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Reviews of middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction
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Happy Mother's Day, and welcome to this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi/fantasy postings from around the blogs. If I missed your post, let me know!
The Ability, by M.M. Vaughan, at Charlotte's Library
An Army of Frogs, by Trevor Price and Joel Naftali, at Now Read This!
Astronaut Academy Re-Entry, by Dave Roman, at Charlotte's Library (I don't generally include graphic novels, but I love this one lots and its my own review. Also it is science fiction, which is thin on the mg ground)
Canary in a Coal Mine, by Madelyn Rosenberg, at Geo Librarian
Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, at The Book Smugglers
The Cheshire Cheese Cat, by Carmen Agra Deedy, at Bunbury in the Stacks (audiobook review)
Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, LibLaura5, Salima Korri Reviewing the Writing, The Book Cellar and YA Bibliophile (audiobook review)
The Game of Sunken Places, by M.T. Anderson, at Great Books for Kids and Teens
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, at Nerdy Book Club
Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault, by Adam-Troy Castro, at Log Cabin Library
Here Where the Sunbeams are Green, by Helen Phillips, at Book Nut
In a Glass Grimmly, by Adam Gidwitz, at There's a Book
Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, at io9 and Reading Rumpus
Loki's Wolves, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at Ms. Yingling Reads, Great Imaginations, Charlotte's Library, and Alice, Marvels
The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Readers by Night
Museum of Thieves, and City of Lies, by Lian Tanner, at Kid Lit Geek
New Lands (The Chronicles of Egg, 2), by Geoff Rodkey, at Akossiwa Ketoglo
The Runaway King, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Bibliophilic Monologues
The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Kid Lit Geek and Scott Reads It
The Silver Bowl, by Diane Stanley, at Madigan Reads
The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, at That's Another Story
Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Waking Brain Cells
The Storm Bottle, by Nick Green, at Geo Librarian
Summer and Bird, by Catherine Catmull, at alibrarymama
Teacher's Pest, by Charles Gilman, at BookYAReview, and Tim's Book Reviews
The Time Cavern, by Todd Fonseca, at Time Travel Times Two
The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Kid Lit Geek
Authors and Interviews:
(note to publicists--please feel free to send me blog tour lineups with links to the specific posts--I'd be happy to include them, but don't always have time to track them all down myself!)
Jessica Day George (Wednesdays in the Tower) at Cracking the Cover
Soman Chainani (The School for Good and Evil) at Cracking the Cover
Liesl Shurtliff (Rump) at Literary Rambles
A Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle character intros. at Ms. Yingling Reads, Kid Lit Frenzy, The Write Path, and The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia
Megan Whalen Turner (The Thief) at KidsEBookBestsellers
Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr (Loki's Wolves) at Entertainment Weekly And here are the stops from the Loki's Wolves blog tour:
Geoff Rodkey (New Lands--The Chronicles of Egg, book 2), joined by his agent and editor, at From the Mixed Up Files
and all by himself at Book Dreaming
Ari Goelman (The Path of Names) at The Lucky 13s
Stuart Webb (Jenny at Chatsworth) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted BooksOther Good Stuff:
I could have put this in the reviews section, but thought it would be happier down here--Kate Forsyth takes a loving look at an old favorite--The Stone Cage, by Nicholas Stuart Gray, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles
I made a short quiz
of mother's shown on covers of recent mg sff books for Mother's Day. It's short cause there aren't many.
And finally, librarians on parade to celebrate spring and promote summer reading (found at 100 Scope Notes
). I find it strangely moving (no pun intended).
My own Mother's Day fun is that I get to stay home with the kids and my husband's sister while my husband is off doing his Irish Music thing in New York. Happily, I like my children and sister-in-law more than I like New York, so that's fine.
But none the less, in an effort to Take Part in the national celebration, and perhaps even Contribute, I offer this short quiz.
It's a truism that mothers don't play an active role in middle grade fantasy and science fiction--mostly they are shown either not noticing their kids are gone/replaced by aliens etc., too busy with their own lives/too critical of their children to have a clue, or, occasionally, sad their children aren't there any more. But there are exceptions. The four mothers (one a stepmother, one a ghost) shown below are all made it (more or less) on to the covers. Do you recognize them? (Hint: 2 are from 2012, one is from 2011, and one is from 2009). I've put the answers at the end.
I'm pretty sure this shows both father (left) and mother (right), because of them having breakfast together as a family, even though the "mother" looks about 10....
And finally, I'm not quite sure which of these is the mother of the main character (though if pressed, I'd say the last one), but in any event, they are all mothers...
If you can think of any other mothers shown on mg sff covers, do share!
Answers (highlight to see): Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, by Frank Cotrell Boyce, Fairest of All, by Serena Valentino, Spellbinder, by Helen Stringer, and A Greyhound of a Girl, by Roddy Doyle.
Ragnarok, the end of the world in violence and freezing winter, fortold in Norse mythology, is coming...but instead of taking place far off in long ago Scandinavia, it's about to take place in the modern US. And there's just one little problem--the Norse gods, who were fated to fight in the great battle against the forces of darkness, are dead.Loki's Wolves
But they have descendants.
, by K.L. Armstrong & M.A. Marr (Little Brown, 2013), is the story Matt, a thirteen year old boy who's grown up in South Dakota knowing that he's descended from Thor. What he didn't expect was that he would have to play Thor's part in Ragnarok...and what is worse, the elders of his family are certain that he has no chance of winning.
Guided (cryptically) by the Norns, Matt is determined not to give up, and sets off to gather together descendants of all the gods. The first kids he meets, though, are descendants of Loki--a boy named Fen and his cousin Laurie, and they've never been friends with Matt. Far from it. But though Loki fought with the bad guys in the original story, if Matt can learn to trust these two unlikely allies, maybe they can work together in this new version of the story....
And so the three of them set out, on a quest to gather certain magical items and find the rest of the god-descended teenagers they need--Odin, Fri. But it's not a walk in the park--already the forces of darkness are beginning to work against them...and, as this first book comes to a close, the stakes are getting very high indeed...
Of course, it's hard not to compare this to the Percy Jackson series, and indeed, fans of those books will welcome this series--more mythological fun and mayhem! But Loki's Wolves is somewhat different in feel. For one thing, the focus of the book is on three distinct characters right from the beginning, so there is more character-driven tension, and less immediate mythological mayhem. And here we are immersed more gradually in the struggle at hand--this first book is more a gathering of characters, setting the stage for the Real Adventures to come (although it is not without excitements).
My own response--a fine start with a great premise, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.
I'm happy to be a stop on the Loki's Wolves Blog Tour, in which questions are asked and answers given by the authors. My assignment was to ask about two of the god-descended teenagers-- Reyna and Ray, descendants of Frey and Freya.
He launched into explaining the myths: “The twins are Frey and Freya. In the old stories, Freya is the goddess of love and beauty. Frey is the god of weather and fertility. We need to find their descendants, who are apparently also twins.” Matt paused. “Two for one. That’ll make it easier.”
- Loki's Wolves, page 148
Me: In this first book of the series, the twins Reyna and Ray are somewhat shadowy figures--Fen calls them "Goth Ken and Goth Barbie," with good reason--they aren't exactly bubbling over with rich, nuanced demonstrations of personality. Will we get a chance to know them as individuals later in the series? Will they get to play a more central role, bringing into the story the characteristic of their ancestral deities, Freya and Frey? And will we get more insight into their particular powers?
Kelley: Yes, we definitely don't get a full picture of Ray and Reyna in the first book. They're the most wary of the descendants, unwilling to commit fully to the group and so, unwilling to reveal more of themselves. In Loki's Wolves, the other characters don't have a chance to get to know the twins so, by extension, neither does the reader. Once they become a true part of the team, we'll get to see their real selves. At the same time, they'll learn more about themselves and their powers.
Me: And why did you decide to make them Goth? I'm having trouble imaging Freya and Frey, deities of love and procreation and warmth of all sorts, as it were, as morose Goths hanging around a cemetery! We haven't been told much about their backstory--just that their dad's a (relatively) rich casino owner, and I'm wondering if there's something that we haven't been told yet….
Kelley: Goth culture is known for its emphasis on morbidity and death, but also seeks to find light and happiness in the dark parts of life. Ray and Reyna are two kids struggling to come to terms with their past and their present--their heritage as gods of light and fertility combined with lives of commercialism and cynicism (as the children of casino owners) They've discovered their affinity for magic and without the proper background regarding their heritage, they associate those powers with the dark arts and have embraced that side of themselves. Like many very young goths, they feel alienated and confused, and they're seeking to find their way.
Me: I'll look forward to finding out more about them! Thanks very much, Kelley and Melissa!
The other stops on the blog tour are:
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)
"No, they're mine! They live in My room!"
This was the conversation that ensued when it came time to pick a shelf space for the two Astronaut Academy books by Dave Roman, the second of which, Astronaut Academy Re-Entry (First Second, May 15, 2013) was read about five times each in five days by my two boys (nine and twelve).
I would have solved the problem by putting them on my own shelves, if I kept graphic novels in my bedroom. They are that lovable. They are also very funny--both the words and the pictures. And they are also very good value for your money. Not only are they eminently re-readable, but even a fast-reading adult (ie me) will take at least an hour to savor every page the first time through (I didn't let my eyes glide over any of the pictures. I didn't want to miss anything).
On one level, these books deliver sci-fi fun of a very wacky sort. The setting is, after all, Astronaut Academy, where students arrive in robot-cat like school bus in space. There are robots and other high-tech accouterments. There is also a character who is a ninja bunny, and the mysterious Senor Panda. There's the very sci-fi game of Fireball, that plays a major role in the events of Astronaut Academy, and lots lots more.
But what there also is, even more so, is characters to love. From Hakata Soy, the central protagonist, to the kids on Team Feety Pajamas (who spend most of their time in the library, ostensibly Evil, but actually not so much), to the shy, the geek, the sporty kids who make up the gloriously fascinating and diverse student body, there is someone for just about anyone to relate too and sympathize with.
And so the central story line of Astronuat Academy Re-Entry
isn't the Fireball excitement, the way Hakata makes peace with his Past, or even the defeat of the heart stealing fiendish monster from space. Nope, the central story line follows the emotional arcs of lots of kids as they navigate the world of school and friendship and parental expectations (at a wacky school in space, but still universal). And my heart goes out to them all.
(Here at Tor
, you can see nice several pages of the book, staring one of my favorite characters, Thalia Thistle, playing fireball. And some of the heart eating monster stuff).
It's not a straight-forward, linear progression of story--it's told from multiple points of view. And things don't necessarily make Sense, especially if you haven't read the first book. This might make it not a book for everyone. But who cares about sense, says I, when you are given a combination of words that read themselves out loud in your head and pictures that make you smile like crazy?
Plus dinosaur cars. I loved them in the first book, and I was getting worried that they weren't going to be in this book. But they are.
Here's my review of book 1
--Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity.
disclaimer: review copy received very happily indeed from the publisher.
I am very sad about the recent, and horribly untimely, death of Australian writer and illustrator Gregory Rogers. I've already featured one of his wordless time-travel picture books (The Hero of Little Street), a book I liked well enough, but today I'm posting about the book I think is his masterpiece, one that is truly a classic, and the one that makes me wish something fierce that Gregory Rogers was still here to give us more --The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard (Roaring Brook Press, 2004).
In this wordless picture book, a boy kicks his soccer ball into an empty theater, and goes in after it. It is strange, and dark, and abandoned...and utterly fascinating. The boy finds himself in the costume room, and dressed as an Elizabethan actor, he pulls the curtains aside to go out on the stage....and WHOM! He's back in time, Shakespeare himself is tripping over the soccer ball, and the play is ruined.
Now the boy must run through the streets of London, pursued by the furious playwright. He hides behind the cage of a dancing bear...who asks (wordlessly) to be set free...so boy and bear together set off to experience what the city has to offer them. But Shakespeare is nothing if not persistent. Fortunately the cell block off the Tower of London offers a refuge, and there they find another prisoner (the baron of the title) to be released!
Now Baron, Bear, and Boy are on the run together. But all is not lost! Their path takes them right to Queen Elizabeth, and she is charmed...
Shakespeare, however, still wants revenge. And he chases the boy back to where it all began--the empty stage, and so back home again.
It is sweet and lovely and funny and fascinating, and utterly wonderful. The story flows just beautifully, despite being wordless. The artwork is full of detail, full of enthusiasm, and captivating as all get out. It is a book that is a delight to share with children of just about any age. Critical and cynical though I am, I cannot think of anything negative at all to say about it.
Thank you, Gregory Rogers, for making me and my children laugh and learn.
, by M.M. Vaughan (Margaret K. McElderry Books, middle grade, April 23, 2013), isn't the most desperately original book, but it is not without considerable appeal for younger readers.
Young Christopher is having a rather grim time of it. His mother is locked in a deep depression, and his teachers loathe him, through no particular fault of his own. But when he is recruited to be one of six students at a top-secret, government-run boarding school hidden in the heart of London, everything changes. This is no ordinary school--it exists to train kids to use their extrasensory abilities. Here at last Chris can excel (his mind-reading skills are exceptional) and make friends.
But there is a catch. The kids at this school are being trained, benevolently, but still, to work for the government...and their first mission starts sooner than planned. Someone out there is using these same abilities to drive insane everyone who attended the first incarnation of this school, years ago. And the prime minister himself is a target.
The strong kid-appeal part of the book comes from the loving description of the school and it's curriculum. It's a wish-fulfillment of interior decoration, tasty food, bonding with quirky kids, and recognition of Special-ness. The adult reader might find the character development somewhat superficial (the brainiest of the group says at one point "I want to finish some extra advanced physics that I'm working on" p. 163), the two girls are a sweet one who likes pink and a tousle-haired tough girl, and the other two boys are an amusing foreigner and a bully who isn't so bad after all). And the same adult might wonder when something will actually start Happening...which, toward the end, it does, when there is a direct confrontation with the villains of the piece.
Because the reader is told right at the beginning who the bad guys are and what their motivation is, and sees them at work during the book, the suspense is somewhat lacking. A violent twist toward the end does up the stakes, but a tad too late....
All this being said, the younger reader of spy/mystery/paranormal ability school stories about special kids (who is new to these various bits of genre) might well enjoy it tremendously. After all, everything is fresh when you read it for the first time.
(Note to grown-ups choosing books for kids--the violent twist at the end involves Chris loosing control of his abilities and actually killing one of the bad guys (which distresses Chris very much, quite understandably). Though of course the bad guys had been using their abilities in wisted ways, and there had been a few disturbing indications that the paranormal abilities of even the good kids weren't all fun and games, I was a little taken aback by this un-glossed-over death, and just wanted to mention it to the gate keepers out there...)
disclaimer: advance review copy received from the publisher
This week's roundup of middle grade fantasy and science fiction is brought to you from the Springfield Marriott, where I am at the New England Society for Childrens' Book Writers and Illustrators, trying hard to remember to introduce myself as "a writer of archaeological non-fiction" and not "a book blogger." As always, please let me know if I missed your link; I'll add it when I get home this afternoon!
Alanna: the First Adventure, by Tamora Pierce, at Leaf's Reviews
An Army of Frogs, by Trevor Pryce and Joel Naftali, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu, at YA Book Shelf
The Colossus Rises, by Peter Lerangis, part 3 of a joint review at Maria's Melange and The Brian Lair
Deadweather and Sunrise (Chronicles of Egg Book 1), by Geoff Rodkey, at Project Mayhem
The Flame and the Mist, by Kit Grindstaff, at Waking Brain Cells
Frogged, by Vivian Vande Venlde, at Ms. Yingling Reads
The Garden Princess, by Kristin Kladstrup, at Ms. Yingling Reads
The House of Secrets, by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini, at Good Books and Good Wine
and Book Dreaming
How I Met My Monster, byR.L. Stine, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, at Bookends
Johnny and the Bomb, by Terry Pratchett, at Time Travel Times Two
The Key and the Flame, by Claire M. Caterer, at Candace's Book Blog
Loki's Wolves, by K.L. Armstrong & M.A. Marr, at Fantasy Literature
Lost Worlds, by Andrew Lane, at The Book Zone
The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Challenging the Bookworm
A Mutiny in Time, by James Dashner, at One Librarian's Book Reviews
The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, at We Fancy Books
The Planet Thieves, by Dan Krokos, at Finding Wonderland
The Reluctant Assassin, by Eoin Colfer, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Renegade Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Waking Brian Cells
The Runaway King, by Jennifer Nielsen, at alibrarymama, Reads for Keeps, Karissa's Reading Review, and Geo Librarian
The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, by Nikki Loftin, at The Hiding Spot
Sorrowline (Timesmith, book 1), by Niel Bushnell, at The Children's War
Teacher's Pest, by Charles Gilman, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Tilly's Moonlight Garden, by Julia Green, at The Children's Book Review
Troubletwisters, and The Monster (Troubletwisters 2), by Garth Nix, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile and Charlotte's Library
Wonder Light: Unicorns of the Mist, by R.R. Russell, at Candace's Book Blog
Authors and Interviews
Geoff Rodkey (The Chronicles of Egg) at Project Mayhem and at Akossiwa Ketoglo
Liesl Shurtliff (Rump) at Cynsations
Adam Glendon Sidwell (The Buttersmith's Gold) at The Write Path (giveaway)
Other Good Stuff
At the Horn Book--"Middle Grade Saved My Life"--thoughts on keeping mg distinct from YA, and why it matters
An excerpt from Faeryland: The Secret World of the Hidden Ones, by John Matthews, at Tor
Neil Gaiman's keynote address from the Digital Minds Conference
This giant rubber ducky (which I found at Tor) is touring the world:
Today I am going off to Springfield, MA, for the Society of Childrens' Book Writers and Illustrators conference. My sister-in-law from England, Anna Adeney, who's published forty odd books for children, is coming with me, which is a nice bonus.
I helped her work on her website yesterday. I helped her accidentally delete a large chunk of it. I felt very, very, sad. So did she. Sigh.
But regardless, off we go, and when I will come home I will catch up on all my reading and reviewing and get the garden completely into shape and catch up at work and do a little light home renovation (many people seem to like bathroom doors, and Anna brought the last roll of dining room wallpaper we needed with her from England, which saved us some money) and possibly, I hope, I really mean to, write my book.
I am feeling rather more cheerful than I did 15 minutes ago. Since then, I have perused Chronicle Books' most recent catalogue. To my surprise and pleasure, I found two picture books that I am looking forward to sharing, not with a young child, but with my older boy, who will, when they are released, be 13 (and presumably an occasionally grumpy adolescent). Yeah for twisted humor!
Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book (October) is a compilation of Grumpy Cat (apparently an Internet sensation), being grumpy. It looks like it could make even the most sullen 13 year old crack a smile.
The second book that appealed tremendously is Penguins Hate Stuff
, by Chris Stones (July 16, 2013):
"Penguins hate zombies. They also hate serpents, bad haircuts, sock monkeys, leprechauns, Halloween, oil rigs, vampire penguins, and mermaids. They really hate clowns, but they really like capes, balloons, and free vacations. This quirky collection reveals the discriminating tastes of these adorable flightless Antarctic birds who encounter odd foes (snow sharks, beavers, cowboys, samurai...), but still manage to enjoy the little things in life. With wit, humor, and the occasional alien invasion, Greg Stones's paintings capture the playfully absurd life of penguins."
I feel great love toward this book already.
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine
April is such a hard month--all I want to do is to be outside, getting everything weeded and planted and spruced up, but it's the busiest month at work, busy with the kids' homework, busy busy busy...and so no time to read the big long book that was supposed to be this week's Timeslip Tuesday offering.
So I turned to a quick picture book read -- Bonjour, Lonnie
, by Faith Ringgold
(Hyperion Books for Children, 1996), and, um, it's kind of strange.Bonjour, Lonnie
, is a picture book that uses rather vague magical bird-assisted time travel in order to show an orphaned boy, Lonnie, his family, and to give him loving guardians in his own time. The magical bird in question is a singing French one, known as Love Bird, and when it visits Lonnie, it takes him back to early 20th-century Paris...and then vanishes, leaving him to wander past famous monuments to look for it (basically three pages of Paris is great, that don't advance the plot, but are not uninteresting....).
Then Love Bird shows up again, and leads the little boy to a small house wherein are his grandparents--a black man and a white woman, which surprises Lonnie. His grandfather explains he came to France to fight in WW I. He was a great singer (and we have a rather nice introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, and black culture flourishing), but when he went back home, he was oppressed by the prejudice that he found there, and went back to Paris, married a beautiful French girl, and became a famous opera singer.
The scene then changes; Lonnie sees his parents and himself as a baby...he finds out his father was killed as young soldier in WW II, and his Jewish mother sent him to the US to safety with a young friend. She in turn fell ill, no-one could find the kin she had hoped to leave Lonnie with, and so he was there in the orphanage, waiting, all unknowing, for Love Bird to find him.
And because of the love bird, the missing kin are found (and Lonnie's mother reassures him that his new Aunt Connie "has dyed her own graying locks red like yours," which I find very odd) and all is well.
So it's rather strange (the love bird device in particular). The reader knows it's timeslipish, because of being told so, but basically it reads like a dream of shifting scenes and flashbacks. It's not a story, so much as an explanation of the family history with underlinings of African American and WW I and WW II history. It's not un-compelling, and it is rather interesting (especially in it's multicultural emphasis) but I find it hard to imagine curling up and reading it with a child...especially since it might provoke a child to ask questions that they might not be ready to fully grasp--like why Lonnie's Jewish mother felt she had to send him to safety. It's definitely one to read yourself before you read it to a child, so that you can expect what's going to happen next.
Ah gee. I know Faith Ringgold is a famous artist, but her people didn't appeal to me personally (speaking frankly, they looked like zombies, with stiff arms and staring eyes--vibrant, colorful zombies, but still). This, I'm quite prepared to admit, is just my own reaction.
(if you look it up on Amazon, be warned that the blurb given is for another book, so it won't be useful)
I utterly adored Tuesdays At the Castle, by Jessica Day George (2011-- my review), and so was naturally looking forward to its sequel, Wednesdays in the Tower (Bloomsbury, 2013; technically May 7, but in my local B and N right now). I found it utterly engrossing.
Castle Glower has a habit of tweaking with its layout--adding and subtracting new rooms, shifting the floor plan, making the rooms of welcomed guests much more pleasant than those of less welcome ones--and generally, though not always, these things happen on Tuesdays. Celie, the youngest princess, knows the castle better than anyone, and she's been mapping its changes through the years.
Then the castle starts to surprise even Celie. First there's the never before seen armory, full of enchantments, but that was just the beginning. One Wednesday Celie finds a new tower, and in it is an egg...and when it hatches, Celie finds herself the surrogate mother to a baby griffin...even though griffins are mythological creatures, with no place in Celie's world.
The Castle won't let her tell anyone but her oldest brother, Bran (the Castle Wizard), making things a bit difficult for her...but more distressingly, the Castle seems to be going haywire. More and more rooms are appearing, and none are leaving, with little regard for the wishes of its current inhabitants.
Celie (not unnaturally) tries to find out all she can about griffins. Gradually she finds clues that lead to a past when the folk of the castle lived side by side with griffins, riding them through the air.
But there's someone in the castle who knows more about its ancient secrets than Celie can imagine...and he's determined to keep all knowledge of griffins from her. Will she be able to keep her own griffin safe? Just what is this strangers mysterious agenda? (and what on earth is the Castle up to?!!?).
It's a more tense read than the first book, which was light-hearted fun (though with emotional twists...). This is essentially a suspenseful mystery, and though there's plenty of lovely castle-magic whimsy, and the young griffin is charming, the sense of possible impending castle-doom made it a gripping page turner.
And though it ended with the primarily mystery resolved, George added a heck of the twist at the end to make it clear that there are many more adventures to come....
Like the first, this is great stuff for the younger reader of fantasy (the eight to ten year old). It's heavy on Mythological Creatures appeal (Celie's bond with her griffin, and her wild flights on its back, are the stuff of many a young reader's wish-fulfillment), with a very likable main character, suspense without violence, and friendships without romance. I liked it lots myself and recommend it whole-heartedly.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher
Here's what I found in this week's internet hunt for reviews and such of middle grade sci fi and fantasy books. Please let me know if I missed yours!
The Accidental Time Traveller, by Janis Mackay, at Guys Lit Wire
The Big Bank Burglery (St. Viper's School for Super Villains), by Kim Donovan, at Log Cabin Library
Deadweather and Sunrise (Chronicles of Egg), by Geoff Rodkey, at Becky's Book Reviews
Deadly Pink, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Books & Other Thoughts
Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun, by Liz Kessler, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Fyre, by Angie Sage, at Deseret News
The Gliter Trap (OMG--Oh My Godmother) by Barbara Brauner & James Iver Mattson, at Books Beside My Bed
Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at Geo Librarian
Ghoulfriends Forever, by Gitty Daneshvari, at Paranormal Sisters
Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski, at Charlotte's Library
House of Secrets, by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini, at Reading Rumpus, Leisure Reads, and There's a Book
Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Xander's Middle Grade Book Reviews
Lizzie Speare and the Cursed Tomb, byAlly Malienko, at The (Mis)Adventures of a Twenty-something Year Old Girl
The Magician's Tower, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, at Akossiwa Ketoglo
Mira's Diary: Home, Sweet Rome, by Marissa Moss, at Kid Lit Frenzy and Rebecca Behrens
The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Bookworm1858
The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, by Nikki Loftin, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Space Bingo, by Tony Abbott, at Time Travel Times Two
Syren, by Angie Sage, at Leaf's Reviews
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R.L. LaFevers, at Deb A. Marshall
Toothiana, Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies, by William Joyce, at Wondrous Reads
The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine, at Tales of the Marvellous
Unnatural Creatures, by Neil Gaiman, at A.V. Club (Kirkus says this is for ages 10-14...have any of you all read it? Is it really?)
Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Karissa's Reading Review
When the Butterflies Came, by Kimberly Griffiths Little, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Authors and Interviews and Art
Soman Chinani (The School for Good and Evil) at Harvard Magazine
Two artwork reveals for The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, at Candace's Book Blog and The Hiding Spot
Kit Grindstaff (The Flame and the Mist) at From the Mixed Up Files
Anna Staniszewski (My Epic Fairytale Fail) at Sharon the Librarian
Suzanne Selfors (The Sasquatch Escape) at The Write Path
Claire M. Caterer (The Key and the Flame) at Cynsations
Rick Riordan on Reading Myths and the Myths of Reading
Ned Vizzini (House of Secrets) at The Book Zone
Liesl Shurtliff (Rump: the True Story of Rumplestiltskin) at Project Mayhem
More Good Stuff
Adorable robots learn to walk, at io9
Adorable knitted hedgehog (I needed a picture, so I googled "knitted hedgehog" cause I like hedgehogs, and "knitted baby otter" didn't yield anything good):
Though I am moving steadily forward in my effort to read every time travel book for kids ever written (except I'm never going to read every Magic Tree House book--there are limits), there are still lots of books out there I've never encountered.
Out of the last four requests I've gotten for help identifying half-remembered books, I could only answer one; here are the other three, and if you recognize any of them, please leave a comment!
"I am looking for a fantasy novel I read partially when I was barely ten. The cover was ripped so I can not recall the title except that the story involved a young boy and girl who come across a talking talisman or artifact that was able to take them back in time every hundred or so years until the come to a medieval era in which mankind was enslaved by aliens, apparently the true origin of the talisman is revealed to be alien. I can not recall how the story ends but it is a very humorous novel with the talisman coming across as sarcastic yet funny."
"My boyfriend has a book in mind that he loved when he was younger. He said it was about someone who went into a tree and traveled way back in time, like to the dinosaur era. He's sure that it wasn't the series with the tree house though."
"When I was in middle school, which I'm not entirely sure when that was (I think it was around 98), we read a book about a girl who would go back and forth through time. All I can remember is the cover- A brunet girl stands in the middle, cut down the half, on one side she wears a tank top and blue jeans, and the other, some Civil war, or older dress. The scene that I remember is that she is running down an alleyway, trying to avoid being seen by surveillance cameras, and slips through time. She winds up in a tunnel, where she hides behind a wagon to avoid soldiers of some sort."
The alien one sounds pretty good...sarcasm in mg sff is not as common as it should be, in my opinion.
Hammer of Witches
, by Shana Mlawski (Tu, 2013, upper middle grade/YA).
Young Baltasar has grown up in late 15th-century Spain, a time when the Spanish Inquisition was going strong, listening to the stories told him by his uncle Diego--many of which were drawn from the Jewish heritage Diego and his wife ostensibly renounced when they chose to become nominal Christians (it was either that, or living in terrible fear of discovery--Ferdinand and Isabel did not want any Jews in Spain). But of all his uncle's stories, Baltasar thrills most to those of the brave warrior Amir al-Katib, who fought for the Christian kingdoms of Europe, was betrayed by them, and ended his life fighting on the side of the Moors who were being driven from Spain. Or so Baltasar has always believed.
But that's not actually how Amir al-Katib's story ended. When a sinister oranization, known as the Hammer of Witches, dedicated to fighting witchcraft with any means deemed necessary, imprisons Baltasar, he is questioned under threat of torture about Amir. And he intensively responds with a gift for magical storytelling he didn't know he had--and raises a golem, who carries him home.
Where, of course, the nice folks (not) from the Hammer of Witches know where to find him.
Now his aunt and uncle are dead, and Baltasar is on the run. But he's not alone for long--his uncle has passed on a slim golden chain that belonged ot Amir al-Katib himself, and, much to Baltasar's wonder, it summons an Ifritah--a girl who is have spirit, half human, and full of magic. And when the Ifritah, Jinniyah, takes him to Baba Yaga for advice, Baltasar finds that a great evil is about to head west from Europe across the sea...and that he might be able to thwart it.
And so Baltasar and Jinniyah sail off with Christopher Columbus....a journey wherein the little fleet is beset by magical enemies. But Baltasar can answer each magical creature with one of his own; the real evil (obviously to the modern reader) doesn't come until land is reached, and the Columbian consequences begin.
So. It is tremendously exciting, what with magical adventures, the voyage of exploration, the fact that the Hammer of Witches has a spy embedded in the voyage, the mystery of Amir al-Katib (which plays a large part in the story), and Baltasar's own growing control of his storytelling magic. In particular, Baltasar's time spent with the Taino people, who are describe in rich detail, and who seem much saner than the Europeans, is worthwhile reading.
Just about any reader who likes excitement will appreciate the high-stakes, fast-moving story; those who are Readers to begin with will especially appreciate the strong link here between magic and storytelling. It is a fascinating take on the story of Columbus' voyage, one that respects the Taino and gives them equal agency to the Europeans. There is a strong young female character, too, to round things off gender-wise, and to my surprise it wasn't Jinnyah but someone else....
I didn't find it a perfect read, though, primarily because Baltasar is a very distant first-person narrator. He's awfully good at describing (his words made beautifully clear pictures in my mind), but not so good at sharing enough of his feelings to make me care deeply about him as an individual. And, in fact, at one point I actively disliked him--after the aforementioned girl character witnessed the rape of Taino women, it was creepy of Baltasar to kiss her uninvited, and then, a few pages later, jokingly say to her that "we both know you're dying for another kiss" (page 286).
I was also disappointed by the fact that Jinniyah, the Ifritah, doesn't end up having much of a role in the story--I kept expecting her to be responsible for some major twist in the plot, but she never took center stage, and was often shunted off onto the sidelines.
Still, there was much to enjoy, and it was refreshing to read a book whose main character not only embodies the clash of cultures in 15th century Europe between Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam, but offers an unflinching look at the horror Columbus' voyage unleashed on the native peoples he encountered.
For another perspective, here's the Kirkus review
Note on age: This one felt rather tween-ish to me, which is to say for readers 11 to 14. Baltasar himself is fourteen (though, I think, a rather young 14), and a few specific instance of violence, including what happened to the Taino women, pushes this beyond something I'd give to a ten-year old.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher
The Sterkarm Handshake
, by Susan Price (Scholastic, 1998).
Imagine that, round-about our present time here in the 21st century, capitalist entrepreneurs have discovered how to travel in time. The thought of all the natural resources back there in the past, waiting to be exploited, makes them happy.
One of the time tunnels they have constructed leads to the sixteenth century in the wild boarder lands between England and Scotland. The Sterkarm clan who rule the patch of this land are fierce, treacherous, loyal to each other and not giving a damn about anyone else, and they are cognizant that the time travelers have much to offer (the aspirin tablets are a hit).
Andrea is a young anthropologist, embedded back in time among the Sterkarms. Literally--she and Per, the son of the chief are passionately involved. For Andrea, deemed unattractively large by her own society, it is nice to be lusted after, and Per does genuinely care for her....it might even be love (although I couldn't help but wonder about how much her emotions were colored by her new desirability, and this made me uncomfortable).
But all is not well. The problem with greedy exploitation is that often the people being exploited fight back, and things go sour. The trouble in this case begin when Per, gravely wounded fighting off raiders (all in a days work for the Sterkarms), is taken by Andrea to the 21st century. The director of the company, a nasty piece of work, wants him as a hostage. Per escapes, makes his way through the tunnel home, and then he and his people declare war on the 21st century, burning what they can of the tunnel.
It is rebuilt, and the 21st century comes to make war in the past. It seems as though its an uneven match--heavy artillery against bows and arrows. But arrows can kill, and the Sterkarms have years of experience with treachery and guerrilla warfare...
So it basically stopped being fantasy neo-colonialism (interesting), and became a military sci fi story (not my cup of tea), and by the last hundred pages I was skimming because everyone was running around bashing each other etc., and I ws really tired of hearing about Andrea's predicament (torn between two conflicting loyalties, and not wanting any one to be killed, and not wanting the boy she's been sleeping with to be a ruthless killer even though he clearly is etc).
And did Andrea, intelligent anthropologist, save the day with intelligent anthropologizing? No. She went to pieces, and was all "Oh Per if you love me you will be kind and do something and not kill the people from the 21st century." Disappointing.
What it needed was more characterization and less fighting, in my opinion. The bad guy was one dimensional, and so uninterestingly bad that there was little point to him. Per and Andrea are two dimensional at best. In as much as they are already sharing a bed by the time we meet them, there is no subtlety to their relationship, and I never believed that they were actually in love with each other as people, as opposed to fond bedmates (I have nothing against affectionate lust enjoyed by both parties, but it's not as interesting as the tension of love being realized), and like I said, I didn't need Andrea's dilemma drummed into my head quite so much. A few minor characters come to interesting life, most notably Joe, a homeless Sterkarm descendant of modern times, who travels back to find a better life for himself--his is a fascinating little side-story. But this wasn't enough to actually make me care all that much.
Final thought--loved the premise, and thought the story was fascinating. If the book had been about 150 pages shorter, I might well have enjoyed it lots. As it was, it kind of oozed over the edges of its central story, and I lost interest.
However, don't necessarily take my word for it---The Sterkarm Handshake won the Guardian's Children's Prize
, and got lots of critical acclaim, and is pretty much a classic of military/capitalist time-travel.
Happy Earth Day!Ocean Counting
By Happy Chance I got three new picture book non-fiction books for little kids last week, all of which are great picks for Earth Day (or any day) reading.
, by Janet Lawler (National Geographic Little Kids, May 2013), with photographs by Brian Skerry, starts thus:
"Explore our beautiful blue ocean while learning how to count. Visit colorful coral reefs, warm and sunny seas, sparkling ice packs, and other special spots where marine animals live and play. And on your way, discover new ocean friends on a worldwide counting adventure." For the numbers one through ten, there are double spread pictures, and short blurbs and supplemental "did you know" insets that offer interesting information. A very nice book!
The cute baby seal and its mama (for Two) are particularly kid-friendly, although I myself was especially taken by the four reef squid--a stunning picture in which the squids obligingly arranged themselves in a line by size (sweet squids!).Flowers by Number
, by David Shapiro, illustrated by Hayley Vair (Craigmore Creations, April 2013).
This is one for the child who appreciates beautiful illustrations--the flower paintings are lovely, in a calm, painterly way. They aren't your common or garden flowers either--instead, they are wildflowers from across the country, including new ones for East Coast me, like the six Pacific Starflowers. The text is minimal, but interest is added by occasional metaphorical language. For the nine lupines, for instance, the text says "Named after the wolf, they howl in purple when many flower at once."
The Latin names of the flowers are included, though a little note explaining what these foreign words are might have been useful.
This one is strong on aesthetics and floral interest, could for peaceful appreciation of the beauties of nature. I particularly liked that it started with Zero, which so often gets overlooked--it's a snowy landscape with no flowers at all. The World is Waiting for You
, by Barbara Kerley (National Geographic Children's Books, March 2013), is a photographic invitation (and a very compelling one) to get outside!!! From woods to water to fossil hunting in the desert, the imperative commands, like "Dig deeper" or "Take a peek. Go on--get a little nosy" reinforces the beautifully clear message of the pictures that there are wonderful things to do out there in the great big world of nature. And if that cave full of huge crystals really is real (I assume it is, but it boggles the mind!) I want to go there myself! It is a joyful celebration of the outdoors that manages to enthuse without any sense of didactic preaching.
This is a truly inspiring one that I wholeheartedly recommend.
So, have a happy Earth Day! And just to close, here is my own go-to saving the earth tip--keep a bucket in your shower, to catch the water while its warming up, and use that water to flush the toilet. If you have four shower-ers in your family, like me, and an old plumbing system that takes ages to warm the water, you'll save hundreds of gallons a year.
For more great non-fiction for kids, visit this Monday's Non-Fiction Roundup at A Mom's Spare Time
disclaimer: review copies received from publicist
Welcome to another week of links from my blog reading of interest to fans of middle grade sci fi and fantasy! Please let me know if I overlooked your post; I have been known to forget to include my own....
Cloneward Bound, by M. E. Castle, at Akossiwa Ketoglo (with giveaway)
The Colossus Rises, by Peter Lerangis, ongoing joint review at Maria's Melange and The Brian Lair
The Cup and the Crown, by Diane Stanley, at The Book Smugglers
A Dash of Magic, by Kathryn Littlewood, at Ms. Yingling Reads
The Dragon's Tooth, by N.D. Wilson, at Word Lily
The Drowned Vault, by N.D. Wilson, at Semicolon
Fyre, by Angie Sage, at Lunar Rainbows
Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at One Librarian's Book Reviews
The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman, at Becky's Book Reviews
Gustav Gloom and the People Taker, by Adam-Troy Castro, at Stratton Magazine
Hollywood, Dead Ahead, by Kate Klise, at Geo Librarian
Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, at For Those About to Mock and By Singing Light
The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Karissa's Reading Review and Good Books and Good Wine
My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, by Anna Staniszewski, at Sharon the Librarian
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at alibrarymama
Professor Gargoyle, by at Middle Grade Ninja
The School For Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Reading Rumpus
The Secret Prophecy, by Herbie Brennan, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Story's End, by Marissa Burt, at Bibliophilic Monologues
Tanglewreck, by Jeanette Winterson, at Time Travel Times Two
Time Tangle, by Frances Eager, at Charlotte's Library
Teacher's Pest (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School), by Charles Gilman, at Bookish Way of Life
The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile
The Trap Door (Infinity Ring Book 3), by Lisa McMann, at Ms. Yingling Reads
The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, by Kate Saunders, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Authors and Illustrators and Interiviews
The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle artwork reveal and giveaway, at Bunbury in the Stacks and There's a Book
Marissa Moss (Home Sweet Rome) at The Book Cellar
Charles Gilman (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series) at Middle Grade Ninja
Liesl Shurtliff (Rump) at Daydreaming Bookworm
Other Good Stuff
An op-ed about violence in fantasy books at Adam Callaway's Senswunda. Which inspired me to go take a look at the Cybil's shortlists for mg sff...and indeed, most of them center around violence in various forms (although of course they are about many other things as well). The most peaceful sub-genre of mg sff I can think of is time travel--there you have a conflict set up that doesn't require violence. Which might, now I think of it, be one reason why I like time travel books so much!
It's time for the annual spring book fair for Balou High School
! I enjoy perusing the wish list lots--I can't by every book I'd like to, so I spend quite a bit of time choosing. Can I find an author I know personally and support them? Is there a book so good I think every library should have it? Do I put my money where my mouth is, and by a book showing, front and center, a main character who isn't white? Such fun. (My final choice this year--Awakening, by Karen Sandler, supporting the publishing of diverse YA sci fi/fantasy)
And finally, I just learned (here
) about the sport of Extreme Ironing. Not one I'm going to take up, for many reasons....
My younger son, quite reasonably, asked that I remove my books from his room. Strangly, I had no empty bookshelves ready and waiting. This is the what happened, told as a pale imitation of the brilliance that is The Happy Hockey Family, by Lane Smith. For those who have read it--isn't it a wonderful book? For those who haven't--you should get a hold of it right away.
The pantry cupboard has just been tidied. See the empty shelves! Nice shelves. Clean shelves. Empty shelves.
What likes to go on shelves? Books! Books like to go on shelves.
Now those shelves will stay tidy forever.
I have a drawer full of books! Do you have a drawer full of books? My drawer is full of books!Crack
I have the chance to teach my boys how to fix drawers! Can you teach your boys how to fix drawers? I can teach mine!
(In case anyone looked closely at the books, and wondered why I have them in the first place--they are stock for when I have my new and used children's book store).
Oh yeah. You want a book that hits the sweet spot for the nine-year old mythical creature lover? This is what you are looking for: The Menagerie
, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (HarperCollins, March 2013, middle grade), is your basic ordinary boy meets a family who tends mythical creatures, and finds he has a knack for baby griffin wrangling. It's your basic new kid in town finds a niche and makes friends, with a bit of family dynamic stuff thrown in. And it's your basic scary government bad enforcement types and sinister sneakers off in the background threatening everything.
And the sum of these somewhat unremarkable plot points is an adventure with a generous dose of mystery that is eminently readable and very enjoyable, especially, I think, if you are nine years old. Even more especially if you are my own nine-year old, who turned right around after reading it in one day to begin it over again, and who can't wait for the sequel.
Things I especially appreciated:
1. Great baby griffins! The main story revolves around the escape of six young siblings, and their escapades all over town, which vary depending on their personality (one ends up in the library, because books are her favorite sort of treasure, another makes a hoard for himself with the pirate coins in a toy shop, etc.).
Logan, our central character, has the remarkable ability to converse telepathically with griffins, and here he is talking to baby Flurp (her thoughts are in bold) in the library:
"Flurp ready to write fabulous tales of grand adventure. Furp ready to be most famous author of all time! From nice warm safe cave with much fish
. She clacked her beak. Nothing to eat in here but BOOKS
"Did you actually--?" Logan glanced through the play-house window. The floor was covered in Harry Potter books, as if Flurp had been been making a nest out of them.Eat books?! Flurp would NEVER! Flurp would STARVE first!
The griffin cub let out a tiny burp that smelled of crayons." (p 105)
Plus Logan knows about griffins because he's seen one on a Diana Wynne Jones book, which made me, DWJ fan that I am, smile!
2. The fact that Logan is African American, and that this has nothing whatsoever to do with anything that happens. It's just who he is.
3. The nice balance of description (cool creatures!) with happenings, and an equally nice balance of the funny with the tense----it felt just right to my own internal nine-year old.
4. The fact that Logan has a cat named Purrsimmon.
And, as a small but worthwhile added bonus, "menagerie" is now in my son's vocabulary.
So give this to the kid who isn't ready for Fablehaven
yet, who loves mythical creature fiction, and watch the pages turn...
One last thing regarding my own boy's experience with it--after taking it to school, and talking it up, he came home to report that at least ten kids, including ones he hadn't expected to be interested, all wanted to read it. But he was a good child, and brought it back home to his mama...
Yesterday's book (The Menagerie) was one I happily recommended to nine-year olds wanting fantasy fun; today book I can also recommend whole-heartedly, but it is very different...one I think that has as much cross-over appeal to adult readers as it does to the YA readers to whom it is marketed.Fearless
, by Cornelia Funke (Little, Brown, April 2, 2013, YA), is the sequel to Reckless (my review
), which told how Jacob, a boy from our world who became a treasure-hunter in a mirrorworld where fairy tales are true, sacrificed himself to save his younger brother. And now Jacob, waiting for the fairy curse to strike that will end his life, is on the greatest treasure hunt of his life, this time looking for the last thing he hopes can save him. It is a weapon crafted by an evil witch king long ago, full of powerful (and potentially horrible) magic...and Jacob isn't the only one hunting for it. Pitted against him every step of the way is another treasure hunter, one of the stone-skinned Goyl, and their race across an alternate Europe of magic come true might well kill them both.
Fortunately, and heart-rendingly, for Jacob, he is not alone--Fox, the shapeshifting girl who almost broke my heart in the first book, is with him, and here in this book they both have come to understand that their love for each other is the bedrock of their lives. But Jacob is dying...and so desperate fear tempers their relationship. They have saved each other countless times before, but now they are stretched so painfully thin by this most horrible quest that hope would seem impossible, if the alternative was not so unthinkable.
Note: The relationship between Jacob and Fox is so real, so immediate, so beautiful, and so rooted in their complex pasts that I can't think of any other romance that comes close (except that of Eugenides and Irene, in Megan Whalen Turner's books). But it is not a physical romance (understandable, given the circumstances) so those looking for swoonish kisses should look elsewhere.
Unfortunately for Jacob's opponent, the Goyl Nerron, not all travelling companions are a good thing. Nerron is saddled with a nasty teenaged prince, along with his ass of a tutor, and a bodyguard--an inhuman Waterman, with motivations of his own, and their internal power struggles add a somewhat grimly diverting second layer of conflict to the story. Despite the handicaps who travel with him, Nerron pushes Jacob and Fox at every turn....but fascinatingly, though he seems at first to be the ostensible "bad guy" opponent of the piece, and though up to the last minute the suspense is killer, he is still nuanced, and even sympathetic....
So what we have, to summarize, is killer characters in a killer story. Added to that are episodes of fairy tale-ness that made bright vivid pictures in my mind--for instance, the book includes one of the most memorable Bluebeard retellings ever.
That being said, this isn't a fast read of magical zipping-ness. The pages turned slowly, not because I wasn't interested, but because I was so absorbed, even when I wasn't in places where I wanted to be. Those place weren't the dark scary exciting bits, of which there were many, and which I did enjoy, but rather those times when the burning ache of Fox's and Jacob's desperation surfaces. Though they must be fearless, they can't help but fear.
So no, not happy escapist fun. Not a book that kids would necessarily appreciate, though many teens might. I mysef found it a darn good book (mainly because I love Fox so very much!). I think it has stuck in my mind so firmly that, although I can imagine re-reading it, I won't need to for a long while.
Here's another review, at In Bed With Books
disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher for review
Here's what I found this week; enjoy and let me know if I missed your post!
(Publishers, publicists, and writers--you are welcome to send me full schedules of blog tours, reviews I missed, etc. etc.)
The Abandoned, (aka Jennie), by Paul Gallico, at In Bed With Books
Aliens on Vacation, by Clete Barrett Smith, at Maria's Melange
The Beyonders: Chasing the Prophecy, by Brandon Mull, at SciFiChick
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles De Lint, at Mundie Kids
Cloneward Bound, by M.E. Castle, at Akossiwa Ketoglo
The Colossus Rises, by Peter Lerangis. Ongoing joint review at Maria's Melange and The Brian Lair, and another review at the American Book Center blog
Fake Mustache, by Tom Angleberger, at Books & Other Thoughts
The Flame in the Mist, by Kit Grindstaff, at YA Bibliophile (audiobook)
A Greyhound of a Girl, by Roddy Doyle, at Reads for Keeps
Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault, by Adam-Troy Castro, at Pass the Chiclets
Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski, at Finding Wonderland
The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at The Book Smugglers and Sonderbooks
Johnny and the Bomb, by Terry Pratchett, at Charlotte's Library
The Key and the Flame, by Claire Caterer, at From the Mixed Up Files
The Last Free Cat, by Jon Blake, at Ms. Yingling Reads
The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Charlotte's Library
Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris, by Marissa Moss, at That's Another Story
Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, at Fantasy Literature
Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Book Nut and books4yourkids
The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, at Kid Lit Geek
Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, at Abby the Librarian
Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile and Sonderbooks
Undertown, by Melvin Jules Bukiet, at Sharon the Librarian
Whatever After: Fairest of All, by Sara Mlynowski, at Becky's Book Reviews
Authors, Interviews, and Artwork
Shana Mlawski's Hammer of Witches is this week's Big Idea at Whatever
Liesl Shurtliff (Rump) at All For One and OneFour Kid Lit and I Like These Books
Kit Grindstaff (The Flame in the Mist) at Steph Su Reads
Claire M. Caterer (The Key and the Flame) at GreenBeanTeenQueen,
Literary Rambles , Nerdy Book Club. IceyBooks, The Hiding Spot, Fantasy Book Addict, and The Book Muncher (with giveaways)
Art work reveals (and giveaways) of The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healey, at Ms. Yingling Reads and The Book Smugglers
Marissa Moss (Mira's Diary series) at That's Another Story
Kate DiCamillo (talking about the metaphor matrix of Tiger Rising) at Cynsations
Other Good Stuff
The Victorians were strange, or perhaps just very much like us. They would have made great Peep Dioramas, in between creating headless portraits (from PetaPixel, where there are lots more, via io9).
Actually I think they were weirder than us. (These are really taxidermied kittens, from the museum of Walter Potter
, who didn't have Peeps to work with....).
Moving back to books, if you want to feast your eyes on award winning picture books of many lands (many of which are fantastical, and so relevant!), Tasha at Waking Brain Cells has a gallery of the nominees for the 2014 Hans Christian Anderson Award. I can't decide if this one, published in English as Great Book of Animal Portraits, by Croatian illustrator Svjetlan Junaković
, which is now stuck in my mind forever, is one I Must Have, or the stuff of nightmares (or possibly both, but at least these animals aren't taxidermied):
I see on further perusal that many of the other illustrations (re-imaginings of Old Masters with animals) are less disturbing....so I am very tempted. Here's "Vermeer's Study of a Young Frog:
, by Kiersten White, is a book so gripping that it held my attention while I read almost all of it cover to cover while waiting for my car to be fixed--and given that I was in a hideously uncomfy plastic chair, in anxious circumstances viz the fate of the car, this says a lot, I think.
If I had to sum it up in one sentence, it would be "a psychological mystery/thriller, with a smart, fierce heroine, similar in vibe to The Hunger Games
but with a narrower focus viz world-building, cast of characters, and premise."
But since I generally allow myself three paragraphs, or so, here they are:
Two orphaned sisters, each with a psychic ability, are imprisoned in an institution masking as a magnificent school. For Annie, the older sister, who is blind, the "school" offered all the educational opportunities she craved. And so, though every preternaturally honed instinct in Fia's mind screamed that it was wrong, the sisters were enrolled.
Those who ran the school were at first only interested in Annie's ability to see the future. But when they realized just what Fia's gifts entailed, and how easily she could be controlled by threats to her sister, they knew they could never let her go. And so Fia is made into a tool of violence, sent out on criminal missions for her mysterious masters...and Annie is a hostage.
If it goes on much longer, Fia will break. But Fia is about to find out who she can trust...and to finally chose her own path for the first time since her nightmare began.
So the story is told in the present, as Fia is beginning to follow a path that might lead to escape, but there are plentiful flashbacks that tell of violence and tension and really gripping psychological manipulation verging on horror, and some scenes from Annie's perspective as well. By the time events come to a head, the reader knows both sisters pretty well, and I felt nicely invested in Fia and her situation, curious about the mystery behind the "school," and anxious to know how it all played out.
My one reservation is Annie. She's the older sister, but her parents set up (with the best of intentions) a kind of nasty dynamic of Fia being the one to look after her, because of Annie being blind. And Annie has lived her life accepting this, not fighting much against it. She does have spurt of being an Active Participant in events toward the end, but mostly she is "passive blind sister," and her journey to active participation isn't desperately well-developed. (In plain English, Annie annoyed me).
Once sentence summary: Gripping, disturbing, and a good one for the YA reader who wants wants a thrilling read, starring a kick-ass heroine, that is neither a Dystopian with a capital D (although the particulars are far from Utopian) or a paranormal romance (although there is a whiff of love story).
Will I read it again? Perhaps, though it isn't a book I'll keep assuming I will want to. I can easily imagine, though, being happy to read it again if, in two or three years, I went back to the car repair shop and someone has left a copy of it there....
disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher, left by accident in car repair shop (I think), finished with the help of a library copy.
Note on cover: I do not think the young woman on the cover is a good representation of Fia. Her eyes look a tad to limpid, and it is not clear that you are about to read a book about a teenage girl who is forced to kill. However, the UK publishers of Mind Games decided to make sure there was no ambiguity:
, by Frances Eager, was published way back in 1976, and if I had gotten hold of it back then (when I was eight) I would have loved it to pieces. Alas, as an adult reader I couldn't quite feel the love--it just didn't go far
enough with the magic of its time travel premise to make it wonderful.
Beth is a girl at a boarding school run by nuns in England, whose mother died a few months before the book begins--she is full of (mostly) repressed, and totally understandable, grief, and spends most of her time indulging in extravagant daydreams, which she narrates to herself. Her journalist father was supposed to come back to England to spend Christmas, but he can't. So Beth is going to stay with the nuns, crossing over to their side of the campus, an old manor house (unknown and exciting territory!). She doesn't mind, exactly; though she misses her father, Christmas without her mother was going to be horrible regardless.
One day Beth, wandering the cold woods outside the school, dressed up in her Elizabethan costume from the school play (which strikes me as a sensible thing to do, if you are going to wander around imagining things), and singing Greensleeves to pass the time (as one does), meets a boy named Adam. Turns out, Adam is an actual Elizabethan, who's gotten involved with the Catholic priest underground. And he shares with Elizabeth the information that a Catholic priest hidden in the manor house, and she agrees that she will be the next link in the chain of messengers, and warn him that he must not go to the next house on his itinerary, where he will be captured.
But though Adam can come and go through time (he seems to be visiting the present), Elizabeth, with exception of one vision of the Elizabethan past, cannot. And though she tries to twist the heavily painted-over Tudor rose that opens the hidden priest hole, she cannot...and the chain of warning is broken.
So its a fine story, with lots of bonus points for interesting and sympathetic nuns running a school (not something you see much of, and I've always liked a. boarding schools and b. In This House of Brede
, by Rumer Godden, which is the best book about nuns ever), and Elizabeth is a girl who reminds me of me (not the dead mother part, but the narrated imaginings part), and that is just fine, and Adam is enigmatic and appealing, and the tension is great.
But the ending fizzles, and Adam doesn't get enough page time. Fifty or so more pages, with more time travelling, and I probably would like it lots more, but as it was the balance was off. The two stories-- Beth's life in the real world, and Adam's problems in the past-- seemed to be two separate pieces of bread (unobjectionable bread) with no tasty sandwich filling making them into a glorious whole.
Short answer: if you see this in a library booksale for 25 cents, go for it. If you have an imaginative and introspective book-loving girl around your house who is eight or nine years old, you could even look for it activly.
Note on ghost vs time travel: I am categorizing this as time slip rather than ghost, because Adam is still very much within his own time, objects from the past are solid, and Elizabeth at one point sees backward into the past. But I did get a sense of the author being reluctant to fully commit herself to one or the other, and this, now that I come to type it, may be the root of my dissatisfaction.
So this morning, in my usual state of last minute-ness, I went over to Above the Tree Line (if you aren't familiar with this, it's a place where publishers share their forthcoming catalogues), and checked out Macmillian's Fall catalogue looking for a W. on W. book.
There were a number of shiny books that caught my eye. (Did you know, for instance, that there's going to be a sequel to Dead End in Norvelt--From Norvelt to Nowhere? And there Conjured, by Sarah Beth Durst, which looks great, and I'm looking forward to Dark Lord, a Fiend in Need, by Jamie Thompson, and lots more.)
And then I got to The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
, by Catherynne M. Valente, coming October 8, 2013.
I wasn't desperately taken with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but I really, really liked its sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (or, as us Middle Grade sci fi/fantasy panelists for last year's Cybils called, it, The Girl with the Really Long Title). Here's my review
of that one. So I'm looking forward to this new one lots! (And I think the cover is great).
Here's the blurb:
"September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers."
Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine
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The release of Fyre, the seventh and final book of the Septimus Heap series last Tuesday, means that now is the perfect time to introduce any young readers of fantasy in your life to what I think is just about the most satisfying series of the past decade (right up there with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson).
And this is what I did--last Saturday my nine-year old started Magyk
, the first in the series (HarperCollins, 2005). Here's how I sold it to him--boy with magical abilities finds dragon egg. Here's what I didn't say--the boy doesn't know it's a dragon egg, and it doesn't hatch till book 2. But I was pretty confident that once he got started, he'd be hooked.
Indeed, he was. He read with an all-consuming emotional commitment, and I wish Angie Sage could have stopped by our house to hear the stream of exclamations, questions, excited comments, predictions, gasps, etc. coming from the comfy chair in our living room. In all sincerity, I truly do not think any author could ask for a better reaction to their book.
Less than a week later, he has almost finished the fourth book (the fact that is was spring break helped). Listening to his questions and remarks (he wanted me to stay in the same room, so as to facilitate this social aspect of his reading enjoyment) made it clear to me that my memory of the early books has gotten fuzzy, so I've started a re-read of the series myself in anticipation of Fyre.Magyk
is, in a nutshell, the story of how brave kids, with the help of useful adults, defeat a dark wizard. As the story begins, young Septimus Heap, seventh son of seventh son, born to a happy, though not wealthy, family of magic users living in the shadow of a magic filled castle. Septimus is pronounced dead by the midwife...but that very day his father finds a baby girl left outside in the snow, and little Jenna becomes the Heap families daughter. Fast forward ten years. An evil wizard, thought to be dead, but clearly not, returns to try to reclaim the castle. Jenna and the Heap family flee with the help of Marcia, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. A boy, Boy 412, from the sinister Young Army (sort of a Soviet Youth training horror) finds himself reluctantly fleeing with them (he doesn't yet grasp that he is being saved).
Moving right along in a bald summary that doesn't do justice to the story--bad wizard wants Jenna (she is the missing princess), and sends sinister forces against the refugees. The boy from the Young Army turns out to have great magical gifts. The adults do what they can, but things go wrong. Jenna, Boy 412, and the next oldest Heap son save the day with the help of an ancient, living, dragon boat.
That's the plot in a nutshell, but what makes this book so very fun to read is the zest with which Angie Sage has packed it with Magyk
(highlighted thus in the text). Magical creatures abound, there are lots of charms and potions and just plain old fun with magic. And it is packed with characters too--although Sage wisely moves a whole chunk of Heap brothers off-stage, there are more than enough people busily engaged in fending off danger to keep things humming.
I really enjoyed it this second time through. As for my son, he thinks these books are just about the best he has ever read, and plans to book-talk them up a storm to his wide circle of reading friends on Monday. For the younger reader in particular, who still reads with the wide-eyed wonder of the not-yet-cynical, this is great stuff.