This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (6/13/21)

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

The Reviews

Blitzed, by Robert Swindells, at Charlotte's Library

A Curse of Mayhem (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions, Book 2) by Sunayna Prasad, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Dangerous Gift (Wings of Fire, Book 14) by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook review)

Fire and Water (Celestia Chronicles #1), by  Anagha Ratish, at Bookgeeks

The Frights of Fiji (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions, Book 1) by Sunayna Prasad, at Rajiv's Reviews

Going Wild, by Lisa McMann, at Say What?

The Hidden Knife, by Melissa Marr, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Hollow Chest, by Brita Sandstrom, at Nerdy Book Club and Charlotte's Library

The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brallier, at Original Content

Legend of the Rift (Seven Wonders #5), by Peter Lerangis, at Say What?

Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher, at The Unapologetic Bookworm

The Monster Missions, by Laura Martin, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Monster War (Nightmare Academy #3), by Dean Lorey, at Say What?

The Mostly Invisible Boy (Casey Grimes 1), by AJ Vanderhorst, at My Bookish Bliss

Sauerkraut, by Kelly Jones, at Colorful Book Reviews

Two at alibrarymama-Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo and Cinders and Sparrows by Stefan Bachmann

Authors and Interviews

Alysa Wishingrad (The Verdigris Pawn), at MG Book Village

Payal Doshi  (Rea and the Blood of the Nectar) at The Nerd Daily

Other Good Stuff

"We Need More Heroes of Color in Middle Grade Fantasies: a South Asian Perspective" a guest post by Payal Doshi at Teen Librarian Toolbox

The Story King: How The Chronicles of Narnia Shapes the Worlds We Create" at Tor

The nine most beautiful libraries and bookstores of Japan, at Time Out

In June my mind starts turning toward the Cybils Awards (given by on-line book reviewers in a variety of categories.  Look for the call for panelists in August!).  Come September, anyone can nominate eligible books (published for kids or teens in the US or Canada between Octboer 16 2020 and October 15 2021), and to get the nominating excitement going, there are idea boards at the Cybils website.  If there's a middle grade fantasy or sci fi book that you think absolutely must be nominated, add it to the board!


Hollow Chest, by Brita Sandstrom

I'm happy to be today's stop on the blog tour for Hollow Chest, by Brita Sandstrom (June, 2021, Walden Pond). It's a moving fantasy of a London boy trying to help his older brother heal after the trauma of WWII that's sure to stick in the hearts and minds of young readers!

When Theo went off to fight in the war, Charlie promised  that he would take care of their mother and aging grandfather.  He has been counting the days till Theo comes home from the war.  But when he arrives home, injured and traumatized, he's not the big brother Charlie remembered.  His warmth and love are missing.

And Charlie, troubled by his own nightmares and the horror of the blitz, which claimed his father's life, is determined to fix things.  

But it's not easy.  Theo has fallen victim to the war wolves, fell creatures who have eaten the hearts of humans since time began; he now has only a hollow where his heart should be.  The wolves are prowling the streets of London, where the returning soldiers and war damaged civilians are easy prey.  With the help of his brave cat, a strange, raggedy old lady and her pigeon flock, and his own determination not to give in, Charlie confronts the wolves, and finds out what they really are....

Just to be clear, these are real magical wolves (albeit allegorical wolves as well), and Charlie's journey through London to find them is a magical adventure.  Both are very effective--it's gripping to see Charlie's understanding of the wolves grow along with his own maturity and insight, and the wolves are fierce and scary enough to provide enough tension and momentum to the story to keep things moving.  And also just to be clear--there no magical healing of anybody's trauma at the end, though Charlie's bravery does give hope that healing will happen.

It's a great pick for kids who love emotional weight resting on real-world fantasy frameworks!  The wolves, with names like Remorse, Hunger, and Anguish, will roam in the imagination long after the book is finished, and Charlie's hard-won understanding of the cost of war will also off much food for thought.  The cat (a lovely cat!) and the pigeons (brave pigeons!) provide some light relief, while intermittent somber illustrations add haunting atmosphere.  The fairy-tale feel of the story is further heightened by stories told by the characters, not long or intrusive enough to disrupt the flow, but serving to beautifully highlight emotional beats of Charlie's journey.

I personally had a slightly rocky start with the book, because it begins with Charlie lighting the family's woodstove, and woodstoves were not a thing in WW II London; it would have been a coal stove (possibly they would have burned salvaged wood from bombed building in it too, but still it wouldn't have been a "woodstove").  I was afraid that the American author would continue to get UK details wrong, but fortunately this was the only thing that really jumped out at me... 

That aside, this is a really impressive, well-written debut by an author I'll be sure to watch out for!

Here are the other blog tour stops:

June 7 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub

June 8 Bluestocking Thinking @bluesockgirl

June 9 Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers @grgenius

June 10 Teachers Who Read @teachers_read

June 13 Storymamas @storymamas

June 14 A Library Mama @alibrarymama

June 15 Writer’s Rumpus @kirsticall


All Our Hidden Gifts, by Caroline O'Donoghue


All Our Hidden Gifts, by Caroline O'Donoghue (June 8th 2021, Walker Books US, YA), is a story of magic and growing up/friendship/love all twisted together with darkness....It is an excellent read!

Maeve is a rather difficult teenager.  The youngest of a large Irish family, she feels that she's a failure--she's not particularly gifted, and isn't doing well at the small and expensive Catholic girls school she goes to, partly because academic work doesn't come easily, and partly because she's uncooperative.  She's barely part of a medium- grade social level at school, and this she only achieved by cutting off, very cruelly, her best friend from childhood, Lily.  Lily's eccentricities made her unacceptable to the other girls, and by extension, to Maeve as well (and indeed, the "licking strange things" game took weirdness to a level I'd have been uncomfortable with too when Lily, no longer a little kid but a young teenager, licked a boy's neck...).

The story begins with Maeve being punished by the school with the unpleasant task of cleaning out a basement storage room.  There in the junk she finds something that changes her life--a deck of tarot cards.  Maeve, intrigued, studies tarot, and finds she has a gift for seeing the connections and meanings in the cards.  Soon all her classmates are hounding her for tarot readings.  Fiona, a theater girl who Maeve had never given much thought to, takes an interest, and soon is acting as Maeve's booking agent and is becoming a real friend.  

But when the other girls pressure Maeve into doing a reading for Lily, who doesn't actually want anything to do with it, things go terribly wrong.   A truly disturbing card that shouldn't be in the deck, the Housekeeper, shows up.  Lily demands Maeve tell her what it means, and when Maeve can't, the tension builds.  "I wish I had never been friends with you," Maeve snaps.  "Lily, I wish you would disappear."  

And that is just what happens the next day.

Maeve, Fiona, and Lily's non-binary older sibling, Roe, set out to work through the dark magic at work and bring Lily back.   But this isn't the only darkness that's entered their lives--a fundamentalist cult is at work in town, violently preaching a return to "values."  And complicating things still further, Maeve and Roe are falling in love....while Maeve keeps from them all the cruelty she's dealt Lily over the past few years, and her final words.

As they plunge deeper in the the mystery of the Housekeeper card, and her own dark history, the truth of what they must do emerges, and it is terrible....

While all the while being a tremendously gripping read!  There was much I enjoyed and appreciated.  Maeve isn't exactly likeable, but she grew on me, and she and her friends are vividly real and engaging.  The tarot cards and Maeve's readings were fascinating.  The bigotry (Fiona is half Filipina, and this has presented challenges) and violent homophobia (not only impacting Roe, but also Maeve's lesbian older sister), though magically fueled, heighten the tension of their quest beautifully (and I appreciated that this realistic part of the story isn't magically fixed at the end).  The hidden gifts referenced in the title didn't quite work for me, because they seemed unearned and to inexplicable, but they do set the stage for more about these four kids, and that's a good thing.

If you are a fan of teenaged girls in the real world acquiring magical powers and having to learn quickly how to use them in desperate circumstances, or a fan of girls who have been really, deeply unkind to people during dark young teen times and then work hard to make up for it, or a fan of kids who don't follow the neat path of parental/societal norms, and find each other, or a fan of love stories between difficult girls and beautiful non-binary musicians, or tarot cards, or all of the above, this is one for you!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Blitzed, by Robert Swindells, for Timeslip Tuesday

I thought about the Blitz quite a lot in the Spring of 2000, when life became full of fearful uncertainty mixed with dull, aching boredom, and I wondered how the people of London could have kept going with bombs raining death every night for months.  Blitzed, by Robert Swindells (May 2002), is the story of a modern kid who gets to find out. 

Georgie is a normal boy of 2002, with a bit of an attitude, a fondness for "creeping" with his mates through the local back gardens in commando-style raids (which didn't endear him to me), and a keen interest in World War II.  He's thrilled to go on a class trip to a former POW camp turned WW 2 museum, with 29 huts each showcasing a particular aspect of the war.  The fifth hut, in which there's a replica of a bombed London street, is the most gripping.  All the sounds and smells are there, and there's even a hand, reaching helpless out of the rubble.  And suddenly Georgie is there too, seeing it all in real life, and running from the desperate hand, instead of trying to help.

The first few days of being lost, scared, and starving are terrible ones, but then his luck gets better.  He finds a group of kids living furtively in a bombed out pub, surviving under the leadership of Ma, who lets Georgie join them.  

Ma isn't a grown-up herself, though; she is only 14.  By dint of shear force of will she's able to keep the kids reasonably clean and fed (though poorly) with her wages from a work at a dingy second-hand clothing shop.  And Georgie takes his place in the group, and starts helping her in the shop (when the proprietor is away).  It is all horrible (and one of the kid's is killed by a bomb), and rather boring for the people living through it at the same time time.  

But things heat up story-wise when Georgie finds evidence that the shop keeper is a spy, and Ma and the kids help find more evidence.  Georgie gets a real war time adventure, and then finds himself home again....and finds Ma again too. 

Georgie tells his story in short first person chapters, giving it an immediacy and intimacy that draws the reader in (and making it a good one for emergent middle grade readers).  His traumatized reactions (throwing up more than once, collapsing into tears) ring true.  Yet it's not all doom and gloom; Georgie is a smart-alek, and though I didn't like this in his 21st century self, it added humor to his time in the past, as did the 21st century colloquialisms and slips that he makes as a time-traveler.

Young readers who like stories of kids surviving on their own in disasters, becoming a found families in the process will enjoy this one lots!  I did, after I got over my initial dislike for Georgie (I just really don't like kids who destroy gardens.  Fortunately his parents make him go fix the garden fence he broke, and the satisfaction he gets from this is a sign that character growth will come....).  


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (6/6/21)

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

The Reviews

The Adventure is Now, by Jess Redman, at Always in the Middle

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

The Apple Stone, by Nicholas Stuart Gray, at Staircase Wit

Battle of the Bodkins (Max and the Nidknights #2), by Lincoln Peirce, at Twirling Book Princess

Curse of the Phoenix, by Aimee Carter, at The Bookwyrm's Den

Da Vinci's Cat, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, at Charlotte's Library

Deny all Charges (Fowler Twins #2), by Eoin Colfer, at S.W. Lothian

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch, by Julie Abe, at Pages Unbound

Fireborn  (Dragonborn #2),  by Toby Forward, at Say What?

Hollowpox (Morrigan Crowe #3), by Jessica Townsend, at Leaf's Reviews

How to Make a Pet Monster: Flummox, by Lili Wilkinson, at The Book Muse

The Last Shadow Warrior, by Sam Subity, at The Nerd Daily

Leonard (My Life as a Cat), by Carlie Sorosiak, at Books YA Love

Little Gem and the Mysterious Letters, by Anna Zobel, at The Book Muse

Little White Hands, by Mark Cushen, at Books and Chocaholic

Monster Madness (Nightmare Academy #2) by Dean Lorey, at Say What?

Monty and the Monster, by Rhonda Smiley, at Bookworm for Kids

Ophie's Ghosts, by Justina Ireland, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Pizazz and Pizazz vs. the New Kid, by Sophy Henn, at MG Book Village

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book, by Kate Milford, at Locus

Rainbow Grey and the Weather Magic, by Laura Ellen Anderson, at Book Craic

Root Magic, by Eden Royce, at and other tales

Shadow Spinner, by Susan Fletcher, at Staircase Wit

The Three Impossibles, by Susie Bower, at Book Craic

What Lives in the Woods, by Lindsay Currie, at Rajiv's Reviews

When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller, at Completely Full Bookshelf

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Much Ado About Baseball, by Rajani LaRocca, and The Healer of the Water Monster, by Brian Young

Three at Michelle I. Mason--The Last Windwitch, by Jennifer Adam, The Gilded Girl, by Alyssa Colman, and The Last Fallen Star, by Graci Kim

Authors and Interviews

Jim Beckett (The Caravan at the Edge of Doom) at Library Girl and Book Boy

Robert Beatty (Willa of the Woods) at Middle Grade Ninja

Greg R. Fishbone on "Magic Systems for Non-Magicians" at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking,  by T. Kingfisher, has won the 2020 Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction (and it's a very fun book that I recommend highly!) Here at Tor are all the Nebula shortlists and winners

New the US, at The Contented Reader


Da Vinci's Cat, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, for Timeslip Tuesday

Da Vinci's Cat, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (May 25th 2021, Greenwillow Books), is a real treat for those of us who love time travel, cats, and the splendors and intrigues of Renaissance Italy!

Frederico is just an ordinary boy in 16th-century Rome (he's not extraordinary among heirs to wealthy and powerful noble families, and it's not that odd for a kid be held as a hostage by the Pope to keep those families in check).  But his life becomes most extraordinary when a cat comes out of a large and strangely decorated wooden wardrobe.  Frederico is lonely--games of checkers with the Pope, chats with Raphael, busy and distracted by his art, and annoying tutors are the extent of his social life--and he welcomes the companionship of the cat.  

The strange man coming out of the wardrobe soon after is at first less welcome.  Herbert has arrived a strange place, New Jersey, far in the future, and offers chocolate, peanuts, and conversation (all welcomed) and all he wants from Frederico are sketches by the resident artists (as well as Raphael, Michelangelo is there, busily painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).  Turns out the wardrobe was made by Leonardo Da Vinci, and Herbert is taking advantage of it to collect art to sell in the 21st century.

Herbert desperately wants Frederico to help him get Raphael to sign a sketch for him to take home....but things get complicated, and Herbert's visits stop. Instead, a 21st century girl arrives through the wardrobe instead.  Bee has found herself tangled in Herbert's unfinished business....and she needs Frederico's help if she is going to finally get the Raphael sketch signed.  

And so a lovely cross-culture exchange happens, with Frederico moving from hostility and suspicion to friendship, and Bee moves from babbling about Narnia to accepting she's 500 years in the past....But the sketch signing becomes more complicated than expected, and one thing leads to another until Michelangelo's completion of the Sistine Chapel, and Frederico's own life, are in danger...

I really enjoyed this one lots. Not one, perhaps, for lovers of wild excitement, though there was tension throughout, mounting toward the end.   As well as checking the basic boxes of my personal taste--Renaissance Italy, art, cat, friendship, and of course time travel, it's a very character rich story, rich as well in descriptions of beautiful and interesting things, the sort of story which I personally like more than wild adventures.  I also liked Bee very much and really enjoyed her interactions with "Fred." 

It's neat time travel too, not explained much but given a magical credibility by the Da Vinci having made the wardrobe.  Mostly we see Frederico's time through Bee's eyes, which was very relatable, but his reactions to the strangeness of her came up a lot too, and were often amusing.  

And it has the added bonus of being educational--I myself learned more history through reading children's books than I ever did in school, and this one would have filled a gap very nicely indeed (I can't remember any fiction about the Italian Renaissance from when I was kid (1970s, early 80s....)

(side note, for those looking for normalization of same sex parents--Bee has two great moms.  Frederico's reaction--which one had the larger dowry?).


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (5/30/21)

Here's what I found this week; nothing from me, because I have had back to back houseguest weekends (and since I haven't had houseguests for ages of course there was much housecleaning to be done....sigh) interspersed with plasterers (which entailed more post plaster housecleaning).  Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Crackledawn Dragon, by Abi Elphinstone, at Bellis Does Books

The Dastardly Deed (League of Beastly Dreadfuls #2), by Holly Grant, at Say What?

From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my nine-year-old self, by Katherine Langrish, at The Daily Mail

Jungle Drop, by Abi Elphinstone, at Book Craic

The Last Fallen Star, by Graci Kim, at Eli to the nth and Rajiv's Reviews

The Last Shadow Warrior, by Sam Subity, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone, at Leaf's Reviews

The Three Impossibles, by Susie Bower, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Unbelievable Biscuit Factory, by James Harris, at Twirling Book Princess

Unlocked (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8.5) by Shannon Messenger, at Log Cabin Library

What We Found in the Corn Maze and How It Saved a Dragon, by Henry Best, at Not Acting My Age

Two at alibrarymama--Girl Giant and the Monkey King, by Van Hoang, and City of the Plague God,
by Sarwat Chadda

Authors and Interviews

Laura Ellen Anderson (Rainbow Grey) at A little but a lot

Sam Subity and his agent Maura Kye-Casella (The Last Shadow Warrior) at Literary Rambles

Adam Perry (The Thieving Colelctors of Fine Children's Books) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

At Tor-"Worlds Beyond: How The Chronicles of Narnia Introduced Us to Other Authors We Love"

The 2021 Waterstones Children's Book Prize shortlists have been announced

Dwarfs, Pixies and the “Little Dark People” at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles


This week's round-up of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/23/21)

Good morning from sunny RI!  Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Crater Lake - Evolution, by Jennifer Killick, at Library Girl and Book Boy

Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge, at The Zen Leaf

The Edge of Strange Hollow, by Gabrielle K. Byrne, at dinipandareads

Ember and the Ice Dragons, by Heather Fawcett, at Say What?

Even and Odd, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Hidden in Pages

Everdark, by Abi Elphinstone, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Firebird Song, by ArnĂ©e Flores, at Cracking the Cover, The Bookwyrm's Den, and Rajiv's Reviews

A Game of Fox & Squirrels, by Jenn Reese, at Fantasy Literature

Ghost Squad, by Claribel A. Ortega, at proseandkahn

Glitch, by Laura Martin, at Charlotte's Library

Kiki's Delivery Service, by Eiko Kadono, tran. by Emily Balistrieri, at Pages Unbound

Long Lost, by Jacqueline West, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Cracking the Cover

Octavia Bloom and the Missing Key ( Through the Fairy Door #1), by Estelle Grace Tudor, at Read to Ramble

Over the Woodward Wall, by A. Deborah Baker (Seanan McGuire) at Puss Reboots

The Stolen Chapters (Story Thieves #2), by James Riley, at Say What?

The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst, by Jaclyn Moriarty, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Swipe, by Evan Angler, at Jenni Enzor

Willa of Dark Hollow by Robert Beatty, at Sharon the Librarian and Rajiv's Reviews

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at Dead Houseplants

Authors and Interviews

Susan McCormick (The Antidote) at Middle Grade Ninja and A Dance With Books

Payal Doshi (Rea and the Blood of the Nectar) at Literary Rambles and MG Book Village

 Leah Cypess (Thornwood) at Middle-Grade Mojo

Other Good Stuff

At Mugglenet--Claudia Kim’s Nagini: A Korean Woman in Potterverse, by Lorrie Kim


Glitch, by Laura Martin, for Timeslip Tuesday


I really enjoyed Glitch, by Laura Martin (Harper Collins, June 2020)--not only was there fun time travel, but it was also a school story with an enemies into friends twist, so it was right up my alley!

Regan and Elliot both have the gene that lets them time travel, and both are students at the Academy which trains kids like them to be Glitchers, going back in time on missions to keep history safe from interference by those who would alter what actually happened.  They don't have a choice about this--all kids with this gene are gathered in by the Academy as infants.  Regan's mom happens to be the director, but Elliot has no memories of his family.  

The two of them dislike each other lots--Elliot thinks Regan is a spoiled princess, and Regan thinks Elliot is a know-it-all jerk.  Neither is entirely wrong.  But fate throws them together when Regan finds a note left to her by someone from the future, and Elliot intercepts it.  It's a crypt note warning of things to come and things that must be done, and both kids are appalled to find themselves entangled in one of the very butterfly effects they are supposed to be working to stop.  

Not content with implicating the two kids in an illegal manipulation of time, fate throws another wrench in their lives.  Competing in a stimulated mission challenge, they unwittingly demonstrate that to the Academy staff that they make a great team.  And so, with no say in the matter, they are shipped off to an even more secret campus of the Academy to train together.  For the rest of their lives as Glitchers (which won't be that long, because time travel burns a person out, forcing adults to retire early), they will have to work together.

But to do that, they will have to figure out how to get along, and figure out the clues given them from the future in order to save the Academy and the Glitchers from a threat to its very existence by their enemies who want to change the past.

It beautifully vivid time travel to a variety of periods (mostly simulations sending them into pivotal moments of American history, like Gettysburg and Lincoln's assassination).  The task in each mission is to identify and foil the person trying to change the past.  Regan has almost preternatural intuition when it comes to identifying that person, and Elliot has a wealth of knowledge and a respect of the rules, so they do actually complement each other.  

The time travel is brisk and to the point; the kids can't interact with the past for fear of changing it themselves, so it's more a matter of observation, survival, and capturing the enemy.  There's enough consideration about the ethics of the whole set-up to give the Glitchers the moral high ground, while being thought provoking.   And it was a fun story in its own right, with the threat to the Academy giving the story dramatic forward progress while still leaving lots of room for the more personal story of Elliot and Regan figuring things out.

(there was only thing that bothered me--as an adult, I was rather distressed about kids being taken in as babies, and how little the Academy does to be a warm and nurturing place, which explains a lot about poor Elliot!)

But in any event, I would definitely read another book about the Glitchers!

(Elliot is described as dark-skinned, and shown on the cover thus, and so I'm counting this as one for more list of diverse middle grade sci fi/fantasy).


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/16/21)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; please let me know if I missed your post (or if you are an author, a post about your book!)

The Reviews

The Accidental Apprentice (Wilderlore vol. 1), by Amanda Foody, at Redeemed Reader

The Adventure is Now, by Jess Redman, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Bone Taker (Creeptown #2), by Scott Charles, at Say What?

Bridge of Souls, by Victoria Schwab, at Pages Unbond

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls, by Kaela Rivera, at Charlotte's Library

The Dragon in the Library, by Louie Stowell, at Children's Books Heal

The Extremely High Tide (Secrets of Topsea, #2), by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats, at Twirling Book Princess

Force of Fire, by Sayantani Dasgupta, at Waking Brain Cells

How to Save a Queendom, by Jessica Lawson, at Books YA Love and Jill's Book Blog

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, at Lost in Storyland

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found by Rucker Moses & Theo Gangi, at Locus

The Last Fallen Star, by Graci Kim, at SciFiChick

The Last Shadow Warrior, by Sam Subity, at The Nerd Daily

The Light Jar, by Lisa Thompson, at Of Maria Antonia

The Nightmare Thief, by Nicole Lesperance, at Say What?

Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland, at Books. Iced Lattes. Blesssed.

Over the Woodward Wall (The Up-and-Under 1) by A. Deborah Harker (Seanan McGuire), at A Dance with Books

Sea of Kings, by Melissa Hope, at Always in the Middle

Tangara, by Nan Chauncy, at Charlotte's Library

A Test of Courage (A Star Wars Junior Novel) by Justina Ireland, at megsbookrack

Too Bright to See, by Kyle Lukoff, at Falling Letters

The Untimely Journey of Veronica T. Boone: Part 1 - Laurentide, by  D.M. Sears, at N.N. Lights Book Heaven

Willa of Dark Hollow, by Robert Beatty, at The Bookwyrm's Den

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Last Gate of Emperor, by Kwame Mbalia and Prince JOel Makonnen, and The Last Fallen Star, by Graci Kim

Four at A little but a lot--Otherland, by Louie Stowell, Rainbow Grey, by Laura Ellen Anderson, The Hatmakers, by Tamzin Merchant, and Rumaysa, by Radiya Hafiza 

Authors and Interviews

Brian Young (Healer of the Water Monster) at A.B. Westrick

Sheela Chari (The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel) at Cynsations

Graci Kim (The Last Fallen Star) at The Quiet Pond

Alex London (Battle Dragons: City of Thieves) at Frolic

Ellen Booraem (River Magic) at Middle Grade Mojo

Deva Fagan (Nightingale) at Middle Grade Mojo

Alane Adams (Legends of Olympus-Medusa Quest) at Middle Grade Ninja

Tim Tilley (Harklights) at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Sarah Prineas (Trouble in the Stars) at Fuse #8

Ross Mackenzie (Feast of the Evernight) at Scope for Imagination

Juliana Brandt (A Wilder Magic) at Cynsations

Jessica Lawson (How to Save a Queendom), at Literary Rambles

 Other Good Stuff

The Problem(s) of Susan at Tor

Korean American Glimpses in Harry Potter, by Lori Kim, at Mugglenet


Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls, by Kaela Rivera

I find, as I get older, that there are fewer books that keep me reading past my bedtime.  So it's always a great treat when that happens, as it did most recently with Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls, by Kaela Rivera (middle grade, April 13th 2021, HarperCollins Children's Books).

Cece's home town of Tierra del Sol isn't very big--most people don't want to live on the edge of the desert that is home to deadly criaturas.  When her big sister, the fierce and fiery Juana, is stolen away by el Sombreron, one of the most feared of the dark criaturas, Cece blames herself (with some reason).  So she becomes determined to get her sister back from the stronghold of the dark beings out in the desert.  

The only way she can think of to do this is to become a bruja, one of the witches who have animal criaturas (beings who shapeshift between human-like and animal form) under their control, and then win the competition in which they pit their enslaved captives against each other.  This would win her the chance to enter the strong hold of the dark beings like el Sombreron.  It's a daunting proposition, as she doesn't have a criatura, or the heartlessness required to control one and make it battle to the death.  Fortunately, she has a compassionate heart.  And this is enough for the Coyote criatura to agree to help her.

Things snowball, and Cece is in way over her head, appalled by what the brujas are doing, and desperate to save her sister.  How can she, a girl with with no fire in her blood, like Juana, succeed?

It's an excellent story, with lots of adventure (kids who love reading about fantastical competitions will love the fights between the criaturas) The dangers are real, and have a more complicated backstory than Cece had realized.  Those who like rich world building will find it entrancing to watch her understanding of the history of her world broadening.   There's lots of heart here as well.  Cece's innate goodness is what lets her succeed, and her found family of not just Coyote but other criaturas as well is utterly charming.  That being said, she's not at all sappily good; she's scared, determined, and fiercely using every big of agency at her control.  She's also dealing with tension within her family; her father's grief and worry has manifested as abuse toward her, the less valued daughter.

The criaturas are drawn from Mexican-American stories, and the sort of reader who loves Rick Riordan-esque books with their wealth of mythological background should be very taken with the mythology of Cece's world!  I certainly was, and I will most definitely be looking out for more by Kaela Rivera (a sequel, for instance, would be nice--although Cece's story stands alone, I'd like to spend more time with her and her criatura friends!

(Here's my one small niggling doubt that was not germane to my reading enjoyment, but which I was bothered by--what with all the battling to the death, the brujas seem to be burning through the criaturas pretty fast, and this morally reprehensible practice doesn't seem to be isn't sustainable.  Unless of course more are somehow being generated....)


Tangara, by Nan Chauncy, for Timeslip Tuesday

I have a classic for this week's Timeslip Tuesday--Tangara, by the great Australian author Nan Chauncy (1960).  I gave it five stars, but with a note of caution. 

This is the story of Lexie, a white girl in 1950s Tasmania, who travels back in time to the 19th century where she is befriended by Merrina, an aboriginal Tasmanian girl. A halcyon time ensues, with the white girl learning some of the language and culture of her new friend (rather magically, and Lexie takes it rather for granted that they can talk to each other), with much laughter and joy. It is lovely reading.  The Aboriginal culture is exoticized, yes, but through the eyes of a child for whom it is more fascinated interest than colonialist superiority; the Aboriginal culture is not less than or worse than the European culture. There's a bit when Lexie eats a live grub, and manages to appreciate the taste. The cross cultural exploration goes both ways--Merrina thinks Lexie smells awful, finds clothes, and in particular the pealing off of stockings, hilarious, and makes fun of Lexie's pathetic attempts to move silently through the bush.

But then there is a massacre, and Lexie is there when two white men gun down Merrina's people, who are trapped in the deep cleft in the earth that has been hiding them from the genocidal invaders.

Gradually, Merrina fades in Lexie's memory, and her life becomes one of school, girl guides, and ordinary friends. But Merrina is still there in the ravine, and when Lexie's older brother finds himself injured and alone in that very ravine, she saves his life, and Lexie sees her again, with much love and sadness mixed.

So the note of caution--this book was written in 1960. The everyday terminology used when discussing Aboriginal people is offensive to the modern reader. Off-setting this is that Lexie and her extended family find the past genocide appalling in no uncertain terms, at least once correct someone being blatantly disparaging about the Aboriginal Tasmanians, and strongly condemn past practices, like putting people's bones in museums. So though I was worried this would be so horrifyingly racist and patronizing I wouldn't be able to read it, I was in fact able to.

And I ended up being tremendously moved by it, to the point of tears. And then I went and read up on Tasmanian history, and learned lots (since I was starting basically at zero, this was not hard.).  One thing I learned was that Nan Chauncy, being a person of her time, so no reason not to doubt the myth of Aborignal extinction in Tasmania.

In conclusion, this is the sort of time travel I love best--with the time travel giving just huge emotional weight to the story because of the deep friendship between the two girls, while educating and entertaining and horrifying me along the way.  And as an added bonus, the landscape and its flora and fauna came alive to me as well.

Because it is, as I said above, problematic despite the author's good, and rather successful, intentions to be non-racist, even though it's what I'd classify as middle grade, it is best for a reader who is able to contextualize what was taken for granted, and not internalize it.  That being said, I would have loved it as a ten year old, for the same reasons I loved it today.


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction (5/9/21)

Here's what I found this week; enjoy adding to your tbr list! Once again, there are no books that start with "s."  It used to be the winner most years.  Odd.

As usual, let me know if I missed anything.

The Reviews

The Accidental Apprentice, by Amanda Foody, at and other tales

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, at alibrarymama

The Antidote, by Susan McCormick, at Log Cabin Library

Bridge of Souls, by Victoria Schwab, at Twirling Book Princess

The Collectors Fright Watch, by Lorien Lawrence, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Dragon in the Library, by Louis Stowell, at Geo Librarian

The Last Fallen Star, by Graci Kim, at The Bookwyrm's Den, Book Nook Bits, and Nerdophiles

Last Gate of the Emperor, by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen, at Stome Reads a Lot and Charlotte's Library

Legends of Olympus, by Alane Adams, at Mom Read It

Leonard (My Life As a Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak, at Children's Books Heal

The Memory Thief, by Jody Lynn Anderson, at Books YA Love 

The Mouse Watch Underwater by J.J. Gilbert, at Rajiv's Reviews

Oddity, by Eli Brown, at Fantasy Literature

Otto P. Nudd, by Emily Butler, at Mom Read It

Quintessence, by Jes Redman, at Pages Unbound

A Tangle of Spells, by Michelle Harrison, at Book Craic

Unlocked (Keepers of the Lost Cities #8.5), by Shannon Messenger, at Say What?

War of the Realms (Valkyrie #3), by Kate O'Hearn, at Say What?

Wicker Village (Nightmares in Aston, #1), by Michael J. Moore, at Bookworm for Kids

Willa of Dark Hollow, by Robert Beatty, at Nerdophiles

Three at Book Lover Jo (plus some non fantasy books)--Otherland, by Louie Stowell, The Strange Worlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean, by L.D. Lapinski, Between Sea and Sky, by Nicola Penfold 

Authors and Interviews

Shakirah Bourne (Josephine Against the Sea) at MG Book Village

Sam Subity (The Last Shadow Warrior) at MG Book Village, The Nerd Daily, and Bookish Society Secrets podcast

Kwame Mbalia & Prince Joel Makonnen (Last Gate of the Emperor), at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

Congratulations to Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, for being the winner in the Young Readers category of the first Barnes and Noble children's and YA book awards!


Last Gate of the Emperor, by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen

A mythical Ethiopian empire in space....a deadly enemy that has almost defeated it...a boy who might be its last hope...this is what you will find in Last Gate of the Emperor, by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen (middle grade, May 4th 2021, Scholastic).

Yared and his uncle have moved around the city of Addis Prime more often than he really remembers, never with enough money to live comfortably, and so his life has been a little lonely--his only friend is a mechanical lioness, Besa, with no head for heights.  Addis Prime has a lot of rules, and lots of drones to enforce them, but it also has, for Yared, a great redeeming feature--a fantastical, and illicit, augmented reality game-- The Hunt for Kaleb's Obelisk.  If he can win the next big game, and his chances are good, he'll get enough money to pay his school bills...

But the rules of this game are different.  He has to use his real name for the first time, and instead of playing solo, everyone has to have a partner.  Yared is not happy to be paired with his greatest rival, a girl known as the Ibis...how can he beat her if he has to join her?   

These concerns, though, soon fade to total insignificance when the city is attacked.  Yared's uncle has told him countless stories of a fearsome monster created for a rebellion against the ancient ruling power at the center of the galaxy.  Now that monster, and the enemy forces commanding it, have disrupted his game...and his life.

Yared's old life was based on a lie, and now he must frantically try to find out the truth of who his enemies are, and what role he's destined for in this war that has come to his city.  Together with the Ibis, who's thrown her lot in with him, and with his faithful lion guardian, he journeys to the heart of the old empire, and then back to his city, to save it.

It's a wild and wonderful great game of a setting; a vibrant chaos of extraordinary technology and fearsome foes.  Lots of touches of Ethiopian culture (including tasty food) add to the rich sensory wealth of this world.  Those who love stories that propel them from one excitement to the next will enjoy it lots.   Kids who love game battles will be hooked especially quickly!  (I myself loved how the obelisk hunting game actually was designed with a purpose).

For the first two thirds of the book, though, I felt somewhat disconnected from the story.  Partly this was because Yared had been thrown into a cataclysmic situation, and had little agency to shape the course of events, and neither he, nor the reader (me) fully understood what was happening.  

On top of that (which is simply a reading preference, and not a critique of the book), I was somewhat disappointed with the character side of things.  Yared is, rather understandably, living moment to moment, and doesn't have much time to reflect on things, (and one gets the sense that he a sort of sass and smart answer kid of kid in any event, not given to introspection), and being on the run there were few quiet bits to the story that could have shows the reader more depth of personality.    Fortunately, the final third of the book was great on all counts, and Yared really comes into his own as both hero and person.

My disappointment with the Ibis, however, was never quite dispelled.  She is pretty much a stereotype of the kick-ass girl, a fine stereotype, but not enough to make her a person to care much about.  She says very little, and we never even learn her name.  

But though it wasn't the perfect book for me,  I'm absolutely certain there are plenty of young readers who will love it for the high tech adventures and unlikely and indefatigable young hero!  It's a stand-alone story, though there's set up at the end for more adventure...

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


For this week's Timeslip Tuesday, one for younger readers--Pigsticks and Harold Lost in Time! by Alex Milway (Candlewick, 2017).  This was the first time I met this pig and hamster duo, and I enjoyed the fun of their adventures in time!

It starts with Pigsticks trying to build a space ship, so that he can win the Best Invention competition.  With an hour to go, the space ship is nowhere near finished, and he is understandably worried (so relatable!).  When Harold stops by to see how it's going, he notices a strange machine in the workshop that Pigsticks had never paid much attention to. Turns out it's a time machine, invented by Pigsticks' Great Aunt Ada.  Immediately Pigsticks knows how to get his space ship working--travel to future for future tech!  He persuades the reluctant Harold to join him on the machine, pulls the rusty lever....and they are off! 

They land far back in the past, in the era of the fearsome dinopigs, and disaster strikes--the lever breaks.  A stick gets them out of there, but isn't enough for full functionality.  So they time hop through history, at last crashing through the roof of a Viking longhouse.  There Harold's famous cake, that he happened to have brought with him, saves the day--the Viking ax they get in exchange for the recipe is strong enough to bring them home...and then send Harold on a perilous journey all by himself!

All ends well (though oddly Harold comes back with a beard....).

It's fun and light, great for young newly independent readers, especially those interested in the past and in cake, which many emergent readers are.   A good "first time machine" book, although not a great representation of the past--Cleopatra was much later than the pyramids.


this week's round up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (5/2/21)

Happy May!  Here's this weeks gathering of what I found around the blogs etc.; please let me know of anything I missed!  The fact that the letter L wins this week (for I think the first time in all the years I've done this) and that there are no S books makes me think I've missed lots!

The Reviews

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B. B. Alston, at Pages Unbound

The Beast of Harwood Forest, by Dan Smith, at Scope for Imagination

The Circus of Stolen Dreams, by Lorelei Savaryn, at Randomly Reading

The Dark Lord Clementine, by Sarah Jean Horwitz, at Read to Ramble

Dragon Legend, by Katie and Kevin Tsang, at Book Craic and Sifa Elizabeth Reads

From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with My Nine-Year-Old Self, by Katherine Langrish, at The Spectator

Homer on the Case, by Henry Cole, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Last Fallen Star, by Gracie Kim, at Lyrical Reads

Legend of the Dragon Slayer: The Origin Story of Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull and Brandon Dorman (illus.), at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Legend of Hobart, by Heather Mullaly, at The Children's Book Review

The Lost Lands (The Pelagius Chronicles #2) by Gareth Griffith, at Log Cabin Library 

Lunar Blitz (Ultraball #1), by Jeff Chen, at Say What?

Moon-Force 1, by Janelle M. Adams, at Briar's Reviews

Thornwood, by Leah Cypess, at Charlotte's Library

Trouble in the Stars, by Sarah Prineas, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu, at For Those About to Mock 

Other Good Stuff

"Why You Should Watch The NeverEnding Story as an Adult" at Tor

"Fairy Tales and Realism" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

"Lena Headey to Adapt and Star in 'Scary Stories for Young Foxes' Animated Miniseries" at Collider

"‘The Borrowers’ Reboot From Universal & Working Title In Works; Conrad Vernon In Talks To Direct Patrick Burleigh Script" at Deadline


Thornwood, by Leah Cypess

If you love fairy tale reimagining's, and stories of sisters with complicated relationships, you are in for a treat with Thornwood, by Leah Cypess (April 1st 2021 by Harvey Klinger)!

Princes Briony is rarely tidy, let alone polished, and is happy to avoid the public spotlight of being the heir to the throne.  Her older sister, Princess Rosalin is beautiful, poised, and the pride of her parents.  Rosalin is also cursed.  She will to prick her finger on a spindle when she is 16, and she and everyone in the castle will sleep for a hundred years, until she's woken by her true love's kiss.

The morning of Rosalin's birthday arrives.  Briony hurries to her room, to offer such emotional support as Rosalin's willing to take.  And then...Briony wakes up in a strange room she's never seen before, with no memory of how she got there.  There she sees a mysterious old woman, and a spinning wheel.  The old woman won't give her any straight answers about what's happening, but only cryptic and ominous hints that all is not well.  

And indeed, Rosalin has been kissed awake by a boy who says he's a prince, and everyone has woken up, but the wall of thorns around the castle is still there.  The curse, it appears, hasn't been entirely broken.  There's still a snarl of fairy magic, malevolent thorns trying to take over the castle, and unhappy residents.  Prince Varian is no help (he's a fairly useless prince), and Rosalin is preoccupied by having been woken up by her true love to figure out what's happening and do something about it.  But Briony and a new friend Edwin, a boy who deliberately snuck into the castle just before the curse day came, are determined to break the curse once and for all.

It's a lovely fantasy mystery! Lots of twisty clues, things that aren't what they seem, and much uncertainty about who to trust!  It's not perfect--I wondered how one character, supposedly trapped by the enchanted sleep, still knew about the technological progress made by the outside world (the sleep lasted rather more than 100 years....).  And I didn't like how Rosalin's relationship with Briony was mostly one of putting her down (though it was clear they loved each other).   

Still, Briony was a great strong, smart and stubborn protagonist, and it was easy, and fun, the cheer for her!  Especially since the challenging circumstances of being stuck inside a castle that no longer had a kingdom (because time had marched on outside), whose population no longer lived to serve (because why should they?), and a new best friend who was a commoner, forcer her to think hard thoughts about princess-ness.  And so in the end this was one I enjoyed lots, though didn't quite love (mainly because Rosalin was such a pill....).

In short, a fun and fascinating twist on a familiar story.


This week's round-up of mg fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (4/25/21)

Nothing from me this week: work (for my job and in my garden) got in the way of reviewing, but happily lots of other people reviewed books!  I count it a good round-up, because I added four books to my own tbr list.  As always, please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Aru Shah and the City of Gold, by Roshani Chokshi, at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion, by Gregory Mone, at books4yourkids

Bridge of Souls, by Victoria Schwab, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Crowns of Croswald, by D E Night, at Bookbugworld

Ghosts of Weirdwood: A William Shivering Tale, by Christian McKay Heidicker, at Say What?

Imaginary, by Lee Bacon, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Last Shadow Warrior, by Sam Subity, at Rajiv's Reviews

 Legacy (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8), by Shannon Messenger, at Say What?

Leonard: My Life as a Cat, by Carlie Sorosiak, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, by Shari Green, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The Memory Thief, by Jodi Lynn Anderson, at Waking Brain Cells

The Nightsilver Promise, by Annaliese Avery, at Readaraptor and Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Puss Reboots

On the Other Side of the Island, by Allegra Goodman, at Jenni Enzor

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book, by Kate Milford, at Fuse #8, alibrarymama, and Blythe and Bold

Rainbow Grey, by Laura Ellen Anderson, at Bellis Does Books 

Sea of Kings, by Melissa Hope, at Books Teacup and Reviews

Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy, by Joshua Levy, at Say What?

The Sisters of Straygarden Place, by Haley Chewins, at Good Reads With Rona

Sugar and Spite, by Gail D. Villanueva, at Confessions of a YA Reader

The Wild Huntsboys, by Martin Stewart, at Pamela Kramer

The Year I Flew Away, by Marie Arnold, at Rajiv's Reviews

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Switched, by Bruce Hale, and The Clockwork Dragon (Section 13, #3) by James R. Hannibal

Authors and Interviews

David A. Robertson (The Barren Grounds), a video talk for the Regina Public Library

Graci Kim (The Last Fallen Star) at MG Book Village

Ellen Booraem (River Magic) and Deva Fagan (Nightingale) at Kt Literary podcast

Other Good Stuff

Ava DuVernay’s animated adaptation of Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series, which was announced last year, has found a home at Netflix, via Tor

New in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

"The Power of Adolescent Anger: L’Engle’s Meg Murry and Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching" at Tor

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