Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano (Walden/HarperCollins, January 2017), is a classic book of what happens when a kid stumbles into magic, tries to use it for good, and things go horrible wrong!  (I'm thinking classic as in Edward Eager here; his characters would enjoy this one very much).

Leonora Logroño's family owns a lovely bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, but eleven-year-old Leo is considered too young to help, even when the bakery's busiest day, the town's Dia de los Muertos festival, comes around.  Determined not to be left out again, she sneaks out of school and down to the bakery, where she learns what's really going on without her--her four older sisters, mother and aunt are brujas (Mexican magic users), who can imbue their baked goods with magic!  Leo is now even more determined to be part of things, and so when her best friend Caroline has a problem involving a close friend, a boy, who was unkind to her, Leo decides to see if she has the gift for magic too!

She does.  But of course she lacks any experience, guidance, or understanding of the implications of the spells she finds in the family's recipe book of magic baking.  And things go wrong in that special horrible embarrassing middle school way. More magical backed goods later, things are even more wrong, and now Caroline's friend is only a few inches high and hanging out in Leo's old doll house.

Leo has reached the point where can't fix things, but fortunately her family rallies around her, and with both understanding and forgiveness, helps her sort things out.

Full of humor, friendship, and strong, loving family ties, as well as delicious baked goods (recipes included), this is a total charmer!  The recipes that Leo finds are in Spanish, which aren't translated; Leo herself is not fluent in Spanish, and so her own efforts to understand them help the non-Spanish reading reader with no loss of momentum.  And not to worry if you don't know Spanish-three of the recipes (though without the magic) are given in English in the back of the book!

Give this one to young bakers, young readers who love the intrusion of magic into the everyday world, and those looking for windows or mirrors into the of a Mexican American family who are both ordinary and extraordinary!  Read it yourself if you love Edward Eager as a kid!

I was left with one unanswered burning question though--if you make flying pig cookies that really fly, do you eat them, or just let them fly around until they become crumbs?

Kirkus more or less agrees with me, giving this one a starred review.


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (1/14/18)

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

The Reviews

Children of Exile, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Children of Refuge, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The Write Path

The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero, at Charlotte's Library

The Door in the Alley, by Adrienne Kress, at Me On Books

The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Typewritered

Ember Falls, by S.D. Smith, at The Story Sanctuary

The Eternity Elixir, by Frank L. Cole, at ReadLove

A Far Away Magic, by Amy Wilson, at ink pots

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Forever Young Adult

Harriet the Invincible, by Ursula Vernon, at Hit or Miss Books

Nightshade City, by Hilary Wagner, at Say What?

Of Mice and Magic, by Ursula Vernon, at Hit or Miss Books

Red: the True Story of Little Red Riding Hood, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Hit or Miss Books

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Cracking the Cover and Me On Books

Sky Song, by Abi Elphinstone, at Alittlebutalot and The Guardian

The Slithers, by Philip Caveney, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at Jean Little Library

Straw Into Gold, by Gary D. Schmidt, at Hope is the Word

Superfail, by Max Brunner, at Always in the Middle

Tumble & Blue, by Cassie Beasley, at Redeemed Reader

Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Wolf Hour, by Sara Lewis Holmes, at Book Nut (audiobook review)

Authors and Interviews

Kevin Crossley-Holland on Not Being a Reader at Nerdy Book Club

Other Good Stuff

"How Fantasy Candy Kingdoms Have Evolved Over the Past 200 Years" at Tor

Sherry at Semicolon shares her ten mg spec fic favorites, and Katy at alibrarymama shares 9 Cybils nominations she loved that didn't make the shortlist

Books for kids who crave acton and adventure at B. and N. Kids Blog

Robot books for young readers at the B. and N. Kids Blog


The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero

The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero (Delacorte, middle grade, Sept. 2017) is a haunting historical fantasy set in WW II that has just been recognized as a 2018 Notable Book of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards.

In the Land of the Dolls, Karolina was a seamstress, living at peace with her friends.  But then the rats came, and peace was no more.  At the lowest point in her life, the rats having wrecked everything, a strange wind whisks her away, and she finds herself in the shop of a lonely toymaker in Krakow, Poland.  He is making a dollhouse that is truly a thing of beauty, and he made the body Karolina now inhabits to live there.  But Karolina isn't just any doll; she still is herself, able to talk and think, and the lonely man and the exiled doll become good companions.

The dollhouse is being made for a little girl named Rena, and when the Dollmaker delivers it, Karolina goes too, and reveals her secret.  The Trzmiel family takes this in stride, and become friends.   But then the Nazis invade Poland, and life becomes very difficult, especially for Jewish families like the Trzmiels.  The Dollmaker was originally a German, and registers as such with the Nazis (though he gets vilified by his neighbors for this)  to get extra food to share with the Trzmiels, but as things get worse and worse for the Jews of Krakow, it becomes clear that Rena and the other children now suffering in the ghetto, must somehow be saved.

The Dollmaker, inspired by the living doll Karolina, uses his skill to find a strange and wonderful solution that is truly magical.  Rena and a handful of other children are saved, but her father, and the Dollmaker, are lost.

Though the evil of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, from the mundane hatred to the buildup of the Holocaust, is not sugar coated, and the historical details are vivid, and the sadness heart-wrenching, the fairytale element of Karolina acts as a buffer between reader and horror, making this a good one for sensitive readers.  It's also a good one for readers who find historical fiction is more appealing when mixed with fantasy.  And so it succeeds in this regard, and the characters are memorable and the story moving.  That being said, the fairy tale part, especially the flashbacks of Katrina remembering the war with the rats in her own land, ended up diminishing the power of the book for me, with the real horror folded into a framework of the clearly fantastical that never happened.  Except that in the end I was crying just fine, despite the fantasy elements.

It's a tricky book, though, for the adult to try to see through the eyes of a child reader, because of course adults know so much of the history already.  And the Dollmaker, badly scarred in mind and body by the first world war, is a character who I think is more interesting to an adult reader than a child one.  I loved the Dollmaker--the lonely ordinary person, badly hurt in the past but holding strong to decency despite everything, is one of my favorite types of character.  But I did love the dollhouse, and Karolina, just as much as I would have as a child (the dollhouse especially).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.


Chainbreaker, by Tara Sim, for Timeslip Tuesday

Chainbreaker, by Tara Sim (Sky Pony Press, Jan. 2 2018), is the sequel to 2016's Timekeeper (my review), which was also a Timeslip Tuesday book.  These aren't time-slip stories of a traditional sort, with people slipping between different times, but instead are set in a Victorian world where time itself can literally slip out of whack, causing repercussions ranging from the trivial to the profound for the people in the vicinity.  To keep time under control, clock towers were built, each with a resident clock spirit, which are maintained by skilled workers.  17 year old Danny is one such mechanic, and in the first book he fell in love with the spirit of the clock he was maintaining, a boy named Colton (very forbidden both for the same sex part and the spirit/human part).  He also helped solve a crime against the smooth running of time,  surviving exploding clockwork in the process.

Because of his experience with clocks going wrong, Danny is sent to India when clock towers there start being attacked and destroyed.  With him goes a former rival from his days an apprentice, Daphne.  Both are perturbed by the mystery of what's happening to the clock towers in India (where Victoria is about to be proclaimed Empress);  Danny's perturbed to be leaving Colton, and Daphne's perturbed about going to her father's country; he was half Indian, half English.  Their level of mutual perturbation is naturally deepened when their airship is attacked en route, and nothing that happens in India ends up calming them one little bit.

There are plots, both related to the clock towers and their control of time, and related to growing rebellion against the English.  There are romantic involvements and transgressions against the norms of British society during the Raj.  There's the arrival in India of Colton, totally at sea away from his clock tower (which has itself been attacked), desperately looking for Danny.  There are several more attacks and kidnappings, along with spying steampunk spiders.  And all of this has a busy, vivid portrayal of India at a tumultuous time in its history for a backdrop.  But memorable though these things are, what's most memorable of all is the backstory of how the clock towers came to be in the first place.  Part of the book is from Colton's point of view, and he has begun to dream about his past...and what happened is horrifying and sad, and arguably a parallel metaphor to the British Raj....

So there's more action and more steampunk in this second book than there was in the first, so if that was something you found wanting in the first book, you'll enjoy this one more!  I did not find it wanting in the first book, which I enjoyed very much indeed, but I enjoyed this one too because though more Happens, the characters are still the central driving force of the story.  Also Chainbreaker is historical fiction (though of course with a fantastical overlay), and I like historical fiction (though I don't know enough about this particular part of history to be a critical reader of it).

As the number of pages left to turn decreased, I wondered how on earth Tara Sim would manage to get everything wrapped up.....and lo.  She doesn't.  It's a killer of a cliff hanger.  If you wait to read this one till the third book is published, you'll definitely want to keep on going, but it's also fun in a tense, strained way to not yet know, and have the pleasure of resolution to look forward to!  As well as having the expected concern for the characters, who I have come to care about; here's what I am now especially curious about--having seen clock towers in the UK and in India, I want to know what is time up to in the rest of the world.

I also of course want Danny and Colton to get a happily ever after.  They are both so sweet!

This is an own voices story, Tara Sims is both biracial (her mother's family is from India) and bisexual (here's an interview with her at Reading (As)(I)an  (Am)Erica  for more on the writing of Chainbreaker).

Short answer:  These book are really good reading!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (1/7/18)

Not many reviews, as is to be expected this early in the year, when lots of us are still looking back to last year, or trying to get our blogging energy going again after end of year vacations!  But a solid assortment of links; let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews

The Adventurers Guild, by Zack Loran and Nick Eliopulos, at Charlotte's Library

Battle with the Britons (Julius Zebra 2), by Gary Northfield, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Black Panther: The Young Prince, by Ronald Smith, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Eternity Elixir, by Frank L. Cole, at Cracking the Cover

Flower Moon, by Gina Linko, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Girl with the Ghost Machine by Lauren DeStefano, at Sharon the Librarian

The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, at The Reader Teacher

Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Magic Mystery by Mary Laine Dyksterhouse, at books4yourkids.com

Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Shepherd of Weeds, by Susannah Appelbaum, at Leaf's Reviews

Sky Chasers, by Emma Carroll, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, at Great Kid Books

Authors and Interviews

Adam Shaughness (The Unbelievable FIB book II--Over the Underworld) at From the Mixed Up 

Sinéad O'Hart (The Eye of the North) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

Two great lists of middle grade books --the 2017 Nerdies and the Cybils  Elementary/Middle Grade Shortlists
A peek at some MG fantasy coming out in the UK this month, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books


The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher

The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher (Red Wombat Tea Co., Feb. 2016), is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen," and if you have read any other of T. Kingfisher's books (she's also Ursula Vernon) you can imagine that it is a very nice read indeed, and perfect for reading on a cold day under lots of blankets in front of the fire.  I'm going to spoil a major plot point in the next few paragraphs, but it's one that needs spoiling to help some readers who will love the book to find it!

So "The Snow Queen" is the one about the boy who gets the shard of ice stuck in his eye, and is swept off by the beautiful Snow Queen, and the girl who sets off to find her playmate/love and bring him home.  Kingfisher sticks closely to the events in the original story, but twists them to make something new.

Kay and Gerta grow up together in a northern land where Christianity and old stories and magical beings coexist,  She loves him, but he's not a great friend to her, though she tells herself he is.  The reader quickly comes not to care all that much for Kay; Gerta clearly deserves someone who values her more.  But when Kay is kidnapped (and the arrival o.f the Snow Queen is gloriously descriptive, with her sleigh drawn by flying white otters (!)) Gerta sets off to find him because she is a good, loyal person.  Along the way she befriends a raven with whom she can communicate, which ends up sprinkling humor into the story, and she finds herself in the home of a group of brigands.  The bandit girl, Janna, keeps her from being harmed, and kisses her.

And then Janna sets of with Gerta, who has been given a magical reindeer skin that transforms her into a reindeer herself, to the stronghold of the Snow Queen, to rescue Kay.  And they rescue Kay in an exciting interesting rescue that was good fun to read, making good use of all the disparate things that Greta learned in her journey.

But back to Janna and Gerta.  I was taken aback by that sudden first kiss.  I had nothing against the idea of a Janna/Greta relationship, but the fact remained that Janna had power of life and death over Greta at that point, and she didn't ask before kissing her, rather passionately.  If it had been a young man doing that it would have bothered me a lot, and it bothered me as it was.   But fortunately, after the initial shock ,Greta lets herself acknowledge that she returns Janna's attraction, and things develop between them at a measured pace during the course of their adventure together (making it less an insta love thing than I'd worried it was at first).  It is a rather nice romance, when all is said and done, and Kay basically gets dropped of at home like a parcel of laundry at the end and Janna and Greta set off together for new adventures.

Throughout the story, the power of old women. and the stories and knowledge they keep, is essential to the success of Gerta's mission.  Her strength as a heroine is her persistence, which is close to being an innate goodness--she recognizes what must be done and does it, and she needs the spark of external wisdom and magic the four old women she meets can contribute (even though one of them is horrible, and one imprisons her) to make things work.  And likewise, she needs the spark of Janna's kiss to start really shaking her free of Kay.  I'm still a little worried that's she's not entirely grown into her own self by the end of the book, but she's still young....

Short answer--lots of twists and additions to the original story, and beautiful descriptions, make this a very fun fairy tale retelling.  I would have liked it to push a bit harder at characterization and thematic depth, but it is entertaining as all get out as is!


The Adventurers Guild, by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos

The Cybils Awards* shortlist for Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction has been announced, and though we are proud of the lovely books we chose, there were many others that were excellent as well, and which I am behind on reviewing (my long Christmas break from blogging has created a backlog). One of the books I most enjoyed reading was The Adventurers Guild, by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos (Disney-Hyperion, October 2017).  As well as being a fun fast read for me, it is a true treat for the young reader who enjoys magic monster slaying adventure in a fantasy realm!  In particular, if you have a young Dungeons and Dragons player of 11 or 12, offer them this book right away.

It's set in a world overrun with monsters.  A few beleaguered cities, walled and warded by magic, are all that remain.  Around them are monster-infested forests.  Two kids, Zed and Brock, are about to come of age in one of these cities, and it's time for them to be chosen by one of the city's guilds (if all goes well).  Brock's a shoe-in for the Merchants Guild (thanks to his father's position there), but Zed's future is more uncertain.  As a half-elf, the only one in the city, he's always been an outsider, but he hopes desperately the Mage's Guild will take him.  Neither wants to be chosen by the Adventurers Guild, whose men and women go hunting for monsters outside the city walls, and who don't live awfully long.  But it's the Adventures Guild that picks Zed, and Brock, in a moment of when loyalty to his friend overrides sense, volunteers to join them too.  With them is Liza, a girl from the leading family of the city, who, though brought up with privilege, is tough as nails, and Jett, a dwarf boy who dreams of being a great craftsman.  Though the main characters are boys, Liza gives girls who want to slay monsters a place to hang their hats very nicely too!

The four immediately start their monster hunter training, and just as quickly, things start to go wrong.  There are dangers afoot more subtle than the deadly monsters outside the walls, and the four kids are soon trying to figure out just what these are and how to save their city from falling.  This is me cleverly avoiding specific plot spoilers--the basic point is that the plot gets more complex and interesting than just slaying techniques and dangers.

It is a bright sort of book, very sensory, with clear sharp pictures in the mind, and characters each with their own flavor, and like I said, I enjoyed it lots.  It doesn't exactly break new ground, or take great risks in story or narrative style, which actually added to my enjoyment--I wasn't challenged to do more than just briskly turn the pages, and sometimes that's what I need and want most as a reader!  Which is not to say there weren't unexpected twists to the story, and there's interesting backstory of characters and world that provides substance.  I am looking forward very much to the next book!

And now I go to read the Kirkus review......and see their review liked it even more than I did!  "A dazzling adventure sure to become a classic...."

thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy for Cybils Award consideration.

*being a Cybils judge is something you can be too if you review books on line!  Please consider joining the fun next year--we welcome new folks!  Look for the call for panelists next August.


The Cybils shortlists are here!

The Cybils Awards shortlisted books in a wide variety of children's and YA categories have been announced!  Congratulations especially to the finalists in the category I organize, Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction!

Congratulatons also to the graphic novel finalists in Elementary/Middle Grade and YA!  My son was one of the first round panelists who helped pick these great books (and also the only Cybils judge this year still in High School), and it was fun for me to see the book packages arrive for him, and watching him read enthusiastically.  His blog (with pithy, to the point, and dubiously proof read reviews) is A Goblin Reviews Graphic Novels.

The Adventures of Madalene and Louisa

My first book read in 2018 is truly a delight.  Madalene and Louisa were two real Victorian girls who were fascinated by entomology, who spent their teenaged years pretty much running wild and capturing insects.  Happily, between the ages of 12 and 16, they recorded their insect hunts in a notebook of watercolor  illustrations showing themselves pursuing, and being menaced by, amusingly oversized but accurately drawn insects of all sorts.  Their great-great- nephew selected pages from their notebooks and published them as The Adventures of Madalene and Louisa(Random House, 1980).  It is very funny, and a charming bit of social history as well.

"When we were young my sister Madalene and I preferred chasing beetles and butterflies to lessons in the schoolroom. We explained to a series of daily governesses that we would rather study ENTOMOLOGY than ARITHMETIC--but none of them was interested in beetles and all of them persisted in setting us sums."

The two girls (image above from The Library of 19th Century Photography) nevertheless persisted, sneaking out at night to hunt, and making the most of every family outdoor outing, bringing home their prey with determination and conviction.

Madaline was also the author and illustrator of A Selection of British Butterflies and Moths

Sadly, two other books, "Our Pets" and "Rocks pools and their inhabitants" don't seem to have survived.  I would like to read "Our Pets" very much!


My top books of 2017

In 2017, I took part for the first time in the Goodreads reading challenge, setting myself a goal of 500 books.  My previous top total in the five years I've kept track was 324, so it was ambitious, but I wanted to be pushed to get some of the tbr shelves actually read.  I ended up having read 466, of which 6 were picture books that I didn't count for the challenge.  And I only read about ten from the tbr shelves, so it was pointless in that regard.  So the only thing to do, of course, is to read 501 books in 2018.

Here are the books I read for the first time that I liked best.  My criteria for "liking best" is a book that I can imagine re-reading (links go to my reviews).  The books are in the order in which I read them.

Realm Breaker (Last Dragon Charmer 3), by Laurie McKay.  I hope there are more to come in this very fun series, and I can imagine starting at the beginning in preparation for book 4...fingers crossed!

Thick as Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner, because she repays re-reading awfully much.

Bone Jack, by Sara Crowe, I don't feel an immediate need to re-read, because it is all still so clear and vivid in my mind.  But I will want to someday, I'm sure.

What Goes Up, by Katie Kennedy It was both funny and tense, and in a re-read the tense is less so and you get to enjoy the fun more!

Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold.  I hadn't read any of her books before this year, and I loved this one in particular!  I'll probably be reading it again sooner rather than later, because I listened to it, and want to experience it as text as well.

The Emperor of Mars, by Patrick Samphire.  Another I'll want to re-read to prepare myself for a much hoped for book 3!

The Reluctant Queen, by Sarah Beth Durst.  ditto!

Winter of Ice and Iron, by Rachel Neumeier.  I already want to go back to this world and read it again and it's only been a few months.  I also want to read it in finished hardcover form, because the printing of the ARC I read was mangled in places (whole paragraphs with no spaces between the words), and I think I will enjoy it unmangled even more. Also I know the ending now, which is so much more relaxing.

It was a slightly odd reading year for me in that a lot of the books I read I didn't pick because I thought I'd like them--I wrote quite a few list posts for the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog, which meant basically trying to read all the middle grade fiction of 2017.  I read a lot of middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction for my own enjoyment, and lots of those books were very good, but there were surprisingly few that I will give shelf space to. I hope my 2018 list of to be re-reads is longer! 

And just as a postscript, here's the most interesting non-fiction book I read in 2017--The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh  It didn't have much competition, because I didn't read much interesting non-fiction, but I'm glad I read this one! I picked it up because Thick as Thieves made me think of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and I realized I didn't actually know that much about Gilgamesh.  And now that I do, I have another reason for wanting to re-read T. as T....


This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs

Welcome to another week's worth of what I found online of interest to us fans of middle grade spec. fic.! As always, let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Beast and Crown, by Joel Ross, at Puss Reboots

Beyond the Doors, by David Neilsen, at Project Mayhem

Children of Refuge, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Middle Grade Mafioso

The Eye of the North, by Sinéad O’Hart, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

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

The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson, at Charlotte's Library

The Lost Kingdom of Bamere, by Gail Carson Levine, at Puss Reboots

The Lost Property Office. Section 13 Book 1 by James R. Hannibal, at alibrarymama

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris, at Log Cabin Library

The Night Garden by Polly Horvath, at The Children's War

The Nutcracker Mice, by Kristin Kladstrup, at Becky's Book Reveiws

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Puss Reboots

Penelope March is Melting, by Jeff Michael Ruby, at Book Nut

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Say What?

The Science of Science Fiction, by Matthew Brenden, at Charlotte's Library

The Scourge, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Pages Unbound

The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta, at proseandkahn 

The Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby, at Great Imaginations

The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Superfail, by Max Brunner and Dustin Mackay, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Winterhouse, by Ben Gutterson, at Book Nut

The Wizard of Once, by Cressida Cowell, at Say What?

Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell, at The Write Path

Authors and Interviews

Joan Aiken talks about reading John Masefield's classic fantasy books The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights, and how they influenced her writing, at a website (The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken) (originally written years ago for  The Journal of the John Masefield Society)

Adam Gidwitz, on how The Unicorn Rescue Society was born, at Nerdy Book Club
Other Good Stuff

Lisa Bunker (Felix Yz) at Cynsations

Other Good Stuff

This is what happened when a bot was fed the Harry Potter books, and asked to generate its own chapter. It is the funniest thing I've read all year.  And here's the Guardian article where I found it.

a top ten list of adventure stories, with lots of fantasy, at Nerdy Book Club


The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson

The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson, is a Swedish middle grade fantasy from Gecko Press (August 2017)  that will appeal to those who enjoy stories about plucky girls setting off alone on worthy quests.  It has tons of atmosphere, memorable characters and encounters, and is thought provoking to boot!

Ten-year-old Siri and her little sister Miki live with their old and somewhat ineffectual, though kind, father on a remote island far up in the North Atlantic. Even on their island they've heard of Captain Whitehead, the most dreaded pirate of them all, who steals children to work in his diamond mine.  But Siri isn't thinking about the pirate when she lets her sister pick snowberries alone....and the Miki is kidnapped.  Blaming herself, Siri knows she can't rest until her sister is home again and there is no one else able or willing to do the job.

Of course, Siri might be willing, but the able part is questionable.  There's the matter of finding the island with the mine on it  (involving perilous journeys through an icy sea, a diversion when she finds herself alone on an island looking after a mer-child, and almost freezing to death on several occasions.  And then once she finds the mine, there are of course challenges to overthrowing the control of Captain Whitehead and saving everybody.  She could never have done it alone, but fortunately she finds help in unexpected places...

What made this one rather refreshing is that Siri is not so plucky as to be unbelievable.  She is allowed to cry, and does so with good reason fairly often.  You don't often see kids off on heroic quests thinking about how awful everything is and breaking down.  And I don't think it makes her a weaker character at all, just a realistic ten year old n dire straits.  Another interesting thing is that several of the people she meets along the way are neither good nor bad, but with both entwined--"goodness" often has a smattering of cruelty to it, and questions of responsibility are raised in a somewhat more overt way than I'm used to.  Even Captain Whitebeard didn't set up his diamond mine for evil purposes....though of course it became evil in the end.

There are bits that made me chuckle, and bits that made beautifully clear pictures in my mind's eye.  I'm not personally a fan of pirate adventures in frozen waters, but I enjoyed this one. It is perhaps slow to start, and there's not sustained action following hard on action, so it might not be to the taste of those who want excitement on just about every page, which could be I myself enjoyed it....It's the first contemporary Swedish middle grade fantasy I think I've ever read....I'd like to read more!

Here's something a New Zealand reviewer said about this book that I never would -- "The smell of fish is ever present in the written text...."  Although the review meant well, it just not fair to the book.  Though there are a lot of dead fish what with one thing and another, I did not smell any.  That being said, I do not in general read with my nose, unless there is chocolate...

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.


The Science of Science Fiction, by Matthew Brenden Wood

The Science of Science Fiction, by Matthew Brenden Wood, from Nomad Press' Inquire and Investigate series (Feb. 2017) is a really fascinating and well-done look at the science that lies behind science fiction stories, and in front of us in the real world.  It covers six main topics--cloning, robotics, living on Mars, alien, faster than light travel, and time travel. 

The real life science of each topic makes up the bulk of the book, and I found it very interesting, even though I was familiar with some of the material. It was good, clear explanation and description of some pretty complicated concepts.   Lots of little side bar note, pictures, and QR codes dot the pages, adding to the material presented (although I could not check out the QR codes because I have not embraced today's technology*). Basically the sci fi tie-in is fun lead into actually science, and it's done very well--explaining without patronizing.

The part of the book that makes it really stand out, though, are the experiments.  I am not a hands on person myself, but I find myself strangely tempted to do some of them myself; there's one about putting a bar of chocolate in the microwave to measure the speed of light, for instance, which looks really cool (and the chocolate is not horribly harmed, and can be eaten afterwards).

So if you have a STEM loving kid around, or a twelve year old who read the Martian, and liked the first part of it lots, give them this book!  It's also good for classroom use; there are, for instance, thought-provoking questions to pose for discussion and writing prompts, which would work better in the classroom than swinging a bucket of water around your head to gain familiarity with centrifugal force, or the lack thereof....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

*I had to ask my kid what those little boxes are called. He says everyone with a phone (except me) is able to use them, so perhaps my feeling that including this tech. reliant part of the book excludes kids who don't have all the resources is misplaced....


This week's roundup of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (12/10/17)

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

The Reviews

The Adventurers Guild, by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at Nerdophiles

The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol, at alibrarymama

The Cladera, by John Flanagan, at Say What?

Death and Douglas, by J.W. Ocker, at Mom Read It

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Book Nut

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island, by Liz Kessler, at Say What?

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, at Charlotte's Library

EngiNerds, by Jarrett Lerner, at Log Cabin Library

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart, at Charlotte's Library

The Glass Town Game, by Catherynne Valente, at Pages Unbound

Ivy, by Katherine Coville, at Jean Little Library

The Land of Stories, by Chris Colfer, at proseandkahn

Max Tilt: Fire in the Depths, by Peter Lerangis, at Ms. Yinglng Reads

Rise of the Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Book Nut

The Search for the Lost Prophecy, by William Meyer, at Always in the Middle

Sword of Light (Pendragon Legacy 1), by Katherine Roberts, at Say What?

The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

Voices for All: The Legend of ZoaBrio by Scott Vincent, at Log Cabin Library

The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching, Book 1) by Terry Pratchett, at Hidden in Pages

The World's Greatest Adventure Machine & The Afterlife Academy by Frank Cole, at Geo Librarian

York: the Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby at Book Nut

Three at The Book Search--The Crooked Sixpence, The Unicorn in the Barn, and Dragon's Green

Other Good Stuff

Help raise $1,000,000 for Heifer International by helping the Worldbuilders meet a challenge goal.


The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart

Here's a fun action-packed fantasy for all you readers who want to hie yourselves away to Greenland to come face to beak (?) with a giant Kraken!  Emmeline, the young heroine of The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart (Knopf, middle grade, August 2017), is the sort of child with ZERO interest in doing this.  She is paranoid, distrustful, and set in her ways, and most of this is a result of her booby-trapped (literally) childhood--her parents (when they weren't off having adventures) spent no effort on making her feel safe; indeed, the opposite is more like it.  So one day, when her parents are off somewhere, a letter arrives for her...and her first step is to check it for poison.

It's not poisoned, but it does bring the news that she is now an orphan, and must  immediately travel to France to stay with a woman she's never met. So she's bundled on to a ship, clutching her trusty satchel of things that might keep her safe.

She is not safe.  From the moment she steps onto the ship to the last few pages of the book, she joins the whole world in being threatened as all get out. The world was threatened first-the ice of Greenland is melting, and under the ice is a giant Broken of tremendous power, and whoever wakes the Kraken can gain control of it.  Emmeline gets personally threatened as a result of this--a bad guy thinks she has learned something from her parents (whose adventures took them on rather unusual excursions...) about Kraken control. She's kidnapped and hauled off the ship and taken off to Greenland.

But before she was kidnapped, she met a boy, who calls himself "Thing."  He throws his lot in with hers, partly at first because he's board, and partly, later on, because he's awfully lonely.  And though Thing can't, quite, save her from being kidnapped, when he himself leaves the ship  its in the company of a man and woman determined to stop the bad guy from awakening the Kraken.

So moving on more quickly, Thing and the two adults with  him are pursued, and they would be rescue attempt goes south, ending up with Thing flying off to Greenland in an airship he has no idea how to control.   Emmeline, well trained in escaping traps, does so to great effect, and heads out over the ice of Greenland, populated by magical creatures, to find her parents, who may still be alive.

And moving on even more quickly, because Too Much that's very exciting happens to tell it all, and it would spoil everything, there are other bad guys interested in the Kraken, including one magical villain, an evil ice queen..  Much foiling of bad guys is required, but Emmeline and Thing are up for the task and triumph.

So if you like excitements, you'll enjoy this lots.  As the adventure gets going, the story starts being told in the alternate viewpoints of Emmeline and Thing, layered on top of each other in the same chapter, which worked very well to keep the tension nicely ratcheted up.  My favorite part of the book, though, was Emmeline's ingenuity in the face of adversity; she wins this year's award for Foiling Villain with Pilfered Spoon. Thing is very appealing too; his backstory is a sad one, but he has come through it as a genuinely lovable character.  His bad asthma, something you don't see much in a mg fantasy novel, adds interest.

I wasn't quite convinced that I understood the actions of some of the bad guys; kidnapping Emmeline didn't seem to matter enough to have been worth the trouble of doing so.  But I was happy to go along for the ride.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.


The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud

Way back in September of 2013, a few days before it was released, I finished The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, the first book in the Lockwood and Co. series about an alternate Britain plagued by malevolent spirits and a pluck team of young ghost hunters who fight against them (here's my review).  I wrote: 

"great characters, great premise, exciting ghosts and I Cannot Wait till the next book, when more about the very charming Anthony Lockwood, and more about the geekily appealing George, might be revealed! We already know Lucy pretty well, but I'm curious about how her relationships with the boys might change..."

And now I have just finished the fifth and presumably final book in the series, The Empty Grave (Disney-Hyperion, Sept. 2017), and I have all the answers, and an ending has being reached, and all is well (though "the Problem" of the ghost is still troublesome).  So from that point of view, The Empty Grave is a very satisfying book, and I was delighted to read it.  Unusually for me, I find the exciting bits of these books more interesting than the character building bits, perhaps because the exciting bits (hunting ghosts), contain mysteries and team dynamics as well as just the adventures. 

From a more critical point of view, it's not the best in the series--it's a bit bogged down by the gang siting around trying to figure out what to do, as opposed to actually doing things.  It wasn't until about 2/3 of the way through that it became the page turner I was expecting it to be.  And I got really fed up with George's overweight physique being presented as something to laugh at; it's the sort of body shaming that makes me not want to recommend the books to any plumpish geeky boys, because it will make them (I imagine) feel bad.  It is also not a diverse bunch of characters, although it is strongly suggested by the end that one of the main characters is gay.   But though it's not perfect, I continue to recommend the series with  conviction--give these books to the 11-13 year old "reluctant reader" and they will be read.  I speak from personal experience here; my own son, who is now 17, is getting this for Christmas and will be very happy.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Awards consideration


The books my loved ones are getting for Christmas

So this weekend I came down to Virginia to my mother's house, for pre-Christmas quality time with her, but also quality time with all the presents I've had shipped to her house.  Many of these are, of course, books!  (Only three members of my immediate family is not getting a book; instead, they get pruning clippers, owl puke (with rodent bone chart) and one of those cars that follows the line you draw). And because I like talking about books, presents, and my children, here are the books my loved ones (those that don't read this blog) are getting.  To make it more fun for myself, I'm rating my choices, with 10 stars being a sure winner, and down from there).

For my 17 year old son:

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud.  Though he mainly reads graphic novels, this is a series that hooked him with the first book and that he's been reading enthusiastically ever since. 10 stars.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzie Lee.  He's looking forward to leaving home, though not for the same reasons as Monty, and I think he'll enjoy this grand tour gone horribly wrong (I was lucky and found a like new copy in a used bookstore, so felt I could take a chance on it). 6 stars because it's hard to predict what new books he'll actually read....

Book of Challenges: Dungeon Rooms, Puzzles, and Traps.  He wrote his college application essay on the challenges of being a Dungeon Master for the first time, and though I was doubtful, and have not been allowed to read it, he got a personal email from one college admissions person saying she LOVED [sic] it.  So I'm happy to keep encouraging him.  10 stars (he asked for it)

It Devours: Welcome to Nightvale by Joseph Fink.  The second Nightvale novel; he's a huge fan so at least will pick it up and start reading. 8 stars--hopefully it will hook him quickly.

Digger, Vol. 2, by Ursula Vernon.  He loved the first one.  Also, Ursula Vernon.  10 stars.

For my 14 year old son:

Falling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson.  He heard about in online (probably John Green? ) and wants it.  7 stars--he'll be pleased but not thrilled, and I'm not entirely certain he will devour it quickly.

Pearls Hogs the Road, by Stephan Pastis.  Can't go wrong here.  He'll be reading it Christmas afternoon.  10 stars.

In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan.  He should enjoy the fantasy, and he's at the age where a book with a positive attitude toward sex and sexual identities is appropriate.  8 stars--had to take two off because he can't be counted on to read things I think he would enjoy.  John Green has a much better track record than I do in this regard.

Rebel, by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown.  The third book in the Change series; the first book, Stranger, is his all time most favorite book. 10 stars--he'll be thrilled.

For my mother:

The Durrels of Corfu, by Michael Haag.  As a family we are huge fans of Gerald Durrell, and I'm looking forward to this lots, and have no reason to think my mother won't be equally as interested!  So without having read it, I'll give it 10 stars

For my older sister:

The Goat, by Anne Fleming.  I mentioned it to her last summer and she was tickled by the idea.  Having been tickled by the book myself, I'm confident that she'll enjoy it too.  10 stars

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, by Kelly Jones.  I haven't read this myself yet, but I really liked her first book, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, and it sounds like it will appeal to my sister -- 7 stars (can't go any higher because of not having read it)

For her husband:

Smile, by Roddy Doyle.  He is hard to shop for, but when I first met him, in Peshawar, Pakistan, where he and my sister were working for MSF, he was reading a Roddy Doyle book with enjoyment....of course that was 25 years ago, and he might have been reading it for lack of anything better to read--5 stars, but hopeful ones.

For her daughter:

Spinning, by Tilly Walden.  Seems to me a good pick for a teenaged girl who's exact taste you don't really know who is more comfortable reading in Dutch; pretty sure she'll find the cover appealing enough to at least open it.   7 stars.

For my younger sister:

The Trees Kneel at Christmas, by Maud Hart Lovelace.  A timely book by an author she loves. The first present of 2017 I bought; I wanted to get it early, because last year I waited till December to buy it and the price had jumped lots.  So I got in April when it was out of season ($1 as opposed to $20), and it has been wrapped and here at my mother's house since June.  She found it and tried to open it, thinking it was a forgotten leftover from last year, but fortunately was told not to in time. 7 stars--she'll be pleased, but it might be too young for her...

Josie Moves Up, by Phyllis Matthewman.  Third in a British girls school series; she has the first two and likes them, as do I, so this is nice for us both.  Ten stars.  An easy one.

For her son:

I am Pusheen the Cat.  He loves Pusheen.  Ten stars.  Also easy.

This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (12/3/17)

Welcome to this week's round up of mg sci fi/fantasy!  And welcome December, the last month in which to complete 2017 reading challenges....I myself have to read at least 2 books a day this month to meet my Goodreads goal of 500 books....

Please let me know if I missed your post, and I'll happily add it!

The Reviews

Air of Vengeance (Windhollows, book 1) by Trayner Bane, at Chanticleer Book Reviews

Bat Girl at Superhero High, by Lisa Yee, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Beast and Crown, by Joel Ross, at Bibliobrit

The Caldera, by John Flannagan, with bonus paean for his books in general, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Children of Refuge, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The O.W.L. and Always in the Middle

Dominion, by Shane Arbutnott, at Charlotte's Library

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The House of Secrets (The House of Secrets, Book 1) by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini,‎ at Hidden in Pages

Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkins, at alibrarymama

The Legend of Jack Riddle, by H. Easson, at Mom Read It

The List, by Patricia Forde, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Matchstick Castle, by Keir Graff, at alibrarymama

Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King, at Book Nut

Nightfall, by Shannon Messenger, at Carstairs Considers and Michelle I. Mason

Oddity, by Sarah Cannon, at Mom Read It

The Painting, by Charis Cotter, at Charlotte's Library

Polaris, by Michael Northrup, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Skeleton Tree, by Kim Ventrella, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Secret of the Scarab Beatle, by William Meyer, at Always in the Middle

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at Geo Librarian and Book Nut

The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke, at proseandkahn

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby, at Say What?

Two at alibrarymama--Voyage to Magical North, and The Memory Thief

Three short ones at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Lost Frost Girl, Mutant Bunny Island, and Sisters of Glass

Four short ones at Random Musings of  Bibliophile--Dragon's Green, Ghosts of Greenglass House, Miss Smith's Spy School for Girls, and Spirit Hunters

Authors and Interviews

Jackie Ogburn (The Unicorn in the Barn) at Tales from the Raven

More Good Stuff

a fun post by Ursula Vernon at Tor--The Sausage Princess, or, Reshaping the Bizarre Structure of Fairy Tales


Dominion, by Shane Arbuthnott

Dominion, by Shane Arbuthnott  (Orca Book Publishers, Middle Grade/Tween, February, 2017)

Are you in need of a steampunk fantasy set in an alternate New World where air ships powered by aetherial spirits travel through the skies in search of other spirits to capture and sell?  This is the life that Molly has grown up with, and now she's the engineer on board her family's air ship, the Legerdemain.  But Molly is not behaving as a proper engineer should.  Instead, she's talking to the spirit powering the airship, and feeling it respond.  When she finds herself capturing an extremely powerful spirit, she hears it speak to her.

It is a spirit that knew one of Molly ancestors long ago.  And that starts her down a path that ends up in Molly finding truths she's never thought possible about her world, and challenging the owner of the most powerful company in Terra Nova who is threatening that world with his greed (and who has taken the Legerdemain from Molly's family).

So yeah, Go Molly!  Challenge arrogant corporate greed!  Have the intelligence, sensitivity, and empathy to listen to spirits instead of dismissing or fearing them!  Realize your ancestors did bad things, and work to undo them! Believe in your mechanical abilities and yourself!  And Go Spirits too, from small spirits forced to power little bots, including one who is utterly charming and helpful, to the greater spirits like the one who powered Legerdemain.

In short, Molly's a great heroine and the whole set up with the spirits is fascinating.  I wish we'd been given more of a look at this alternate world--we only see the sliver of sky traversed by Molly and her Family, and the one city where they dock, though there are hints of the bigger world.  And likewise it seems like the author knew more backstory about Molly's family than is given in any detail.   I'm hoping Molly's world will be broader in future installments, because she's a great heroine who really deserves a great world to adventure in! 

Note on age:  It's definitely middle grade; Molly's only 14, and there's no sex, and it feels middle grade.  But it will be enjoyed more by the older end of MG, pushing YA-ward-- so  11-14 year olds. 

Kirkus and I agree on this one-- "Though some of the physics may leave some readers dizzy, feisty young Molly will keep them grounded in this page-turning mystical adventure." (here's the Kirkus review).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Award consideration.


Winter of Ice and Iron, by Rachel Neumeier

NB-I start this post with blathering.  If you want to find out what I think of the book, skip down to the part where I've written the heading: A Brief Synopsis.  Or you could just cut to the chase and go further down to the heading:  What I think of the book.  Spoiler: I liked it lots, and much of it I loved.

Rachel Neumeier is one of my favorite contemporary writers of fantasy.  Her books are very very good at making pictures in my mind that blot out reality in a most satisfactory way, I like her interweaving of the magical, the personal, and the political, and I like her characters very much too.  So  I was thrilled to receive an ARC of Winter of Ice and Iron (Saga Press, November 21, 2017).  And of course since it was a book I really wanted to read, it sat on the shelf...and I was full of good intentions to have it read and ready to review by its release day.  It was with great happiness that the moment finally came- it was time to start reading!  yay!  But it was not to be.  I found, as I turned the first few pages, and was introduced to a rather complicated world, that thoughts of immanent plumbers and electricians and family coming to stay, and the demolition work and house cleaning that had to happen before these three sets of visitors, interfered so much that I couldn't enjoy it.  So I waited to read it until after the Thanksgiving feast, when the visitors were ensconced in comfortable chairs and the plumber came less frequently and the gutter repair people only once. Then and only then could I set my mind to devouring, and it was good.

A Briefish Synopsis

Important fact about this world--there are powers that grow from the different lands and are partnered/channeled by/nested in the people that rule that lands.  They are named, and they have personalities that are shaped by generations of the rulers who held them, and since some places and families are kinder and gentler than others, some of these powers are kinder than others.  If you've ever read Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster series, you'll be reminded of the relationship between rulers and their lands in those books, although the expression of that concept takes a different form and path here; the powers of place have stronger identities of their own, while simultaneously being in a feedback loop with the personalities of the human rulers.

There is a young Duke, Innisth, master of a cold mountain land (the sort that's full of wolves) and the power he inherits from his abusive, sadistic, powerful father is a harsh one.  He does not want to be like his father, so he keeps the power under control as much as he can, focusing on his people and their protection and gaining in return their trust and loyalty.  He is very smart, and I was briefly reminded (in a part of the story that involved political scheming) of Megan Whalen Turner's Eugenidies.

There is a young woman, Kehara, who is the beloved heir to a gentler land and a gentler, though strong, power.

And there are two kings who have gone mad, and the power of one of them threatens to become a god and cast all the lands of this world into desolation.

The Fortunate Gods do not wish this desolation to happen, so they nudge events as far as they can.  Kehara is nudged from her position as heir and from her home on a perilous journey that leads at last to the mountains of Innisth's land, and there her familial power and his become allies.   Innisth has a plan to stop the mad king--to ally himself through marriage with Kehara's family and its power, and to extend the boundaries of his lands into her family's.

So the reader is has two burning questions that keep the pages turning--

Will the good guys win?  The good guys are very smart, and they are very determined, and they almost break on the bad guys and it is tense.  There are plottings and fightings and bad magic used against the good guys.

Will Kehara and Innish love each other?  Innish is so broken and hurt by his father and the sadistic power he holds, and he just about breaks my heart.  He cannot think of himself as kind, yet in his actions he shows his decency and fundamental goodness just beautifully.  Kehara has always known she'd make a marriage of policy, but the Wolf Duke of a cold mountain country was not her first pick,and Innish isn't really good at romance.....and can't imagine himself as someone who could be loved.  So it is tense.  Their relationship is not unlike that of the Pure women and shapeshifting wolves of Neumeier's Black Dog stories; Kehara's innate power brings calm to Innish's, letting the wolf rest in peace.

Of course the reader assumes it will all work out without the dragons of winter (these are actual, real dragons that make winter rather scary and protective powers rather necessary in the colder climes) breaking free once and for all and the whole land becoming a hell of cold and twisted magic...

What I think of the book:

So by the time I realized that these were these two burning questions, I was hooked as all heck, but it takes a while before they start to burn brightly.  Don't start reading this unless you have time to sink into it, then expect yourself to think --only three hundred and fifty pages left I can finish this before bedtime....At around this point if you are me you are also thinking Innisth you are breaking my heart and I hope you get to be happy; you deserve to be loved.  I liked Kehara very much, but she is not as interesting.  She's sane and steady, and so people don't have a whole lot of interesting reactions to her, as opposed to the people around Innisth who know that he is wolf as well as protector.  Kehara also has no immediate power to wield in the struggle; she is not a shaper of events, but a holder of events to the necessary course they have been set in by others.   But that is an important role too.

My one critical thought is that the author didn't quite give the reader enough credit with respect to the worldbuilding.  I liked the world and its magic a lot, it felt very real. But it is complicated.  There's not a single big info dump, but instead the descriptions of the complicated reality are sprinkled throughout, and I feel that they kept being sprinkled into the story long after the reader had grasped what was necessary, slowing things down a tad and making the book (576 pages) longer than it needed to be (aka taking time away from Kehara and Innish....).

short answer:  Very good reading! Great characters, fascinating magic, vivid sense of place.


The Painting, by Charis Cotter, for Timeslip Tuesday

I very much enjoyed Charis Cotter's first book, The Swallow (which I helped shortlist for the Cybils Awards back in 2014), and so was very pleased indeed that her new book, The Painting (Tundra Books, middle grade, 2017) , was a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Fiction category this year and that a review copy came my way for my consideration as a Cybils panelist.  I was even more pleased to find it a time slip book, because my Timeslip Tuesday posting has been a bit spotty of late....and then, most importantly, I was pleased to be reading and enjoying it!  Though it is sad...

Little Annie was only four when she dashed across the street to see a little dog, and was hit and killed by a car.  Her big sister Claire has blamed herself ever since for not holding Annie back, and she feels their mother blames her as well, and would rather she had died instead of the vivacious and talented Annie.  When Claire's artist mother takes them to live in a Newfoundland lighthouse, the two of them pull farther apart, instead of finding peace and common ground.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, another Annie finds a painting of the lighthouse in the attic of her home, and brings it down to her bedroom.  When Annie's mother is in a bad car accident of her own, Annie  slips through time and space to visit the lighthouse, and meets Claire there.. who thinks her little sister has come back to her.  Though the painting of the lighthouse only works once as a portal, Annie finds more of the artist's paintings, which take her back on brief visits to Claire. The visits become increasingly urgent as Annie's mother, gravely injured and in a coma, worsens, and Claire and her mother's relationship moves toward a breaking point of no return.

The reader quickly guesses, and Annie just a bit later realizes, that Claire is her mother.  Seeing Claire struggling with her own difficult relationship with her mother helps Annie better understand Claire not just as another girl but as her own mother (not always warm and sympathetic).  The time slipping leads all three characters to a happy ending where the sadness of the past is soothed and healing can happen.  Though the connections between the characters are predictable, they are moving, and given a nicely magical twist by allusions to Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass.  Is Annie dreaming Claire, or Claire dreaming Annie?  Actually, neither, because Annie has a physical presence in Claire's world, though no one but Claire can actually see her.

I loved the idea of time slipping through paintings that connect two characters in different times, and it serves as an especially pleasing mechanism here (I just with I could see the paintings myself!).  Both girls are sympathetic narrators, taking turns to tell the story.  Because Claire in the past is now linked to the danger that Claire is in as an adult, there's a tension at work in the story as well.  As Claire's life in the past darkens, Claire in Annie's present worsens, and Annie (both back in time and in her own time) is the only hope of relieving the stress that is at play and that is about to snap.

So in short-- if you like atmospheric books with beautiful paintings and scenery, and plots that depend on strained relationships between sad (though sympathetic) protagonists, with a lovely magical time travel element, and a hint of ghost, do try this one. Giving Kirkus credit where credit is due, we are in agreement-- "Full of emotional truth and connection."

Musing about the book as I looked for a picture of it, I found myself wondering about the bulky socks of the girl on the cover, which made me realize that the little dog responsible for Annie's death is on the cover too.  So the girl must be Annie of the 1970s, which at first seems odd, because she's not a protagonist, but which actually works very well....

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