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1. You Know I Love "Jane Bear?" I Mean, "Jane Eyre."

I was intrigued when I read a review of The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville and snatched the book off the shelf when I saw it at my local library. I mention this to make the point that sometimes reviews actually do get readers. Or, in this case, a reader.

The Cottage in the Woods has been described as Jane Eyre meets Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It certainly is. Jane Eyre fans can have a fantastic time picking out the connections. A young, powerless, single female enters a large house as the employee of a wealthy man. This is a wealthy, married man with a family, which is one of the ways this book is different from Jane Eyre. But he's also a bear, as is the young female, Ursula. (Relating to ursine, I'm guessing.) Ursula is there to act as a governess to the bear's son, Teddy. (Oh, my gosh. Teddy Bear!!! No, actually his last name is Vaughn.) Ursula has a love interest, and, shades of Mr. Rochester, he's not free to love her. There is a mystery in this house, as there is in Jane Eyre. And it's related to a female, as is the mystery in Jane Eyre. This female, though, is young, with golden hair.

However, there is a whole nonJane plot involving human bigotry toward enchanted animals like Ursula and the Vaughns. I've read that some reviewers found that aspect of the book didactic. To me it was distracting, because it wasn't part of the Jane Eyre/Three Bears premise. It seemed unnecessary. What was going on with Goldilocks was so clever and unique that I would have liked a plot sticking much closer to that, which could have been closer to the Jane Eyre source material.

But, then, I know Jane Eyre. Readers who don't could feel differently. Since this is a middle grade novel, there will be many readers who don't know Jane.

While reading this, I wondered what Ms. Yingling would think of it. Sure enough, she read The Cottage in the Woods and weighs in on the subject. I agree that while I enjoyed it, it may have trouble finding an audience. 

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2. A Court of Thorns and Roses: Review

In the deepest winter forest an arrow is shot in desperation. The quarrel finds its target, but the consequences are far reaching and unexpected. Feyre, youngest daughter of an impoverished nobleman, has unintentionally killed one of the Fae and broken the treaty between humans and Fae. Now she must trade her life for that of her slain foe. Caught between death or handing herself over to live in the lands of the Fae, never to return to her family, Feyre surrenders. This is a totally new fantasy world, completely separate from that of Throne of Glass. Feyre lives on an island resembling Great Britain that is divided among human ruled lands and the realms of the Fae (many blessings upon Bloomsbury for including a map for those of us “constant flippers”). The humans live in constant fear of the Fae, and the Fae live in constant fear of the ever... Read more »

The post A Court of Thorns and Roses: Review appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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3. An Ember in the Ashes: Review

I couldn’t put Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes down. This is a statement of fact: I picked it up late at night when I couldn’t sleep, started reading, and had to force myself to go to bed approximately 300 pages later. (Wendy can vouch for me here as the lucky recipient of some early morning “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO GOOD” texts.) I can’t remember the last time this happened and it was excellent. It reminded me of how I felt about reading as a teenager, which is to say that I was engrossed in Sabaa Tahir’s imaginary world. And that is basically what I want to reiterate, now that An Ember in the Ashes is out and ready and waiting to keep you up at night. Oh my God, you guys. This book is so good. It’s not a perfect book (more on that later) but it is... Read more »

The post An Ember in the Ashes: Review appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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4. 'Daisy and Bartholomew Q' -- EPIC FAIL Syndrome!


Fantastic Fantasy

Daisy and Bartholomew Q


PLUS outrageous critters like--
The Dynoroar, The Oogledork, The Featherbutt Bird,
and. . . Evil Big Crow.

by Margot Finke
Cover Art: Ioana Zdralea.



 This young tween fantasy will be published as soon as the cover to be completed.
Then, Soft Cover and Kindle pop-up will be your purchase choices.
(on Amazon and my website)

Daisy and Bartholomew Q. are an unlikely twosome.
She is a stubborn and feisty young teen girl. She likes to do things her way.




He is a slightly pompous fellow who loves books and reading.
He lives in a world of words, and his friends are astonishingly odd--to say the least.



With Daisy's procrastination teetering at EPIC FAIL,
Bartholomew Q. is sent to guide and advise her.

He will show her where to discover those
fantastic words that will earn her garden essay an 'A.'


QUESTIONS:
#1- Where would he take Daisy?
#2 - Who would she ask?
#3 - WHAT words would she choose?


ANSWERS:
#1 - the Thesaurus ('G' for Garden section)
#2 - the Cousin Adjective Tree, the Mother Noun Tree, the Father Verb Tree,
and the Depressed Raccoon--WHO ELSE?
#3 - Fabulous words that describe a garden.
Essay due tomorrow morning.
PLEASE HURRY!

Of course if you're like Daisy, you've put off writing your essay until
the last minute. A failing grade looms--plus the wrath of Mom!



OH. . .
and did I mention attacks by bizarre World Word residents,
Talking Trees, a depressed raccoon, and being kidnapped by Evil Big Crow?

So much fun and adventure--so many fabulous words.


I can't wait to see the cover. (the art here is only temporary)




STAY TUNED, MATES!




********************************

Books for Kids - Skype Author Visits
http://www.margotfinke.com
Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/nogbdad

********************************* 




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5. Review of the Day: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

The Jumbies
By Tracey Baptiste
Algonquin Young Readers
$15.95
ISBN: 9781616204143
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” So sayeth Leo Tolstoy (at least in theory). Regardless of whether or not it’s actually true, it is fun to slot books into the different categories. And if I were to take Tracey Baptiste’s middle grade novel The Jumbies with the intention of designating it one type of story or another, I think I’d have to go with the latter definition. A stranger comes to town. Not quite true though, is it? For you see, in this particular book the stranger isn’t coming to town so much as infesting it. And does she still count as a stranger when she, technically was there first? It sounds a bit weird to say, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a creature comes to a village where it is the people who are the strangers” but you could make a case for that being the tale The Jumbies brings to light. Far more than just your average spooky supernatural story, Baptiste uses the underpinnings of a classic folktale to take a closer look at colonization, rebellion, and what it truly takes to share the burden of tolerating the “other”. Plus there are monsters. Gotta love the monsters.

Corinne La Mer isn’t what you might call a superstitious sort. Even when she chases an agouti into a forbidden forest she’s able to justify to herself why it looked as though a pair of yellow eyes followed her out. If she told other people about those eyes they’d say she ran across a jumbie, one of the original spooky denizens of her Caribbean island. Corinne’s a realist, though, so surely there’s another answer. And she probably would have put the whole incident out of her mind anyway, had Severine not appeared in her hut one day. Severine is beautiful and cunning. She’s been alone for a long long time and she’s in the market for a loving family. Trouble is, what Severine wants she usually gets, and Corinne may find that she and her father are getting ensnared in a dangerous creature’s loving control – whether they want to be or not. A tale based loosely on the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree.”

A bit of LOST, a bit of Beloved, and a bit of The Tempest. That’s the unusual recipe I’d concoct if I were trying to describe this book to adults. If I were trying to describe it to kids, however, I’d have some difficulty. Our nation’s library and bookstore shelves aren’t exactly overflowing with children’s novels set in the Caribbean. Actually, year or so ago I was asked to help co-create a booklist of Caribbean children’s literature with my librarian colleagues. We did pretty well in the picture book department. It was the novels that suffered in comparison. Generally speaking, if you want Caribbean middle grade novels you’d better be a fan of suffering. Whether it’s earthquakes (Serafina’s Promise), escape (Tonight By Sea), or the slave trade (My Name Is Not Angelica) Caribbean children’s literature is rarely a happy affair. And fantasy? I’m not going to say there aren’t any middle grade novels out there that make full and proper use of folklore, but none come immediately to mind. Now Ms. Baptiste debuted a decade ago with Angel’s Grace (called by Horn Book, “a promising first novel” with “An evocative setting and a focused narrative”). In the intervening ten years we hadn’t heard much from her. Fortunately The Jumbies proves she’s most certainly back in the game and with a book that has few comparable peers.

My knowledge of the Caribbean would fit in a teacup best enjoyed by a flea. What I know pretty much comes from the children’s books I read. So I am not qualified to judge The Jumbies on its accuracy to its setting or folkloric roots. When Ms. Baptiste includes what appears to be a family with roots in India in the narrative, I go along with it. Then, when the book isn’t looking, I sneak off to Wikipedia (yes, even librarians use Wikipedia from time to time) and read that “Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonian are nationals of Trinidad and Tobago of India ancestry.” We Americans often walk around with this perception that ours is the only ethnically diverse nation. We have the gall to be surprised when we discover that other nations have multicultural (for lack of a better word) histories of their own. So it is that Corinne befriends Dru, an Indio-Trinidadian with a too large family.

The writing itself makes for a fun read. I wouldn’t label it overly descriptive or lyrical, necessarily, but it gets the job done. Besides, there are little moments in the text that I thought were rather nice. Lines like “Corinne remembered when they had buried her mama in the ground like a seed.” Or, on a creepier note, “A muddy tear spilled onto her cheek, then sprouted legs and crawled down her body.” What I really took to, more than anything else, was the central theme of “us” and “them”. Which is to say, there is no “us” and “them”, really. It’s a relationship. As a local witch says later in the story, “Our kind? What do you know about our kind and their kind, little one? You can’t even tell the difference.” Later she says it once again. “Their kind, your kind, is there a difference?” This is an island where the humans arrives and pushed out the otherworldly natives. When the natives fight back the humans are appalled. And as we read the story, we see that we are the oppressors here, to a very real extent. These jumbies might fight and hit and hurt and steal children, but they have their reasons. Even if we’ve chosen to forget what those might be.

I have a problem. I can’t read books for kids like I used to. Time was, when I first started in this business, that I could read a book like The Jumbies precisely as the author intended. I approached the material with all the wide-eyed wonder of a 10-year-old girl. Then I had to go and give birth and what happens? Suddenly I find that everything’s different and that I’m now reading the books as a parent. Scenes in The Jumbies that wouldn’t have so much as pierced my armor when I was younger now stab me directly through the heart. For example, there is a moment in this book when Dru recounts seeing her friend Allan stolen by the douens. As his mother called his name he turned to her, but his feet faced the other way, walking him into the forest. That just killed me. Kids? They’ll find it nicely creepy, but I don’t know that they’ll not entirely understand the true horror the parents encounter so that later in the book when a peace is to be reached, they have a real and active reason for continuing to pursue war. In this way the book’s final resolution almost feel too easy. You understand that the humans will agree on a peace if only because the jumbies have them outnumbered and outmanned. However, the hate and fear is going to be lingering for a long long time to come. This would be an excellent text to use to teach conflict resolution, come to think of it.

In her Author’s Note at the back of the book, Tracey Baptiste writes, “I grew up reading European fairy tales that were nothing like the Caribbean jumbie stories I listened to on my island of Trinidad. There were no jumbie fairy-tale books, though I wished there were. This story is my attempt at filling that gap in fairy-tale lore.” And fill it she does. Entrancing and engaging, frightening but never slacking, Baptiste enters an all-new folktale adaptation into our regular fantasy lore. Best suited for the kids seeking lore where creatures hide in the shadows of trees, but where they’re unlike any creatures the kids have seen before. Original. Haunting.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Misc: Read several excerpts here.

Video:

And here’s the book trailer for you:

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6. Children’s Book Author Django Wexler Combines Computer Science and Creative Writing

Django Wexler is a self-proclaimed computer/fantasy/sci fi geek. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked in artificial intelligence research.

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7. THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT by Melissa Grey {Book & Audiobook Review}

Review by Andye THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHTThe Girl at Midnight #1 by Melissa GreySeries: THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHTHardcover: 368 pagesPublisher: Delacorte Press (April 28, 2015) AUDIOBOOK Publisher: Listening Library Narrated By Julia Whelan Goodreads | Amazon | Audible Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through

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8. Teaser Quotes From The Eternity Key by Bree Despain - Coming April 28, 2015

Age Range: 12 and up  Grade Level: 7 and up Series: Into the Dark Hardcover: 368 pages Publisher: EgmontUSA (April 28, 2015)  Pre-Order today on Amazon! Fan-favorite author Bree Despain continues her modern-day romance trilogy inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades with this second book in her Into the Dark series.     Haden Lord, the disgraced Prince of the Underrealm,

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9. The Wrath and the Dawn: Review

My subtitle for The Wrath and the Dawn: A (Whole New) World of No. This book seemed chock-full of things I love: a good enemies-to-friends romance! something inspired by One Thousand and One Nights! and, last but not least, as an Arab-American, a story with a kickass Middle Eastern protagonist. So you can see why I fully expected to enjoy this one. I kept on seeing rave reviews for this on GoodReads and Twitter, so my hopes were way up. But in truth? I was not the biggest fan of this book, you all, and I’m still sad about it. (Though I am not alone in my black sheep pen: Wendy was mostly underwhelmed by this, too.) I want to begin, though, by making mention of the things I did like: Shazi is pretty excellent. She is brave, she knows how to use a bow and arrow, she’s mouthy, and she’s out for revenge. These... Read more »

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10. Review of Shadow Scale

hartman_shadow scaleShadow Scale
by Rachel Hartman
Middle School, High School   Random   600 pp.
3/15   978-0-375-86657-9   $18.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-96657-6   $21.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-375-89659-0   $10.99

With the dragon civil war closing in on Goredd, Seraphina (Seraphina, rev. 7/12) begins an uncertain mission: she and Abdo, a fellow half-dragon, embark on a journey to recruit other ityasaari like themselves, hoping that if they can learn to thread their minds together, they will be able to defend Goredd by forming a trap to stop a dragon in flight. Seraphina has misgivings — what if the attempt leads to another ityasaari taking over her mind? Jannoula, a half-dragon whom Seraphina contacted telepathically in a time before she knew there were others like her, once usurped Seraphina’s consciousness, and it was only by great effort and luck that Seraphina managed to fight her off. However, as Seraphina and Abdo travel through the neighboring lands, they are horrified to learn that Jannoula already controls the other ityasaari. The author’s generous and self-assured world-building effortlessly branches out to the different cultures the pilgrims encounter, unveiling fresh customs and new folklore with consummate ease. A subplot involving Seraphina’s hopeless romance with Kiggs, the man affianced to her friend and monarch, Queen Glisselda, takes on a love-triangle twist that most won’t see coming. From graceful language to high stakes to daring intrigue, this sequel shines with the same originality, invention, and engagement of feeling that captivated readers in Hartman’s debut.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Ode to Troll

Manelle Oliphant Illustration - Illustrator and Writer

Hi friends,

Here’s my latest “story”. I put story in quotes because with this one it’s more of an implied story told through the image and the underlying context of a poem. The image popped into my head one day when I was thinking about how it would look if beauty and the beast were reversed. Once I’d thought of it I knew I had to make it.

As always you can download the story free for your devices on smashwords.com Just click here.

Ode to Troll

or The Troll Bride

By a guy who’s been under a spell, 
and is just now coming out of it.

Ode to Troll, A #story #poem and #illustration by Manelle Oliphant. Funny fantasy illustration.

Oh my beauteous troll-y bride,
I sit contented at your side.
I dream of all our lives will be,
And feel my stomach disagree.

You command me body and soul.
For you my heart won’t charge a toll.
My mind, my life I freely give.
It makes me wonder how I’ll live.

Luscious lashes before my eyes.
Draw from me spontaneous sighs.
Your large lips and protruding teeth,
Have me writing my last bequeath.

I stroke your wig and feel your skin.
I plant a kiss upon your chin.
I long to hold your giant hand,
And wonder why I read the banns.

My heart wilts when I think of you.
Crying would, to myself be true.
Annulment is my best retreat.
To flea from you will be a feat.

Oh my beauteous troll-y bride,
I sit uneasy by your side.
I dream of all my life will be,
After I’ve run away from thee.

The End

If you enjoyed this story learn how you can support the creation of more like it at www.patreon.com/manelleoliphant

Manelle Oliphant Patreon

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12. IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT by Jen Brooks

Review by Leydy IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT by Jen Brooks Age Range: 12 and up Grade Level: 7 and up Hardcover: 432 pages Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (April 28, 2015) Goodreads | Amazon Imagination takes on new meaning for a uniquely talented teen in this debut novel that is a breathtaking blend of contemporary, fantasy, and romance. Sometimes Jonathan Aubrey wishes he

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13. Sass and Sorcery

Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

Palisade is a prosperous commerce town with several marauding gangs that keep the bad things away. Only, when the gangs get drunk, they have a habit of trashing the town. After a town meeting of angry merchants, the gangs are each given a minor quest to keep them out of jail--only the tasks are all set-ups and not all them survive.

The Rat Queens are one of the gangs--4 women--Betty's a Smidgen who likes candy and drugs, Hannah grew up in a squid worshiping cult and might be a goddess, Hannah's a bitter necromancer, and Violet just wants some blood on her sword. They fight, they drink, they party and hook up, and lovingly send up or subvert a lot of fantasy tropes. And they try to figure out who set them up and why.

Lots of wise-cracks, magic spells, and sword play, and a hell of a lot of fun. So much fun. I love these women and want to party with them and watch them kick a lot more ass.

The saddest thing about this is that a lot of the press and reviews are like “YAY! GIRLS!” (including several of the blurbs on the back of the omnibus, and bonus points for how they’re drawn) and given the state of the comic industry, yes, YAY! GIRLS! It’s an exciting breakthrough, but this isn’t a token volume and I fear it will become “oh, that girl comic” and it’s more than that. Read this book because it’s girls being awesome, but really, read this book because it’s just fucking awesome.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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14. M is for Matilda

Scribble on her Dress       .... from the book Thin Time


Matilda by Sophie Bignall
I was furious with Thomas for running off, but I had to find him. Crawling from under the bench, I tiptoed along the aisle to the wooden trellised gates and was shocked and surprised to hear Thomas giggling and the sound of gentle laughter. There was someone else in the church!

The laughter was such a comforting noise in that gloomy place and I hurried between the high-backed choir stalls into the cold moonlight pouring through the huge, stained glass window that filled most of the east wall of the church. In front of me was a vast expanse of dirty red carpet stained with candle wax. It covered the paving and the three wide shallow steps that led up to a low platform against the back wall of the church. On the platform was the altar, a long stone table draped with an old grey cloth, and sitting on the bottom step was Thomas with the young girl from the knight’s tomb beside him!

Her long hair fell in a colourless shawl round her thin shoulders. Her dress was like the cloth on the stone table, threadbare and so old it was hard to tell the colour it had once been. The folds of her dress were full of dust, but I saw smudges of gold paint on the cords and tassels of her cloak. Recovering a little from the shock of seeing her, I remembered something else and went hot and cold inside. I’d scribbled my name all over her. Thank goodness, I hadn’t scribbled on her hands and face! 

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15. Echo, a novel by Pam Muñoz Ryan

When young Otto goes missing in a German forest during a game of Hide and Seek, he meets three princesses, sisters named Eins, Zwei and Drei (One, Two and Three).  The sisters were brought to a witch by a midwife after their father, the king, rejected them for not being the son he wanted.  Now, they have been cursed by the witch to live in a small clearing, unable to leave until they save a soul from death's door.  The sister's hope comes from the prophecy each were given by the midwife when she left them with the witch: "Your fate is not yet sealed/ Even in the darkest night/ a star will shine/ a bell will chime/ a path will be revealed."

As an adult, Otto becomes a master harmonica maker, but when one of them is destroyed in an important order for 13 harmonica's, he decides to include the one that each of the sisters had played.  One the bottom of the harmonica, he paints the letter M.

The story skips now to Germany in 1933, just as Hitler comes to power.  For 12 year old Friedrich Schmidt, life is hard.  Not only was he born with half is face covered in a wine colored birthmark, and Friedrich can hear music in his head and has an uncontrollable need to conduct it, making his a target of the other kids and earning him the name Monster Boy.  A loner, Friedrich finds the M marked harmonica in an abandoned factory.  The music from it is like no other he has ever heard before.  After his father is arrested and sent to Dachau, Friedrich becomes a target of the Nazis despite the fact that his sister is an important member of the Hitler Youth's League of German Girls.  Though he is about to audition for the music conservatory and realize his dream of conducting, Friedrich realizes he must try to free his father and escape Germany.

The story skips two years to an orphanage in 1935 Pennsylvania.  Mike Flannery and his younger brother Frankie are adopted by Mrs. Sturbridge's lawyer Mr. Howard on the spot when it turns out that they can play piano beautifully.  The adoption is done to meet the requirements of the will left by Mrs. Sturbridge's father.  But when Mike learns that Mrs. Sturbridge is planning on have the adoption reversed, he makes a deal with her.  If her keeps Frankie, he will audition for a travelling harmonica troupe of young kids.  After all, he has a harmonica marked with an M that makes an especially beautiful sound.

The story jumps to California in 1942.  Japanese Americans have just been rounded up and sent to internment camps.  For Ivy Lopez and her parents, that means a job and the possibility of owning land, having a permanent home and never needing to move from job to job.  Her father new job is caring for the house and land of an interned family, the Yamamotos, whose oldest son is serving in the army.  Ivy, who has come into possession of a harmonica marked with and M that makes an especially beautiful sound from her old school, is excited to join the orchestra in her new school, until she discovers that the Mexican American students don't attend the main school, going to a ramshackle annex instead.

Three different stories bound together in space and time by one harmonica marked with an M but how do their destiny's connect?  Ryan ends each story with a cliffhanger, but it all comes together in the end.  In the meantime, she shows the reader how music can be a sustaining force even in the most difficult times.  Each of the characters must deal with situations that are rife with hate, suspicion and intolerance to suffering for those who are different and helpless in some way.

Ryan uses the technique of a Rahmenerzählung, framing the three stories with the story of Otto and the fairytale story of the three sisters, giving it a nice magical element.  Ryan holds the reader in suspense about every one's destiny and how they connect until the very end, but it is a delicious kind of suspense.

Echo is an enchanting novel that carries a message of hope, even throughout the scary parts, but readers should still read it with a willing suspension of disbelief to really get  appreciate the entire story.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL (but I liked it so much, I've decided I need to buy a copy for my personal library).

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16. Review of the Day: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail
By Ursula Vernon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Group)
ISBN: 978-0803741294
Ages 8-11
On shelves April 21st

These are dark times for children’s fantasy. Dark times indeed. Which is to say, when I pick up a fantasy novel for kids, more often than not I find the books filled with torture, violence, bloody blood, and other various unpleasant bits and pieces. And honestly? That is fine. There are a lot of kids out there who lap up gore like it was mother’s milk. Still, it’s numbing. Plus I really wish that there was more stuff out there for the younger kiddos. The ones who have entered the wide and wonderful world of children’s fantasy and would rather not read about trees eating people or death by cake. Maybe they’d like something funny with lovable characters and a gripping plot. Even Harry Potter had its dark moments, but in the early volumes the books were definitely for the younger readers. Certainly we have the works of Eva Ibbotson and Ruth Chew, but newer books are always welcome, particularly if they’re funny. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Castle Hangnail blew me away as much as it did. Here we have a story that knows exactly what it is, what it wants to do, and manages to be hilarious and charming all at the same time. If you like your children’s fantasy novels full of psychotic villains and mind-numbing action sequences, seek ye elsewhere. This one’s for the kids.

To some, Castle Hangnail might appear to be a “pathetic rundown little backwater” but to the minions who live there it’s home. A home desperately in need of a new Master and Mistress. After all, if they don’t get someone soon the castle might be sold off and destroyed. Maybe that’s why everyone has such mixed feelings at first when Molly appears. Molly is short and young and wearing some very serious black boots. She looks like a 12-year-old kid and Majordomo, the guardian of the castle, is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she’s supposed to be their new Wicked Witch. Yet when he gives her the necessary tasks to make Castle Hangnail her own, Molly appears to have a couple tricks up her sleeve. She may have her secrets but everything seems to be okay . . . that is until the REAL master of Castle Hangnail arrives to claim it.

Basically what we have here is Downton Abbey for kids, albeit with significantly more dragon donkeys (and isn’t Majordomo SUCH a Carson?). This raises the question of where precisely this book takes place. Remembering that author Ursula Vernon herself is not actually British, one supposes that the story could be read as a U.S. tale. Due to its distinct Eva Ibbotson flavor, the initial inclination is to see the book as British. Our picturesque little towns pale in comparison to their picturesque little towns, and we’ve far fewer castles lying about the place. Still, there’s no reason it couldn’t be American. After all, I’ve seen many an American author fall into the trap of putting cockney characters into their books for no apparent reason. Vernon has a good head on her shoulders. She’s not falling for that game.

Truly a book like this hinges on the characters created. If you don’t believe in them or don’t like them then you won’t want us to follow them into your tale. You have to sympathize with Majordomo, even when he does some unfortunate things. You have to like Molly, even when you don’t initially understand her back-story. It takes a little while but Vernon also makes it clear how someone can be wicked as opposed to evil. “Wicked was turning somebody into an earwig and letting them run around for a week to give them a good scare. Evil was turning someone into an earwig and then stepping on them.” An evil heroine is tricky to love. A wicked one is on par with your average 12-year-old reader.

Speaking of characters, Vernon makes some very interesting narrative choices as well. For example, our heroine is introduced to us for the first time on page six. However around Chapter 33 she disappears from the storyline and really doesn’t appear again until Chapter 39. You have to have a very strong supporting cast to get away with that one. It would be a lot of fun to ask kid readers who their favorite character was. Did they prefer Pins or his neurotic goldfish? The minotaurs or the moles? Me, I like ‘em all. The whole kooky gang. For a certain kind of reader, there’s going to be a lot of allure to having minions as lovable as these.

Even the lightest bit of middle grade fluff needs a strong emotional core to keep it grounded. If there’s nothing to care for then there’s nothing to root for. For me, the heart of this particular tale lies in Molly’s relationship with the evil sorceress (and teenaged) Eudaimonia. Lots of kids have the experience of wanting to befriend someone older and meaner. The desire to please can lead a person to act unlike themselves. As Molly says, “It’s like a weird kind of magic . . . Like a spell that makes you feel like it’s all your fault.” Molly also wrestles with being different from her kittens and sparkles loving twin and so the theme of finding yourself and your own talents come to the fore.

And now a word in praise of humor. Funny is hard. Funny fantasy? That’s even harder. Vernon has always blown away the competition in the hilarity department. Pick up any “Danny Dragonbreath” comic and you’ll see what I’m talking about. She can sustain a narrative for an early chapter book, sure, but full-blown novels are a different kettle of fish (is that a mixed metaphor?). So how does she do? You’d swear she’d been churning these puppies out for years. Here are three of my favorite lines in celebration:

- “Harrow was one of those people who is born mean and continues to lose ground.”

- “Magic was a requirement in a new Master, unless you were a Mad Scientist, and Molly didn’t look like the sort to hook lightning rods up to cadavers while wild Theremins wailed in the background.”

- “For there are very powerful spells that are very simple, but unless you happen to be the right sort of person, they will not work at all. (And a good thing too. You can raise the dead with five words and a hen’s egg, but natural Necromancers are very rare. Fortunately they tend to be solemn, responsible people, which is why we are not all up to our elbows in zombies).”

Parents wander into the children’s room of a library. They ask the librarian at the desk to recommend a fantasy novel for their 8-year-old. “Nothing too scary”, they say. “Maybe something funny. Do you have anything funny?” Until now the librarian might try a little Ibbotson or a touch of E.D. Baker. Perhaps a smattering of Jessica Day George would do. Still, of all of these Castle Hangnail appeals to the youngest crowd. At the same time, it can be equally enjoyed by older kids too. Smart and droll, it’s the fantasy you’ve always wanted to hand to the 10-year-old Goth girl in your life (along with, let’s face it, everybody else you know). A true crowd pleaser.

On shelves April 21st.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: Views From the Tesseract

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

 

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3 Comments on Review of the Day: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon, last added: 4/12/2015
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17. Sleepless Knight by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and ALexis Frederick Frost, 40 pp, RL: 1.5

Hooray! My favorite publisher of graphic novels (for kids, teens, and adults) First Second has been taking strides into the world of picture books with Sleep Tight, Anna Banana! by Dominique Roques and  Alexis Dormal and Julia's House for Lost Creatures by the amazing Ben Hatke.  And now, with Sleepless Knight, billed as an Adventures in Cartooning Jr. book, the picture book version of

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18. The Story of the Fisherman; Up Close

The Story of the Fisherman is a letterpress book that is hand bound and hand colored. The limited edition of 117 (101 of which are for sale) is a project that is produced by Foolscap Press.



via Studio Bowes Art Blog at http://ift.tt/1Dx60Xw

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19. Public School Superhero: James Patterson Reads Prize Pack Giveaway (ages 9-12)

James Patterson's middle school novels are a huge hit at Emerson--kids find them funny, relatable, and engaging. Patterson has long been committed to inspiring kids to read -- I'm a big fan of his Read, Kiddo, Read website and the way he uses his notoriety and success to champion all sorts of reading for kids.
"Here's a simple but powerful truth that many parents and schools don't act on: the more kids read, the better readers they become. The best way to get kids reading more is to give them books they'll gobble up... Freedom of choice is a key to getting them motivated and excited."

We Can Get Our Kids Reading
by James Patterson
Patterson has just announced a tremendous opportunity he's offering to schools across the US: he's pledged $1.5 million to give to school libraries through a partnership with Scholastic. Please share this news with your school librarians, principals and teachers!

Today I'd like to celebrate his newest book: Public School Superhero. I'm excited about this because so many of my 4th and 5th graders ask for funny books and adventure books. They will love the comics that are sprinkled throughout this. And I'm so happy to see the main character is an African American boy.
Public School Superhero
by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts
illustrations by Cory Thomas
Little, Brown, 2015
read chapters 1-5 online
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Publisher summary: Kenny Wright is a kid with a secret identity. In his mind, he's Stainlezz Steel, super-powered defender of the weak. In reality, he's a chess club devotee known as a "Grandma's Boy," a label that makes him an easy target for bullies. Kenny wants to bring a little more Steel to the real world, but the question is: can he recognize his own true strength before peer pressure forces him to make the worst choice of his life?

Kirkus review: Kenny's dreams of superpowered heroics provide a respite from his tough school. Kenny Wright loves his grandma, chess and superheroes. Less loved is his school, an overcrowded, underfunded cinderblock straight out of the fourth season of The Wire. A string of peculiar circumstances puts Kenny in the position of teaching his enemy, Ray-Ray, how to play chess, but this crummy state of affairs may be just what Kenny needs right now. ... A smart and kind story topped with just the right amount of social justice. (see full review)

James Patterson Reads Prize Pack Giveaway

Make it through middle school with James Patterson! Enter for a chance to win copies of:
  • Public School Superhero
  • I Funny
  • Treasure Hunters
  • House of Robots
Fill out the Rafflecopter below. Giveaway ends
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This book giveaway is open to participants in the US only. Prizing & samples courtesy of Little, Brown and Company. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, First Second. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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20. Gone Reading Prize Pack Giveaway!

Gone Reading Prize Pack Giveaway "Banned Books" Coffee Mug from GoneReading.com "Paperback" Body Lotion from GoneReading.com A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab Fall With Me by Jennifer L. Armentrout (release date: March 31, 2015) Hello to all you faithful readers and supporters of Reading Teen. You know we love you all and the support you show for the blog is very

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21. The Story of the Fisherman Final Art Gallery

A gallery of all the final art work that was used for the book The Story of the Fisherman.



via Studio Bowes Art Blog at http://ift.tt/1InDKnY

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22. Giveaway: The Grim Company by Luke Scull

Roc is celebrating the upcoming release of Sword of the North by Luke Scull, the second book in the Grim Company series.  They are giving away a copy of Book 1, The Grim Company.  To enter, fill out the rafflecopter below.

The Grim Company:

The Gods are dead. The Magelord Salazar and his magically enhanced troops, the Augmentors, crush any dissent they find in the minds of the populace. On the other side of the Broken Sea, the White Lady plots the liberation of Dorminia, with her spymistresses, the Pale Women. Demons and abominations plague the Highlands.

The world is desperately in need of heroes. But what it gets instead are a ragtag band of old warriors, a crippled Halfmage, two orphans and an oddly capable manservant: the Grim Company.

PRAISE FOR THE GRIM COMPANY

“Fun yet fearsome, gritty and gripping in equal measure…The Grim Company is pretty brilliant.”

Tor.com

“Debut author Luke Scull packs an impressive amount of violence, hazy morality and betrayal into these pages, crafting an energetically cynical read…An entertaining page-turner.”

SFX Magazine

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Luke Scull is a video-game designer and has worked on numerous bestselling fantasy roleplaying game franchises. He divides his time between the UK and Argentina. Visit him online at www.lukescull.com.

The second book in the series, Sword of the North, releases in May, so if you haven’t read The Grim Company, now’s your chance to win a copy!  Here’s some info about Sword of the North.  I love the cover!

In The Grim Company, Luke Scull introduced a formidable and forbidding band of anti-heroes battling against ruthless Magelords and monstrous terrors. The adventure continues as the company—now broken—face new dangers on personal quests… 

As Davarus Cole and his former companions were quick to discover, the White Lady’s victorious liberation of Dorminia has not resulted in the freedom they once imagined. Anyone perceived as a threat has been seized and imprisoned—or exiled to darker regions—leaving the White Lady’s rule unchallenged and absolute. But the White Lady would be wiser not to spurn her former supporters: Eremul the Halfmage has learned of a race of immortals known as the Fade, and if he cannot convince the White Lady of their existence, all of humanity will be in danger.

Far to the north, Brodar Kayne and Jerek the Wolf continue their odyssey to the High Fangs only to find themselves caught in a war between a demon horde and their enemy of old, the Shaman. And in the wondrous city of Thelassa, Sasha must overcome demons of her own.

Because the Fade are coming…

Enter to win The Grim Company – US addresses only, please

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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23. The Storyspinner: Review

It can be hard to stand out in the saturated YA fantasy market. It seems that inevitably there will be an outrageously evil king/powerful noble, a lost princess, and the recovery of unknown powers. And those elements are all present here, but in the hands of a skilled author they are more than welcome. In taking such an overly done story and making it interesting and original, I am happy to say that Becky Wallace succeeds in spades. I admit that I stumbled a bit in the beginning of this novel. Even though I am such a veteran fantasy reader, I need maps. They help me orient myself to the world and understand everything so much better. My mind races too much when introduced to foreign proper names and concepts to just let me be and enjoy the reading experience. I am a “constant flipper.” Yes, index finger permanently marked... Read more »

The post The Storyspinner: Review appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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24. The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Orion, 2015


Mare Barrow lives in a world divided between the wealthy (the Silvers) and the poor (The Reds). Her days consist of pick-pocketing to help her family survive.  Her father, a veteran of the war, cannot help so she and her sister take on work, either legal or illegal, to supply what little food and electricity they can.


The lives between the Silvers and the Reds run in completely separate veins.  Mare, her family, Kilorn (her best friend), and everyone else living in poverty in the Stilts are Reds.  They have nothing special about them except to ensure Silvers' lives of leisure.  The blood that runs through their them is even mundane...red. 

Silvers, on the other hand, not only have money and power, but are also gifted with extraordinary abilities.  Some can manipulate water, other can read your minds, still others are strong enough to crush rock with their bare hands.  There are fire starters, swifts, greeneys, and stoneskins, to name a few, and ever Silver is not only gifted with an ability, but their blood also runs silver, a beautiful and rich color.

Life in the Stilts is about to get worse for Mare Barrow's family.  When her sister can no longer work, Mare goes into full mode pick-pocketing.  Her best friend Kilorn, whom Mare has known since childhood, is in danger of being conscripted to fight in a battle between the Lakelanders and the Norta, which has lasted decades and decades.  His leaving is tearing at Mare, and she'll do anything to stop this from happening.

One fateful night will forever change the destiny of not only Mare, but her family's and Kilorn's as well.  Once a roamer of the streets, Mare is now at the Silvers monarchy's summer palace to serve and it's there that she unleashes a power unlike anything ever seen. But how can a Red have the abilities of a Silver?

Mare's life becomes a whirlwind where she now needs to balance two opposing sides - first as a newly formed future princess and pawn to a crown prince and secondly, as part of a hidden renegade group of Reds wanting to take down the hierarchy. But which life will she fight hardest for and whose trust will turn out to be a lie?


This is a novel that fantasy readers have been waiting for.  From the land where Reds and Silvers live to the individual powers displayed, to the deep and cunning nature of the renegades, Aveyard has created a sweeping fantasy that enchants and intrigues the reader to keep trying to figure out the twists, plots, schemes and relationships it presents.  Mare is a strong main character and the two characters vying for her attention in different ways create a polarity in personality that makes this book work.  The only thing missing is a map of this new world Aveyard has created, but those with enough fantastical imagination can create one of their own easily through the richness of the setting written in this new fanasty for YA.  Highly recommended for JH/HS

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25. The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly by Ted Sanders, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, 544 pp, RL 5

It's not often that I read (or listen to) a book that is more than 400 pages. In fact, it has been two years since I last did both - Wildwood by Colin Meloy, 560 pages, which I read, and Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, 512 pages, which I listened to. At 544 pages, The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly written by Ted Sanders and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno was a challenge for me, but well

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