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


Mutts Go Green, by Patrick McDonnell

Tomorrow is Earth Day, and if you have the chance to go to a bookstore and are looking for a book to get your child in the spirit of things (and maybe even take part in a clean up this weekend), Mutts Go Green, by Patrick McDonnell (March 30, 2021, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 176 pages) is a great pick for an Earth Day present (and also makes a good present any time of the year)!  

Earl the dog and Mooch the cat are two of my most favorite fictional comic strips, and here they make a special appearance along with their many friends introducing young readers to the things they can do to help our planet (and us along with it) thrive. 

 It's sweet and heartwarming, and though the reader who already has thought about going green won't find anything new, it's a solid pick for kids who haven't yet realized all the individual actions that can contribute to the greater good.  The cartoon panels are lightly interspersed with text, list things that can be done and why, and the cartoons themselves show the Mutts gang in action.

It's clearly a message driven book, but it's not offensively preachy, and the genuine wholesomeness and adorableness of the Mutts crew makes it heartwarming!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Electric Kingdom, by David Arnold, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Electric Kingdom, by David Arnold (YA, February 2021 by Viking Books for Young Readers), is my time travel book this week, and this is one of my Timeslip Tuesday posts where the fact that the book has time travel is something of a spoiler, so sorry about that.  On the other hand, the reason I checked it out of the library was that it came up in my catalogue search for new time travel, so I went into it knowing...and I don't think it materially affected my reading (there are lots of hints).

So the world has been overtaken by swarms of hideous flying insects, who leave only the bones of their victims.  Humanity didn't stand much chance; there are only scattered survivors, living in the ruins of civilization, always fearful that a swarm might come their way.  One small family (father, mother, daughter Nico) survived holed up in a New Hampshire cabin, relying on mysterious deliveries of supplies dropped off at their door.  Nico grew up with her father's stories, and his favorite books.  When she was 18, her mother died, and her father sent her on a quest straight from the stories--to find the Waters of Kairos in the city of Manchester.  With her faithful dog, she sets out to find the river that will take her to the city.

Her journey takes her into dangers, not just from the swarms, but from people too.  And also, for the first time in her life, she meets people who aren't her family; not many, but enough so that she is no longer alone.  She is loved, and loves in return, but there is no place in this nightmarish world to stop and live.  And when she reaches the Waters of Kairos, she must leave her old life behind.

Ok,  before I get really spoilery, so I'll quickly share my overall thoughts.  I'd give this two stars for personal reading pleasure--the first two thirds are not only grim and horrible, but didn't seem to be moving toward a place of hope.  It was a slog of discomfort, punctuated by horrible things.  I'd give it four stars, though, as a complete, tricksy and twisty and weird has heck whole.  Once a key turning point was reached, I found it much more interesting, though still not cheerful.  The last 100 pages were quick reading, all absorbed flash bang immersion, and the things that are revealed spilled over to the early parts of the story, illuminating certain things in hindsight (making the reading experience itself a kind of brilliant time travel as one went back and considered things).  

But there is real, honest a goodness, time twisting happening here.

"Kairos" might have rung bells for you; it did me mainly because of Kate Milford's Kairos Mechanism. It is a time twisting sort of thing.  And when Nico goes through the water, she finds herself, still embodied as her 19 year old self, at the time and place of her own birth.

Waiting for her are detailed books left by previous Nico's, over a hundred of them, who had done the same thing.  So she sets to work again, knowing what didn't work, and knowing that her best chance of using her once again new opportunity is to make small changes that can nudge things (attempts to keep the fly apocalypse from happening, for instance, didn't work).  And so it's not a happy ending, but not a desperately sad one, although to call it an "ending" is a bit of a stretch....

In short, it's a ground-hog day sort of time travel, but every rerun there's a grown up Nico, who knows she has 19 years of life, and a new baby Nico, so always two of them at once, both of them with free will.  Every one else she knows is also set back to 19 years ago, which sucks for her.  

So not one I enjoyed exactly, but one that gradually hooked me, which will stay bright and clear in mind for a long while.  In part this is because I have lots of questions--the Kairos phenomena isn't unique to Manchester, New Hampshire, and one wonders what the heck is really going on and if it will ever end...I wonder if one day old Nico will find a way to keep young Nico from passing through the water, letting her grow up and live...


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/18/21)

Welcome to this week's round-up of MG sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Alone, by Magen E. Freeman, at Rosi Hollinbeck

Amber and Clay, by Laura Amy Schlitz, at Redeemed Reader

Cece Rios and the Dessert of Souls, by Kaela Rivera, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Champion of the Titan Games, by Brandon Mull, at Geo Librarian

Cinders and Sparks: Magic at Midnight, by Lindsey Kelk, at The Neverending TBR

How to Save a Queendom, by Jessica Lawson, at Pages Unbound 

The Last Windwitch, by Jennifer Adam, at Cracking the Cover

Leonard (My Life As A Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak, at BooksForKidsBlog 

The Medusa Quest (The Legends of Olympus Book 2) by Alane Adams, at Cover2CoverBlog, Always in the Middle, and Log Cabin Library

The Messengers (The Greystone Secrets #3), by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at J.R.'s Book Reviews

Nightingale, by Deva Fagan, at Charlotte's Library

Oddity, by Eli Brown, at Books YA Love

A Pinch of Magic, by Michelle Harrison, at Read to Ramble

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean, by L.D. Lapinski, at Book Craic and A Cascade of Books

Sugar and Spite, by Gail D. Villanueva, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz, at proseandkahn

Tunnels of Time, by Mary Harlekin Bishop, at Charlotte's Library

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at Pages Unbound

Authors and Interviews

Jess Redman (The Adventure is Now) at MG Book Village 

Kaela Rivera (Cece Rios and the Desert of Lost Souls) at Literary Rambles

Eli  Brown (Oddity) at Fictitious (YouTube)

David Bowles (Garza Twins Series: The Smoking Mirror, A Kingdom Beneath the Waves, and Hidden City) at From the Mixed Up Files

Ursula Vernon (A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking) at  Locus

Katherine Langrish (From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels Through Narnia with my Nine Year-Old Self) at An Awfully Big Adventure

Other Good Stuff

"Stumbling Into Heaven: Emeth, Aslan, and The Last Battle," at Tor

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, is becoming a movie

"Every King Arthur Retelling is Fanfic" at Tor


Nightingale, by Deva Fagan

If you, or a member of the "target audience" of 9-12 year olds, is in the mood for a fast fun magical adventure of plucky girl and magic sword, with social justice, personal accountability, and friendship thrown in the mix to great effect, look no further than Nightingale, by Deva Fagan (April 20th 2021, Atheneum Books for Young Readers)!

Most poor girls Lark's age work in the aether factories, producing the stuff that fuels the magical technology that keeps their country strong.  But despite managements claims that everything is perfectly safe, it isn't.  Aether dust is deadly, gradually turn those exposed to it into incorporeal ghosts.  Determined to escape that fate, Lark turned to theft instead, and she's become good at relieving people of valuables.  Not good enough, though, to pay off her account with the nasty woman who runs the boarding house where she, and five other vulnerable girls, are trapped.

In the middle of a daring heist at the great museum of the city, Lark catches young Prince Jasper doing aether-work over a famous sword wielded by past Nightingales, protectors of the realm.  In turn, he catches her, and when the sword is reawakened, its magic bonds to her and not to him, as he'd planned.  Now Lark is the new Nightingale, with a magic sword that gives her wonderful powers.

With great powers, though, come great responsibilities.  Can Lark be the hero her country needs? And if yes, is that also the hero that girls like her comrades need?  Caught in a web of greed and deceit, Lark first has to figure out if she's cut out to be a hero or not, and then must to figure out just what sort of Nightingale she will become.

It's great to follow along with Lark as she makes this journey.  For one thing, I'm a sucker for communicative swords with magical powers.  For another, I'm a sucker with books in which the main character realizes the power of friendship, and uses that to help take down the greedy folks in control.  There's a nice dollop of social justice--few mg fantasy books include trade unions and the exploitation of workers.  Jasper's a great supporting character--a lonely, technology minded kid who's able to learn from Lark about all the things that being raised a prince has left him ignorant about. And there are lots of lovely details of the magical technology, past history returning to relevance, and adventures!

But really what I'll most remember fondly is the great sword!

Highly recommended.


It Doesn't Take a Genius, by

But soon he's hatched a plan to get his summer with Luke back--he sends in an application to the camp, and amazingly he's accepted with a scholarship!  His mother is furious that he went behind her back like this, but still it's a great opportunity for him (and for her, a widowed mother studying for medical school, it will be a welcome chance to focus)....and so Emmett gets to go.

Emmett has always known he's pretty darn smart; he's got a long list of academic achievements and debate club wins. The kids at Camp DuBois, though, have taken achievement up several more notches, and Emmett quickly feels utterly inadequate.  Luke wants nothing to do with him, and indeed, his job responsibilities don't leave him time for giving his little brother special attention.  But almost despite himself, Emmett makes friends, discovers his talent for dance is greater than he thought, and starts to grow up.  

He also learns tons about famous Black people, the cultures of the African Diaspora, and is forced, as part of the planned curriculum of the camp, to think hard and seriously about what it means to be Black (though the book doesn't include specifics of current events).  The way all this information was presented will especially appeal to smart kids who like to know things--I bet, based on my own reaction, that they will feel, like the kids at camp, appreciation and interest, rather than a feeling of being lectured to.

My one regret is that Emmett's time at camp is such a whirl of experiences and learning and food and fellow campers and movie making and dance practice and the disaster of swimming lessons etc. that there's no down time for either him, or the reader, to take a break to think and process.  Though a lot of the goings-on are presented in a light-hearted, even humorous, way, Emmett could have used more thinking and processing.  He is rather selfish and thoughtless at times, and even does something really cruel.  Though this is believable, it was disappointing, but Emmett's welcome growth by the end of the book mostly makes up for it.  

Apart from that reservation, I just turned the pages quickly, learning and enjoying this extravaganza of Black excellence alongside the campers!  

(This was written as a sequel to the movie, Boy Genius, which I have not seen, and so I can't speak to how it works as such).

(review of ARC provided by the book's publicist)


Tunnels of time, by Mary Harlekin Bishop, for Timeslip Tuesday

So in my quest to read every time slip book for kids and teens ever published in English (excluding all of the Magic Treehouse books and the Time Warp trio books...) I picked up Tunnels of Time, by Mary Harlekin Bishop (Coteau Books, 2000) for a buck at a used bookstore recently.  It was worth the dollar, though not all that much more to me personally, because I'm not really interested in prohibition and gangsters, and that's what the book delivered.

13-year-old Andy is not best pleased to be a junior bridesmaid for her cousin.  And so she arrives at the family's home town of Mouse Jaw, in Saskatchewan, in a sullen and sulky mood.  When it turns out the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner's being held has openings into a maze of tunnels, her interest is piqued. When she gets to look inside one of them, her interest becomes rather more intense; she bangs her head going into it, and travels back in time to the 1920s!

The tunnels are used by gangsters, whose leader, Big Al (Al Capone!), is running his forbidden alcohol business with an iron hand.  Andy is befriended by Vance, a boy in the crew of tunnel kids who run errands, guide visitors, and go places the grown men don't want to.  Before she really has time to process what's happened to her, she's working for Big Al too, under the spell of his charismatic personality.

Very quickly, though, she realizes just how cruel he really is, and so, with a bit of help from Al's discarded lover and Vance's kid sister, she lays a trap for him....and comes back to her own time wiser and more mature than when she left, ready to be nicer to her own sane, non-killer-gangster family.

It's rather light on the things I like best about time travel--the cultural dislocation, and the tension of wondering how to get home again.  Lop off the beginning and end, set in 2000ish, and tweak a few details, and it's historical fiction.  Andy spends most of the book down in the tunnels, doing gangster work and gangster foiling, so it's not a particularly wide canvass.  Which is fine if you like tunnels, prohibition, and gangsters, but like I said above, I don't much. But it is educational, and is based on the real history of Moose Jaw, so for kids who find time travel an appealing framing device to make historical fiction more palatable, and of course for gangster and tunnel adventure loving kids, especially the Moose Jawians, it has appeal.  

For what it is worth, the grown-ups liked it--it was picked as an Our Choice title by the Canadian Children's Book Centre.  There are three sequels, also down in the tunnels....and though I won't be actively looking for them, I will certainly pick them up if they come my way!

And the fact that the tunnels are open to visitors today sure makes me more likely to visit Moose Jaw next time I find myself in Saskatchwan (which would also be the first time...)


This week's round-up of mg fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (4/11/21)

Welcome to this week's round-up, the first in all the years I've being doing it that there is no book that starts with the letter "S."  So if I missed your post (probably about a book starting with S), let me know!

The Reveiws

Bridge of Souls (Cassidy Blake #3), by Victoria Schwab, at Hidden in Pages and Jill's Book Blog

The Chosen One, by James Riley (The Revenge of Magic #5), at Carstairs Considers 

 The Colt of the Clouds (Wings of Olympus #2, by Kallie George, at Say What?

Dragon Fury (Unwanteds Quest 7), by Lisa McMann, at Say What?

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart, at Book Craic

Featherlight, by Peter Bunzl, at Library Girl and Book Boy

The Frozen Telescope, by Jennifer Bell, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Gilded Girl, by Alyssa Colman, at Books, Iced Lattes, Blessed and Cracking the Cover

Go the Distance (A Twisted Tale, #11), by Jen Calonita, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Homer on the Case, by Henry Cole, at Always in the Middle and Books YA Love

Maya Loop, by Lisa Anna Langston, at Say What?

Merlin:  The Lost Years, by T.A. Barron, at proseandkahn

The Messengers (Greystone Secrets #3), by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The Children's Book Review 

The Mostly Invisible Boy by A.J. Vanderhorst, at Avalinah's Books

Rome Reframed, by Amy Bearce, at Charlotte's Library

The Runaway (Valkyrie #2), by Kate O'Hearn, at Say What?

The Thieves of Weirdwood, by Willliam Shivering, at Say What?

Threads of Magic, by Alison Croggon, at Log Cabin Library

Time Jumpers, by Brandon Mull, at Fantasy Literature

Unicorn Island, by Donna Galanti, at Children's Books Heal

Authors and Interviews

B. B. Alston (Amari and the Night Brothers) at  Dead Darlings

Dana Middleton (Not a Unicorn) at MG Book Village

Amanda Foody (The Accidental Apprentice) at MG Book Village

Kathleen Jae (Elanora and the Salt March Mystery) at Carpinellos Writing Pages

Leah Cypess (Thornwood)  at Say What?


Rome Reframed, by Amy Bearce, for Timeslip Tuesday

Rome Reframed is Amy Bearce's second middle grade time travel story--the first, Paris on Repeat, was lots of fun, so I was happy to be taken on a visit to Rome!

There we meet Lucas, an 8th grader from Austin, Texas, who's scholarly parents are working on a book that involves a six month trip through Europe.  The parents had hoped that Lucas and his two little brothers would have a great time; Lucas isn't.  He didn't want to leave his friends and soccer team, and be dragged from place to place while having to write a journal about what he sees, with accompanying photographs, for school back home.  And the excitement his parents and next older brother feel about all they are seeing and learning makes him feel like the odd one out in the family--he struggles with school work, and feels like a failure.  When he learns he's in danger of failing his project, and 8th grade as a result, his spirits sink further.

But Rome takes an interest in him, in the form of a strange old woman who give him a mysterious coin, which takes him back in time.  A visit to the colosseum, when it was still in use, give him a visceral appreciation for history, and a visit to Michelangelo painting the Sistine chapel gives him a new appreciation for dedication to art, and he begins to think that his own photographic talent is possibly more real than he'd previously thought.  And then other trips to past, some accompanied by his new Italian friend, Vivi, a girl with her own dreams of a career as a singer, cement his growing realization that he isn't a failure after all.

It's a fun story, with time travel both as teaching tool and sightseeing adventures, and many kids might find Lucas's journey to a sense of self-worth inspiring (although it turns out he is in fact a super talented photographer, which is nice for him, but which might make kids who don't actually have undiscovered talents feel depressed).  I was annoyed with Lucas's parents, who basically have been using him as a baby-sitter for his younger brothers while going about their work, but they are more supportive than he thinks they are.

On the plus side for all ages--this is a great sightseeing trip to Rome, and worth reading just for that!


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

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

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

Bloom, by Nicola Skinner, at Bellis Does Books

City of Secrets, by Victoria Ying, at books4yourkids

The Hedgehog of Oz, by Cory Leonardo, at Puss Reboots

The In-Between, by Rebecca K. S. Ansari, at Aotales

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke, by Kirsty Applebaum, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Quintessance by Jess Redman, at Silver Button Books

Root Magic, by Eden Royce, at Fuse #8

Rumaysa, by Radiya Hafiza, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Secret Lake, by Karen Inglis, at Charlotte's Library 

Switched, by Bruce Hale, at proseandkahn

The Three Impossibles, by Susie Bower, at Scope for Imagination

Uma and the Answer to Absolutely Everything, by Sam Copeland, at Twirling Book Princess

Unicorn Island by Donna Galanti, at Jean Little Library

The Weather Weaver by Tamsin Mori, at Laptrinhx

Four at  A little but a lot--The Wizard in the Wood, by Louie Stowell,  Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest by Vashti Hardy, Real Pigeons Fight Crime, by Andrew MacDonald,  Space Detectives byMark Powers

Authors and Interviews

Cynthia Leitich Smith (Sisters of the Neversea) in conversation with Kathi Appelt at Cynthia Leitich Smith

Jenna Lehne (Bone Tree) at Spooky MG

Adam Perry (The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books), at MG Book Village

Eli Brown (Oddity) at Nerdy Book Club

Other Good Stuff

In case you don't have enough to read already, here's a nice list of mg coming out in April (lots of great fantasy!) at The Contented Reader

Here are the children's books shortlisted for Australia's Aurealis Awards:

The Lost Soul Atlas, Zana Fraillon (Hachette Australia)

Tricky Nick, Nicholas J Johnson (Pan Australia)

Across the Risen Sea, Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

The Chicken’s Curse, Frances Watts (Allen & Unwin)

Hodgepodge: How to Make a Pet Monster, Lili Wilkinson, illustrated by Dustin Spence (Allen & Unwin)

Her Perilous Mansion, Sean Williams (Allen & Unwin)

and Happy Easter to all who are celebrating today. I enjoy finding a peculiar Victorian Easter card for this round-up every year, and though there were many remarkable ones, this one tickled me with its seasonal confusion.


Wildlore: the Accidental Apprentice, by Amanda Foody

Wildlore: the Accidental Apprentice, by Amanda Foody (March 30th 2021 by Margaret K. McElderry Books), is a particularly excellent middle grade fantasy for Pokemon fans, but is also a fun read for the rest of us!

When we first meet Barclay Thorne, he's an apprentice mushroom farm in Dullshire.  It's a place that lives up to its name--after it was attached by a ferocious magical being, Gravaldor, when Barclay was little (his parents were killed during the mayhem),  numerous rules were put into place to deter future deadly excitements.  Magic, especially the magic of the Lore Keepers and the Beasts they control, is at the top of forbidden things.  So when Barclay strays to far outside the town gathering mushrooms, meets a young Lore Keeper, Viola, and accidently acquires one of these beasts himself, he's desperate to get rid of it.

The beast, a legendary Lufthound, is contained by a mark on Barclay's arm; if he wanted to, he could summon it and its storm magic forth, or simply draw on the power of speed it gives him.  He wants no part, though, in the world of Lore Keepers and their beasts--the death of his parents from that magic haunts him.  But when the magic stirs in him despite himself, he must flee Dullshire for his life.

Fortunately Viola finds him, and leads him to a Lore Keeper stronghold far off in the woods.  There he is plunged into a competition to become apprenticed to one of the greatest Lore Keepers of all, with the hope that by proving himself she can remove his mark and break the bond between him and his beast.

But gradually his heart, despite itself, warms to Root, as he calls the Lufthound.  And gradually he learns that the Lore Keepers and beasts aren't his enemy.  Placing first in the competition becomes his goal, and with Viola and other new friends at his side, and the magic of his beast, it starts to seem possible.  Unfortunately, there's a really nasty and powerful Lore Keeper who wants Root to add to his own beast collection, and who has an even more disturbing agenda on top of that!  Treachery, intrigue, and magical challenges fill the pages as Barclay starts questioning all his assumptions, and finally accepts that he and Root are not just a team, but a potential source of good for the folks of places like Dullshire.

So there are two great things about the book that will appeal lots to young readers.  The magic of the beast is very Pokémon-esque; the competitions were exhilarating and the range of beast and their magic fascinating.  The second is the relationship between Barclay and Root, and how Barclay changes his mind, in large part because of Root's intelligence and personality, about the Lore Keepers. Add to that fun supporting characters like Viola and her small dragon beast, and the result is a book with tons of kid appeal!

I myself, a cynical adult reader, was put off at first by "Dullshire" which I found utterly unsubtle.  But once into the world of the Lore Keepers, I was hooked (it helped that Barclay isn't just a simple mushroom gatherer--he really likes to read and learn! and indeed being a  mushroom gatherer requires many of the same traits that make for a successful Lore Keeper--keenness of observation, patience, and a tolerance for risk).  I raced to the book's finish, and now want more!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy, by Mary Winn Heider

When I first read the title, I thought The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy, by Mary Winn Heider (middle grade, Little Brown, March 2021), might have a touch of sci fi to it.  It almost did, but not in the way I was expecting.  The center of the galaxy, as far as the two main characters are concerned, is not deep space, but a football stadium.  There their father was the quarterback for a pro-team, the Chicago Horribles, failing for years to lead them to victory before retiring with traumatic brain injury.  He's no longer the father they remembered from when they were young; now he needs their care.  But then he takes leaving one step further, by simply walking out and disappearing one day.  

Winston and Louise, his two kids, are left with no answers, and lots of grief.  Winston distracts himself by fiercely committing to tuba playing in the school band.  Louise, something of a genius, seeks a cure for TBI by plunging into science.  Their lives start getting a bit odd, what with an actual bear being used for the team's new mascot (Louise becomes determined to save it), Louise's experiments with jellyfish leaving her glowing (this is the touch of sci fi I mentioned above), and the teachers apparently plotting something peculiar that leads to a tuba catastrophe.  It all cumulates with a giant popstar halftime concert with the one and only Kittytown Dynamo....and all this oddness moves them closer to healing and closure.

This is a book that deals with serious issues, while at the same time being warm and friendly as all get out.  There are no mean girls, for instance, of the sort that often plague middle grade protagonists.  Instead Louise shares science club with a group of girls who continuously offer friendship, and Winston shares tuba playing with another girl who's really nice and supportive.  I loved the tuba playing, the mad science, and the giant Kitty concert made laugh out loud--it is hilarious!  The plight of the bear will pull hard at kids who care about animals, and the plight of Winson and Louise's family tugs at the heartstrings of readers of all ages.  

short answer--a book I truly enjoyed!

(disclaimer--review copy received from the publisher)


The Secret Lake, by Karen Inglis, for Timeslip Tuesday

Just up the street from me is a strange little shop that sells junk, ostensibly raising money for animals.  As a used book hunter, it is both a great place to visit--I've had some good luck, and a horrible one--the children's books are in bins.  Big bins, overflowing.  Which means an awful lot of work is needed to go through them.  Nevertheless, I persist, and on my most recent trip I found an English time travel book for kids--The Secret Lake, by Karen Inglis (May 2018, Well Said Press, which is the author's own press).

It's the story of two kids, Stella and Tom who move into a flat next to a lovely public garden.  There they find a tunnel that takes them down and out again into the past.  They meet a boy, Jack, who's suspected of being a thief, and believe in his innocence.  They also meet two girls who live in the very house where their flat is, and the youngest, Emma, becomes an ally.  They also meet in the past a dog they know in the present, who's always causing much distress for her owner, a very old woman, by constantly running away.

Stella and Tom help Jack clear his name, and return to their own time.  There they realize the old woman and her dog know about the time tunnel too....

It's a perfectly fine story, that I didn't mind reading at all, but which didn't move me much.  The author tries hard for the emotional weight that makes many of the best known time-slip stories (like Tom's Midnight Garden and Charlotte Sometimes) so very memorable, and though the effort is plain to see, the emotional heft didn't feel quite earned.  The fact that unexplained magic moles are responsible for the time travel perhaps contributed to this feeling.  The fact that the time travel experience was very easy, with little fraughtness or distress, resulting in little emotional growth for the two kids, was certainly a contributor.  

Short answer--not a bad book, but not a classic in the making. Perhaps kids who haven't read the great ones will be more satisfied than I was.


this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi (3/28/21)

A bit late with the round-up this week, because of getting a few hours of hard work done in the yard before the rain....but I hope you find something interesting here, and please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Accidental Apprentice by Amanda Foody, at Rajiv's Reviews and Jill's Book Blog

Addison Cooke and the Tomb of the Khan, by Jonathan W. Stokes, at Say What?

The Artifact Hunters (Rookskill Castle #2), by Janet Fox at Charlotte's Library

Bloom, by Nicola Skinner, at Always in the Middle

Crater Lake, Evolution, by Jennifer Killick, at Bellis Does Books

Dragon Fire (The Unwanteds Quests #5),  by Lisa McMann, at Say What?

Dragon Slayers (The Unwanteds Quests #6), by Lisa McMann, at Say What?

Harklights, by Tim Tilley, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

The Hedgehog of Oz, by Cory Leonardo, at Blythe and Bold

The Lost Fairy Tales (Pages & Co. #2), by Anna James, at Say What?

The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Entering the Enchanted Castle

Skin Taker, by Michelle Paver, at Book Craic and Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Smoking Hourglass, by Jennifer Bell, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

Time Travel for Love and Profit, by Sarah Lariviere, at Not Acting My Age

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Haunting, by Lindsey Duga, and  Almost There and Almost Not, by Linda Urban

5 short reviews at A little but a lot

Authors and Interviews

Amanda Foody (The Accidental Apprentice) at The Nerd Daily

Other Good Stuff

Creepy Middle Grade Beasts at Spooky Middle Grade

All the covers from #the21ders MG spring debuts, compiled by My Brain on Books


The Artifact Hunters (Rookskill Castle #2), by Janet Fox, for Timeslip Tuesday

In The Artifact Hunters (middle grade, Viking, August 2020), Janet Fox returns to Rookskill Castle and its extraordinary children.  Though the castle is central to the story once again, this is a new adventure, with a new central character and new dangers! 

The Nazis have reached Prague, and it is no longer safe for Isaac Wolf and his parents to stay there.   Perhaps they would have, though, if it hadn't been for another evil that has arrived--an evil fey being, desperate to possess the treasures Isaac's father guards.  So Isaac's parents send him away to England, with an eternity knot pendent to be his talisman of passage leading him to where he needs to go.  They hope that they will be the target of the hunting fey, keeping Isaac safe.  And they hope as well that Isaac will be able to follow the clues that will lead him back in time, where, in the past, he will learn the secrets of the family magic.

After a strange and dreamlike journey, passing from one courier to the next along the way, Isaac makes it to Rookskill Castle, where the magically gifted kids who call it home welcome him. Isaac is struggling to make sense of his occasional journeys back in time, and is relieved to find kids who can help and support him as he finds about ancient artifacts of tremendous power that must be kept safe.....

But the fey hunter wasn't distracted, and arrives in Scotland determined to use Isaac to gain control of the artifacts. And the strong magic within Isaac has woken an enemy closer to home, who also wants to breech the walls and magical wards of the castle....It's touch and go, and things get very tense indeed!

The time travel contributes a lot to the swing of the story--each journey back into the past, Isaac learns a bit more more about what's expected of him. Though he's only back in time for very short periods, it's still enough to give the reader vivid impressions of bits of the past (an ancient British settlement, the library of Alexandria, an Incan temple, and a visit with (13-century) King Arthur were the highlights), and it's fun to follow all the clues along with Isaac.

Isaac and his friends have a lot of darkness to fight against, and the strong message here is that there is a choice--the good thing is not always the easy thing. Isaac is presented with such a choice....and though of course he'll choose the right way, it will be a tense part of the book for younger readers than me! There were lots of dangers, including some that were quite horrific in a nightmarish way (warped mechanical modifications to living creatures, including people), but nothing the target audience (give or take) can't cope with.

My one complaint that I can articulate (and it's more a personal reaction than any sort of well-articulated literary criticism) is that there are two supernatural enemies attacking the castle, which is fine. The magic artifacts become more powerful and dangerous in times of war and must, so Isaac learns, be kept especially safe at such times. But the Nazis, who are right there and who tick all the boxes of people who should be actively involved in hunting down Isaac and the artifacts aren't, despite what the blurb say ("...soon he finds himself in a race against Nazi spies..."). The fantastical villains (especially the evil fallen fey) just seemed to me something of a forced set-up, and so I found it a bit hard to be frightened or interested in the evil fallen fey. Enemy 2 had a more interesting twist related to the castle's past, so I liked it better.

An additional regret--the reader who has some general knowledge will infer that Isaac is Jewish, based on names, and "what that Nazis were doing to his people," but this isn't said explicitly anywhere (to the best of my belief) and this indirection bothered me, and I think made the book somewhat weaker than it could have been otherwise.

In any event, if you are a reader who loves friendship, teamwork, terror, and magic in an old mysterious castle, this might work well for you! I know lots of people loved the first Rookskill Castle, but it didn't quite work for me (my review) I enjoyed this one somewhat more, perhaps because of the time travel element.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (3/21/21)

Here's the first spring round-up of the year; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Casey Grimes at Trickery School, by AJ Vanderhorst, at Always in the Middle

City of the Plauge God, by Sarwat Chadda, at Charlotte's Library

Delphine and the Silver Needle, by Alyssa Moon, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Dragon Curse (The Unwanteds Quests #4), by Lisa McMann, at Say What?

The Edge of the Ocean (Strangeworlds Travel Agency #2) by L. D. Lapinski, at Bellis Does Books

A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Fire Keeper (The Storm Runner #2), by J.C. Cervantes, at Say What?

The Girl in Wooden Armour, by Conrad Mason, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest, by Vashti Hardy, at Book Craic

The Ickabog, by J.K. Rowling, at Children's Books Heal

The In-Between, by Rebecca Ansari, at Silver Button Books

The Last Kids on Earth and the Midnight Blade, by Mark Brallier, at Twirling Book Princess

The Night Spinner, by Abi Elphinstone, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Oddity, by Eli Brown and Karin Rytter, at Puss Reboots

Rumaysa: A Fairytale, by Radiya Hafıza, at legenbooksdary

The Shadow Crosser (The Storm Runner #3) by J.C. Cervantes, at Say What?

Space Detectives, by Mark Powers and Dapo Adeola, at Readaraptor

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Casey Grimes at Trickery School, by AJ Vanderhorst, and Bridge of Souls (Cassidy Blake #3), by Victoria Schwab

Authors and Interviews

Jennifer Adam (The Last Windwitch) at MG Book Village

Shane Arbuthnott (Guardians of Porthaven) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

Here's the shortlist for the British Book Awards Children's fiction category:
  • The Danger Gang, Tom Fletcher & Shane Devries (Puffin)
  • The Ickabog, J.K. Rowling (Scholastic; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers UK)
  • Dragon Mountain, Katie & Kevin Tsang (Sterling Children’s; Simon & Schuster Children’s UK)
At Book Craic, here's a look at upcoming May releases in Ireland--lots of tasty looking mg fantasy!

"Laurence Fishburne will play The Schoolmaster and Michelle Yeoh Professor Anemone in The School For Good And Evil, joining Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Sofia Wylie and Sophia Anne Caruso in the Paul Feig-directed pic for Netflix." via Deadline

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