9/28/16

Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke--review and favorite fairy tale blog tour


The moment Mighty Jack, Ben Hatke's newest graphic novel for kids (First Second Sept 2016), arrived in our home, it was being read. Mighty Jack is a reimagining of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, but this is only the first episode, and my boys and I all agreed that we had only one problem with it--it ended, and we wanted more of the story Right Now!


Jack's mom is working two jobs so that they can keep their house, which means Jack (reluctantly) has to spend his summer looking after his little sister Maddy, who seems to be on the autism spectrum. The magical part of the story starts with the two kids wandering through a flea market.  A strange man offers them a box of strange seeds in exchange for the keys to their mom's car (a nice modern substitution for the cow!), and when Maddy, who doesn't talk, tells Jack to buy the seeds, he hands the keys over.  And Maddy and Jack plant them, and they begin to grow....

And they are magic, and very very dangerous plants result- mud-slinging root vegetable critters, a giant snail, and more!   Fortunately a new friend, Lily, comes to join in the fight; a homeschooled girl with excellent sword skills.  But when Maddy's seriously injured (in the fight against the giant snail), Jack decides the garden has got to go, and sets it alight, and it burns just fine.  But then Jack finds that both Lily and his sister still have seeds, and things get even worse, setting up more adventures to come (because after all the story of Jack and the Beanstalk doesn't all take place in the garden at home.....).

It is a fast, fast read, that goes down like an ice cold coke on a hot day.  Lots of fizzy bubbles of picture and story, combining to make something truly magical.  The magic (which includes a visiting dragon!) and the engaging illustrations aren't all Mighty Jack offers.  It's a warm, heart-tugging story of a family struggling to get through, with the bonds of friendship and family holding things together.  The expressive illustrations convey tons of feeling, and I look forward to paying more attention to them on my next re-readings of the book (I'm a graphic novel gulper, which means I have to go back several times to take the time to actually look at the pictures in detail.....)

Fans of Ben Hatke's previous books will be tremendously tickled to see familiar characters making cameo appearances (look for the girl from Little Robot shopping for parts and tools in the flea market, for instance).  And readers new to Hatke's stories will almost certainly want to seek out his other books. 

Fans of fairy tale retellings will also be tickled by this one, and to celebrate the release of Mighty Jack, First Second has organized a blog tour of fairy tale favorites.

I'm a big fan of fairy tale retellings (I have a list of the one's I've reviewed here).  My own personal favorite fairy tale retelling is Robin McKinley's Beauty, which has everything a romantic young reader could want--lots of books, a castle, beautiful dresses, a lovely garden, and a romance that grows from a solid foundation of friendship.   But for those who loved Might Jack, I'd recommend Ursula Vernon's fairy tale based stories about Harriet, a hamster princess who takes no prisoners. 

These aren't graphic novels, but they are graphic heavy, and so appeal to the text reluctant reader in much the same way as a graphic novel does, and they are funny and cute as all get out! The first book, Harriet the Invincible, is a Sleeping Beauty reimagining, and in the second, Of Mice and Magic, Harriet tackles the mystery of the twelve dancing princesses.  I recommend them almost as enthusiastically as I recommend Ben Hatke's books (which is saying a lot).

Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour:

     Miss Print, 9/26
  • Teen Lit Rocks, 9/27
  • Kid Lit Frenzy, 9/29
  • Librarians’ Quest, 9/30
  • YA Bibliophile, 10/3
  • Ex Libris Kate, 10/4
  • The Book Rat, 10/5
  • Love Is Not a Triangle, 10/6
  • The Reading Nook, 10/7

  • and thanks, First Second, for the review copy of Mighty Jack!

    9/27/16

    Up the Pier, by Helen Cresswell, for Timeslip Tuesday

    Helen Cresswell was an English writer of over 100 books for young readers, perhaps best know for her series about the Bagthorpe family.  She also wrote a few timeslip books, that are rather magical in an understated way, and which are heavily atmospheric and rather haunting, though not my personal favorites.

    In Up the Pier (1971), Carrie and her mother are staying in a Welsh seaside resort town, but it is off-season, and chilly, and wet, and lonely.  Her father is off for work reasons, and the family is between permeant homes, so everything feels off kilter to Carrie.  But then on the pier (the British sort of seaside pier that's kind of like a boardwalk but sticking out into the water rather than alongside it, with boardwalky sorts of amusements and games on it, but in this case, shut down because summer is over) she strikes up a friendship with a boy whose life is even more off kilter.  He and his parents and grandfather have slipped forward from the early twentieth century past...and his grandfather, an magician of sorts, things that he must have worked the magic that did it.  But he can't figure out how to send them back.

    And the ticket taker of the pier, a grumpy old man, who's from an old pier family himself, and has no family, is rather too glad to have the company trapped there on his pier...

    The family struggles to make a home for themselves in one of the empty buildings, and Carrie helps with shopping, and enjoys the company herself, but at last it becomes to clear to her why they came to be in her time, and how to send them back again.

    Yes its magical, but its somewhat dampened by the fact that the atmosphere is a chilly deserted waterfront; every day seems gray.   Still memorable and fascinating; the magic is real, and the setting feels awfully real too.  If you are a time travel fan, it's one to look for.  The ways Carrie helps the family adjust (to a point) was my favorite part.  Like other time slip books by Cresswell, I felt it was too brief (it's only 144 pages) and the main tension of the story was external to Carrie, so not quite as emotionally absorbing as I would have liked.  She herself is never at a pivot point of suspense, except when it comes to sending the family back, so it ended up being a bit of a shrug read for me. 


    9/25/16

    This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction (9/25/16)

    I will be SO GLAD when September is over, and I will have either met my Horrible Deadline for a work-related project, or gotten so close that it will be but the work of minutes to finish it.  Once it is done, my house will be clean, the garden will be tidy, and all the books will be read and reviewed!  But in the meantime...stress.  So I have little to contribute to this week's round-up, and if I missed your post, please let me know!

    The Reviews

    Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson, at A Fantastical Librarian

    The Boy At The End of the World, by Greg van Eekhout, at Dead Houseplants

    The Bronze Key, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Jen Robinson's Book Page and Got My Book

    The Changelings, by Christina Soontrnvat, at Nerdy Book Club

    Cogheart by Peter Bunzl, at The Book Zone (For Boys)

    The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, at The Zen Leaf (audiobook review) and Sonderbooks

    Dark Days, by James Ponti, at Puss Reboots

    The Dark Talent, by Brandon Sanderson, at A Fantastical Librarian and Nerdophiles

    The Doll People Set Sail, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, at Leaf's Reviews

    Eden's Escape, by M. Tara Crowl, at Cracking the Cover and Charlotte's Library

    Eden's Wish, by M. Tara Crowl, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

    Gears of Revolution, by J. Scott Savage, at The Write Path and Ms. Yingling Reads

    Johnny and the Dead, by Terry Pratchett, at Views from the Tesseract

    The Knights of Crystallia, by Brandon Sanderson, at A Fantastical Librarian and Becky's Book Reviews

    Masterminds, by Gordon Korman, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

    The Ominous Eye (Nocturnals Book 2), by Tracey Hecht, at Always in the Middle

    The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano, at The Quite Concert

    Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, at Say What?

    Red, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Semicolon

    Sandry's Book, by Tamora Pierce, at Got My Book (audiobook review)

    The Scourge, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at On Starships and Dragonwings

    The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart, at Book Nut

    The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Children's Books Heal

    The Shattered Lens, by Brandon Sanderson, at A Fantastical Librarian and Becky's Book Reviews

    Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones, at Not Acting My Age

    Two at Faith, Fiction, Friends-- Roverandom, by J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Stone of Destiny, by Jim Ware


    Authors and Interviews

    Alexandra Ott, (Rules for Thieves) at Melissa Roske

    Other Good Stuff

    The judges for this year's Cybils Awards have been announced--here's the stalwart Elementary/Middle Grade Spec. Fic. crew!  If you are kind of wishing you were part of it too, please consider applying next year!  I always love to see new folks apply, and really, it's not that much more reading than you'd be doing anyway....

    And speaking of which, nominations open October 1, so do send us EMG SF panelists lots of good books to read! Books need to have been published between Oct. 16, 2015 and October 15, 2016.  I'll have more info. on the day.

















    9/21/16

    Ripley's Believe It or Not--Unlock the Weird!


    As a child, the Ripley's Believe It or Not part of the Sunday funnies was always a favorite, and now I'm a grown-up, I still say yes very happily indeed when offered the latest new Ripley's book--Unlock the Weird!-- to review!  Although it's kind of hard to "review" a Ripley's book...they are all so full of so many different, strange, eye-opening, and educational tidbits and pictures that you can't evaluate them all.  One can chose favorite things (like a Darth Vader helmet carved by a Tahitian artist in the style of a ceremonial skull to demonstrate the intersections of the modern world and indigenous cultures), and one can find things that don't seem all that interesting (it's a matter of personal taste; I, for instance, am not that stirred by someone having a list of 20 Washington Redskins players tattooed on their back).

    But Unlock the Weird! like all the Ripley books, offers great browsing fun...it's like a really cool facebook feed in paper form, and so these are great books to offer kids who like to learn neat stuff but don't think they like to read books!

    So this is more of a "heads up, it's here" post than a review, but I can say with confidence that this one is another fine addition to the Ripley's shelf, and I enjoyed it lots.

    9/19/16

    Eden's Escape, by M. Tara Crowl (Blog Tour review!)

    Last year I saw a fair number of reviews of Eden's Wish, by M. Tara Crowl, the story of a young genie desperately wanting to leave her lamp and live in the sun of the real world.  I wanted to read it, but never quite had the time.  So when I was asked to be a stop on the blog tour for its sequel, Eden's Escape, I was very pleased, and sat down happily to read.....

    Eden is the newest member of an ancient line of genies, each raised in the comfort of the magical lamp by its two guardians, who care for her with attention, baked goods, and a rigorous education.  Eden will be the genie of the lamp till she's granted 999 wishes on earth, and then she'll be free to make a wish for herself, and live whatever life she wants.  It will take years, because the lamp isn't easy for humans to find.  And so Eden's visits to the real world are brief and infrequent, and it's driving her mad.  So when she discovers a way to leave the lamp without it being found and rubbed, she does....and finds herself in California, totally unprepared for real life.  Fortunately, a brother and sister taker her under their wings, and to their middle school....less fortunately, a nasty cabal of ex-genies want her and the lamp to fuel their dreams of power.  Their plan would doom the lamps two guardians, and Eden, though she was happy to escape, can't allow that....

    It all works out well in the end, leading to an adjustment in Eden's life.  Instead of living in the lamp, she'll live in New York, with a lovely ex-genie.  And this is where Eden's Escape (Disney-Hyperion, Sept. 6) begins, with a whirlwind tour of New York as seen through the eyes of a sheltered genie.  But Eden can't enjoy her new life for long.  She's kidnapped by a powerful and eccentric tech genius millionaire, who, like the bad guys in book 1, wants to use her and the lamp for his own purposes.  She escapes the lab where she taken, and finds that she's in Paris, with no money, passport, cell phone...or magical lamp.  Once again a local girl (a rebellious fashionista) looks after her...but to add to her problems, the same bad genie cabal find she's in Paris, and they plot to capture her themselves. 

    The momentum builds and builds as old enemies must work together to save the lamp, and it becomes a true page turner! 

    Although much is made of how beautiful the genies are (and there is diversity among them, which is good, though their names were not all historically accurate, which grated on my pedantic little eyes*), they are also formidably intelligent, and although Eden hasn't had enough real world experience to be a true Nancy Drew type character, she's smart enough to listen and pay attention and use what she's learned to good effect.  And to use oxygen tanks to good effect to, during her escape from the Paris lab.  What makes her most likeable is the wonder and joy she takes in the world and all that we take for granted--seeing San Diego, New York, and Paris through her fresh eyes is a treat!

    These are great books for a ten or eleven year old--the dangers are vivid and gripping, the young characters relatable and interesting, and the various permutations of genie magic add enchantment.  Older, more cynical, readers might not be able to swallow the lucky chances that make Eden's path easier than it might have been, but younger ones will be happy to go along with the ride. 

    *I just can't believe a Bambi from the 19th century.  Unless it's a male deer.

    disclaimer:  review copies received from the author

    9/18/16

    This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (9/18/16)


    Here's this week's gleanings from my blog reading....please let me know if I missed your post!  I only got one review written this week....I will be so so so glad when September is over and the three deadlines (mostly work related) hanging over my head have come and gone, and I can read all the books that have come in the past two weeks with a carefree heart....

    The Reviews

    Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, at Lunar Rainbows

    The Borrowers, by Mary Norton, at Becky's Book Review

    The Candymakers, by Wendy Mass, at Redeemed Reader

    The Candymakers and the Chocolate Chase, by Wendy Mass, at Redeemed Reader

    Catlantis, by Anna Starobinets, at Kid Lit Reviews

    Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Bookish Ambition

    Eden's Wish by M. Tara Crowl, at Read Till Dawn

    Everblaze, by Shannon Messenger, at Kitty Cat at the Library

    The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, at Charlotte's Library

    Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle, by George Hagen, at A Backwards Story

    Gears of Revolution: Mysteries of Cove#2 by J. Scott Savage, at Log Cabin Library

    The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan, at Snuggly Oranges

    Hoodoo, by Ronald L. Smith, at Reading While White

    The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz, at Waking Brain Cells

    Joshua and the Arrow Realm, by Donna Galanti, at This Kid Reviews Books

    The Littlest Bigfoot, by Jennifer Weiner, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

    Lug: Blast From the North, by David Zeltser, at My Brain on Books

    The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DeCamillo, at Faith, Fiction, Friends

    The Red Sun, by Alane Adams, at Say What?

    Serafina and the Twisted Staff, by Robert Beatty, at Ex Libris and Sharon the Librarian

    The Scourge, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at Bibliobrit

    The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at JustinTalksBooks

    The Shattered Lens (Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians) by Brandon Sanderson, at Nerdophiles and Skye's Scribblings

    "Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket, at Leaf's Reviews

    Authors and Interviews

    Ammi Joan Paquette talks about sequels at Nerdy Book Club

    Bruce Hale (The Curse of the Were-Hyena) at The Book Monsters

    James Riley (The Story Thieves) at Publishers Weekly

    Giveaways

    Eden's Wish and Eden's Escape by M. Tara Crowl, at Geo Librarian and Read Till Dawn

    The Curse of the Were-Hyena, by Bruce Hale, at The Book Monsters

    Other Good Stuff

    Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl is Coming to the Movies! via Tor

    And more movie news from Tor--Storm Reid has been cast as Meg in the new Disney version of A Wrinkle in Time.

    Tea Dragons getting a graphic story that looks just lovely (also via Tor)

    Rick Riordan has a new imprint of mythological fantasy at Disney (via Publishers Weekly)

    A graphic created by David Huyck showing diversity in children's books in 2015 (read more at Picture This)


    9/15/16

    The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman

    If you are a fan of Diana Wynne Jones, hasten to get your hands on The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman (Candlewick, September 13, 2016)!  Do likewise if in general you enjoy stories of boys apprenticed to eccentric (evil?) wizards, surreptitiously learning more than they are being taught, and having to face an enemy far above their pay grade,

    12 year old Nick has run away from his uncle's home.  He had planned to do this, but the moment came sooner than he'd thought it would, and he's left wandering around in the middle of a Maine blizzard.  Chance takes him to the home of the Evil Wizard Smallbone, who takes him in (and turns him into a spider almost immediately).  When he's a boy again, Nick finds that he's Smallbone's minion, cooking and looking after the animals.  Smallbone appears to have no interest in teaching him magic, and in fact Nick lied and said he couldn't read.

    But Smallbone's home is a bookstore (Evil Wizard Books), and the books know that Nick can read just fine, and so when he's ready, they give him just the right books that awaken his own gifts of magic (and teach him useful life skills, like focus and perseverance, and also forcing him to do a lot of thinking about who he himself really is).  And it's a darn good thing the bookstore does this, because the Smallbone's enemies, lead by the formidable ancient werewolf Fidelou, are pressing hard against the magical boundaries of the town (and a very peculiar town it is) that Smallbone is sworn to protect.  The boundaries are weakening, Smallbone isn't getting any younger, and finally Nick must throw the weight of his own magic into Smallbone's camp, even though Smallborn is, of course, an  evil wizard.....

    Or perhaps not that evil?  This is one of the most interesting things about the book--Smallbone does some questionable things to Nick, and in the past has done some truly awful things, but he's rather likeable, even though he's basically keeping Nick hostage as a minion.....So it's nicely twisty that way.

    But what is really really really fun is to see the bookstore teaching Nick magic.  The books talk back to him (in text), and it is tremendously entertaining!  The premise of the whole thing is also very enjoyable, and there are good supporting characters to round things off. 

    Highly recommend to not just DWJ fans but to anyone who likes the same sort of books I do! 

    and now I get to check to see if Kirkus agrees with me....

    "Though Fidelou and his crew of biker werewolf minions add some dramatic distraction, it is Nick’s evolution into a young wizard that commands attention. Readers journey with Nick as he stumbles through what was real in his world, his grief at losing his mother, into a magical world that gives him a sense of purpose.
    Fans of fantasy will be captivated—and hoping for a sequel."

    So yes.  There you go.  Although I don't think this actually Needs a sequel, because it ends beautifully with an Ending, and is a standalone story.  And the things that make this one so much fun (the snarky books and the ambiguioty of Smallbone) are done, so I'm not sure I'd like the sequel as much.   But I do know for sure that I want more MG fantasy from Delia Sherman!

    disclaimer: review copy received with conviction at ALA and I have been saving it for months even though I really wanted to read it immediately and it was a great distraction during a stressful week.

    9/11/16

    This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (9/11/16)


    Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

    First--applications to be a panelist for the Cybils Awards are due Sept. 14--do consider applying!  There are more categories than Elementary/MG Spec Fic.--maybe audiobooks are your thing, or maybe you have a six year old at home and want to read all the chapter books of the past year!  Or maybe you've spent the year deep in YA spec fic--they always need good panelists who aren't afraied of a bit of reading...

    The Reviews

    Bounce, by Megan Shull, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    The Bronze Key, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Charlotte's Library

    Children of Exile, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Read Till Dawn

    Curse of the Boggin, by DJ MacHale, at Word Spelunking, Mother Daughter Book Reviews, and books4yourkids.com

    The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, at Kit Lit Reviews

    Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Cracking the Cover, Green Bean Teen Queen, and Owl Always Be Reading

    The Gathering, by Dan Poblocki, at Geo Librarian

    The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Waking Brain Cells

    Into the Land of the Unicorns, by Bruce Coville, at Got My Book

    The Legend of Sam Miracle, by N.D. Wilson, at Pages Unbound Reviews

    The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, at the NY Times

    The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor , at A Backwards Story

    Magic Marks the Spot, by Caroline Carlson, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

    The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow, at Books4yourkids.com

    Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Pages Unbound Reviews

    The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano, at A Reader of Fictions

    Riverkeep, by Martin Steward, at the NY Times Book Review (anyone read this yet?  Do you think its Middle Grade?)

    The Runaway Dolls, by Ann Martin and Laura Godwin, at Leaf's Reviews

    Song of the deep, by Brian Hastings, at Jean Little Library

    Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Sonderbooks

    The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers, at Redeemed Reader

    When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, at Hit or Miss Books

    Wings of Fire (series), by Tui T. Sutherland, at Rachel Neumier

    Authors and Interviews

    Jennifer Weiner (The Littlest Bigfoot) at Publishers Weekly

    Giveaways

    Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Dark Fairie Tales

    Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians: The Dark Talent, by Brandon Sanderson, at Fantasy Book Critic and On Starships and Dragonwings

    The Hammer of Thor, by Rick Riordan, at Mother Daughter Book Reviews

    Other Good Stuff

    A Tuesday Ten of Speculative Fiction Girls at Views from the Tesseract

    A list of middle grade fantasy with black girl leads, at Book Riot

    At the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog, I have a list of animal fantasies for Warriors fans

    This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (9/11/16)


    Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

    First--applications to be a panelist for the Cybils Awards are due Sept. 14--do consider applying!  There are more categories than Elementary/MG Spec Fic.--maybe audiobooks are your thing, or maybe you have a six year old at home and want to read all the chapter books of the past year!  Or maybe you've spent the year deep in YA spec fic--they always need good panelists who aren't afraied of a bit of reading...

    The Reviews

    Bounce, by Megan Shull, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    The Bronze Key, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Charlotte's Library

    Children of Exile, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Read Till Dawn

    Curse of the Boggin, by DJ MacHale, at Word Spelunking, Mother Daughter Book Reviews, and books4yourkids.com

    The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, at Kit Lit Reviews

    Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Cracking the Cover, Green Bean Teen Queen, and Owl Always Be Reading

    The Gathering, by Dan Poblocki, at Geo Librarian

    The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Waking Brain Cells

    Into the Land of the Unicorns, by Bruce Coville, at Got My Book

    The Legend of Sam Miracle, by N.D. Wilson, at Pages Unbound Reviews

    The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, at the NY Times

    The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor , at A Backwards Story

    Magic Marks the Spot, by Caroline Carlson, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

    The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow, at Books4yourkids.com

    Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Pages Unbound Reviews

    The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano, at A Reader of Fictions

    Riverkeep, by Martin Steward, at the NY Times Book Review (anyone read this yet?  Do you think its Middle Grade?)

    The Runaway Dolls, by Ann Martin and Laura Godwin, at Leaf's Reviews

    Song of the deep, by Brian Hastings, at Jean Little Library

    Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Sonderbooks

    The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers, at Redeemed Reader

    When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, at Hit or Miss Books

    Wings of Fire (series), by Tui T. Sutherland, at Rachel Neumier

    Authors and Interviews

    Jennifer Weiner (The Littlest Bigfoot) at Publishers Weekly

    Giveaways

    Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Dark Fairie Tales

    Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians: The Dark Talent, by Brandon Sanderson, at Fantasy Book Critic and On Starships and Dragonwings

    The Hammer of Thor, by Rick Riordan, at Mother Daughter Book Reviews

    Other Good Stuff

    A Tuesday Ten of Speculative Fiction Girls at Views from the Tesseract

    A list of middle grade fantasy with black girl leads, at Book Riot

    At the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog, I have a list of animal fantasies for Warriors fans

    9/10/16

    The Bronze Key (Magisterium Book 3)


    So back in The Iron Trial (the link takes you to one of my favorite's of my reviews) the first book of the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, the three main characters, students together at a school for magic, are given this following cheerful (not) prophecy about themselves:  'One will die, one will fail, another is already dead.'  Cal, the main character, learned in the first two books that he is the one who is already dead, in a strange and twisted sense of having had his soul kicked out of his body in infancy, and replaced by that of the arch villain of bad magic, aka The Eater of Death, who is now dead (except of his soul, which is apparently thriving in the form of Cal, despite his reluctance to be an arch-villain himself).   Which leaves the other two bits for Tamara and Aaron, the best friends Cal could ever imagine.  In The Bronze Key (Scholastic Press, upper MG, August 30, 2016), the third book of the series, another part of the prediction is revealed (and don't go reading reviews on Goodreads, or it will be spoiled!).

    But even though Cal knows he's the one that's "already dead" he doesn't want to be killed...and unfortunately someone is hellbent on doing just that.  Tamara, Aaron, and Cal don't listen to the reassurances of the grown-ups, and try to find who is behind the attempts on Cal's life, and things go magically wrong and get worse.

    And that's it from me about the plot.

    But I can say that this was a cracking good installment in the series, and if you enjoyed the first two books, you'll read this in a single sitting!  Cal and co. are not just caught up in tangled pasts and difficult magics, but they are young teens coping with being young teens, and each of them has particular difficulties to cope with--Aaron's dad is in prison, Tamara's big sister ended up, through magical mischance, as an imprisoned fire elemental, and a fellow student has an awkward crush on Cal, and Havoc, his chaos ridden wolf pup, is in danger (and he's the soul of the Eater of Death, which doesn't build Confidence).

    The pages turn very quickly, and the ending is a whammer of terrible Feels.

    I can't wait for book 4!

    This is a series I'm happy to enthusiastically recommend to the fantasy loving 12 or 13 year old who wants the magical adventure to take center stage, and isn't interested in the romance that takes up so much time in so much (but by no means all!) YA.  Which reminds me that I should tempt my own 13 year old with it...he will like Havoc the wolf cub lots.

    9/6/16

    Release day blitz for Eden's Escape. with giveaway




    Today is the release day for Eden's Escape, by M. Tara Crowl (Disney-Hyperion, middle grade) sequel to last year's Eden's Wish.


    Eden's Wish is the story of a girl trapped inside an antique oil lamp. It might be a luxurious lamp, but it's still a prison,a dn she hates being a genie.  Then she finds a way to Earth, and becomes a regular kd at a California middle school.  But she's not safe--a former genie wants her lamp and it's power. 

    Her adventures on Earth continue in Eden's Escape:

    "Eden's new life on earth begins in New York City under the guidance of her new guardian: Pepper, a petite, bubbly genie alum who's also a Broadway actress. Before she has a chance to settle in, though, Eden is whisked away for a granting--only to find herself trapped in a laboratory. David Brightly, owner of the world's leading tech company, cares more about tapping into the lamp's power than making a wish and starts performing tests on Eden. With Brightly's plasma shield around the lamp, Eden has no way home. Left without a choice, she escapes the lab and goes on the run. After her daring exit, Eden finds herself on the streets of Paris--home to Electra's headquarters. Left in a strange city with a price on her head (courtesy of scheming Brightly), Eden has to keep her wits about her. She dons a chic disguise and flits around Paris incognito, investigating Brightly Tech. Assisted by Pepper and her old adversary Bola, as well as some new friends, Eden embarks on a quest to retrieve the lamp and protect the secrets of the genie legacy."



    I  haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it lots!


    GIVEAWAY

    The blitz wide giveaway is for a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble Gift Card (winner’s choice). It is open to anyone who can receive a gift card via email. The giveaway run from Sept. 6-20.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    M. Tara Crowl grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She studied Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, then received an MA in Creative Writing at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She lives in New York City, and you can find her here:


    9/5/16

    Girl on a Plane, by Miriam Moss

    Girl on a Plane, by Miriam Moss (HMH Books for Young Readers, September 13, 2016), is a gripping, fictionalized account of the author's own experience of being on board a hijacked plane in 1970.   It's a compelling, thought-provoking, page-turner.

    The time has come for Anna to leave her family in Bahrain to return to her English boarding school, and though she's used to the constant uprooting that comes with life in a military family, she's not used to the sadness of leaving her family.  But there's no choice--she must get on the plane that will take her away from them. 

    But then her plane is hijacked by Palestinian guerrillas, and is forced to land in the desert of Jordan.  There it sits, with its engines shut down, fiercely hot in the day, and cold at night, with inadequate supplies of food and water, and mounting (as it were) sanitation issues.  And of course, with the imminent threat of death.  Any wrong move could trigger the hijackers to kill.  Any wrong step in the negotiations outside could trigger the explosives that have been rigged up to the plane.

    Anna and her seatmates, boys also on their way back to school in England, cope as best they can, simply getting through each tedious hour, and then each tedious day as their ordeal continues.  The tension of the story bleeds through into the pages, and though its not a page turner in the "what will happen next" sense, it is utterly riveting.

    Anna comes through vividly as a character, though the supporting cast less so.  There is less human drama than one might expect; everyone, for the most part, simply endures as best they can, and it is not quite believable. This faint lack of interesting human story was disappointing, although it is Anna's story, and so stays tighltly focused on her experiences and perceptions.  Moss makes an effort to add nuance to her hijackers; though some have lost all humanity, one young man, who Anna talks with on a few occasions, come across as not entirely unsympathetic--he saw his own parents killed during the occupation of Palestine.  Though Anna can't forgive the fact that he now has the power to kill her in turn, she can't quite hate him unequivocally.  As Miriam Moss says in an author's note (which you can read on Amazon):

    "I have tried to write a nonjudgmental account of events, to show that the world is not black-anwhite, but an infinitely richer and more complex gray. I have tried to understand what drives desperate people to do desperate things, and to understand the complexities of the Middle East a little better. Those who hijacked me were homeless and disenfranchised. I hope this book might help those of us who have so much understand a little better those who have so little."

    Anna's four day ordeal is engrossing, and though it's hard for those of us who were alive back then to think of stories set in the 1970s as "historical fiction," this will be an educating eye-opener to kids today, who have grown up with the even scarier terrorism fueled by religious fanaticism that haunts us today. 

    Not one to read on a long airplane trip, but a good one to read on other, less vulnerable forms of transportation.  I read it in a single sitting on a ferry boat, and though I did speculate about what would happen if our boat were hijacked, a boat is a heck of a lot less hellish than a plane.  Especially a plane heating up in the desert when smoking on planes was still standard practice (which is perhaps what truly makes this historical fiction in a visceral way.  Everyone lights up immediately.). 

    For fans of teens in peril, this is a must read.  It's also good for those of us who like survival stories of people trapped with food running out etc., with interesting details like going through the food packets not eaten during the in-flight snack service pre-hijacking, and the hostages being taken to their luggage, and having to decide what few things to take from it.

    The one thing I would have liked more of would have been a few pages on the actual history of the hijacking.  Anna's plane was one of three out there in the desert--what happened to the other two?  Did the British government give in to the hijackers demands?  I have read that Jewish passengers were segregated from the others, and kept hostage for weeks longer, but the book doesn't mention this.  And a bit of historical background on just what was going on in the Near East in 1970 would have added value.

    disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

    9/4/16

    This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (9/4/16)

    Welcome to this week's worth of my blog-reading gleanings.  Please let me know if I missed your post!

    The Reviews

    An Author's Odyssey (The Land of Stories book 5), by Chris Colfer, at Say What?

    The Bronze Key, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at The Book Wars

    Curse of the Boggin (The Library, Book 1): D.J. MacHale, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

    Eden's Escape, by M. Tara Crowl, at Word Spelunking

    Escape from Wolfhaven Castle, by Kate Forsyth, at Kid Lit Reviews

    Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine, at Read Till Dawn

    Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Book Munchies

    Fuzzy, by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger, at Geo Librarian

    The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Abby the Librarian

    The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at The Daily Prophecy

    The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud, at Sonderbooks (audiobook review)

    Joshua and the Arrow Realm, by Donna Galanti, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

    The Littlest Bigfoot, by Jennifer Weiner, at Word Spelunking

    Lug: Blast from the North, by David Zeltser, at Kid Lit Reviews

    Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cute, by Ann M. Martin with Annie Parnell, at The Book Wars

    Not as We Know It, by Tom Avery, at Waking Brain Cells

    Nurk, by Ursula Vernon, at Got My Book

    The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano, at Hidden In Pages

    A Posse of Princesses, by Sherwood Smith, at Leaf's Reviews

    The Rat Prince, by Bridget Hodder, at On Starships and Dragonwings

    The Scourge, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Charlotte's Library and Cracking the Cover

    Shadow House (The Gathering Book 1), by Dan Poblocki, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

    Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den, by Aimée Carter at Jen Robiinson's Book Page

    Talking to Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Lunar Rainbows

    When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, at School Library Journal

    Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell, at Leaf's Reviews

    The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence, by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong, at The Book Monsters

    Giveaways

    The Littlest Bigfoot, by Jennifer Weiner, at Word Spelunking

    Eden's Escape, by M. Tara Crowl, at Word Spelunking

    Furtheremore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Bewitched Bookworms

    Other Good Stuff

    The Cybils Awards are still seeking panelists (you have until Sept. 14 to apply)!  MG speculative fiction is one of the categories (with me as its organizer)....the gist of it, if you don't already know, is that panels of judges made of people who review books on line read lots and lots of books in their category between October and the end of December, and then hand over a shortlist to a second round of judges to pick the winner.  If you are daunted by the idea of a reading list of 150 books, keep in mind that you will already have read lots of the, you don't have to finish a book that clearly is not working for you, and there are categories with a much easier reading load than the MG and YA Spec. Fic. and regular fiction categories!  Graphic novels, for instance, is relatively easy reading-wise, and they could use some good folks..... It is a lot of fun!  If you have any questions, feel free to ask me.


    On reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, with a third grade class, at Nerdy Book Club

    It's time for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI, (RIP) the seasonally appropriate reading challenge....

    And speaking of Dark Stuff, here's a Tuesday Ten of it at Views from the Tesseract

    Scholasitc releases the cover design for Fantastic Beasts: the Original Screenplay



    9/1/16

    The Scourge, by Jennifer Nielsen

    As anyone whose read Jennifer Nielsen's The False Prince series knows, she's a writer that loves to set up scenarios in which there are many secrets not known to the reader, the sort of secrets that Change Everything once the characters figure things out.  If you like that sort of book, The Scourge (Scholastic, Aug. 30, 2016) is one for you!

    Ani and her best friend, a boy named Weevil (and yes, he knows it's not a great name, but as he puts it, it's the only one he's got) belong to the River people, despised by the dominant culture of their country.   But though poor in material goods and often hungry, the River people are the only ones who haven't been affected by the latest outbreak of the Scourge, a horrible disease that spreads like wildfire elsewhere.  The governor has taken steps to control the epidemic, by quarantining the afflicted for life on an island that was once home to convicts.  Basically the colony of the sick is it's own mini dystopia, from which there is (in theory) no escape.

    Ani and Weevil fall into the hands of the governor's wardens, and in the series of mischances, betrayals, and foolish (aka brave and motivated by their loyalty to each other) choices, they both find themselves prisoners on the island of the damned.  What follows is an unsnarling of all that has been warped, and a new hope for their country.  Ani and Weevil, the first of the River people to have been taken to the colony, are determined to resist, to question, to look for a cure, and to find what is rotten in the whole set-up.  And because they are fierce and smart and in possession of certain information not known outside their own folk, they succeed.  Ani is the more impetuous of the two, and Weevil's calmer approach balances her nicely.

    Ani and Weevil's friendship turns into romance as the story progress, and this, plus the dystopian feel of the whole set up, makes me think The Scourge would be a good one for tweens moving up into YA.  But on the other hand, Jen Robinson, in her review, opines that it tilts young.  Either way, it's a gripping read, and it is great fun to see all the tangles first revealed, and then resolved! 

    My only objection (apart from the name Weevil, which is just too awful a name for me) was that one of the characters starts as a really nasty bit of work, and I think Ani forgives her too readily.  But Ani is a generous sort, so it's not too out of character.

    just as an aside (not a criticism--there's no magic here, so readers who want all the bells and whistles in their fantasy reading might feel a bit let down...

    disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher





    is a very good one to offer the kid on the higher end of tweendom (13-14) who is just starting to plunge into YA

    8/28/16

    This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/26/16)

    Two news items first--

    Apply to be a Cybils Judge!  If you are wondering what it's all about (with reference to MG Spec Fic) here's the post I wrote last year.  If you love MG Spec Fic, don't be shy, apply! (and isn't that a nice rhyme....)

    Also, Kidlitcon is coming in October in Wichita, and the program (organized by me) is now up!  Please come.

    The Reviews

    The Adventurers Guide to Successful Escapes, by Wade Albert White, at Book Nut

    The Ash Mistry series by Sarwat Chadda, at @Homelibrarian

    The Bronze Key, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    CJ's Treasure Chase, by Jessica Brody, at B.N. Kids Blog

    The Crimson Skew by S. E. Grove, at On Starships and Dragonwings (audiobook review)

    Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, by David Nielsen, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Reader Girls

    Escape from Wolfhaven Castle (Impossible Quest Book 1), by Kate Forsyth, at alibrarymama

    Fly By Night, by Frances Hardinge, at Leaf's Reviews

    The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at Skye's Scribblings

    Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Welcome to my (New) Tweendom

    The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Great Kid Books

    The Green Ember, by S.D. Smith, at Stray Thoughts

    In a Blue Velvet Dress, by Cahterine Sefton, at Charlotte's Library

    The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, at Charlotte's Library and B.N. Kids Blog

    Legacy of Secrets by Ridley Pearson (The Return #2), at Carstairs Considers

    The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Operation Actually Read Bible

    The Poe Estate, by Polly Shulman, at Got My Book (audiobook review)

    The Shadows (Books of Elsewhere Book 1), by Jacqueline West, at Hidden In Pages

    The Skeleth, by Matthew Jobin, at On Starships and Dragonwings

    Thornghost, by Tone Almhjell, at This Kid Reviews Books

    not exactly a review--Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, presented choose your own adventure style at Great Imaginations

    Three at alibrarymama--Forest of Wonders, Pax, and Fridays With the Wizards

    Authors and Interviews

    Kate Milford (The Left-Handed Fate) at Whatever

    David Nielsen (Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom) at The Book Wars, Cracking the Cover, and Batch of Books

    C. Lee McKenzie (Sign of the Green Dragon), at Literary Rambles

    Interview with Hazelwind from The Guaridan Herd #4: Windborn, by Jennifer Lynn Alverez, at Middle Grade Mafioso

    Giveaways

    The Curse of the Were-Hyena, by Bruce Hale, at The O.W.L.

    Sign of the Green Dragon, by C. Lee McKenzie, at Literary Rambles

    Other Good Stuff

    A Tuesday Ten of Fantastic Foxes at Views from the Tesseract

    J.K. Rowlings old sketches posted at Pottermore, via Tor

    8/27/16

    The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford

    I am a great admirer of Kate Milford, and I will pretty much follow her anywhere (in terms of reading her books, unless of course she decides to write the economic history of the 1980s or something).  And so despite the fact that The Left-Handed Fate (Henry Holt and Co, August 23, 2016), her most recent upper middle grade book, is in large measure about the titular privateer and her crew (I am not naturally drawn to seafaring tales), and even though the time period (War of 1812) isn't my favorite, I approached the book with keen interest and enthusiasm, untrammeled by personal bias. I was rewarded with an excellent story, characters to care about, and my first visit to the strange wonderful city of Nagspeake (which was nice for me, not just because it is a strange and twisty and magical place, but because I was expecting the whole book to take place at sea so I was glad that it didn't).

    The story--Max is continuing his dead father's quest to find the parts of a mysterious mechanism that will be the weapon that will end all wars (in particular, the Napoleonic Wars), and has hired the privateer, The Left-Handed Fate, to take him to Baltimore to find a component that's supposed to be there.  Things go wrong.  They are taken as a prize by the American Navey, with a 12 year old midshipman, Oliver, made commander of the prize crew.  Then a French vessel turns up, seaking the mechanism bits that Max already has, and then the mysterious Black Ship of utter creepiness that has been haunting the Left-Handed Fate turns up, and instead of taking the Fate back to Baltimore, Oliver enlists its crew, led by the captain's daughter Lucy, to make a run to the south to the strange city of Nagspeake.  There Max and Lucy, assisted by her little brother Liao, find the other parts of the mechanism...but is building it really going to solve all their problems?  What of the French? And what of the Black Ship and its crew?   

    But most importantly, what will the machine become?

    And of additional interest, will Lucy get her ship/home back?  Will she and Max get to the point where they get to kiss? 

    So all in all, a very good read indeed!  Highly recommended to readers of all ages who like immersive experiences of strangeness and adventure, with puzzles to solve and old stories coming true.

    other comments--

    You can read Kate's thoughts about the book in her Big Idea post at Whatever.

    Nagspeake has a life of its own (although its website is currently not working for me), and there's another story set there--Bluecrowne, which is also about Lucy and Liao and which I have not read and which I clearly must read immediately!

    The ending drove me mad trying to remember two other books it reminded me of.  I was able to come up with one of them--The Owl Service, by Alan Garner, with its tension between the owl pattern (bringing darkness and discord) and the flower pattern (bringing peace), but the other is still eluding me, and all my brain is coming up with is a snatch of poorly remembered rhyme-

    Shall we something something [birth?]
    Shall we sing for death or mirth? 

    or something like that.  I feel it is a not very good fantasy book of Celticness from the 1980s.  I could be wrong.

    Update--I am very pleased with my brain, and shall keep it--I remembered that I was thinking of the awful Celtic eugenics part of A Swiftly Tilting planet

    Now we leave our tears for mirth,
    Now we sing, not death, but birth

    I can see why I thought of it, because it is thematically about the delicate balance between something turning evil and something turning good...

    And then I added to my mental laurels by remembering where I had recently reshelved the L'Engle books and was able to find it! 
    (Lory cleverly recognized it too before I wrote this update--thanks Lory!)


    final comment--I appreciated the somewhat random inclusion of an albatross.  I feel that albatross inclusions add value to almost any situation.

    disclaimer--review copy pounced on/received from the publisher at ALA midwinter.

    8/23/16

    In a Blue Velvet Dress, by Catherine Sefton, for Timeslip Tuesday

    Today's timeslip book, In a Blue Velvet Dress, by Catherine Sefton (1973),  is an older one from my shelves...and at first I though I misremembered it had time travel in it, because it seemed like a ghost story.  But happily I enjoyed the re-reading of it enough to keep going, and indeed, there are time slip elements toward the end.

    Jane's parents have gone off on a sailing trip to Scotland, leaving her in the care of a middle aged couple who love children and have none of her own, in a one horse town in Northern Ireland.  Jane, somewhat disgruntled about being dumped, has fortified herself with a whole suitcase of her favorite books (she is an inveterate bookworm).  But when she unpacks, she realizes to her horror that she has her father's suitcase instead (and he has all her Chalet School books etc., which is doubtless dismaying him too....).  The house where she's staying has only the telephone book, and even Jane can't read that, and there is no bookstore.  Horror!

    But then every night a new book appears on Jane's bedside table, only to vanish the next day.  Some are old favorites (E. Nesbit), others are old book's she's never heard of.  And then Jane realizes that her mysterious benefactor is the ghost of a young girl, a friendly ghost, Mary, who also loved to read, whose father had drowned at sea.  One night she slips though time to the bookroom of Mary and her father, and a lovely room it is! 

    When Jane's parents sail back from Scotland into a fierce storm, and the lightboats are called out to rescue them, Jane is of course horribly afraid for them, but Mary comes to comfort her, and time slips again, so that Jane sees the night long ago when Mary's father drowned.  Jane's parents are more fortunate, and Jane realizes that far from Mary wanting to be helped, Mary came to help her, because she is really just about the nicest bookworm ghost anyone could ever want.

    There's more to the story--Jane makes a real life friend as well, and they go exploring and have a few minor misadventures  (which is good for Jane, because reader though I am reading isn't everything!), and there are many bits of humor.  But mostly the appeal of the story is Jane's hunger for reading matter!  The time slipping is minor, and doesn't exactly Advance the Plot, but it makes the book more magical.  I'm glad that I held on to it--it was a very nice re-read.

    Happily it was reprinted in 2002 (the edition shown above), and so there are cheap copies around if you want to try it!


    8/22/16

    Bera the One-Headed Troll, by Eric Orchard

    Bera the One-Headed Troll, by Eric Orchard, is another charming graphic novel for the young (nine to elevenish) from First Second Books (August 2016).

    Bera is content with her simple life on an isolated island, growing pumpkins for the king, with Winslowe, her owl friend, for conversational company.  But her peaceful existence is upended when a human baby is washed up to the island.  Bera saves the baby from unpleasant mermaids, and then has to figure out what to do with it.  When the malignant witch Cloote arrives looking for the lost child, with definitely evil intentions toward it, Bera decides the baby needs a hero to save it.  So she and Winslowe set out to find a legendary hero....braving many magical dangers during their journey.  When the first hero fails, they try another...and then another....fortunately they have a band of hedgehog mages on their side to help them through the magical perils.  And fortunately at the end, Bera realizes the baby doesn't necessarily need a hero to save it, just someone to look after it lovingly, and it just so happens that Bera's island is under the king's own protection.

    It's a vivid and engrossing story, and the illustrations bring the dangerous adventures and the strange magical creatures to life most beautifully!  The details of all the characters and the fantastical landscape might well inspire young artists, and the moral of the story (that passing the buck to heroes is often more trouble than simply taking on responsibility oneself), though understated (the book isn't didactic) is one that all young readers will have to learn eventually....

     Though Bera might be somewhat monstrous in appearance, she's a loveable protagonist whose determination and warm heart maker her a heroine to cheer for.  Winslowe is a great owl sidekick, and of course magical hedghogs add value to any story. 

    disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

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