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.


The Color of Sound, by Emily Barth Isler, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's Timeslip Tuesday book is The Color of Sound, by Emily Barth Isler (March 2024, Carolrhoda), is a really absorbing book about Rosie, a girl whose mother is determined not to let her tremendous musical talent be neglected in any way whatsoever. When this pressure breaks Rosie's one friendship, she decides to go on strike and stop playing, so she can make space to find out who she is outside of music.  And so instead of spending her summer focusing on her violin as she has every summer for years, she's off with her mother to the family home in the countryside of Connecticut, where her grandmother is dying of Alzheimer's.

Rosie doesn't know her grandparents well at all, because the violin has always taken precedence in her life, and she doesn't know what to do with herself at her grandparents.  Music still fills her mind, coupled with synesthesia, leaving her disquieted.  But then she finds an old shed being used as a retreat for a girl her own age, Shoshanna, and it seems like they might become friends....Quickly Rosie realizes that this girl isn't an ordinary neighbor--she is her mother, back when she was a kid in 1994.  And Rosie wonders how this lively girl, longing for music herself, became the controlled and controlling woman dedicated to always making sure that the violin comes first.

In the weeks that follows, Rosie manages to make friends with ordinary kids, an older group doing an improv class at the library, she becomes comfortable for the first time with the resident large dog, and she gets to know her grandfather. She learns from him about the history of her Jewish family, and how they escaped the Holocaust, though leaving many of the family behind.  This history leads her back to music, through the song her grandmother remembers her own mother playing....a song she longs to hear again.  It leads her to think more about being Jewish, too, something that wasn't part of her violin focused life.  

And she wonders if somehow she can connect with her mother back in 1994, pushing her toward a present where Rosie's musical genius isn't the whole of their relationship.

I loved all the elements of the family, the memories, Rosie's introspection, and the music that fills the book (even though Rosie only plays three times), and of course the time slipping, though never explained, and never a real driver of the story, was a nice bonus.  But I expected there to be some dramatic reveal about why Rosie's mother ended up the way she did, and there wasn't. It's not at all clear why she is the way she is and not believable that she changes so much at the end of the story (even though this is what Rosie was trying to do with hints and nudges back in the past).  

That being said, it was pretty much a single sitting read for me and I might well re-read it in a few years.


this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (3/31/24)

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

The Reviews

Ace Adler and the Pendulum of Doom, by John H. Matthews, at  Mark My Words

Amari and the Great Game, by B. B. Alston, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, at Novels Alive

Dragon Force: Devourer’s Attack, by Katie & Kevin Tsang, at Scope for Imagination

Festergrimm, by Thomas Taylor, at Puss Reboots 

The First State of Being, by Erin Entrada Kelly, at Charlotte's Library

Into the Witchwood, by Méabh McDonnell, at Book Craic

The Island at the Edge of the Night, by Lucy Strange, at Library Girl and Book Boy

Night of the Squawker (Goosebumps SlappyWorld #18), by R.L. Stine, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

The Rise of  the Legends, by Jake Zortman, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

The Secret Doors of Cannondale, by Stephanie Brick, at  PR Newswire

The Secret Library, by Kekla Magoon, at Log Cabin Library

Sparkling Mist of Time (The Deliverers 4), by Gregory Slomba, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Things that Go Bump, by Kathryn Foxfield, at Twirling Book Princess

Two at School Library Journal--Daughters of the Lamp, by Nedda Lewers, and Medusa, by Katherine Marsh

Other Good Stuff 

"Why adults should read children's books" by Katherine Rundell at the BBC


The First State of Being, by Erin Entrada Kelly, for Timeslip Tuesday

The First State of Being, by Erin Entrada Kelly (March, 2024, Greenwillow Books) is a delightful and heartwarming middle grade time travel book that I enjoyed lots.

In August, 1999 (which will seem very strange and far away to the target audience), 12-year-old Michael prepares for the potential disaster that is Y2K.  When we first meet him, he's shop lifting a can of peaches to add to his survival stash kept under his bed--his mom is working three jobs and can't give him the money he'd like to spend getting properly prepared.  Though money his tight, his mother insists on paying 15-year-old Gibby to keep an eye on him, and though Michael feels confident he'd manage find without her, he still enjoys her company, both because he has a crush on her and because his anxiety and social awkwardness has made it hard for him to have friends. His only other friend is the old maintenance man for the apartment complex.

But then into the mediocre life of Fox Run Apartments, in Red Knot, Delaware, comes a teenaged boy, Ridge, strangely dressed and disoriented.  He's a time traveler from the future, and when Michael learns this, he's desperate to know what happens with Y2K.  But Ridge isn't telling.  He's in enough trouble already, as we learn from glimpses of what's happening in the future.  He wasn't supposed to be the first time traveler ever, and he's not going to risk spoiling the future by letting on all he knows.  He just wants to experience life in 1999, especially seeing what a mall is like....

There aren't any dramatic happenings in Ridge's time in 1999, although there are many complexities that Gibby and Michael must deal with.  And although Ridge doesn't tell all he knows, the time Michael spends with him gives him confidence not just about the future but about the present.  And it all ends in a beautiful, time travel wonderful way!

I enjoyed it very much.  The time travel has just the right amount of sci fi to it to make it if not plausible at least acceptable, and the repercussions of Ridge's trip to 1999 are lovely. It will bring that long lost time vividly to life for young readers, and the interpersonal dynamics and tension will keep the pages turning for them very nicely indeed.  I even grew a bit at one particularly poignant point in the best possible way.


this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (3/24/24)

Hi all, and greetings from a cold spring morning here in Rhode Island (a good day to read by the fire....)

Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Bubba and Squirt's Shield of Athena, by Sherry Ellis, at Bookworm for Kids 

Cloudlanders, by Christopher Mackie, at Mark My Words

The Deadlands: Survival (The Deadlands #3), by Skye Melki-Wegner, at The Story Sanctuary

Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Staircase Wit

Ferris, by Kate DiCamillo, at ReadWonder and Redeemed Reader

The Island at the Edge of Night, by Lucy Strange, at Scope for Imagination

Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time, by P.J. Davis, at The Fairview Review

Nightmares in Paradise (Ring of Solomon 2), by Aden Polydoros, at Mark My Words

Once There Was, by Kiyash Monsef, at Pages Unbound

Pages of Doom, by Jeff Szpirglas, at Bookworm for Kids 

Shadowhall Academy: The Whispering Walls. by Phil Hickes, at Twirling Book Princess

Sona and the Golden Beasts, by Rajani LaRocca, at Charlotte's Library

Stinetinglers 2, by R.L. Stine, at Twirling Book Princess

Stitch, by Pádraig Kenny, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads and A Cascade of Books

Teddy vs. the Fuzzy Doom, by Braden Hallett, at Twirling Book Princess

Tourmaline and the Museum of Marvels, by Ruth Lauren, at Book Craic

The Traitor of Nubis (Umbra Tales 2), by Janelle McCurdy, at  Mark My Words

The Unicorn Legacy: Tangled Magic, by Camilla Benko, at Ms. Yingling Reads

When the Wild Calls, by Nicola Penfold, at Scope for Imagination

The Witch in the Woods (Grimmworld #1) by Michaelbrent Collings, at Kiss the Book

Authors and Interviews

Linda Crotta Brennan (The Selkie’s Daughter) at the Kansas  Public Radio podcast

Other Good Stuff

Greenwild: The World Behind the Door by Pari Thomson is the winnder of the Waterstones children’s book prize The Guardian


Sona and the Golden Beasts, by Rajani LaRocca

Sona and the Golden Beasts (March 5, 2024, Quill Tree Books) is Rajani LaRocca's first other world fantasy, and having read and enjoyed many of her other books (especially Midsummer's Mayhem) this was a must read for me with no languishing on the tbr pile as soon as I got my hands on it! 

The alternate world is a fantasy version of India under British rule. Devia is a place where music calls forth magic, now forbidden by the conquering and exploiting Malechians.  They grow rich from Devia's gems, mined at great cost to its people.  Sona has lived relatively safe and privileged life as the daughter of a Malechian farmer, but her world is upended when she finds that she's actually his niece, and her father was a Devian (a forbidden marriage).  But the implications of this are overshadowed by the threat to the young wolf cub she's just adopted--one of the Malechian Hunters, who's determined to kill all five of the Great Beasts of Devia, its magical protectors) arrives at the farm, and cub shows signs that she might be the child and heir of the mythical golden wolf.  

She flees with the cub to the nearby Devian village that is her beloved Ayah's home and her extraordinary journey across the provinces of Devia begins. 

At first this is a relatively straightforward sort of challenge--to find a legendary cure for her Ayah accompanied by Raag, Ayah's grandson.  But it turns out it's a journey to fulfill a prophecy about the Great Beasts that will free Devia from its oppressors....and the two children must learn to work together to bring it about, while the fearsome Hunter pursues them.  

It's no surprise that they succeed, and the twist was apparent enough that even I, who am usually dim about things, saw it coming.  That being said, it's a gorgeously detailed journey full of wonder and danger, vividly described and full of excitements.  And in-between the happening are bits of folklore, letters, and songs that make the Devia and its history come even more to life.

As an adult reader, I came into the story with a fairly solid grasp of the English colonial exploration of India, and so the parallels were glaringly obvious.  For young readers with less knowledge, this will be eye-opening.  What with all suppression of books that hold harsh truths about the past, I'm glad that this story of the evil of colonization comes in what looks to be an ordinary fantasy, so that those young readers might have a better chance of finding it in their schools (maybe?), and get the chance to think about it.  It's also a good read, with great magic and characters to cheer for too!


no round-up today

 It's end of spring break, which means me about to set to take my kid back to college....see you next week!


The Other Place, by Nancy L. Robison, for Timeslip Tuesday

Today's Timeslip book is The Other Place, by Nancy L. Robison (1978).

Mine, happily picked up at a booksale, turned out to be a review copy (very cool to see the retro promotional info, shown below), but I don't think I'll send in two clippings as requested.

I'm making no effort to hold back on spoilers here with this whacky 1970s sci fi story for kids, so if you are a little kid who's never read any science fiction (which you aren't), go read the book and see if you agree with the two Goodreads readers whose first sci fi it was, and who loved it before I ruin everything.

The Other Place starts with Elena and her dad driving off to the house in the country (USA) where they are now going live, following the death of Elena's mom.  Things get weird, and Elena can't see the road behind them anymore, and her dad's stilted remarks don't do much to sooth her growing sense of wrongness.  The cabin is fine, and seems normal enough, except that Elena is woken up by strange noises, and goes off into the woods to see what's happening, and the townsfolk are dancing around in the middle of nowhere. 

A trip to the store the next day adds to the weirdness, when she sees the storekeeper has eyes filmed over with jelly...as do the kids and the teacher in the one room schoolhouse.  One kid, with mostly non jelly eyes, is friendly, lending her a horse to ride, but when she tries to ride her way out of the valley, she finds she can't.  She's stuck.

Turns out the townsfolk are aliens in a little bubble cut off physically and temporally from the rest of the world, her mom was one of them, and her dad has volunteered to help them fix their space craft so they can go home.  Happily for Elena, the friendly kid helps her get out of the valley, but her dad wants to go off with the aliens because he loves his dead alien wife more than he cares about his living kid (the book does not say it quite like this....).  And when Elena escapes after what felt like weeks away from the city, almost no time has passed, and her aunt is there to meet her....and her aunt has.....JELLY EYES!  The end.

The illustrations add a certain 1970s something to the story.

The paperback cover, if you are so lucky to be reading that one, adds even more.  


This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (3/10/24)

Here's what I found this week, please enjoy and let me know if I missed anything!  I had good intentions to read and review lots this past week, which got derailed when I found out I would not just be getting my kid home from college this week, but lots of friends too, so instead of reading I cleaned and decluttered...

The Reviews

Closet of Dreams, by Mark Ukra & Tara Mesalik MacMahon, at Mark My Words: 

Creepy Creations, by Jennifer Killick, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads  

 Ferris, by Kate DiCamillo, at Cracking the Cover, Fuse #8, and Log Cabin Library

The Girl in the Window, by Lindsey Hobson, at Faith Elizabeth Hough

 Goblin Monday (Goosebumps: House of Shivers #2), by R.L. Stine, at megsbookrack

Greenwild: The World Behind the Door, by Pari Thomson, at V's View from the Bookshelves 

Grimmworld: The Witch in the Woods, by Michaelbrent Collings, at Always in the Middle…  and Melissa's Bookshelf

Magicalia: Race of Wonders by Jennifer Bell, at Little Blog of Library Treasures

Magic Beyond the Mark, by Emily Swiers, at Independent Book Review

Mind Over Monsters, by Betsy Uhrig, at Bookworm for Kids 

Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time, by PJ Davis, at Mark My Words  

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising, #1), by Susan Cooper, Bookshelf Fantasies

Twice Upon A Time, by Michelle Harrison, at Valinora Troy

The Whisperwicks, by Jordan Lees, at Chris Soul

Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies, by Stacey Lee, at  BookstrovertReviews

Wrath of the Rain God (Legendarios Book 1), by Karla Arenas Valenti, at Mark My Words

Authors and Interviews

Katherine Marsh (Medusa) "On The Double Standards As An Author", at The Nerd Daily

Rajani LaRocca (Sona and the Golden Beasts)  "How to Grow Your Career as an Author" at Literary Rambles: 

Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson  (Eagle Drums) "When Mystery and Mythology Collide" at Writer's Digest 

Kate DiCamillo (Ferris), at AP News

Other good stuff

Here's the Wild Robot trailer, courtesy of 100scopenotes.com


Anne Frank and Me, by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld, for Timeslip Tuesday

Anne Frank and Me, by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld (1997), is this week's Timeslip Tuesday offering. It tells of a teenaged girl, Nicole, who's mind is full of stereotypical teen stuff, including pining over Jack.  Her diary thoughts of pining will perhaps be familiar to many readers who are, or once were, teenaged girls with their own hopeless crushes.  

At school, her history teacher is trying to explain the horrors of the holocaust, but it seems distant, and even Anne Frank's diary seems, according to the internet searches Nicole does, a possible fake....so she's not really interested in the class trip to the local "Anne Frank in the World" exhibit, except, of course, that Jack is going to, and maybe he'll want to sit with her on the bus...and he does!  but it turns out that he's actually interested in a friend of hers, and everything is horrible, and then there are gunshots, and everyone thinks is the strange goth-type boy shooting, and she falls and hits her head....

And comes to as a Jewish girl in German occupied Paris. 

She still is her American self at first, but very quickly she fades into the place of the girl whose life she is now living.  Things get worse and worse for the Jewish people of Paris, and she and her little sister end up in hiding.  But they are betrayed and sent on a hellish journey to a concentration camp.  Miraculously she actually meets Anne Frank, who tells her which way to go when they arrive, but the little sister goes the wrong way, Nicole follows, and they end up in a gas chamber.  And as she starts dying, she awakens in her own time again.

And it's not a shooting after all, it was a fireworks prank.

So this started off as a play, and I think this is why it doesn't quite work as novel.  Nicole's tone is very flatly matter-of-factly descriptive through all the horror she endures.  There's little emotion or introspection, and in general it's all told without much inner character development, which is possibly due to her not being herself anymore.  But still it's very gripping and impactful, and I stayed up late finishing it, and was moved by the hideous evil tragedy of it all...

,...with an extra coda of discomfort, not intended by the authors--this was written before the era of school shootings began in earnest with Columbine, and the fact that the shooting with which the time travel begins turns out to be a joke is pretty disturbing to a person reading it now.



This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (3/3/24)

 Hi all, here's what I found this week!  Let me know if I missed anything.

The Reviews

Bumps in the Night, by Amalie Howard, at Ms. Yingling Reads

 Daughters of the Lamp, by Nedda Lewers, at Islamic School Librarian

Dread Wood: Creepy Creations, by Jennifer Killick, at Scope for Imagination

Dreamstalkers: The Night Train, by Sarah Driver, at Bellis Does Books and Books Up North

Fright Bite, by Jennifer Killick, at  Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

Impossible Creatures, by Katherine Rundell, at Mark My Words

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom, by Nina Varela, at Cannonball Read

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

Lili Gray and the World's Most Embarrassing Superpower, by Ada Loewe, at Mark My Words

Medusa by Katherine Marsh, at The Adventures of Library Girl

Paper Dragons: The Fight for the Hidden Realm, by Siobhan McDermott, at Courtney Reads Romance 

Pirates of Darksea, by Catherine Doyle, at Book Craic

The Princess Protection Program, by Alex London, at Baroness' Book Trove and Cannonball Read 

The Selkie's Daughter, by Linda Cotta Brennan, at Faith Elizabeth Hough

 Sona and the Golden Beasts, by Rajani LaRocca, at Steph's Story Space  

Too Many Interesting Things Are Happening to Ethan Fairmont, by Nick Brooks, at Charlotte's Library

The Unicorn Legacy-Tangled Magic, by Kamilla Benko, at Always in the Middle… 

Authors and Interviews

 Meredith Davis (Beneath the Swirling Sky) at Cynthia Leitich Smith

Other Good Stuff

 'Kiranmala And The Kingdom Beyond' To Be Adapted As Animated TV Show (deadline.com)


Too Many Interesting Things Are Happening to Ethan Fairmont, by Nick Brooks

I very much enjoyed meeting Ethan Fairmont and his friends, including the alien they call Cheese in his first outing (my review) so I dove into Too Many Interesting Things Are Happening to Ethan Fairmont, by Nick Brooks, (middle grade, November 2023, Union Square Kids), with pleasure, and was rewarded by a good read.

Ethan is happily planning interesting inventing and pleasant hanging out at the old industrial building now turned maker space where he met Cheese, and foiled the other hostile aliens hunting down Cheese and his people.  And he's happily looking forward to the start of sixth grade.  Less happily, he misses Cheese lots, and he and his family are still cooping from the trauma of the local police and the feds threatening the black community of Ferrous City and his family in particular.  And then school gets off to a rocky start, when a new girl, Fatima, threatens his self-worth with her own inventor smarts, and Ferrous City is experiencing a population boom that's raising real estate prices, and Ethan's parents, who are doing fine but aren't well off, are considering cashing in. On top of all this, the feds are back in town (and what are they up to?)

Turns out, though, that Fatima is just the new team member Ethan needs to re-establish communication with Cheese.  And Fatima is even more needed when the evil aliens renew hostilities....

It's not a comfort read; as the title suggests, too many interesting (and not very joyous) things are going on in Ethan's life.  But it's a gripping read, and a thought-provoking one, and I enjoyed it. The young characters are believable and very relatable, as is Ethan's growing maturity about teamwork and living in the moment instead of what if-ing, the tension builds at a nice pace, and the ending is satisfactory!  The social justice theme of the first book is here as well, as is an age-appropriate romance.  And of course a lovely alien friendship! 

If there is a third book, I'm there for it!


this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (2/25/24)

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

The Reviews

The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander, at Semicolon 

Bumps in the Night, by Amalie Howard, at Jenjenreviews

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, at Pages Unbound

Crystal Shadows: Gripping New Blood, by R.J. Parker, at Pages and Paws

Daughters of the Lamp, by Nedda Lewers, at Cracking the Cover

The Doll Twin, by Janine Beacham, at Valinora Troy

Elf Dog and Owl Head, by M.T. Anderson, at Sonderbooks

Ferris, by Kate DiCamillo, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Fox Snare (Thousand Worlds #3), by Yoon Ha Lee, at Charlotte's Library

Haunted Holiday, by Kiersten White, at Puss Reboots 

Lei And The Fire Goddess, by Malia Maunakea, at Kiss the Book

The Lightcasters (Umbra Tales 1), by Janelle McCurdy, at Mark My Words 

Medusa, by Katherine Marsh, at Cracking the Cover

The Princess Protection Program, by Alex London, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Unicorn Legacy: Tangled Magic, by Kamilla Benko, at  The Story Sanctuary

The World Beyond the Door, by Pari Thomson, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Two at The Book Search--The Princess Protection Program, by Alex London, and The Five Impossible Tasks of Eden Smith, by Tom Llewellyn

Other Good Stuff

Check out the middle grade category of the 2023 Bram Stoker Awards® Final Ballot for great mg horror recs!

Fox Snare (Thousand Worlds #3), by Yoon Ha Lee

Another very busy week for me, with none of the reviews I wanted to write being written...so here once more is a quick one before I post today's round up.

Fox Snare (Thousand Worlds #3), by Yoon Ha Lee, is the third installment of great space adventure for upper middle grade readers on up (but do read the first two books in the series first).

Min, the fox spirt who was the central character of Dragon Pearl, is now the keeper of that titular pearl, which can magically terraform in hospitable planets.  Before this, terraforming relied on Dragon magic, and now the Dragons are unhappy that they now outclassed.  Haneuol, a young dragon, was once Min's friend, and when she arrives on the vessel where Min is currently in residence as part of the Dragon delegation to important diplomatic negations with the leader of the Sun Clan nations, Min hopes they can rekindle their relationship, but it doesn't go well. Sebin, the non-binary tiger spirit who was the central character of Tiger Honor, is a cadet on this same ship, and finds themselves drawn into the diplomatic tensions as well.

The leaders of the Thousand Worlds want to use Min and the pearl to terraform a planet that lies at a crucial junction between the two hostile factions...but it's not just location that makes this planet a prize both sides want--long ago an immensely powerful war ships crashed there, and whichever side can recover it will have a huge military advantage.

Then the space station where the negotiations are being held explodes.  Min, Haneuol, and Sabin crash land on the contested planet, along with a fox spirit woman who is clearly a suspicious character, and whose own agenda is occluded by her fox gift of charm.  Travelling across this alien world to the site of the crashed warship, Min is troubled by the conflict between her loyalty to the Thousand Worlds and her desire to trust another Fox, Sabin is torn between strict adherence to duty and critical examination of what is happening, and Haneul must wrestle with familial expectations and her own wishes.

And then they reach the ship, and things get enormously more tense as the threesome realizes the truth about why it was never recovered, and just what the Fox spirit woman has planned.

Told in alternating points of view by Min and Sebin, this is a gripping read in which the character's personal conflicts and the external dangers are beautifully balanced, and the magical abilities of the shape shifters, and some unexpected supernatural elements, make for lovely reading.  This installment is more direct than the previous book in identifying the Thousand Worlds as being of Korean descent, and the Sun Clans as being Japanese, making it an even more thought-provoking read. 

My only worry is that this seems to be the final book about these characters and their universe, and that thought makes me sad.  On the other hand, I can look forward to a nice re-read....


this week's round-up of middle-grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (2/18/24)

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

The Reviews

The Bellwoods Game, by Celia Krampien, at Mark My Words

Billy and the Giant Adventure, by Jamie Oliver, at Bookworm for Kids

 A Bite Above the Rest, by Christine Virnig, at Mark My Words

The Bravest Warrior in Nefaria, by Adi Alsaid, at   PBC's Book Reviews 

Conjure Island, by Eden Royce, at Mark My Words

The Demon Sword Asperides, by Sarah Jean Horwitz, at Mark My Words

Dread Detention, by Jennifer Killick, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Elf Dog & Owl Head, by M.T. Anderson, at Kiss the Book

Fair Bay, by Eleanor Frances Lattimore, at Charlotte's Library

Fairy vs. Wizard, by Jenny McLachlan, at V'sViewfromtheBookshelves 

The Grace of Wild Things, by Heather Fawcett, at Mark My Words

Island of Fire (Unwanteds #3), by Lisa McMann, at J.R.'s Book Reviews  

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom, by Nina Varela, at Mark My Words

The Last Saxon King, by Andrew Varga, at Pages Unbound

The Lovely Dark, by Matthew Fox, at Charlotte's Library

Monster Bite Back (Monster Hunting #2) by Ian Mark, at Twirling Book Princess

No Flying in the House, by Betty Brock, at Semicolon 

Not Quite a Ghost, by Anne Ursu, at Puss Reboots

Princess Protection Program. by Alex London, at Cracking the Cover and Log Cabin Library 

The Rhythm of Time, by Questlove and S.A. Crosby, at Mark My Words: 

The Secret of the Moonshard, by Struan Murray, at Book Craic

Shadow Fox, by Carlie Sorosiak, at Scope for Imagination

Shock the Monkey (The N.O.A.H. Files 2) by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman, at Mark My Words

The Song of the Swan, by Karah Sutton, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Time Travellers: Adventure Calling, by Sufiya Ahmed, at Scope for Imagination

The Whisperwicks: The Labyrinth of Lost and Found, by Jordan Lees, at Valinora Troy

Worst Broommate Ever (Middle School and Other Disasters 1) by Wanda Coven, at Mark My Words

Authors and Interviews

Talking Freedom Fire: A New Imprint Discussion with Kwame Mbalia, Tracey Baptiste, and Leah Johnson, at Fuse #8

Other Good Stuff

The winners of this year's Cybils Awards have been announced! Congratulations to The Grace of Wild Things, by Heather Fawcett, this year's Cybils Awards winner for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction!

Congratulations to all the shortlisted books too--they are all wonderful.

The Bellwoods Game, by Celia Krampien

Conjure Island, by Eden Royce

The Demon Sword Asperides, by Sarah Jean Horwitz

The House of the Lost on the Cape, by Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Yukiko Saito, Avery Fischer Udagawa (Translator)

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom, by Nina Varela

The Rhythm of Time, by Questlove and S. A. Cosby

The Lovely Dark, by Matthew Fox

I loved Matthew Fox's first book, The Sky Over Rebecca, so much that I ordered The Lovely Dark (July  2023 in the UK, Hodder Children's Books) from Blackwells (free shipping from the UK!) and read it pretty much in a single sitting yesterday. I meant to review it, but it felt too raw to do so immediately, so I'm squeezing it in before today's round-up post.

The Lovely Dark is a middle grade reimagining of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, with a dash of Sleeping Beauty. It begins with sadness, when Ellie's grandmother dies alone of Covid during the height of the pandemic. and it quickly becomes fantasy, when her grandmother's ghost pays Ellie a cryptic visit. As covid restrictions lift, Ellie becomes great friends with Justin, who's just moved in across the street. Justin takes her to see a newly discovered mosaic of the Orpheus story, found deep underground....and disaster strikes when the walls around the excavation give way, and the two children are trapped by the inrushing water.

They find themselves in the underworld, determined to stick together and find a way home. But they each have a different path to follow, and are forced to split up. Ellie's path takes her to Eventide, a sort of school (but with no lessons) filled with other children, with tasty food, pleasant grounds, and secrets. The other children are all dimly content there, despite having died, but Ellie is determined to find Justin again. In her explorations, she finds that in the locked library another girl named Ash is hiding in a secret room behind the books, which are themselves somewhat haunted--fairytales in particular keep being pushed off their shelves.

(This is where the Sleeping Beauty part enters into it--Ash and Ellie agree to give themselves permission to kiss each other if they ever need to be awakened from a cursed sleep, and this is an important plot point later).

Ellie keeps exploring, and finds much that discomfits her, and then she and Justin make contact again, and he helps her go home. And Justin, unlike Orpheus, doesn't look back and I wept.

Slight spoiler--Ellie's experiences could all be written off as a dream, but I am so glad Matthew Fox doesn't throw this in our (tear-streaked) faces. And since the ghost grandmother can't be explained way, the story gets to stay fantasy.

In short, Matthew Fox is now firmly an auto-buy (as expenses allow) author for me.  And I am determined that next time I won't peak at the ending halfway through, concerned though I may be for the fate of characters I am deeply invested in!


Congratulations to this year's Cybils Awards winners!

The winners of this year's Cybils Awards have been announced! Congratulations to The Grace of Wild Things, by Heather Fawcett, this year's Cybils Awards winner for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction! 

And congratulations to all the shortlisted books too--they are all wonderful. 

The Bellwoods Game, by Celia Krampien

Conjure Island, by Eden Royce

The Demon Sword Asperides, by Sarah Jean Horwitz

The House of the Lost on the Cape, by Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Yukiko Saito, Avery Fischer Udagawa (Translator)

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom, by Nina Varela

The Rhythm of Time, by Questlove and S. A. Cosby

(Elementary/middle grade speculative fiction is the category I've chaired for several years...If you think it would be fun to spend next fall engrossed in books like these, do look out for the call for panelists coming in August!).


Fair Bay, by Eleanor Frances Lattimore, for Timeslip Tuesday


A vintage time travel book this week-- Fair Bay, by Eleanor Frances Lattimore (1958).  All her life Trudy's grandmother has told her stories of Fair Bay, the South Carolina island where she spent her summers.  When Trudy goes to stay with her great aunt Gertrude at the family plantation house, she asks about the island, hoping to visit, but is told that it was washed away in a storm, leaving only a strip of sand with a few palmetto trees.  Her grandmother had told her of the storm, but wanted to talk more about happier times.  Millicent, the cook, who was also a  little girl on the island when the storm came, tells her how her great aunt Christina was almost lost to the storm when she went back to the house to look for her precious music box, but won't tell her much else about it, and Aunt Gertrude doesn't want to talk about it either.   

Though Fair Bay is still much in her mind, Trudy spends her days happily exploring on horseback (this is pleasant reading in a not very exciting way).  Then one day she wakes up early and decides to go riding before breakfast, and her horse gets a mind of her own and her down an old road she'd never seen before.

The road leads to the old causeway to Fair Bay, and the tide is low....so Trudy succumbs to temptation and crosses over.  Wandering the strip of beach, she finds the old music box, and slips through time.  The island is whole, with all its houses and its church, and the children are playing on the beach.  And Trudy watches the day unfold, seeing her aunts and other children playing on the beach (rather horrible, a group of them are digging up a turtle's nest) knowing what's going to happen to them in a few hours.

Though Trudy feels perfectly corporeally present, she can't be seen or heard.  This inability to interact with anyone back in the past dims the emotional intensity of the experience.  She's just a passive on looker, and though it's not uninteresting, it's also not nearly as interesting as it could have been.  I felt from the way the survivors won't talk much about the horror of the storm that there must have been some tragedy involved, but Trudy discovered nothing new, and I felt a bit cheated. In fairness, it's only 123 pages of generous font, written for younger children than me, but still.

I wish the date of the hurricane was made clear; I think it might well have been inspired by the Great Storm of 1893 which hit the islands of South Carolina coast hard, but it doesn't match exactly--that storm hit at night, and the coastal islands hit hardest were homes mostly to black families, not rich white ones....And reading about the Great Storm and its horrors, I'm even more disappointed about the cop out on Lattimore's part that no one in Trudy's time wants to talk about it.  It could have been a much more powerful book than it was.  Oh well.

In short, though I didn't mind reading it at all, and quite possibly would have loved it when I was a seven or eight year old horse loving Charlotte, it didn't hit hard for me reading it today.

Eleanor Frances Lattimore is best known for her Little Pear books, about a Chinese boy, written for younger children, which don't really seem like something I'd love. That beings said, and although this one didn't quite make me desperately want to read others of her books, I will certainly pick up any that come my way.  She is very good at describing, which I like, and I may well revisit Fairy Bay in memory (especially whenever I read about sea turtle conservation efforts....to their credit, the girls involved wanted to rebury the eggs so they could hatch, but the boys wanted to take them home, and of course these particular eggs were doomed anyway, but still).


this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (2/11/24)

This week's roundup has a higher percentage of books in the first third of the alphabet than any other that I can recall.  Go abcdefgh for what it's worth.  And let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Abeni's Song, by P Djèlí Clark, at Garik16's SciFi/Fantasy Reviews and Other Thoughts

Adventure Calling (Time Travellers #1), by Sufiya Ahmed, at Book Craic

Awake, by Christopher Krovatin, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Cameron and the Shadow Wraiths, by Mark Cheverton, at Bookworm for Kids

The Clockwork Conspiracy, by Sam Sedgman, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads and Book Craic

The Curse of Eelgrass Bog, by Mary Averling, at Charlotte's Library

Dangerous Allies (The Forgotten Five 4), by Lisa McMann, at Mark My Words

Evie's Ghost, by Helen Peters, at Charlotte's Library

The Eyes & The Impossible, by Dave Eggers, at Kiss the Book

 Fight for the Cursed Unicorn (Tiger Warrior #5), by Maisie Chan, at Book Craic

 Fox Snare, by Yoon Ha Lee, at Garik16's SciFi/Fantasy Reviews and Other Thoughts

Galaxy Gladiators: A Stellar Cadets novel, by C.M. Bilson, at Mark My Words

The Gatekeeper of Pericael, by Hayley Reese Chow, at Literary Titan

The House on the Hill, by Eileen Dunlop, at Staircase Wit

The Last Fallen Realm, by Graci Kim, at Kiss the Book

Rebel Undercover (The Forgotten Five 3), by Lisa McMann, at Mark My Words

The Secret of the Moonshard, by Struan Murray, at Scope for Imagination

Secrets of the Snakestone, by Piu DasGupta, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

The Umbrella Maker’s Son, by Katrina Leno, at Pages Unbound

Authors and Interviews

Deke Moulton (Don't Want to be Your Monster) at Fuse #8

Katherine Marsh (Medusa: The Myth of Monsters) at Watch Connect Read 

Nedda Lewers (Daughters of the Lamp), at MG Book Village

Siobhan McDermott (Paper Dragons: The Fight for the Hidden Realm) at Library Girl and Book Boy

Bob Doyle (The Fifth Hero: Escape Plastic Island) at From The Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

The Best Children's Book Picks Feb 2024 UK Post - Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books 

The Curse of Eelgrass Bog, by Mary Averling

My first debut middle grade fantasy of 2024--The Curse of Eelgrass Bog, by Mary Averling (Jan 2, 2024, Razorbill)! And it was a good one.

Kess's life is focused on keeping the family's Museum of Unnatural History afloat until her parents return from their expedition investigating unnatural creatures in Antarctica.  It's falling to bits around her, and no-one visits, and her older brother Oliver spends all his time shut in the library, not helping.  Her only friend is a sunken head in a jar, one that actually talks to her; otherwise, she's on her own, desperately hoping that she can make some grand discovery that will revitalize the museum at the edge of the magical, and completely forbidden, Eelgrass Bog, home to witches, demons, and more. It's not much of a life for a 12 year old.

Then a visitor comes to the museum-- Lilou, a girl who's just moved to town.  Lilou's grandfather has left her a cryptic note--

    Beware the witches.
    Break the curse.
    Save the society.

And Lilou enlists Kess's help.  The two girls decide to venture into Eelgrass Bog....and there they do indeed find strange and twisted magic, and clues that start them on a journey to the dark depths of this dangerously warped place.  But the curse isn't what either of them expected, and what they discover upends Kess's world.

It's pretty clear from the get-go that things are Not Ok for Kess, and as the story progresses, Kess herself becomes increasingly trouble by the sense that she's forgetting something, something bad (she isn't wrong).  And though it takes a while for the secrets to all unfold, Kess's hunt for answers, and her journey towards her first friendship (or more than friendship) make for good reading leading up to a satisfying conclusion.

I love books that make pictures in my mind of strange and magical things, and this does not disappoint!  I also was glad to have another book to add to my LGBTQ middle grade list--Kess and Lilou are clearly on their way to a relationship, and Lilou has two dads.  

Give this one to the young reader who loves fantasy mysteries, secret societies, and neglected protagonists ending the book un-neglected.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Mary Averling writes next.


Evie's Ghost, by Helen Peters, for Timeslip Tuesday

Evie's Ghost, by Helen Peters (2017, Nosy Crow), is a lovely English timeslip story, and it is firmly in the tradition of mid twentieth century British time travel, so if you, like me, who loves books like Charlotte Sometimes, Tom's Midnight Garden, and A Traveller in Time, you will enjoy it lots too and wish you'd had it as a child.  And if you are a child, there's no reason why you wouldn't find it magical and wonderful.

The story starts with Evie, very grumpy and sorry for herself, being packed off to stay with an old friend of her mother's, while her mother goes off on her honeymoon.  The old friend lives in an apartment carved from a once stately home, and it's a mess and there's no food, and Evie's mood does not improve.  But carved on the window glass of her small room is a message from the past:

Sophia Fane Imprisoned here 1814.

That night a ghostly girl appears outside the window, desperate for help, and Evie, reaching out to her, finds herself falling back in time.  Evie is now a lowly servant in Sophia's grand home, struggling with the hard and painful domestic labors required of her.  She knows she's there to help Sophia, who's about to be married off to a loathsome old, but very rich, man, and she's pretty sure she won't make it back to the present until she succeeds.  The big challenge of figuring out what to do and the pressing challenges of the drudgery of her life keep her occupied, and the reader gets a beautifully detailed slice of life for working children in the early 19th century that isn't a pretty picture.  And in the end Evie comes up with a brave and clever way out for Sophia, that's a risky gamble for herself.

It's not a story that gave me any flashes of numinous wonder, but it did absolutely keep me riveted. It's interesting historical fiction lived by a modern child, believably culture shocked, and with lots of tension both from the larger plot and in the specifics of Evie's life as a servant.   And it was a surprise treat at the end, when Evie arrives at her own home before her mother does and sets to work applying her hard-won domestic knowledge to getting the place ready to welcome her mother and stepmother home.  I feel it's rare for time travel to have such practical maturing effects on the young travelers, and found this refreshing.  And it was also lovely to see Evie back in the present finding the ending to Sophia's story, and her own personal connection to it.

So, in short, highly recommended, and I will keep a look out for more books by the author.


no round-up this week

 Instead of making a nice round-up, I'm at my mother's house with a laptop that just died, failing to remove toilet seat bolts, and failing to figure out how to install her new printer.  Sigh.


Nightspark, by Michael Mann

I very much enjoyed Ghostcloud, by Michael Mann, the first book in the duology (? maybe there are more adventures to come) that now continues with Nightspark (Peachtree 2023). Luke has been reunited with his family after foiling the evil plots of Tabitha, who used enslaved children, such as Luke and his best friend Ravi, as well as captured ghosts for her power station in an alternate England. He even has the job as a junior detective he always wanted.  

But he can't settle into ordinary life.  For starters, Tabitha has started on a new evil plan over on the continent, and his best friend Ravi is still her prisoner.  On top of that, Luke is a half ghost, and though he tries to enlist the aid of the Ghost Council, they are hostile to him and think he'd make a better 100% ghost.  But Luke is nothing if not determined, and so with a mixed lot of reluctant helpers and friends, including his best ghost friend, a mission to rescue Ravi and foil Tabitha is launched. 

It seems hopeless, but a string of daring adventures takes the little band across the English Channel...where things get even more dangerously exciting. It's not just extravagant adventure though; sprinkled into the story are thought-provoking moments where the characters have to make hard choices--like an encounter with an overloaded boat of refugees in the Channel, and the question of whether someone who has done horrible things can become trustworthy....

If you like action-packed adventure with supernatural shenanigans, dystopian settings, and brave kids full of heart triumphing over horrible circumstances, you will love Nightspark! But it is essential to read Ghostcloud first (and since I liked that one even more than its sequel, I'm sure you won't mind at all). 


Magic of the Black Mirror, by Ruth Chew, for Timeslip Tuesday

Someday I will have read every juvenile time travel book of the 20th century (except the Magic Tree house books).  I won't necessarily have enjoyed them all (I feel that the ones that were really good rose to the top and stayed in print) but they will be read.  And it was in this completionist spirit that I just read Magic of the Black Mirror, by Ruth Chew (1990).  It was not a dislike of Chew's books that made me reluctant; they are fine fantasy of yesteryear.  It is that this particular one is time travel back to the precontact period Northwest Coast, and the experienced reader of vintage fiction knows that at best this will be uncomfortable, and at worst horribly racist and colonialist.  Fortunately for me, this turned out to be the former.

Amanda and Will are in a museum exhibit of Northwest coast art, when they see themselves in a strange black mirror.  Next thing they know, they've arrived in a Native village.  Happily, a Native boy, Fox-of-the-water, who befriends them.  Lots of time travel tourism ensues.  Amanda and Will are very interested in everything, are bothered by the enslaved workers captured from other tribes, are warm, comfortable and well-fed, and are a little anxious about getting home again.  They get home again.

It is a reasonable description of a generic Northwest coast community, superficial but not deprecating.  The one bit that I found interesting was the kids' interaction with the community's medicine man, who is set apart from everyone else because of his calling, and lonely as a result.  Though this is somewhat questionable, it was just about the only emotionally resonant bit of the time travel experience.  And I appreciated it that Chew did not treat the medicine man's work with contempt, but described it at face value.  

So I guess as an introduction to Northwest coast culture for younger readers written from an outsider perspective it's not terrible, but it's really not an interesting story.  Straight up time travel as tourism/educational opportunity. That being said, there is a slightly though-provoking time travel twist--the black mirror is an obsidian slab polished by the medicine man after he hears how the kids got there; and if he hadn't made it, they never would have come....


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (1/28/24)

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

The Reviews

The Beasts of Knobbly Bottom: Attack of the Vampire Sheep, by Emily-Jane Clark, illustrated by Jeff Crowther, at Bellis Does Books  

The Beast of Skull Rock (Monsterious 4), by Matt McMann, at Mark My Words

Beastlands: Race to Frostfall Mountain, by Jess French, at Book Craic

The Boy Who Fell From the Sky, by Benjamin Dean, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

Cameron and the Shadow-wraiths: A Battle of Anxiety vs. Trust, by Mark Cheverton, at Mark My Words

A Council of Ghosts, by Ryan Harper Jones, at Dan's Sci Fi and Fantasy Blog

Emma and the Love Spell, by Meredith Ireland, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Always in the Middle… 

The Girl Who Couldn’t Lie, by Radhika Sanghani, at Scope for Imagination

Greenwild: The World Behind the Door, by Pari Thomson, at Pages Unbound

 Hag Storm, by Victoria Williamson, at Valinora Troy

Not Quite a Ghost, by Anne Ursu, at Ms. Yingling ReadsBlue Stocking Thinking, and A Foodie Bibilophile In Wanderlust

The School for Invisible Boys, by Shaun David Hutchinson, at Biblio Nerd Reflections

Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston, by Esme Symes-Smith, at Youth Services Book Review 

The Thirteenth Circle, by MarcyKate Connelly and Kathryn Holmes, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

Time after Time (Best Wishes #3), by Sarah Mlynowski and Christina Soontornvat, at Charlotte's Library

The War of the Heavenly Horses, by Roland Chambers, at Scope for Imagination

Wicked Marigold, by Caroline Carlson, at Mark My Words

Authors and Interviews

Anne Ursu (Not Quite a Ghost), at ReadWonder

Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester (Night of the Living Zed), at MG Book Village

Shaun David Hutchinson (The School for Invisible Boys) at From The Mixed Up Files

MarcyKate Connolly and Kathryn Holmes (The Thirteenth Circle), at The Nerd Daily

Other Good Stuff

a fascinating look at how little MG sci fi is coming out in the first half of 2024, and many other very interesting things--Middle Grade Fiction by the Numbers for the First Half of 2024 (teenlibrariantoolbox.com)

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