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 watchs 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.

So 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)


Time after Time (Best Wishes #3) by Sarah Mlynowski and Christina Soontornvat for Timeslip Tuesday


If you are in the mood for a fun middle school ground-hog day timeslip, Time after Time (Best Wishes #3) by Sarah Mlynowski and Christina Soontornvat (November 2023, Scholastic) is a great pick!  This series is built around a magic bracelet, passed on from girl to girl, and it arrives at Lucy's house in Fort Worth, Texas, on the day she most needs a magic wish!

Lucy's life (before this day) has been fine--she loves the days she spends with her mom and stepdad and the two little babies, but she also loves going to the calm of her dad's house, where she can count on every thing to be in its place (she likes order and control very much).  And she's really excited for her class field trip to the Natural History Museum, where her dad works. The first shadow comes when Ms. Brock, the school librarian, turns out to be a chaperone--she's dating Lucy's dad, and always seems to be harder on Lucy than she is on anyone else.  That shadow darkens when another kid pukes on her, and  Grace, her best friend and science fair partner, gets angry at her during the museum scavenger hunt (extra credit to the winners!) and Lucy can't see why she would be. 

And then the real storm hits when her dad proposes to Ms. Brock in front of her whole class, and she runs from the museum....

When the police find her and bring her home, the bracelet has come in the mail with a letter of explanation from the girl who had it before, who had made a wish on it that came true.  And Lucy is thrilled to make her own wish, to live this terrible day again but this time to do it right.  But she doesn't, and the magic sends her back day after day, with things not improving.  Lucy has to do some hard thinking about herself before the bracelet lets her day stick, but finally, with help from the two girls who had their own complications from the magic in the first two books, it does.

Some of the repeats are entertaining (especially for the target audience), like the struggle to avoid puke, and some are thought provoking, like the reasons for Grace to be angry with her, and her feelings about her father marrying again.  The clues she picks up each time around let these bigger issue get resolved realistically and though I wanted to shake Lucy a bit, the time travel was doing that for me so that was ok and it was good to see her take a hard look at herself!

It doesn't break any new ground for those of us who have read hundreds of time travel books, but it should be a hit with those who love the first two books, and especially for readers who love the idea of getting second (or third or fourth) chances to do things over.  And I might well pick up book #4--there's a mysterious antagonist trying to get a hold of the bracelet for herself, and I'm curious about her....


Kindling, by Kathleen Jennings

If you are looking for lovely fantastical short stories, such as a perfect for savoring on a cold winter night (or hot summer day if you are antipodal), I enthusiastically recommend Kindling, by Kathleen Jennings (Small Beer Press, January 23, 2024).

Reviews of short story collections are hard to write.  I want to speak of each story individually, but that would take ages and spoil the lovely twists of them.  I could generalize, and say that the writing is lyrical and lovely, except that this is trite, and "lyrical" is, I feel, an overused and rather meaningless way to say that the words paint pictures in the mind, and call feelings from the heart and thoughts from the mind.  I could say in equal fairness that there's a very pleasing range of story collected here, ranging from fairy tale-esque to horror-esque, and I was never bored (though this is a boring sentence).

But I am an INFP, and the book through which I learned this says of me and my ilk that "metaphors come easily but may be forced" or words to that effect.  And so here's a metaphor that captures how I feel about these stories.

Some collections of stories are like eating cookies I enjoy, one after another, rather mindlessly, in a single sitting, and when I get the bottom of the bag of double chocolate milanos aka the end of the last story, I feel full but not deeply appreciative.

Others are like a collection of artisanal cupcakes, each a distinct flavor, some weird, some familiar, each beautifully ornamented so that one must stop and appreciate each before biting into it.  And each so rich and full in its own right that binge eating/reading is not possible.  Kindling is a box of such cupcakes.  I read no more than one story in a single sitting, because that was enough.  

As is the case with a box of mixed artisanal cupcakes, some were more to my taste than others.  The first story was the one I liked least, as I felt the writing got slightly in the way of the story, but all the rest of them I enjoyed lots and I am happy to have them in my mind's library now to revisit at my leisure.  

And I will keep the ARC on my shelf, for when all I need is one really good short story.  And when I have paid for my new roof and can buy new books again, I will see this ARC and replace it with the finished copy, and hope for more books from Kathleen Jennings. (I have shelved it between Kelly Link's books and Ursula Le Guin's books, as sown below, where I think it is happy.  Except that there is now no more room on that shelf, and though there are sadly no other Le Guin's to buy, there will be more Kelly Link, and hopefully more Kathleen Jennings, and so I guess I will have to move Connie Willis, which is ok because I'm not sure how well she plays with Le Guin.......)

In any event, thanks very much to Small Beer Press for the review copy!


no round-up today

 instead, I get to drive my kid back to college.....see you next week!


Not Quite a Ghost, by Anne Ursu (blog tour)

It's a pleasure to be a stop on the blog tour for Not Quite a Ghost, by Anne Ursu (Walden Pond Press)!  I have been a keen looker-forward-to-er of her books ever since we met at Kidlitcon years ago when it was in Minnesota (2010), and she told me about the book she was working on at that time, Breadcrumbs, which sounded like (and proved to be) right up my alley.  And Not Quite a Ghost is even more up my alley, what with the old house part.

Violet is not opposed to moving to a larger house, where she can have a room of her own instead of sharing one with her big sister who has become an unfriendly teenager.  But the room that Violet gets is up in the attic, and it smells musty, and it has horrible wallpaper of tangled vines with berries that look like eyes.  And Violet wasn't opposed to starting middle school, but her two best friends, her pod from covid times, aren't in her classes, and without a cell phone, it's easy to feel like her bond with them might be in danger.  And Violet didn't mind staying home sick one day, but when the being sick part last and lasted, she minded very much indeed.

Violet's post-viral body goes into failure mode, and just can't cope with exertion.  The doctor's think it's all in her head, and even one of her best friends doesn't believe she really isn't well.  Fortunately, her mother and stepfather take it as seriously as she deserves, and fortunately as well the miserable friendship part of her life works out in the end, with new friendships begun.  

But barely able to leave her bed, Violet is stuck in the attic of malignant wallpaper, and it really is malignant--there is a terrifying, hungry, presence trapped inside the vines, and it wants to get out and consumer her.  

I found this a very gripping read.  The realistic part, focused on Violet's illness, is great, and the supernatural part allows the story to come to a climax and then satisfactory conclusion--after figuring out how to thwart the evil being, Violet's attic becomes a safe place, and even the horrible wallpaper is bearable.  Though there is (as is the case for many in real life) no happy end to Violet's post viral chronic fatigue, she at least has friends and a room that isn't trying to attack her.  I also appreciated how Violet's underlying worry that her biological father abandoned the family because of her, was also resolved.   I do wish the supernatural part had been fleshed out a bit more, tied to some story in the past, perhaps, and more strongly linked to Violet's sickness, but it was still beautifully tense and horrible!  

I think it has lots of appeal for young readers of both realistic middle school fiction and haunted houses. The writing is lovely, and I was solidly hooked through my reading, and in the end I closed the book with that happy feeling of time having passed like a blink in the real world! 

Anne Ursu is the author of acclaimed novels The Troubled Girls of Dragomir AcademyThe Lost GirlBreadcrumbsand The Real Boy, among others. Her work has been selected as a National Book Award nominee, a Kirkus Prize finalist, and as a best book of the year by Parents MagazinePublishers Weekly, Amazon.com, and School Library Journal. She lives in Minneapolis with her family and an unruly herd of cats. Find Anne online at anneursu.com.


January 16 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub

January 17 A Library Mama (@librarymama)

January 18 Charlotte’s Library (@charlotteslibrary)

January 21 Teachers Who Read (@teachers_read)

January 22 Bluestocking Thinking (@bluesockgirl)

        ReadWonder (@patrickontwit)

January 23 A Foodie Bibliophile In Wanderlust (@bethshaum)

January 25 Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers (@grgenius)

And just as personal coda--my own old house was troubled last night--the shower came on briefly all by itself, and the thermostat somehow got shut off, so it is 47 degrees inside this morning as I type this.  I removed the most terrifying wallpaper the house came with, which graced the old nursery, years ago, so it's not that...though this girl, repeating through the pattern, is still a disturbing memory...


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

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

The Reviews

Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans, by Isi Hendrix, at  A Library Mama

The Drama with Doomsdays, by Scott Reintgin, at Kiss the Book

The Ever Storms (Wilderlore #3), by Amanda Foody, at Kiss the Book

Extra Normal, by Kate Alice Marshall, at Always in the Middle…  

Guardians of the Source: Gargoyles #1, by Tamsin Mori, at  Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Harley Hitch Takes Flight, by Vashti Hardy, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads  

The Kingdom Over the Sea, by Zohra Nabi, at Sonderbooks and WOW Recommends

The Little Match Girl Strikes Back, by Emma Carroll and Lauren Child, at Kiss the Book

 Lulu Sinagtala and the City of Noble Warriors, by Gail D. Villanueva, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Puppets of Spelhorst, by Kate DiCamillo, at Redeemed Reader

The Rise of the Legends, by Jake Zortman, at Mark My Words

Shinji Takahashi: Into the Heart of the Storm, by Julie Kagawa, at Kiss the Book

A Stranger Thing, by Ruth Tomalin, at  Charlotte's Library 

Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit, by Jesse Q. Sutanto, at The Story Sanctuary

Other Good Stuff

and finally, will a middle grade fantasy/sci fi book win the Newbery Medal this year?

The Puppets of Spelhorst, by Kate DiCamillo feels Newberyish to me, as does The Eyes and the Impossible by Dave Eggers.  Are there any you'd add?

"Greta Gerwig Is Approaching Her 'Narnia' Films With a Perfect Mix of Care and Terror" at themarysue.com


A Stranger Thing, by Ruth Tomalin, for Timeslip Tuesday

It is a lovely, and rather rare thing, to find a new-to-me author of vintage children's books that I can enjoy almost as much as young me would have. Since 2022, I have now read five of her books, and the most recent, A Stranger Thing (1975), a Christmas present this year, is my favorite. 

Kit, sent to boarding school for the first time when his mother must travel for work, is nervous at first, but gradually adjusts, making friends and enjoying the expeditions into the countryside.  But then a bully gets a hook into him, and plays him like a fish, making his life miserable.  Kit's old habit of sleepwalking resurfaces, and he wakes outside on snowy night, far from school.  Fortunately, he finds shelter in an old glasshouse on a nature preserve that had once belonged to a naturalist. 

It is a magical shelter, not just because it is built of glass.  Snowbound within it, he makes use of the generous stores (all things he loves to eat) that he assumes the preserve's warden had laid in, and is warm and cozy thanks to the stores of wood. He spends a lovely few days in this refuge, delighting in the company of birds and the resident mouse.  And it was a lovely bit of reading for me too, sharing this peace away from stress along with Kit.  

And Kit, given this peace, is able to see that he can extricate himself from the hold the bully had on him...and freed from that fear, he is free to leave the glasshouse.  He wakes in his own bed at school....and no one has missed him. The naturalist had shared his glasshouse as a refuge for others before Kit, and though it was destroyed years ago, it was there where and when Kit needed it...

I suppose you could argue that Kit's days in the glasshouse were a dream, but the author makes no suggestion of it.  The reality of the experience is unquestioned, which means it must have been a time slip, which fits more nicely with the history of the glasshouse as refuge.  My only complaint was that it was a short book; for instance, I'd have enjoyed more of Kit getting used to school (this happened at lightning speed) and more exploration of the countryside pre glasshouse to set the scene a bit more.


Welcome to the first MG sci fi/fantasy round up of 2024!  I hope we all have a lovely reading year (especially me because last year I read and reviewed less than I have since I started blogging....)

First--here are the finalists for the 2023 Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Cybils Awards! Do consider joining in the fun next year if you haven't already.

The Reviews

The Bellwoods Game, by Celia Krampien, at Falling Letters

Crazy Creek, by Evelyn Sibley Lampman, at Charlotte's Library

The Creatures of Killburn Mine, by Dan Smith, at Scope for Imagination and Book Craic

The Curious Vanishing of Beatrice Willoughby, by G.Z. Schmidt, at Kiss the Book 

The Curse of Eelgrass Bog, by Mary Averling, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Eyes and the Impossible, by Dave Eggers, at Heavy Medal 

Field of Screams, by Wendy Parris, at Twirling Book Princess

Fright Bite, by Jennifer Killick, at Scope for Imagination

Gone Wolf, by Amber McBride, Heavy Medal

Graysen Foxx and the Curse of the Illuminerdy, by J. Scott Savage and Brandon Dorman, at Cracking the Cover

Harley Hitch Takes Flight, by Vashti Hardy, at Scope for Imagination

The Invisible Spy (The Forgotten Five 2) by Lisa McMann, at Mark My Words

The Last Rose (Sisters Ever After), by Leah Cypess, at Kiss the Book

The School for Invisible Boys, by Shaun David Hutchinson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Stitch, by Pádraig Kenny, at Book Craic

We Will Comfort Them (Time School #4), by Nikki Young, at Scope for Imagination

Two at A Library Mama--The Demon Sword Asperides, by Sarah Jean Horwitz, and The Dark Lord’s Daughter, by Patricia Wrede

Authors and Interviews

Mary Averling (The Curse of Eelgrass Bog), at  Literary Rambles

Linda Crotta Brennan (The Selkie's Daughter) at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Other Good Stuff

Mr Ripley's Children's Book Picks Jan 2024 UK


Crazy Creek, by Evelyn Sibley Lampman, for Timeslip Tuesday

Crazy Creek, by Evelyn Sibley Lampman (1948), tells how an Oregon girl named Judy patched up an old wooden boat and was swept down the titular creek back into the 19th century.  There she spent a year living with her great grandparents and their children (including her own grandfather, who had told her many stories of his youth that she was now living alongside him).  There are lots of details of 19th century life, pleasantly told, many small happenings and pleasures, lots of hard work and mud, and no financial or agrarian worries to disturb the peace. As an added bonus, it has one of the best 19th-century Christmases I can recall. 

It was really good time travel--Judy's family in the past was fortunately able to overlook and try to explain away all of Judy's nonsense, and she in turn was able to find a place in there where she loves and is loved.  A poignant note brings the book to a close, as Judy, reunited with her grandfather, very old and unwell, tries to tell him she's been back to his childhood.  "That's where I figure to go now," said Grandpa, and his eyes closed gently.  "I go there all the time, Judy."

The problem with mid-20th century books about time travel back to the 19th century frontier is that the depiction of Native Americans is almost always horrible.  And sadly, Crazy Creek, though not as bad as many, still manages to dehumanize the three Native Americans Judy meets. Though there are inklings that the kids are starting to have a more nuanced perspective, with Judy, for instance, starting to realize it's not fair that their land got taken from them, and a touch of compassion taking the place of fear and prejudiced distaste, it is still pretty awful and makes it hard. even impossible, to stay peacefully complicit in the happy family life that is otherwise such very pleasant reading.


The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto, by Adrianna Cuevas

You might think that The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto, a middle grade fantasy by Adrianna Cuevas (April 2023, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), is about ghosts on a ranch....but since this is my Timeslip Tuesday book, you can guess that actually it's time travel, not hauntings, creating fantastical mayhem (sorry for the spoiler!).  It is set on a ranch though, and so, very reluctantly, is the young protagonist.

Cuban American middle schooler Rafa (Raphael) and his best friends decided to take their fantasy adventure game to the next level, real life, and got busted when the school slushie machine they were absconding with breaks loose and crashes into the principal's car.  Rafa's dad skips all the regular punishments, and packs him off to spend a month working at a friend's ranch in New Mexico. Rafa is distressed about leaving his Miami friends, but even more worried about leaving his mother, who has cancer.  

But Rafa is a really good, cooperative kid, and soon he's learning the parts of a horse and getting to experience manure for the first time.  And there's a really cool girl his own age, Jennie Kim, the Korean American daughter of the ranch librarian. She too has a sadness-the recent death of her father.  But their growing bond is formed not just from shared sadness, but from their partnership in figuring out what's up with all the weirdness going on at the ranch (and a shared love of snacks).

A mysterious man in a green sweater keeps showing up...which isn't that odd. But Rafa being blamed for unpleasant mischief he had no part in is, and that's just the start of reality on the ranch going seriously off-kilter.  And when Rafa learns who the strange man is, and what he wants, he's faced with a desperately serious situation (spoiler--it involves time travel, and Rafa's mom....)

It's a truly engrossing story, and though there's sadness here the twists and turns make for entertaining reading.  Although it's a little distracting to think too much about the dad's questionable decision to keep Rafa from spending potentially precious time with his mother, the story more than kept my enthusiasm high. A secondary character, a veteran suffering from PTSD who looks after the ranch's horses, was a great addition to the ensemble, providing a grounding adult perspective.   And the mystery that need solving was very satisfying in a thought-provoking time travel way.

short answer--I liked it lots!


This week's roundup of mg sci fi/fantasy from around the blogs (12/17/23)

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

The Reviews

An Adventure Through the Togetherwood, by Sean Anderson, at Literary Potpourri 

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

Gargoyles: Guardians of the Source, by Tamsin Mori, at Mrs Sydney's Famous World's Smallest Library

Goblin Monday (Goosebumps House of Shivers 2), by R.L. Stine, at Mark My Words

Graysen Foxx and the Curse of the Illuminerdy, by J. Scott Savage, at Log Cabin Library

Holly's Secret (Woodwalkers 3) by Katja Brandis, at Mark My Words

Juniper's Christmas, by Eoin Colfer, at Faith Elizabeth Hough

Last Exit to Feral, by Mark Fearing, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Lia Park and the Heavenly Heirlooms (Lia Park #2), by Jenna Yoon, at Kiss the Book

The Mossheart’s Promise, by Rebecca Mix, at Pages Unbound 

 The Quest of Danger (Once Upon a Tim 4) by Stuart Gibbs, at Mark My Words

The Secret Library, by Kekla Magoon, at YA Books Central

Three Tasks for a Dragon by Eoin Colfer, at A Library Mama

Two at Falling Letters--The Unfortunate Wish of Melony Yoshimura & The Last Hope in Hopetown

Three mini reviews at  Utopia State of Mind -- The Tale of the Gravemother by Rin Chupeco, The Destiny of Minou Moonshine by Gita Ralleigh, and Peril at Price Manor by Laura Parnum

Authors and Interviews

Gregory Slomba (The Deliverers Series), with series review, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow 

 Sam Thompson (Wolfstounge and The Fox's Tower), at KidLit TV

Igo Rab (Faery: the Tiend), at Fantasy-Hive


this week's roundup of mg sci fi/fantasy from around the blogs 12/10/23

Please let me know if I missed your post or a post about your book!

The Reviews

Champions of the Fox, by Kevin Sands, at Cracking the Cover

The Dark Lord's Daughter, by Patricia Wrede, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Hither & Nigh, by Ellen Potter, at Pages Unbound  

Hollowthorn, by Kalyn Josephson, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

The Ice Children, by M. G. Leonard, at Book Craic and Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

The Lumbering Giants of Windy Pines, by Mo Netz, at Mark My Words

No Way Out (Shadowhouse #3), by Dan Poblocki, at Puss Reboots

THE PUPPETS OF SPELHORST — Kate DiCamillo, at Rosi Hollinbeck

Shiver Point: It Came From the Woods, by Gabriel Dylan, at Twirling Book Princess

The Sky Over Rebecca, by Matthew Fox, at Teen Librarian Toolbox

The Thirteenth Circle, by MarcyKate Connolly and Kathryn Holmes, at  Mark My Words

The Wild Robot Protects, by Peter Brown, at proseandkahn

Worst Broommate Ever! by Wanda Coven, at Bookworm for Kids 

Two at  A Library Mama --Abeni’s Song and Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston |

Authors and Interviews

James Haddell (Tales of Truth and Treasure Book 4: Dagger, Spear and Sword), also with a review, at Scope for Imagination


The Sky Over Rebecca, by Matthew Fox, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Sky Over Rebecca, by Matthew Fox (November 14, 2023, Union Square Kids in the US,  April 14, 2022, Hodder Childrens in the UK), is my favorite of all the new to me books I've read so far this year.  It was supposed to be last week's timeslip Tuesday, but when I was done reading it, instead of sitting down to review it, it was all too fresh and raw and sad in my mind (in a good way) for me to want to think cogently about it.

It's the story of ten-year-old Kara, a lonely girl living in Stockholm with her mother.  Although her beloved Grandfather lives close enough to visit often, which is a comfort, she has no friends, just bullies.  But one day looking out the bus window on her way to school, she sees a snow angel...with no footprints left by its maker.  And that is the start of a magic timeslip adventure, that leads her to Rebecca and her little brother Samuel, two kids living in hiding on an island in the middle of the frozen lake where she and grandfather go ice skating.  

Even Kara's great happiness about making a friend (and being the sort of person who can make friends, which she had worried about), doesn't mean she's not curious about the strangeness of Rebecca and her circumstances.  Gradually she realizes that Rebecca and Samuel slipped through time to hide from the Nazis, the only two from her family to escaped being murdered by them back during WW II.  Now Rebecca and Samuel, who can't walk, are stuck in their island hideaway, in the middle of the Swedish winter, in need of food and warmth, which Kara tries to provide (I liked that Kara's mother is able to help with this, concerned about situation but trusting Kara to do the right thing without trying to take over).  Even the boy who is the worst of the bullies is drawn into the mystery and becomes a good companion and helper (Kara grew tired of living in fear, and punched him, which tilted the balance of their relationship enough so that he, not redeemed but with a greater appreciation of Kara, can reshape their relationship).  

But she can't think of what she can do to help them move on....until Rebecca's prophetic vision of an airplane, from the Allies in the war, landing on the frozen lake comes true.  And oh my gosh do things take an utterly gut wrenching turn at this point, and I wept.  

It is utterly gorgeous time travel, of just the sort of magical slipping through the years that I love best. It's not just the two kids from the past here in the present, but enough of Kara slipping back to make the whole thing dreamlike and wonderful (and also gut wrenching).  It won awards over in England where it was first published, and I'm so glad I heard about it and got hold of a copy.  If you like Action and Adventure, it might not work for you, but if you want a story of a remarkable friendship between brave girls in a cold and snowy setting, with time travel that will remind you of old favorites (and some tense moments that I would count as action with a small a) do seek it out!

I would so dearly love to give it to my young self, who would have read it over and over, but am glad I haven't gotten so old as to not love children's books (even though I have so many on hand that I don't get to reread as much as I'd like...)


this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (12/3/23)

an unusually short round-up this week...please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Amari and the Great Game (Supernatural Investigations #2), by B.B. Alston, at megsbookrack

The Beastly Baron of Beaux Bottom, by Jeremy Hullah, at Book Craic

Festergrimm (Legends of Eerie-On-Sea #4), by Thomas Taylor, at Log Cabin Library

Finney And the Secret Tunnel, by Jamie Lane Barber, at  Always in the Middle…  

The Little Match Girl Strikes Back, by Emma Carroll, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Ruling the World, by Louie Stowell, at Twirling Book Princess

Omega Morales and the Curse of El Cucuym, by Laekan Zea Kemp, at Charlotte's Library

The Secret of the Ravens, by Joanna Cacao, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Secrets of Splint Hall, by Katie Cotton, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 


Omega Morales and the Curse of El Cucuym by Laekan Zea Kemp

It was a pleasure to revisit Omega Morales in her second adventure--Omega Morales and the Curse of El Cucuy (Omega Morales, 2) by Laekan Zea Kemp (October 2023, Little Brown).  A new monster, the legendary Mexican boogeyman El Cucuy, has come to town, and he is kidnapping children, and sending adults into an enchanted sleep.  Omega, her cousin Carlito, and Clau, her ghost friend, are determined to defeat him, but the game he is playing with them has twists and turns that seem to make this almost impossible.

Fortunately Omega has a new magical creature friend at her side, who is both cute and brave, as well has help from other kids in town.  And although most of the adults in her family are asleep, she can still find some help through dreams with them, and those who aren't asleep try to help (with little success, though).  In the end, as was the case with the first book, it is understanding and empathizing with the monster that lets Omega put an end to his reign of terror.

As I said in my review of the first book in the series, Omega Morales and the Legend of La Lechuza, "it never ceases to amaze me how the familiar middle grade themes of navigating family and friends and one's own changing self can be explored in so many different magical ways."  And as was the case with the first book, Omega isn't just dealing with a monstrous external threat but is also struggling to understand her own magic and how it is manifesting.  As was the case in the first book, her mother and grandmother are not helpful in this regard (even when awake), and I continue to be displeased with them.  On the plus side, though, this sequel doesn't have the disturbing bullying Omega experienced in the first book.

It is a book dense with magic, dangers, and Omega's relationships with a swirl of other characters (lots of minor characters)--it pays to read it slowly, because if you are a fast reader like me, you might from time to time become unsure of the particulars of what's happening and who is involved.  And be warned--it ends with a cliffhanger.  But those two caveats aside, it's an engrossing and entertaining story!

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