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Once upon a time, First Second Books, creators of lovely graphic novels for kids, published a book called Nursery Rhyme Comics
, and it was good. Now they have filled a felt need with a second book in the same vein--Fairy Tale Comics
(coming Sept. 24), and it, too, is a book well worth adding to your child's library (after enjoying it yourself).
17 stellar cartoonists were gathered together to present, in graphic form, 17 fairy tales in kid-friendly fashion. The majority are well-known stories (Red Riding Hood, Snow White), but several are from outside the European tradition (like The Boy Who Drew Cats, which you can preview here
, and The Prince and the Tortoise). There's a nicely balanced mix of girl and boy and animal heroes. Some stick right to the traditional versions, others put little twists in (a female woodcutter, a boy who realizes he has no qualifications for king-ship, and refuses the crown, sparking a democratic revolution). In short, there's lots of fun.
Graphic novels for kids are excellent offerings for any reluctant readers you might have on hand. Some of the stories here have slightly denser text than others, but there's nothing here that's unsuitable for a young reader of 7 or 8, and many are great for emergent readers; that being said, even 13 year old boys will read it repeatedly (from personal observation) and grown-ups will enjoy it too.
This one is not just great for the reader, but also one for the budding graphic artist. When you have 17 different artists all gathered together, it's a fantastic way for a kid to see and learn different approaches to telling a story visually and rendering reality in comic form.
And I really do think this particular collection of fairy tales serves a felt need. Raising my boys, I've worried a bit about their fairy tale literacy--I've read stories out-loud to them, sure, but they've never voluntarily curled up with the Brothers Grimm, and so many of the fairy tale picture books are girl-oriented, and they weren't that interested. However, when something is presented in comic book form, its boy appeal soars....and voila, they become familiar with the stories. I hope there are more books to come!
It's my pleasure to be part of the Blog Tour for Fairy Tale Comics
, and to have interviewed one of the contributors--Bobby London
, whose story "Sweet Porridge!" kicks off the book.Charlotte
: So it's my understanding that Chris Duffy, the editor, read lots of fairy tales, picked the ones he thought would make a nice book with Calista Brill, the senior editor at First Second, and then found "cartoonists who would be a good match for particular stories" (from this interview at the Westfield Comics Blog
: More often than not, he'll just rely on his poker buddies. Charlotte
: Were you surprised to be asked to illustrate this story? Did you get a specific version of the story that specified "porridge," or did you get a chance to browse through versions with different food-stuffs (such as pasta)? Had you in fact had any previous experience drawing porridge, or other gelatinous substances, that might explain why you were picked for this one?Bobby
: I was surprised to be asked to draw the lead story, I'm usually found at the back of the bus, when I'm not busy being thrown under it. As for sampling grits, rice krispies or any other forms of breakfast cereal for the story, no, I did not; I don't think the Grimm Brothers would appreciate me changing the title of their story to "Sweet Pasta"; we're talking about the Grimm Bros. here, not Carlo Collodi
It's true I had to be adept at drawing any number of funky substances to keep my spot in National Lampoon, but for Fairy Tale Comics
I had to work very closely with Mark Martin, the talented cartoonist who translated my color layouts to Photoshop, to get precisely the right color of porridge yellow. Too much green or brown and I would have proven I taught the guys at Ren & Stimpy everything they know. And, no, it wasn't type casting; I prefer to think was chosen for this project because of my literary heritage, i.e. my familiarity with the works of Cervantes, Rabelais and Jonathan Swift.Charlotte
: I've been reading up on your past history as a cartoonist....how you have moved from comic strips for grown-ups to children's media, and now to graphic illustration for kids. Did you enjoy creating your version of the story?Bobby
: My past history is rather poorly represented in the media and generally in the context of the lives of other artists. My Wikipedia page has been vandalised - er, that is, I mean, "edited' and "rewritten" - over 2 dozen times by total strangers, fans of other cartoonists and people to whom I owe large sums of money. For instance, nobody knows that I didn't start out as an adult, have been drawing cartoons well since age 4 and submitting to Highlights For Children at 12. Of course, I was attempting to illustrate the Kama Sutra as soon as puberty set in but I couldn't have made the segue to kids comics without having a successful career illustrating for mainstream newspapers and magazines and I brought those characters with me to Nickelodeon Magazine via my comic strip, Cody
. It's a very liberating experience drawing comics for kids. Charlotte
: When you were working on Sweet Porridge, did thoughts of the youthful age of the possible audience affect choices you were making, or did you let things just happen?Bobby
: No, I don't have to think about it. My girlfriend will attest to my true age level being about 6. When writing for adults, I often used to get tired of having to shock myself so this is a holiday. And, you know, I get my nasty grownup ya-yas out drawing Dirty Duck so I don't feel compelled to sneak naughty messages into kid stuff, like some perverted creeps I know.Charlotte
: What will be next? Do you think you'll do more graphic illustration for kids, maybe even your own graphic novel?Bobby
: I'm working on an autobiography but it's not a graphic novel, I couldn't bear drawing *some* people I've had to work with over the years ( I'm a cartoonist, not a Witch Doctor). Yes, I'd love to write and illustrate a storybook or two if they'd still have me, and Chris Duffy has been nagging me to do a Cody graphic novel. Animation offers have come in, too. Believe me, it's a dream come true to still be in demand at age 63 but I think I'll have to hire an assistant. If that means I'm a sellout, so be it, I also get the Senior Discount at Chili's.Charlotte
: Thanks Bobby! And good luck with the autobiography.
And thanks also to First Second for the review copy of Fairy Tale Comics
More Than This
, by Patrick Ness (Candlewick, Sept.2013, YA)
Seth is drowning when we meet him, smashed against rocks by the brutally cold waves of the Pacific North West. But then he wakes...and finds himself weak and naked outside the house in England where he grew up, before tragedy drove his family to move to the US. The house and town seem to have been deserted for years, and he is all alone in a silent world choked in dust.
During the day, he survives on canned goods scavenged from abandoned shops. And at night, the dreams come, and Seth vividly relives his memories of the recent past, back when he was a high school kid, with a group of best friends, one of whom was a boy who was much more than friend.
He does not know what has happened, he does not know what is real. All he knows is that somehow, somewhere, there must be more than this...a feeling he has had for years, even before he went down to the ocean.
And there is. But the answers, such as they are, don't come easily (either to Seth or to the reader).
Um. Can't say anything more about the story, because it's a book in which the reader should follow Seth's journey with him. But I can say that this is one with great appeal to readers of speculative fiction that asks hard philosophical questions, readers who enjoy not knowing, and slowly realizing, readers who value character over easy resolution of plot threads, and, more mundanely, readers very interested in stories of kids surviving sans
grownups in abandoned worlds (guess which part I liked best!).
It is both moving and, to me at least, frustrating. Frustrating is perhaps the wrong word; I want one that conveys the sort of feeling that comes from being in a bad dream that slowly and steadily condenses into something more, taking its sweet time...and then, in true Patrick Ness style, zinging the reader's emotions and ratcheting up the tension, without any hand-holding.
But it was somewhat frustrating in the more standard sense of the word...I felt I was being asked to accept things that weren't sufficiently supported by the premises and world-building. For instance, even in the most empty of worlds, I think there would still be insects. I had just a few too many little bleated "but...." moments for me to truly love this one.
Which is not to say that this isn't a fine, memorable, powerful book, because it is.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher
I must say that life was easier back before school started--before I had to leave for work, I had two or three beautiful hours of morning solitude, no socks to find, lunches to pack, buses to put children...which meant that blogging was easier. And I would return from work to more peaceful relaxation time, without endless chivying of reluctant homework doers. I guess I will have to try to write more posts on the weekends...
But in any event, here is a quick look at The Monster in the Mudball, by S.P. Gates, a new book for upper elementary/younger middle school kids from Tu Books, the multicultural sci fi/fantasy imprint of Lee and Low.
The mudball had sat, undisturbed, on the top shelf of closet in London for 20 years, until the day it fell to the floor, and came into contact with water. The mud cracks, and out come feet with boney toes and talons...and young Jin watches in horror as the mudball runs off into the street.
Prisoned inside the mud was a Zilombo, an ancient monster from Africa. Now it's found a den in a derelict waterfront district, near the warehouse where Jin's Chinese grandparents make glorious Chinese dragons for a living. Zilombo had killed many times before, and now she is hungry again. And Jin's baby brother, nicknamed Smiler seems like the perfect tasty morsel.
But A.J. Zauyamakanda, Mizz Z. for short, Chief Inspector of Ancient Artifacts, soon arrives on the scene, determined to recapture the monster. But each time Zilombo returns to life, she has new powers...and Mizz Z., who has fought her before back in her native Malawi, might not be so lucky this time.
Jin and his big sister, Frankie, find themselves caught in a nightmare as they help battle Zilombo, desperately trying save their brother from her talons...
This is the sort of exciting Kid vs Monster book that has lots of older Elementary appeal. There is a lot of monstrous ickiness, lots of danger, and lots of action. Zilombo is almost too much monster to take--the new powers she's developed, though necessary for the plot, seem a tad excessive, though that probably won't bother the young readers, busily cheering Jin and Frankie on! What makes Zilombo interesting is that she's also developing more personhood--with this new awakening, she's beginning to realize that she's lonely, and her nascent fondness for Smiler wars with her savage hunger. Without that bit of monster character development, she would have just chomped him, so it's utterly necessary to the story and works rather well.
Jin is an unusual hero, in that he has dyspraxia, aka "clumsy child syndrome" -- and so he has to be more conscious and self-aware than your typical kid is during monster hunting. He has to work at it, which is a nice twist.
This is one I'd give to a fourth grade boy, or thereabouts, who enjoys stories in which ordinary kids fight extraordinary monsters! I'm not sure there's quite enough depth to satisfy much older readers, although Mizz Z.'s job as Inspector of Ancient Artifacts has intriguing potential...
(and here I am again with a label diemma--fantasy, because it's about a mythical type creature, or science fiction, because it's monsterous cryptozoology....I think I will go with the former).
Here's another review, at Ms. Yingling Reads
disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher
Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase
, by Jonathan Stroud
(Disney-Hyperion, upper Middle Grade, September 17, 2013)
In an alternate England, something (not explained yet) went awry, and the country is plagued by ghosts. Ghosts who can kill, which makes them especially troublesome. Fortunately, they can be dispatched by those with the proper equipment and training (as shown on the cover). Kids can see the ghosts better than grown-ups...and so they are the combatants in the front line of ghost hunting, which, of course, means that grown-ups can exploit them. And replace them when the ghosts kill them.
But Lockwood and Co. is a different sort of ghost-hunting business. Anthony Lockwood, still young enough to see ghosts himself, runs his own company. And when Lucy Carlyle, down her luck after her previous employment went sour in a deadly way, knocks on the door, he gives her a job. Supported by a third teen, the somewhat nerdy George (the research arm of the organization), Lockwood and Co. is ready to take the ghost hunting world by storm...
Except that things go wrong. Burning down a house by accident may be a surefire way to get rid of haunted room, but it's expensive. To pay of the debt incurred after that mischance, Lockwood and Co. agree to take on the ghosts of one of the most haunted houses in England...a place that can kill a ghost hunting kid, no matter how smart or well-prepared he or she might be.
So that's more or less the set-up, but it doesn't doesn't do justice to the adventures of ghost hunting and all the details of the world-building and the near-death experiences and restless hauntings and old murder mystery etc.!
It's mainly Lucy's story--she's the newcomer to Lockwood and Co., and we meet the two boys through her, and what is especially great is that we don't know any more about them than she does, and it is clear that there is just tons more to them than we see in this first book! The reader is given a chance to think and wonder, and I appreciated that. I enjoyed their company, too--they are smart, and sarcastic, and more vulnerable than they'd like to think they are....
So great characters, great premise, exciting ghosts and I Cannot Wait till the next book, when more about the very charming Anthony Lockwood, and more about the geekily appealing George, might be revealed! We already know Lucy pretty well, but I'm curious about how her relationships with the boys might change...
Note on age of reader: the ghosts are scary, the blood is bloody, and the deaths are real. I'm not giving this one to my ten year old...maybe next year, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to third or fourth graders. But it definitely feels more Middle Grade than YA--it's plucky kids taking on the grown-up world, rather than teens becoming grown-ups and finding luv. Give this one to a smart eleven- or twelve-year-old who likes a bit of violent supernatural gore, or the reader who likes zesty mysteries and intelligent writing, and who can tolerate supernatural gore, or some combination of the two.
I was a pretty appreciative reader myself (mostly because of being really interested in the characters). Leila was too--here's her post at Kirkus
Reviewed from an ARC procured for me at ALA by Anamaria of Books Together
, to whom I am very grateful.
Here's what I found in my blog reading this past week of interest to fans of Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy. Once again, though at times I had hope, I was unable to find a book review for every letter of the alphabet, and so I continue to hold my review for "X" in readiness...a new Z, a difficult letter, has entered the scene (thank you, Mr. Bacigalupi), but V remains an intractable problem (although since The Shadowhand Covenant, the sequel to The Vengekeep Prophecies, by Brian Farrey, comes out this October, maybe one of you all will want to read book 1 and give me a V....). No one is reviewing books beginning with A much either. And B is so two years ago...
Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu, at Malin's Blog of Books
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint, at Tales of the Marvelous
Congatious Colors of Mumpley Middle School, by Fowler DeWitt, at GreenBeanTeenQueen, Beth Fish Reads, This Kid Reviews Books, and Charlotte's Library (all with giveaways)
Chupacabra, by Roland Smith, at This Kid Reviews Books
Dragon Run, by Patrick Matthews, at Nerdophiles
Earthfall, by Mark Walden, at Nerdophiles
The Fallen Spaceman, by Lee Harding, at Views from the Tesseract
Frogged, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Charlotte's Library
Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, by Chris Riddell, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books
Handbook For Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell, at Rachel Neumeier
Island of Silence, by Lisa McMann, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Janitors, by Tyler Whitesides, at The ABC Writers Guild
Kingdom of the Wicked (Skulduggery Pleasant 7), by Derek Landy, at Original Content
The Lost Heir, by Tui T. Sutherland, at CatEared Reviews
The Lost Kingdom, by Matthew Kirby, at Fantasy Literature and By Singing Light
Magic Marks the Spot, by Caroline Carlson, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile and On Starships and Dragonwings
Mr. and Mrs. Bunny- Detectives Extraordinaire, by Polly Horvath, at Librarian of Snark
Oliver and the Seawigs, by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, at Wondrous Reads
Persephone the Daring (Godess Girls), by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Dee's Reads
The Phantom Toolbooth, by Norman Juster, at Becky's Book Reviews
The Quirks: Welcome to Normal, by Erin Soderberg, at Candace's Book Blog
Rose, by Holly Webb, at A Dream Within A Dream
The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Looking for the Panacea
The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood and Co.) by Jonathan Stroud, at thebookshelfgargoyle, Fairrosa Cyber Library, Nayu's Reading Corner, and Great Imaginations
Secrets of New Forest Academy (Janitors 2), by Tyler Whitesides, at Geo Librarian
Sidekicked, by John David Anderson, at Stop Hiting Your Brother
Sleeping Beauty's Daughters, by Diane Zahler, at GreenBeenTeenQueen
Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, by Charles Gilman, at Bookwyrme's Lair
The Time Fetch, by Amy Herrick, at Alison's Book Marks
The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Wild Born (Spirit Animals 1) by Brandon Mull, at Akossiwa Ketoglo, Random Musings of a Bibliophile, and Book Ends
The Wizard of Oz, adapted from the movie screenplay by Beth Bracken, at Kid Lit Reviews
Young Fredl, by Cynthia Voigt, at Librarian of Snark (audiobook review)
Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paulo Bacigalupi, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Three Oz books--Tick Tock, Scarcrow, and Rinkitink, at Tales of the Marvelous
Authors and Interviews
Ellen Booraem (Texting the Underworld) at The Mod Podge Bookshelf
Janice Hardy (The Healing Wars) at Nicole Y. Walters
Claire Legrand (The Year of Shadows) at Nerdy Book Club and Great Imaginations
Diane Zahler (Sleeping Beauty's Daughters) at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
Caroline Carlson (Magic Marks the Spot) at Smack Dab in the Middle
Christine Brodien-Jones (The Glass Puzzle) at The Mod Podge Bookshelf
A.J. Hartley (Darwen Arkwright and the School of Shadows) at Nerdy Book Club
Susan Cooper, at Indy Week
Other Good Stuff
The Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards' finalists announced
Five Sci Fi pet peeves, at Views from the Tesseract
A nice list of Percy Jackson read-alikes at Bookshelves of Doom
Lee and Low's New Voices Award deadline is Sept. 30
A new digital magazine for Middle Grade readers is coming! "The inaugural issue of Middle Shelf
comes out this October. Features will include interviews with Margaret Petersen Haddix (author of Shadow Children and The Missing series), cover artist Gilbert Ford, and 12-year-old author MacKenzie Wagner. Top reads for the Halloween season will be included along with spotlights on non-fiction, graphic novel, poetry, and novelty titles." Read more here
(I'm hosting a giveaway
of a YA time travel book, Infinityglass, by Myra McEntire, and very few people have entered, which makes me feel Sad, so even thought its not MG, maybe some of you might be interested?).
, by Vivian Vande Velde (HMH Books for Young Readers, April, 2013), puts a fun spin on the old fairy tale of the princess who kisses the frog prince. In this case, when young Princess Imogene kisses an enchanted frog one day at his request (without getting too freaked out about it--she is a sensible type, unsquemish viz amphibians), he does indeed transform back into a boy as expected. But as she kisses him, Imogene transforms into a frog! To her horror, she learns that the only way out of the enchantment is to pass the kiss, and concomitant frog-ness, on to another victim!
The ex-frog boy won't help her, the witch who enchanted him in the first place won't help her...and before Imogene can hop home to find her parents, she's kidnapped by a rag-tag bunch of travelling players. A talking frog adds zest to any performance...but every day finds her farther from home, trapped in a bucket and eating flies, when she's not reluctantly entertaining the masses.
This being a fairy tale re-imagining for the younger reader, Imogene does end up restored to her former self. But rather disappointingly, it's not through her own agency or cleverness, but rather because another character decides to help her. And so, though the premise of the story is fun, and Imogene's adventures as a frog are entertaining, it felt a tad flat in the end. I kept waiting for Imogene to hatch a Cunning Plan, or something...and it never happened--though that being said, she does come up with the cunning a ha! moment that sets her free without be-frogging anyone else!
Oh well. Imogene's likeable, the frog spell and its implications are fun, and in short, it's a perfectly nice one to give a fairy-tale loving eight- or nine-year-old.
Here's a very small detail (one sentence worth) I liked--Imogene is a fairly typical un-princessly princess--she likes to run around and not worry about getting grubby. However, she also enjoys embroidery, and it's nice to see sewing not as just one of the unpleasant things of princess girl life but as something worthwhile.
Don't you just hate it when you are reading happily along, lost in the world of a story, and suddenly a small detail or choice of word throws you right out of the story? This has happened to me three times recently, and I am still brooding about these three ridiculously small details, so I thought if I shared, maybe I could Put It All Behind Me. These things are so minor that they don't (or shouldn't, for crying out loud) materially affect the overall quality of the story--other readers might glide happily over the same thing--so I'm not going to call out the books by name (though you might recognize them).
1. So we have just slipped in time back to the early 1940s, and our protagonist is going down the stairs to breakfast. She meets the maid, coming in with a basket of bedding from off the clothesline. BUT--I hang my own washing up on a clothesline, and you can't bring things in early in the morning because they are damp with dew (I have had to stick my children's socks in the microwave on occasion so as to enable them to go to school with clean, dry socks). Sheets and stuff you want to be really nice and dry (I have never microwaved a sheet). So I spent ages, absolutely ages, wondering if it were possible--the main character has slept late (but her mother is still eating breakfast), the sun rises very early in Maine in summer (but is it early enough?), maybe there was a stiff breeze, what did the family sleep on the night before--would they have had two sets of bedding (which implies more than just sheets...) etc.
2. A girl wants to give a vampire a memorable kiss, so she bites her tongue till it bleeds. I found myself chewing thoughtfully on my own tongue for several days--the tongue is quite tough, and to get a reasonable amount of blood you can't just nibble the side of it...but if you really bit down hard your teeth might go through...and wouldn't it just be so much easier to bite the side of your mouth, which I accidentally do a lot anyway, or possibly the lip, which is much more full of blood (as I have seen during the various occasions when my children fell on their faces)....
3. Benjamin Franklin thanks other gentleman for "leaguing" with him. What? Leaguing is a verb (!??!!) that might be used in the 18th century? Or is it one of those bothersome noun-into-verb things (I will never "gift" anybody anything) that are so prevalent these days? I had to stop reading and spent the rest of my bus ride brooding, and had to check the dictionary when I got home. I didn't find anything that convinced me Ben would have used it as a verb.
Feel free to share your own small bothers!
The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School
, by Fowler DeWitt, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (Atheneum, Middle Grade, September 3, 2013), is tailor-made for kids who like their wacky middle school science fun with glowing snot. And glowing puke...
Young Wilmer Dooley wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, famous for his invention of SugarBUZZZZ, 12 fluorescent colored flavors of high energy fun. So Wilmer has set his sights on the sixth grade science medal...and if he can get the beautiful Roxy to smile favorably on him, that would make his year even better.
When his classmates start flashing fluorescent colors of his own, and bouncing of the walls with manic energy (more so than usual), Wilmer knows he has his science project. So he sets of to find the cause of this colorful contagion in true scientific style. And yes, glowing snot and puke samples are an essential part of his data. But there are those who want Wilmer to fail--his hostile science teacher (threatened by his intelligence) and his sixth-grade rival, Claudius, who's determined to take on the role of Evil Genius.
The stakes get higher when Wilmer discovers the source of the epidemic...and learns that, if left untreated, his classmates might well explode...
So yes, there's ick (not exactly appealing to the grown-up reader). But there are kids out there who will doubtless find it funny as all get out. The colorful contagion and its manifestations are divertingly presented. Looking past the snot, the book actually offers a nice introduction to epidemiology and the scientific method, that should appeal to the scientifically-minded reader who can tolerate wackiness.
I'm not quite sure that fifth and sixth grade boys, the most likely readers, will appreciate the amount of page time (considerable) given to Wilmer's unrequited crush--from my own experience, boys that age still shun open acknowledgement of that part of life (finding it more disturbing than glowing snot). The book opens with Wilmer day-dreaming about Roxy, which might make it off-putting.
I also can't help be bothered by the minor but distressing fact that Wilmer took fourteen test-tubes home from his science classroom. This gives his teacher, who suspects him, a legitimate reason to dislike him, and given that Wilmer's dad is a scientist, couldn't he have just asked at home?
Final answer: offer it to kids fascinated by gross science, with a tolerance for the absurd (this is one of those handy cases where readers who find the cover appealing will almost certainly enjoy the book).
Courtesy of the publishers, I'm hosting a giveaway of one copy of The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School plus a box of custom-made Contagious Colors band-aids! Just leave a comment to enter.
Here's another review (and giveaway) at GreenBeanTeenQueen
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher
Here's the tee-shirt my son wore for his first day of eighth grade:
You might recognize it from the Geek Your Library
campaign; I was offered one by my library as a thank you for running the Friends group.
I think Geek Your Library is really cool, and I've enjoyed seeking all the Geek posters go up...but it is, perhaps, totally and utterly obscure to those who don't know what it's all about.
I thought I had explained it to my son....but he was, apparently, unable to explain it in turn to all the kids at school who didn't get it. Oh well.
I just went back to the Geek Your Library site and geeked the Cybils! Here's the section
where you too can show off what you geek!
Courtesy of the publisher, I'm hosting a giveaway of a copy of Infinityglass
plus an Infinityglass poster! Just leave a comment by next Tuesday at midnight to enter. Infinityglass
(Edgmont, August 2013) is the third books of Myra McEntire's Hourglass trilogy--romantic suspense involving a power struggle over the control of paranormal abilities, including time travel. In a nutshell, the discovery that some people have genetically determined supranatural talents has led to a conflict between various powerful individuals over control and profit. And the teenagers who have the abilities, all drawn together by chance, or by the manipulation of their pasts, struggle to make sense of the secrets, lies, and plots that are shaping their lives, so as to make sure that the manipulation of time does not threaten their chance of a future.
Each book in the trilogy focuses on a different pair of teenagers, who must learn to work together and trust each other, while struggling to thwart dangers, ultimately falling into true love. In a sense, all the tensions of the larger plot (the murders, the various bad guy characters, the hopping in and out of time) are sort of a static-y surround for this romantic focus--I, at any rate, ended each book with a much clearer understanding of the characters' relationships than I did of what the heck was actually happening in the bigger picture (this could be my failing as a reader).
This third book focuses on Dune, protégée of the Hourglass Institute (the good guys), who can manipulate water with his mind. When he was a kid, he unwittingly used his ability to bring a tidal wave crashing into his Samoan island home...killing, among others, his own father. Now a geeky, handsome teenager, he stays as far from the ocean as possible, so going to New Orleans on a mission for the institute wasn't what he really wanted to do....But he is the one who knows the most about the Infinityglass, the legendary key to time travel, so off he goes.
The Infinityglass is no artifact, though--it's a living person. A teenaged-girl named Hallie, whose father is basically a mob boss getting rich from the time travel retrieval of priceless artifacts. Hallie is essentially imprisoned by her protective father (he has reason to keep her locked-up, as she is his one vulnerability, and plenty of people hate him), but now her powers as the Infinityglass are awakening...and her father's house can no longer hold her.
Dune has been installed as her bodyguard, though Hallie and her father both know why he's really there. Dune and Hallie, forced together by circumstances, fall in love while danger swirls around them.
Although no-one in Infinityglass deliberately travels through time, there's plenty of time slippiness. Ripples of the past, in the form of people and even whole scenes, spill into the world of those like Hallie who can see them. But Hallie is unique--she doesn't just see the ripples, she can step inside these shadow people from the past, and they can possess her. When the moments she lives with them are pleasant, it's not so bad, but this isn't always the case...
That is not all that sets her apart. As the Infinityglass, she can transfer one person's power to another, and this makes her a most desirable weapon. One the bad guys want, more than somewhat.
As I said before, the focus of this book, and the previous two, is the relationship between the two central characters. So this is a series I'd recommend to the reader who loves romance with a paranormal twist (things get quite steamy between Hallie and Dune), not so much one I'd recommend to the reader of Time Travel. That being said, the paranormal elements do add an intriguing backdrop for the romance, with pleasingly high stakes (even if I wasn't always sure I was remembering enough from book 1 to make sense of them).
(leave a comment with some way to reach you to enter the giveaway)
This week's Timeslip Tuesday will go up shortly, but before that, your help is needed!
From time to time, I get requests from readers for help identifying time travel books. Some I know, some I don't, and here are two of the later; let me know if you recognize them!
First one: "When I was younger I read a book about a guy who time travels back to the time of the Battle of Naseby- (Roundheads and Cavaliers). Unfortunately I can't remember the title or Author! I know he was a motor- biker and he falls in love with a woman from the period he goes back to, but that is about all I can remember."
Second one: "I do not know the title or the author, though I do know I was reading it before high school, which means it was published pre-1995, and since it was about time travel to the Revolutionary War, it was probably published sometime after 1783. Trade paperback pushes that date to sometime after 1950, though it might have been a reprint. It's probably a 9-12 year old reading level, though I am not sure.
The story is about a girl and her brother who find a watch buried on a hill, and when they wind the watch, it transports them back to the Revolutionary War. While they are attempting to return to their original time period, they end up being rescued and staying in the house of an (woman) clam digger, as they are hiding from Hessians."
Cool Creations in 35 Pieces
, by Sean Kenney (Henry Holt, Sept. 10, 2013), is exactly what the title (and subtitle) promise--it's a how-to book of Lego models you can build with (wait for it) just 35 pieces. The same pieces, used over and over, can make robots, spacecraft (I like the Space Shark), buildings, furniture and household objects (included in this category is the Iridium Q-45 Space Modulator, which made me smile--I think I need one), and more. Sean Kenney
is a Lego Master--he is a professional Lego artist who owns nearly 2 million pieces of Lego, makes ginormous Lego art, and has published several other Lego books for kids. So he knows whereof he speaks, design-wise, and the creations he illustrates in the book demonstrate this.
This book is both useful and inspiring. I don't think I'm alone in having a ginormous box of Lego bits, that are mostly unused. It's not that my boys don't still play with Lego, because they do; it's just that they mostly move the minifigures, engaged in epic fantasy adventures, through a blasted wasteland of Lego bits.
Sample of playroom floor, with bonus Walrus:
And this is just fine, but they don't spend much time thinking critically and creatively about what they can build. So this morning we tried this book.
The first, and most exciting, challenge, was to find the requisite 35 pieces (happily the book has a handy page with pictures of them all).
My son assured me that if we kept digging, we could find them all.
The interior of our Lego box, thousands of pieces not shown:
Lots of scrabbling and matching pieces to pictures later (which was rather fun), we had a complete set.
And my thirteen year old built one of the robots, and enjoyed doing so:
I am glad he was willing to play along, because his opinion as a nine-year veteran of Lego building is useful. He felt that the book was not just for beginners. Although the title suggests that it's an introduction to building with Lego, and it is just fine as such, in fact there aren't explicit instructions for every single thing in the book. So it offers a bit more of a challenge than one might think. That being said, the creations are not extraodinarily complicated, and of course only use, at most, 35 pieces...
My ten-year-old opined on the cuteness of many of the Lego robots and animals, and was inspired by them to make a robot turtle, which he declined to share.
Note: unless you are a long-time amasser of Legos, you might well not have the exact 35 pieces used in the book. If you are giving this book to a kid who is particular about having exactly what he or she is supposed to have, it might be wise to make sure the specific pieces will be available. You can order them individually, if you want to spend an extra bit of money just to be sure, and then you have a very nice present indeed.
On the other hand, you don't have to stick to the particular 35 pieces the author uses--if I were doing this for a Lego group at a library, I'd just give each kid 35 pieces of randomness, pass the book around for inspiration, and challenge them to see what they can do.
In short, I think this is a nice one for both the young entrant into the world of Lego, and one that sparks new creativity in the experienced builder. Don't make the mistake of thinking it's just for boys--although some boy favorites, like vehicles, are included, girls like making spaceships and aliens just fine, and, though it does feel a bit like falling into gender stereotypes, the section on household furnishings might well have appealed to young girl me lots.
At Sean Kenney's website
, there's a gallery where kids can share photos of their own creations (for free). There's nothing there yet (since I'm writing this before the book has been published), but I bet it will be another handy source of inspiration.
Final answer: My boys don't want me to pass the book on to the library.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.
This week's Non-fiction Monday is hosted by A Mom's Spare Time.
Welcome to the first MG SFF of fall...or perhaps the last MG SFF round-up of summer--I still have one kid who hasn't started school yet.
Please let me know if I missed your posts so that I can stick them in!
The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy, at vikki vansickle on reading, writing, and other pipe dreams
The Arcade Catastrophe, by Brandon Mull, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Castle of Shadows, by Ellen Renner, at Kiss the Book
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles De Lint, at alibrarymama
Curse of the Broomstaff (Janitors 3), by Tyler Whitesides, at Akossiwa Ketoglo
Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Slatebreakers and GreenBeanTeenQueen
The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Guys Lit Wire and Jennifer Rumberger
The Fellowship for Alien Detection, by Kevin Emerson, at Dragons Who Read
The Flame in the Mist, by Kit Grindstaff, at A Reader of Fictions
Fyre, by Angie Sage, at Log Cabin Library
Ghost Hawk, by Susan Cooper, at We Sat Down
Goblins, by Philip Reeve, at Charlotte's Library
The Golden Door, by Emily Rodda, at Good Books and Good Wine
A Greyhound of a Girl, by Roddy Doyle, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia
Guys Read: Other Worlds, edited by Jon Scieszka, at Charlotte's Library
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Pages Unbound
How to Catch a Boogle, by Catherine Jinks, at magical middle grade literature
Hyperion and the Great Balls of Fire, by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams, at Back to Books
Janitors, by Tyler Whitesides, at The Readathon
Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at The Write Path
Keeper of Reign, by Emma Right, at A TiffyFit's Reading Corner
Lake of Skulls: a Knight's Story, by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, at mstamireads
Listening for Lucca, by Suzanne LaFleur, at Charlotte's Library
Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at The Book Zone and Snuggling on the Sofa
The Lost Kingdom, by Matthew Kirby, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Mary Poppins Comes Back, by P.L. Travers, at Becky's Book Reviews
The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende (a flashback, rather than a review per se) at Views From the Tesseract
North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler, at Great Imaginations
Oliver and the Seawigs, by Philip Reeve, at Thoughts from the Hearthfire
Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at Dead Houseplants
Professor Gargoyle, by Charles Gilman, at Kayla's Reads and Reviews
The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Bluerose's Heart
Rose, by Holly Webb, at Next Best Book, Books Beside My Bed, Hook of a Book, and The Book Cellar
Roverandum, by J.R.R. Tolkien, at The Literaray Omnivore
Secrets of New Forest Academy (Janitors, Book 2), by Tyler Whitesides, at Akossiwa Ketoglo
Secrets at Sea, by Richard Peck, at The Shady Glade
Sleeping Beauty's Daughters, by Diane Zahler, at There's a Book and Manga Maniac Café
The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Book Twerps
The Time Fetch, by Amy Herrick, at books4yourkids and Margo Berendsen
W.A.R.P.: The Reluctant Assassin, by Eoin Colfer, at Teen Librarian Tool Box (audiobook review)
Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Welcome to My Tweendom
The Year of Shadows, by Claire Legrand, at The Pretty Good Gatsby
Zombie Camp, by Naida Higgins, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Authors and Interviews
Anne Ursu (The Real Boy) at Kirby's Lane
Mike Jung (Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities) at Writers on the Journey
Claire Legrand (The Year of Shadows) at Teach Mentor Texts and The Midnight Garden
Tyler Whitesides (the Janitors series) at The Write Path
Ellen Booraem (Texting the Underworld) at The Scene 13 Blog
Other Good Stuff
A nice list of dragon books at Views from the Tesseract
Witches: Queens, Chrones, and Little Girls, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles
Two reading challenges of interest to MG SFF readers-- A Fairy Tale Readathon, hosted by Debz Bookshelf, and the eighth R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) Challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings
For those desperate to stay au courant with middle grade sci fi/fantasy, I (in a fit of madness) went through Kirkus' review from October 16, 2012 to the present and plucked out all the MG sff books, which I then made into a list. Why October 16? Because that is the beginning date of eligibility for this year's Cybils Awards contenders (I'll keep updating this list until October 15, the cut-off date).
Finally, here's a lovely round-up of lego libraries and bookstores at Book Riot. For example, the interior of Powell's:
Today is the last day to apply to be a panelist for the 2013 Cybils Awards! (and Book Aps, Poetry, and the older Non-fiction categories would welcome a few more applicants...). This year I'm the organizer of the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Category (aka SF EMG) of the Cybils Awards, which means that I am picking people for the first and second round panels.
So the choosing panelist stage of the Cybils is almost over (the announcement will come in mid-September, and then comes the book nomination part (October 1-15), and then the reading part begins in earnest...at which point some of us open the nominations page every hour or so to keep track of what has and hasn't been nominated.
And because I live in the future, I spent a happy while going through all the Kirkus reviews from October 16, 2012 (the beginning of this year's eligibility period) to today, pulling out books that looked like there were eligible in SF EMG. I don't know if they are, and of course there are many books that Kirkus didn't review, and more to come, but for what it's worth, here's what I found (and if you are still on the fence about putting your name in for SF EMG, it might be useful to see what our book list might include!). I'll be updating this list periodically for my own amusement and edification....
I can't promise I got them all, or didn't make mistakes, and I'm sorry I didn't have time to put links to the reviews in; the ones I'm adding after the initial post are getting them.
The Vengekeep Prophecies, by Brian Farrey
The Maelstrom, by Henry H. Neff
The Twinning Project, by Robert Lipsyte
"Who Could that Be At This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket
Hollow Earth, by John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman
The Secret Prophecy, by Herbie Brennan
Curse of the Thirteenth Fey, by Jane Yolen
Divide and Conquer, by Carrie Ryan
Super, by Matthew Cody
Here Where the Sunbeams are Green, by Helen Phillips
Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck, by A.J.Hartley
The Lost King, by Ursula Jones
Heroes of Mercy Hall, by Garth Edwards
Secrets of Mercy Hall, by Garth Edwards
The Steam Mole, by Dave Freer (YA?)
The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon, by S.S. Taylor
Fire Prophet, by Jerel Law
Magicalamity, by Kate Saunders
Zombie Kid, by Scott J. Savage
Shadow Breakers, by Daniel Blythe
If the Shoe Fits, by Sarah Mlynowski
The Lost Heir, by Tui T. Sutherland
The Shadow Mask, by Lin Oliver and Theo Baker
How to Scare the Pants off your Pets, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver
Quest for the Spark, Book Three, by Tom Sniegoski
The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz
The Seven Swords, by Nils Johnson-Shelton
Jinx, by Sage Blackwood
The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Hokey Pokey, by Jerry Spinelli
The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket, by John Boyne
Hyde and Shriek, by David Lubar
The Slither Sisters, by Charles Gilman
Real Mermaids Don't Need High Heels, by Hélène Boudreau
Girl Meets Ghost, by Lauren Barnholdt The Trap Door, by Lisa McMann
Unlucky Charms, by Adam Rex
Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp, by Nathan Bransford
City of Death, by Laurence Yep
The Curse of the Pharaoh, by Steve Stevenson
Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff, by Robert Paul Weston
A Dash of Magic, by Kathryn Littlewood
Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun, by Liz Kessler
A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graff
Cloneward Bound, by M.E. Castle
The Fellowship for Alien Detection, by Kevin Emerson
Pip and the Twilight Seekers, by Chris Mould
The Runaway King, by Jennifer A. Nielsen
In Search of Goliathus Hercules, by Jennifer Angus
My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, by Anna Staniszewski
Freaks, by Kieran Larwood
The Legend Thief, by E.J. Patten
Undertown, by Melvin Jules Bukiet
Goulish Song, by William Alexander
Mirage, by Jenn Reese
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint
The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland
Garden Princess, by Kristin Kladstrup
The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, by Kate Saunders
Code, by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time, by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Poison, by Bridget Zinn (YA?)
Through the Skylight, by Ian Baucom
The Witch's Curse, by Keith McGowan (YA?)
Bot Wars, by J.V. Kade
The Ultra Violets, by Sophie Bell
When the Butterflies Came, by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Canary in the Coal Mine, by Madelyn Rosenberg
Home Sweet Rome, by Marissa Moss
How I Met My Monster, by R.L. Stine
Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski (YA?)
Frogged, by Vivian Vande Velde
The Key and the Flame, by Claire M. Caterer
The Sasquatch Escape, by Suzanne Selfors
Lenny Cyrus, School Virus, by Joe Schreiber
Story's End, by Marissa Burt
Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis
We Give a Squid a Wedgie, by C. Alexander London
The Flame in the Mist, by Kit Grindstaff
The Incredible Charlotte Sycamore, by Kate Maddison
Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff
Thrice Upon a Marigold, by Jean Ferris
Bad Unicorn, by Platte F. Clark
Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault, by Adam-Troy Castro
Fyre, by Angie Sage
Summerkin, by Sarah Prineas
The Silver Dream, by Neil Gaiman, Michael Reaves, and Mallory Reaves (YA?)
House of Secrets, by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini
The Ability, by M.M. Vaughan
Unnatural Creatures, edited by Neil Gaiman and Maria Dahvana Headley (YA?)
The Hidden Deep, by Chrita Kine
The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy
Spy Camp, by Stuart Gibbs
The Path of Names, by Ari Goelman
The Spies of Gerander, by Frances Watts
New Lands, by Geoff Rodkey
Doll Bones, by Holly Black
Olympus at War, by Kate O'Hearn
Loki's Wolves, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr
Teacher's Pest, by Charles Gilman
The Lightning Catcher, by Anne Cameron
An Army of Frogs, by Trevor Pryce and Joel Naftali
A Hidden Enemy, by Erin Hunter
The Reluctant Assassin, by Eoin Colfer
Odessa Again, by Dana Reinhardt
The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani
The Glitter Trap, by Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson
A Box of Gargoyles, by Anne Nesbet
The Neptune Project, by Polly Holyoke
Giving to the Poor, by Peter Abrahams
The Watcher in the Shadows, by Chris Moriarty
The Planet Thieves, by Dan Krokos
The Pirate's Coin, by Marianne Malone
Handbook for Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell
A Mischief of Mermaids, by Suzanne Harper
The Secret of the Twelfth Continent, by Antonia Michaelis
Haunters, by Thomas Taylor
Curse of the Ancients, by Matt de la Pena
Starbounders, by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
The Apprentices, by Maile Meloy
Escape from the Pipe Men! by Mary G. Thompson
Pi in the Sky, by Wendy Mass Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal (YA?)
The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman
Evil Eye, by Jeff Szpirglas
The Ravens of Solemano, by Eden Unger Bowditch
How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle (I'm uncertain if this one is speculative fiction or not...)
Sidekicked, by John David Anderson
Playing With Fire, by Bruce Hale
The Feros, by Wesley King
The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail, by Richard Peck
What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World, by Henry Clark
Rules for Ghosting, by A.J. Paquette
Saving Thanehaven, by Catherine Jinks
Bone Quill, by John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman
The Glass Puzzle, by Christine Brodien-Jones
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt
The Alchemist War, by John Seven
The Rise of a Legend, by Kathryn Lasky
The Hypnotists, by Gordon Korman
The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe, by Dan Poblocki
Ghost Hawk, by Susan Cooper
My Totally Awkward Supernatural Crush, by Laura Toffler-Corrie
North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler
Listening for Lucca, by Suzanne LaFleur
Momo, by Michael Ende
False Sight, by Dan Krokos
The Time Fetch, by Amy Herrick
Fear the Barfitron, by M.D. Payne
Texting the Underworld, by Ellen Booraem
Sleeping Beauty's Daughters, by Diane Zahler
The Year of Shadows, by Claire Legrand
Earthfall, by Mark Waldon
The Lost Kingdom, by Matthew Kirby
Time Travel Trouble, by Scott Seegert
The Beasts of Upton Puddle, by Simon West-Bulford
Hit the Road, Helen, by Kate McMullan
Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell, by Gary Urey
Mickey Price Journey to Oblivian, by John P. Stanley
Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird, by Eleanor Hawkin
How to Catch a Boggle, by Catherine Jinx
Risked, by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Island of Fire, by Lisa McMann
The Harder the Fall, by Lauren Barnholdt
The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School, by Fowler DeWitt
Rose, by Holly Webb
Seamus Heaney has died, and I am sad.
He was the first poet I ever heard read from his poetry, back years ago in college, and it was a powerful thing to hear his words in his own voice, and his Station Island was the first book of poetry I ever bought. When I married, it joined my husband's own Seamus Heaney books--happily, it was one he did not already have--and it has sat with them in peace for years, unread....
And this morning, I undistracted myself from the nasty fuss of work thoughts, and opened the book at random...and goldfinch and kingfisher "rent the veil of the usual" and I vowed not to give in to "the pathos of waterhens and panicky corncrakes" of an ordinary day (from "Drifting Off," p 104 in Station Island).
Here the last stanza in full:
"But when goldfinch or kingfisher rent
the veil of the usual,
pinions whispered and braced
as I stooped, unwieldy
my spurs at the ready."
Guys Read: Other Worlds
, edited by Jon Scieszka (Walden Pond Press, Sept. 17 2013), is the fourth of a series of anthologies of boy-friendly (which I guess was defined by each author however they wanted to) short stories. This articular volume, as its title implies, is a collection of sci fi and fantasy stories, written (and in one case, drawn) by hot-shot names in middle grade fiction:
Ray Bradbury (!)
and Shaun Tan (he's the one who drew...which you could have guessed).
I don't how to really "review" anthologies, but I can make definitive statements that may be useful for those wondering if they should get a hold of it.
1. It has a Percy Jackson story. It's not one that adds all that much to the on-going saga (it's just a little sideways adventure that Percy and Grover have in New York City), but it's fun. Percy Jackson fans will want to read it.
2. Shaun Tan is a genius, and his offering, though short, was one that I found curiously moving (and I liked the iguanas).
3. Mostly it's about boys doing things, but the main character of Shannon Hale's offering, "Bouncing the Grinning Goat," is a girl, and it's a nicely satisfying fantasy story that should appeal to guys just fine.
4. Eric Nylund's story, "The Warlords of Recess," is funny--aliens laid low by playground rules. I imagine that a lot of kids, in thrall to those same rules, will find it very satisfying.
5. Some of the stories are really superb science fiction, the sort where you're reading along, and then there's a zingy shift, an !!!! moment, and suddenly the picture is all changed, and you end the story with a chill on your neck and a sigh of satisfaction (Neil Shusterman's "The Dirt on Our Shoes," and D.J. MacHale's "The Scout"). I am feeling a touch of frisson
just remembering these two.
6. The Ray Bradbury story, "Frost and Fire," was first published back in 1946, and anthologized in R is for Rocket
. It's a powerful story (pushing toward novella in length), and is a good, meaty, very sci fi introduction to Bradbury. It's perhaps the most challenging of the stories--most of them start off with seemingly ordinary main characters moving into strange-ness, but Bradbury starts off strange, and gradually adds humanity to his characters and their desperate circumstances. I think it's a good sort of challenge that will push the readers who will appreciate it toward other sophisticated, "what if" speculative fiction, and possibly toward more Bradbury (though I wish I myself have never read some of the Bradbury I did, because it haunts me).
7. On Amazon the age range is given as 3-7. I would say it's more like 5-8, with the caveat that there are doubtless high-reading fourth graders who would enjoy it just fine. I don't think, for what it's worth, that my own avidly reading 10 year old is quite ready to appreciate some of the stories, mainly because he's not used to science fiction, but partly because many of the stories are pretty sophisticated, and require the reader to make connections that aren't spelled out in explicit detail (although I could be selling him short...)
So the anthology does what it should do, and I bet lots of kids will enjoy lots of the stories, and I bet lots will only read the Percy Jackson story, but then maybe even those kids will go back to the book, and find a new author or so they like, and then maybe they'll go on from there....(this presupposes that in today's Internet world, kids aren't the same sort of passive lumps that I was--it never occurred to me to wonder what else my favorite authors had written....)
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher
My little reading heart was just zinging away as I read the first few chapters of Earth Girl
, by Janet Edwards (Pyr, 2013 in the US, 2012 in the UK, YA). It's about a girl going to college far in the future (650 years) to study to be an archaeologist of Earth's lost past (us)! I do love books in which people who are actually interested in an academic subject go off and study it, and it is taken seriously and is not just window dressing. As an archaeologist myself, I tend to be wary of books with contemporary archaeology (because of being easily bothered when details are wrong), but 650 years in the future, one can make allowances, and I was not disappointed at all by how my field is being practiced on a Earth of crumbling skyscrapers in abandoned cities overrun by wolves....
I also found myself liking the main character, 18-year-old Jarra, very much. Jarra is one of a relative small number of people who are stuck on earth--humanity had gone out into the starts, but some people's bodies just can't handle portal-ing onto alien planets. Those who left earth look down on "handicapped" people like Jenna, thinking of them as unevolved apes. And Jarra is pissed off by this. So to pursue her passion for archaeology while striking an angry blow at those who think she's sub-human, Jarra decides she's not going to an Earthbound college. She can't travel to another plant, but first year courses in archaeology run by universities from other planets have to come to Earth to get to the dig sites...and so Jenna applies for one of those. Maybe she won't be able to graduate, but at least, after Showing Them during the first year, she'll have proven that she is just as smart and capable as any other human, even if she is an "ape."
And so she meets her classmate, thirty or so kids her age from various sectors of the galaxy, and, since Jenna has known she's wanted to be an archaeologist her whole life, and has been going on digs since she was a kid, she starts to prove how knowledgeable and capable she is right from the beginning. It's a very realistic portrayal of life in an archaeological field school, where one is thrust into close proximity with a group of strangers, required to work like a dog, and with Spartan living conditions. There are interpersonal tensions, both positive and negative--and Jarra and Fian, a nice boy from the Delta system, start to experience the former. Here's what's nice about their relationship--they laugh a lot together. They don't just jump into bed (it's a while before they even kiss), but instead they spend quality time having fun mocking each other's favorite vid shows first, and making each other laugh, and developing a solid foundation of mutual respect for each other's work in the field.
Jarra has created a persona to disguise her true identity--Fian believes the girl he's falling in love with is the Military brat she says she is (the Military keep peace, and clear new planets for settlement). But Jarra knows that as a "handicapped" Earth girl, she and Fian don't have a future....
But maybe she's wrong....
So, yeah, Fian is a bit too perfectly nice. And Jarra is a bit too perfectly competent, with just a few too many skills. And things just happen to work out too neatly and conveniently. But I cheerfully stomped those feelings down as much as possible (though it grew quite hard in the last bit of the book, when everything started coming up roses), because the descriptions of the future archaeologists at work were so cool, and the premise was so fascinating, and so different from the slew of dystopian and paranormal YA sci fi/fantasy! Here the excitement come from the dangers of the job, and the dangers posed to technology by solar flares; the tension comes from the sociological nuances of this future society, and Jarra's personal fight against prejudice.
In short, not perfect, but one I enjoyed very much. The sequel, Earth Star
, just came out in the UK, and will be out here in the US in the spring of 2014--I'm looking forward to it!
Here's the review that made me want to read the book, at The Book Smugglers
Listening for Lucca
, by Suzanne LaFleur (Wendy Lamb Books, August 2013, middle grade), is a gentle sort of time slip book with a very intriguing premise.
The story begins with Sienna's family moving from Brooklyn to an old Victorian house on the coast of Maine. Sienna doesn't mind--she welcomes the chance for a fresh start with kids who don't think she's weird (she sees things no one else can, and gathers old, abandoned things to care for). But the move is mostly for her brother's benefit-- the family hopes that the change will give three-year-old Lucca the change he needs to start to talk again after a year of silence.
In the closet of her new room, Sienna finds a pen, left there years ago, and when she writes with it, another girl's words come out on the pages. Sarah lived in the house during World War II...and through the journal entries that come from the pen, Sienna learns about her life, and how, when her brother, Joshua, went of to fight, Sarah stopped talking.
Sienna in the present is given the chance to make friends with kids her own age...who might prove to be real friends if they aren't scared off by her strangeness...and all the while she works hard to be a good sister to Lucca, trying to stave off the desperate worry that his silence is all her fault.
And all the while her worry about Sarah grows, as the pen writes the story of Sarah's life. To help Sarah, and maybe her brother Lucca, speak again, Sienna must do more than allow the pen to write the past. She must go back herself, and help Joshua, a wretched shell of himself after the horrors of war, tell Sarah what she needs to hear so that she can speak.
It was a good, engrossing read, with a captivating storyline. I feel I should have loved it--nice time travel, nice characters, nice place--yet it didn't quite make it into my heart. I'm never entirely sure why this happens with books, but I've come up with a few possible reasons for this one.
I'm a very visual reader, and I love books that make pictures in my mind. Drafting this review in my head, it occurred to me that I had left the story with no mental image of the house at all. I love "moving into old house" books, and reading all the minuscule details of nooks and crannies and old cupboards...but this house is simply described as "an old Victorian," and that's pretty much it. So that was disappointing. This isn't the book's fault; it's me as a reader.
Sarah's story back in the past was much more emotionally gripping than Sienna's present--making new friends actually goes very well for Sienna, despite the fact that she is rather passive about it, whereas Sarah is caught in a situation of serious emotional blackmail that pulled at my heart-strings. Sienna takes a pretty passive approach to the historical mystery as well; she does undertake a bit of historical detective work, but mostly she just lets the timeslip pen do most of the work of finding out about the past. And the pen isn't made special enough--it is just a handy plot device of little emotional zing.
Finally, I just couldn't be satisfied with the easy resolution to Lucca's mutism, even though it makes sense in the context of the fantastical elements of the story; it was a problem too easily solved, and not sufficiently explained, for me to accept it.
So no, it wasn't one I loved, but it was one I enjoyed and read pretty much in a single sitting. So if a somewhat gently-paced timeslip focusing on characters past and present sounds appealing, do try it. You might love it; Publishers Weekly did, and gave it a starred review.
Goblins, by Philip Reeve (Scholastic, August 27th, 2013) is a truly great pick for a nine or ten-year-old fantasy reader who likes humor and excitement--I highly recommend it.
It begins with a young goblin named Scarper being catapulted from the impossibly high walls of the ancient magical fastness of Clovenstone...not by choice--he's seriously ticked off his clan leader. I knew I'd enjoy it when I got to this line on page 2--"But after the first thousand feet or so he realized that he was just going "...aaaaaaaaaaaa..." from force of habit, so he stopped..." and my handy sample of Target Audience laughed at the very same line.
Clovenstone was once home to the incredibly powerful evil sorcerer called the Lych Lord, who ruled the whole world from his Stone Throne, high in the highest tower of the whole keep. Now it's home to clans of squabbling, thuggishly uncivilized goblins, who (horror!) are using all the scraps of map and manuscript they can find for bum-wipes (when they remember to wipe their bums). Scarper is not like other goblins--so much not like them that's he's taught himself to read...which is what gets him into trouble. But happily for Scarper, he miraculously survives being catapulted to his death...
In the meantime, a young would-be hero, Henwyn, leaves home after accidentally destroying his family's cheesemaking operations (he had now idea the magic potion would summon a cheese monster of doom). Henwyn comes to Clovenstone to rescue a princess held there by a giant, and he and Scarper cross paths on a troll bridge (complete with troll) and find themselves unlikely companions. However, Princess Eluned (Ned for short) turns out to be in her forties, and quite happy living peacefully with the giant, so rescuing her is off the table. And also arriving at Clovenstone are three would-be heirs of the Lych Lord's dark magic...men who can't actually do a spell to save their lives, but who dream big.
The goblins are restless (more so than usual), and strange creatures are experiencing the awakenings of old powers. If the Lych Lord's heir sits on his throne, his magic will once more flood the world...and Scarper the goblin just happens to know where a map is that shows how to get to the heart of Clovenstone... When Princess Ned gets kidnapped by boglins, the goblin and the boy set off together to (depending on which of them you ask) a. save Ned b. find treasure c. heroically uncover the secrets held in the fastness of the Lych Lord (although most of the exploration happens because they are being chased by things that want to kill them).
It's lots of fun, with many small entertaining details place and people. Really truly lots of fun, even for the grown-up reader who makes a doubtful face when shown a book called Goblins with goblins on the cover (naming no names), and most definitely an excellent one for its target audience. Philip Reeve is an author one can trust to deliver good writing and good story, and he doesn't disappoint here.
And it was kind of nice to have a princess closer in age to me than princesses these days mostly are...although my knees aren't as bad as hers and I'm sure I could climb multiple flights of steep crumbling stairs while being pursued with no problem at all...maybe? Perhaps I will practice at work today.
This one has been out in the UK for a little while, and my son and I were rather excited to see that the sequel, Goblins and Dwarves, is already published over there...we might not be able to wait for the US edition to come out.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher (thanks).
Before anything else, I want to remind you all that the deadline for applying to be a Cybils Panelist is August 31, and you can go here to apply (in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, perhaps....). If you know not whereof I speak, here's my explanatory post. It is a lot of fun, and very worthwhile.
Here's what I found in my blog reading this past week; please let me know if I missed your post!
The Book of Doom, by Barry Hutchison, at Buried Under Books
The Crowfield Curse, by Pat Walsh, at Hidden In Pages
Curse of the Ancients (Infinity Ring 4), by Matt De La Pena, at Charlotte's Library
Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Teach Mentor Texts
Ghost Hawk, by Susan Cooper, at Ms. Yingling Reads
Handbook for Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell, at Charlotte's Library
The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at Reading Rumpus Book Reviews
How to Catch a Boggle, by Catherine Jinks, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile and Wandering Librarians
I Was a Seventh Grade Monster Hunter, by A.G. Kent, at Oh, for the HOOK of a BOOK
Jack Templar Monster Hunter, by Jeff Gunhus, at Creating Imaginations
Keeper of Reign, by Emma Right, at Bookworm for Kids
Listening for Lucca, by Suzanne LaFleur, at That Blog Belongs to Emily Brown
Magyk, and Flyte, by Angie Sage, at Here There Be Books
Mirage, by Jenn Reese, at The Write Path
Momo, by Michael Ende, at In Bed With Books
The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail, by Richard Peck, at Hope is the Word
The Neptune Project, by Polly Holyoke, at Presenting Lenore
North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler, at books4yourkids
The Planet Thieves, by Dan Krokos, at Maria's Melange and Fantasy Literature
Playing With Fire, by Bruce Hale and Brandon Dorman, at The Book Cellar
Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Akossiwa Ketoglo and Welcome to My Tweendom
The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Elfswood, Transcribing These Dreams, and Wrathqueen's Books
The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Sharon the Librarian
Sent (The Missing, Book 2), by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Time Travel Times Two
Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde, at Teen Librarian Toolbox
The Time Fetch, by Amy Herrick, at My Precious and The Hiding Spot
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt, at The Book Monsters
What Came From the Stars, by Gary D. Schmidt, at Not Acting My Age
When the Butterflies Came, by Kimberley Griffiths Little, at Charlotte's Library
The Wishing Spell, by Chris Colfer, at As Life Like As
A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin, at alibrarymama
Year of Shadows, by Claire Legrand, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, The Book Smugglers, Cuddlebuggery, and Jen Robinson's Book Page
A peak at three violent books at Ms. Yingling Reads--Goeglein, T.M. Flicker & Burn, Higson, Charlie. The Sacrifice. (#4), and Sanderson, Brandon. Steelheart (Reckoners#1)
Authors and Interviews
Ellen Booraem (Texting the Underworld) at Manga Maniac Café
Claire Legrand (The Year of Shadows) at the Wordpress Blog , Electrician Richardson, and A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
Kathi Appelt (The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp) at The Brain Lair
Claudia White (Aesop's Secret) at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
Anne Ursu (The Real Boy) featured in the "So You Want to Read Middle Grade" series at GreenBeanTeenQueen
Marianne Malone (The Pirate's Coin) at Nerdy Book Club
Other Good Stuff
"Witches in Children's Literature" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles
At Views from the Tesseract, there's a look at sci fi/fantasy anthologies for young readers past and present
For a more scholarly look at mg sff than one usually finds online, here's "Trapped by Transformation: The Place for Female Identity in the Stoneheart Trilogy," by Alya Hameed at The Unjournal of Children's Literature.
I don't think I would have wanted Zombie Princess Dolls when I was young, nor do I want them now, but maybe someone will? (more info. here)
If you are looking for a book to tempt a thoughtful, introspective 10 to 12-year-old girl who likes books and horses, with a bit of dragon on the side, offer her Handbook for Dragon Slayers
, by Merrie Haskell (Harper Collins, 2013, middle grade).
Tilda, the young princess of a small Germanic kingdom in the Middle Ages(ish), chaffs against her place in life. She is filled by an insatiable desire to spend more time reading and writing, and less time thinking about domestic animals and their needs (tedious and worrying--it's a poor kingdom) and the prejudiced attitude her people take toward her twisted and painful club-foot (hurtful and dispiriting as heck). Fate, in the form of a greedy cousin intent on taking the kingdom for himself, offers Tilda an escape from the uncomfortable role of princess when her two best friends, Judith, who has grown up alongside her as her handmaiden, and Parz, failed squire of a neighboring knight, rescue her, and decide that the time has come to be dragon slayers (!). Tilda, they all agree, will watch and learn and research, and write a Handbook for Dragon Slayers that will make her famous. She likes the idea lots; she's less convinced (with good reason) that Parz and Judith have any immediate hope of achieving their dragon slaying goal....
Judith and Parz, though both have been diligent with their weapons practice (despite Judith having to do it secretly), have as yet little theoretical, not to mention practical, knowledge of how to slay dragons. Their first try doesn't go well; they are no match for even a baby, and retreat in disarray. But then the companions meet the Wild Hunt, and Tilda, facing down the Hunter, rescues two of its magical horses (beautiful, magical horses), who give a whole new plausibility to the idea of dragon slaying, and from then on the pace Picks Up something fierce, and there are encounters with other dragons, and an evil magic user...and enchantments and imprisonments and dangers...And it all becomes a very exciting fantasy adventure.
And by the end of the book, slaying dragons is off the table, and Tilda returns to take up her duties with a new, hard won, maturity (and beautiful horses and a dragon friend and a new respect for Judith and sundry other characters).
It must be said that the beginning of the book is somewhat slow, and Tilda is not immediately a charismatic heroine. Her character has been shaped by her disability--by both the physical limitations that it has imposed on her and by the pain of the prejudice against her because of it--and she has pulled herself inward in self-defense, which makes her somewhat self-centered and inclined to run from reality. But once the threesome set out after dragons, she perforce expands and matures, and as she does, she becomes increasingly likable. There is no magical healing here, nor do Tilda's people become magically unprejudiced against those with disabilities, but the ending promises acceptance and the opportunity for Tilda to define herself by finding balance between what she wants, what she needs, and what she is responsible for.
Judith is a great supporting character in her own right. She has thoughtful considered the limitations of her life (like handmaidens not being allowed to be dragon slayers), and challenged them head on. The friendship between Tilda and Judith, with the complications of their unequal relationship, makes for satisfying reading, and plays a major role in shaping Tilda's character arc. (Parz doesn't get to be nuanced--he's a nice, loyal boy who likes swords and heroics at the beginning of the book, and at its end. Which is fine. Not everyone needs to be extraordinary).
So, after a bit of hesitation on my part (there isn't much zing to the beginning--Tilda is depressed, with good reason, and it colors the story) I enjoyed this one very much indeed, and read it faster and faster, with increasing snappishness toward interrupting children.
This isn't one to give to the reader who's already gotten hooked on books with Romance--they might find it flat in that regard, because there isn't any; sure, Parz might well end up with Tilda or Judith, and Tilda crushes on him a bit, but they are still kids. But if the need for romance isn't an issue, older readers may well appreciate this one for the complexities of character, the rather amusing bravado of the would-be dragon slayers, and the interesting twists of the fantasy elements. I don't think it has universal kid appeal (I don't think my own ten-year-old boy, for instance, would stick with it to page 53 when the true adventure begins), but I am sure it will be a just right book for just the right reader--the girl I describe in the first sentence!
Here are some other reviews: Slatebreakers
, The Book Smugglers
, and Random Musings of a Bibliophile
A few days ago, a beautifully heavy box of books arrived on my door step, containing the Reading is Fundamental STEAM collection-- a prize from June's 48 Hour Reading Challenge, to be donated to the institution of my choice (thank you RIF!). It is a lovely, lovely, collection--if you click that link, you'll see the list of forty beautiful children's books for grades K-5, focused on science, engineering, technology, arts and math, that RIF is working to get into the hands of schools and programs serving kids in need. Unpacking the box took a while, because it was hard not to just sit and read each book as it emerged...
One that I couldn't resist reading immediately was Boy + BOT
, by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 2012) . It begins thus "A boy was collecting pinecones in his wagon when he met a robot." The boy asks if the robot would like to play, and the robot answers in the affirmative. But during their play, the robot's power switch gets bumped to off, and the boy thinks the robot is sick, so he takes BOT home for applesauce and bed rest...
When BOT's power switch gets bumped on again during the night, it sees the sleeping boy--and thinks he's malfunctioned! Now it's BOT's turn to take the boy home for oil and a read-through of an instruction manual, and just as it's about to try a fresh battery on the boy, the inventor enters the story, and explains everything.
And as time passes and the seasons change (shown in smaller size illustrations), the friendship of the BOT and the boy stays a lovely thing. The illustrations are simple yet satisfying, with enough detail to make for interesting looking, but not so much so as to overwhelm the story.
It's a beautiful about robots and friendship that will make kids laugh, and I recommend it tons and tons. I really appreciate that those who decided which books should make up this collection included this one--it is a solid introduction to the concept of robots and a great story all at the same time. I am all in favor of teaching science through story, because that's how I learn best!
Most of the collection will go to my local library, which serves a relatively low-income neighborhood; I will look in the city for a place to take those that are already in its collection. But it might take a while for the books to reach their new homes, because I do want to spend a bit of time with them myself!
I was intrigued by When the Butteflies Come
, by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Scholastic, April 2013, middle grade), for a longish while before actually reading it--the premise appealed lots. And indeed, I found it an enjoyable read.
Tara's has died, leaving her a series of clues and a set of keys, and as Tara unlocks this string of secrets in her grandmother's big old southern house, she finds each step taking her further into a mystery of the Micronesian butterflies her grandmother was studying...and into danger. Gradually she realizes that she must thwart whoever it is who wants to get rich from the fantastical powers of the butterflies...a person who might well want her dead if she learns too much about their secrets. And so Tara and her big sister (a reluctant player in unraveling the mystery) use the plane tickets their grandmother hide for Tara to find to travel to the island of Chuuk
, a place made almost a paradise by the magic of the butterflies...where they must uncover the identity of the bad guy and do some serious thwarting.
I enjoyed the "girl exploring secrets of big old house" element lots, just as I had expected I would. Tara was a fine heroine, with a nicely rounded character (her sister I liked less well, but she was also a perfectly believable character).
The butterfly mystery, also as expected, knowing my own reading taste as I do, was interesting, but less immediately appealing--I am not quite comfortable with fictional insects, no matter how beautiful, being capable of too much initiative. In addition, I am always a tad doubtful of island paradises and their happy inhabitants needing to be saved from greedy Westerners. Here, however, it is a necessary part of the plot, and part of the fantastical side of things, so I made a conscious decision to try to let it pass.
The reason I finally got around to reading it is because it may well be nominated for the Cybils. As Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction organizer, I will have to opine as to whether it will be more at home in regular Middle Grade, or with my category's fantasy and sci fi books.
There is no question as to the un-naturalness of the butterflies. They are far beyond any butterfly alive today. But are the speculated butterflies enough to push the book into the impossible realm of sci fi/fantasy?
Lots of books that don't read as speculative fiction have things that are improbable, non-existent, and unnatural in them, that are extra add-ons, as it were, to the main story. To count as speculative fiction, I think the unnatural phenomena, not possible in real life, have to be an integral part of the book such that you could not remove these elements and still have a book that works. Though I could imagine the book featuring a really special endangered species of butterfly needing to be saved, the fact that these are impossible in a variety of ways is what sets the whole story in motion, motivates the characters, and makes it interesting and appealing (for those able to accept butterflies with preternatural abilities.
Then there's the question of where the book would be happiest. Is it speculative fiction enough to hold its own against griffins and space ships? Or is it so seeped in the unreal that it can't be compared to an ordinary mystery of clever kids and strange coincidence? I am leaning hard toward the former--one of the reasons I myself read lots of fantasy and science fiction is that there is so much room to push the boundaries of the genre, and so, while I can't think of much middle grade fantasy/sci fi that's comparable to the way this book mixes the believable and the speculative, I think that's just fine.
All that being said, I now am stuck with regard to labeling this post; neither fantasy or sci fi feels quite right...bother. I guess I'll go with fantasy...
Perfect reader: 10 year old girl who likes butterflies and hidden clues, who thinks her big sister isn't being quite loving enough.
Dak, Sarah, and Riq--three kids from an alternate present time--are on a mission to fix history through time-travel. If they fail to change the past, there will be no future. In this installment of their adventures, Curse of the Ancients
, by Matt De La Pena, they travel back to Central America, centuries before the Spaniards arrive. There they are befriended by the local Mayans, who, to their surprise, behave in a manner not at all in keeping with the bloodthirsty stereotypes the kids had assumed were true. It becomes clear that the point of this adventure is to keep a particular Mayan codex (a hand-painted book) from being burned by the Spanish, and so the kids hope forward in time and save it (experiencing various dangers along the way).
As in all the books of the series, there's fast-paced action; the pages turn briskly. The authors are all doing a good job, as well, at making history seem exciting. There's lot's of kid appeal--not just because of all the excitements, but because the kids are easy for young readers to relate to, and it's easy to share their struggles as they try to figure out what's happening. Plus the whole time travel premise is founded on geeky gadgetry, which I bet adds appeal. This installment, though, didn't quite work for me.
With different authors writing each book, it's understandable that there will be variation in the characterization. Riq comes off rather well here, getting his first, rather poignant, romantic sub-plot. Sarah continues to be her brave, smart self, and it was nice to see her having a chance to appreciate her Mayan ancestry. But Dak, always somewhat annoying, is truly insufferable here, so much so that he doesn't seem the same person, and that was disappointing.
I don't know enough about the Mayans to comment meaningfully on how they are portrayed, but one thing did bother me. The kids are supposed to fix history, but as far as I could tell, the only thing being fixed here is popular perception of the Mayans. If they don't save the Codex, people will not appreciate Mayan civilization and will associate the Mayans primarily with bloodthirsty human sacrifice. But since that's how most people in our actual present think of the Mayans anyway (I think), it doesn't seem like there was a broken bit of history to fix (like Christopher Columbus not being the one to discover America in the first book. Abraham Lincoln not being president in the third). It also bothers me that this one codex is so desperately important--there are thousands of Mayan codices still extant, and there's no one Codex in real life (is there?) that is of prime importance. Maybe I missed something...
(Another thing is starting to bother me about the series as a whole-- maybe it was explained at the beginning of the series, but why do the kids have to get their mission assignments in the form of cryptic clues??? It seems like poor planning on the part of the Hystorians back in the future who set things up. I myself, were I to be sending kids back in time to save a codex, would progam the computer to say "save the codex." There's also the paradox of time travel--if the kids have already changed the future, how on earth did their missions get programed to begin with...but that's neither a useful or enjoyable (to me at least) subject for contemplation).
Anyway. I'm all in favor of kids seeing how horrible the Spanish were to the people they conquered, and I am all in favor of spreading the message that burning and destroying the material creations of other civilizations is bad, so I'll recommend it for that. It also gets points for its multicultural caste (as well as Sarah's Mayan ancestry, Riq is African American), and for being that really rare thing, a fantasy/sci fi book for US kids that's set in Latin America. And like I said, there is lots of kid appeal....
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I occasionally step outside my comfort zone of fantasy and science books for young readers, and peek at the grown-up section of my local bookstore. Mist, by Susan Krinard (Tor, 2013) caught my eye--Norse mythology coming to life in San Fransisco! Brave Valkyrie (Mist), stuck in Midgard for centuries after the first Ragnarok fizzled out under strange circumstances, finds herself desperately trying the world from being destroyed in a second Ragnarok masterminded by Loki! So when Tor offered me a review copy, I said, yes please.Mist
is very much a first book of a bigger adventure. It tells how Mist goes from being an ex-Valkyrie running ordinary weapons workshops to a powerful (but still uncertain) magic-user leader of those opposing Loki's grand plan to ruin everything (for everyone but Loki). And as such it's a story of characters meeting (and the reader meeting characters), mostly under violent circumstances, and Mist starting to figure out just who she is, and just who she has to become. The first of her potential allies to appear is Dainn, an enigmatic Alfar (Norse high elf type of being), who clearly has secrets and darknesses in his past. Part-way through the book, we begin to be given his point-of-view, and the secrets and darkness begin to be spelled out.
There are urban fantasy type adventures, and some cool magic, and Mist is a fine heroine of the headstrong, determined, and somewhat over her head type. There are fights with Jotuns (ice giants), allies beginning to be drawn to Mist, Mist learning to use her innate magic, Loki magically and sexually conning people right and left, and Dainn being tormented by secrets and darkness (he is tormented by these lots).
Though quite a bit Happens, the book as a whole is somewhat slowed by explication and repetition--perhaps the explanatory elements are necessary for those not familiar with Norse mythology, but I do feel that I got the point of particular plot and character threads sooner than the author thought I had, and didn't need to keep revisiting them. This was particular true with the romantic sub-plot.
Mist and Dainn start being drawn to each other quite soon after meeting, and it is made very clear to the reader that they keep on being drawn to each other repeatedly and reluctantly throughout the book, in such a way as to make me wonder at times if I was, in fact, reading a romance with mythological elements rather than a fantasy with romantic elements.
"[Mist] averted her gaze from the swallowing darkness of his gaze, focusing on the next thing she saw. Unfortunately, that was still Dainn, his long, elegant hand resting palm-up on his knee. It was the kind of hand that could bring pleasure with the lightest touch of a fingertip." (page 218)
I tend to like my fictional romances a tad more subtle, so this aspect of the book didn't work well for me. And Dainn's point of view sections, which were all about his secrets and darknesses, slowed the book down, and took too much time away from the more energy filled story of Mist discovering her powers and her new (unwelcome) role as head of the Opposition to Loki.
In short, what I enjoyed most were those parts of the book that focused on Mist and her nascent army of teenagers with strange gifts (only two of them thus far, but they were interesting characters), two heavy drinking sons of Odin, and, best of all but right at the end, a sister Valkyrie who arrives at the head of a motorcycle gang.
Not quite a book for me, but those who enjoy romance mixed with mythological fantasy might well like it very much indeed. As for me, I had already this year read a book about a Valkyrie named Mist - Norse Code
, by Greg Eekhout (2009), which was much more to my personal taste (here's my review