child, by Jill Paton Walsh, at Charlotte's Library 

City of Stolen Magic. by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak, at Log Cabin Library

The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum, at Staircase Wit 

Ghosts of Mars: The Adventures of Eva Knight, by Stuart White, at Scope for Imagination

The Ghosts of Nameless Island. by Carly Anne West, at Bookworm for Kids

The Girl Who Kept the Castle, by Ryan Graudin, at Novel Notions

The Great Charming (The Caverns of Cracklemore 1), by Jace Schwartz, at Mark My Words

The One and Only Family, by Katherine Applegate, at Ms. Yingling Reads

 Puzzleheart, by Jenn Rees, at Cracking the Cover and A Library Mama

 The Secret Society of Very Important Post, by Alexandra Page, at Book Craic

The Spirit Glass by Roshani Chokshi, at Pages Unbound  

Telephone of the Tree, by Allison McGhee, at ReadWonder

Terra Electrica: The Guardians of the North, by Antonia Maxwell, at Mark My Words

 Villains’ Realm (Kingdom Keepers Inheritance #2), by Ridley Pearson, at  Carstairs Considers....: 

 The Wanderdays: Journey to Fantome Island, by Clare Povey, at Book Craic


Liar's Test, by Ambelin Kwaymullina

I haven't read much YA fantasy yet this year, so it was a nice departure to immerse myself into the complicated world of Liar's Test, by Ambelin Kwaymullina (May 2024, Knopf Books for Young Readers).

At first glance, it doesn't seem that groundbreaking--seven girls must compete to be queen, knowing that four are fated to die, and one of these girls, Bell, is special. But this is really only a side note of plot in a much bigger story. And although Bell is indeed a chosen one, the choosing is far from arbitrary.

Bell is a Treesinger, whose people were forcibly removed from their homeland by the Risen, colonizers worshiping gods who are anathema to the Treesinger way of life of deep connection to nature and the ancestors. They are much more than just gentle oppressed tree huggers, and as the book progress, this becomes very clear. (Knowing that the author belongs to the Palyku people of the eastern Pilbara region of Western Australia gives an additional gravitas to the story's portrayal of the Treesinger way of being in the world). When Bell's home, one of the resettled enclaves, falls into a sleeping sickness, with only Bell untouched by it, she's taken to the colonizers main city to be studied like a lab animal (and is cruelly abused by the sadistic high priest of the sun god).

But Bell is good at lying, and good at not giving in. And so when she's told she'll be the first Treesinger to compete for the crown, she's all in--even though being queen isn't her priority.

And so the challenges being, and the story explodes beyond episodic fantastical trials into a tapestry of gods who real (and from outside the world), people who are not at all what the seem, and the complex plans that Bell's maternal ancestors set in motion, with friendships and alliances that bring warmth to the story, a small touch of romance, trees that are more than magical, and more (the more includes a small tree spirit companion who is very charming).

Although it can get a bit confusing at times if you aren't paying attention and step away while reading to deal with domestic disaster (ask me how I know), it all makes sense (I think) in the end, and I appreciated the complexities and twists and fantastical details lots.

One small in the larger scheme of the story that I appreciated was that Bell's personal trauma ends up being directly confronted. After the horrific beginning in which Bell is almost killed by the high priest, and seeing how isolated she has been, I found it hard to accept how apparently unaffected she was. But Bell is an excellent liar, and we are show in a scene toward the end how good she's been at lying to herself when she is forced to confront and release, through the intervention of the ancestors, all her reservoirs of pain.

Bell's relearning the ability to trust is also an important part of the story, without which the big picture of overthrowing tyrannical alien gods and saving her people would have been impossible. And it's more than just trusting others; it's also making herself (habituated as she has become to deceit) trustworthy. So though she is a chosen one, by virtue of her birth to her particular ancestors, and by virtue of not succumbing to the sickness that afflicted her people, it is her character growing and changing that makes her the heroine that is needed.

In short, I can see the target audience enjoying it lots, except for those who really want a Romance, because though Bell does get one bit of passionate kissing, it's far far to the side of the main story.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


A Chance Child, by Jill Paton Walsh, for Timeslip Tuesday

It's possible I picked up A Chance Child, by Jill Paton Walsh (1978), as a child, but if so I'm sure I would have put it down after just a few pages, which are both confusing for the reader and miserable for the main character.  But grown-up me read on, and though there was plenty of misery to come, it lessened somewhat, and the confusion gave signs of clearing....

It begins in a hellish, massive dump, in which a lost, starved, unwanted child called Creep wanders not knowing what he is doing.  It is unclear if it is past or present, and unclear who Creep is.  The wasteland abuts a canal, and Creep finds refuge in an old canal boat, which starts him on a journey.

Then the point of view shifts to Christopher, a boy who is desperately hunting for Creep, his half-brother.  Christopher is definitely in the present of the book (which of course is in the distant past for modern kids), and gives the reader more information--turns out, this is Creep's first time outside ever; part of the house has collapsed, opening the cupboard where he has been confined all his life.  Christopher looked after Creep as much as he could, risking his mother's anger, and cares about what danger he might be in, enough so that he's on the verge of breaking all his mother's brainwashing and going to the authorities.  

Then Creep, in the narrowboat, flows down the canal, on a journey into the child labor horrors of the Industrial Revolution.  As a grown-up I recognized that this was now the past, but it wasn't spelled out to the child reader and I bet I wouldn't have known at this point that Creep was time travelling (I was, for instance, a great re-reader of Joan Aiken and would have probably taken it all in my stride without question).  Creep acquires two great comrades in his journey, a girl and a boy who he helps escape from the dangerous misery of their labors (the boy has been pickaxed in his bottom, and the girl fell face down into a fire).  The girl can write a little, and carves "Creep" into a bridge stone to show him.

This carving Christopher, after more than a day and night of searching, sees, and realizes that it was done long long ago.  He has a realization that Creep has gone where he can't be found (I hope child reader me would have picked up on the time travel at this point, but you never know).

Creep and his two friends have a relatively nice bit of work at a pottery (they aren't in mortal peril, though it is grueling work) and are able to make the canal boat homelike, but this interlude is shattered (literally, by broken pottery).  Tom, the boy, goes off on his on to be a miner, and Creep and the girl find (horrible, dangerous) work in a mill.  

All this time, only children have ever been able to see Creep, and he's never felt any need to eat or drink, and he's never laughed.  When he does finally do so, he's solid and real back in the past...and on his way to a (mercifully) happy ending.  And Christopher back in the present, still desperate to find his poor brother, starts doing historical research, and finds that Creep himself wrote the story of his life (confirming, in case child me still needed it, that time travel, quite possibly in the form of a canal boat with something of a mind of its own, had taken Creep away).

It was a bit too much "let's go on a journey through child labor horrors (burns, beatings, torture) while simultaneously being confronted with a tortured child in the present for my personal taste, which much preferred "canal boat home making," "found family," and "library research."  And there was lots and lots of description, a lot of it about unpleasant things, that either brought everything vividly (too much so?) to life, or slowed the story down, depending.

Still, once I was into it and not much confused, I found it fast reading, and became invested in what was happening.  And it does have a happy ending in which found family in the past becomes real family, and Creep and Christopher's mother is being investigated by the authorities who have found Creep's birth certificate....


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/26/24)

As ever, let me know if I missed anything!

The Reviews

The Boo Hag Flex (Tales from Cabin 23), by Justina Ireland, at Ms. Yingling Reads Ms. Yingling Reads 

The Ghost of Whispering Willow, by Amanda M. Thrasher, at Bibliotica

Ghosts of Mars, by Stuart White, at The Strawberry Post  and  Books Are 42

Greenwild: The City Beyond the Sea, by Pari Thomson, at Scope for Imagination and Library Girl and Book Boy

 I Hate It When Aliens Do That, by Mark Cheverton, at Bookworm for Kids

Ivy Newt and the Swamp Dragons, by Derek Keilty & Magda Brol, at Scope for Imagination

 The Magic Paintbrush, by Kat Zhang, at Dinipandareads and One More Exclamation

Mermedusa (The Legends of Eerie-on-Sea #5), by Thomas Taylor, at Log Cabin Library

The Minor Miracle, by Meredith Davis, at A Journey of Words 

Mission Microraptor, by Philip Kavvadias, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads  

The One and Only Family (The One and Only Ivan #4), by Katherine Applegate, at Kiss the Book

The River Spirit, by Lucy Strange, at Book Craic

The Things We Miss, by Leah Stecher, at Charlotte's Library

The Wakefield Princess (Kevin Martinez and the Crimson Knights), by Mike Torres, at Mark My Words

The Wishkeeper’s Apprentice, by Rachel Chivers Khoo, at Mark My Words

Three at Ms. Yingling Reads  Through a Clouded Mirror, by Miya T. Beck, Dead in the Water (Zombie Season #2) by Justin Weinberger, and True Colors, by Abby Cooper 

Authors and Interviews

Stuart White (Ghosts of Mars) at  Much to do about Writing


Spy Ring, by Sarah Beth Durst


I love it when I gently learn bits of history I didn't know, especially while tagging along on a fun treasure hunt with companiable fictional characters, and that was just the case with Spy Ring, by Sarah Beth Durst (May 21, 2024, Clarion Books)!

Best friends Rachel and Joon, ready to spend the summer together practicing their espionage skills, are fed up with their parents keeping secrets from them--when eavesdropping, Rachel learns her mom and boyfriend are going to get married (which she fine with except for feeling left out), and Joon has just learned he's about to move.  But the eavesdropping also sets them off on a more exciting mission than they'd dreamed off--Rachel's soon to be stepdad is a descendent of a Revolutionary War spy, Anna "Nancy" Smith, and he's going to give Rachel a ring that once (according to family lore) belonged to her.

The ring has a clue to the start of a hunt set up by Nancy centuries ago, and maybe if Rachel and Joon can solve all the puzzles, they'll find actually proof that Nancy was indeed part of Long Island's Culper Spy Ring!

The kids have grown up vaguely aware of the Spy Ring, an important local driver of tourism and civic pride, but now they go into a deep dive of historical research and investigation of all the historic sites they'd never given much thought to. The clues are nicely cryptic, but believably solvable, and the adults encounter along the way are nicely varied in their responses, from skepticism to helpful eagerness.  The history of the Spy Ring, and the challenges of actually proving something in the past was true, is well woven into the modern-day hunt, and I really enjoyed learning about it.  I also appreciated that the story is about a woman whose historical importance many people were skeptical about, which is always a good chain of thought to put into young readers mind, in my opinion....

Give this one to any puzzle-loving, history loving, kids-riding-around-on-bikes loving, young readers you might have on hand, maybe paired with a trip to the actual Long Island town where the story is set, to go on a hunt yourselves for all the interesting historical places mentioned in the book! (I am rather tempted to do this myself....)


The Things We Miss, by Leah Stecher, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's Timeslip Tuesday, The Things We MissThe Things We Miss, by Leah Stecher (middle grade, Bloomsbury, May 2024), gives a self-conscious girl a chance to coast through all the unpleasant-ness of seventh grade through the magic of time-slipping.  When J.P. finds a magical door in her old treehouse hideout, she goes through....and three miserable days of worried that her large body is being judged and that she's just wrong somehow pass while she is cocooned in peaceful-ness. 

She's exited to share her discovery with her best friend Kevin, who didn't even notice she was gone (her body went on doing its thing while she rested), and at first he's very intrigued....but the magic doesn't work on him.  And as J.P. starts skipping three days here and there more and more often, relying on him to catch her up (her body double doesn't pass on memories), he is less and less supportive, and urges her to skip less often.

And indeed, life is going on during J.P.'s missing days...good things, meaningful things, and not just horrible gym class.  Her friendship with Kevin is strained to a breaking point, because of how often she just isn't there for him.  Her grandfather is dying of cancer, and she's skipping through that too.  And when she realizes just what she has slept through, she knows she has to start facing life with no escape hatch, and try to mend all the lost spaces in her life as best she can.

It was hard for me to care all that much about J.P. at first, as she is very self-centered, and has trouble thinking outside her immediate concerns, mainly her poor body-image, but further into her story, her grandfather's decline.   But her situation is a very relatable one--escapism is often appealing.  And it's good to see her get some sense, and set out on the road to being a stronger, more present person.

It's a really interesting time-slip premise too--her body double fills in for her so well, and is in fact herself though she can't remember it.  It's basically time-slipping as periodic amnesia.  The treehouse door is never explained, although it makes sense in the story that it appeared for her because of her intense desire to have a respite from the negative rain inside her head.  

And in many respects, this is one that a fair number of middle school kids will really see themselves in, and quite possible learn from J.P.'s experiences that the things in life that have meaning make up for the miserable bits, and that being there for those you care about, even if it also comes with mean girl bullying and grief, is worth it.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/19/24)

Morning all!  Here's what I found this week.

The Reviews

The City Beyond the Stars by Zohra Nabi, at Mark My Words

Dangerous Allies (Forgotten Five #4), by Lisa McMann, at YABookNerd

Finn and Ezra's Bar Mitzvah Time Loop, by Joshua S. Levy, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Fyn Carter and the Agents of Eromlos, by Ian Hunter, at Scope for Imagination and Book Craic

Grimmword: The Witch In The Woods. by Michaelbrent Collings, at fundinmental

The Last Hope School for Magical Delinquents, by Nicki Pau Preto, at Mark My Words

North and the Only One, by Vashti Hardy, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Puzzleheart, by Jenn Reese, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The River Spirit, by Lucy Strange, at Scope for Imagination

Rwendigo Tales, by J. A. Myhre (series review), at Redeemed Reader

The Secret Society of Very Important Post, by Alexandra Page, at Scope for Imagination

Tariq and the Drowning City (The Spiritstone Saga #1), by Sarwat Chadda, at Book Craic

A Whisper of Curses (Park Row Magic Academy #2), by J. Elle, at Mark My Words

Two at Feed Your Fiction Addiction-- Greenwild, by Pari Thomson& Once There Was, by Kiyash Monsef

Authors and Interviews

 Laura Segal Stegman (The Chambered Nautilus, Summer of L.U.C.K. #3), at Teen Librarian Toolbox)

Leah Cypess (Braided, Sisters Ever After series) at From the Mixed Up Files

Sandy Deutscher (The Haunting of Lake Lucy)-- How Writing in Verse Can Improve Your Prose, at Literary Rambles


A Pattern of Roses, by K.M. Peyton, for Timeslip Tuesday

If you, like me, are a Gen X American, you may well have watched in your youth a British tv show called Flambards, about a girl and her horses, WW I, two brothers and her romances with them, etc.  Perhaps you even went looking for the books by K.M. Peyton on which it was based.  And then possibly you were led to other K.M Peyton books...because even libraries in the US had them on their shelves. I think of Peyton as a 1970s/80s author, because that's when I was reading her, but she was publishing into the 20th century, and only died last December.  The RI library system has several of the more recent ones, and of the older ones kept Flambards (1968).  Much of my own vintage K.M. Peyton collection is mine because in a marvelous stroke of luck we moved into our house in 1999 just as the library three houses down was weeding their children's books for the first time in decades...but one K.M. Peyton book it's taken me a while to get ahold of is Pattern of Roses (1972), which I have only now read. And I can easily imagine re-reading it every three years or so....

Tim's wealthy parents have been spending lots of money on his education to make him into a successful adult--good boarding school, where he is prepared for Oxford like a goose being fattened, to be followed by joining his father in the advertising business.  But Tim derails things by getting sick, with what sound like mono, and having to take a break from school in the new house in the country his mother thought she wanted.  The remains of an old house were mostly demolished to make way for the new one, and Tim claims the one little surviving bit as his own room, which his mother doesn't understand (the first of many such no understandings in the story...).  For the first time in years, there is no pressure on Tim, and so when a builder working on the old chimney in Tim's room finds a box full of old drawings hidden away, Tim has the chance to reflect on them at leisure.

Impossibly, inexplicably, the artist, a boy called Tom, starts to become real to Tim.  He knows things about him he couldn't know.   And he wants to know more about Tom, and the girl, Netty, he drew.  He finds Tom's gravestone in the churchyard, showing that Tom died when he was just about Tim's own age back in 1910, and there he meets the vicar's daughter, Rebecca (also dealing with heavy parental expectations), who becomes his companion in both looking for Tom and Netty, and in figuring out what he wants to do with his life.  

The story in the present is interposed with Tom's story in the past (trading school when still a kid for the hard life of a farm laborer, though still finding time to draw). It's not a time travel book, because there's no travelling, but there is time slipping in the connection between the two boys, which is lovely and magical, and a nice counter note to the sadness of Tom's story in the past (wealthy, self-centerdly oblivious Netty is a piece of work, and there is tragedy) and Tim's struggles in the present.  Peyton's descriptions are utterly beautifully vivid, adding to the magic of the story.  And it's great to see how Tim comes into his own.  

Though it is set around 1970, the narrative of teenaged emotional growth is as germane today as it was then.  It would have been a young adult book back then, with its bit of romance and the rebellion against parents (and it's very 1970 YA cover art), but I think the most appreciative audience, then and now, would have been dreamy, imaginative 12-14 year olds.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/12/24)

Hi all!  Here's what I found this week.  Let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Cats of Silver Crescent, by Kaela Noel, at Cracking the Cover and Ms. Yingling Reads

Beast of Skull Rock, by Matt McMann, at YABookNerd

The City Beyond the Stars, by Zohra Nabi, at Bookworm for Kids

Dread Detention, by Jennifer Killick, at Kiss the Book

The Dreamweavers, by G.Z. Schmidt, at International Examiner

Ember Spark and the Thunder of Dragons, by Abi Elphinstone, at Book Craic, Just Imagine, and Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

 Finn and Ezra's Bar Mitzvah Time Loop, by Joshua S. Levy, at Charlotte's Library

The First State of Being, by Erin Entrada Kelly, at Susan Uhlig

Gallowgate, by K.R. Alexander, at YA Books Central

A Game of Noctis, by Deva Fagan, at Pages Unbound 

 The Girl Who Couldn’t Lie, by Radhika Sanghani, at Book Craic

The House at the End of the Sea, by Victoria M. Adams, at Book Craic

Loki: A Bad God's Guide to Ruling the World, by Louie Stowell, at Mark My Words

The No-Brainer's Guide to Decomposition, by Adrianna Cuevas, at Mark My Words

Not Quite a Ghost, by Anne Ursu, at Fuse #8 and Feed Your Fiction Addiction

The Secret Library, by Kekla Magoon, at Cracking the CoverTeen Librarian Toolbox, and Ms. Yingling Reads

The Selkie's Daughter, by Linda Crotta Brennan, at Redeemed Reader

The Sky King (Skyriders 2), by Polly Holyoke, at Mark My Words

Tap at the Window (Shiver Point), by Gabriel Dylan, at Twirling Book Princess

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, at Redeemed Reader

Authors and Interviews

Victoria Williamson (The Pawnshop of Stolen Dream and more) at Valinora Troy

 Kekla Magoon (The Secret Library) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

"7 sizzling books about dragons" at BookTrust


Finn and Ezra's Bar Mitzvah Time Loop, by Joshua S. Levy, for Timeslip Tuesday

Finn and Ezra's Bar Mitzvah Time Loop, by Joshua S. Levy (May 14, 2024, middle grade, Katherine Tegen Books) is a groundhog day type timeslip story that's tremendously fun (which I expected, having found the authors previous books to also be very entertaining).  And yet it's not all fun and games; there's a more thoughtful thread running through it as well.

Ezra's Bar Mitzvah is an ordeal to be endured, what with family tensions, his little sister barfing on his shoes, and the painful struggle to get through all that is required of him.  He's just glad he's reached the end on Sunday afternoon and it's over...when he finds himself back on Friday, having to do it all over again.  And again, unable to figure out how to end the madness.  

When he finds there's another boy in the same venue also caught in an endless Bar Mitzvah loop, he's relieved to have someone to join forces with. Finn has lots of ideas on things they can try to change things enough to make it out.  But efforts to make things perfect don't work, asking for help from Rabbi Neumann doesn't work (although these conversations are thought provoking and I enjoyed them), and they are running out of ideas (but not out of time.  They have lots of that.)

Then they notice that they are sharing the hotel with a convention of physicists, who surely must be able to help figure out how to break a time loop.  And indeed, Dr. London is interested, once they've convinced her (by knowing things they couldn't know, learned in previous iterations) that they are telling the truth.  It's tricky for Dr. London, because she has to keeping starting over and over every Friday, but the boys become skilled at helping her remember.  (I really liked that the scientist who cracks the case is a woman, who's not eccentric or weird but just a good scientist).

To save her notes, she needs gold to build a science cage to keep her data safe from vanishing every Sunday, and with lots of repeated practice, Finn and Ezra carry out a bank heist, and things seem hopeful.  But as they loop, not only are they getting to know each other really well, envious of things each has in his life that the other doesn't, they learn more about the people around them, most importantly, their families.  And what they learn makes them uncertain that they are ready for time to start moving forward again....

 The two boys are clearly defined characters, not just in the externals (Ezra lives in an Orthodox household crowded by siblings, making do but with no safety margin, and Finn is an only child of comfortably off parents, for whom religion is somewhat tangential) but in their personalities--Finn is a mad whirl of idea, and Ezra is a more thoughtful observer).  This difference keeps each time loop feeling fresh for the reader, and Finn's wild ideas keep things fresh(ish) for the kids too, although they had to put in a lot of practice weekends for more complex undertakings, like the bank robbery....

There's a lot of entertainment to be had in the looping, with many days seen in detail, and others, that don't progress the story, tidily recapped.  Some loops have poignant realizations, some have humor and excitement, and it's all good reading, although considerable suspension of disbelief is (not surprisingly) required (I had no trouble suspending mine). The kids have the freedom to waste their time, to savor moments while knowing they aren't going to be lost, to experiment with how what they do affects others. And so when time starts running normally again, they are prepared to live each day as if it will never come back again...which of course it won't.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/5/24)

|Black Hole Cinema Club, by Christopher Edge, at A Cascade of Books
Nothing from me today, because I have been on a reading slump, throwing all my energy after work into the hellscape that is my garden and woods...Let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Day I Fell into a Fairy Tale, by Ben Miller, at Cracking the Cover

Ember Spark and the Thunder of Dragons, by Abi Elphinstone, at Just Imagine

The Fight for the Hidden Realm (Paper Dragons), by Siobhan McDermott, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Game of Noctis, by Deva Fagan, at A Library Mama

Gargoyles: Guardians of the Source, by Tamsin Mori, at Valinora Troy

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day, by Christopher Edge, at Sarah's Corner  

The Island at the Edge of Night, by Lucy Strange, at Library Girl and Book BoyBook Craic, and Scope for Imagination

The Labyrinth of Lost and Found (The Whisperwicks), by Jordan Lees, at Book Craic

The Mystwick School of Musicraft, by Jessica Khoury, at BookClub (vocal.media)

New Kid On Deck (Pirate Academy #1), by Justin Somper, at Twirling Book Princess

A Rover's Story, by Jasmine Warga, at Bookworm for Kids

The Sky Over Rebecca, by Matthew Fox, at Kiss the Book

Sleeping Spells and Dragon Scales, by Wendy S. Swore, at Kiss the Book

When the Wild Calls, by Nicola Penfold, at Bellis Does Books 

 The Witch in the Woods (Grimmworld 1), by Michaelbrent Collings, at Mark My Words

Wrath of the Rain God (Legendarios #1), by Karla Arenas Valenti and Vanessa Morales, at Cracking the Cover

Authors and Interviews

Jennifer Killick (Dread Wood, Crater Lake) at Sifa Elizabeth Reads  

Nedda Lewers (Daughters of the Lamp), at Fuse #8

Other Good Stuff

New and recommend in the UK, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books  


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/28/24)

 Hi all!  Here's what I found this week; let me know of anything I missed.

The Reviews

Beneath the Swirling Sky, by Carolyn Leiloglou, at Susan Uhlig

The Day I Fell Into a Fairy Tale, by Ben Miller, at YA Books Central

Duet, by Elise Broach, at Dead Houseplants 

The Haunting of Lake Lucy, by Sandy Deutscher Green, at Valinora Troy

The Magician Next Door by Rachel Chivers Khoo, at Family Book Club

Olivia Cole and Legend of the Silver Seed, by Ricky Melamed, at Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub 

Peregrine Quinn and the Cosmic Realm, by Ash Bond, at Book Craic

Puzzleheart, by Jenn Reese, at Charlotte's Library

The Ship in the Garden, by Zetta Elliott, at Charlotte's Library

Things that Go Bumb, by Kathryn Foxfield, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

Tidemagic: The Many Faces of Ista Flit, by Clare Harlow, at  Mark My Words

The Tower Ghost, by Natasha Mac a’Bháird, at Scope for ImaginationBook Craic, and Nayu's Reading Corner 

The Wanderdays: Journey to Fantome Island, by Clare Povey, at Scope for Imagination

Authors and Interviews

Ben Miller (The Day I Fell Into a Fairytale) at Writer's Digest

Rob Long and Andrew Dolberg (The Great Weather Diviner) at GSMC Book Review Podcast 


Puzzleheart, by Jenn Reese

It's always a happy thing when a favorite author has a new book!  And indeed, Puzzleheart, by Jenn Reese (May 14, 2024, middle grade fantasy, Henry Holt and Co.) rewarded me with several happy hours of reading.

Twelve-year-old Perigee is worried about their depressed dad, and so they set in motion a visit to their grandmother's, where they have never been, which they hope will mend both the family and their dad's spirits (and maybe alleviate Perigee's growing concerns about finances...). And Perigee is eager to see for themselves the puzzle house bed and breakfast that their grandparents built between them, a house that is now sad and neglected with no new puzzles being added to its repertoire.  (Literally the house is feeling this, as it is a self-aware being).

Though Perigee is happy to find a girl their own age, Lily, staying at the house to be a new friend, Grandma does not welcome them.  She shows no interest in reconnecting with her son, who she sent off to live with relatives when Grandpa died, or in getting to know her grandchild.  But the house is very interested, and Perigee quickly becomes aware that there some things in this house of puzzles that their science-loving brain will have to file on a new "unexplainable" shelf...

Grandma wants to shut the house down and sell the place.  But to do so means solving the last of the house's puzzles, one that Grandpa set up to lead to the shut-off point.  And Perigee and Lily set out to do this.  The house is (understandably) not happy at the prospect of being shut down, and starts to fight back.  The puzzles become deadly as the house literally starts tearing itself apart to save itself.  But it's also figuratively doing the same--it is almost killing its family, and it can't stand what it is doing...or stop doing it.  

The puzzles and traps and tricks, and wonderous rooms of marvels, make for great reading, brought to vivid life by great descriptive writing.  But it's the emotional struggle of the book--to mend broken family ties, to see a path forward to a happier future, and in Perigee's particular case, to accept the mending other people isn't a burden they should be tearing their own self apart in order to bear--that gives the book it's powerful and moving heart.  

So come for death puzzles (with bonus kittens), enjoy picking which of the marvelous bedrooms you like best, and stay for hearts healing. Also, if you are me, enjoy the metaphors wrapped into the Puzzle House itself (if I had to write an essay for class on this book, I'd write about this).  Reese's A Game of Fox and Squirrels is still my favorite of her books (my review) but I like this one lots and lots too!

disclaimer-review copy received from the publisher.


The Ship in the Garden, by Zetta Elliott, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Ship in the Garden, by Zetta Elliott (middle grade, 2023, independently published, 104 pages), this week's Timeslip Tuesday book, is many things in one--a fantasy story with magical beings, a story of 13 year old Scottish kids with non-magical worries, a story about the slave trade in Scotland, and a time travel story that sends one of the kids back in time into enslavement on a Caribbean island.

It starts with a school field trip to Pollok House, build by an 18th-century Glasgow merchants whose fortune was based on slavery.  The day is marred for Kofi when he's paired with Gavin, a racist tough who is determined to make him miserable.  Kofi is also a new kid, followed by rumors about what he did to get suspended from his previous school, and he's also a kid living with the sadness of his beloved Ghanaian grandmother's sickness.  

So things are already a lot for Kofi when the tour of Pollok House is full of weirdness with no logical explanation, including a shadowy doppelganger and sounds no one else hears (this part is great haunted house reading!).  Then he explores outside and finds a book Gavin nicked from the house's library, smeared with blood, lying on the ground near the replica of an 18th-century merchant ship. And then Gavin doesn't show when it's time to get back on the bus to school.

Kofi shares his worry that something's happened to Gavin with a Kaylee, a black classmate who seems like a possible friend. But Kaylee, who Gavin has also targeted because she is trans, refuses to care.  So Kofi goes back to the garden alone....and meets an urisk, a strange and lonely Scottish magical creature.  The urisk is trying to bring back his one friend, a Caribbean boy who was the enslaved page boy of the 18th century family.  Gavin was the offering he used to try to make this happen....

And though I could go on and on synopsizing, because there's a lot of story in this relatively slim book, suffice it to say that Gave has travelled back in time into enslavement in the Caribbean, and Kofi is determined to bring him back (partly because he doesn't want the other enslaved people to have to deal with a racist young Nazi bully in their midst, but a bit also because he is horrified by the wrongness of the whole thing).

But to save Gavin, Kofi must resist the urisk's schemes and deflections, and he must be brave enough to face the great Water Mother herself and make a sacrifice that tears at his heart.....all for a racist bully, who, it turns out, is furious about being saved....

Although most of the story is Kofi's first person point of view in the present, we also get glimpses of Gavin's life in the past.  It is tragic and grim, but it does give Gavin the chance to feel connection such as he lacked in the present.  It's not a redemption arc in which Gavin is magically en-nicened, but an explanatory arc with hope for change.  As for Kaylee, she's such a strong and vibrant character that when she's on the page we don't need to be in her head.   

Like I said, there's a lot of story here, and it kept me reading past my bedtime with much interest and enjoyment. Older middle grade fantasy readers will probably do the same, and they'll get some learning of Scottish and Carribean history in the process, and have thoughts provoked about the present as well. There's weight here of past and present sadness, but the fantastical elements, likeable main character, and the vivid pictures created by the fine writing relieve enough of the pressure to make it a (thought-provoking) pleasure for the reader (me).  I wish, though, (and this might be a matter of personal taste) that it had been less brisk and gripping, with more moments of inflection and reflection, smoothing the transitions, and giving space for the powerful moments to reverberate more clearly. 

For more about Zetta Elliott and how she came to write this particular book, here's a talk she gave over at her website--“‘I AM MYRTILLA’S DAUGHTER’: WEAVING SCOTLAND, SLAVERY, AND SITHS INTO HISTORICAL FANTASIES”  (well worth reading!)


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/21/24)

Greetings from Rhode Island, where I've mostly read grown-up books this week for a change of pace....Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

 Alex Neptune: Zombie Fighter, by David Owen, at Book Craic

The Crowfield Curse, by Pat Walsh, at Bookwork for Kids

Daughters of the Lamp, by Nedda Lewers, at Pages Unbound 

The Day I Fell Into A Fairy Tale, by Ben Miller, at Bookworm for Kids and Crafty Moms Share

The First State of Being, by Erin Entrada Kelly, at ReadWonder

A Game of Noctis, by Deva Fagan, at The Book Search and Charlotte's Library

Gamer (Virtual Kombat #1), by Chris Bradford, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Under the Smokestrewn Sky (The Up-and-Under 4), by A. Deborah Baker, at A Dance With Books

Midsummer’s Mayhem, by Rajani LaRocca, at Story Warren

 Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind, by Misa Sugiura, at Garik16's SciFi/Fantasy Reviews and Other Thoughts

North and the Only One, by Vashti Hardy, at Scope for Imagination

Pages & Co, by Anna James (series review) at United by Pop

The Sailor Cipher (Explorer Academy Vela: Book 1), by Trudi Trueit, at Mark My Words

 The Secret of the Moonshard, by Struan Murray, at Valinora Troy

Authors and Interviews

Terry J. Benton (Blood Justice) at  Geek Vibes Nation


Throwback, by Maurene Goo, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's time travel book, Throwback, by Maurene Goo (YA, April 2023, Zando Young Readers), sends Samantha, the daughter of Korean immigrants, back in time to the 1990s, where she has to play the role of an ordinary high school kid until she figures out what she needs to change back in the past in order to get home again.

Sam is kicking hard against her mother's expectations and aspirations.  We first met her when she's deliberately being obnoxious during her parents' country club membership interview (and yes, I share Sam's views about country clubs and their grass maintenance issues, but still it was hard to like her at first).  She and her mother, Priscilla, are clashing at every turn, and it comes to a head when Priscilla's mom, Sam's beloved Halomi, is hospitalized and in a coma.  No, Sam doesn't want to be taken shopping for a Homecoming dress the next day.  And tells her mother she hates her (and yes, I see where Sam is coming from, and there are failures of communication on both sides, but it strengthened my feelings about Sam being self-centered).

In any event, she has to find a ride back to school....and the driver who comes to pick her up ends up taking her back to the past.  

So there's Sam, in the 1990s, in her mom's high school.  Her mom is in the running for homecoming queen, and Sam knows she didn't win, and that somehow this situation soured the relationship between her and Halomi.  Maybe this is what she needs to change...so she makes herself Priscilla's campaign manager.

The culture shock is real--Sam has never been more conscious of being Korean and is appalled by the racism her mom had/has to deal with daily.  There's also the casual misogyny, lack of environmental awareness, and lack of technology.  But sticking to Priscilla like glue, she finds her understanding of her mother deepening, finds her grandmother wasn't nearly as wonderful as a mother, and finds that they are actually becoming real friends.  And on top of this, she finds herself falling by another new kid, a boy who seems almost as out of place as she is....

I never did quite warm to Sam, who I found too pushy and thoughtless, but I did very much appreciate the way she becomes more aware of what her mother is really like as a person, and more understanding of the circumstances that made her who she became.  This is really well done.  And I found the romance sub-plot fun as well (and was glad to see Sam doing some critical thinking about her boyfriend back in the present; there were many red flags that she was ignoring).  What was the most fun though were the trials and tribulations of being a modern girl back in the 1990s, and the target audience should get a kick out of this as well. 

In short, an engrossing read with enough thought-provoking-ness to keep it from being just fluffy fun, and more than enough fun to make it more than an emotionally heavy mother-daughter relationship story.

Time travel wise--Sam lucked out here.  She finds a place to stay with a kind woman who she knows in her own time as an assisted living resident with dementia, and this woman not only gives her food and shelter but also money.  The mechanics of the time travel were satisfactory, and the changes made in the past did have ripples, but the biggest change was in Sam's greater understanding of her mother, her grandmother, and her (now ex) boyfriend.


no round-up today

 a combination of eclipse viewing in Vermont (utterly magical.  Clear skies, snow on the ground making the weird light effects even more so, mountain views, and three minutes of mind-blowing totality) followed by the worst traffic of my life leaving VT--10 hours at 11 mph, got off the highway at 2 to find a hotel) and house guests has left no time for blogging.  Here's the world beginning to grow dim at Sentinel Rock Park, northern Vermont (where we actually sat we were surrounded by six inches of less trodden snow....)

see you next week!


this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs etc. (4/7/24)

Good morning all!  Here's what I found this week--

The Reviews

Alyssa and the Spell Garden, by Alexandra Sheppard, at Book Craic

The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo, at Susan Uhlig

ChupaCarter and the Screaming Sombrero, by George Lopez and Ryan Calejo, at Mark My Words

The Clockwork Conspiracy, by Sam Sedgman, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

The Color of Sound, by Emily Barth Isler, at Charlotte's Library

The Deadlands Series, by Skye Melki-Wegner, at The Story Sanctuary

Ferris, by Kate DiCamillo, at The Book Muse  

The First State of Being, by Erin Entrada Kelly, at Linda Browne

A Game of Noctis, by Deva Fagan, at Charlotte's Library

Lightningborn, by Julie Kagawa, at The Reading Cafe

The Minor Miracle, by Meredith Davis, at Bookworm for Kids

Olivetti, by Allie Millington, at The Book Search

Olivia Cole and the Legend of the Silver Seed, by Ricky Melamed, at Pass Me That Book  

The Princess Protection Program, by Alex London, at Unleashing Readers

Spindleheart: Trail of Shadow and Spool, by T.I. Avens, at Mark My Words

The Voyage of Sam Singh, by Gita Ralleigh, at Little Blog of Library Treasures 

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Lumbering Giants of Windy Pines, by Mo Netz, and City of Wishes (Legends of Lotus Island #3), by Christina Soontornvat and Kevin Hong

Other good stuff

from last month, but still good--How to design engaging book cover art --in which Tony DiTerlizzi walks us through the process of a new cover design for The Search for Wondla, a mg fantasy.

and feel free to wish me luck as I head north from RI this evening for an exciting Eclipse Day in Vermont (annoyingly with no open used bookstores to visit on the way, but hopefully the eclipse will make up for that disappointment....)


A Game of Noctis, by Deva Fagan


A Game of Noctis, by Deva Fagan (April 9, 2024 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers), is a beautifully gripping, thought-provoking, and fun magical read!

In Pia's home city, the Game is all that matters. Winning games gives you the de facto currency needed to survive, and if you fail as a player, you are relegated to a low status life of service jobs or exiled to a life of servitude outside the city.  When Pia's grandfather's game rank falls below the minimum (he can't afford the new glasses he needs to be a competitive player) and he is taken away by the policing automatons of the city, Pia is determined to use her own skills as a game player to win enough to bring him home again.  But it's a ridiculously large amount of game credit; even if she never loses, it would take years.  

Except that wining the annual Great Game of Noctis would take care of it all.  And so when she meets Vittoria, a girl her own age with a brash confidence in her gaming skill, who offers her a place on the team she's assembling to compete in the Game of Noctis, Pia says yes.  Even though Noctis is a deadly game, played with Death herself as a piece on the board.

Vittoria's team, the Seafoxes, are underdogs in a competition dominated by the wealthy, but each member brings their particular skills beautifully to bear.  And each has their own reason for needing to win, and their own journeys that have brought them to this point.  But the Game of Noctis turns out to be rigged--those who have power and privilege are perfectly happy to bend to rules to keep it.

Pia and her teammates must question the underpinnings of their world if they are going to win.  But challenging the status quo can be just as dangerous as playing games with Death herself.  (And Death really is a real "person" who Pia meets outside of the game, giving extra fantasy depth to the story).

It was a tremendously entertaining read, with just the right amount of detail about the various matches in the Great Game--enough to make it all wonderfully clear without being pages of unbroken description.  The characters to are allowed to reveal themselves and their stories gradually, so the reader gets to know them as real people alongside Pia, instead of them being intro-dumped.  It was really well done!

I have to confess the premise of the world's economy built on game victories was initially hard for me to accept.  But revelations about how it works, which are slowly revealed to both the characters and the reader, made it all make sense by the time it was ready to be blown to bits!

Highly recommended, in particular to fantasy readers who like games and competitions along with a touch of magic, and who are eager to cheer on a revolution.  It's easy to imagine wanting to re-read it.

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