5/25/17

The Wish List: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever!

If you are looking for a sparkly magic story for a seven or eight year old who wants a bit of magical fluff, The Wish List: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! by Sarah Aronson (Scholastic, May 30 2017)is a good one.  Though there's magical sparkles a plenty, there's enough heart to it by the end of the book that it leaves a nice warm glow.

Isabelle is a fairy-godmother-in-training, but she's by no means the best student in her class. In fact, she's pretty much the worst....she's the only one who hasn't done the assigned reading of all the rules and regulations and instructions, and though she's enthusiastic about the whole thing (almost obnoxiously so) it's touch and go if she'll be assigned to a practice princess or not.

When she does get her assignment, she's disappointed and taken aback--her princess is an ordinary girl, who doesn't even seem to have made a wish yet!  But as Isabelle spends time with Nora, she comes to appreciate her, and when she realizes that Nora's wish is to have a friend, Isabelle thinks the job's a good as done.  When she tells Nora her wish has been granted, though, Nora is understandably put out that friendship with her has been a job for Isabelle.  Isabelle is perceptive enough to realize this, though, and manages to make everything work in the end in fine fairy godmother style. 

Except that she hasn't read the rule book yet....opening the door to a sequel in which sparkle magic pose problems for both girls!

At first I was very dismissive of Isabelle, who seemed tremendously shallow, but her friendship with Nora deepens her, and I felt bad about judging her for not doing the reading when it was revealed that she needed glasses (then I felt mad at the adults who hadn't realized this before!).  I ended up enjoying the book much more than I thought I was going to, and I'm sure the target audience--the elementary school girl who enjoys a bit of friendship drama along with a nice dose of magic--will enjoy it even more!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/23/17

The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp, by Richard Peck, for Timeslip Tuesday

I did not know, until The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp, by Richard Peck (1983), surfaced in a box of library booksale donations last week, that Richard Peck was a writer of time-travel books.  I also did not know that this was the third in a series until today....but it stood on its own just fine, and was enjoyable enough that I shall add the other three books to my reading list.  (The cover image shown here is that on the copy I found, and goes to show that the early eighties were a strange, unkind era as far as appealing book covers go).

Blossom is a not an ordinary 1914 girl from a small town in middle America. Her mother is an eccentric physic with a quick temper, no money, and no husband around, and Blossom shares all those characteristics.  Since she's only 14 and has just started high school, the last is only to be expected.  High school and Blossom don't mix real well; there's a mean snooty group of girls who try to make life hard for her, and so she has no friends until she meets a girl even more raggedly dressed who has spent her time at high school in a bathroom stall where it is safer and more peaceful. 

The story really gets going when the freshman class decides to host a haunted house, using an actual abandoned spooky farmhouse.  Blossom is coerced into being the fortuneteller.  When exploring the house in advance, she opens a door....and travels to the 1980s.  And interesting visit with a lonely boy ensues, and Blossom is much interested and occasionally disturbed and confused, but the plot of the story is not advanced at all by this interlude, which is without any real tension (though it is of nostalgic interest to those of us who were young in the 1980s, which of course wouldn't  have added value for readers when it was first published....)  When Blossom gets back to her own time, things get much more amusing as she does her psychic act for all its worth.

So the time travel is kind of pointless, except to show that Blossom really truly isn't ordinary.  But the book as a whole is fun, and Blossom is a diverting heroine who is a force of nature to be reckoned with (at times too much so for my taste).  Reading reviews on Goodreads, this seems to be the least popular of the four books about her, so I shall give the others a try in due course.


5/21/17

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (5/21/17)

Welcome to this week's round-up!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book, by Jennifer Donnelly, at Geek Girl Project

The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker, by Matilda Woods, at Minerva Reads

Brightwood, by Tania Unsworth  at Geo Librarian

Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, at The Children's War

The Crystal Ribbon, by Celeste Lim, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Door in the Alley (Exploreres, book 1), by Adrienne Kress, at The Book Wars

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at the B. and N. Kids Blog

A Dragon's Guide to Making Perfect Wishes, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Charlotte's Library

Dream Magic, by Joshua Kahn, at Charlotte's Library

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton, at Hope is the Word

The Journey to Dragon Island, by Claire Fayers, at the B. and N. Kids Blog

The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, at Leaf's  Reviews

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine, at Pages Unbound Reviews

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Maria's Melange and The Book Monsters (giveaways)

The Poet's Dog, by Patricia MacLachlan, at Cover2Cover

Searching for Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Say What?

The Shadow Cipher (York book 1), by Laura Ruby, at The Book Smugglers

Simon Thorn and the Wolf;s Den, by Aimee Carter, at Say What?

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier, at Say What?

Ms. Yingling Reads has two superheros--Bug Girl, by Benjamin Harper, Sarah Hines-Stephens, Sarah, and Anoosha Syed, and How to be a Supervillain, by Michael Fry, along with some superhero company for them

Two very cool Star Wars books at Boys Rule, Boys Read

Authors and Interviews

Stephanie Burgis (The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart), at Just another teen reading books

Susan Maupin Schmid (Ghost of a Chance) at Just another teen reading books

Anna Staniszewski  (Once Upon a Cruise) shares five funny mg books at Just anther teen reading books

Adrienne Kress (The Exploreres: the Door in the Alley) at Project Mayhem and Middle Grade Mafioso


Other Good Stuff

The Dark Crystal is coming to Netflix as a new series. More at Once Upon a Blog

Because it is pleasant to look at other people's bookshelves--some pictures of book storage in tiny houses (but gee they don't actually have many books....)

5/20/17

Dream Magic, by Joshua Kahn

Dream Magic, by Joshua Kahn (Disney-Hyperion, middle grade, April, 2017), continues the story begun by Shadow Magic (last year's winner for the Cybils  middle grade speculative fiction category, and a very good read indeed).  13-year old Lily, aka Lilith Shadow, Queen of Gehenna, faces a whole slew of challenges as she works toward the stability of her kingdom, and her own mastery of the magical powers of necromancy that are her birthright.  These are both formidable challenges--her people are being attacked by trolls, and foreign powers are threatening her, and she has no army to speak off, and magic is forbidden to females.  Thorn, now a squire, is willing to do what he can to help, but the problems are huge. 

And they get worse when Lily is attacked in her own castle by a sinister sorcerer known as the Dreamweaver, who has raised a plague of magical spiders who are ensnaring the people of Gehenna in a net of dreams.  Lily must enter the Dream world, and face her own dreams come true, and face as well the truth behind the Dreamweaver and the tragic history that has pushed him into evil.

So there are lots of difficult, unhappy, and tense moments; in fact, that's pretty much the story in a nutshell.  And so it wasn't to my personal taste, because I am too empathetic for my own good and don't like to be unhappy and tense on behalf of the characters for large numbers of pages.  And though it was interesting to see Lily's magic progressing, and she's a strong character with an interesting path toward consolidating her power in a world where the deck's stacked against her, I'd have liked more of Thorn....(again, perhaps, a personal preference for nature rooted magic over zombies, though the zombies here are quality zombies, with more character than most...)

I'm still happy to recommend the series to fantasy readers who want "real" fantasy, by which I mean fantasy set 100% in a fantasy world where the cultures and histories and backstories of place are integral to the particular adventures of hand.  There aren't so many of these in middle grade fantasy today*, and this is a good one.  Give these to young D. and D. players (who are more common than you might think!). 

*having made this statement, I feel obliged to check to see if it's true.  I found that I've read seven books/series that are fantasy not at all linked to our real world, out of about the c. 40 middle grade speculative fiction books/series I've read so far this year.  So pretty true, based on an admittedly limited sample (and skewed by a few weeks where I read mostly dystopian middle grade).  I think I'll return to this topic a the end of the year, because "what makes a fantasy world middle grade readers will love" is rather an interesting topic....Joshua Kahn's world building is exellent--though the action takes place in a smallish physical location, there's a sense of a big world out there with lots of history and lots more interesting magic to explore.

5/16/17

A Dragon's Guide to Making Perfect Wishes, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, for Timeslip Tuesday

Such a pleasure (for those of us who are fond of time travel) to read book three of a series one enjoyed, and to find that not only is it a good continuation of characters you've grown fond of but it is a time travel book as well!  Such is the case with A Dragon's Guide to Making Perfect Wishes, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder (Crown Books for Young Readers, middle grade, March 2017), the third book about an ancient dragon and the girl who is her "pet" (the first being A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans). 

Miss Drake, the dragon, has perhaps grown a little lax with her pet human, Winnie, but it's a laxness born of fondness and indulgence.  Miss Drake has known and loved several generations of Winnie's family, and when an invitation arrives to a time travel excursion back to the San Francisco World's Fair of 1915, which Miss Drake visited with Winnie's great-grandfather, Caleb, the dragon decides to take Winnie to meet her ancestor.  The time-traveling expedition has its own particular purpose--the magical group of travelers hope to solve the mystery of the theft of the legendary jewel know as the Heart of Kubera.  It is no ordinary jewel, as Winnie is about to find out...

The time-travel excursion serves introduce the jewel and its magic, and to simply offer enjoyable time with Miss Drake and Winnie as they explore the Fair.  A highlight is their chance meeting with Laura Ingalls Wilder, who was really there*....And this is very pleasant, peaceful time-travel tourism.  But there are more plot-ish elements going on at the same time.  The Jewel is more than it appears to be (it comes with a wish-granting mongoose component),and there's a villain who wants the jewel and will stop at nothing to get it. The expedition fails to revel the  mystery of the theft, and the theft in turn adds a complication to the time travel, in a nicely time-tangled turn of events. 

When Winnie ends up in possession of the jewel herself back in the present day, she has to learn pretty quickly how to make wishes that won't make things worse...which is hard to do when she has to make a wish that will save Miss Drake and herself from the clutches of the villain.

A new character, a boy named Rowan with a mysterious identity of his own, is introduced, but mostly this is Winnie and Miss Drake's story.  And if  you having a difficult sort of week, and just want a magical story about two very different people, dragon and girl, who are very, very, fond of each other, this will be a pleasantly diverting comfort!

*Joanne Ryder edited West From Home, so if anyone has the right to introduce Laura into a time travel book set at this particular World's Fair it is her!

5/14/17

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5142017)

Welcome to this week's round-up!  A cold and wet Mother's Day here in Rhode Island, and after I press publish I will go light a fire in the wood stove, which means moving all the tbr books I placed neatly on top of the stove thinking foolishly that it was now warm...

In any event, please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Andy Smithson: Battle for the Land's Soul, by L.R.W. Lee, at Log Cabin Library and This Kid Reviews Books

Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale, at Leaf's Reviews

The Door in the Alley (The Explorers book 1), by Adrienne Kress, at Always in the Middle and Geo Librarian

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Sharon the Librarian and Random Musings of a Bibliophile

A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, at alibrarymama

The Girl with the Ghost Machine, by Lauren DeStefano, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field, at For Those About to Mock

The Initiation (Lock and Key, 1) by Ridley Pearson, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Kings of Clonmel, by John Flanagan, at Leaf's Reviews

Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson, at Semicolon

Masterminds, by Gordon Korman, at Tales From the Raven

Mold and the Poison Plot, by Lorraine Gregory, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Shadow Cipher (York book 1), by Laura Ruby at The New York Times, The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia, and Me On Books

The Silver Gate, by Kristin Bailey at Semicolon

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at the Shannon Messenger Fan Club

Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Hamster Princess in Giant Trouble and The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

Authors and Interviews

Michel Merschel (Revenge of the Star Survivors) at Nerdy Book Club

L.R.W. Lee (Andy Smithson series) at Log Cabin Library

Hilary Wagner (Nightshade City) at Project Mayhem

Authors talk about the blurred line between MG and YA at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

Congratulations to the two MG books in the YA category of Locus Award Finalists--The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Evil Wizard Smallbone!

5/11/17

Black Dog Short Stories 1 and 2, by Rachel Neumeier

I am not a werewolf, qua werewolf fan, nor I am drawn to short stories (they are so often short).   But I was not surprised by how much I enjoyed the anthology of Black Dog Stories 1 and 2 (published in 2016, combining two previously published anthologies).  I am a huge fan of Rachel Neumeier, and these particular short stories are all set in the same world, with characters I already know from reading the Black Dog series, and the Black Dogs are not werewolves in any typical sense of the term (though they are shapeshifters....).

Here's what you get in these stories--a chance to spend time with the folks you've already met in the novels, seeing bits of their backstories, seeing them struggle with the pull of Black Dog demonic forces within them, seeing them do ordinary things like Christmas shopping that turn dangerous.  Each story adds to the world and its people, and because there's no overarching Plot of Danger, each story is a chance to really get to know the people involved.  And Rachel Neumeier does people very well. 

Even though many of the central characters are Black Dogs, with a sort of ravening madness that lurks beneath the control they must constantly maintain, they are decent people, people one is glad to see moving toward more positive outcomes both personally and in terms of staying alive.   That, coupled with lots of additional bits of world building, including an elaboration of the Christian elements (saints who intervened to tilt the balance away from demons), Black Dog genetics, the effects Black Dogs have in different societies, and a new sort of magical enemy, made me read just about straight through. 

If you've never tried Rachel Neumeier's books, but you like werewolves, start with Black Dog (my review) knowing that you'll have lots of great reading ahead of you!  If you've never tried her books, but like the books I like, start with Mountain of Kept Memory or House of Shadows

disclaimer:  copy happily received from the author


5/7/17

The books my son (now 14) got for his birthday

Throughout the years I've been blogging, I've been keeping a record of the books my kids have gotten for their birthdays.   This weekend my little one turned 14, and here's what he's got.  I myself like to see what books other people get, and I think it's an interesting illustration of why picking "books for an x-year-old kid" is so futile an endeavor unless you really know the kid. 

CatStronauts: Mission Moon, and Race to Mars, by Drew Brockington.   (these are graphic novels that are cute as all get out.  I gave him a Catstronauts teeshirt a few years ago, and he wore it to pieces.  These just came out, but I have known for months that he would be getting them).

Books he asked for:

Will Save the Galaxy for Food, by Yahtzee Croshaw (a novel by a you-tuber he likes who's other books he's enjoyed)

Books he mentioned wanting in passing:

The Manual of Aeronautics: An Illustrated Guide to the Leviathan Series, by Scott Westerfeld

The Northern Crusades, by Eric Christiansen (he wants to learn more about these, and very annoyingly I got rid of my own book about the Northern Crusades five or so years ago, which just goes to show that you should never get rid of any books ever.  On the other hand, my book was probably out of date, and of course one should never offer inferior history to one's children.....Quite possible I will end up reading it and then telling him about it; my oral version will probably be more interesting. But in large part I bought it for him as a conscious act to show respect for his intellectual curiosity and capability).

Special bonus and thanks to Clarion books (thanks!), Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford (yay!).  He wants to wait till Christmastime so I can read it out loud to him and his brother like I did for Greenglass House. Which would indeed be sweet seasonal warmth.  But I will read it to myself long before then....

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (5/7/17)

Welcome to this week's round-up; as always, let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Cavern of Secrets (Wing and Claw book 2), by Linda Sue Park, at Say What?

Defender of the Realm, by Mark Huckery and Nick Ostler, at Say What?

Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull, at The Write Path and Reading Violet

The Fallen Star (Nocturnals book 3) by Tracey Hecht, at Mom Read It and Always in the Middle

Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

The Girl of Ink and Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, at Fantasy Literature

Gnome-a-geddon, by K.A. Holt, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, at Log Cabin Library

Moondial, by Helen Cresswell, at Charlotte's Library

Path of Beasts, by Lian Tanner, at Say What?

The Shadow Cipher (York book 1), by Laura Ruby, at Next Best Book, Charlotte's Library (with giveaways)

Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom, by Joan Hulub and Suzanne Williams, at Jean Little Library

Authors and Interviews

Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe (The Supernormal Sleuthing Service) at Whatever

Tracey Hecht (The Nocturnal) at Middle Grade Ninja


Other Good Stuff

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane has won the 2016  Aurealis Award for best children's fiction

"The Lessons for All Writers Woven into Charlotte's Web" at Kill Zone

I have a post at B. and N. Kids Blog on recent middle grade books adults will love, with several sci fi/fantasy books

This is a delight--Earthsea sketches from Charles Vess (illustrator of the one volume Earthsea book coming next year), in conversation with Ursula Le Guin, at Book View Cafe

5/5/17

York: the Shadow Cipher (book 1), by Laura Ruby


http://www.lauraruby.com/
Laura Ruby (of Bone Gap fame) has a new middle grade book--York: The Shadow Cipher (book1) coming from Walden Pond Press on May 16, and it is a very good book indeed, perfect for those who like to read about smart kids following cryptic clues, and perfect for kids fascinated by mechanical marvels and alternate/steampunkish versions of reality!

Tess and Theo Bidermann live in a Morningstar apartment building, one of several designed by the Morningstar twins over a hundred years ago.  The Morningstars weren't just architects; they were also inventors of many strange and wonderful contrivances and contraptions that are still making New York a cleaner, more functional city.  And they were also the masterminds of a mysterious cypher, promising great rewards to whoever solved it.  Which no one has been able to do, although many have tried.

Now Tess and Theo, joined by Jaime Cruz, another kid in their apartment, have stumbled across a side branch of clues that might actually lead them to the solution of the cipher.  They are determined to crack it, and as soon as possible, because the building that's been their home all their lives has been bought out from under them, and is slated for demolition.  So they set off through a slightly twisted version of the city, scrambling from one clue to the next in hidden tunnels, insane trips on the Underway, and inside their own building.

It is not a stroll through Central Park looking at flowers.  The dangers get gradually more intense, and although the first step of the Cipher is resolved, at the very, very end there is a ratcheting upward spike in the tension (with connections to the Civil War and abolition) that will leave readers anxious for Book 2!

It is a very satisfying read, in which the specifics of the cipher hunt are intermingled with everyday life and feelings (and tasty food, always a plus in my mind).  The three kids all have distinct personalities and character arcs, and the Morningstar apartment building becomes so real in the reader's mind as to be a character in its own right.  There is also a most unusual cat, who adds great cat value.  The hunt for clues is also mind candy for those who like to explore the stories of hidden or forgotten figures, since many of these stories are integral parts of the hunt. 

All this is good, but what I liked best of all are the little touches of whimsy and wonder--at one point the kids hear the story of a zoo giraffe who escaped captivity and threw itself into the river, and they sit, "watching the water together, imagining giraffes loping gracefully beneath the surface, making their way home" (page 246 of the ARC).  Which I think might be the overarching metaphor of the whole book (or perhaps not), but which in any event is an image I love.

I am happy to offer, on behalf of the publisher, the chance to win a signed copy!  Please leave a comment to be entered the giveaway. (US only, closes May 16)

Here's a link to the Educator's Guide, which has chapter by chapter questions, prompts for further discussion, and a slew of fun additional activities!

Here's hte list of blog tour stops:
May 1
May 3
May 4
May 5
May 7
May 8
May 10
The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
May 11
May 12

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/4/17

Spill Zone, by Scott Westerfeld

If you are a fan of scary sci fi graphic novels for teens, leap to get your hands on Spill Zone, by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland (FirstSecond, May, 2017).  That being said, I am not such a fan in general, yet I found Westerfeld's first foray into graphic novels utterly gripping.

Three years Addison's home town of Poughkeepsie was the site of an unexplained disaster of cataclysmic proportions.  Though the buildings remain standing, the town is now a spill zone of horribly uncanny manifestations and dangers--those who died in the initial even are now reanimated "meat puppets" (though not flesh-eating zombies) and deadly snares and weirdness can trap the unwary.  Addison's parents were trapped in the Spill Zone, and presumably are dead; her little sister was one of a handful of kids who escaped.  Lexa hasn't spoken since.  Now, three years later, Addison lives on the edge of the zone, making a living by sneaking past the military barriers to take pictures of the bizarre horrors inside (though she draws the line at photographing the former inhabitants). So far her rules have kept her safe...

When a collector of her work makes her a million-dollar offer to recover something from inside the hospital, Addison decides to break her own rules to do the job, and things get even more hellish.  And in the meantime, the Spill Zone has crept into Addison's own home.  Warning--if creepy dolls possessed by demons (?) are not your thing, do not read this book! Vespertine, Lexa's doll, is a creepy character in her own right, with the text bubbles of the graphic novel format perfect for conveying her disturbing thoughts that only Lexa can hear.

The jaggedy flashy-colored art work is beautifully hallucinogenic, and conveys the distortions of reality perfectly.  Addison is a compelling character, and the mystery of the whole disaster is even more compelling!  So if you like nightmares, it should be right up your alley.  A reason I myself liked it is that I'm always a fan of stories about sisters, and the relationship between the two here was a good one.

The only thing I objected to about the book was that it is very much a first book.  There are lots of mysterious plot threads introduced but by no means resolved, and having now been thoroughly hooked, I am anticipatory as heck about the next book!

Here's an interview with Scott Westerfeld at NPR that elaborates a bit more.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

5/2/17

Moondial, by Helen Cresswell, for Timeslip Tuesday

Finally I'm getting around to reviewing a classic of British children's time-travel--Moondial, by Helen Cresswell (1987), and since it's an old chestnut of the genre at this point, I am freely going to throw out spoiler after spoiler.

Minty (short for Araminta) is a modern girl who finds herself stuck staying with her Aunt Mary, one of the staff at an old stately home, when her mother is injured in a car accident.  As Minty explores the gardens, she finds the Moondial, whose magic slips her back in time.  Sometimes she is one century back, in the summer sun where she meets Tom, a scrawny, consumptive kitchen boy who wants desperately to be reunited with his little sister still in London, and sometimes Minty is back two centuries, where she meets Sarah, a mysteriously lonely little girl who comes out only at night, and who is cruelly persecuted by the other children when they catch her.....(she has a dark, vivid birthmark on her face, and has been told, among other cruel things, that if she looks in a mirror the devil will take her soul...)  This is all very atmospheric and kind of spooky and fascinating, and Minty gets to know Tom a bit, and is sorry for him, and she and Tom both see Sarah, but not so much to talk too because of her circumstances (being screamed at for being a devil child by the local kids of her time, or being dragged indoors by her fiercely mean governess....)

My recent reading of this one was my second time, and at this point in my re-reading, about half-way through the book, I was wondering why I hadn't liked it the first time I read it, because it had all the things that made for good mysterious timeslip fun--vivid descriptions, emotional resonance, mysteries about how the fates of the three kids were entwined, etc.  Then a nasty old ghost hunter woman comes to stay at Aunt Mary's.  As well as being unpleasant in the worst sort of grown-up way she is possibly truly evil, and she is inexplicably identical to the Sarah's evil caretaker back in the past (which remains annoyingly unexplained--are they the same evil woman or not?) and then Tom and Minty try to save Sarah, and do, sort of, by convincing her to look in a mirror, but then Tom and Sarah seem to end up dying,  with no other resolution to their stories other than that they are "free" (which then makes the reader wonder to what extent they were stuck ghosts...)  and the book ends.

So the plot just does a "whatever" throwing up of its hands and everyone is unstuck and Minty's mother recovers and it is all sort of an anticlimax.

The Moondial itself is a lovely fictional creation, and poor lonely Sarah is as haunting a character as one can hope to find, and I have no objections to Minty at all, but I think you have to be nine or ten when you read this one the first time because then the atmosphere and mystery will be enough to make up for the lack of crisp resolution...and the book will haunt you forever and you will love it always. Kirkus gave it a star back in 1987, and I don't blame them, because there are strengths to the book.  It just let me down at the end. 

Short answer--if you see it a library book sale for 25 cents, definitely worth it!

4/30/17

On vacation, so no round-up today

No middle grade sci fi/fantasy round-up today, because I am on vacation!  Back next week....

4/27/17

In Darkling Wood, by Emma Carroll

In Darkling Wood, by Emma Carroll (Delacorte, March, 2017) is a UK import that has just hit the middle grade shelves here in the US.   If you are a fan of "kids being sent to live with relatives in the countryside who they have never met" and "kids having magical experiences in said countryside" you should definitely look for it!

Alice's little brother needs a heart transplant, and when a heart is available, there is no one to look after Alice but her father's mother, who Alice has never met.  Her father bailed on his family and now has a new partner and new baby, and he has been no support to Alice's mother during this time of medical crisis.  So Alice is sent off with her grandmother, Nell, to stay in Nell's old dark house shadowed by Darkling Wood.  No internet, great anxiety, and nothing in the way of supportive, loving sympathy from Nell. 

Nell has preoccupations of her own; she is determined to cut down Darkling Wood, whose roots are undermining her house.  She is also sick of living in the darkness of its shade.  But the local community is outraged by this idea, as the old woods are a beautiful and have always been there.  This makes it hard for Alice to make friends when her grandmother packs her off to the local school. And there are others who are outraged as well.

In Darkling Wood, Alice meets a girl who she never sees at school, perhaps, Alice thinks, the child of the local Travelers.  Flo is passionate about saving the woods too, but for the most extraordinary reason--she tries to convince Alice it is home to fairies, who will actively work against any effort to cut their home down.  Alice is not an immediate convert to this idea.  But as the difficulties Nell faces in carrying out her plan mount, becoming more than just coincidence, and as Alice begins to see and feel the magic in the woods, her mind opens to the possibility.  The fairies are tied, in her own mind at least, to her little brother's struggle for life after the heart transplant--will the fairies include him in their animus against her family? 

Alice is roiled by the magic, the heartache, and the loneliness of her situation.  And then, on top of all that, her father and her grandmother finally confront each other, and the mystery of their troubled past helps Alice put the pieces together of what really is going on in Darkling Woods (Flo is an important piece of this, tied to Alice's family history, which includes an episode of post WW I fairie photography, which I found interesting), and she realizes that the fairies are in fact real. 

If you are looking for actual interaction with the fairies in standard middle grade style, you won't find it here; there's no direct interaction with them.  They are sort of like magical chipmunks or other forest creatures, to be seen and appreciated from a distance, though they do affect things in the real world.  So not the most numinously wonderful fairies in the world.   But on the other hand, if you are looking for family mystery with an element of magic, this is the book for you!  Alice's emotional turmoil is really well done, and even unsympathetic characters are shown to be simply human in the end. 

Note to those who are sick of sad books--the little brother is fine in the end.  And the father becomes much less of an ass.

4/25/17

A House Without Mirrors, by Marten Sanden, for Timeslip Tuesday

A House Without Mirrors, by Marten Sanden, illustrated by Moa Schulman, translated from the Swedish by Karin Altenberg (Pushkin Press edition March 2017) , is sort of a Swedish Gothic magical house story for middle grade readers.....It is possible that if you read this, you will find it beautiful and moving.  Or you may find it beautiful and aggravating, like I did.  I have given parts of the plot away here (actually pretty much the whole plot with all its twists), so if you think you are going to find it beautiful and moving, you should stop reading this now and go read the book instead.

Thomasine and her father are waiting for her great-great-aunt to die, staying in her strange old house along with her father's sister and his brother, and their children-one girl and boy younger than Thomasine, one girl older.  None of adults are grieving for the coming death; Henrietta is barely there at all, lying in bed waiting to die day after day.  None of the children are grieving for her either. 

But there is sadness in plenty among the group stuck there in the large house (which strangely has no mirrors in it), rattling around getting on each others nerves.  Then the littlest girl, Signe, finds a closet to hide in, where all the house's mirrors have already been hidden.  And Signe finds that she can make a change happen, that takes her to a mirror-wise version of the house, where there lives a little girl named Hetty.  She shows Thomasine the trick of it, and Thomasine goes to visit Hetty several times, and each time the strange girl is a bit older....The two other cousins get their turn in the closet, and emerge changed, for the better, able to move beyond the stuckness of their own bad times into a more hopeful engagement with life.  And at the very end, Thomasine takes her father to the other house, and he gets to hold Thomasine's tragically dead little brother one last time, and finally move through his crushing grief and guilt.

So that description kind of makes it seem as though the mirror-filled closet is sort of a hand portal of therapy, and it kind of is.  But it is also a time travel portal, because of course Hetty is Henrietta, and in a time-slipness reminiscent of Tom's Midnight Garden, Hetty is growing up.  Some people writing about the book have referred to Hetty as a ghost.  This does not seem to me to be the case, because on her last visit with Hetty, Thomasine makes a scrapbook of pictures with her that she then finds, old and antique, in Henrietta's house in the present, which is a clear case of time travel. It's rather magical, although Hetty and her time don't actually get much page time, and Hetty doesn't get any personality, which I felt aggrieved about.

I also felt aggrieved in a more explicitly critically way that there was more reliance on metaphor and imagery than there was on actually having explanations for all the weird therapeutic attributes of the magical mirror closet.  Whenever I encounter a closet full of mirrors that is whisking people to alternate times and mirror-image houses, returning them to the present with their mental health restored,  I like to know a bit of its backstory.  Someone, probably Henrietta, put the mirrors there, and I'd have liked to have had her reasons spelled out a bit more than they were (I feel the spelling out that was there was sort of a random sprinkle of disjointed letters on the far side of a busy street sort of thing).

More succinctly-- when there is magical therapy going on, I feel it should be supported with a bit more story specific to how it is working.  The story felt to me like mental healing ex machina(closet).

I feel comfortable expressing my frustration because the book won the Astrid Lindren Award in 2015.  Clearly, it has been loved by many, and I myself found things to like:

1.  It is very vividly written.  The reader shares in the claustrophobia of the big house meant to be full of life live large and now inhabited by small, sad, twisted persons.  Lots of good details.
2.  Though small sad and twisted out of true, Tomasine and her family are not unlovable
3.  The mirror closet of time warping is really cool.

But it didn't work for me.  And I'm not sure it will work with 9-12 year old readers, who I think prefer more active resolution of problems than this offers.  I have a feeling, though, that lots of grown-ups might find it very moving...

I just went over to Kirkus to check their review of this one ("A thought-provoking read that will linger long after the last page"), and am now am aggravated (mildly) afresh--just because there is a closet in the book doesn't mean it will remind readers of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

4/24/17

What makes a middle grade book one grown-ups will like?

I'm currently working a list for the Barnes and Noble kids blog of "recent middle grade books adults will love."  As usual, I thought at first it would be but the work of moments, but then I realized that I really should read all the best MG fiction published so far this year so I could make a really good list.  And then I realized that perhaps I was not quite the best person to make such a list, because of liking middle grade more that adult fiction as a matter of course, and so therefore finding the mind of the "adult fiction reader" a strange and unfamiliar place. 

There are some commonalities, of course.  Good books, whatever the age of the target audience, need to have good writing (I'm a vivid description sort of person myself), good characters (who act believably and make a place for themselves in the emotions of the reader) and interesting happenings (that don't rely on contrivance.  My sister, also a children's book reader, just read one in which an orphan and a pair of seals are dumped outside the same house on the same night by two different people.  She just couldn't believe in this coincidence enough to enjoy the book.  Although if people are going around dumping pairs of seals all over the place, perhaps a house that already had a baby orphan outside it would appeal as a seal dumping ground...). 

But the thing is, middle grade books are in fact not written for adults, and a mg book can have all the things mentioned above in it (except the seals) and still not appeal to grown-ups.  At least I guess that is true, and certainly books that rely on fart jokes aren't ones I'd recommend to an adult.  The middle grade books that don't work for me tend to be ones that have too much Wild Excitement and zip madly from one such excitement to the next.   The ones I love have excitement on a small scale--the girl finds the garden, and sees the plants are growing.  Some weeding ensues.  In any event, if you ever read in my reviews that a book "should appeal lots to its target audience" that means I didn't personally like it.  If I like a book, I say "I liked this book lots and lots" or something equally subtle.  

My doubts about my ability to predict which MG books adults will love are strengthened by the fact that I have been underwhelmed by books that adults have raved about.  The One and Only Ivan, for instance, just made me feel manipulated, though I was of course sorry for Ivan.  I take a little comfort from the fact that the adults who picked this year's Newbery Award winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, picked one I liked lots too.  I would include it on my list, except that it's no longer all that "recent" and it doesn't need an extra boost.

So in any event, here I am, frantically reading book after book with dead or dysfunctional mothers, and lots of mg speculative fiction that is fun but maybe too much "fun" and not grown-up enough? A children's book blogger, when thinking about a book, will have two trains of thought going--"what will kids think of this book" alongside "what do I think of this book"  (sometimes the trains collide).   Adding the third line of thought about "will grown-ups like the book for their own reading pleasure" is not something that comes as easily, because I have been a kid, and I love MG, but I have never been a committed reader of adult fiction (except of course for Dorothy Sayers, Mary Stewart, Jane Austen, and D.E. Stevenson).  Most grown-up fiction leaves me cold, mostly because it takes the books too long to get to the point, and the characters aren't likable, and then endings aren't as nicely resolved.  But I feel no desire to offer a list of children's books with those characteristics.

So getting to my own point--the books I like best aren't the books I'd necessarily recommend to your ordinary grown-up person, and I'm feeling flummoxed.  I have only one realistic one so far that I'm sure I'm going to include--Train I Ride, by Paul Mossier.  Which isn't a book I'd universally recommend to young readers.  It does what it sets out to do with no padding and it's a compelling story, but now I'm wondering if maybe the reason I liked it was the very small subplot elements of the main character finding ways while on board the train to get food which felt a bit like one of those fun survival type stories that I like very much......And I can't put that in the B. and N. post because it will probably just make the grown-ups look at me oddly.

It would be much easier to do such a list post for YA.

Please share suggestions and thoughts!

4/23/17

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (4/23/17)

Welcome to another round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs!  Please let me know if I missed your post (or if you an author, feel free to send me any reviews of your book or interviews/guest posts at any time!). 

The Reviews

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at Leaf's Reviews

Dragon Captives, by Lisa McMann, at The Write Path

Dream Magic, by Joshua Kahn, at A Belle in a Bookshop

Enemy of the Realm (Dragons vs Drones book 2), by Wesley King, at Say What?

The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, at Guys Lit Wire

The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi, at Me On Books and Charlotte's Library

The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki, at Puss Reboots

Gnome-a-geddon by K.A. Holt, at Sharon the Librarian

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton, at Geo Librarian

Jorie and the Magic Stones, by A.H. Richardson, at Log Cabin Library

A Little Taste of Poison, by R.J. Anderson, at alibrarymama

The Lost Staff of Wonders (Will Wilder book 2), by Raymond Arroyo, at Ms. Yinglng Reads

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, by Shari Green, at Middle Grade Minded

The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis, at Operation Actually Read Bible

Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King, at My Brain on Books

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, at Charlotte's Library

The Moonlight Statue, by Holly Webb, at Nayu's Reading Corner

A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graff, at the Shannon Messenger Fan Club

The Will Wilder series, by Raymond Arroyo, at Redeemed Reader

Xander and the Dream Thief, by Margaret Dilloway, at Imaginary Reads

Authors and Interviews

Celeste Lim (The Crystal Ribbon) at From the Mixed Up Files

Bruce Coville at Middle Grade Ninja

Other Good Stuff

Of particular interest to the many middle grade kids who like to draw maps--a glaciologist, dissatisfied by the lack of geological thinking behind many fantasy maps, has created a program to generate them (via Tor)

4/22/17

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood (Katherine Tegen Books, March 2017), is a book I first heard about from the author herself, when we met in real life in Beautiful Rhode Island (tm) before it was even all the way finished.  So I have been wanting to read it for rather a while (although of course as always happens when I buy a book I really want to read it sits for quite a while unread whilst other books checked out from the library or received for review claim my attention).  But in any event, I read it last week and  there was much to delight me.  A most interesting dragon, who has a lovely library!  Magic!  Orphans!  A city sufficient unto itself, with steps and terraces and bits of garden (I like that sort of city lots...).  And bonus overthrow of the patriarchy and destruction of xenophobic walls (literal walls.  Or more accurately, the one big wall around the city). 

Chantel, the central character, is a student at Miss Ellicott's School for Magical Maidens, where deportment is featured prominently in the curriculum, along with sundry useful spells.  Chantel was always good at the magic part, though the deportment, which basically meant being "shamefast and biddable" never came naturally.  When her familiar, a snake, morphs (rather disturbingly by crawling into her ear) into a dragon, she gives up all together on the biddable part.

This proves to be a Good Thing for the city kingdom of Lightning Pass, when the sorceress who have kept the walls of the city safe from the marauders roiling around outside it (some days more densely than others) disappear. Including Miss Ellicott, leaving Chantel and her fellow students in a pickle.  The council of Patriarchs and the King are not taking any useful actions viz the threat of marauders, which has become more immediate than usual/food shortages among the people of the city/long term plans for economic stability and peace/the state of Miss Ellicott's school. 

Chantel, seeing these problems clearly, and having the wherewithal to do things, thanks to her dragon companion and sundry other old magics, and thanks as well to more mundane, though still powerful young friends (including a marauder boy), she finds herself putting things to rights very satisfyingly indeed.  She is the right person at the right time for the job, and though young, she's smart and capable (and has advice from a long-dead queen who the patriarchs wrote into history as a traitor....).  So it is not difficult for the reader to accept the firmness with which she ends up holding the reigns of the runaway events that have overtaken her city....and it certainly not difficult for the reader to enjoy the rush of alarms and excursions that fill the story.

All in all, a very entertaining and thought-provoking read!

A particular thing I liked--you may have noticed that the school is originally the school for "magical maidens," but in the title of the book is referred to a school for the "magically minded."  Which makes the point that when patriarchal gender divides are smashed, it helps boys too.  In this case, boys who want to do magic.





4/17/17

The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi

The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi (Simon and Schuster, middle grade, March 2017), is the story of three friends and one little brother who get (literally) sucked into the world of a game.  If they can't solve the puzzles of the game world, they are trapped there, so the stakes are real and very high. 

12-year-old Farah is given a birthday game, the Gauntlet of Blood and Sand, by her aunt, and she and her friends are intrigued but cautious as they read the strange rules that suggest the world of the game is real.  Then her little brother, who has ADHD, bursts in on them and enters the game, disappearing from the real world.  Farah is used to running after him, and is determined to get him back, so into the game she goes with her two friends, Essie and Alex.

They find themselves in a magical, Near Eastern/South Asian based world of sandstorms and minarets, and learn that there will be a series of timed challenges that they will have to pass to escape.  Challenges that no group of kids has ever made it through before.  Fortunately Farah and her friends are up for the challenge, but it's still a tense mad race through a shifting landscape of magic and menace....and the stakes are high and very real.

I loved the bright clarity of the reading experience here; the descriptions were beautifully vivid. if you like kaleidoscopic colors and rapidly shifting scenes in your middle grade fantasy, pick this one up!  The story was fine, but not great; I found the actual puzzles and the final confrontation with the Architect of the game adequate without being tremendously gripping.  Basically, the pages turned very quickly and I enjoyed the pictures the story made in my mind, and so it was a perfectly fine hour of reading.  Not every book can be a best beloved.

And it was great to see a hijab wearing heroine in a mg fantasy; I think this is a first for me.

I also liked the Lizard Resistance Corps very much indeed, and they will probably be the winners of my "best fictional lizards of 2017."  (That being said, so far they are the only contenders...how is it that I have read almost 150 books this year and have so few lizards to show for it?)

So for the diversity, the mental pictures, and for the humor of the lizards, Karuna Riazi is now an author I'll keep on my radar.

Here is the Kirkus review, which is more or less in line with my thoughts.

4/16/17

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/16/17)

Happy Easter, those who are celebrating!  I can't resist offering a Victorian Easter card, because it is in their Easter cards that the Victorians show just how really weird they were, but I did at least find one that is sci fi/fantasy-esque:



As usual, please let me know if I missed your post and I'll stick it in.

The Reviews

11 Birthdays, and all the rest of the Willow Falls books, by Wendy Maas, at alibrarymama

Blue Thread, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, at Charlotte's Library

Camp So-And-So, by Mary McCoy, at Geo Librarian

Dragons Vs. Drones, by Wesley King, at Say What?

The Farthest Shore, by Ursula Le Guin, at Strange and Random Happenstance

The Fearless Travelers Guide to Wicked Places, by Pete Begler, at The Write Path and Nerdy Book Club

George Washington's Socks, by Elvira Woodruff, at Time Travel Times Two

Journey Across the Hidden Islands, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Charlotte's Library

Lucky Strikes, by Louis Bayard, at Pages Unbound Reviews

Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King, at Randomly Reading

The Moon Platoon, by Jeramey Kraatz, at Say What?

Musuem of Thieves, by Lian Tanner, at Say What?

Ratpunzel (Hamster Princess book 3), by Ursula Vernon, at Jean Little Library

Return to Augie Hobble, by Lane Smith, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Simple Plans (Evolution Revolution book 2) by Charlotte Bennardo, at Log Cabin Library

Star of Deltora series books 3 and 4, by Emily Rodda, at Charlotte's Library

The Titanitc Mission (Flashback Four book 2) by Dan Gutman, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Well of Witches (The Thickety book 3), by J.A. White, at Say What?

A Wizard Alone, by Diane Duanne, at Fantasy Faction

The Wizard's Dog, by Eric Kahn Gale, at Nerdophiles

Authors and Interviews

Ruth Lauren (Prisoner of Ice and Snow), at This Kid Reviews Books and Cracking the Cover

Andrea Kaczmarek (There's a Stinky Goblin in the Shed), at Middle Grade Ninja

Other Good Stuff

The 2016 Aurealis Awards (from Australia) have been announced, with MG Spec Fic well represented:



  • Blueberry Pancakes Forever, Angelica Banks (Allen & Unwin)
  • Magrit, Lee Battersby (Walker Books Australia)
  • Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket, Caleb Crisp (Bloomsbury)
  • The Turners, Mick Elliott (Hachette Australia)
  • When the Lyrebird Calls, Kim Kane (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Hungry Isle, Emily Rodda (Omnibus Books)

  • At The Guardian--"Fiction for 8- to 12-year-olds reviews – cyborgs, sisters and a girl called Owl"

    4/15/17

    Star of Deltora Series--books 3 and 4, by Emily Rodda

    The Star of Deltora is a world-famous trading ship, and 4 young passengers have been taken on board to compete in clever trading to be her next captain.  One of these is a smart, plucky girl named Bretta, who's hiding a secret--her father betrayed his own crew when he seized the magical staff that revived the evil of the Hungry Island, and he betrayed Bretta by putting the staff's magical powers ahead of his own family.  But she's determined to keep the dark secret of her identity hidden, and to make a place for herself on the ocean Deltora...

     In my review of the first two, I wrote that "the Star of Delotra is sailing on a big ocean, filled with lots of magic, not all of it nice, and some of it downright evil.   Will Britta's intelligence and sharp trading instincts be enough to see her through her adventures safely?  One can assume they will, but I don't have books 3 and 4 on hand.  If I did, I'd already have read them at this point.  Probably back to back immediately after book 2."  And I didn't mean this as a direct hint to the publisher, who had sent me the first 2 books....but that doesn't mean I wasn't pleased as all get out to then receive books 3 and 4 soon after my post went up!  And I wasn't at all disappointed in the reading of them.

    The Towers of Illica present the third trading challenges to the would-be captains.  Illica is a place where those at the high end of society have sacrificed almost everything for their collections of treasures--they are wealthy beyond compare in precious things, and rich in status (both things they guard jealously), but have no cash on hand.  Though the central thrust of this one is Britta trying to make a good trade for the sake of the competition, it's fun to get a bit more backstory of her colleagues, and see the relationships between the characters growing. 




    The Hungry Isle is where Bretta expects to find and confront her father, and somehow figure out a way to clear herself of the shadows of dark magic that his control of the staff has caused to haunt her.  This confrontation does occur, and is most exciting, but there's a twist that I wasn't expecting, and happily (for my own personal tastes as a reader) it occurs midway in the book, with plenty of pages left to get everyone home again and get all the loose ends sorted out in an unhurried way. 

    Short answer:  this is my current go-to recommendation for anyone looking for a series to offer a nine or ten year old--lots of excitement, interesting setting and magic, characters to care about, and a strong girl protagonist.  And I say this even as one who is not drawn to seafaring stories! So thank you, Kane Miller, for sending them my way!

    4/12/17

    Two new board books from Ripley's Believe It or Not

    Believe it or not--Ripley's has branched out into boardbooks with Wacky 123 and Oddphabet!   And the books are as odd and quirky as one might expect.

    Wacky 123 takes a fairly standard counting format and oddifies it, pairing a picture of an unusual animal, or animals, and a picture of items to count.  So alongside the picture of a narwhal, for one, is
    a picture of its single tooth, a two-headed cow has two hats, three little pigs in a teacup sport three bowties, and so on.  It's quirkiness made me chuckle.

    Oddphabet goes through all the letters with four lines of (sometimes somewhat forced) descriptive rhyme accompanying a bevy of interesting animals.  It's fun to see critters like blobfish and umbrella bird, and there are quite a few eyebrow-raising oddities, like a two-headed viper and a turtle with hair on its head. 

    The bright pictures are easy on the eye, though nothing extraordinary; their cheerful colors go just fine with the words.

    I didn't personally find them particularly outstanding, mostly because some of the oddities seemed somewhat random and not based on real life peculiarities, like a hippo seated at a table eating cupcakes (as opposed to rabbits engaged in competitive rabbit jumping, and an elephant painting, which have a basis in reality).   That being said, these are fun novelty picks for grown-ups who appreciate quirkiness,  who want to liven up their educational boardbook selections.   Little kids might be bemused, but since much is probably bemusing to them in any event, why not.

    disclaimer: review copies received from the publisher

    4/11/17

    Blue Thread, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, for Timeslip Tuesday

    Blue Thread, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman (Ooligan Press, 2012) is historical fiction about the women's suffrage movement in 1912 Portland Oregon with a time travel twist.

    16 year old Miriam, daughter of a relatively well-off Jewish family in Portland, is desperate to work at her father's printing shop, but he is convinced a woman's place is in the home.  She finds some outlet for her frustration by supporting the suffrage movement, secretly printing cards to hand out at the polling places as Oregon, the last holdout state on the West Coast, votes on the issue.  

    Though her family doesn't support women's rights, the strength of Miriam's convictions has been bolstered by a most unexpected source.  A mysterious woman named Serakh, whose abrupt appearance in Miriam's home is tied to Miriam's grandmother's  prayer shawl, leads her on a journey back in time.  Serakh, and the power of the blue thread in the shawl, combine to take Miriam back to several thousand years to inspire a young woman fighting a patriarchal system for her own rights.  Tirtzah is one of the Daughters of Zelophehad, and thanks to Miriam's encouragement, she and her sisters become the first women in Biblical history to own land in their own right.  (I'd never heard of them, and was glad to learn!) And in turn, being part of Tirtzah's story inspires Miriam to take her own future into her own hands.

    Blue Thread is good historical fiction; the suffrage movement was brought to life just fine, as were Miriam's' frustrations and her father's disapproval.   Miriam's a believable character who thinks and grows as her story progress, and, in as much as I enjoy books about girls thinking about careers, I appreciated all the ideas she came up with for her father's print shop and her desire to jump in and start working.  It was such good historical fiction, in fact, that it really didn't need the time travel part and would have worked just as well without it.

    The trips back to Old Testament times were interesting in their own right, but rather brief, and with little real urgency, drama, or emotional investment.  Miriam basically uses her modern perspective to tell Tirtzah and her sisters what to do, they do it, it kind of works, end of story.  Then for much of the book she doesn't even think about Serakh or Tirtzah.  Likewise the story of the prayer shawl and the history of Miriam's maternal line (including a tragedy in her father's generation) could likewise have been expanded with the narrative threads working more cohesively together.   I am reminded of a gourmet doughnut I had last week, in which the chocolate doughnut would have been perfectly tasty without the additional chocolate doodads stuck on top of it to add gourmet doughnut-ness.  Mystical Serakh, acting as a time travel conductor for Miriam's family for generations for unclear reasons just has to be swallowed without explanation....

    Short answer-- if you are willing to take this as good historical fiction and interesting girl seeking career fiction, and don't mind the extras that go along for the ride, do give this one a try!  Though Miriam is 16, the social norms of her time and place are such that she reads a considerably younger than a 16 year old of today, and there's nothing here to make a younger reader uncomfortable, so I think it would work better for 11-12 year olds than for teens.


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