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Author: Kathryn Rose Jacoby
Buy it at Amazon
After graduating from flight school, sixteen year-old Dolores Fletcher is now ready to face her life’s mission. As official Cobweb Catcher, she will rid homes of the giant spiders nesting there. Coming from a long line of Cobweb Catchers, she is proud of her heritage and eager to begin her work. But sometimes things aren’t what they seem.
After her aunt has left for Florida, Dolores finds an outcast ghost inhabiting her home. Since he has nowhere else to go and she’s lonely, she asks him to stay. Then her great-great-great-grandmother’s ghost joins him. Triple-G, as Dolores calls her, fills her in on the family history, encouraging her to follow in her footsteps. Dolores is very good at what she does, and soon a new problem develops, forcing her to decide on her future as Cobweb Catcher.
Dolores Fletcher, Cobweb Catcher is a cute fantasy of a young witch trying to find her own way in the world. She is an endearing girl that readers will cheer for. I would have enjoyed a little more character development, which would have been helpful in understanding the motives behind some of their actions. But overall, this is a nice story with a happy ending.
Reviewer: Alice Berger
Yesterday's book (The Menagerie) was one I happily recommended to nine-year olds wanting fantasy fun; today book I can also recommend whole-heartedly, but it is very different...one I think that has as much cross-over appeal to adult readers as it does to the YA readers to whom it is marketed.Fearless
, by Cornelia Funke (Little, Brown, April 2, 2013, YA), is the sequel to Reckless (my review
), which told how Jacob, a boy from our world who became a treasure-hunter in a mirrorworld where fairy tales are true, sacrificed himself to save his younger brother. And now Jacob, waiting for the fairy curse to strike that will end his life, is on the greatest treasure hunt of his life, this time looking for the last thing he hopes can save him. It is a weapon crafted by an evil witch king long ago, full of powerful (and potentially horrible) magic...and Jacob isn't the only one hunting for it. Pitted against him every step of the way is another treasure hunter, one of the stone-skinned Goyl, and their race across an alternate Europe of magic come true might well kill them both.
Fortunately, and heart-rendingly, for Jacob, he is not alone--Fox, the shapeshifting girl who almost broke my heart in the first book, is with him, and here in this book they both have come to understand that their love for each other is the bedrock of their lives. But Jacob is dying...and so desperate fear tempers their relationship. They have saved each other countless times before, but now they are stretched so painfully thin by this most horrible quest that hope would seem impossible, if the alternative was not so unthinkable.
Note: The relationship between Jacob and Fox is so real, so immediate, so beautiful, and so rooted in their complex pasts that I can't think of any other romance that comes close (except that of Eugenides and Irene, in Megan Whalen Turner's books). But it is not a physical romance (understandable, given the circumstances) so those looking for swoonish kisses should look elsewhere.
Unfortunately for Jacob's opponent, the Goyl Nerron, not all travelling companions are a good thing. Nerron is saddled with a nasty teenaged prince, along with his ass of a tutor, and a bodyguard--an inhuman Waterman, with motivations of his own, and their internal power struggles add a somewhat grimly diverting second layer of conflict to the story. Despite the handicaps who travel with him, Nerron pushes Jacob and Fox at every turn....but fascinatingly, though he seems at first to be the ostensible "bad guy" opponent of the piece, and though up to the last minute the suspense is killer, he is still nuanced, and even sympathetic....
So what we have, to summarize, is killer characters in a killer story. Added to that are episodes of fairy tale-ness that made bright vivid pictures in my mind--for instance, the book includes one of the most memorable Bluebeard retellings ever.
That being said, this isn't a fast read of magical zipping-ness. The pages turned slowly, not because I wasn't interested, but because I was so absorbed, even when I wasn't in places where I wanted to be. Those place weren't the dark scary exciting bits, of which there were many, and which I did enjoy, but rather those times when the burning ache of Fox's and Jacob's desperation surfaces. Though they must be fearless, they can't help but fear.
So no, not happy escapist fun. Not a book that kids would necessarily appreciate, though many teens might. I mysef found it a darn good book (mainly because I love Fox so very much!). I think it has stuck in my mind so firmly that, although I can imagine re-reading it, I won't need to for a long while.
Here's another review, at In Bed With Books
disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher for review
Oh yeah. You want a book that hits the sweet spot for the nine-year old mythical creature lover? This is what you are looking for: The Menagerie
, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (HarperCollins, March 2013, middle grade), is your basic ordinary boy meets a family who tends mythical creatures, and finds he has a knack for baby griffin wrangling. It's your basic new kid in town finds a niche and makes friends, with a bit of family dynamic stuff thrown in. And it's your basic scary government bad enforcement types and sinister sneakers off in the background threatening everything.
And the sum of these somewhat unremarkable plot points is an adventure with a generous dose of mystery that is eminently readable and very enjoyable, especially, I think, if you are nine years old. Even more especially if you are my own nine-year old, who turned right around after reading it in one day to begin it over again, and who can't wait for the sequel.
Things I especially appreciated:
1. Great baby griffins! The main story revolves around the escape of six young siblings, and their escapades all over town, which vary depending on their personality (one ends up in the library, because books are her favorite sort of treasure, another makes a hoard for himself with the pirate coins in a toy shop, etc.).
Logan, our central character, has the remarkable ability to converse telepathically with griffins, and here he is talking to baby Flurp (her thoughts are in bold) in the library:
"Flurp ready to write fabulous tales of grand adventure. Furp ready to be most famous author of all time! From nice warm safe cave with much fish
. She clacked her beak. Nothing to eat in here but BOOKS
"Did you actually--?" Logan glanced through the play-house window. The floor was covered in Harry Potter books, as if Flurp had been been making a nest out of them.Eat books?! Flurp would NEVER! Flurp would STARVE first!
The griffin cub let out a tiny burp that smelled of crayons." (p 105)
Plus Logan knows about griffins because he's seen one on a Diana Wynne Jones book, which made me, DWJ fan that I am, smile!
2. The fact that Logan is African American, and that this has nothing whatsoever to do with anything that happens. It's just who he is.
3. The nice balance of description (cool creatures!) with happenings, and an equally nice balance of the funny with the tense----it felt just right to my own internal nine-year old.
4. The fact that Logan has a cat named Purrsimmon.
And, as a small but worthwhile added bonus, "menagerie" is now in my son's vocabulary.
So give this to the kid who isn't ready for Fablehaven
yet, who loves mythical creature fiction, and watch the pages turn...
One last thing regarding my own boy's experience with it--after taking it to school, and talking it up, he came home to report that at least ten kids, including ones he hadn't expected to be interested, all wanted to read it. But he was a good child, and brought it back home to his mama...
Guy Hasson. The Emoticon Generation. infinity plus, 2012. PDF review copy. Early in March, Andrea Johnson of the Little Red Reviewer asked if I’d like to participate in a blog tour for Guy Hasson’s The Emoticon Generation. I’ve never participated in a blog tour, and the book does have a few stories involving young adults, [...]
Terry Pratchett is, of course, best known for his Discworld books, but he also wrote (among other things) a three book sci fi/fantasy series for readers 9-12, about a boy named Johnny Maxwell and his friends. Johnny and the Bomb, the third book (1996), takes Johnny and co. back in time to World War II, just as their town is about to be hit by German bombs....
Johnny knows the bombs are coming, and that people will be killed because the air raid siren isn't going to off and warn them. If he can sound the alarm, he can save them...but caught in the temporal paradoxes of changing the past, and hampered more than he's helped by his companions in adventure, he might not be able to.
Johnny and his friends are a somewhat confusing bunch of mis-fits (three boys, and one girl)--they are all rather mad, in the British sense of the word. The madness that they create just by existing is compounded when they encounter the shopping cart of a bag lady, who just happens (though they don't know it) to keep time (or something very like it) in the grotty plastic bags she wheels around. When Johnny and the friend who is a girl (mostly named Kirsty though sometimes she chooses not to be) start poking at the cart (not that they really wanted to, but these things happen), it starts whisking them through time.
And eventually all five kids are back in 1941, not adding much to moral, and not, at first, realizing that if they don't do something, the bombs will kill the very people they are meeting. It does not help that one friend has decided to travel through time wearing a German uniform.
I rather think that I had read the other two books first, I would have been altogether calmer and more receptive, happy to see Johnny and all instead of confused and unconvinced by them (although not un-entertained). But I had not, and so I was. Fortunately, I was curious enough to continue on (chuckling, it must be said, quite often), and was rewarded by a cracker-jack time-travel paradox gem when Johnny must slide around the linear path of time to sound the alarm. That part was really good (or fully realized, if you want something fancier).
Short answer: read the first book first. Read this one first only if you are a. a passionate devotee of WW II juvenile fiction b. reading every time travel book for kids you can.
Bonus: interesting bit of grim humor regarding how the residents of WW II England might react to a black boy (one of Johnny's friends)
Final note: it is never explained how or why the mysterious bag lady and her shopping cart travel through time, so don't expect to be any wiser by the end of the book.
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff is a clever exploration and expansion of the classic fairy tale and, as with the original, there is everything in a name. Names and magic are at the heart of Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, which is set in a bleak fairy tale landscape where a king who is hungry for gold satisfies his craving on the backs of is subjects. This
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By: David D Bernstein,
Middle Grade Books
1) “Children of the Lamp (The Akhanaten Adventure)
- by P.B Kerr, published by “Orchard books, and imprint of scholastic Inc.
New York 2004.
What if you find out that you are descendants from a long line of Dijon, human-like beings created from fire.
They are able to grant wishes, and take on different animal forms.
This is exactly what happens to two twelve-year-old twins, John and Phillippa, after they get their wisdom teeth pulled.
The children are sent to London to their Uncle Nimrod's home where their amazing adventure begins. This venture takes the reader on a magic carpet ride through a fantasy Middle Eastern World.
This journey teaches the twins that granting wishes is not only dangerous for themselves, but for people who desire wishes as well.
2) “Peter and Star Catchers”-
by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, illustrated by Greg Call.
Published by Disney Hyperion paperbacks for children New York 2004.
How was never-land discovered?
How did Peter Pan become a boy forever?
This book helps the reader find answers to those questions and many more.
Peter Pan is a never aging boy, who visits children at night and takes them to fantasy island called Never-Land where magic lives.
Through the use of vivid language and pencil illustrations, the authors introduce us to how Peter Pan became a part of a world, full of amazing creatures, and magic. This story reveals the mystery of magic dust and how Children can make it real by looking within and tapping into their own imagination.
3) “Infinity Ring book three the trapdoor”-
written by Lisa McMann, published by Scholastic Inc.
New York 2013.
The next book in this interactive serious takes our heroes Dak, Sera and Riq to Maryland in 1850 just before the Civil War.
The main character in this book travel back it time and fix History Breaks, that has been caused by an evil corporation with intentions to take over the world.
The time period in this book describes how new law has been passed that allows any white American to report free blacks, and then make them slaves. The children's mission is to stop this law, and to save the civil right leaders from a prison Dream like landscapes, humor and adventure take the seriousness of the topic at hand, and twists it into a fun read for everyone.
4) “The 13thReality, the Journal of curious letters. -
Written by James Dashner, illustrated by Bryan Beus, Published by Shadow Mountain Press an imprint of Worzalla Publishing Co.
Stevens point, WI. 2008. One day a nerdy boy, Atticus Higginbottom receives a strange letter from Alaska.
After this boy’s life changes from a boring one to life full of mystery and questions that, need to be answered.
Twelve clues help him understand that the world he lives in is just one of many parallel worlds, which still need to be discovered and saved.
If a child likes to solve problems through clues, they would love this book.
A story progresses Atticus goes from zero to hero.
The pencil illustrations and secrets surrounding the boy’s life will keep your middle graders turning the pages.
Weeding time has begun hereabouts, a time of mixed joy (I find weeding soothing) and despair (I can't weed fast enough). But regardless, I am a weeder. As well as a reader.
So of course I had to get hold of Garden Princess, by Kristin Kladstrup, the first example I have ever come across of a juvenile fantasy whose heroine, Adela, is a weeder! (Weed fantasy--the next big thing? Probably not).
Adela is a princess--plain and somewhat awkward, but royal none the less, which conflicts with her gardening (I hear you, Adela--my job conflicts with my weeding something fierce too!). And because of her love for plants, she gatecrashes a garden party to which she was not invited (though the handsome young castle gardener, and her vapidly beautiful young step-aunt both got invitations) simply because the thought of visiting the fabled garden of Lady Hortensia is irresistible.
Lady Hortensia has a way with plants. An evil, twisted, magical way...let's just say, all the beautiful people who get invited to her parties are changed by the experience...and Adela is about to see her in action! Adela's fortunate escape from the attentions of Lady Hortensia, and the brave efforts of a thief (in enchanted magpie form--he was the most interesting and entertaining character of the story), foil the evil Hortensia, and all is well.
It's a pleasant, fast read--light, fairy-tale fun. There's not much in the way of deep substance to the plot or to the various romances (which were rather rushed), and the moral--that "a beautiful person was someone who was good and kind" (p 190) is underlined repeatedly. But Adela's desire to do her own thing outside societies expectations of what a princess should be, and her growing determination to make those desires come true, are appealing.
A nice one for younger middle grade readers, who don't require their princesses to be beautiful, or their romances more than fairy-tales.
This year in celebration of National Poetry Month, I want to celebrate by featuring books written in verse instead of books of poetry. I can't think of a better way to start this off than with Robert Paul Weston's marvel, Zorgamazoo. Written entirely in quatrains and couplets, Zorgamazoo screams to be read out loud, although is just as entertaining read on one's own. But, before I share the
(Atheneum, April 2, 2013, middle grade) by Stephanie Burgis, is the third book in a series about an incorrigible Regency girl, Kat, who just so happens to be a powerful magic user. Unfortunately for Kat, any magic other than that of the Guardians (snooty upper class types) is tremendously looked down on. Although Kat has inherited a place among the Guardians from, she's also inherited more than a little of her mother's distasteful, distrusted, witchcraft....as have her sisters.
In this third book, one of her sisters, Angelina, is about to marry a very high-breed young man, whose mother is a snobby harridan of the worst kind. Kat, Angelina, their father and stepmother arrive at the finance's grand estate....and immediately mayhem ensues.
There are ordinary questions:
Will the schemes of the nasty mother keep Angelina from finding happiness?
Will Kat disgrace her family more than she usually does with her lack of regard for decorum?
There are magical questions:
Will Kat ever get another portal that will allow her to be a true member of the Guardians? She sacrificed hers in the previous book, and unfortunately all the spare portals have been stolen.
Will she and the woman tasked with working with her on finding them (a nasty piece of work from the previous books) come to blows?
Just what sort of spell does Angelina think she is doing?
And there are mysteries:
Who is stalking Kat with Malevolent Intent?
Who is the mysterious marquise who seems to know so much about Kat's family?
And then there is the Really Big Mystery:
Who is trying to kill Angelina?
And then there's a bonus kicker-- a plot by the scheming French that needs foiling (this being the Regency, and things not being too friendly between the French and the English).
So a very busy, entertainingly swirling plot that ends with the introduction of such a delightful appealing new twist that I hope rather a lot that there are more books to come!!!
I couldn't help but wish, as I read this one, that Kat would grow up just a bit more....she seems to have regressed somewhat in impetuosity and lack of empathy. Although that being said, there were times when I would not have blamed her for utterly loosing her temper, and she managed not to! But of course, the fact that I was caring about this as I read shows that Kat was very real to me.
The second book, Renegade Magic, is still my favorite (it has a more mythologically rooted plot, and more sympathy for Kate's poor, put-upon, unappreciated stepmama), but this was a fun, rollicking read, and I highly recommend offering this series to any ten or eleven year olds you happen to have on hand.
Here's another review at The Book Smugglers
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.
Well, you know, you win some, you loose some...and Dragon Magic
, by Andre Norton (1972), sadly fell into the later category for me.
The premise was interesting enough--four middle school boys of desperate backgrounds and interests all living in the same neighborhood in the early 1970s, but not interested in being friends. Then one of them discovers the magic of the beautiful dragon puzzle he finds in an old abandoned house--a puzzle with four dragons. Each boy in turn puts together a dragon, which whisks him on a journey back in time, and they become friends in the present when they share their experiences.
The boys whose interactions in the present make a framing device for the stories of the past are:
Sig--ordinary guy of Germanic heritage, who finds himself helping Sigurd take on Fafnir.
Ras, aka George--a black kid, whose big brother has embraced the Black Power movement, who finds himself a Nubian prince enslaved in Babylon along with Daniel. He gets to watch Daniel overcome an African swamp dragonish creature.
Artie--would be cool boy, who goes back in time to King Arthur and learns a valuable lesson about meaningful relationships.
Kim--adopted from Hong Kong, he goes back to ancient China where there is a very confusing war going on, and comes back knowing he should try harder to make friends.
So a diverse cast of kids who don't get all that much page time, but who actually manage to be somewhat more than stereotypes, which is good, and four stories that varied a lot in interesting-ness, which wasn't so good. The first two (Sigurd and Daniel) were very interesting, the last two I found tedious.
Which could have been just me. But the particulars of the stories aside, the whole ensemble never felt enough like a cohesive story to rise above the fractures of its form and make me really care. In large part this is because the time travel magic put the boys into characters in the past--they weren't themselves, so there was no ongoing metacommentary. The stories were told straight up,with no ties back to the present, in much the same way as you might find stories anthologized in a book of "Dragon Stories of Many Lands." And on top of that, the boys had almost no agency within their stories, which made them even less interesting.
So that's generally why I didn't care for it. Here's a particular thing that vexed me--in Ras's story, Norton keeps referring to him as "the Nubian" and not by his name. All the other boys were referred to by name, and it bothered me that he was depersonalized this way.
But the dragon puzzle was beautifully described...best dragon puzzle ever.
In The Golden Door
), Emily Rodda introduced the walled city of Weld, beset every night by horrible, man-eating skimmers who fly over the wall from the lands beyond. Three magical doors lead out of Weld, and in the first book, a boy named Rye and his chance companion, Sonia, head out through the Golden Door in search of Rye's oldest brother. In the sequel, The Silver Door
(Scholastic, 2013), Rye and Sonia, along with the rescued older brother, Dirk, journey through the Silver Door--searching not just for Rye's other brother, but for the answers to the mystery of the skimmers. Where do they come from, and why?
In the blasted land behind the Silver Door, Rye finds answers...and terrible dangers. It is a darkish book, dystopian in feel, as the characters move from one awful situation to another. And Rodda does a great job making these perils vivid; there isn't gratuitously graphic violence, exactly, but there is death, slavery, and some really scary flesh eating snails (and though bad snails might sound silly, when you are in a hideous blasted landscape about to be consumed by them, they are not nice...). But much worse than the snails is the dark entity behind the evilness of the skimmers.
Fortunately Rye has the magic talismans he was given in book one, and fortunately he has companions who are brave and smart. Most fortunately of all, though, he finds his missing brother in just the right place to overcome the immediate threats, and make it home....where the third door awaits.
So for those who like a darkish middle grade fantasy adventure, with some interesting magic and world-building, it's good stuff. Rye and Sonia are characters kids can relate too. It was a bit too dark a journey from one danger to the next for my own taste, but that being said, although I have a lamentable tendency to skim the "exciting showdown" bits in general, I was utterly sucked in by the excitement at the end of this one!
And I really enjoyed Rye's science-loving middle brother's role in it all. Yay for characters keenly interested in science, even when in mortal peril!
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher
In his Author's Acknowledgments
at the end of Dodger
, Terry Pratchett
calls the book historical fantasy
, not historical fiction
, because he's tweaked some historical material. He moved some people who actually existed in the nineteenth century to a different point in the nineteenth century, for instance, and put the offices of a real newspaper on Fleet Street because he couldn't determine where it actually was located. I suspect there are many historical novelists who've done far worse without flinching and got nowhere near as good a result as Pratchett gets here.Dodger
is an amazing combination of character and setting. The plot, maybe, is a little simple. To me, the most fantastical element in the book is the way the wonderful Dodger makes his way up the ladder in life. However, that may be a play on the work of Charles Dickens, whose books I have very little knowledge of. Dickens appears as a character in Dodger
, and I'm making an assumption that Dodger was inspired by Dickens' own Artful Dodger. Though that's a stretch for me because I haven't read the book in which he appears. Dodger's success in life, as a result of his own resourcefulness, innate talent, and goodness, may also be something that occurs in nineteenth century English fiction. Just guessing.
You often read about world building in science fiction and fantasy. But every book has an imaginary world, even if it's set in 2013 America. Historical novels, in particular, have worlds that require intense work. Dodger
's is incredible. You have place, you have sociology, you have language, you have clothing, you have attitude. You have everything you require for a world.
I rarely think to comment on covers. But I've noticed that Tanita Davis
and Sarah Stevenson
do at Finding Wonderland
, and I do have some thoughts about Dodger
's. While the American cover (see above) makes for a beautiful book object, I think it's misleading. The character looks very young. He's around seventeen in the book, and while he seems inexperienced in terms of not knowing the ways of the moneyed classes, he is, in his own way, a man of the world. That's why he's able to do the things he does.
The British cover may be less attractive, but I think it gives a better feeling of the character.
Yeah for reading books that have been sitting around the house, possibly crying in corners, for far too long! Finally I have read Sarah Zettel's Dust Girl
(Random House, middle grade/YA, June 2012), and I found it good. It is good because although the barest bones of the story are familiar--girl finds out she is half fairy, the opposing sides of the fairy realm fight over her while she figures out how to use her magic--the particulars are very unique indeed.
Callie's mother won't let her go outside the Kansas hotel she runs, in case her skin gets dark and people suspect her father was black. But then the dust comes (this is the 1930s) and there's almost no-one left in town to care. Still her mother won't give up and leave, though the food and money are running out, and Callie is choking her life out on dust, because she's waiting for Callie's musician father to come back.
Then Callie plays the piano for the first time. And her playing awakens the magic in her, and a dust storm like no other comes, blowing her mother away and bringing into town the first (and most truly horrible!) of the magical adversaries Callie must deal with. (Just to give you a taste--they are grasshopper creatures in human guise, and they are very....hungry).
So Callie, and Jack, the boy she just rescued from the abandoned jail in town, hit the road, first running for their lives (grasshopper creatures sure are fast!), and then running less fast for their lives while searching for the people they have lost. On their journey they encounter madness and mayhem and magic...all the while moving through the blighted landscape of the dust bowl Midwest.
So yes, I liked it lots--although Callie was Special, she also managed to be nicely ordinary, and her motivations and actions all made sense to me. Callie also had to think considerably about the fact that her father was black--in the racially charged world through which she moves, she can't forget it--yet this aspect of her story was well integrated with the whole, and though sometimes it was underlined, it never felt overly didactic. And, on top of that, it was a swinging, exciting adventure, with (wait for it!) no Romance front and center, which was rather refreshing--it's nice to read a book in which people are running for their lives without getting distracted by their Feelings for each other. Callie and Jack will probably hook up in the future, when they're a bit older, and that's fine.
But what I really loved was the historical part of this fantasy--I don't turn to Dust Bowl fiction for my reading pleasure, and so meeting that historical landscape in my favorite genre was a lovely treat.
Here's what I especially appreciated--America is not treated as a fantasy blank slate, just waiting for the immigrants to arrive with their magics. Instead, the first magical Person Callie meets is Native American, almost certainly Coyote, and this is what he has to say about it:
"Stupid white people. Stupid yellow people, or stupid brown people. Bringing in all kinds of ghosts and little spirits. Can't even tell who's in the game anymore." (p 31).
And so even though Callie's magical journey doesn't directly involve the native magic of her place, at least there's this acknowledgement that there is an indigenous presence. The only other fantasies for middle grade/YA readers set in North American that I can think of simply do not have this (The Prairie Thief, by Melissa Wiley, and Patricia Wrede's Frontier Magic series), and I think they are the weaker for it.
Note on cover: that's the new paperback
cover up at the top; it comes out in June. Some people thought that the cover of the hardback (at right) didn't show Callie accurately as half black (although since she's been passing as white, or at least, her mother thinks she has, all her life, she has to look at least somewhat ambiguous, and I think the paperback goes a bit too far in the other direction....). But in any event, it's nice to have the paperback showing a Main Character of Color, and so good on ya, Random House.
Note on age: This one is a perfect tween book, great for 11-13 year olds. As far as I can remember, there's nothing in it that would be Inappropriate for younger readers (which is to say there's no sex, but I'm not sure how well I do at registering curse words, since I am married to someone from Liverpool and have become hardened), but there are issues of racial and religious prejudice (Jack is Jewish), law-breaking and human unhappiness/human evilness that make it a bit strong for a younger kid.
A few other blog reviews, by people who were reading it ages ago: Bunbury in the Stacks
, Someday my Printz will Come
, and alibrarymama
This piece was started, and left for dead back in 2008. When I saw IF's word of the week, I thought of my mythological creature buried in my art files. It seemed like a good piece to resurrect, and offer up. What began in Feb of 2008, is finished in March of 2013. Only took 5 years!
So to all my artist friends out there... what's in your files that needs completing?
City of a Thousand Dolls
, by Miriam Forster (Harper, Feb. 2013, YA)
The City of a Thousand Dolls is a sanctuary for unwanted baby girls. It is a producer of young women schooled (depending on their talents and temperaments) in various houses as mistresses, healers, musicians, scholars, warriors, and even assassins. It is the only home Nisha can remember, though she was six when she was left outside its gate. And though Nisha was too old when she arrived to be placed in one of the city's houses, has a role to file as the matron's assistant, and she has friends, and hopes for her life after she is too old for the City. In short, the City runs smoothly along, with transgressions punished severely, escape forbidden, and everyone in their proper place.
But now the City of a Thousand Dolls is home to a murderer. Girls are being killed.
And Nisha, used to moving freely throughout the city, must find out who the killer is. Her own life is at stake. As she investigates, she finds that there are secrets both within the City and in her own past...secrets that will change her life forever.
I read it in as much of a single sitting as a person with needy loved ones can. I liked it for the setting (I have a penchant for books that stay in one place), I liked it for the difficult concept of the City-is it a place of refugee and opportunity for girls who might otherwise be victims of infanticide, or is it a prison?--and appreciated that the people within the city thought about that issue themselves. I liked the details about small things. And I appreciated the fact that this isn't yet another medieval European fantasy; instead, it is more South Asian in setting and culture. So though the world-building wasn't perfect (and I have some niggling questions about the mechanics of the whole city thing), I was happy to keep reading.
However, there's a disconnect that makes me unable to heartily recommend this one.
To wit, The City of a Thousand Dolls
is marketed as Young Adult, and indeed, because of the whole premise of (some) girls being trained to be mistresses, it's not one to give a naive younger reader (though the author doesn't spell out what being a mistress is all about, and there is no sex within the book itself). But it skews young in plot and characterization, and ended up feeling more middle grade than teen. A teen might find Nisha an incompetent detective (she is no Nancy Drew, but, in justice, she never thought she was), too naive to be credible, and may well find the reveal of Nisha's specialness, her romance, and the denouement of the story, all too much to take (and in fact it was all too much like a kid's wish fulfillment for me to swallow).
And there are cats with whom Nisha has a telepathic bond. Girls having telepathic bonds with cats always makes me think of 10 or 11 year olds, perhaps because when I was that age telepathic cats would have been my own dream come true....
So, uh, I'd hand this to the 10 or 11 year old girl who already is conversant with the concept of women whose role in life is to provide men with pleasure, who wants an exciting mystery/unrealistic romance with bonus telepathic cats.
But like I said, I did find it a page turner....
The Encylopedia Mythica provides information about mythology, folklore, and religion.
, by Toby Forward (April 2012, Bloomsbury, middle grade), goes to show (and very nicely too) that it's possible to take elements that might seem to have been done to death in middle grade fantasy and make them into a book that appeals even to even the jaded adult reader (ie, me). In short, I enjoyed it; not with wild extravagant enjoyment, but it held my interest just fine. I have underlined the common elements in my summary, in a helpful spirit, just for my own amusement and not because they made me think less of the book.
Sam is an orphaned
boy learning magic
from a kindly old wizard
in a cottage of sylvan simplicity (I liked that he was named Sam, which I thought made a nice change in its matter-of-factness), who has a dragon friend
(but not the sort one rides on). The old wizard dies before Sam has finished his apprenticeship, and all his old pupils show up at the sylvan retreat. And none of them believes that Sam was a true apprentice, with magic and all. So Sam, and his dragon friend, strike out on their own
, leaving the other wizards faced with a magically locked door that convinces them pretty quickly that Sam has magic after all, and needs to be found.
Sam's journey takes him to a school of magic, but it is no Hogwarts. Instead it is a degenerate place where the library has been neglected, and a sort of capitalist spirit of magic for profit rules supreme. There at the magic school is a brave and clever girl
, and a mean boy
who plots against our hero.
And then everything becomes a lot more complicated and difficult to explain, with a struggle against malevolent evil in the form of a sorceress who's a really nasty piece of venom, and magic playing out in interesting ways, and the grown-up wizards turn up and are interesting and it was really quite engrossing.
( I liked the simpler first part best).
Things got more tricky to follow, and the climactic scene toward the end (involving the whole "dragonborn" thing) didn't make sense to me (to put it more bluntly, I have No Clue At All what happened in the relationship of the boy and the dragon and how it helped thwart the antagonist) but that could be just my own dimness. And then the book ends, clearly in need of a sequel (which I will read), but not distressingly so.
So I think that this is one with appeal to adults who enjoy middle grade fantasy; I was very happy to keep reading it, and there parts that I enjoyed very much. And I think older, middle-grade readers with many fantasy books under their belts will also appreciate it. The UK cover at right is much more age appropriate than the US cover, which makes it look like a friendly magical book for eight or nine year-olds. It's most definitely not that age, for two reasons:
1. It's disturbing. The good wizard is dead right from the start, and Sam is alone and friendless. The adults who are supposed to be his friends fail him. Sam almost dies at one point, and takes a long time to recover. The magic school is rotten. The (tremendously appealing) dragon friend is separated from Sam for most of the book.
And on top of all that, the bad character is scary and disgusting (I really could have done without so much detail about her beetle eating habits; one beetle, two beetles, I could have taken, but there were lots more), and she tortures people, and we never (in this book at least) find out who or what she really is, so she remains an undefeated figure of nightmare. Voldemort is scary too, but we kind of work our way up to him. This bad beetle-eater is there from the beginning, casting a creepy pall of darkness from her dismal tower.
2. The story is confusing. Not in a muddled writing sort of way, but because confusing things happen without much explication. There is some backstory given for the world in general, through pages from Sam's notebook, but the history of the adult characters (and clearly they have lots of history) is (for the most part) not told to the reader. One has many questions along the way--why were the older wizards so dim about Sam? Is such and such character to be trusted? Who the heck is the bad beetle-eater, and was she always so bad? Why is the dragon doing that? There is no spoon-feeding (and as I said, I failed to understand what happened at the end).
So I'm not going to offer this one to my own nine-year old (devourer of fantasy though he is), but I am going to be on the look-out for the sequel myself....and now I see that the sequel, Fireborn
, has already been out for a while in the UK, but is coming in December over here in the US...
, by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Orion Childrens, May 2010, UK), is a time slip book like no other I have ever reviewed, in that it involves ghosts time travelling back into the past through a magical portal! I do not know of any other books with actively time-travelling ghosts.
G. is a ghost boy, haunting the old Dublin Button Factory where he died in a freak accident several years ago-- lonely, bored, and at loose ends in death. Jessie is a girl new to the city, whose attention he attracts, leading her into the old factory, which has now been refurbished as miscellaneous business spaces/artists studios. There Jessie meets two private detectives who have a secret--the stairs in their office that lead nowhere actually lead to a time portal that opens every seven years. And there in the old factory is the ghost of the man, Master Greenwood, who inadvertently opened this Timecatcher back in the thirteenth century, and who has been guarding it ever since, hoping to find some way to close it. No living person has ever used it, but ghosts can come and go...
Then there's a third ghost, a bad one, who wants to use the magic of the time portal for the most selfish of ends. He has powers the good guys don't know about....and he's on his way to the Button Factory. The Timecatcher is about to open again...
(and the bad guy has told every ghost in Dublin about this opportunity to be ghostly travellers in time, so that they will mob the Button Factory and distract the good guys--this ghostly tourist episode, though just a side note, was lots of fun!)
As well as the central story plot--the bad ghost trying to take over the Timecatcher and team of ghosts and living people trying to find the secret of how to close it--there's a substantial character-driven plot. G. the ghost boy only the wispiest memory of his life before he became a ghost, and has spent his death years aimlessly working small mischiefs, and watching the artists at work in their studios. G. is not particularly fond of Master Greenwood (who indeed is much too preoccupied with his weighty concerns to be a good friend to a kid), and Master Greenwood does not regard G. in a particularly favorable light. And so G. is faced with a character-growing situation--does he work to become trustworthy, and a good friend to Jessie and the rest, sharing his own particular ghost skill (a useful one) with the team? Or will he let his resentment and care-less attitude to life and death win? And will the others trust him, or not? I liked this aspect of the book.
Jessie is there primarily to be the reader's entree into the story, and for her it is more an adventure than a character-changing experience. But still, she is a likable girl, with a bit of backstory (the missing father, lonely mother, new girl in strange place, etc.) and enough initiative to be a valuable member of the team. Master Greenwood's backstory, on the other hand, though perhaps a bit contrived, is extraordinary.....
There is also a very nice ghost cat who's travelled through time. Jessie's terrier also gets lots of page time, and those who like small dogs will appreciate him.
Short answer: A ghost-filled time-slip story with a nice dash of character development that entertained me lots.
Matt Archer: Blade's Edge
When Matt Archer was fourteen, he discovered monsters are real. As if that wasn’t enough to go on for a few decades, Matt also found out that he’d been chosen to hunt those monsters--with a sentient, supernatural knife. Now fifteen, Matt has spent the last year working with a clandestine military unit, trying to rid the world of monsters, demons and other vicious creatures, all while keeping it a secret from nearly everyone he knows back home in Billings.
Including his mom.
Add in a new girlfriend, family secrets, sibling drama and enough homework to sink an aircraft carrier, and Matt’s life has become more complicated than he ever imagined. Worse, the knife has developed some very definite opinions about Matt’s personal life and it interferes in his business whenever it wants. More and more, Matt’s coming to realize that sharing brain-space with a spirit kind of sucks.
When stories of decimated towns and hordes of zombies start pouring into the Pentagon from Afghanistan, Matt knows he’ll be called up soon. Between the new mission and the knife’s increasing control over his mind, Matt wonders if he’ll survive long enough to take his driver’s exam.Review Quotes for Matt Archer: Blade’s Edge
“Blade's Edge is an exciting continuation of the Matt Archer series. Kendra Highley did not fall victim to the sophomore funk. She has written an emotional and power story about Matt's horrific journey to rid the world of monsters.” –Kinx’s Book Nook (Amazon)
“I enjoyed Matt Archer: Monster Hunter to the point I was picking it up every time I had spare moments (which are few in my home), but MA: Blade's Edge has blown me away! Ms. Highley has crafted a story that comes to life with vivid images, exciting adventures, and thrilling mishaps that add a touch of humor (driving test, anyone?)” –Kelly C. (Amazon)
“"Matt Archer Blade's Edge" more than delivers what a reader wants from a sequel. The tension and action are taken up a level, as are the mysteries and plot developments.
Best of all, you feel the time passing from book to book and see the characters really grow and change.” –Picky Reviewer (Amazon)
“The Matt Archer books are the best young adult books I've read since I was a young adult! Think Supernatural for a younger audience, but better. I'll be ordering paper copies for my Favorites shelf. Not to be missed!” Sarah G. (Amazon)
Buy Links for Blade’s Edge:Matt Archer: Monster Hunter
Fourteen-year-old Matt Archer spends his days studying Algebra, hanging out with his best friend and crushing on the Goddess of Greenhill High, Ella Mitchell. To be honest, he thinks his life is pretty lame until he discovers something terrifying on a weekend camping trip at the local state park.
Monsters are real. And living in his backyard.
But that's not the half of it. After Matt is forced to kill a strange creature to save his uncle, he finds out that the weird knife he took from his uncle's bag has a secret, one that will change Matt's life. The knife was designed with one purpose: to hunt monsters. And it's chosen Matt as its wielder.
Now Matt's part of a world he didn't know existed, working with a covert military unit dedicated to eliminating walking nightmares. Faced with a prophecy about a looming dark war, Matt soon realizes his upcoming Algebra test is the least of his worries.
His new double life leaves Matt wondering which is tougher: hunting monsters or asking Ella Mitchell for a date?
Review quotes for Matt Archer: Monster Hunter:
“Terrific page turner; I stayed up half the night reading it, and now I can't wait for the next installment.” --Amelia Anne (Goodreads)
“The action is quick-paced, abundant and so much fun!!! I can't get over just how awesome of a read this book is; I can't wait for more!!!” --Danielle S. (Goodreads)
“I can't remember the last time I had this much fun reading a book. The eponymous narrator is a very likable and believable hero, the world is rich and detailed….
It has been a long time since I was a teenager, but I'm pretty sure that this book would appeal to an audience of all ages.” -- Misha B. (Goodreads)
“The action doesn't stop. Seriously! I was up until after 1am because I couldn't put it down!” --Riamachia (Amazon)
“It's funny - I thought I was too old for YA stories, and then I realised that I was just looking for the right kind of stories to hold my interest. This is one of those. If you're looking for vampires or angels or similar things that tend to make up YA novels at the moment, you won't find that here - you will, however, find something a bit more awesome.” –Sweartoad (Amazon)
Buy Links for Matt Archer: Monster Hunter:Author Kendra C. Highley
Kendra C. Highley lives in north Texas with her husband and two children. She also serves as staff to two self-important and high-powered cats. This, according to the cats, is her most important job. She believes chocolate is a basic human right, running a 10k is harder than it sounds, and that everyone should learn to drive a stick-shift. She loves monsters, vacations, baking and listening to bad electronica.Book Blast Giveaway
$50 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash
Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer http://iamareader.com
and sponsored by the authors. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.a Rafflecopter giveaway
By: Jeanne Lyet Gassman,
Devilfish Review, an online quarterly magazine, is looking forsubmissions of fiction and flash fiction. We prefer speculative fiction and fantasy, but will read anything. Please take a look at our archives and About pages to see if your work will be a good fit.
Submissions are read on an ongoing basis. Previously unpublished work only, please. Simultaneous submissions are fine. Our website.
Submit your work here.
The best fiction is like a pyramid mostly submerged in water; only the very top pokes above the page but it must give us the sense that we will find a solid, three-dimensional creation no matter how far down we dive to explore it. This is true whether you're writing about aliens with three genders and lavender tentacles, twelfth-century Scots clansmen in kilts, or just a bunch of kids hanging out behind a 7-11 in Cranford, NJ.
The question is, how far do you have to go to create that sense of reality, of faithfulness?
When it comes to research, no one could say I'm a shirker. My WIP is a fantasy novel based on Jewish folklore, so for years now I've been reading everything from the Biblical books of the Prophets, medieval wonder tales, the novels of Isaac Baashevitz Singer, Hasidic tales of the Holocaust, collected Jewish folk tales and Apochrypha, scholarly treatments of ancient Jewish magic and the like.
But now that I've gotten my characters to my fantasy world, I'm having trouble imagining myself there and I couldn't figure out why...until I read Jane Yolen's wonderful essay, Turtles All the Way Down (first published in Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Isaac Asimov and published by St. Martins Press in 1991). The prolific Yolen, no slouch at building worlds herself, suggests that we base our fantasy worlds on landscapes we know intimately. "In fantasy, outer landscape reflects inner landscape…. If the place is real enough, then the fantasy creatures and characters--dragon or elf lord or one-eyed god or the devil himself--will stride across that landscape leaving footprints that sink down into the mud. And if those creatures are also compelling, having taken root in the old lore and been brought forward in literary time by the carefully observing author, those footprints in the mud can be taken out, dried, and mounted on the wall."
How do YOU make your writing come to life? How do you build a world?
By: Jennifer Wylie
Blog: Jennifer Wylie's Blog
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Flashy Fiction and Other Insane Tales volumes 1 and 2 are now available in a bundle! Not only do you get both books together, you save 25% too!
Flashy Fiction and Other Insane Tales (Bundle Vol 1 & 2)
by Jen Wylie and Sean Hayden
Published March 17 2013
Price: 2.99 (save 25%)
Available at [Amazon]
IT’S THE BEST OF BOTH BOOKS!
Okay, technically it’s just BOTH BOOKS in ONE seriously funny and scary easy to read, purchase only once, compendium of the deranged! And you save almost a WHOLE DOLLAR! Do we rock or do we rock?
An anthology of the strange, bizarre, and just plain weird.
Zombies, vampires, ghosts, and …crickets? Try a taste of writing from two very different fantasy authors. Flash stories are super short and perfect for when you ‘just have a minute’. This anthology contains 15 stories from authors Sean Hayden and Jen Wylie. Run the rampart of emotions in this exciting mix of tales. From humor to twisted, there is something for everyone.
Unicorns, zombies, devils, dark whispers, teddy bears, and …fireflies? Try a taste of writing from two very different fantasy authors. Flash fiction stories are super short and perfect for when you ‘just have a minute’. This anthology contains 15 stories (both flash and longer short stories) from authors Sean Hayden and Jen Wylie. Run the rampart of emotions in this exciting mix of tales. From humor to horror, sweet to twisted, there is something for everyone.
Note: Some stories contain adult language.
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Way back in May of 2009, I began to conciously seek out multicultural children's books, primarily in an effort to add color to my sons' bookshelves
. One of the books that I ended up buying in that initial burst of enthusiasm was The Little Yokozuna
, by Wayne Shorey (Tuttle Publishing, 2003, middle grade). And I have only just now finished it, partly because of tbr pile inertia, and partly, and sadly, because when I started it back then I realized it wasn't very good.
I still think it isn't very good. But as well as being multicultural, it is a time travel book, and so in a vague desire for completeness (someday I will have reviewed every children's time travel book ever written in English, Magic Treehouse books and other series-es for the younger reader excepted) I'm going ahead and posting about it.
Basic plot--Japanese demons have kidnapped an American girl, called Little Harriet. She disappeared in a museum garden, and her six older brother and sisters have found that the garden serves as a portal, that has whisked them, in pairs, into a whole series of other gardens, mostly Japanese. One pair of siblings ends up in Japan in the 1960s, where they meet a Japanese boy, Kiyoshi-chan. He and his family are kind and helpful. Another pair ends up becoming friends with a haiku-writing monkey named Basho. The third pair ends up in an underground pit of demons. They are reunited. They meet an enigmatic old man who is enigmatic. Demons are glimpsed; one is beheaded. More gardens are visited, too quickly to explore in detail.
Finally the six American kids and one Japanese kid end up at a Japanese demon/god sumo wrestling match. The Japanese kid enters the ring to fight for their lives (and Little Harriet).
The enigmatic old man enigmatically leads them to Little Harriet. The American kids go back to modern Boston.
Here is what I liked: Some of the garden descriptions are appealing. I like learning about new things--I now know more about sumo wrestling.
Here are the reasons why I didn't like it:
1. The character names. "Little Harriet." Her brother, "Owen Greatheart." (He wasn't even all that greathearted). Another brother, "Knuckleball." The fact that when we meet the oldest sister, Annie, her brother is calling her "Granny." This confused me. I thought she was a grandmother. The fact that Kiyoshi-chan is never just Kiyoshi (although maybe that's a nod to the reality of 1960s Japan???).
2. The multiple jumps in perspective. I coped reasonably well with all the different narrative strands, but I object to shifts in narrative perspective from one paragraph to the next.
3. The resulting fact that I never felt I knew any of the characters well enough to care about them as individuals. In particular, what with a considerable portion of the book's beginning told from the perspective of Kiyoshi-chan, I felt invested in him, and so was somewhat put out to find him becoming a minor side-kick (even when he took center stage as a sumo wrestler, and thus became the title character, "yokozuna" being the highest rank in professional sumo, he stayed minor). I think, also, that if an author tells me some of the kids are blond, but then goes out of his way to say that one has skin "the beautiful dark color of smooth chocolate," he should maybe tell me more about the familial circumstances of the kids (and make a vow never to use chocolate as a skin color descriptor ever again. I got stuck for a while at this point, thinking deep thoughts like "milk chocolate is smooth but not dark" etc.).
3. The fact that the plot made little sense, with motivations and meanings that never felt properly developed. WHY, for instance, did the kids travel through time? There is no reason, plot-wise, for this, and it didn't add to the sense that I was reading a coherent story. And what was with the talking monkey? I am fundamentally against talking monkeys whose only purpose is to introduce Basho's poetry, in a somewhat twisted fashion, to the young.
In a nutshell: It was like a confused fever dream, and I'm not adding it to my son's bookshelf.
And so that concludes this week's edition of Time Slip Tuesday. Tune in next week for a book I like more than this one.