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1401. The Order of Odd-Fish revisited --reading in color, defaulting to white)

I just got an email from James Kennedy, author of the truly bizarre middle-grade fantasy Order of Odd-Fish (my review), and thought it would be interesting to share it (with his permission).

"The heroine, Jo, is biracial (in the tapestry scene, when she sees a picture of her parents, she discovers she has a black father and a white mother). The narrative doesn't make a fuss about it; the book isn't "about" race. Sir Oliver, the leader of the Odd-Fish is black and so is Dame Delia. And the second protagonist, Ken Kiang, is of course Chinese. Many other characters don't have racial attributes described at all.

"Jo's face on the covers of the hardback [top left--in the center of the cover] and the paperback [below] seem to be about the skin color of a Maya Rudolph or Halle Berry. It seems you could read those images as either biracial or just a tanned white girl. I've noticed, however, that when I ask some who have read the book what color Jo is, they say "white" a distressingly large amount of the time, even though she's explicitly described in chapter 1 as having brown skin.

"Cover artists whitewashing characters is one thing; but when the reader's imagination automatically defaults to white for a character, even when the text says otherwise, that says volumes about our unconscious attitudes -- even among the most well-meaning."

I myself was a defaulter-to-white reader (gah). Which is why Kennedy emailed me in the first place, because I hadn't tagged my review of his book...

So the point would seem to be that reading in color is rather more than just picking up books with people of color on them, and involves making sure that the traps of old mental habits are avoided. In that spirit, next time I read A Wizard of Earthsea, by Usula Le Guin, I will try to push White Ged out of my head, and try to see him as dark skinned as his author intended.

More Order of Odd-Fish news:

Oddness would appear to beget oddness--here is Kennedy's gallery of fan art inspired by his book. Not content with showcasing it on line, he is putting on a gallery show / extravaganza of Order of Odd-Fish art in Chicago. Anyone can contribute fan art (the deadline is March 15). Here's the call for submissions.

It sounds like fun--from Kennedy's description:

"It'll be not only an art show, but also a costumed dance party and theatrical extravaganza. I'm working with a Chicago theater group called Collaboraction to do this. They're going to decorate their cavernous space to portray scenes from the book (the fantastical tropical metropolis of Eldritch City, the digestive system of the All-Devouring Mother goddess, the Dome of Doom, etc.).

Opening night will be a dance party where people dress up as gods and do battle-dancing in the Dome of Doom. In the weeks afterward, we'll bring in field trips from schools. They'll browse the fan art galler

4 Comments on The Order of Odd-Fish revisited --reading in color, defaulting to white), last added: 1/27/2010
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1402. "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis for Timeslip Tuesday

Connie Willis' new book, Blackout (coming February 2nd--yay!), takes time travelling historians from the future and sends them back to World War II London. I though, therefore, that for today's Timeslip Tuesday it would be fun to look at her first time travel story, "Fire Watch." It was first published in 1982, and republished in an anthology of the same name in 1985.

"The only things that would have helped were a crash course in London during the Blitz and a little more time. I had not gotten either.

"Traveling in time is not like taking the tube, Mr Bartholomew," the esteemed Dunworthy had said, blinking at me through those antique spectacles of his. "Either you report on the twentieth or you don't go at all."

"But I'm not ready," I'd said. "Look, it too me four years to get ready to travel with St Paul. St Paul. Not St Paul's. You can't expect me to get ready for London in the Blitz in two days."

"Yes," Dunworthy had said. "We can." End of conversation."

And so a young history student from the future is travels back in time to guard St. Paul's from Hitler's bombs.

For the next few months, he labors to save the cathedral, sleep-deprived, overwhelmed by both the particular strangness-es of the past (cats! colds!) and by his own growing emotional involvement with the people and the place. As his detachment fades, both Bartholomew and the reader are drawn into the heart wrenching position of realizing that, in the end, that which you love can't be saved forever. (At which point I begin sniffing). Because Bartholomew, being from the future, knows what is going to happen to St. Paul's...

Here's an interview with Connie Willis from 2001, which covers her entire oeuvre up to that point. About "Fire Watch" she says: "My favourite story of all time that I have ever written is Fire Watch. I don't think it is my best story. I was very much a beginning writer, when I wrote that one."

I agree that, technically, it might not be her best story--it is almost clunky in places, and the relationship between Bartholomew and Enola, a young London girl he meets, is not as convincing as might be. But boy, for me at least, all the parts that don't quite work are forgiven for the sake of the emotional power of the whole.

"Fire Watch" by Connie Willis won the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 1983. Willis went back to her time travelling historians with Doomsday Book (1992, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel), and To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997, only won the Hugo). Doomsday Book is too unbearably sad for me to want to re-read it, but To Say Nothing of the Dog is a comic masterpiece.

8 Comments on "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis for Timeslip Tuesday, last added: 1/28/2010
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1403. Reading in Color (the books I've talked about since my blog began, and books I hope to talk about in the future)

I just went through all 889 blog posts I've written to add a new label--"reading in color." The majority of the posts thus tagged discuss books in which the main character(s) are non-white, based on either the cover illustration, the text, or both. I hope this might be useful for people looking for books with people of color (I know that I would love to see labels like this at some of the blogs I trust to recommend good books to me!).

On 5/17/09 I decided to make an effort to actively seek out more books with people of color. This did have some effect on my book choices, but I'm upping my level of commitment by joining the People of Color Reading Challenge (although I might not remember to link every month...)

Reading as I do mostly middle-grade science fiction and fantasy (with some YA thrown in the mix), I am a little worried about finding books for the challenge. I currently have 31 middle-grade science fiction/fantasy books in my To Be Read/To Be Reviewed pile (not counting library books). Three, I think, will count. One is set in medieval Japan. One is the latest book in Diane Duane's Young Magicians series. And one is a fantasy from Botswana.

Any recommendations of really well-written middle-grade fantasy with strong kids of color, preferably shown on the cover, are welcome.

8 Comments on Reading in Color (the books I've talked about since my blog began, and books I hope to talk about in the future), last added: 1/27/2010
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1404. Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninga Frogs, by Ursula Vernon

Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninja Frogs (Dial Books/Penguin, lower middle grade on up, Feburary 4th, 2010, 205 pp) by Ursula Veron.

When I was up in Boston for the American Library Association meeting last week, this was one of the ARCS I was happiest to get, because I knew how very very happy it would make my children (they love Dragonbreath). And indeed, five minutes after I got home, my nine year-old had cracked the spine.

Attack of the Ninja Frogs brings back Danny Dragonbreath himself, still as imaginative and enthusiastic as any young dragon ever was. When Suki, a Japanese exchange student, is beset by Ninja Frogs, Danny and Wendell, his geeky iguana pal (who's fallen hard for Suki) travel with her to mythical Japan to find out what's going on. Danny thinks it's the greatest thing ever to be in the thick of real Ninja action, Wendell's worried about Suki, and as for Suki herself--she just wants to be a comic-book reading veterinarian, preferably a veterinarian who isn't being stalked by Ninjas...

The story is great fun, and the smart, snappy dialogue made me grin for a good part of the book. But what I loved most of all is the range of expressions that Vernon gives to her little reptiles and amphibians. My son (who's trying his hand at cartooning) and I poured over all the panels that showed Danny, marvelling at how a few subtle changes from picture to picture can bring about such great characterization.

Both Dragonbreath books are absolutely, utterly perfect for the kid who is still daunted by long chapter books. Word heavy pages (with large type) are interspersed with graphic heavy comic-style panels, making the books very friendly to the uncertain reader.

Here's another review, from fellow Dragonbreath fan Doret at TheHappyNappyBookseller.

3 Comments on Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninga Frogs, by Ursula Vernon, last added: 1/27/2010
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1405. This Sunday's Round-up of Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction from around the blogosphere

Here's what I found while wandering the internet this week looking for reviews of middle grade science fiction and fantasy, and related miscellany. Please feel free to send me links to anything I missed!

The big news this week is, of course, that a middle grade sff book, When You Read My, by Rebecca Stead, won the Newbery!

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman at The Book Zone (for boys)

, by Catherine Fisher, at Charlotte's Library (technically YA, but one upper middle grade kids might enjoy).

The Ever Breath, by Julianna Baggott, at InfoDads.

The Giant-Slayer, by Iain Lawrence, at Charlotte's Library, and also at InfoDad (scroll down). Not, strictly speaking, fantasy, but with a large chunk of fantasy contained within it.

The Grey Ghost
, by Julie Hahnke, illustrated by Marcia Christensen at Fantasy Book Critic

The Case of the Purloined Professor: The Tails of Frederick and Ishbu by Judy Cox, at Fantasy Book Critic (scroll down)

The Lotus Caves, by John Christopher, at Rhiannon Hart's blog (Science Fiction! How rare!)

The Night Fairy, by Amy Schilz, at Fuse #8.

Powerless, by Matthew Cody, at Fuse #8.

Ring of Fire (Century Quartet, Book 1), by P.D. Baccalario, at Charlotte's Library.

7 Comments on This Sunday's Round-up of Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction from around the blogosphere, last added: 1/27/2010
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1406. Ring of Fire (Century Quartet Book 1), by R.D. Baccalario

Ring of Fire, by R. D. Baccalario (Random House, 2009, upper middle grade, 291 pp) is an exciting fantasy/mystery for sixth graders on up.

In Rome, on December 29, four 12 year-old kids find themselves forced to share a hotel room. Harvey (from the New York), Mistral (from Paris), Sheng (from Shanghai), and Elletra (the hotel owner's daughter) are surprised and amused to find that they share the same strange birthday--February 29. But things quickly grow more surprising, and less amusing, when they go for a night-time ramble through the old streets of Rome, and a frantic man presses a briefcase on them.

"Please," the man insists. "They're looking for me. I don't have time to explain. No one does. No one." (page 61)

And the next day, the man is found dead.

Inside the briefcase is a set of strange wooden tops...and clues that will take the four children on a dangerous quest to find answers, as they realize that stakes of the mystery they have become part of are higher than they could have dreamt.

The mystery, rather than the fantasy, is what drives the story, and the action is almost non-stop. The point of view shifts, particularly in the first half of the book, between the kids and the Bad Guys, so the reader knows from the beginning that this is a matter of life and death.

Although an effort is made to make the kids distinct characters, this is not the strongest point of the book (and adult readers of mg fantasy might well be disappointed in this regard). There's really not much time for characterization--all the things happening keep whisking them around Rome... And indeed, Rome, with all its ancient secrets, often takes center stage, with several very handsome color pages of maps and illustrations let the reader explore alongside the four protagonists. (The only problem with putting them in the middle of the book is that I didn't know they were there--I might have made more use of them in the first half of the book had I known).

I personally don't care too much for third person present narration, but I was able to loose sight of that as I got caught up in the action. Although some resolution of the central issue of this book is achieved, there are many unanswered questions--it is, after all, the 1st of a quartet.

In short, a fine book for the mystery loving kid (recommended to fans of the 39 Clues Books and The Mysterious Benedict Society).

(Note: I'm going with sixth grade on up because, besides the issue of the rather complicated plot, there are a few bits of rather intense violence-for instance, someone gets shot at point blank range and tied up to possibly bleed to death in a bathtub).

Here's a review from a sixth-grader at Book Trends, one from the Lateiner Gang, and another review from Amanda at A Patchwork of Books, who nominated this for the Cybils.

(note: book received from the publisher for Cybils consideration)

5 Comments on Ring of Fire (Century Quartet Book 1), by R.D. Baccalario, last added: 1/26/2010
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1407. Darkhenge, by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher, was shortlisted for the Cybils in January of 2008, and the following fall, Sapphique, its sequel, was nominated. I was Cybils panelist in Fantasy Science/Fiction, so even though the books were only available in the UK, I went ahead and ordered them (and then, of course, read them).

Now Incarceron is being released in the US (finally), and it's getting (deservedly) a lot of buzz. I would have to re-read it before reviewing it myself, which might or might not happen, but in the meantime, here's an earlier book of Catherine Fisher's that I just read-Darkhenge (2005, published in the US in 2006 by Greenwillow, upper middle grade/YA, 340pp).*

Rob's little sister Chloe has been in a coma for three months, after falling from her horse. His life has been a fragile veneer of normalcy ever since, underlain by unspeakable waiting. When he's offered a job at a local archaeological excavation (living as he does near Stonehenge, archaeological excavations are a dime a dozen), he hopes that will distract him from his worry. But as the dirt is cleared away, a wooden circle--a dark henge of massive tree trunks-- rises up from below.

It is a gateway to another land, and things are passing through. Taliesin the bard is walking the over world again, still caught in his dark feud with the goddess Ceridwen. And Chloe's spirit has entered this other world, caught by its king, who is taking her deeper and deeper into enchantment, from castle to stranger castle.

"Now this caer is surrounded too. The outer walls were meshed first; then we heard a crash and the gates fell; a great trunk bursting through the glass.

"He caught my hand and made me run with him up the wide stairs, all made of crystal.

"It's no use," I said, breathless. "The trees will get inside. Why are you so afraid of them?" (page 97)
Rob and Taliesin follow her, determined to save her before she has passed too far into the forest. In that strange place, she is moving toward the dark part of her own mind--the jealous resentment and bitterness she has been nursing toward Rob for years. Trapped by her own feelings, the deeper in she goes, the less she wants to be rescued...

Fisher weaves a world that is just resonant as all get out with mythology and magic and Celtic-ness. And it's a good story, made especially magical by the glimpses the reader is given into what Chloe is experiencing (as in the example quoted above). However, once Rob sets off into this other world himself, some of that magic gets lost in the immediacy of the action. And Chloe's resentment doesn't seem quite convincing enough to explain the turn she takes toward the Dark Side. But neither of these two reservations was enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book.

An aside--it's interesting, having read Incarceron, to see Fisher exploring the theme of a strangely mutable

9 Comments on Darkhenge, by Catherine Fisher, last added: 1/25/2010
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1408. Covers of color from recent YA fantasy

My happy post about the cover of Magic Under Glass being changed was my first reaction...I still am glad that it is being changed, but today I am thinking about what to do next.
My Friend Amy is hosting her annual Buy One Book and Read it. Buying a book that shows a person of color on the cover would be a good thing to do if you want to let publishers know that there is a market for such books. Here are some suggestions of recent YA fantasy books* that show characters of color on their covers (from last April, when I started posting lists of new releases) for readers of fantasy (please note--there are other books about people of color, but these are the ones that show them):

Yep, all four of them. Four is pretty pathetic. Please tell me I missed some....And they are all girls. Where are the boys of color? (have they met the fate of poor Stinky, from the Mysterious Benedict Society?)

There is also Tiger Moon, which I didn't include above, because, although one can assume the person on the color is from a country that has tigers, I think silhouettes are too ambiguous to count, but I don't have it in front of me to stare at, so if it is not ambiguous, please let me know! It's sequel just came out--from what I've read, the central character of color, who is a prince from Nepal, is invisible, which, if they really mean it, makes him a challenge to show in the cover art.

So there are some suggestions of good books to buy. But even if one doesn't have the money to buy books oneself, one can always ask the library to buy bo

8 Comments on Covers of color from recent YA fantasy, last added: 1/24/2010
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1409. The Giant-Slayer, by Iain Lawrence

The Giant-Slayer, by Iain Lawrence (Random House 2009, middle grade, 284 pages), is two stories. There is the straight story, historical fiction set in 1955, that tells of a group of children struck down by polio just before the vaccine was developed. Within that story is a fairy tale, told by one of the characters, that (I think) gets more page time than "real life" does. So although its not a fantasy (nothing "magical" happens), it's also not quite non-fantasy. What is told in the story doesn't, exactly, stay in the story...

Laurie's father is a scientist, working as many hours as he can to develop the polio vaccine; when he thinks of his daughter, keeping her safe from polio is the only thought that comes to mind. But when Laurie's best friend Dickie falls ill, Laurie enters the polio wing of the hospital to find him. There he is, in a room with two other children, all being kept alive by iron lungs.

Laurie is a storyteller, and there in that room her voice brings to life a tale of an unlikely hero and his quest to kill a giant. Gradually her story takes into itself the listening children; each of them is there--Dickie, the great hunter Khan, Carolyn, the Swamp Witch, and Jimmy, the hero whose father kept him from growing up. When Laurie can't finish her tale, they bring the story to its end themselves...

It's hard to know just what to say about this. The central fairy tale is just fine (there are some interesting twists), but I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it to fans of fantasy. The real-life aspects of the book are fascinating (it's the best fictional representation of a polio ward I've ever read about), but felt overshadowed by Laurie's fable (I wanted more of the 1950s), so I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

But together the two parts of the book somehow worked for me, and I think it would work even better for a certain type of young reader, the sort who is sensitive to metaphor, the sort who appreciates stories with a lot of heart (ie me when I was in sixth grade, before I became all cynical etc).

Other reviews at Through a Glass Darkly, the Book List blog Bookends, Buxtolicious Blog, Shelf Awareness, and from a sixth grader (who loved it) at Book Trends.

1 Comments on The Giant-Slayer, by Iain Lawrence, last added: 1/23/2010
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1410. GREAT NEWS on the Cover of Magic Under Glass!!!!!

From the Bloomsbury Kids website: “Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of *Magic Under Glass*. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.”

And for those of us who are worrying about what the new cover might show, this sounds reassuring:

From Jaclyn Dolamore's blog-- "I've been speaking with Bloomsbury and have learned that they will be doing a new jacket for Magic Under Glass, with a model who will more closely reflect my own design, as seen in the book trailer."

Oh my gosh. Oh gosh. Cheers for Ari, and Susan, and Doret, and Colleen, and all the others who blogged so passionately about this. And thanks Bloomsbury, for doing the right thing. (please don't let it happen again).

5 Comments on GREAT NEWS on the Cover of Magic Under Glass!!!!!, last added: 1/21/2010
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1411. Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta (February 9, 2010, Candlewick, YA, 416 pp)

When Finnikin of the Rock people was nine years old, his world collapsed. In the five days of the Unspeakable, the royal family of his country, Lumatere, were assassinated. During the ensuing chaos, the people of Lumatere turned on the Forest Dwellers, followers of a goddess many of their countrymen feared. And so Seranonna, matriarch of the Forest Dwellers, cursed Lumatere as she burned at the stake...and soon its boarders were sealed with a wall of dark magic.

Some scattered bands of Lumaterens escaped before the border closed. Ten years later, when the story proper begins, Finnikin of the Rock is an exile, about to follow a dream that will lead him to Evanjalin, a strange girl who can walk in the sleep of the people trapped inside Lumatere. She claims that young prince Balthazar, rightful heir to the throne, survived. With this message of hope, Finnikin and Evanjalin travel through the many kingdoms surrounding the closed boarders of their country, experiencing first-hand the horrors that beset their exiled people. And their path takes them, at last, back home...where they must face the Unspeakable.

Just to make it clear, I think this is a good book. It is, however, a book that does not make things easy for the reader, for two reasons.

Firstly, there is a large cast of characters moving in and out of the story, and a huge canvas of countries and regions, not to mention the complicated back story and tricky plot, to which my summary does not do justice. For the first half of the book, I felt confused, unable to invest in Finnikin and Evanjalin, and not at all sure that I was going to make it to the end. It's not a book for the fast reader, accustomed, as is my own shiftless habit, to skimming lightly over the surface of things. However, as things sharpened in the minds of the central characters, and their purpose became more clear, things became clearer in my mind as well, and the pages turned faster and faster...

Secondly, bad things happen to people in this book. Although not gratuitously graphic, Marchetta doesn't pull any punches with regard to rape, murder, racial hatred, religious hatred, slavery, sickness, and random violence. It is not a comfort read. But as with the issue of my general confusion, the main characters gradually developed an intense reality in my mind that made their story one I truly cared about, despite the horrors they witness and experience.

Evanjalin in particular is a stunner of a character--in my opinion, she wins the award for strongest, most determined young heroine of contemporary YA fantasy and science fiction.

In the end, it's a powerful story. A memorable story, with flashes of the numinous--that shiver on the back of the neck when words on the page truly become magical. I don't think it's for everyone--it's not pleasantly escapist fantasy. On the contrary, I think I'd recommend it to anyone who loved Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Which I didn't, so here's what I like best about Finnikin of The Rock--the generous serving of what happens after they make it home and start rebuilding...

Here a few other reviews--at Oops...Wrong Cookie,

6 Comments on Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta, last added: 1/21/2010
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1412. In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker, for Timeslip Tuesday

I met Kage Baker, so to speak, this fall when I enjoyed her middle grade fantasy, Hotel Under the Sand, and looking around to see what else she wrote, I found one of her adult books, In the Garden of Iden (Harcourt Brace, 1997), courtesy of Leila at Bookshelves of Doom. Time travel, botany in Elizabethan England, romance, saving endangered species through the miracles of science--what was not to want?

Way of in the future, The Company was created when Dr. Zeus discovered the secrets of time travel and immortality. Both came with a catch. For the former, it was that travel past the point of your own present was impossible. The catch for the later was that immortality was a dubious proposition, coming, as it did, with psychological issues of an unpleasant sort. Dr. Zeus' solution was to make chosen people in the past immortal--they could then busily get to work, squirrelling away precious works of art, animals and plants that were doomed to extinction, and priceless treasures and clever investments that could be "found" in the future, and used to fund the whole processes. Agents of the Company, fitted with all sorts of cyborgian modifications, filled the past.

In late Medieval Spain, a little girl was saved from the Spanish Inquisition and became immortal. Now Mendoza, trained as a botanist, finds herself on her first field mission, in England during the reign of Bloody Mary. She and her colleagues have come there to find the Garden of Iden, a fabulous collection of rare plants assembled at a country estate.

The botany part is relatively easy for Mendoza. But she is, despite all her modifications, still a teenaged girl. In the Garden of Iden she meets Nicholas. Young, handsome, preoccupied by religion, he transforms her life...and maybe her eternity.

I would have liked a lot more botany and a lot less of Nicholas and Mendoza's relationship, which fogged over the windows of much of the book, as it were. I almost enjoyed it a lot, but didn't, in the end. Although the premise is as great a premise as has ever graced a science fiction book, and although there were many moments of wonder and humor (I especially liked the snippets of the Company Broadcasts, providing news and entertainment straight Bloody Mary's London), it wasn't quite my cup of tea. For this I blame Nicholas, who never quite convinced me, and who took up far too much of the book (and Mendoza's time) for my liking.

That being said, I've joined Leila in putting in a library request for book number 2--The Sky Coyote. And then we'll see about seven books that come after that...

Note on time travel: this is an oddish one time travel-wise, because the main characters never travel through time, yet, because of their up-bringing in the Company's enclave, they are products of a different era. So Mendoza is both a late Medieval Spanish teenager, and an ultra-futuristic hyper-educated cyborg in one person (which I think is cool). It is also a rather refreshing change to have time travel facilitated by technological conveniences and a large support staff, thereby av

3 Comments on In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker, for Timeslip Tuesday, last added: 1/19/2010
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1413. Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, by Laurel Snyder

If you are looking for a nice (in all the good meanings of that word) fantasy adventure type book to give to an 8 or 9 year old kid, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, by Laurel Snyder (2008, but just reprinted as a Yearling Paperback) is one I'd recommend.It is a lovely quest fantasy for the beginners, with little Darkness but lots of fun.

Lucy, a milkmaid, and Wynston, a prince, are best friends. But suddenly one day Wynston's life as a prince interferes with their friendship, and Lucy takes off in a huff (accompanied by a young cow named Rosebud--one of those things that just sometimes happens). She's going to climb the Scratchy Mountains, and find her mother. No-one has actually come out and said she's dead, after all.

But what she finds up in the mountains isn't all fun and games...her path leads to the village of Torrent, a strange dystopia whose strict rules may mean the end of the small wild animal Lucy befriend on her journey. So even though Lucy is as tough a young heroine as they come, it's a good thing Wynston has taken off after her. Two friends working together can do things that one person can't...and adventures are much more friendly with two!

Snyder tells her deceptively simple story with verve and zest. Sprinkled with amusing tidbits, the action swings along swingingly. It is a book that a moderately confident reader could read to themselves, and it also is a great book to read out loud, to boys or girls (tip on reading out loud to your boys-- if you make sure you are holding the book you want to read face down as you approach them, they might not notice covers that look like girl books).

But I think it is more than just a good story, well-told. In a non-preachy way, and almost as an aside, it has messages of the sort I, for one, want my children to internalize. Things like "don't judge people by their status in society," "Question idiotic laws and governments that think themselves perfect," "Have the courage to go off and look for things that are important to you." Things that I want my kids to do (as long as they don't take the cow up the mountain with them).

(my copy provided by the author)

2 Comments on Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, by Laurel Snyder, last added: 1/18/2010
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1414. The Results of the Newbery et al.-how fantasy and science fiction fared

Here are the results of some of the awards just given out by the American Library Association:

The Newbery Award:

Honor Books:

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Two years in a row of a fantasy/science fiction book winning! And a lovely fantasy book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, being honored!

The Batchelder Award (Foreign book translated to English)

Honor Books

Big Wolf and Little Wolf

Eidi, by Bodil Bredsdorff

Gaurdians of the Darkness (Moribito II), by Nahoko Uehashi

Award Winner:

A Faraway Island by Annika Thor

I believe Eidi is fantasy-esque, and the Moribito is most definitely wonderful YA fantasy.

The Printz Award (YA)

Honor Books:

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes


Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Only one here that's truly fantasy--The Monstrumologist. Although Going Bovine certainly has its fantastical elements!

The Morris Awards (for debut authors)


Ash, by Malina Lo

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

The Everafter, by Amy Huntley

Hold Still, by Nina LaCour


Flash Burnout by LK Madigan

Ash, Beautiful Creatures, and The Everafter are all fantasy!

And special congratulations to my blogging friend Tanita Davis, who is now a Coretta Scott King Honor Author, for Mare's War!

5 Comments on The Results of the Newbery et al.-how fantasy and science fiction fared, last added: 1/18/2010
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1415. The cover of Magic Under Glass

A discussion is currently taking place about the cover of Magic Under Glass, by Jaclyn Dolamore (Bloomsbury, 2010), castigating the publishers for showing a girl on the cover who does not accurately represent the ethnicity of the character in the book--in short, the cover shows a character of color as white.

I thought it might be a useful contribution to the discussion to share exactly how Nimira is described, because most of the people talking about it haven't read the book. All the page numbers refer to the ARC. I tried to find every example, but may have missed some.

"My hair tumbled down my back, glossy black and shining in the low light." (page 3)

"I knew how the men of Lorinar thought, what they wanted. To him, I was dark and foreign and crude." (page 4)

"...pink does not do with skin like yours." (pp 32-33)

"Miss Rashten thinks pink doesn't suit my complexion," I warned him.
"Nonsense," he said. "There is no color more feminine than pink; no woman it does not suit, and you especially, with your golden glow." (page 64)

"[The dress] dipped low in back and front...exposing what seemed like far too much of my brown skin." (page 96)

In my mind, as I read the book, I pictured Nimira as someone from Turkey (based mainly on descriptions of things other than Nimira). When I finished reading, and was writing my review, I stared at the cover for quite some time.

The girl on the cover was not as dark as I pictured Nimira, especially with regard to her hair. Her hair is brown on the cover, not black. Her skin was paler than I thought it should be too, although it does, mainly because of the lighting, have a "golden glow," which was the phrase that suck in my mind, because when I read "golden glow" I stopped reading and wondered what crayon I would use for that.

I remember thinking how glad I was that at least they had not made Nimira into an overly romanticised example of the "exotic other" (which was something that Dolamore managed to avoid in her book, but which I was a bit nervous about).

I wish I had mentioned this in my comments about the book. I do not think this is as catastrophic a race fail as the cover of Liar, but I am sorry that Bloomsbury didn't take advantage of the opportunity provided by the story to show a beautiful girl who actually is "dark." And I'm sorry I failed to raise the issue in my review, and with my silence indicated acceptance of this white-washing.

To see how the author herself vizualized Nimira, here's the book trailer.

9 Comments on The cover of Magic Under Glass, last added: 1/21/2010
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1416. This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction

Here are the reviews and miscellaneous items of interest pertaining to middle grade (9-12 year olds) science fiction and fantasy, gathered from around the blogosphere. Please let me know if I missed your posts!

Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George, at Fantasy Book Review

Odd and the Frost Giants, at Book Nut

Spellbinder, by Helen Stringer, at Book Addiction.

The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance (Candleman, Book 1), by Glenn Dakin, at One Librarians' Book Reviews.

Tentacles, by Roland Smith, at Charlotte's Library.

Unfinished Angel, by Sharon Creech, at Mama Librarian

Jill, at the O.W.L., takes a look at the Alfred Kropp Series

Calamity Jack, by Shannon and Dean Hale, was on tour this week, at Whispers of Dawn, Reading is My Superpower, Fireside Musings, Through the Looking Glass Book Review , Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Becky’s Book Reviews, The Hungry Readers, The Friendly Book Book, My Own Little Corner of the World, Book Blather, GreenBeanTeenQueen, Boo

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1417. Tentacles, by Roland Smith

Tentacles, by Roland Smith (2009, Scholastic, upper middle grade on up, 319pp)

In Cryptid Hunters (2006), Smith introduced Marty and Grace, the young wards of their uncle, an obsessed cryptologist, who travels the world looking for evidence that "mythological" creatures are actually real. In this case, the creature in question is a dinosaur, and, after confronting an evil villain who seeks to kill, rather than conserve, the marvellous creature, the twins and their uncle successfully save two dinosaur eggs.

Now Marty and Grace, and Marty's best friend Luther, have signed on for another cryptozoologial quest. This time around they are on board a possibly haunted research vessel in the South Pacific, hunting for the Kraken, with the dinosaur eggs in tow. It is anything but a peaceful scientific expedition, as it becomes clear that a saboteur is on board, the dino eggs are hatching, and the same bad guy they met in the Congo is pursuing them once again...

Despite the science fictionesque elements of dinosaurs and giant squids, this book is much more the action/adventure type genre, the sort of book in which clever kids, with some neat science on their side, try to foil the bad guys. The story moves briskly with touches of humor, the suspense mounts nicely, and, all in all, it's a well-told story with plenty of twists that should have great appeal, in particular, to upper middle-grade boys

I say this, incidentally, not simply because boys might be more drawn to action/adventure books with lots of cool technology. Marty and Luther, the guy pals, felt much more front and center than Grace, and their boyish interactions, which included too much reiteration of their pet phrase "duh du jour" might be a smidge annoying to the girl type reader (or, for that matter, to the reader in general--like Jack at Book Review).

There is no need to have read Cryptid Hunters--Smith does an excellent job of gracefully working in what the reader needs to know.

Other reviews and comments at Readingjunky's Reading Roost, Lauren's Book Stop, and, most interestingly, a rave review here at the blog of the International Crypto Community, Still on the Track.

(Tentacles was nominated for the Cybils Award in middle grade sci fi/fantasy, and I received my copy from the publisher in my role as a first round panelist in that category)

5 Comments on Tentacles, by Roland Smith, last added: 1/17/2010
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1418. New Releases of Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Children and Teens--the middle of January, 2010 edition

Here are the middle of January releases of science fiction and fantasy for children and teenagers.

For nine to twelve year olds:

THE DEATH-DEFYING PEPPER ROUX by Geraldine McCaughrean. "Pepper's fourteenth birthday is a momentous one. It's the day he's supposed to die. Everyone seems resigned to it—even Pepper, although he would much prefer to live. But can you sidestep Fate? Jump sideways into a different life? NaÏve and trusting, Pepper sets a course through dangerous waters, inviting disaster and mayhem at every turn, one eye on the sky for fear of angels, one on the magnificent possibilities of being alive."

GOLD DRAGON CODEX: THE DRAGON CODICES by R.D. Henham. "When the blue dragon Lazuli threatens to destroy Sandon's village of Hartfall, Sandon vows to locate the legendary gold dragon, once Hartfall's sworn protector, and convince it to return. Sandon finds the gold dragon's lair--only to stumble on a secret that throws everything he thought he knew about his home and his family into question. Filled with everything readers love about dragons--power, action, and intrigue--this tale shows what one boy can accomplish when he finds the strength of a dragon lies within himself."

GREEN by Laura Peyton Roberts. "Turning thirteen starts off with a bang for Lily. Literally. A birthday present explodes on her porch . . . and soon after a trio of leprechauns (yes, leprechauns) appears in her bedroom. They whisk her away to a land of clover, piskies, a new friend, a cute boy, and lots of glimmering, glittering gold. A world of Green. It turns out that Lily, like her grandmother before her, is next in line to be keeper for the Clan of Green, and in charge of all their gold. That is, if she passes three tests. And she has to pass them. Because if she doesn’t she may never get to go home again. She’ll be stuck with the Greens. Forever."

Young Adult:

FREAKSVILLE by Kitty Keswick. "Every woman in the Maxwell family has the gift of sight. A talent sixteen year old Kasey would gladly give up. Until Kasey has a vision about Josh Johnstone, the foreign exchange student from England. The vision leads her into deep waters, a lead in a play, and into the arms of Josh. But Josh, too, has a secret. Something that could put them all in danger. To solve a mystery of a supernatural haunting, they must uncover the secrets of the haunted theater when they are trapped on the night of the full moon."

THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE: JARVIS by Jesper Ejsing. "Jarvis can hardly believe his own luck: the sorcerer Harnigel has chosen him as his apprentice! The entire village is astonished - the son of a goat herder, a sorcerer? What would such a simple boy know about magic?
Jarvis will soon learn the secrets of the Elder Tongue, of the Ledian Runes and of incantations and wizardry he thought belonged only to fairy tales. Yet, Jarvis' own story is soon to take a dark, mysterious turn. Why are there so many apprentices in Harnigel's keep? Who was the keep's mistress and why did she disappear? Why has an emissary arrived from the Red Council? What is behind the dangerous test Harnigel is preparing for his most capable apprentices?"

5 Comments on New Releases of Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Children and Teens--the middle of January, 2010 edition, last added: 1/17/2010
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1419. Magic Under Glass, by Jaclyn Dolamore

Magic Under Glass, by Jaclyn Dolamore (Bloomsbury 2010, ya, 208 pp), is a pleasantly diverting tale of enchantment set in a quasi-Victorian world shared by fairies and humans. As a young girl, Nimira came to Lorinor to seek her fortune dancing and singing as a "trouser girl." She is plucked from her life as an exotic curiosity by a handsome and wealthy young sorcerer, Hollin Percy, and called upon to perform in a much more unusual capacity--singing to the accompaniment of a beautifully made automaton.

She was not his first choice, but no other girl had been able to tolerate the company of the haunted automaton for long. And that's not all that's strange about Hollin Percy's ancestral home. There's the taxidermy display of garden fairies, the madwoman roaming the halls, the mysteriously unpleasant housekeeper, and Hollin's involvement in the sinister politics of the sorcerers who govern the country.

When Nimira realizes that a prince of the fairy people is trapped inside the automaton, she must choose where her heart lies....as well as trying to figure out how the heck a dancing girl can break a dark and powerful enchantment.

It's primarily a historical romance novel (though not too racy for younger teens), with a charming though predictable love triangle, given interest by the magic that permeates its setting and the mysteries that fill the plot. But the emphasis on the romance left me feeling a bit let down by the magical and political aspects of Dolamore's world-building. I wanted more backstory to the conflict between fairies and humans, and I was never quite convinced that Hollin was actually a sorcerer, nor am I sure I understood just who these sorcerers were and what they were up to.

In short, very diverting (as I said above), and a fine book for a rainy day read, but frustratingly falling short of truly riveting.

(review copy received from the publisher)

6 Comments on Magic Under Glass, by Jaclyn Dolamore, last added: 1/11/2010
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1420. This Sunday's roundup of middle-grade fantasy and science fiction

Welcome to this week's round-up of posts from around the blogging world about middle-grade science-fiction and fantasy! Please let me know if I missed yours, and, since this is a regular Sunday feature, please feel free to send me links during the week for next time!


Blackbringer, by Laini Taylor, at Debuts and Reviews, and one of its sequel Silksinger at Children Come First.

Calamity Jack, by Shannon and Dean Hale, at Book Nut (and check out the paper dolls illustrator Nathan Hale has made! Cool).

There's a look back at Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, at Red House Books (this is one of my favorite time travel stories ever!)

Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at A Fuse #8 Production.

A Different Day, a Different Destiny, by Annette Laing, at Charlotte's Library.

Dragon Games, by P.W. Catanese, at Eva's Book Addiction.

The First Escape, by G.P. Taylor, at Becky's Book Reviews.

The Magician's Elephant, at Becky's Book Reviews.

The Roar, by Emma Clayton, at
8 Comments on This Sunday's roundup of middle-grade fantasy and science fiction, last added: 1/10/2010
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1421. Genesis, by Bernard Beckett

Genesis, by Bernard Beckett (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009 in the US, 2006 in Australia, YA, 150 pages)

In 2051, a wealthy man created his ideal society on an isolated island far to the south. His "utopia" left no room for the individual to be an individual, with all the very human ambiguity that entails. Still, it functioned, keeping its inhabitants safe from the death and destruction that ended the rest of the world. Until a man named Adam changed it forever...

Years after Adam passed into legend, Anaximander, a candidate for the Academy, has chosen him as the subject of her entrance examination. Genesis tells her story, as she in turn tells Adam's story, and the conclusions she has drawn from it...and in the process, she learns that even the most logically consistent assumptions about the past can have powerful consequences that an individual cannot predict.

It surprised me just how gripping a book that essentially is a transcription of a four hour examination can be. Although it reads somewhat stiffly at first, the action moves progressively faster as Adam's story is told, and the Wham! of the ending packs one heck of a punch. Despite the framework of the story, which distances the reader from both Adam and Anax, Becket has made them fascinating and memorable characters. And this is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a while--the philosophical and ethical questions raised linger in the mind.

A few other reviews can be found at The Book Nest, Zogworld, The Book Smugglers (scroll down), and at the Guardian, where Patrick Ness says that it possesses "a palate-cleansing purity unusual in most young adult fiction." Although I don't think I would have come up with just that turn of phrase myself, I agree with his point--there is (I really mean it) a minty freshness to it....cold and crisp, yet compelling.

1 Comments on Genesis, by Bernard Beckett, last added: 1/12/2010
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1422. Tutankhamun, by Demi, for Non-fiction Monday

Tutankhamun, by Demi (Marshall Cavendish Children, 2009) is a stunningly beautiful picture-book that brings ancient Egypt to gorgeous, gold-decorated life in true Demi style. It is truly one of the most handsome non-fiction books I've read-the pictures range from the humorously detailed (we loved the little wheels added to young Tutankhamun's toys) to the simply magnificent. For the illustrations alone, this one is a must to put in the hands of an Egypt loving child.

And the text is a worthy accompaniment to the illustrations. I thought I knew enough about King Tut to go on with, but this is one of those non-fiction books for children that makes clear the extent of one's adult ignorance. Unlike many books, which, I vaguely feel, focus on the treasure that was buried with him, and the rituals of Egyptian death rites, this book is a solid biography, with lots of excellent historical and cultural context. Now I know so much more not just about the details of the young king's life, but about the religious struggles that shaped his time and about the larger political situation of his Egypt.

This book does not talk down to its readers, but presents complex issues and ideas in a matter-of-fact way. I don't know if it will speak to all 6 to 9 year olds, but I can attest to the fact that it kept the rapt attention of my own boys. Already I am thinking ahead to the Third Grade Biography breakfast--this will be one I offer my first-grader when he reaches that point in his young life.

A truly excellent book on all counts for the child whose fascination with things Egypt goes beyond the grotesque appeal of mummification...

Today's Non-Fiction Monday is being hosted by Sally Apokedak's blog, Whispers of Dawn.

(review copy received from the publisher)

6 Comments on Tutankhamun, by Demi, for Non-fiction Monday, last added: 1/11/2010
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1423. The Long Wait for Tomorrow, by Joaquin Dorfman, for Time Slip Tuesday

For this week's time travel book, I offer something you don't see often--a time travel book for teenagers, in which a character from the future returns to his past life as a teenager in the early 21st century: The Long Wait for Tomorrow, by Joaquin Dorfman (2009, Random House, YA, 342 pp)

Kelly is the Golden Boy of his school, the star football player for whom the stars align themselves. Patrick is his faithful, much less cool, follower (he plays saxophone, not football), who has watched through the years as all good things come to Kelly. And one day he watches as Kelly uses his power to torture Edmund, a science-nerd freshman, who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and seen something he shouldn't have.

This was the last day that Patrick's old friend Kelly existed. Because the next morning, the Kelly with whom Patrick found himself was his friend's 40 year-old self--somehow, his spirit had left the mental institution where Kelly had ended up, and travelled back in time. Now New Kelly, with years of life between himself and high school, has a different perspective on things (although some, like the rush of meeting his girlfriend Jenna, are just as good the second time around).

But one thing in particular needs to be changed. After he's accepted the fact that he's back in the past, Kelly wants to fix what happened to Edmund, and alter the course of events that are about to unfold when Edmund takes his revenge. But he doesn't remember what is going to happen, making it hard to change things...

So Patrick and Jenna scramble to cover for the New Kelly as best they can, scramble to make sense of what he's saying, and become ever more desperately involved in trying to right a situation that should never have begun.

I picked this up so as to have a Time Slip Tuesday book on hand. I'm not sure I would have kept reading past the beginning if I didn't have that motivation. But this is one that gathers momentum--by the end I found it a very powerful story. With each day that Kelly is back in the past, the tension builds...until the humdinger of an ending.

The book opens with a scene that makes the central characters impossible to like, and at first they seem like stock characters. Slowly more and more detail is given about them and their relationships to each other that gradually makes them interesting individuals. Patrick and Jenna, that is, become real (although Dorfman takes his time about this); Kelly always seems larger than life, not quite believable, and his behavior to Edmund remains unexplained and unexcused. But to be fair, Kelly is two different people...so it's hard to know just what he thinks.

Time travel-wise, I think Dorfman cheats a bit. He makes it clear that in his version of how things work, the time traveller's memories aren't necessarily intact. Kelly hasn't sent himself back through time to heroically change the past--he can't even remember how events unfolded. This made the story rather frustrating (for Patrick and Jenna, as well as the reader; one presumes Kelly felt frustrated too, although one can't be sure).

But that being said, it's a fascinating take on time travel, especially when it becomes clear that for Kelly there can't be an ending--he's on track to reach 40 again, to find himself in the same mental institution where his time travelling began, to come back to try to change the inevitable...

Even though I have doubts, I'd recommend this one to its intended YA audience (especially teenaged boys). Even though I had my doubts, I

8 Comments on The Long Wait for Tomorrow, by Joaquin Dorfman, for Time Slip Tuesday, last added: 1/13/2010
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1424. A must click link for fans of fairy tales--Once Upon a Blog's Fairy Tale News Bumper edition!

Here is the Fairy Tale News New Year's Bumper Edition from the Ink Gypsy, at Once Upon a Blog. It is fabulous.

In a series of sequential posts, you get:

General (& latest) fairy tale news headlines (that I haven't seen posted elsewhere)
Blog posts and/or articles discussing/using fairy tales
Friends and other fairy tale people
Fairy tales in performance & creative arts
Fairy tale artists & illustrators (past & present)
Fairy tale journals/magazines/online 'zines
Fairy tale films & movies
Fairy tale influenced books (and reviews)
Newly discovered online fairy tale retellings
Fairy tale fashion news
Home & garden fairy tale style
Fairy tale sports
Fun fairy tale finds
Fairy tale funnies
Fairy tale weather & the natural world
Fairy tale music
Food and dining fairy tale news
Classifieds/ads for fairy tale people Careers - fairy tale knowledge required!
From the archives: fairy tale articles to read again (or for the first time)
End notes & recap


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1425. Fire, by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson

Fire, by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson (Putnam, 2009, 297 pp, YA, but with a great middle-grade appropriate story) is the second volume of Tales of Elemental Spirits from these two very talented writers. The first, Water, first came out back in 2002; Fire took so long to finish because McKinley's stories kept getting away from her. Dragonhaven (2007), and Chalice (2008) both started life as Fire stories, but demanded their own books.

And of the five stories that are collected in Fire, the two that McKinley wrote ("Hellhound" and "First Flight" are much closer to novellas than to stories--you can almost feel the later, in particular, wanting to become a book). I am not complaining; too often short stories are too short, and leave me wanting more. But these two are just right. In "Hellhound," a girl's prosaic life as an assistant stable master and riding instructor becomes much more interesting when she adopts a strange (but sweet) dog with glowing red eyes...and finds herself having to confront a malevolent spirit that threatens to take her brother's life.

Her second contribution, "First Flight," is quite simply one of the best boy meets dragon (and grows up in the process) stories I've read in ages (this was the longest story in the book, at 116 pages). It's a gem of plot and character and world building, and would be a great story to give to a middle-grade fantasy loving kid, even though it's here in a "young adult" anthology. It tells of Ern, the runty third brother who's full of self-doubt--the oldest son is on his way to being a successful Dragon Rider, the middle brother is on his way to being a successful spiritseeker. All clumsy young Ern has done is to save the life of a creature who is the butt of jokes in song and story--a foogit pup named Sippy. But his life is about change when he (and Sippy) meet their first dragons...

Dickinson's contributions are equally gripping. He brings us a reimagined phoenix, tended by a gamekeeper in an English wood, a strangely horrible fireworm, terrorizing an ice-age people, and a great story about a boy possessed by salamanders.

In short, I liked the book lots and lots, and recommend it highly! But I'm not holding my breath for Air--McKinley is having her same troubles with runaway plots, and is in the throes of the second book in a series about pegasi (plural of pegasus) that began as a simple short story for that volume.

Other reviews/thoughts at Working Title, Kiss the Book, and Sonderbooks.

5 Comments on Fire, by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson, last added: 1/16/2010
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