Time Jumpers: Stealing the Sword, by Wendy Mass, for Timeslip Tuesday

Time Jumpers: Stealing the Sword, by Wendy Mass (August 2018), is the start of a new series in the Scholastic Branches line, aimed at kids just beginning to read easy chapter books independently.  It's the story of two siblings, Chase and Ava, who we meet in a flea market where they are helping sell their mom's art.  Exploring the flea market, they spot an old suitcase that has a strange appeal for them...and the manager of that stall lets them have it for nothing.  An angry man comes demanding that she give him that very suitcase, but she stands her ground and claims she doesn't know what he's talking about.

Clearly, it is a special piece of luggage....and when Chase and Ava open it, they find an array of strange objects, one of which looks like a dragon-headed doorknob.  When it almost flies into Chase's hand, the two kids find themselves whisked back in time to the court of King Arthur!

All is not well back in the past; Merlin and the King are both in trouble, and the same angry man from the flea market is back in the past as well, and seems just as angry....  But the dragon-headed doorknob (which is Not a doorknob!) is just what it needed to save the day.

It is a perfectly fine story for what it is; it's meant for an audience still not quite ready for the Magic Tree House book (I actually found the writing, on a very basic work level, more interesting than Magic Treehouse, but I am scarred for life by having to listen to MTH books on audio where the fact that it is "….said Jack" and …."said Annie" over and over is inescapable).   The siblings are supportive of each other, and though there's not quite enough time for them to become fully developed characters, Mass does quite bit in that direction, rather skillfully.  The addition of the sinister bad guy adds interest to the story, and a mystery that is yet to be resolved.  

So it's fine, like I said, and the illustrations on every page will help kids still acquiring reading conviction enjoy the book.

But as a fan of time travel and medieval fiction...it was disappointing.  We don't get any educational value out of the time travel experience; there's almost no detail about the past, except that this being King Arthur's court, there are tapestries and knights and stone walls....And of course it's not even a real past, though never does the story acknowledge that this high medieval King Arthur is just a story.  I feel Wendy Mass could have pushed her word limit to get a bit more history in there....Oh well.


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (11/11/18)

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

The Reviews

Archie Greene and the Alchemists’ Curse by D.D. Everest, at This Kid Reviews Books

Bluecrowne, by Kate Milford, at Puss Reboots and Magic Fiction Since Potter

The Darkdeep, by Allie Condie and Brendan Reichs, at Semicolon

Freya and the Magic Jewel, by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Girl Who Saved Christmas, by Matt Haig, at Jill's Book Blog

The Girl with the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at The Story Sanctuary and YA Book Nerd

The House in Poplar Wood, by  K.E. Ormsbee, at From the Biblio Files

Hurricane Katrina Rescue (Ranger in Time), by Kate Messner, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Island of Monsters, by Ellen Oh, at Charlotte's Library

The Language of Spells, by Garret Weyr, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Max Tilt: 80 Days or Die, by Peter Lerangis, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Music Boxes, by Tonja Drecker, at Laurisa White Reyes 

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, Book 1) by Jessica Townsend, at Hidden in Pages

The Royal Rabbits of London, by Santa Montefiore, at From the Biblio Files

Snared: Escape to the Above, by Adam Jay Epstein, at alibrarymama

Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier, at Redeemed Reader

The Train to Impossible Pages, by P.G. Bell, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Twilight of the Elves (Adventurers Guild 2), by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Unwritten, by Tara Gilboy, at Lost in a Good Book

Watch Hallow, by Gregory Funaro, at Middle Grade Mafia

Whiskerella,  by Ursula Vernon, at Becky's Book Reviews

Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson, at alibrarymama

Authors and Interviews

Melanie Crowder (The Lighthouse Between Worlds) at Literary Rambles

E.D. Baker (More Than a Princess) at Publishers Weekly

Other Good Stuff

Charles Vess on Working with Ursula Le Guin on the illustred version of The Books of Earthsea, at Tor


The Island of Monsters, by Ellen Oh

Not my greatest blogging week, but at least I'm getting one post up!

The Island of Monsters, by Ellen Oh (HarperCollins, middle grade, July 2018), is the sequel to last year's fantastic horror story, Spirit Hunters.  In that book, Harper Raine learns to use her gift for communicating with spirits, with the help of her Korean grandmother, and saves her little brother from a horrible ghost.  Now she's off to a family vacation on a remote Caribbean island, and has a bad feeling about it.  With justification, as it turns out to be demon infested.  Some years ago, 13 people were found horrible killed, and the mystery of their deaths was never solved.  It quickly becomes clear to Harper that supernatural forces were to blame, and when she experiences visions of what happened back then, she learns that it's not ghosts she's dealing with; it's demons.  And the demons are determined to claim more victims so that they can use their life force to break into our world and run amok.

Her grandmother can't come to island to help her, so Harper must take the lead on freeing the trapped spirits inside the demons, and sending them away from our world before they can kill again.  Fortunately her best friend, Dayo, has come along for the trip too, and she's a stalwart ally, but it is all very touch and go, and the horrible death of her little brother, and other young people,  is only a whisker away!

Spirit Hunters is a stronger book, because it deals more deeply with mundane concerns of middle school kids--moving to a new town, family tensions, friendship worries, wondering if the fact that you see ghosts makes you weird.  Here the story is almost entirely focused on the immediate threat, and that's certainly enough to keep the pages turning, but though the supporting characters are all clearly drawn and there's a mystery to solve about the past deaths, it's not quite so emotionally interesting to me story-wise.

That being said, kids who love horror (and it's pretty horrible, with some nasty disemboweling) will eat it up!


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/4/18)

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

The Reviews

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes, by Wade Albert White, at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, by Christina Uss, at Fuse#8

Amoung the Hidden, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Proseandkahn

Begone the Raggedy Witches, by Celine Kiernan, at Randomly Reading

The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker, by Matilda Woods, at Rosi Hollenbeck

The Frame-Up, by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, at alibarymama

Exile, by Shannon Messenger, at Say What?

Frostfire, by Jamie Smith, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Grump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Semicolon

Inkling, by Kenneth Opel, at Imaginary Friends

Island of Monsters, by Ellen Oh, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams, at Charlotte's Library

Midnight Reynolds and the Spectral Transformer, by Catherine Holt, at Sharon the Librarian

Monstrous Devices, by Damien Love, at Books4yourkids

The Mortification of Fovea Munson, by Mary Winn Heider, at A Backwards Story

The Nameless Hero (Joshua Dread #2), by Lee Bacon, at Say What?

Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy, at Geo Librarian

Small Spaces, by Katherine Arden, at Always in the Middle

Snared: Escape to the Above, by Adam Jay Epstein, at Charlotte's Library

The Snow Witch, by Rosie Boyes, at Kitty Cat at the Library

The Stone Girl's Story, by Sarah Beth Durst, at From the Biblio Files

The Storm Runner, by J.C. Cervantes, at The Reader Bee

The Train to Impossible Places, by P.G. Bell, at Laura Noakes

The Wild Book, by Juan Villoro, at alibrarymama

To Catch a Thief: an Endless Quest Book, by Matt Forbeck, at The Write Path

Two at Falling Letters-- The Island of Monsters, by Ellen Oh, and Fesitval of Ghosts, by William Alexander

Two at alibrary mama--  Last (Endling #1) by Katherine Applegate, and Heartseeker, by Melinda Beatty

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Girl With the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, and Let Sleeping Dragons Lie, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Authors and Interviews

Jan Eldrege (Witch Girl) at Alittlebutalot

Adam Gidwitz, on his podcast Grimm, Grimmer, and Grimmest, at Educating Alice

Other Good Stuff

A look at the busy reading of an Elementary/Middle Grade Cybils panelist, at A Library Chicken

"How Narnia and Harry Potter Wrestle with Death and Rewrite Christianity" at Tor

A fun dreary Edward Gorey quiz at The BookList Reader


Snared: Escape to the Above, by Adam Jay Epstein

Snared: Escape to the Above, by Adam Jay Epstein (Imprint, June 2018), is a fun adventure fantasy for the young end of middle grade; if you have a kid of ten or so who's intrigued by Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy, offer this book!

The only life young Wily has ever known has been spent down in a monster-filled maze of caverns, making traps to snare adventurers searching for his masters treasure.  Fortunately, many of the monsters are his friends, and one young hobgoblet girl, Roveeka is like a sister to him, even though he himself is a strange sort of hobgoblet, not shaped quite like all the others.  And fortunately, Wily enjoys creating puzzle and traps (cleaning up giant snail slime and pushing boulders back into place not so much).

No adventures ever make it anywhere close to the treasure.  And Wiley never goes outside.  But the boredom of this state of things is relieved when a party of adventures arrive who don't play by the rules.  The elf, the fighter with the magical detached arm, and the earth golem make it through alive, and as well as the treasure, they want to take him away with them too; his skill with traps makes him valuable in his own right

So Wily, and Roveeka, who comes too, get to see the Above world.  Though it is wonderous in many ways, it is a place of danger as well.  It is ruled by a fanatic king, who is determined to bring order to everyone's lives, kidnapping them with his mechanical minions to live perfectly structured lives in his mechanical city.  Wily and the adventures, against their will, find themselves not looking for treasure, but looking for a way to bring the tyrant down, and, along the way, to solve the mystery of Wily's parents.

The strength of the story is the charm of the found family of the two kids, human and hobgoblet, and the adventures.  The adventures are not at first interested in the kids except as a means to an end (treasure enough to escape the kingdom), but gradually strong bonds form, and that's a pleasure to read. It's also lots of fun to see the above world through Wily's eyes, but I wish his innocence had lasted longer...I think the strangeness should have lasted longer than it did.

The adventure part is fun too, and any kid who enjoys tricksy dangers and creepy creatures will be enthralled.   Suspension of disbelief is required with regard to Wily's mechanical brilliance (he manages to quickly whip together a propeller plane at one point), but it's a fantasy, so one can let that slid.

In short, it's not a particularly complicated book, and the final challenge is perhaps too easily overcome (it's a bit "voila, a happy ending!), but it has charm, and I think it's one that works well for its target audience, though I myself didn't love it enough to imagine wanting to re-read it.


Shadow of the Fox, by Julie Kagawa

I have been busily reading YA speculative fiction for the past few weeks, in my role as a 1st round Cybils Awards panelist in that category, so busy reading I haven't given much attention to reviewing...which I find annoying.  Happily the book I just finished, Shadow of the Fox, by Julie Kagawa  (Harlequin Teen, Oct. 2018), is one I enjoyed, and I have no trouble figuring out why I enjoyed it, so it is easy to blog about!  

I was doubtful, at first.  I liked the first point of view character, young Suki, and she dies almost immediately, and I was all, uh, what? But nevertheless I persisted.  And yay!  none of the other pov characters die (at least, not in this first book of the series).  Which is good, because one of them I liked very much indeed, and the other I am keenly interested in.

The character I liked very much is Yumeko, a half human, half kitsune (fox shapeshifter) girl raised by monks in an isolated temple.  Though her childhood was lonely, the monks were not unkind, not even when the kitsune half of her rose to the surface to play tricks.   It's a horrible shock for her, as indeed it would be for anyone, when her temple home is attacked by demons.  They kill all the monks, but not before the master of the monastery entrusts her with a fragment of a magical scroll (the sort of magical scroll fragment that, if reunited with its fellow fragments, would bring disaster to the world if it fell into the wrong hands), and tells her to run to a second temple.

So Yumeko flees into the night, not sure how to find this other temple, just as POV Character 2 arrives.  Tatsumi is a young man of the Shadow Clan, who was made into their weapon (serving his clan masters with almost no free will left) during the course of a hellish childhood.  He wields a demonic sword, and must constantly keep all emotion in check lest the demon get free.  Like the monk-slaughtering demons, he's looking for the scroll.  Instead he finds the destroyed monastery and the demons, who he kills, and Yumeko, who his sword would like to kill if he let it, which he doesn't (it's not a nice sword).  Yumeko tells him the scroll was already sent away, but that she must warn the monastery where it was sent.  And he decides she might be a useful tool in getting the scroll, so he agrees to travel with her and help her on her journey.  Help is needed, because an evil witch of great power (the one who sent the demons) wants them to fail...

So that's the set up.  The journey is the bulk of the story, with various adventures and new companions along the way, and it's good reading.  What makes it especially interesting is that Yumeko is trusting, naïve, and good-hearted, and her warmth causes chinks to develop in Tatsumi's control of his emotions...very, very slowly.  She slows their journey down to help people, for instance, which is a novel idea for him, and she tries not to hurt him when she cleans his wounds (wounds happen) which blows his mind.  No one ever tried not to hurt him before.    

Here's what I especially like about the way their relationship is built--Yumeko gets to stay a young teen in her perceptions; she's not swooning into insta love, and she gets to start growing out of her naiveite gradually. She's not an adult in young teen clothing.  And Tatsumi  does not have an aha moment of love, which would have been annoying and out of character, though it's clear to the reader that that is where we are headed....he basically only gets to the point of "I don't want to be told to kill her" but that's huge for him....So lots to look forward to in the next book on that side of things!

Likewise, not a lot of progress is made on the whole quest they are on.  So if you set a high value on  briskness in plot, with the things that happen all push the main plot along, you might become restive at times.  I myself am happy for things to meander a bit if I'm enjoying the characters, and I don't mind descriptions of meals....and there were bits that were actually funny. There's not a lot of sarcasm in YA fantasy (Sarah Rees Brennan is the only author I can think of for sarcasm, recommendations for others welcomed), and I did very much appreciate the sprinkles of it here!  It is one of the most entertaining YA fantasies I've read for a while; dark things happen, but I was probably grinning quite a bit during the non-dark parts.

What I did not enjoy was the ending, which is basically the first book stopping.  If I had the next book on hand I'd keep reading, probably straight through till I finished it...but that not being possible, I will wait with anticipation.  


Let Sleeping Dragons Lie, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

I very much enjoyed Have Sword, Will Travel (my review), the first book by this author duo about a boy and a girl who both become keepers of magical swords, and who, after many adventures, are declared knights of the realm by the very dragon they set off to vanquish.  So it was with much anticipation for a fun, relaxing read that I picked up Let Sleeping Dragons Lie (Scholastic, Oct 30, 2018).  It did not disappoint.

Sir Odo and Sir Eleanor, and their swords, are home from adventuring, but adventure soon comes to find them again when an old blind man named Edga and a warrior named Hundred arrive in their village, and are attacked by bilewolves.  Evil has come to the kingdom, spawned from the ambitions of the young king's regent, his own grandmother.  And Edga, for reasons both personal and politic, is determined to stop it.  But even Hundred, fierce and skilled though she is, can't get the two of them to the capital alive to save the kingdom, what with magically enchanted beasts attacking at every turn.  Fortunately the young knights are ready to step up to the challenge...and fortunately, the young king, though sequestered and seemingly powerless, has a plan of his own....

The rescue party sets out, and adventures ensue; nothing particularly gruesome, but all very diverting!  And the final confrontation is as gloriously magical as all get out, with bonus dragon! The enchanted swords do their bit to the best of their ability, as do Odo and Eleanor, and the fight against tyranny, which includes overblown bureaucracy running rampant, is one that's fun for the reader to participate in vicariously,

I strongly recommend these books to young readers of fantasy--the nine and ten year olds, ready to start of on fantasy quests, swords and books in hand.   They are fast and fun to read, but interesting enough in both world-building and characterization to spark young imaginations beautifully.  There's lots about learning to fight, and then putting it to work, that I think younger readers will especially appreciate.  And I, though no longer that sort of young reader, and a veteran of many wonderful quests, really enjoyed devouring each of them in a single sitting!  So if you are a grown-up fantasy fan, wanting a good read that will keep you happy for a short plane trip or such, that won't tax the tired adult brain, you might consider them for yourself.....

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (10/28/18)

Another week, another round-up!  let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin, at Milliebot Reads

Black Panther: the Young Prince, by Ronald L. Smith, at alibrarymama

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at From the Biblio Files

City of Ghosts, by Victoria Schwab, at Fictionologyst

Curse of the Werewolf Boy, by Chris Priestly, at Charlotte's Library

Dactyl Hill Squad, by  Daniel José Older, at Always in the Middle

Dragon Daughter, by Liz Flanagan, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Dragons in a Bag, by Zetta Elliott, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret, by Trudi Trueit, at That's Another Story

The Ghosts in the Castle, by Zetta Elliott, at @homelibrarian

The Girl with the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at From the Biblio Files

The Ice Witch, by Joel Ross, at Puss Reboots

Inkblot, by Kenneth Oppel, at Falling Letters

The Long-Lost Home, by Maryrose Wood, at Kid Lit Geek.

The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings, by Sarah Prineas, at alibrarymama

Race to the Bottom of the Sea, by Linday Eager, at Bibliobrit.

Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier, at Book Nut

The Truth Pixie, by Matt Haig, at alittlebutalot

An Unexpected Adventure, by Kandi J. Wyatt, at Bookworm for Kids

Witch Watch, by Sibéal Pounder, at Pages Unbound

The Wrath of the Dragon King, by Brandon Mull, at Mom Read It and Getting Your Read On

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads-Forgotten City, by Michael Ford, and The Wrath of the Dragon King, by Brandon Mull

Four at Semicolon--Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain by Zac Gorman, The Turnaway Girls by Haley Chewin.

Authors and Interviews

Kate DiCamillo at The Frederick News-Post

Charis Cotter (The Ghost Road), at Vanessa Shields

Caroline Carlson (The Door at the End of the World) at Stefanie Hohl

Other Good Stuff
Seven scary middle grade books at Abby the Librarian


Curse of the Werewolf Boy, by Chris Priestley, for Timeslip Tuesday

Despite the implications of its title, Curse of the Werewolf Boy, by Chris Priestley, isn't really about a werewolf boy.  It is instead a time travel story set in a miserable boy's boarding school, Maudlin Towers, in the north of England, where two of the young students,  Mildew and Sponge, tumble into a mystery.  At the heart of the mystery is the time travel device invented by a now deceased teacher of physics.  At the periphery are swirling plot threads-- a Roman lady, brought from the past whose now teaching Latin, a bunch of Vikings back in the past with werewolf concerns, the theft of the School Spoon, an irreplaceable heirloom, and the usual discomforts and difficulties of life in an English boarding school with inadequate food and incompetent staff.

Mildew and Sponge aren't, perhaps, the brightest or bravest boys ever, but they have enough instinctual desire to subvert the rules of their blighted existence to stagger their way through time and back to unravel the mystery.  There are no pesky worries about paradoxes and temporal contradictions here; the trusty time machine delivers the boys, sometimes more than once, to the times they are shooting for (once they get the hang of it), and, in a very satisfying way, the time travel is what makes all the plot elements coalesce into a whole in the end.

If you have young readers on hand who like their fiction humorously exaggerated, and not taking itself seriously at all, offer this book! The many fun illustrations will add to their pleasure.  If you find the names Mildew and Sponge off-putting, you will probably not find this a new favorite read for yourself.  It's very diverting, though, for any reader--lots of zigging back and forth through time, with revelations and surprises galore, and lots of witty dialogue.


The Magic of Melwick Orchard, by Rebecca Caprara

The Magic of Melwick Orchard, by Rebecca Caprara, is her debut middle grade real-world fantasy, and it is a good one!

The sapling in the old apple orchard, and its magic, appeared in Isa's life just when she needed it most.  With her little sister June dangerously sick from cancer, her parents seem to have lost the will or the ability to pay any attention to her.  She needs parents too, not just to share her own sadness and worry with, but to take care of the mundane things of life--lunch money, clothes, food.  And she has no friends to turn to. Her father's job has taken them from place to place, so she decided to quit trying to have friends--her sister is enough, and together they enjoyed their new home at Melwick Orchard, where the trees have grown no apples for years, until June got sick.

So Isa is at a very low point when she finds a most unusual sapling in the orchard; it seems almost magical.  When a squirrel decides to dig a hole just the right size to bury her warn out, too small sneakers, Isa throws them in.  But come the next morning, she has no other shoes to wear, and so revisits the sapling.  Much to her surprise, it's grown considerably, and even more surprisingly, there are new shoes in its seed pods (not just ordinary sneaker, but, very thoughtfully, softball cleats and rain boots).  It really is magic.

Heartened by the magic of the tree, Isa finds the strength to say yes to overtures of friendship from another girl in her class, and the courage to tell her about the tree's magic.  But will the magic be able to help June, and help Isa's family cope with the mounting bills that might force them from the magical orchard?  In the end, it's science that helps June, but the magic, once Isa's learned to be careful what she wishes for, that save her home.

There's a very good balance here between the magic of the tree and the realistic story lines of Isa's life.  The magic doesn't solve all the real issues--Isa has to decide to be a friend, and her parents have to realize that Isa is being neglected, and the doctors have to help June...the tree perhaps oils the wheels a bit, but doesn't make miracles happens.  What the tree's magic does is provide a lovely magical counterpart of joy to the sadness Isa is going through, giving her the strength and hope to keep going.

I read it in as much of a single sitting as my day allowed (work gets in the way of so many things...) and enjoyed it very much.  The fantasy was beautifully vivid, and avoided being cloying, the sick sister was touching, without being too sad to bear.

(ARC received at Book Expo)


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (10/21/18)

Nothing from me this week...but happily lots from others!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Across the Dark Water (Riders of the Realm 1), by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, at Say What?

Begone the Raggedy Witches, by Celine Kirnan, at Cover2Cover, Whispering Stories, and Read Till Dawn

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at Redeemed Reader

Charlie Hernadez and the League of Shadows, by Ryan Calejo, at Take Me Away

City of Islands, by Kali Wallace, at alibrarymama

The Collectors, by Jacqueliene West, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Dactyl Hill Squad, by Daniel José Older, at The Winged Pen

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic 1), by Anna Meriano, at Hidden in Pages

A Dasterdly Plot, by Christopher Healy, at Carstairs Considers

The Door to the Lost by Jaleigh Johnson, at alibrarymama

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding, by Alexandra Bracken, at Heather's Reading Hideaway

Father Christmas and Me, by Matt Haig, at Lili's Blissful Pages

The Girl with the Lost Smile, by Miranda Hart, at The Infinity Words

The Golden Tower (Magisterium 5), by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Hidden in Pages

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Say What?

The Last Chance Hotel, by Nicki Thornton, at Howling for Books

Paradox in Oz, by Edward Einhorn and Eric Shanower, at Puss Reboots

The Royal Rabbits of London, by Santa and Simon Sebag Montefiore, at Semicolon

Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy, at Always in the Middle

The Transparency Tonic, by Frank Cole, at From the Biblio Files

The Truth About Martians, by Melissa Savage, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Twelve Minutes to Midnight, by Christopher Edge, at Say What?

The Unicorn in the Barn, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, at The O.W.L.

Wrath of the Dragon King, by Brandon Mull, at Bookworm for Kids

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yeti! (Nothing to See Here Hotel), by Steven Butler and Steven Lenton, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Darkdeep, by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs, and Sven Carter and the Android Army, by Rob Vlock

At Library Chicken, lots of middle grade speculative fiction mini reivews from her Cybils reading

Authors and Interviews

Patrick Samphire on the Languge of Fantasy

Lois Lowry, at Cynsations

Other Good Stuff

An appreciation of Rick Riordan Presents at Educating Alice

"Wisdom, Proverbs, and Aphorisms from Middle Grade Speculative Fiction 2017" at Semicolon

Snails in dollhouses!  (via Reading the End).  I would like to try this, but I myself have no snails, only slugs, and somehow I feel that would be less photogenic.

 Via @aleia on Instagram


The Echo Room, by Parker Peevyhouse, for Timeslip Tuesday

So I'm busily reading YA Speculative Fiction for the first round of the Cybils Awards, which is a fun change from my regular middle grade reading, and which, as an added bonus this week, led me too a really cool new YA book for Timeslip Tuesday--The Echo Room, by Parker Peevyhouse (Tor Teen, September 2018).  It is not a spoiler to say that timeslipping happens, because that becomes pretty clear early in the book, but I'm not going into much detail, because the particulars are best discovered alongside the poor, confused characters!

There are two of these confused characters, but it is Rett who is the main pov.  He wakes, inside a room he doesn't recognize, his head strangely scarred and throbbing with pain, wearing a bloodstained jumpsuit.  The blood is not his.  This room leads into others, and in one he meets a girl, Bryn, with a scar matching his own.  They find they are trapped in these rooms, and must puzzle out what has happened to them, and what they should do next.  But can they trust each other?  And what horrors (yes there are horrors) await beyond their strange shared space?

And then there's a reset, and Rett wakes in a strange room....and the day begins again (this is the time-slip part...the details make it clear immediately that he's back at the beginning, and helpfully, the sections are earmarked with the time of day, to keep you, the reader, grounded....)

So basically this is a sci fi/horror-ish Escape Room story...if you liked The Maze Runner, you'll especially appreciate the character with no memory of how he got there trying to figure out what to do and how to survive, and if you enjoy closely following a character searching for answers, with the reader deeply invested in the search, you'll love it!  It's also very much a survival story, where scrounging for supplies is important, and I like that too.

There's a lot more to the story (not just plot-wise, but character-wise, as Bryn and Rett unravel the clues about each other and themselves), but it's best discovered as the clock keeps resetting and the pages keep turning.....

It can be a bit frustrating at times, and some questions remain, but it sure is gripping!


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (10/14/18)

Welcome to another week of middle grade fantasy and sci fi goodness!

First--nominations for the Cybils Awards close tomorrow, Oct. 15--so represent for Team Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction today!  I've put asterixis next to books included in this round-up that haven't been nominated yet, but there are lots more waiting for the call.  Here's where you go to nominate books published between Oct 16 2017 and Oct 15 2018.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin at Middle Grade Ninja

Beginnings, by Chris Hoffmann, at Red Headed Book Lover

Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason, at Randomly Reading

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, at Reading the End

*The Collectors, by Jacqueline West, at Teen Librairan Toolbox

Creature of the Pines, by Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly, at alibrarymama

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Semicolon

The Girl With the Dragon Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Moon light and dreams

The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel, at The O.W.L.

The Rose Legacy, by Jessica Day George, at Semicolon

Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin, at Not Acting My Age

The Stone Girl's Story, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Semicolon

*The Thorn Queen, by Elise Holland, at Forever Lost in Literature

*Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages and Co.) by Anna James, at Kelly's Rambles

The Turnaway Girls, by Hayley Chewins, at Mom Read It

*Twice Magic (The Wizards of Once 2), by Cressida Cowell, at Charlotte's Library

The Way Past Winter, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

*The Wishmakers, by Tyler Whitesides, at Imaginary Friends

Three at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Hotel Between, by Sean Easley, *The Land of Neverendings, by Kate Saunders, and *Den of the Forever Frost, by Kathryn Laksy

and a long list of mini-reviews from her Cybils reading at Library Chicken

Authors and Interviews

M.T. Anderson (The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge) at Middle Grade Ninja

Jacqueline West (The Collectors) at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Ryan Calejo (Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows), at From the Mixed Up Files

A spooky roundtable with five authors at From the Mixed Up Files

ps--If you haven't nominated a book for the YA Speculative Fiction category of the Cybils, I made a list of possibilities


YA speculative fiction books not yet nominated for the Cybils Awards

There are lots and lots of great young adult speculative fiction books still waiting hopefully to be nominated.  I'm a panelist in this category this year, and I want us to have all the best books from which to chose our shortlist of seven! Here's a sample (there are lots of others....); you have until October 15th to nominate books in this and many other categories (nb--I'm not the category organizer for YA spec fic, so though I believe these all are eligible, I haven't inspected them with the eagle-eyes Pam Margolis will apply)

Here's where you go to nominate!

Isle of Blood and Stone (Tower of Winds #1), by Makiia Lucier

Beasts Made of Night, by Tochi Onyebuchi

Your One and Only, by Adrianne Finlay

The White Hare, by Michael Fishwick

Where Dragonwoofs Sleep and the Fading Creeps, by AJ Massey

Out of the Blue, by Sophie Cameron

Sky in the Deep, by Adrienne Young

Flight, by Jae Waller

Chainbreaker, by Tara Sim

Half-Witch, by John Schoffstall

And the Ocean Was Our Sky, by Patrick Ness now nomianted

Night Flights, by Philip Reeve

The Lonliest Girl in the Universe, by Lauren James

Storm-Wake, by Lucy Christopher

The Speaker, by Traci Chee

Brightly Burning, by Alexa Donne

Dry, by Neal Schusterman and Jarrod Schusterman now nominated

Strange Grace, by Tessa Graton

Two Dark Reigns, by Kendare Blake

Reign the Earth by AC Gaughen

Reflection (Twisted Tales #4), by Elizabeth Lim now nominated


The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic, by Cressida Cowell

The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic, written and illustrated by Cressida Cowell (Little Brown, middle grade, October 9 2018), is now out here in the US, so anyone who wants to continue the wild magical fun of the first book should be very happy!

The three young teens (13 years old, so still kids) of the first book are off on another adventure--Wizard Xar (headstrong as ever, with the stain of witch magic spreading through him) and Warrior Wish (still not sure of how strong her magic is, still hoping to please her mother, the fearsome Warrior Queen), and the hapless sidekick bodyguard, Bodkin (who has no magic, and as yet little role in the plot....).

Riding on an enchanted door, accompanied by magical utensils, sprites, and sundry other magical creatures and persons, the kids are off to collect the ingredients for a spell that will eradicate the witches.  Wizards and Warriors might be enemies, but they both agree that the witches are an enemy!  Especially now that the Kingwitch has been freed from its prison....

Their quest takes them to a ruined castle, and an old, sad story, and into a maelstrom of magical and warrior-ly chaos!  It's fun adventure, with lots of light humor and a smidge of deeper heart (more so than was present in the first book, and it might well grow into more than a smidge as the series progresses, in the same way her Dragon series did...).    And it goes down awfully nice and easy--good escapist magical entertainment!  Since I was reading an ARC, I didn't get all the pictures....but the ones that I did see added to the sense that Cowell was enjoying herself tremendously.

Not recommended, though, for grown-ups who don't already know they enjoy middle grade fantasy--the light-hearted bopping around of the story (though the quest runs in a straight line I still felt it bopped) requires a relaxation of grown-up expectations.

ps:  Spoon is my current favorite magical utensil.  The fact that I can't think of any others off the top of my head is irrelevant.


this week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (8/7/18)

Here's what I found this week!  I hope you enjoy.  Let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Bigfoot Files, by Lindsay Eager, at Mom Read It

Black Panther: the Young Prince, by Ronald L. Smith, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

Bluecrowne, by Kate Milford, at The Fairview Review and Charlotte's Library

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, at alibrarymama and Rajiv's Reviews

The Bone Thief, by Alyson Noel, at Sharon the Librarian 

Cats vs Robots: This is War, by Margaret Stohl and Lewis Peterson, at Always in the Middle

Children of Jubilee, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Mom Read It

City of Ghosts, by Victoria Schwab, at Rajiv's Reviews

Del Toro Moon, by Darby Karchut, at Charlotte's Library

Dragon Daughter, by Liz Flannagan, at Read It, Daddy!

Garbage Island, by Fred Koehler, at Miss Marple's Musings

Inkling, by Kenneth Oppel, at Reading Rumpus

The Language of Spells, by Garret Weyr, at Semicolon

The Last (Endling #1), by Katherine Applegate, at Semicolon

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City, by Will Mabbitt and Ross Collins, at Puss Reboots

Mice of the Round Table: Merlin's Last Quest, by Julie Leung, at Middle Grade Mafia

Secrets of Hopelight, by Eva Blackstone, at Say What?

Small Spaces, by Katherine Arden, at Booklist Reader

The Stone Girl's Story, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Hidden in Pages

The Storm Runner, by J. C. Cervantes, at Say What?

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby, at Bibliobrit 

Unwritten, by Tara Gilboy, at A Dance With Books

Willa of the Wood, by Robert Beatty, at Semicolon

(4 new books reviewed) "Kids' Fantasy Novels that Make Heroes Out of Underdogs" by Christopher Healey at the NY Times

Authors and Interviews

Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs (The Deepdark) at Publishers Weekly and Nerdy Book Club

Darby Karchut (Del Toro Moon) at Middle Grade Ninja

July Jeung (Mice of the Roundtable) at Middle Grade Mafia

Other Good Stuff

Cybils Nominations are open until October 15, but those of us involved in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction sure wish lots of people would nominate sooner rather than later, so we can stop worrying about all the great books that haven't been nominated yet!  Here's a list of unnominated books at Semicolon.And here are a few more off the top of my head--Bluecrowne, by Kate Milford, The Train to Impossible Places, by P.G. Bell, Wicked Nix, by Lena Coakely, The Bottle Imp of Brighthouse, by Tom Llewellyn, The Collectors, by Jacqueline West, A Festival of Ghosts, by William Alexander, and the Lost Continent, by Tui T. Sutherland (and many, many more--check to see what you were reading last fall!  Books from October 16 2017-October 15 2018 are eligible, and I worry about those late 2017 titles....)

Netflix is adapting Narnia....(and many of us sigh, because why not something new?)

Distinguishing between MG and YA fantasy--a gathering of thoughts at SFWA

and now back to bingwatching Season of 2 of Stranger Things with my son who's home from college for the weekend!


Diverse YA speculative fiction books not yet nominated for the Cybils Awards

The Cybils Awards are chosen by panels of book reviewers in a variety of children's and YA book categories, based on two criteria--quality of writing, and reader appeal.  Diversity isn't a criteria, but we at the Cybils love it when diverse books are well represented in the pool from which we choose our shortlisted books--we can't have diverse finalists if the diverse books aren't there to begin with.

So in the hope that the pool of YA speculative fiction books, in which I'm a first round panelist this year, is as diverse as can be, here's a list of books that haven't been nominated yet.  Some obvious books aren't on this list, because they've been nominated.  You can see the whole list of what's been nominated here.  

Eligible books are those published for teens from October 16 2017 to October 15 2018 in the US and Canada, and easily available.  This category accepts ebook only publications (not all do).

--I haven't read most of these books, so I can't vouch for how good they are.
--I did a cursory check to make sure they were eligible, but not with the attention the category organizer will pay in making the call, so I could be wrong
--I don't know most of the authors, so I was going by names and pictures and could well have made mistakes

Please let me know if I missed any!  I went through the Goodreads list of 1000 or so YA books of 2018, but I lack the time to try to find the fall 2017 books, so if you know of any, please add them in the comments!

Blanca and Roja, by Anna- Marie McLemore (now nominated!)

Smoke in the Sun (Flame in the Mist #2), by Renee Ahdieh

Shadowsong (Wintersong #2) by S. Jae-Jones

Inferno (Talon #5), by Julie Kagawa

The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan  (now nominated!)

Chainbreaker (Timekeeper #2), by Tara Sim  (LGBTQ)

The Timingila, by Shon Mehta

Isle of Blood and Stone (Tower of Winds #1), by Makiia Lucier

Djinn, by Sang Kromah

Reflection (Twisted Tales #4), by Elizabeth Lim  now nominated

The Initiation, by Chris Babu

Shadow of the Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1), by Julie Kagawa now nominated

Wildcard (Warcross #2), by Marie Lu (now nominated!)

Inkmistress (Of Fire and Stars #0.5), by Audrey Colthurst (LGBTQ)

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, by Ellen Oh

Alpha (The Infinity Divistion #3), by Jus Accardo

The Beast Player, by Nahoko Uehashi

Restore Me (Shatter Me, #4) by Tahereh Mafi

Fighting Fate (Joining of Souls #2), by Shaila Patel

A Blade So Black, by LL McKinney (now nominated!)

Please nominate these and any other great YA speculative fiction books you've read in the past year!

Here's where you go to nominate.

Public nominations close October 15, 2018.  Let me know if you have any questions!


Del Toro Moon, by Darby Karchut

If "Spanish knights with their magnificent horse companions fighting monsters in the American south-west" sounds at all appealing, Del Toro Moon, by Darby Karchut (Owl Hollow Press, middle grade, October 2018)  is for you!

Back in 17th-century Spain, brave knights cleared the land of its monsters, and sealed them in magical caskets.  But they didn't want the caskets kicking around at home (to risky) so they sent them off to the Americas.  Because some of the knights actually had consiences, they went too, accompanied by magnificient, talking, Andalusian horses, to guard the hiding places of the monsters and smite any who escaped the caskets....

And now a 12-year-old kid named Matt is up on top of one of those horses, El Cid, with his mace in hand, riding across a Colorado Wilderness Area, ready (not really) to take up the family job of smiting…His father is legendary in the rather exclusive circle of monster-hunting caballeros...and Matt has been trained well.  But he's still only a kid....(a lonely kid, who's best friend is his talking horse).

The wards keeping the monsters safely confined don't seem to be working quite as well as they should, and Matt's family is worried.  Their worry grows when a group of paleontologists arrives for a dig in the wilderness area, and though they are warned and told stories of past vicious attacks by strange creatures, they are determined to have their academic fun in the sun.   The daughter of one of the scientists is Matt's age, and despite the tension, the two become friends (which allows us to see more of  uncertain, adolescent Matt than just his monster-hunting, "can I keep up with my family?" side).

And then the monsters arrive.  It is not good, and there is sadness.

This one if perfect for horse-loving kids who like a bit of monster slaying!  There's enough of the family dynamic side of things so that it's not all monsters (the father-son dynamic is especially important to the story) which I appreciated, and likewise I appreciated that Matt has no extraordinary gifts; he does no better than any kid, rigorously trained atop a very experienced and brave horse might do, and he's a likeable and believable character.

There's no Native presence in the book; this is very much descendants of Spanish colonizers coping with a dump of problems caused by their ancestors.  But at least they are trying to do something about the problem....Girls are a bit off on the sidelines--there are women who are monster slayers, but Matt's family is just himself, his brother, and his dad.   There is one female horse character, who represents "girl power" very nicely, though.

So in short, a good fun read (with beautiful horses, each of whom has their own personality and place in the family circle).


Bluecrowne, by Kate Milford, for Timeslip Tuesday

I was not expecting Bluecrowne, by Kate Milford (Clarion Books, Oct. 2 2018), to be a Timeslip Tuesday book....though I was expecting to love this journey back to the world of Nagspeake and Greenglass House, and I did.

Bluecrowne takes place just a bit before The Left-Handed Fate, and considerably before the Greenglass House books.  It also connects to all the other books Kate Milford has written too, in complicated ways that you will understand if you've read them, but if you haven't, are better left to discover yourself!  It is also one that can be read a stand-alone, if you're willing to plunge in to a reality that's strangely twisted, in which sinister travelers walk through time with the help of a magically complex mechanism.

Two such travelers have travelled through time and space to the coastal town of Nagspeake, seeking to find a conflagrationeer (a person with preternatural gifts for gunpowder and fire), to offer to their dark master.  And they find that the one they are searching for is Liao, Lucy Bluecrowne's little brother.

Lucy and Liao's father is captain of the Left-Handed Fate, a magnificent privateer, but he has decided the days of his children sailing the seas must come to an end--it is too dangerous.  So he has had a house built for them and Liao's mother, Xiaoming, on the cliffs of Nagspeake, a house of lovely stained glass windows and echoes of past homes that  might help Lucy accept life on land.  But her heart belongs to her ship, and she is hurting something fierce.

And then the two travelers hone in on Liao....and he is gone.

And that's enough plot to go on with here!  It is a beautiful, extravagantly visual story that I loved.  Lucy and Liao are great characters, and it is so heartwarming to see young Greenglass House and to know what the future holds for it (this book is almost like time travel itself for us Gg House fans...).  One of my favorite things about Kate Milford's books is the attention to small things that doesn't necessarily Advance the Story, but which make the world real and the characters people to care about.  Here one of my favorite parts were those in which Lucy gets a small boat of her own, and works to make it ship-shape; I have a great fondness for reading about people doing crafty things like this, and although it doesn't get a huge amount of page time, it was lovely reading.

The time travel is a mechanism in service of the story, not a point in and of itself; it's simply one more complicated point in this gorgeously complicated world of tangled threads of story and fate. Though it might seem daunting to readers new to these books, the joy of all the interconnections is that I want to go back now to the beginning (The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands) and read it all all over again, which should see me going back to Gg House in time for Christmas, which is perfect since those are such delightfully Christmas time books!

Kirkus and I march in step on this one--in their starred review, they say "A tale to sweep new and confirmed fans into the author’s distinctively imagined blend of history, magic, mythology, chemistry, and nautical lore."

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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