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1. 48 hour book challenge wrap-up

Though I enjoyed my multi-hour nap on Saturday, it sure wreaked havoc on my totals!
18 hours and 15 minutes of reading, 1 hour and 58 minutes of social media
for a total of 20 hours and 13 minutes

Books read:

Dragon Keeper, by Carole Wilkinson 333 pages (my thoughts)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot 328 pages  (my thoughts)
Across the Nightingale Floor, by Lian Hearn 287 pages (my thoughts; scroll down)
If I Ever Get Our of Here, by Eric Gansworth  359 pages
Snow Fire Sword, by Sophie Masson 354 pages
Star of Stone, by P.D. Baccalario 287 pages
Blood Ties (Spirt Animals book 3) 143 pages (not finished)

Total pages read:  2091  which is a rather low page count for me in that many hours, but Henrietta took me a lot longer than reading that many fiction pages would have.

number of books that will now leave the house:  5  (yay!) 

Thank you so much, Mother Reader, for organizing it again this year!

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2. This Week's Middle Grade Sci Fi/Fantasy Round-up! (6/8/14)

Welcome to this week's round-up of middle grade speculative fiction found in my blog reading this week!  Sadly, last night I accidentally marked 181 posts as read in Bloglovin....so if you don't see your post here, that may be why, and please send me the link.

The Reviews:

11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass, at Becky's Book Reviews

Battle of the Beasts, by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini, at  Kid Lit Reviews

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at Shae Has Left the Room  and Rachel Neulmeier

Deadly Delicious, by K.L. Kincy, at Candace's Book Blog

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Bewitched Bookworms   and Log Cabin Library

Dragon Keeper, by Carole Wilkinson, at Charlotte's Library

Dragon on Trial, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Hidden In Pages

The Dragon's Egg, by H.B. Bolton, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia  and Dear, Restless Reader

The Dyerville Tales, by M.P. Kozlowsky, at The Write Path 

Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire, at Educating Alice

The Feral Child, by Che Golden, at In Bed With Books

The Gargoyle in My Yard, by Philippa Dowding, at thebookshelfgargoyle (also with a review of Heart of Rock, by Becca Price)

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at The Book Swarm

Harding's Luck, by E. Nesbit, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Manga Mania Cafe 

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at Geo Librarian  and Books Are Life

The Mark of the Dragonfly, by Jaleigh Johnson, at Black Gate

Operation Bunny, by Sally Gardner, at Sharon the Librarian

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee, at Kid Lit Geek

One Wish, by Michelle Harrison, at The Book Smugglers and Wondrous Reads

Ordinary Magic, by Caitlin Rubino-Bradway, at FangirlNation

The Quirks in Cirucs Quirkus, by Eriin Soderberg and Kelly Light, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Semicolon

The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, at Kid Lit Geek

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at Book Nut and Librarian of Snark

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, at Waking Brain Cells

The Scavengers, by Michael Perry, at Views From the Tesseract

The Search for Wond-La, by Tony DiTerlizzi, at Fantasy Literature

Seven Stories Up, by Laurel Snyder, at Time Travel Times Two, Two Heads Together, and The Children's Book Review

The Shadows, by Jacqueline West, at Good Books and Good Wine

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Books in the Spotlight

Time and Mr. Bass, by Eleanor Cameron, at Tor

Trickster's Totem, by H.B. Bolton, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

A Wishbone Come True (Puppy Powers) by Kristin Earhart at Ms. Yingling Reads

Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalup, at Friends Share Books

Authors and Interviews

Jane Yolen on "rejection, reading out loud, and the keys to writing great books for kids" at The Huffington Post

Michelle Harrison (One Wish) at the Book Smugglers  and at Wondrous Reads

Lisa Fiedler (Mouseheart) at Kid Lit Frenzy

Other Good Stuff

FangirlNation is live!  "We embrace all levels or fandom, nerdery, geekdom and culture, knowing that in the end we are all passionate about something. We banish the concept of “fake geek girl” knowing every woman deserves the chance to love what she loves without being questioned for her dedication."

Pirates (including space pirates) at Views From the Tesseract  and Orphans at Reads for Keeps  (I am now trying to think of Speculative Fiction Orphaned Pirates)

Betsy at Fuse #8 comes up with a list of underrated middle grade books, many of which are fantasy

The Lost Kings of Faeryland, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

And finally, news I just had to share (which might not be news to you, but I just found out about it):  coming Sept. 16 is Lockwood and Co. book 2!

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3. The Immortal LIfe of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot (48 hour reading challenge)

I am so glad that the 48 Hour Reading Challenge bumped The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, to the top of my reading pile.  It is my favorite sort of non-fiction--combining tons of interesting science with people one can care about, and leaving the reader changed by the experience of reading.

The book weaves together four stories.

One is the story of a woman named Henrietta, who loved to paint her toenails red and go out dancing, who loved her children dearly, who was poor, and black, and died of cancer in 1951.

One is the story of what happened to a sample of cells taken from Henrietta's cancerous tumor, and how this HeLa line of cells, with its extraordinary robustness, was used, and is still used, to make many marvellous advances in medicine and the study of cell biology.  The first great contribution Henrietta's cells made were in the development of the polio vaccine, but the list goes on and on and on.

The third is the story of the dark side of medical practice in the mid twentieth century, and how the black, the poor, the incarcerated, and the marginalized suffered at the hands of medical research.

And the fourth is the story of Henrietta's children, especially her daughter Deborah.   It was years before they learned that part of their mother was immortal--that her living cells had been bought and sold for the cause of medical research, while they struggled with poverty and inadequate health insurance.   To learn that part of their mother, who Deborah never knew, was still alive, brought heartache, confusion, and anger.

Into their lives comes Rebecca Skloot, a white woman determined to make the story of HeLa the story of people.  It is a difficult journey for Deborah and for Rebecca.   This book, weaving the four stories together in a utterly readable, mesmerizing, shattering, and poignant way, is the result.

Read it (if you haven't already).

And then read this op ed piece in the New York Times from 2013 that continues the story.  (or you could read the op ed piece now).

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4. Dragon Keeper, by Carole Wilkinson

Question:  Can one really recommend a book about a Chinese dragon in which the dragon has wings?  Or does that throw the whole story so off kilter that all that is good gets overshadowed?

This is the question I was forced to ask while reading Dragon Keeper (originally Dragonkeeper), by Carole Wilkinson (Hyperion, 2003; winner of Australia's Aurealis Award for best YA novel, but it's really middle grade).  It's the story of a girl in the time of China's Han Dynasty who is the slave of the Imperial Dragon Keeper.   He is a nasty piece of work, and the slave girl and dragons are cruelly neglected, to the point where all but one of the dragons have died.   Now the Emperor wants to be rid of the last of them....but the slave girl, who does not at this point even know her name, saves the dragon from the hunter charged with killing it, and the dragon (though wounded in the wing) flies off with her (and her pet rat).

The dragon tells her her name, Ping, and though Ping had thought that maybe she'd simply return home, this is not in the cards.  For one thing, the dragon hunter is after them, and has spread the story that she is a witch.  For another, the dragon doesn't want her too, and is rather insistent that they do things his way.  So Ping, her rat, and the dragon head off toward the mythical ocean (on foot, because of the wounded dragon wing).   And Ping finds that the dragon is taking a rather bossy tone with her, assuming she'll be there to look after the mysterious Dragon Stone that is his chief treasure, and it's a bit hard for her to trust him entirely.  But they journey together, outwitting the bad dragon hunter who's still after them, and meeting sundry other folk (including the new young emperor), and the dragon teaches her to develop the power of her qi (which is formidable, and magically efficacious) and shares Taoist bon mots with her.  And at last, after doubts and dangers, the secret of the Dragon Stone is revealed.

In short, it's a rather engaging "girl with special gifts on journey with dragon" story.  The Chinese setting adds interest (although in that sort of "here is an exotic setting adding interest to this fantasy story" way-- such that quotation marks are called for around "Chinese").  Ping is an appealing heroine (once she gets a name) whose dilemmas and decisions and dangerous circumstances make for good reading.  It gets a few bonus points for making Ping the first ever female Dragonkeeper, and one can cheer her on as she develops self-confidence and self-respect, and one can cheer as well for the brave rat friend.  However, the main dragon character is not my favorite dragon ever-why isn't he more open with Ping?  He's basically using her.  Why does he speak fluently aloud, but in broken English when using telepathy? Why does he suddenly not trust her toward the end? Why do his magical powers never come in all that useful? Why is he keeping a comb under one of his scales (this distracted me)?

And most pressingly of all-   wings on a Chinese dragon?????

So I'm not sure I'll bother to look for the sequels, and I'm not going to bother to offer this one to my own inveterate fantasy reading child.  Though I didn't mind reading it at all-- that the pages turned nicely and I enjoyed it (except when I was being critical)--I think there are better books.

Here's the Kirkus review, if you want another opinion that is essentially the same as mine.

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5. 48 Reading Challenge tracking post

Here is the 48 Hour Book Challenge.

Here are my books, an assortment of mostly sci fi/fantasy books, all of a diverse nature:

Here's how I did last year:

Total of pages read/listened to:  3086  

Total time read:  23 hours and 32 minutes

And off I go to do even better.............

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6. My pile of wonderfully diverse books for the 48 Hour Book Challenge (that starts tomorrow!)

 The 48 Hour Book Challenge starts tomorrow!  The theme this year is Diverse Books!

And I now return to the computer after grazing through my tbr shelves, and neatly empiling the results.  

I guess I had a few diverse books on hand. 

Some I've read already, but never reviewed, and because I'd like to have them in my list of diverse science fiction and fantasy reviews, I'm hoping to read them again.  Silver Phoenix, I am looking at you in particular--I read you when you first came out, and the blogging world seemed saturated with reviews....and darn it, I will review you this weekend if it is the last thing I do! (nervous realization that sequel to Silver Phoenix, which also needs to be read again and reviewed, is not on the pile, and I am now wondering how many books have escaped the shelf areas and are breeding in the corners).

As well as the Read but Not Reviewed books, many of these books on the pile are ones I bought brand new with my very own money years and years ago and NEVER READ.  I hate that.   I will read them this weekend.

And some are books that came my way through various gentle paths of publishers, library book sales, giveaways....I want to read them all. 

So there is my pile.  Wish me luck!

(Just in case anyone is wondering-- the artwork to the left of the pile is an eighth grade art project--it has a joystick head, and is holding a gaming thingy.  The copper thing on the right is a French match holder from the 1940s.  The wood stove is Danish.   The agricultural implement decoration is from Rhode Island. The small child chair is American; we still fit in it even though we are a bit larger than we were when we bought it.  The paint is not as orange as it looks.)

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7. Dragon Girl: the Secret Valley, by Jeff Weigel -- great graphic novel fantasy fun!

If you have on hand a nine or ten year old girl who loves mythical creatures, RUN to get a hold of Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley, by Jeff Weigel (Andrews McMeel Publishing, June 3, 2014, 192 pages) .   The baby dragons she'll meet here will make her heart absolutely melt.  If you have any other sort of kid around who loves graphic novels (including, in my case, a 13 year old boy), you can also move very briskly indeed to put it into their hands.   And I myself loved it.

Dragon Girl tells how a girl named Alanna finds a dragon hatching ground, becoming the surrogate mother to one of the baby dragons after the mother is killed by a knight, Sir Cedric, who's determined to rid the world of the "scourge" of dragonkind.    Alanna loves the time she spends with her new dragon friends, befriending other hatchlings through dancing and playing, while wearing a dragon disguise she made herself to keep them from becoming too trusting of humans.  This is a wise thing for her to have done (though it doesn't work on her special dragon friend, who loves her in human form too!).   Because when Alanna's older brother spills the beans about the baby dragons to Sir Cedric (because of wanting more of a life than his home village offers), Cedric is filled with fighterly determination to kill them all....and then, when he sees that the eggs are veined with silver, greed comes into play too.

When a grown-up dragon arrives at the hatching ground to take the babies off down a tunnel to the secret valley of the dragons, Alanna's dragon costume is so convincing that she's carried off with the hatchlings.  Cedric and Alanna's brother follow, and find a world full of dragons (and lots of silver, which sets Cedric's greedy heart afire!).  There they meet a young woman named Margolyn, who studies dragons from her steampunkish airship, who helps them foil Cedric's nefarious plans.

nice bonus:  it's Alanna's cleverness that gets Sir Cedric in the end--yay for smart girls!

It is lovely, charming, exciting and moving, and great fun all around!  The illustrations, in black and white, do an excellent job of moving the story along without distracting the graphic-novel challenged of us from the words!  The baby dragons are adorable, as is Alanna in her dragon garb! And as an added bonus, pages from Margolyn's dragon-study notebook, and detailed schematics of her airship, are included.

This one is a winner, and I am sending it off with my fifth grade today to share with  his dragon-loving friends today full of the happy certainty that it will delight them.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

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8. The Highest Dream, by Phyllis A. Whitney (1956) --more fun with retro teen fiction!

Yay!  My ex-eighth grader has his French exam yesterday, and life is better and I can start getting caught up on my review backlog....

But just for kicks, here's what I read while learning French with my dear boy-- The Highest Dream, by Phyllis A. Whitney (1956), another discard from my local library (actual cover of my copy shown).  And yes, this is the Phyllis A. Whitney of Gothic Mystery Fame, taking a break from damsels in distress to write an edifying book for teens.  I almost did not take it home from the booksale sorting closet, because, frankly, it looks like she's a stewardess who wants to claw someone's eyes out (that fingernail is scary!), and that is not really My Thing.

But I did. 

And now I can safely say that if you want 1950s propaganda for the United Nations, along with a career story, along with a romance, this is the book you need!  Me being sincere (really):  I enjoyed it.   I think I was in the mood for tender optimism and regression to the childish naivete that lurks beneath the cynical surface of my mind.

Our heroine, Lisa, has just graduated from college and all she knows about life is that she doesn't want to go into radio because that's what her father is famous for.   While visiting the UN with her mother, she is struck by the attractive uniform and neat appearance of the young African American woman giving the tour, and is struck as well by the realization that the UN is a Good Thing.  Being attractive and slender herself, and happy to be convinced that the UN is wonderful, she decides to become a tour guide.

This gives her the chance to make Friends from Many Lands (all attractive young women) and also Friends from New York (including an attractive man with relationship issues, and a not-quite-as-attractive-as-the-tour-guides room-mate, uneducated and unrefined, but Warm and Vibrant, who suffers from reverse intellectual snobbishness that Lisa manages to overcome with her frank, accepting disposition).  (Me being sincere--I actually appreciated that Lisa and her room-mate were able to talk about their differences in education and expectations in a frank way--it avoided being a set piece of lesson learning, though it came close.  Really close.)

Fun! is provided by the little girls who live in the apartment across the way, with their playful playfulness etc.  (more sincerity--they were actually kind of fun).

In any event, there's Lisa, becoming ever more sincere in her worship of the UN, and at last she gets the happy ending of a job in UN public relations and the handsome man mentioned above who also Believes.   (As shown in the cover at right, the kicked-up leg shows it is true love; the fact that is at only a 45 degree angle shows that the course of true love was not as fast as it might have been).

And the girls across the way go trick or treating for UNICEF.

I was genuinely moved by the UN propaganda.  In the years of my own adulthood, I'm not sure what the UN has managed to achieve viz world peace, and so it was rather poignant to read a peon to  the good it did back in the 1950s (UNICEF!  the fight against disease! the optimism of it all viz world peace!).  That being said,  I appreciated that amid all the propaganda there were cynical characters who didn't think the dreams of world peace were going to happen, and interesting, somewhat cynical speculation about what role the US should have in world affairs (one character speaks disparagingly of the US approach of jumping in and ramming democracy down people's throats), and there's a straight-out acknowledgement that the "good" of the UN can't explain or justify or balance the Korean War to those who have lost their loved ones to it.

In any event, I also very much appreciated that several of the Friends from Many Lands were not at all shy about expressing their critical opinions about American cultural values (such as hurry hurry hurry to get more, more more!).  AND I appreciated that Lisa and her young man had a Frank Conversation about how she would want a life of her own, with meaningful work to do, and wouldn't be just his wife.

So I can imagine re-reading it someday...But that being said, I was in a Troubled state of mind because of all the French, so I'm not convinced if it was all a fever dream or not.

And really annoyingly, I don't think that five days of intense French review has helped my own French at all (nor do I have any conviction that my son did well on the exam....).   But at least I know more about the UN in the 1950s, and that's something.

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9. Pandemic, by Yvonne Ventresca

Pandemic, by Yvonne Ventresca (Sky Pony Press, May 2014) is a solid "first disastrous viral outbreak" for the young teen, and in as much as I enjoy a good (fictional) virus, I picked it up with enthusiasm.

Only a few people know why Lil became a withdrawn pessimist, broke up with her boy friend, toke up smoking, and  lost control of her grades in school.  The reader, however, quickly learns that she was sexually assaulted by a teacher (though the details aren't revealed till further along in the book), and though she was able to get away from  him before he could actually rape her, her confidence in humanity, and in herself, is shattered.

One of her coping strategies is to prepare for emergencies, stockpiling food and supplies...just in case.  But nothing can prepare Lil for what's about to happen.   Alone in the house while her parents are both at separate conferences, Lil hears the first news stories about a new strain of flu....and faster and faster the reports of illness and death start coming in.  Lil's New Jersey town is near the epicenter of the new pandemic, and its effects on normal life are devastating.  The death toll rises, looters are on the prowl, and Lil must cope with disaster on an epic scale, while still struggling with her personal demons.

Fortunately, though she misses her parents terribly, she is not alone--a smoking buddy named Jay becomes her ally (and more) as the two of them try to keep going, and to keep the little kids who depend on them alive.

This one, I think, is a good First Pandemic for the younger teen reader.  It's straightforward in writing style and plot, and though various boxes of disaster are neatly checked off, it's not overwhelmingly horrible and sad.  The cumulative effect of the many bad things that happen is balanced by a sense of certainty that Lil and Jay are going to make it.   So this is one I'd give to a 12 or 13 year old, just moving  into medical disaster territory, and then move on to books that carry a more powerful emotional punch, like The Way We Fall, by Megan Crewe, and then books that hit even harder, like Orleans, by Sherri L. Smith.   

The lack of urgency I felt while reading Pandemic comes in part, I think, from the fact that I just didn't find Lil desperately interesting, and was never desperately worried about her.  The sexual assault sub-plot that comprises the cornerstone of Lil's character as presented to the reader felt somewhat gratuitous and distracting--based on Lily's response to it, I was expecting what happened her to have been worse than it was.  Though I don't want to dismiss how horribly traumatic such an experience as hers would be, I never was quite convinced by Lil's months-long withdrawal, especially as she shows herself capable of rising above disaster and functioning competently during the horror of the pandemic.

Still, the pandemic and its ripple effects of disaster make for gripping reading, and readers can cheer for Lil and Jay's nascent romance with conviction.

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)

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10. This week's round-up of middle grade speculative fiction from around the blogs (6/1/14)

Yay for June and only two more days left of actual school for my eighth grader!  Yay for next weekend--the 48 Hour Book Challenge (my first weekend with no eighth grade homework to fret me!)

 I myself have only one mg spec fic post to offer today (though I have been making good progress with eighth grade French), but here's what I found in my blog reading.  Let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Bite Sized Magic, by Kathryn Littlewood, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Boys of Blur, by N. D. Wilson, at The Write Path

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at alibrarymama and Speculating on Spec Fic

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, by Claire Legrand, at Books Take You Places

The Doll in the Garden, by Mary Downing Hahn, at books4yourkids

The Eighth Day, by Dianne Salerni, at Akossiwa Ketoglo  and Charlotte's Library

Enchantress From the Stars, by Sylvia Louise Engdahl,  at The Emerald City Book Review 

The Eye of Zoltar, by Jasper Fforde, at Teen Librarian's Tool Box

Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo, at Wondrous Reads

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Leaf's Reviews

The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley, at Fyrefly's Book Blog 

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, by Christopher Healy, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia, 
This Kid Reviews Books and Small Review (last two with giveaways)

The Interupted Tale, by Maryrose Wood, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

The Island of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Kid Lit Geek

The Jupiter Pirates: Curse of the Iris, by Jason Fry, at Views From the Tesseract

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, at Books4Tomorrow

Mouseheart, by Lisa Fielder, at Book Nut

Mr. Bass's Planetoid, by Eleanor Cameron, at Tor

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Great Kid Books

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, at In Libris Veritas

The Real Boy, by Anne Urse, at alibrarymama

The Titanic Locket (Haunted Museum) by Suzanne Weyn, at Mom Read It

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex, at The Book Smugglers

Wait Till Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn, at books4yourkids

Zoe and Zak and the Tiger Temple, by Lars Guignard, at Candace's Book Blog

Three Ozma-centric Oz books at Tales of the Marvelous

Authors and Interviews

Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) at PEN America

The Curators of The Cabinet of Curiosites at The Enchanted Inkpot and at Cynsations (with giveaway)

Anna Staniszewski (My Very UnFairy Tale Life and more) at The Book Cellar

Kit Grindstaff (The Flame in the Mist) at The Book Cellar

Other Good Stuff

At the Inky Page--the four worst cliches in middle grade fantasy

10 Dystopias for the younger reader, at Views From the Tesseract

Here's the conference program for the first meeting of the Australian Fairy Tale Society, via Once Upon a Blog

Leila at Bookshelves of Doom is returning to the weird weird world of Nancy Drew with a hilarious look at "The Message In the Hollow Oak."

Great diversity links this week at Diversity in YA

Download your own printable copy of this poster here!

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11. Bonnie, by Lee Wyndham, escapist romance for the young teen of yesteryear

So I was going to write a Thoughtful Post about what makes a really good middle grade book, and how kid appeal isn't the same thing as universal appeal, and memorable characters etc., but then I realized that all I really had to say about it was that a great book is one that, when you reach the end of the last page, you think "that was a great book"  and how far does that sort of discussion post get you?  Not very.

So instead I will share my thoughts about the book I read for pure escapism because it is Friday and my eighth grader has a french exam Monday and it was a hard week at work.

Bonnie, by Lee Wyndham (a Doubleday Signal Book, 1961).  "A shy young girl finds friendship and romance in her first term at a new school."

Bonnie is shy and young.  She has just moved to the city.  While walking the family dog, she meets a Steve, a handsome boy whose hair is the color of ripe wheat (question--did readers back then have a greater familiarity with ripe wheat, so that they could take it in their reading stride without wondering what exact color ripe wheat really is?).  Like good wheat, he is the golden boy of the school, and he wants to be an athletic director when he grows up (this did not make me swoon).

(pause while I look at pictures of ripe wheat and am not impressed by hair-color-attractiveness of it.  I am thinking my boys both have hair the color of ripe wheat, possibly on a cloudy day.  Neither of them has a future as an athletic director though.)

But in any event,  guess what!  The most beautiful, richest girl in the school is a Spoiled Bitch and wants Wheat Boy for her own! She is Mean to Bonnie.

Bonnie is sad.  But she makes friends with a plump jolly girl who is, in all sincerity, a great friend, transcending the trope.

And then, my favorite part of the book!  Bonnie volunteers in the school library!  She shelves.  She plastic-protects.  She helps other students find books!  The school librarian is young and attractive, defying stereotypes!

But Bonnie is sad.  Steve is still being pursued by Bitch Beautiful girl.  He seems to like Bonnie, but it's not his friendship she wants....

Bonnie and her nice friend become singers from a band of boys from their school.  They enjoy it.

And then a new character is introduced, an interesting boy who seems to have character!  Whose hair is not wheaty!   Surely he and Bonnie will learn together that sweetest of all life lessons--that being tan and having white teeth isn't all there is to life!

Not. I was let down.  Snarl.

This is my second Doubleday Signal books, the first being Nurse in Training, which was the most shallow nursing book I have ever read.  I am not sure I will seek out more of them-- though the list inside Bonnie had many that looked, um, interesting-- Judy North, Drum Majorette, and Nancy Kimball, Nurse's Aide (poor Nancy doesn't even get to train to be a nurse...) and the enticing Fishing Fleet Boy (because not all of them are for girls!  There's also Nat Dunlap: Junior "Medic" [sic], and many more, for the lads.) 

Oh well.  Sometimes books like this are just what one needs, and there it is.   My favorite of this genre, though, far and away, is Fifteen, by Beverly Cleary.  I wish I still had my copy of it!

Bonnie came my way because it was only just now being discarded from my local library, which for many years was a time capsule, frozen forever at around 1970.  I get first crack at discards, because of running the book sale, so it's all worked out very well for me.  But the weeding is almost at an end (the librarian having reached "W" for Wyndham), and now no library in all of Rhode Island seems to have any of the Doubleday Signal books.  Not even "Fishing Fleet Boy" which is the most Rhode Islandish of the lot.  Sigh.

And I wish there were still malt shops.

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12. The Lost, by Sarah Beth Durst, with Armchair BEA giveaway of ARC

It is such a lovely thing, when a book you get for review turns out to be a beautifully satisfying read.  All the pressure to be tactful is off, and you can simply say things like "I really truly enjoyed this book and didn't want it to end."  The Lost, by Sarah Beth Durst (Harlequin, May 27th, 2014) was such a book.  The pleasure of having some of it left to read this morning almost made up for the hideous fact that the cat woke me up at 4:30am.

Lauren was on her way to work one day, driving to a job she didn't like, driving away from the return of her mother's cancer.   But instead of doing what she was supposed to, she just kept going, driving down a highway through the desert with no plans or intentions to speak of.  And she found herself in Lost.

Lost is a place where missing things, missing houses and toys and dogs and library books, and even lost oceans end up.  Its residents are people who have lost their way, or been lost, themselves.    If they find what they are missing, they can leave... And in the meantime, they survive, or not, by scrabbling through the detritus of the lost bits of other people's lives.

Lauren doesn't know what she's lost.   And she doesn't know what she's going to find.

Here's what she finds:

--lots of scavenged stuff (those who like people making home-ish places with scavenged stuff will share my pleasure in this aspect of the book)
--two of the most meaningful relationships of her life (such as made my heart ache).
--what she needs to do

Here's what the book did to me:

--erased reality
--left me with images and emotions that I will enjoy revisiting during the coming summer of yard work (my mind plays books back to me as I weed)
--left me with a strong desire to read the sequel (The Missing, coming this November)
--made me want to enthusiastically recommend it

It is a fact that I mostly read books for young readers, and I think part of the reason I enjoyed The Lost so much is that it is a book written for grown-up that keeps all that I love best about kids books--the deeply, lovingly created world, the characters who are worth caring about, and the sense of wonder and possible impossibility you find in the best children's fantasy.    If I had to pigeon-hole The Lost explicitly, I'd call it New Adult fantasy, because the main character, Lauren, is a New Adult, facing the questions that come with that territory (of the "what am I going to make of this life I have in front of me" type).    It's easy to imagine YA readers also enjoying it just fine.

You can read the first two chapters via Sarah Beth Durst's website.   

And if you are an Armchair BEA participant, I'm giving away my (very very gently read; you might not even notice my reading of it) ARC of The Lost.  Just leave a comment by midnight this Saturday (May 31) making sure that I can somehow find you....

And now, having lost track of time, I must rush off.  (I would so love to find all the time I have lost track of during the course of my life.)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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13. Armchair BEA-- my favorite books of short stories

The thing about short stories is that they are short, and so for those of us who are fast readers desperately trying to escape reality with full-blown immersion in text they sometimes you get to the end just as the edges of life are starting to blur and you are no longer worrying about the cat's overdue vet appointment etc., and this can be frustrating.

That being said, there are three authors whose short stories I return to time after time for my re-reading pleasure (possibly because some of their short stories verge on novellas....)

The first of these is Ursula Le Guin.   Her stories, of which I feel there are hundreds, encompass  science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and historical fiction, and they are twisty, thoughtful, beautiful, disturbing, and above all, memorable.   (Shakes self away from mental wandering through story after story....I have read them so often that I can go into a fugue state where they scroll through my mind).   Happily, her stories have recently been anthologized in two volumes--The Unreal and the Real, from Small Beer Press (2012).   If you are a speculative fiction fan, I'd actually start with Vol. 2, set in various places far beyond earth.  

I don't often say this, but I think reading Ursula Le Guin has made me a better person (or at least someone who tries to be a better person).  She is my favorite author of all, and the most thrilling moment of my blogging career was when she put a link to my review of  her novel, Lavinia up on her webpage.

I have been rereading the same Joan Aiken anthologies since I was nine, and they are pretty much on their last legs.   Some of her stories I wish I hadn't read, because they tip over into horror (at least from the point of view of a kid).   But others have become treasures in the storehouse of my mind.  A good place to start (especially if you are a kid!)  is The Serial Garden--these are all about the same family, and they are funny and magical as all get out (here's my review).   The title story is one of my favorite pieces of short fiction ever.  If  you are a grown-up who likes the darker side of things, you could try to posthumous anthology, The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories. (both of these are also from Small Beer Press).

Finally, I'd like to share my love for the short stories of Robin McKinley.  My third favorite piece of her writing (after The Blue Sword and Beauty), is the title story of the anthology A Knot in the Grain.  It is the story of a girl whose family relocates to a big old house in the country...and the loneliness of her first summer there, her tentative progress into new friendship, and the old magic she finds in the hidden attic above the attic are beautifully described.  I aso very much enjoy her stories in Water and Fire, although some of these you can feel desperatly straining to become novels of their own....as happens a lot to Robin McKinley, which is why she wasn't able to write short stories for the other elements (Pegasus, for instance, was supposed to be an air short story.....)

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14. Armchair BEA--interacting with authors

Twice I have sat at the feet (once literally, once on a chair) of Megan Whalen Turner (author of the Queen's Thief series), and it was great fun, but that was not because of blogging....But through blogging there have been a number of authors I've gotten to know as friends in real life, and as friends on-line.

My first author friend met through blogging was Tanita Davis, and I embarrassed myself a little when we first met in person.  Tanita has been blogging at Finding Wonderland for many years, and we'd become friendly on line.  So much so that when her travel plans grew complicated with regard to the ALA meeting where she was receiving the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for her lovely Mare's War, I invited her to come stay with me at my mother's house for a few days. 

The first time we met face to face was during her ALA signing at her publisher's booth.  And it was so lovely to actually meet her that (this is where I blush) that I became so chatty that one of the booth staffers asked if I wanted a chair next to her, and I realized (better late than never) that monopolizing an author's attention with personal chat during a signing was not exactly what I should be doing. (Sorry, Alfred A. Knopf).   But the visit afterwards was a lovely thing, which just goes to show that inviting strangers from the internet to your mother's house can be a good idea.

Through trips to Kidlitcons over the years I've also had the chance to meet many lovely authors in person, and because of the social setting, as people rather than Authors.  Like Sarah Stevenson (Tanita's blogging partner at Finding Wonderland, who has a new book coming next month--The Truth Against the World), who was my room-mate last year in Austin.  (This year's Kidlitcon will take place in Sacramento in October--come!)

And like so many bloggers, I have authors with whom I'm twitter friendly, who I'd love to meet in real life some day.   But not many, because I don't actually want to Try to be friends with authors--it's nicer to be friends with people (who may be authors!).    That being said, my eleven-year-old was very chuffed when Sage Blackwood (@urwalader) sent him birthday greetings on twitter (thanks, Sage!).

The uncomfortable side of being friends, or friendly, with authors is that sometimes one might read their books and might not be able to write glowing reviews.  

Possible solutions (that are utterly obvious):

--be friends only with authors whose every work is a thing of joy and a beauty for ever (or you could be friends with authors who are so wildly successful that it doesn't matter if you review their book or not, and you can just send a congratulatory email/card).

--be friends with authors who are able to recognize that not every book is for every reader.  If you are going to write a review saying (with tact and grace) that the book didn't work for you, say who you think it will work for.

--write a congratulatory blog post when a friend's book comes out, rather than a review.

And of course, if you are friends with an author, a disclaimer at the end is a good thing. 

(ps:  Kristin Cashore was once my blogger Secret Santa and sent me cookies she made herself!  I still have the tins --plural!  They were very good cookies).

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15. The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni

The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni (HarperCollins, middle grade, April 22, 2014)

Basic premise:  13-year-old kid with new-found powers finds himself a key player in an ancient magical war.

Basic reaction:  Fun, fast, gripping, lots of interesting twists.


Jax's life pretty much sucks.  His parents are dead, and his guardian,  Riley, is an 18-year old who is failing to provide much in the way of creature comforts, cleanliness, and food.  And then Jax wakes up on the morning of his 13th birthday to find himself in a world seemingly devoid of people.  He has found himself in an eighth day, squeezed between Wednesday and Thursday.

But though, on the eighth day, houses are abandoned and cars sit empty on the highways, Jax is not alone--also awake on this eighth day are the descendants of the two sides in an ancient war.   One one side, there are the heirs to the magic of Merlin, King Arthur and the knights of the round-table.  On the other side are the Kin, magic-users who were imprisoned by the creation of the eighth day millenia ago.  Jax is a descendant of the former side, heir to magical powers of his own.  And the war is still going strong...

Jax, along with Evangeline (the mysterious girl next door, alive only on the eighth day) find themselves facing choices that may lead to the destruction of all normal people.  Jax's newly emerged powers are of little use, but fortunately Riley and Evangeline are much more complicated than they first appear....

Personal reaction:

I enjoyed it lots.  The basic premise of the eighth day was tremendously diverting, and helped make the "kid developing magical powers on his birthday" plot interesting. There's some nice obfuscation of the good guy/bad guy dynamic, with some characters in the gray area between, and some uncertainty about whether what the good guys are doing is, in fact, good.  Nicely complicated!   I liked that older characters (Riley and Evangeline, in their late teens) do most of the heavy lifting viz adversary confronting, because I prefer kids with new found powers to be realistically challenged by the difficult situations in which they find themselves.

My favorite part of the book, though, was not the larger set up with all its dangers and plottings, but the relationship between Evangeline and Jax, which is poignant, fascinating, and thought-provoking (I could have happily read a whole book just about that!).  And I liked the relationship between Jax and Riley too--it ended up going to places I never expected. 

Final thought:

This is one to give the young fan of Rick Riordan's books-real world meeting fantasy in a complicated snarl of mythology-inspired story.  The love interests that appear in the later Percy Jackson books aren't here (yet), though, so it is very much for the middle grade reader, as opposed to the teenager.  That being said, this one is not exactly wish-fulfillment fantasy, and there's a touch of real world grittiness in Jax's home life and in the actions of some of the secondary characters--it is not rainbow unicorns and great Heroics, and the magical fun is slow to really get going.  Which means it will appeal more to some readers and less to others...maybe, now that I am thinking about it more, it will appeal most to the kid who almost loved the Percy Jackson books but didn't quite.  I think the cover will do a good job helping the book find the right kids, what with its urban sci fi look, and nary a rainbow unicorn in sight!

I myself am looking forward to the sequel (The Inquisitor's Mark, coming next January) very much.

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16. Armchair BEA 2014--Introducing myself

I'm so happy to be taking part in BEA again this year; it's (I think) my third time.  Here's my introductory post.

Everything I say in my "about me" section is true.

My name really is Charlotte.  It has taken me a long time to accept this fact, because a. I had an embarrassing childhood nickname  b. I couldn't spell Charlotte c.  "charlotte" means diminished, feminine version of manly man.  Ick.

I am an archaeologist living in Rhode Island (having previously admitted to living in New England, I became so find-able via google that there is no point to denying it any longer.  A search for "Charlotte" "archaeology" "new england" takes you to my work, a picture of which is shown at right.  My office is the two basement windows at the right, where they used to hold prisoners awaiting trial.  Now it's just me. 

Back when I was a little girl, I never thought I would live in Rhode Island, but then grad school happened, a job in my field happened, and then marriage (to an Irish piper and ethnomusicologist), house (old and needy, but attractive), and children (boys--13 and 11, also needy but reasonably attractive) all happened, in that order.  For a few years, chickens happened too, but that is behind me now thank goodness.  (The town animal control person only came twice, but that was plenty.  It was a happy day when the local Poultry Whisperer pulled into the driveway to take the last one away....)

Happily for me, Rhode Island has turned out to be a fine place to live.  (Although it could use a few mountains.  We have no mountains.  The landfill is doing its best, but it is not quite there yet.)

And then blogging happened, seven and a half years ago, and it has brought me much joy, many lovely friends, and lots of books. 

I have found myself over the years concentrating my blogging on middle grade science fiction and fantasy (mg sff)--books for kids 9-12 ish.   It is especially lovely to be reading this particular genre at this point in my life, because my 11-year-old and his friends are avid readers of these books as well, which allows fun sharing of books and thoughts.   If any of you all who are new to my blog are at all interested in mg sff, I do a round-up every Sunday of all the mg sff posts and reviews I can find.

And for those who might be new to the children's book blogging side of things, I'd like to put in a plug for the Kidlitosphere, which offers a directory of bloggers, an email group, and an annual conference, all of which new folks can become part of.  The Kidlit Conference (this year in Sacramento in October) is one of the best parts of being a children's book blogger--it is so, so, lovely to be among kindred spirits (and I don't think any of the past participants regret going).

(I'm on twitter as @charlotteslib)

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17. This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (5/25/14)

Greetings from cold, grey Rhode Island.  No beach fun for us today, staying inside and reading is much more appealing!

 Here are the results of this week's blog gleaning--please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

The Ash Mistry adventures--The Savage Fortress, and The City of Death, by Sarwat Chadda, at proseandkahn

The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg Van Eekhout, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at books4yourkids 

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile 

The Children of the King, by Sonya Hartnett, at Becky's Book Reviews

Deadly Pink, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Leaf's Reviews

The Demon Notebook, by Erika McGann, at Mom Read It

The Inventor's Secret, by Andrea Cremer, at Book Nut

Jinx's Magic, by Sage Blackwood, at Semicolon

London Calling, by Edward Bloor, at Time Travel Times Two

The Mark of the Dragonfly, by Jaleigh Johnson, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at thebookshelfgargoyle, books4yourkids, and The Write Path

Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, by D. Robert Pease, at SW Lothian

Northwood, by Brian Faulkner, at Librarian of Snark 

Oddfellow's Orphanage, by Emily Winfield Martin, at books4yourkids

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at Laurisa White Reyes 

The One Safe Place, by Tania Unsworth, at Charlotte's Library

A Question of Magic, by E.D. Baker, at Pages Unbound 

Ripple Effect, by Timothy J. Bradley, at Views From the Tesseract

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at books4yourkids

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, at Charlotte's Library

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Ciao Bella

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at alibrarymama

Small Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy, at Madigan Reads

The Snow Spider, by Jenny Nimmo, at Views From the Tesseract

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, at books4yourkids 

The Spirit Animal series, by varoius authors, at proseandkahn

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, at books4yourkids

Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron, at Tor

The Thickety: a Path Beings, by J.A. White, at Charlotte's Library

The Unicorn Thief, by R.R. Russell, at Sharon the Librarian

Zoe and Zak and the Tiger Temple, by Lars Guignard, at DJ's Book Corner (audiobook review)

Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paulo Bacigalupi, at Bookshelves of Doom 

Authors and Interviews

S.E. Grove (The Glass Sentence) at Shelf Talker

Jennifer Nielsen (The Ascendance Trilogy) at Guys Lit Wire

Jaleigh Johnson (The Mark of the Dragonfly) at The Hiding Spot

Jacqueline West (The Books of Elsewhere) at Literary Rambles and The Book Cellar

Jonathan Auxier (The Night Gardener) at Nerdy Book Club

Laurisa White Reyes (The Celestine Chronicles) at Carpinello's Writing  Pages

Other Good Stuff

A feast of spring MG sci fi/fantasy covers at The Enchanted Inkpot

Exciting Tolkien news--"lost" live speech to be released

I hope all of you who are going to Book Expo America have a lovely time!  I myself am staying home and looking forward to Armchair BEA!  It begins tomorrow, so it's not too late to join in the fun from the comfort of your own home!

For those who are house-hunting- the childhood home of Philipa Pearce, four miles outside Cambridge, is for sale; she used its garden as the setting for Tom's Midnight Garden.  (Given the current owners' taste in interior decoration, it's not at all clear to me why they bought this lovely old house in the first place!).

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18. The One Safe Place, by Tania Unsworth

The One Safe Place, by Tania Unsworth  (Algonquin Young Readers, middle grade, April 29, 2014)

Climate change has brought North America to the brink of collapse.   But shielded from the merciless sun in a remote valley, Devin and his grandfather have managed to keep a peaceful life going.  Then Devin's grandfather dies.  When the work of their farm proves too much for him, Devin sets out to find what's left of civilization.  In a wreck of a city where feral children run wild (but the rich can still afford the water to keep their lawns green) Devin is taken under the wing of Kit, a girl who's a practiced thief.   But then comes the promise of a refuge for children--a place where they will be safe and cared for--and though Devin has his doubts, he allows himself to be persuaded to enter that mysterious sanctuary.

And indeed, the Gabriel H. Penn Home for Children offers all the food, all the divertissements, and all the other creature comforts a kid might want.  But Gabriel H. Penn did not have the well-being of children in mind when he established the Home.  He was thinking solely of himself....and the rich old clients who might join him in benefiting from the "happy childhood" the Home provides for its young residents.

Devin does not fall for it.  He can't help but be appalled by the zombie-like state the children periodically fall into, and senses there is a dark underside to the whole set-up (and boy is he is right!).   And so he sets about solving the mysteries of the Home, and planning an escape.... On the plus side, Devin has perernatural gifts of memory conferred on him by his profound synesthesia, and he has allies among the kids who have their own abilities.    One the down side, the trap they are in is a pretty tight one, and it will take a whole lot of luck for the ragtag group of kids to escape the "safe place" that is their prison.

"Plucky, quirky kids working together in a fantastical setting to defeat evil adults who are keeping them prisoners" is pretty much always a good plot, as far as I'm concerned, and this one was no exception.   It's fun to see the dark side of the Home slowly becoming clear, and to get to know its young residents as they start to work together to escape.   And I don't think I'm alone in this-- there is lots of kid appeal in this portrayal of  the superficial elements that comprise "happy childhood" being horribly twisted, and the children fighting back, especially when the kids are well-drawn enough to have distinct personalities!  Devin's synesthesia is a particularly engaging aspect of the story.  Fascinating in and of itself, and allowing Unsworth plenty of scope for appealing descriptive language, it is a lot more than just an add-on specialness.  It plays a Pointful role in the plot, which I appreciated lots.

I did feel, though, that the near-future climate horror was not quite as well done as may be-- though it certainly helps set up the paradise of the Home, giving good reasons for the kids to end up there, it felt like a bit of an unnecessary dystopian accessory to the sci-fi premise of what is really happening at the Home. I questioned the premise that there still have been enough left of civilization to support an uber-rich class (though the rich certainly good at surviving), and I wasn't able to accept the kids as believable products of  catastrophic climate change.  They were just a bit too much like kids of today (would Kit, for instance, uneducated street kid that she is, really be familiar with IQ tests?).   I think that young readers won't notice or care, but it kept me personally from truly embracing the story.

Short answer--a good, solid story for the eleven year old or so who enjoys creepy sci fi suspense in which brave, resourceful kids are pitted against evil adults.

And now the part of review writing I always enjoy--going to see what the professional reviews said.

Here's the starred Kirkus review-- "A standout in the genre’s crowded landscape. (Dystopian thriller. 10-16)

Me--what's with that upper age range?  The kids are 12ish, some younger...there's no romance...the violence is muted though disturbing...I'd say 12 or 13, tops.  Any older and you run into readers of YA dystopia who will find this too tame.

No star from Publishers Weekly, but a very positive review-- "a page-turning mix of suspense, intrigue, and anxiety. The kids are genuine and quirky, just the right kind of mismatched misfits to snag readers’ hearts. This is a wholly enjoyable journey, and a dystopian vision with some great new twists."  

Me--not sure my heart ever got snagged, exactly, but I agree with the main points here (though I think "dystopian" has become somewhat overused and cheapened these days).  The major twist is indeed not one I can remember seeing before (though I'm not quite sure about this......).

Another star from School Library Journal-- "The suspense and dread build as the mystery gradually unfolds, but it stops short of becoming truly horrific. The conclusion is fast-paced and gripping." 

Me--nothing to disagree with here (although the spectre of old age trying to siphon off the vitality of the young is perhaps something that will be found truly horrific by those concerned about the collapse of Social Security as the Baby Boomers age...).

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19. Kissing Shakespeare, by Pamela Mingle

If you enjoy romantic time travel, written for the YA reader, you may well enjoy Kissing Shakespeare, by Pamela Mingle (Delacorte, 2012) .   If, perhaps, you ask for a tad more than time travel back into a love triangle of sorts, such as political/religious tangles of plot, you will get that tad more.  But if you ask for a lot more...not so much.  

Miranda is a young actress, very much conflicted about the whole acting thing because she is the daughter of famous Shakespearian actors.  Stephan is a young Elizabethan gentleman, with the ability to travel through time,  who has arrived in the present, started watching tv to gain an appreciation of cultural norms, and  insinuated himself into the play that Mrianda's currently starring in (The Taming of the Shrew).   Stephan is pretty sure (based on the shows he's watched) that modern teens throw themselves into bed with each other with delighted abandon, and he's reasonable sure that Miranda won't mind travelling back into the past with him so that she can seduce Shakespeare. She does, rather a lot, especially because (with excellent reason) she is furious that Stephan considers her a wanton wench.

(Teenaged Shakespeare is in danger of become a Jesuit, which is convincingly possible as things are presented here.  Being seduced, Stephan assumes, will make him less likely to leave the world and it's pleasures behind....and the world won't loose his plays, which would, Stephan's visions inform him, be catastrophic).

So there's Miranda, back in the past acting the role of Stephan's sister, and rather conflicted about loosing her virginity to Shakespeare (assuming the seduction works).  

And there are a bunch of secondary characters, very much concerned with religion (because many of them are staunch Catholics, which was not as safe as may be under Elizabeth I).

And there is Stephan, to whom Miranda is drawn with passionate intensity....and who is not, in his turn, undrawn to her....

And there's young Shakespeare...working on the first draft of Taming of the Shrew while contemplating religion....

And there are the hunters of Catholics, ready to burn them at the stake etc., closing in on the manor house where all this is happening....

And there are Stephan and Miranda, kissing...and Shakespeare and Miranda, kissing....and Miranda wanting Stephan to kiss her more... (while still Stephan wants Miranda to jump into bed with Shakespeare, which was icky).

Like I said, you have to enjoy romantic time travel to really like this one, and it wasn't quite enough for me, especially since the romance was tinged with ick.   On top of that, my reading experience was rather spoiled by a historical error--  in 1581 you can't pass off a befuddled girl as a servant recently come from the New World.    And so, perforce, I distrusted the historical accuracy of the book from that point on, and though, apart from a reference to leprosy being a thing of the past in England (which, Wikipedia informs me,  it wasn't until two centuries later) I didn't find any thing else that seemed wrong, I never shook off my suspicions.  I was not soothed by Miranda either--although apparently she did a just marvelous job passing herself off as an Elizabethan, I wasn't convinced.

I was glad when the religious element of the plot (Catholics vs Protestants) pushed itself to the forefront of the story about halfway through -- it made a rather slow-moving story more interesting.  And there was the added thought-provoking thread of the role of women in Elizabethan England.  On the down side,  Shakespeare himself barely added any interest--I can't remember him saying anything at all Shakespearean, which was a disappointment.

In any event, read this if you want a bit of historically tangled romance, but not if you want a really satisfying time travel story.

However, you don't have to take my word for it:

School Library Journal, August 2012:
"This novel is definitely a cut above the typical teen romance. A delightful story about star-crossed, time-traveling lovers."

Booklist, September 15, 2012:
"Mingle remains true to the history and events of the era, thus revealing the challenge of living in a time of religious persecution and suppression of women."

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20. The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, by Christopher Healy (a response as opposed to a measured, critical review)

There are retold fairy tales, there are fractured fairy tales, and then there are stories that might once have said hi to fairy tales in passing but then went on to have rich, vivid, lives of their own.   The Hero's Guide series, by Christopher Healy, is of the later sort--sure, the characters might have started in fairy tales, but they soon transcended the destinies written for them in the original stories. 

You don't want to read The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw (Walden Pond Press,April 29, 2014) until you've read the first to books (guides to Saving the Kingdom and Storming the Castle).  And you don't want to read much about the plot of this one here and now, because it's really best just to read the book. So I shall just describe it in general terms:

Silly.  Fun. Tremendously entertaining.   Pirates, but not so much as to make those who don't like pirates feel burdened.  Likable characters who you want to shake from time to time.  And interesting adventure that asks the reader not so much to suspend disbelief, but to leave it at exit 8 of New Jersey Turnpike (that's where we stop and spend the night on the way to Grandma's at Christmas, which is irrelevant).

Oh, I was doubtful, back when I started the first Hero's Guide.  What manner of farce is this, I asked myself.   My doubts faded in the bright light (or something) of Christopher Healy's rollicking (nod to pirates, who I think of as rollicking) prose, and reading the third book was just plain old relaxing fun, interspersed by bits of me rolling my eyes at some of the characters (in a friendly sort of way).

Thought the "hero" bit implies a masculine focus, it's the female characters who actually have the sense, the skills, and the smarts to get things done.  So don't be afraid to give this to handy girls as well as the perhaps more obvious handy boys.

disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher

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21. Goodbye, Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart, author of my favorite romantic suspense novels, died on May 10th.  Here is her obituary, at The Guardian.   My mother gave me my first Mary Stewart romance, The Moon Spinners, when I was twelve, and I couldn't decide which I loved most about it--the beautiful descriptions of place, or the romantic frissons.   This combination, sometimes more successfully than others, makes her an author I still treasure (mostly in memory, because I read her books so often that my mind can just scroll through them at will).    I wonder if my mother ever noticed that I took all her Mary Stewart books away with me....she had them practically memorized too, so perhaps not.

I'm so glad her books got reissued recently, and she found new fans!

And I loved her children's book, The Little Broomstick, and her vision of the Dark Ages, put forward in her Merlin series that beings with The Crystal Cave, had a huge impact on me.

Here's the one thing I hold against Mary Stewart--she made me feel inadequate about my inability to wear crisp linen dresses while traveling (see Madam,Will You Talk).   (No matter how crisp a garment is when I put it on, almost immediately the rot sets in....)

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22. The Fairy Doll & Other Tales from the Doll's House, by Rumer Godden

Oh goodness, if you (or a young reader you know) are at all a fan of dolls, and dollhouses, and making tiny stuff, and like excellent stories that incorporate such things, RUN to get yourself (and the young reader) a copy of The Fairy Doll & Other Tales from the Doll's House, by Rumer Godden (out in paperback this month from Macmillan Children's Books).  This is an anthology of all of Godden's doll stories, and it contains the following stories (with original dates of publication)

The Doll's House (1947)
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower (1961)
Little Plum (1963)
The Fairy Doll (1956)
The Story of Holly & Ivy (1958)
Candy Floss (1957)
Impunity Jane (1955)

So basically what you get is 468 pages of the most beautiful doll goodness you can imagine.  And along with the dolls, you also get the stories of the children whose dolls they are.

Now, I myself had read The Doll's House back in the day, and it distressed me somewhat--one of the dolls is an evil, conniving piece of work and as a result I didn't seek out Godden's other doll books.  This was my loss, because I would have loved them, but on the other hand it meant that I had a lovely, blissful, utterly satisfying time reading all the rest of them pretty much straight through over the past two days!

I especially recommend Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, which I can safely say is the best doll house book I have ever read.  It is the story of a little girl, Nona, who's sent from India to live with London cousins, and who is absolutely miserable.   Then two little Japanese dolls arrive from an American great-aunt, and Nona, seeing in them a mirror of her own cultural dislocation, begins to plan how she can make them feel at home.  The whole family ends up being drawn in to making a Japanese dollhouse, complete with many, many beautiful accessories....and even Belinda, the youngest cousin who took a Skinner to both Nona and the dolls, ends up being won over.  It is very moving, and if you have a child who loves making small, detailed things, this is pretty much a perfect story.

And if you are at all like me, this book will make you want to start building a Japanese doll house of you own (with sliding partitions, and bonsai trees) and it was such a treat to find the story of Belinda, Nona, and the dolls continuing in Little Plum!

The Story of Holly & Ivy made me weep a bit on the bus ride home--it's a lovely Christmas story of a doll and an orphan girl finding each other, and a forever home.   And if you can find a doll with a red dress, like Holly's, I can't think of a better book and doll paring for Christmas than this one.

And I want to mention Impunity Jane in particular as well, for how often do you find the story of how a boy adopts an unwanted doll, and plays with her....while worrying about being found out by the other boys?  It ends happily, because Impunity Jane is such a lovely action figure that she fits just beautifully into games that don't involve traditionally "girlish" pursuits.  Read this one to the young boys in your life, so that they are encouraged to think outside gendered boxes, and so that, if they already have played with dolls and it has worried them, they can be comforted.  (And in Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, the boy cousin is the main builder of the doll house, allowing him to be part of the imaginative fun too!).

Of course, the cover, what with its pinkness and gold trim, is designed to appeal to girls; it would be hard to get your average boy to sit down and read them independently.  Sneaky reading out loud would have to be the way to go.....

In any event, I'm so glad I got a review copy of this one; I loved reading these lovely stories.   Except I didn't read The Doll's House again, because the evil doll was seared into my mind just plenty.

Interesting aside:  here is a description of sushi as enjoyed (!) by  a London family of the early 1960s, from Little Plum:

"She made sushi, which are slices of pressed rice with all kinds of surprises in the middle--meat, shrimps, or a slice of crystallized orange, or a dab of custard with seaweed on top."

Custard sushi....can this really have happened????  There is egg custard sushi, but what with the "dab" I don't think that's what this was....

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23. This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/18/14)

 I'm starting this week's round-up with two announcements of things near and dear to me.

First-- The Eight Annual Kidlitcon has been announced!  If there is any way you can make it, I urge you to come--it is so lovely to be surrounded by kindred spirits talking books and blogs.   I am going- I found a good deal on my outward bound ticket and bought it already, so I hope I find a good return ticket or else I'll have to start life anew in California....

Second--  The Ninth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge, hosted by MotherReader, has been announced, and this year the focus is on diversity.

Please let me know, as always, if I missed your post! (authors and publicists--you are welcome to let me know of reviews too!)

The Reviews:

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Nerdy Book Club

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, by Claire Legrand, at Log Cabin Library

Dealing With Dragons, and Searching for Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at  Reading is Fun Again (audiobook reviews)

Elsbeth and the Pirate's Treasure, by J. Bean Palmer, at Life's Simple Pleasures

The Fairy Doll & Other Tales from the Doll's House, by Rumer Godden, at Charlotte's Library

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler, at The Bibliomaniac

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at Waking Brain Cells

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, by Christopher Healy, at Charlotte's Library

The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones, at The Emerald City Book Review

Millhouse, by Natale Ghent, at In Bed With Books

Mouseheart, by Lisa Fiedler, at Hidden in Pages,  Kid Lit Frenzy (with giveaway), and Charlotte's Library (also giveaway)

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Nightingale's Nest, by Nikki Loftin, at Semicolon

Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, by D. Robert Pease, at Mother Daughter Book Reviews

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook) and Becky's Book Reviews

The Phoenix and the Carpet, by E. Nesbit, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at Semicolon

Rose and the Lost Princess, by Holly Webb, at Wands and Worlds 

The Runaway King, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Challenging the Bookworm

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Maria de los Santos and David Teague, at Inspiring Insomnia

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at I Heart Reading

Sky Raiders, by Brandon Mull, at Hidden In Pages

Taran Wanderer, by Lloyd Alexander, at Hope is the Word 

Tesla's Attic, by Neil Shusterman and Eric Elfman, at Semicolon

The Unicorn Thief, by R.R. Russell, at The Book Monsters  and Nayu's Reading Corner

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron, at Tor 

Two super hero books at Ms. Yingling Reads--  Bacon, Lee. The Dominion Key (Joshua Dread #3) and  Jensen, Marion. Almost Super

Author and Interviews

Django Wexler (The Forbidden Library) at Fanboynation

N.D. Wilson (The Boys of Blur) at Nerdy Book Club

Jerry A. White (The Thickety) at Odyssey Workshop

MarcyKate Connolly (Monstrous) at The Book Cellar

Other Good Stuff

Oh my gosh this looks so lovely and it is so timely viz diversity discussions and I want it for my children right now!!!! -- Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa)—"a beautifully illustrated puzzle-adventure game depicting a young Iñupiaq protagonist and her arctic fox companion" created by game designers working with Native storytellers and elders, by a tribally-owned company called Upper One Games. (Found via Once Upon a Blog). 

The Nebula Awards have been announced.  From Tor:

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Winner: Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo)
  • When We Wake, Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin; Little, Brown)
  • The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
  • Hero, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
  • September Girls, Bennett Madison (Harper Teen)
  • A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine)
Winged equines, at Views From the Tesseract and Middle Grade Steampunk, at Bookends

Not strictly middle grade, but just a reminder there's a Sci Fi/Fantasy round-up every week at On Starships and Dragon Wings

And also not strictly middle grade, but still of interest--onn Sunday, May 25th at 2pm,  fantasy authors Leah Cypess, Erin Cashman, AC Gaughen, and Adi Rule will be talking about the challenges of creating historical and fantastical settings and sharing their world-building tips at The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA. 

"Alice, Creator and Destroyer" (as in Alice In Wonderland), at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Rush Limbaugh won the Children's Book Choice Award for author of the year for Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims; here are some reactions rounded-up at 100 Scope Notes
and another look at it at Educating Alice, where Pilgrim alternatives are offered.

 And having gotten that out of the way, let's have  more pictures from Never Alone:

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24. The Thickety: A Path Begins, by J.A. White

The Thickety: A Path Begins, by J.A. White (Katherine Tegen Books, May 6, 2014, upper middle grade/younger YA), is a gripping fantasy full of fascinating magic, but it is a dark one, not for the faint of heart! 

Generations ago, Kara's people had been led by a charismatic leader to an island far from the rest of the world, to live free of the evil taint of magic.   But thought the words of the leader were dutifully chanted, and all references to magic shunned, the island was far from being free of it.  For on the boundaries of the settled lands loomed the great, magical, horrible wood known as the Thickety, and only the work of the Clearers--hacking and burning at its fringes (and risking death every day from deadly incursions of its magical creatures and vegetation) keeps it at bay.   And though all on the island are taught that witchcraft is the worst evil, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Kara's own mother was killed for witchcraft when she was five.  For the next seven years, she and her little brother have struggled onward, with no help from her deeply depressed father, and shunned by all the other folk.   Kara, well-indoctrinated, won't admit her mother was a witch.  But she was.

And now the Thickety is calling to Kara....and she crosses its boundary line.   There in the strangeness of its shade she finds a magical book, one that lets her make magic of her own.  But magic comes with a price.  Kara must face supernatural and human enmity, and resist the lure of absolute power, or else join her own mother as a character in the stories of evil witches.  But when magic seems the only way to save her brother's life, and her own, can she keep from letting her wild talents run free?

With momentum that builds from a slowish start to an ever faster turning of page, Kara's journey into magic is fiercely gripping.   And I use "fierce" very much on purpose--this is not a "fun with magic in an enchanted woods" book.   The grim beginning, with shunned, neglected Kara struggling to keep her little brother alive, sets the tone, and Kara's discovery that magic is real is not a joyous release.  Rather, she quickly learns of the terror at the heart of the Thickety, and just as quickly learns that power can be horribly addictive (especially for one who has been powerless and ill-used).  

As the story unfolds, all manner of dark injury, torture, and death become part of it.   There is much to make a sensitive reader flinch, from your basic attack of a swarm of magically-controlled rats to flat-out torture.   The book begins with the terrible death of Kara's mother, which I think is useful for weeding out readers who will be bothered!  I wouldn't recommend this to the younger middle grade reader--as a parent myself, there are images I don't want my 11-year-old to have in his head just yet, though I might well offer it to him next year.   That being said, the grimness is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that Kara never succumbs to the selfish misuse of her power, and stays "good," which keeps things from being too terribly disturbing!

My one quibble with the book is that a lot of physically challenging things happen to Kara (no water for three days, torture, a badly injured leg, etc.), but none of these things seem to hold her back--for instance, at one point, after the three days without water, she and her friend are communicating with hand signals because their mouths are so dry, but then have a long conversation the next paragraph down; at another point her leg is badly hurt, but a few pages later she's perfectly mobile.I think if you make your characters suffer terribly, there should be realistic physical consequences! 

In any event, this is a really truly gripping story, which I read (to the extent my circumstances allow) in a single sitting at a very rapid pace.   If you like dark fantasy with young heroines facing formidable obstacles, you might very well like The Thickety very much indeed.  And boy, does it end with a twist that makes the reader want More Now!

Here's the (starred) Kirkus review; they suggest 11-14 as the readership age,which is just about right, especially if the younger readers have a taste for horror.  And here's the starred Publishers Weekly review (which pushes the age down to 8, making my eyebrows raise).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

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25. Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, for Timeslip Tuesday

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague (HarperCollins, middle grade, April 29, 2014), opens with an innocent man being sentenced to death.  Margaret's father was a whistle-blower,  a geologist who publicly decried the fracking that was poisoning the water of Victory.   He was accused of murder and arson, and Judge Biggs, a company man through and through, had no qualms whatsoever condemning him.

Margaret and most everyone else in town knows that the mining company is corrupt and vicious and that Judge Biggs was complicit in the plot to frame her father.   But Judge Biggs wasn't always the hateful corporate toady he became--he was once a good-hearted boy, back in the Liberty of 1938,  the year when the miners, driven to desperation by unsafe working conditions and pathetic wages tied to to the company story, took a stand against the company and went on strike, using non-violent protest to press for change.    It didn't work;  two innocent men died, and the life of young Lucas was warped horribly out of true.   But in present day liberty, there's one man, Joshua (the grandfather of Margaret's best friend, Charlie) who remembers Lucas Biggs back before things went wrong.  And Joshua still has faith that his old friend can still be saved.....

The story of Joshua's  life in 1938, alternating with Margaret's in the present, tells of all the suffering of the minors' families, and the heartbreak of how close things got to a peaceful resolution.  Listening to Joshua talk of his old friend, and how he changed,  it becomes clear to Margaret that the only way to save her father is to save Lucas Biggs.

And Margaret thinks she might be able to do this, for her family can time travel.  So she goes back to 1938, and pushes against the weight of  history, as she tries, with young Joshua's help, to keep the innocent from being killed.

Saving Lucas Biggs has memorable characters, an intriguing premise in which details keep getting added to the story back in the past making it kind of like a mystery, and there is tons of truly heart-touching emotion and shoulder-clenching suspense (shoulder-clenching because that's what happens when you read about it). 

The time travelling came some ways into the book, but it was satisfying time travelling--the authors did a fine job of sending her back in time with her mission front and center, and, along with Margaret herself, they refused to get distracted by things irrelevant to the matter at hand.

 In short, I can imagine lots of kids enjoying it lots as an exciting adventure story combining past and present danger.

On the more critical side, the actual manner in which the all is resolved did not strike me as convincing; it was pretty much deus ex machina, and its lack of emotional and narrative heft 

But what I really want to say is Yes! for a book that tackles corporate greed and corruption and puts it in historical context! Yes for a book that uses a kid friendly premise and story to show the atrocities committed by the ruthless companies!  (The atrocities are described--people, just sitting in the tent camp, are gunned down, and are killed and mutilated--but they are described in a factual, un-hysterical way that makes it possible to move through the horror without nightmares).  And Yes for a book that advocates for non-violent resistance inspired by Quakerism!

Maybe it's not, you know, subtle, and the ultimate ease of the ending did kind of disappoint me more than somewhat, but still, how can I not say yes to a book that combines such powerful points with an engaging story?

My response was quite possible colored by the fact that I read this morning (while finishing the book), this piece of news:

"North Carolina legislators are considering a bill that would make it a crime to publicly disclose toxic chemicals that energy companies use in the hydraulic fracturing process, with offenders on the hook for fines or even jail time."  It seems like even medical and emergency personal couldn't talk about the toxic chemicals used in fracking even if they were directly copying with their repercussions.

How can this be?

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