11/23/14

This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (11/23/14)

Welcome to another collection of links to blog posts of interest to us fans of middle grade science fiction and fantasy!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Bad Magic, by Pseudonymous Bosch, at The Bookworm Blog

The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, at Fantasy Faction

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at alibrarymama

The Dragon of Trelian, by Michelle Knudsen, at Leaf's Reviews

Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Clarise Mericle Harper, at Charlotte's Library

Dreamwood, by Heather Mackey, at Cover2CoverBlog (audiobook review)

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, by at Becky's Book Reviews

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Fantasy Book Critic and Hope is the Word

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at Diva Booknerd

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, at Worthwhile Books

The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Fantasy Literature and Jen Robinson's Book Page

Jinx's Magic, by Sage Blackwood, at Semicolon and Sonderbooks

The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly, by Ted Sanders, at from my bookshelf

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at WTF Are You Reading?

The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis, at Waking Brain Cells

Masterpiece, by Elise Broach, at Read Till Dawn

My Zombie Hamster, by Havelock McCreely, at Semicolon

Nuts to You, by Lynn Rae Perkins, at Semicolon

Rise of the Wolf, by Curtis Jobling, at Hidden in Pages

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, at alibrarymama

The Secret of the Key, by Marianne Malone,  at Always in the Middle

Shouldn't You Be In School? (All the Wrong Questions, Book 3), by Lemony Snickett, at Semicolon

Storybound, by Marissa Burt, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook review)

The Swallow, by Charis Cotter, at Once Upon a Bookshelf and Hidden in Pages

Tesla's Attic, by Neil Shusterman and Eric Elfman, at Librarian of Snark

The Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, by Bianca Turetsky, at Time Travel Times Two

Vampire Attack (Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird) by Eleanor Hawkin, at Wondrous Reads

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, by Caroline Carlson, at Ex Libris

Winterfrost, by Michelle Houts, at Charlotte's Library

WhipEye, by Geoffrey Saign, at Mother Daughter Book Reviews

The Wide-Awake Princess, by E.D. Baker, at Leaf's Reviews

The Witch's Boy, by Kelly Barnhill, at Heavy Medal

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, by Patrik Henry Bass, at Charlotte's Library

Zombies of the Carribean, by John Kloepfer, at Ms. Yingling Reads


Authors and Interviews

Jake Kerr (Tommy Black and the Staff of Light) at Word Spelunking

Kathleen Andrews Davis (Emerson's Attic) at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia


Other Good Stuff

A lovely collection of quotations from (mostly middle grade fantasy) books at Semicolon

A Tuesday 10 of "Food Fantastic" at Views from the Tesseract

YA, but of interest nonetheless--dragons of the past few years at Stacked

Neil Gaiman talks about "Why Disney's Sleeping Beauty Doesn't Work" at The Telegraph

11/19/14

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, by Patrik Henry Bass

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, by Patrik Henry Bass (Scholastic Inc., August 2014, not quite middle grade) -- an exciting story of fourth-graders vs ice zombies!

Bakari Katari Johnson never wanted to be on the election slate for the position of Hall Monitor.  Poised, popular Tariq had always done a fine job, and to go up against Tariq meant encuring the wrath of his most fervernt supporter, tough-as-nails (but sweet as all get out to grownups) Keisha.   But to his horror, Bakari finds this his best friend Wardell has added his name to the list.

That is just the start to a very bad day indeed, one that involves the frozen seven-foot high lord of a land of ice zombies...who just happens to think that Bakari has his lost ring.   Turns out Keisha has it.  And so an unlikely alliance of the four kids is formed in order to take down the ice zombies popping into their school with evil intent.

But disposing of the zombies traps the kids in the ice realm, and the outlook gets rather chilly indeed....

This is one for the older elementary aged kid, the seven to nine year old/third or fourth grader, and it's short (131 pages of generous font with illustrations).  So there's not really room to fully explore the backstory of the ice realm zombies and their overlord, and if there was an explanation of why the ring ended up in this particular school, I missed it.   Those looking for full blown fantasy will therefore be disappointed.

But the four kids avoid being simple stock sterotypes, and the action is fast (zip!  a trip to the ice land!  Zap--more ice zombies after you in the halls!  Cool ice-ring lassoing job, Keisha! etc.). If you have kids who aren't interested in  the heft of full blown fantasy, who are simply looking for a fun book in which real life kids have real life problems alongside the excitement of ice zombie attacks in the cafeteria problems, this might very well be a good one.   The illustrations add friendliness for the uncertain reader.

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone is, as far as I know, unique in that the entire cast is African American--four pretty cool looking kids, as shown on the cover, and not one of them white.   So a good one for those actively seeking out multicultural kids' fantasy.

It is also a nice example of how to gracefully get out of running for an office you never wanted in the first place without loosing face (Bakari does a great job of this at the end of the book), which is truly a useful life lesson..........

11/18/14

Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Clarise Mericle Harper, for Timeslip Tuesday

Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Clarise Mericle Harper (Balzer + Bray, April 2014, middle grade) is a lovely home-based timeslip fantasy to offer the introspective young girl (which is to say, if you don't know me already, it was a lovely book for me!). By "home-based" I mean a story in which the time travelling doesn't lead to grand adventures in exciting elsewheres.   This is one that sticks close to home, and so it isn't one for those who want excitement--more for those who are fans of realistic fiction about ordinary girls, but with a magical twist.

Ashley is miserable.  Her best friend has gone off to camp, and her mother has invited the child of a friend to spend the month with them--a seven year old girl named Claire, who's lost her own mom, and who Ashley is expected to babysit.   But two things happen that make the month the opposite of terrible. 

The first is that Ashley finds herself warming to determined, spunky Claire, whose drive and energy forces Ashley to do things she'd never have done on her own, like hanging out at the local senior center, doing crafts, hunting for thrift store treasures, and talking to people she doesn't already know.  The last is especially hard for Ashley, because she has face-blindness--she cannot recognize people when she sees them out of context, and without her best friend at hand to tell her if she knows people, she's tremendously reluctant to reach out to strangers.  But thanks to Claire, she makes new friends, one of whom a boy she would never have talked to otherwise...

The second thing that happens to Ashley is the discovery of a jar of wishes down in the basement--wishes written on scraps of paper by a girl named Shue years ago.  When Ashley uncrumples each wish paper, she sees Shue living the experience that inspired it....and so, making a chronology of the wishes, she sees the story of all the ups and downs of Shue's friendship with another Ashley (Shue is a year younger than Ashley, and so parts of her story, when Ashley is off with older girls, are rather poignant....)

I've never read a book whose main character has face blindness, aka prosopagnosia.  Ashley's experiences dealing with it seemed convincing, and the effects of it on  her life, and her self-esteem, are made clear without being over-dramatized.  This make it a good one to offer the young reader who's interested in physical/neurological differences and how they affect life experiences.  (It also helps keep one of the sub-plots plausible!)

Both the Claire story and the timeslip story are interesting in their own right for those who like character-driven story full of small happenings and several nice surprises (one of which involves Ashley's favorite author, so especially pleasing for us bibliophiles!).  The whole ensemble comes together very nicely indeed to make the story of this month in Ashley's live a lovely, warm reading experience that I enjoyed lots.

11/17/14

Winterfrost, by Michelle Houts

Anyone looking for a lovely wintery story with bit of Christmas to share with an eight or nine year old should consider Winterfrost, by Michellle Houts. (Candlewick, Sept. 2014).

It should have been an ordinary Christmas at the Danish farm that's home to Bettina and her baby sister Pia.  But this is the first Christmas without their grandfather...and then to make things worse, her parents both have to leave home.  12 year old Bettina is sure she can manage to look after Pia and the animals just fine...but in the rush and confusion, no-one things of the family Nisse, the helpful little magical being who looks after the barn.

Disgruntled that he didn't get his own Christmas treat, the Nisse takes baby Pia off into the winter frosted woods.  Bettina must somehow get her back before her parents come home, so she sets of herself, and finds that the tales of the Nisse are just as true as her grandfather believed them to be.   The Nisse of the woods are friendly and helpful (and Bettina even gets to shrink so that she can join them in their cozy home), but baby Pia isn't with them.   Another Nisse, one with a grudge, has taken Pia further north, and Bettina must bring the divided Nisse family together to reunite her own, flying off on the back of a goose into the magical winter....

Though the anxiety about baby Pia is great, happily for the more sensitive reader the actual danger isn't.   Though Bettina's parents aren't there to help, the Nisse family comes through with support, comfort, and a bit of magic.  The young barn Nisse who was responsible, and who's (rightly) sorry for what he did, proves to be a fine friend and ally, and all is well.

There's a lovely sense of wintery place here, and the descriptions of the secret world of the Nisse are especially delightful (young animal lovers will especially appreciate the Nisses' care for small forest creatures!).*  Thanks to her time with them, Bettina learns to see more clearly the small enchantments of nature, a gift that will stay with her forever.   It might not be believable to grown-ups that a 12 year old could be left in charge of a farm and baby, but Bettina proves her mettle and young readers won't have any problem relating her as they follow on her adventures.

*if you think your young reader would especially enjoy this part of the book--the visiting the Nisse home, and seeing how they live on a small, small scale, the tending of animals, and the whole idea that the woods are full of tiny people--be sure to have a copy of Gnomes, by Wil Huygen, on hand to offer them next.  The gnomes in that book are very Nisse-like!  I loved that book back when I was a child, spending hours pouring over all its many details, and it makes a lovely pairing with this one.

Here's what I am--jealous that we never get winterfrost, which happens when fog freezes, here in New England (at least I haven't seen fog cover everything with frost crystals).  "Wintery Mix" and ice storms just aren't the same.

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


11/16/14

The Halcyon Bird, by Kat Beyer, with Guest Post and Giveaway!

The Halcyon Bird, by Kat Beyer (Egmont, November 2014, YA), is the sequel to The Demon Catchers of Milan (2012), a book I enjoyed lots.  The first book tells how Mia, an American girl, comes to Milan, where her family have been demon vanquishers for centuries, to be sheltered from the demon who has already possessed her, and to be trained in the ways of demon hunting herself so that she can eventually (if all goes well) vanquish him once and for all.   In my review of the first book, I said that it offers "a most enjoyable sense of place and people and family history with enough of the supernatural to keep things very interesting indeed" and having read it in a single sitting, I closed it and began waiting for the sequel.

So I was very pleased indeed to be offered the chance to participate in the blog tour for The Halcyon Bird (not least because it meant I would get a copy of the book!).

And happily I enjoyed this one too.  I was tickled to see Mia falling in love (romance is a pretty big part of this book), happy to see how all the extended family are doing (and as is the case with the first one, envying them their delicious Italian food and wine),, and happy to spend time going through archival materials looking for clues from the past.  Things are somewhat slow to get going on the demonic front (making this not one for those who like their supernatural danger non-stop/ever present), but good for those of us who like descriptions of places and people and slow burning mysteries.   Which isn't to say there aren't mysteries and dangers and threats and supernatural adventures--they just aren't right there in the readers face until just toward the end of the book when BOOM!

As a direct result of the BOOM!, I am now waiting for the next book even more earnestly than I was waiting for this one....

So (just on a personal note) these books are the sort that would make good presents to offer (naming no names) one's older sister who likes Italy and is an ex-pat American and who doesn't really know what sort of books she really wants to read -- lots of engrossing detail and character, some supernatural excitement but not so much as to be off-putting for the reader who isn't already a fan of paranormal romantic suspense.  Also they are Pretty books, which I think helps makes for better gift-giving!



But in the meantime, it's an honor to welcome Kat Beyer!  Kat is sharing a reprint of a flash fiction piece originally published on the Daily Cabal.   She says  that "It’s one of my all-time favorite pieces besides The Demon Catchers of Milan. It deals with a spirit, and in some ways has a feel of the Demon Catchers novels."

The Year’s Question

by Kat Beyer

It was Siobhan woke me up. The smell of honey wine on Summer’s End does it. (Whiskey works too.) To my surprise and hers, it still worked, even after so many years when no one left anything beside my notched stone.

Scared her bowels loose the first time. I got a laugh out of that.

“You’re allowed one question a year, granddaughter,” I said out of the air beside her.

When she got her breath back she said, “I’m not your granddaughter. She must be gone long ago.”

“I know that. I spoke with her for years after; she’s moved on now. I stay. And so does the customary name.”

“Well then,” she said, drawing herself up. She asked grimly, “There’s a man I want. How do I get him?”

Oh, the living.

“The answer is in the question you asked, and the way you asked it.”

“What do you mean?”

“One question a year,” I answered, and went for the honey wine and apples.

“I hate you,” she announced, and went down the hill.

She was back again the next year with a bigger plate.

“You were right,” she said sadly. “This year’s question. There’s a man who wants me. Should I have his child?”

“Certainly not.”

“You were right,” she said next year, holding the baby, a little girl with her same lively eyes and three-cornered smile. But I’d said no because she’d put no value to herself. I’m not all-wise; how was I to know that a baby would help her do that, instead of making the matter worse?

“There’s a job, overseas,” she told me ten questions later. “I want it. They want me. A good job. Will you hear me across the ocean?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “We used to stay at home, your family. Try. The baby and her father going with you?”

She smiled. “Sarah’s eleven. And his name is Ian; I’ve come to love him.”

“I’m glad.”

This year I was up early, moving things around in the grave, scaring birds off the stone, nervous. Well after dark came the scent of honey wine and flowers, candles and apples, drifting across the salt sea, and I climbed up out of my old bones for a taste of it. I heard her voice clearly, but with a sound of waves in it.

“Are you there?” She asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied.
                                            *****************************

Thank you Kat!  Here are all the stops on The Halcyon Bird's blog tour, and you can visit Kat at her own blog,  The Real Money’s in Poetry.

And you can win a copy for yourself-- just leave a comment between now and noon next Sunday (the 23rd), US/Canada only.

This week's roundup of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/16/14)

The good part about being the first one up is the peaceful house; the bad part is that there is never a roaring fire and toasty warm house waiting for me.  Today was the first day this fall when my hands were almost too cold to type...but I bravely persevered.

Please let me know if I missed your post!
The Reviews

The Battle Begins (Underworlds, #1), by Tony Abbott, at Hidden In Pages

Bliss, by Kathryn Littlewood, at Pages Unbound

Everblaze, by Shannon Messenger, at The Bookworm Blog and Rcubed's Reads and Reviews (with giveaway)

Faces of the Dead, by Suzanne Weyn, at The Reading Nook (giveaway)

Fat and Bones and Other Stories, by Larissa Theule, at Semicolon

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer Holm, at The Children's Book Review

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage,  at Hope Is the Word

Hook's Revenge, by Heidi Shulz, at The Book Monsters, alibrarymama, and The Quiet Concert

The Jupiter Pirates: the Hunt for the Hydra, by Jason Fry, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Lost City of Faar (Bobby Pendragon #2), by D.J. MacHale, at Twinja Book Reviews

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age, by David Zeltser, at Sharon the Librarian and This Kid Reviews Books

Many Waters, by Madeline L'Engle, at Fantasy Literature

Odin's Ravens, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at alibrarymama

The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman, at Charlotte's Library

Pathfinder, by Angie Sage, at Charlotte's Library

Pennyroyal  Academy, by M.A. Larson, at Semicolon

The  Silver Bowl, by Diane Stanely, at Read Till Dawn

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Becky's Book Reviews

Spell Robbers, by Matthew Kirby, at Semicolon

The Thickety, by J.A. White, at Great Imaginations

Thursdays with the Crown, by Jessica Day George, at Semicolon

The Time of the Fireflies, by Kimberley Griffiths Little, at Semicolon

Time Square: The Shift, by S.W. Lothian, at YA Sleuth

Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, at Leaf's Reviews

The Winter Wolf, by Holly Webb, at Wondrous Reads

A World Without Princes, by Soman Chainani, at Hidden in Pages and Readaraptor

And several posts with multiple reviews:

Mutation, by Roland Smith and Blood of Olympus, by Rick Riordan, at This Kid Reviews Books

Winterfrost, by Michelle Houts, and Moonkind, by Sarah Prineas, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Charise Mericle Harper, and School of Charm, by Lisa Ann Scott, at alibrarymama

Five quick looks at books at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

and at School Library Journal, there are short reviews of The Iron Trial, Sparkers, The Witch's Boy, and Beyond the Laughing Sky.



Authors and Interviews

Piers Torday (The Last Wild, and The Dark Wild) at The Gaurdian


Other Good Stuff

Piers Torday wins the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for The Dark Wild (which made my 11 year old boy very happy!)

At Views from the Tesseract there's a very exciting list of forthcoming MG Spec Fic from HaperCollins

And also at Views from the Tesseract, the Tuesday Ten this week is Science Fiction and Fantasy Militaries

At Tor there's a peek at a book of concept art from the Harry Potter movies (the sort of book that would make a good present).

And finally, this is funny-- "Interview with the Choosing One" at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure  (ever wondered who writes those rhyming prophecies?  find out here!)

11/14/14

Pathfinder, by Angie Sage

It is a lovely thing to be given more books set in a world you've come to love when you'd thought it had come to an end and it was all over. So thank you, Angie Sage, for starting the Todhunter Moon series set in the world of Septimus Heap, the first book of which, Pathfinder, came out this October (from Katherine Tegen Books).

All the things that I enjoyed about the Septimus Heap books are here in Pathfinder (including the appealing illustrations--I mostly don't look at illustrations, but I do for these books because of liking them.  They are the sort of pictures that one can imagine drawing of the people in ones own imagined world).

There's the really large cast of characters to care about (with the added bonus of lots and lots of old friends).  It is true that it would be hard to keep everyone straight if you hadn't read the first series, but I think it would be doable.   There's the very appealing hero of the story, in this case a girl named Alice Todhunter Moon (who likes to be called Tod).  Tod is special, but not Chosen; she's brave despite being frightened; she's a good friend and likable person who just happen to have a strong talent for Magic.  

And there's a story with lots of twists and turns and bits and pieces that all comes together by the end of it (at least I think they all came together, but I was reading for character not plot so can't promise there weren't plot holes), and which I am not going to recap because it would take too long and because I think my attempts to do so would not convince anyone to read it who didn't already want to.   If you loved Septimus Heap, read this too.  If you were unsure about S.H., read this one anyway because I think there is a bit more tightness to it, and it's a faster read.  If you have never read any S.H. books, but want a satisfying story in a richly imagined world, full of people who care about each other, give it a try.

Here's what I admired most about this book, though-- it starts a new series with new additions to the world, making it a fresh and interesting story while at the same time continuing the stories of what the old friends from the first series are up to.   I was very pleased.

In large part because I really did like Tod a lot.

Thing I didn't like--I never find it appealing when there are people who get gills.  I think gills are gross.  Just saying.


11/12/14

The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman

The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman (Holiday House, August 2014, 224 pages) is a lovely, magical story that should entrance any introspective eight to ten year old(ish) child who likes orphan fiction and small furry creatures (which would be me when I was that age).

And I would just like to start off by saying that the cover of this book makes me cross, because I liked the book lots, and think lots of others would like it to, but it looks like it is a book for six year olds or something, and really this is somewhat off-putting for both the nine or ten year olds mentioned above and the parents/gatekeepers who find books for them to read (especially in these days of hypercompetitive parenting, with so many people (seemingly) wanting their kids to read "up.").   On top of that, I think this cover would be almost impossible to sell to a boy, but the story is not in and of itself somehow boy unfriendly.  So please just ignore the cover art.

And now, the story:

In an rather upscale orphanage (the upscale-ness is important to the plot) in the late 1940s, a girl and a mouse met.  Caro, the girl, is ten, and has a badly burned hand from the fire that killed her mother.  Mary, the mouse, is no longer young (she has lots of mouse children).   But between these two unlikely friends a bond of empathy and good will is forged during an unhappy misadventure with the orphanage cat....and this bond ends up bringing them both to a much happier end than they would have otherwise (especially Caro.)

Because.....there are Dark Things happening within the walls and behind the doors of the model orphanage (not least of which is emotional manipulation of a really unkind sort--one's heart aches for Caro).  Those in power (both mouse and human) have let power and material comfort corrupt them,  and it is a good thing for Caro that Mary Mouse and her mouse ally Andrew are there to heroically (risking death by cat) help her put things to rights.  Mice and child expose secrets (the reader gets to see the schemes in action, so it's not really a mystery from the reader's point of view), and things are tense, and the happy ending is happy enough to be gratifying without being insultingly too good to be true.

Mice in this world are not mindless squeakers--they have listened to, and appreciated on an almost spiritual level, the story of Stuart Little.  They collect art (in the form of postage stamps).   Andrew Mouse can even read.  And Caro is not a mindless squeaker either--she is an utterly relatable (to me, at any event!) good child who deserves good things (who certainly doesn't deserve it when the movie starlet is disgusted by her scarred hand).  The combination is a winning one.

I think one of the things that made it work for me was all the stories--stories told, stories imagined, backstories--that swirl around in the book.   Not the sort of "now there will be a story" interruptions, but the much more subtle sense of richly textured and layered interior lives created by telling and thinking.   Characters have stories about themselves that are changeable, and they think about what stories there are to be told, stories that will make life more than the immediate now.   Each postage stamp picture is a window for the imagination...each character has a self they are shaping.   And it is this open-ness to story that makes the friendship between girl and mouse both possible and emotionally convincing, even though they can never speak each other's language.

Note:  as well as the cover issue, a possible problem with this book is this--although the sensitive, small-mammal-loving child is clearly the target audience, it starts with a pretty grim mouse death.  This may well put off the truly tender hearted, and you might have to promise such a child that no other mice die (except one who dies offstage who isn't the nicest mouse anyway and by the time you get to that mouse death the sensitive reader will be so engrossed in the story that it won't matter, but if deceit really bothers you, you can say (truthfully) "the cat doesn't kill any more mice").

Second note:  I decide this is one for my list of disabilities in kids' fantasy books, because it is mentioned that Caro's scarred right hand does pose difficulties for her with things like writing, although this is a very minor point in the grand scheme of the story.

11/11/14

Earth and Sky, by Megan Crewe, for Timeslip Tuesday

For this week's Timeslip Tuesday I offer Earth and Sky, by Megan Crewe (Skyscape, October 2014) --YA sci fi with a bit of romance and cool time travelling technology.

(just as an aside--the first paragraph of my synopses sounds spoilery, but we learn all this right at the beginning of the book, and it's in the official blurb etc. so there you go.)

Skyler has been troubled for most of her life by flashes of wrongness--but unlike premonitions, there's never any manifestation of disaster, just her own disorienting panic.   Sklyer doubts her sanity....until she meets Win, a strange young man who tells her the reason for the wrongness.  Earth is the subject of an alien experiment, one in which time travelers from another planet set and reset events as they choose, and it's these resettings that trigger Skyler's sense of that things are not right.  And not only are Earth's people lab rats manipulated in time, but all the resetting is weakening the fabric of Earth's reality.  Win is part of a rogue faction that wants to end the experimenting once and for all...and in Skyler, with her ability to see the shifts in reality, he thinks he has an edge over the enforcers trying to maintain the status quo of interfering change.

Skyler is not unmoved by Win's need for her help in saving the earth....but as they journey through time to find the four parts of the mechanism that will destroy the time sphere around Earth (which were hidden in different eras by the leader of the rebels) she can't help but struggle with a perfectly reasonable feeling that she is being used.  Win's people don't see humanity as their equal (though he himself is open-minded, there's still a bit of a learning curve there) and on top of that, it takes some time for Win to be fully open with Skyler about the rather complicated plot in which he is involved.  But by the end of the book, she is no longer a means an end to him, and he is no longer a manipulative alien cypher to her, and so the set up for romance has been nicely established.

So there is adventure, as Skyler and Win keep one step ahead of the enforcers, and tension between the two of them, and angst and fatigue on Skyler's part as she a. wonders if time travel can bring back her lost brother, b. wonders if Earth can be saved, c. wonders (a little--the romance angle is there, but not the main point) about her relationship with Win, and d. wonders if she will be killed by the enforcers before getting her (quite possible altered in fundamental ways by the mucking with time that's happing) life back.

I appreciated the interesting premise--it plays up the paradoxes and consequences of time travel very nicely--and I enjoyed especially the gradual revelations by Win of his side of the story, but the book as a whole just didn't transcend "fine" for me.   Skyler doesn't come across as the most deeply individual first-person narrator I've ever read, and the whole plot mechanism of hidden elements of  a device that must be found by the good guys before the bad guys can stop them felt a tad contrived.  I never really understood why it had to be so complicated, and I never really understood why the bad guys were still so set on keeping their experiment in place.   I'm not sure they were getting much out of it.

That being said, I was able to keep squashing my doubts down enough to find it pleasantly readable.  It's the first of a series, and I must say that I am very curious to see where it goes next--I think my main reservation about this first book was it's particular plot of finding the hidden objects, and that being taken care of, there's room for a host of other stories....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

11/10/14

The Nick and Tesla series, by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith.

If you are looking for books to give to young (8-10 year olds) who enjoy hands-on science fun mixed with adventure, look no further than the Nick and Tesla series, by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith.

Nick and Tesla are eleven-year-old siblings sent to live with their eccentric (to put it kindly) uncle, a mad scientist type of person, while their parents are off being scientists in central Asia.   Uncle Newt has done his best to welcome them to the small town of Half Moon Bay  (they each have their own composting bed!).  Though Nick and Tesla aren't thrilled with their uncle's approach to housekeeping, they are excited by the possibilities of the gadget filled house and the open invitation to treat the place as a maker space for their own inventions.

And they will need to!

In the first of the series (High Voltage Danger Lab) the siblings rescue a kidnapped kid.  In the second (Robot Army Rampage) they thwart a robber, and in the third (Secret Agent Gadget Battle) the stakes get even higher as Nick and Tesla themselves are in danger.  The four book (Super Cyborg Gadget Glove) pits the kids against an assortment of robotic scientists gone haywire...for mysterious reasons!  

It becomes clear as the books progress from simple neighborhood mysteries to actual danger that the kids' parents are not simple soybean scientists, but are in fact involved in something far more consequential....the sort of thing that you wouldn't want falling into the hands of dangerous bad guys.   And Nick and Tesla, there in Half Moon Bay, are not as safe as their parents might hope....

The stories are standard fun adventures of the sort where the kids outwit the grownups, but what makes these books really interesting and appealing is that they make good use of their scientific skills to do so!  The books are full of their neat inventions and contrivances, and best of all, there are clear
instructions on how you can build them yourself at home, using readily available materials. (The series' website has videos in which the inventions are demonstrated for those who need more help!)

I am tempted to build a few bug bots myself!

Here's what I especially liked--Nick gets first billing in the title, but it is his sister Tesla who is really the leader.  If you want fiction to offer an elementary school girl to encourage her scientific endeavours, I can't think of better books.

Here's what else I liked--one of their two local friends, two boys who get to be sidekicks and companions in adventure, just happens to be black, shown that way in the illustrations, adding a bit of diversity that I appreciated.

So in any event, these are the sort of books that would make great presents for a fourth grader who likes science, but do be sure to check out what you will need for the inventions before handing it over, because your young reader might well want to set to work immediately.....


11/9/14

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/9/14)

Welcome to another week of what I found in my blog reading; let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

The Blood of Olympus, by Rick Riordan, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook review)

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Bibliobrit

The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Children of the King, by Sonya Hartnett, at Semicolon

Deadly Pink, by Vivian Vande Velde, at On the Journey

Eight Days of Luke, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at Becky's Book Reviews

Frank Einstien and the Antimater Motor, by Jon Scieszcka, at Semicolon

Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at io9

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle, by George Hagen, at Of Dragons and Hearts

The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Welcome to my (New) Tweendom

Helping Hercules, by Francesca Simon, at Charlotte's Library

How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle, at Nerdy Book Club

The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Finding Wonderland

The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra, by Jason Fry at Semicolon

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at My Brain on Books

Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins, at Charlotte's Library

The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman, at Semicolon

Prankenstein, by Andy Seed, at Readaraptor

Revealed (The Missing, book 7), by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Time Travel Times Two

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at Sharon the Librarian

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, at The Hiding Spot

The Shark Whisperer, by Ellen Prager, at Semicolon

Shipwreck Island, by S.A. Bodeen, at Semicolon

Shouldn't You Be in School? by Lemony Snicket, at Sonderbooks

Sky Raiders, by Brandon Mull, at Semicolon

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Sonderbooks

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Librarian of Snark

Sparkers, by Eleanor Glewwe, at Semicolon and Waking Brain Cells

Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones, at The Emerald City Book Review

The Swallow, by Charis Cotter, at Pages Unbound

Thursdays with the Crown, by Jessica Day George, at Book Nut

The Underground Labyrinth, by Louella Dizon San Juan, at Long and Short Reviews

The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, at Pages Unbound


Authors and Interviews

Lou Anders (Frostborn) at Watch. Connect. Read.

Paula Harrison (the forthcoming Red Moon Rising) at Tatum Flynn

Carrie Ryan shares a behind the scenes look at The Map of Everywhere

Other Good Stuff

Ursula Le Guin reflecting on the concept of the "Inner Child"

A Tuesday Ten of Speculative Residences at Views from the Tesseract

"44 Medieval Beasts that Cannot Even Handle It Right Now" at Buzzfeed (thanks Emily!).  I love this one especially, because Flying Mole:



11/6/14

The Phoenix on Barkley Street, by Zetta Elliott with (pathetically short) list of early chapter book fantasies with kids of color

Quick--think of a fantasy book written for early elementary aged kids of 8 or so, where the fantasy stars a group of minority kids and takes place in an urban neighborhood where gangs and abandoned properties are big problems, just like they are in many place in real life, and where the fantasy part itself is something truly beautiful and magical and hopeful....

I can think of one, because I just read it-- The Phoenix on Barkley Street, by Zetta Elliott (self published, August 2014, ages 7-9), and tomorrow I will take it to a Little Free Library that is in just such a neighborhood, and hope that it falls into the hands of young readers who haven't yet been told that magic can happen to kids just like them.

The city block where Carlos and Tariq live used to be a happy, fun place.  But people moved away, and gangs moved in, and the swings in the park broke and were never fixed.  Then one day the boys find a loose board in the fenced backyard of an abandoned house. They decide to clean up the garden, and make it their own safe place, but before they can even get started, Tariq's little sister and her friend find their way in, and once they are there, there's no point in evicting them because they know how to get back (me--my sympathies are with the boys on this one, but it's nice to have girls in the story too...)

And there in the garden there is a phoenix, a real, genuine magical phoenix-- beautiful, strange, and lovely.  The kids don't know it's a phoenix at first, but happily there's a library nearby (me--yay for kids using the library!), and it seems like the garden, with its magical resident, will be even more wonderful a place than they had imagined.   The cleaning up goes well (me--I love a nice garden clean up story!)...but then disaster strikes.

Older boys who are gang members find their way in and wreck everything (me--noooooo!) and menace the littler kids and are just plain mean and hateful.

Thanks to the phoenix, it works out well in the end (me--except I'd rather have a secret garden than a public park, even though I know that's selfish!).

So it's a good story, and the writing is just right for a third or fourth grade reader getting their reading legs under them, as it were, and yay! for diversity and urban fantasy targeted at this age group.  And yay! for kids of color in fantasy books for elementary school readers--I think it's awfully important to have lots of these, so that ever kid can be given a place at the table of the imagination, and there really aren't many at all.  Once you know that you can be in a fantasy story, you can allow yourself to dream whatever you want.....

This is Book One of Zetta Elliott's "City Kids" series--I'll look forward to the rest!

(me--still sad for the ruined garden.  would have liked maybe a hundred more pages of time in the garden fixing it up before it got ruined.  sigh.)

note: this is a self-published book, but the quality and design are such that this is not evident, and it would blend in beautifully with all the other early chapter books on a classroom shelf...

disclaimer: review copy received from the author at Kidlitcon.


Appendix:

Here is my working list of first chapter books/young elementary school books that are fantasies with kids of color:

The Magic Mirror, by Zetta Elliott (2014)

Mouldylocks and the Three Beards, and Little Red Quaking Hood (Princess Pink series), by Noah Z. Jones (2014)

You can also add Captain Underpants, although that's more graphic novel than chapter book.

It sure would be great to have a longer list....

11/5/14

Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins

Although there have been plenty of animal fantasy books that I've loved over the years, I am suspicious of the genre as a whole.  Too often I have read animal books in which there is no clear reason why the characters are that particular sort of animal, which bothers me, and sometimes the cute and whimsical and precious are emphasized at the expense of the story.

So I have been putting off reading Nuts To You, by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow,  August 2014, ages 7-11ish), until yesterday morning.  Had it not been for its nomination for the Cybils Awards, I would probably have put it off forever and ever, despite a. Lynne Rae Perkins being a good writer and b. the book showing up on the Publishers Weekly best books of 2014 list and c. October having been Squirrel Awareness Month and d. being a fan of Scaredy Squirrel.

One of my many admirable character traits (besides modesty) is my willingness to admit I was wrong.

I was wrong in this case.

Because I really truly enjoyed Nuts to You, and thought the squirrel adventures were great and delightfully squirrely, and it was funny and I liked the pictures.   The squirrels were recognizably squirrels (as opposed to, say, voles) and it wasn't sweetly precious at all.

Brief summary:  Jed gets snatched by a hawk...but luck is on his side.  His friend, TsTs, sees him fall from the talons, and she and another friend set off to find him, following the power lines.   The finding part is the challenge, because the characters are, after all, squirrels, and if you have ever watched squirrels you will have noticed that they rarely travel in straight lines, and they scatter easily...

It is a good thing that Jed got snatched, because it turns out that the trees along the power lines are being cleared, and the squirrel homeland is in danger.  Happily this never becomes a Fantasy Danger, in which the chainsaws are sabotaged by heroic squirrels or something like that.  Instead it is the much more plausible "how the heck do you get a bunch of squirrels to believe their home is in danger when all they are thinking about is autumnal nut gathering" sort of story.

And like I said, it is funny, and I liked the individual squirrels as characters.  I especially appreciated the "loyalty to friends" motif not just because I like loyal friendships myself, but because I think it something the target audience of fourth and fifth graders really appreciates too.   Possibly even third graders, possibly even sixth.

11/4/14

Helping Hercules, by Francesca Simon, for Timeslip Tuesday

Helping Hercules, by Francesca Simon (new edition from Orion Press, September 2014, ages 7-9ish) is a fine example of mythological time travel for the young. 

Susan is not a helpful child, not the sort of useful, pleasant child one actually wants to have around.  She slams the door a few extra times when sent to her room (just to make her point), she doesn't think grown-ups should be the boss of her, she doesn't think it necessary that she be responsible for any domestic tasks.  She's really more of an Ideas person (with her main idea being that she shouldn't have to help)....which her family hasn't learned to appreciate.

When an old coin takes her back to the golden age of mythological Greece, seven of the great Greek heros have a hard time appreciating her as well.   Hercules doesn't give her credit for her clever suggestion of rivers as stable cleaners and Orpheus messes up his not-looking-back bit, despite Susan's coaching.  There's nothing to be done about Paris (and Susan finds herself the target of annoyed goddesses, despite her best efforts not to be involved in the doomed beauty contest), but flying on Pegasus is rather lovely for her, though Bellerophon is a jerk.  Perseus, however, is a decent sort, and he actually appreciates Susan's bright ideas (like using his shield for a mirror).  Susan doesn't appreciate finding herself forced to take Andromeda's place (chained to the rock), but all ends well...

And here's Susan's reaction to being turned to gold by King Midas:

"This is boring, thought Susan.
This is very boring, she thought, some time later.
THIS IS EXTREMELY BORING! she fumed.  I always did hate playing musical statues."*

This made me chuckle.  Lots of the book made me chuckle--the Greek heroes (except for Perseus) are such stuck up snots, or else rather wet, like Orpheus, that it was nice to see them helped by/saddled with obnoxious Susan.   And actually Susan rather grew on me--not that she Learned Life Lessons, exactly, from her time in the mythological past, but her brisk egocentrism and forthrightness made a nice foil for the heroic egocentrism she was paired with.

Francesca Simon is the author of the Horrid Henry books, and Helping Hercules would be a natural one to give to any kid who likes those books.   It would also be a good introduction to the Greek hero stories for the kid who is a funny smart aleck, as opposed to a romantic purist mythology snob-- I'm not sure I would have liked the myths mucked with like this back when I was eight or so (although even then I didn't much like Hercules, and I had decided by that point that if I had to marry a Greek hero it would be Perseus, even though he made a Bad Choice at the end, so there you go).  But then again, maybe I would have liked it--I was a Joan Aiken fan, after all, and there is something of an Aiken-ness in the saga of Susan....

Anyway, it's a nice, zippy, funny book, and I enjoyed it at this point in my life and it's easy to imagine lots of kids enjoying it too.

*do kids in the US play musical statues?  My kids never have, and I was overseas at British schools (being very good at musical statues) when I was the right age for party games....

11/3/14

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater

I enjoyed the first two books of the Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater, very much indeed--the books are a smorgasbord of magic and great characters and a lovely sense of place and they are funny/gripping/piquant and altogether a feast of fat things for my reading self.  So I went into Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Scholastic, October 2014) with the happy certainty that it would be a great read (which it was) and also with a great deal of curiosity about how everything would be wrapped up (which it wasn't! Somehow I hadn't gotten the message that this wasn't the last book in the series!)

We do, however, move closer the ending of the quest to find Owen Glendower, sleeping beneath a powerfully magical lay line in western Virginia.   And new twists, and characters are added, and new complications arise, and the reader moves closer to understanding the people involved, and the people move closer to understanding themselves and each other.

This is the best good thing about the books--the way the four main characters (three Raven boys, students at a posh boys' school) and Blue (daughter of a local family of physic women) care about each other.    This is what makes me look forward to offering the books to my boys (which I'm not doing quite yet--they are still way to old and much to full of the f word (I got a bit tired of Ronan's fondness for it) for my younger one, and I think my older one will like them better in two years, when he's sixteen or so).   It seems to me that it's rare, and rather valuable, to have books in which boys care about each other so much, while making space for a girl in that tight circle of friendship.

This particular book is not my most favorite of the series--it seemed a bit of a filler, not advancing things all that much.  That being said, my expectation that this was the final volume may well have affected my reading, and it may well be that things that appeared less essential to the whole story arc will become important later.  

But even the not most favorite book of a great series is a lovely thing. 

So you will maybe have noticed that I didn't attempt a synopsis-- those who have read the first two won't want spoilers, and those who haven't would just be confused.  But I will say that I'm glad Adam is moving to a happier personal place--I was worried about him.  I continue to be worried about Ronan.   And I am worried that something bad will happen to Gansey (not death type bad, because I refuse to believe that could happen), but something that will make him cynical.  I very much never want him to be cynical, because he is such a Good person and I am very fond of him.... Blue I am not worried about.  She is sane and loved and strong.

Here's what I want to know--is the killer squash song real?  (google searching...searching...searching)  Sadly, it seem not to exist.

Here's the detail I especially liked--seeing flowers Blue planted from an unexpected POV.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

11/2/14

This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (11/2/14)

Happy daylight savings day, US readers!  Here's this week's round-up; let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews:

Abracadabra Tut, by Page McBrier,  at Time Travel Times Two

The Accidental Key Hand (Ninja Librarians book 1), by Jen Swans Downey, at Nerdy Book Club

Almost Super, by Marion Jensen, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Blood of Olympus, by Rick Riordan, at Kid Lit Geek

Blue Sea Burning, by Geoff Rodkey, at Semicolon

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, revisited at Tor

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at read. we are book punks.

The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker, by E.D. Baker, at Sharon the Librarian

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle, by George Hagen, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at alibrarymama

The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at By Singing Light

Horizon, by Jenn Reese, at Semicolon

How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell, at On Starships and Dragonwings (audiobook review)

I Lived on Butterfly Hill, by Marjorie Agosin, at Semicolon

Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn, by Greg Leitich Smith, at Semicolon

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at alibrarymama

Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, at Reader Noir

The Only Thing Worse Than Witches, by Lauren Magaziner, at Pages Unbound

Pennyroyal Academy, by M.A. Larson, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Platypus Police Squad: The Ostrich Conspiracy, by Jarrett Krosoczka, at Semicolon

Power of Three, by Diana Wynne Jones, at The Emerald City Book Review

The School of Charm, by Lisa Ann Scott, at Semicolon

Sky Jumpers, by Peggy Eddleman, at A Reader of Fictions

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Charlotte's Library

The Swap, by Megan Shull, at Ninja Librarian

Time Jump, by Timothy J. Bradley,  at Views From the Tesseract

Thursdays with the Crown, by Jessica Day George, at Sharon the Librarian and Read Till Dawn

The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, at alibrarymama

Witchworld, by Emma Fischel, at Wondrous Reads


Authors and Interviews

Joanne Rocklin (Fleabrain Loves Franny) at Sally's Bookshelf

M.A. Larson (Pennyroyal Academy) at Literary Rambles (giveaway)


Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of Witches at Views from the Tesseract

For UK folks--you can design your own ghost and enter it to win this contest at the Guardian for inclusion in Jonathan Stroud's next Lockwood and Co. book!

Witch Week, an appreciation of Diana Wynne Jones, is underway at The Emerald City Book Review

A list of middle grade and YA speculative fiction books with a main character who has a disability at Charlotte's Library

And now that Halloween is over with, we can start posting pictures of Christmas Hedgehogs, and everything will be better.


10/30/14

Disability in recent Middle Grade and YA Speculative Fiction --a (short) list

In the last few months, I read seven middle grade speculative fiction books in which a major character has a disability.  This is noteworthy, because in the previous seven years I had read only 2 that I reviewed (though it's quite possible there were others that I have forgotten...), and it actually gave me enough books to make a decent, though still short, list of books in which a major protagonist has a disability in recent Middle Grade and Young Adult fantasy.  Please share other books that I have missed! (I'm pretty good on Middle Grade, but not so well read in YA).

Realistic disabilities in fantastical worlds:

For readers younger and older than 12ish:

The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman (2014).  A young orphan with a badly burned hand and a mouse become friends, and work together to expose the dark secrets of the orphanage that is their home.

El Deafo, by Cece Bell (2014)  A graphic novel for the younger reader, about a bunny-eared girl who becomes deaf at the age of four, and has to deal with that complication on top of the general complications of being a kid wanting good friends.   Spec. fic. by virtue of the bunny ears.

The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (2014).   The protagonist, attending a school of magic, has a leg that was broken and healed badly, leaving him with a debilitating limp.  This is not the point of the book, but it is convincingly shown as a part of his life that he has to deal with.

Handbook For Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell (2013) Princess Tilda, born with a painful clubfoot, and her friends set off to become dragon slayers.  This was the first fantasy novel to win  the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle Grades) in 2014.

Three I haven't yet reviewed because of not  having gotten to them yet--Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn, by Greg Leitich Smith (2014), in which a main character has a prosthetic leg,  The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier (2014), in which the little brother has a painfully twisted leg, and Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Charise Mericle Harper, in which the main character has face blindness.

Also in this category go four that I haven't reviewed, in part (the amount of part varies) because I personally found their portrayals of disability unsatisfying:

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier (2012).   Peter is blind, but has magical eyes.

Fleabrain Loves Franny, by Joanne Rocklin (2014). A flea befriends a girl who's a victim of polio, and takes her on magical adventures (going so far as to fly around the world with her). 

Game World, by Christopher John Farley (2014)   One of the main characters uses a wheelchair.  It must be the most magical wheelchair ever, because he goes over a waterfall and then falls out of a tree in it, with no effects to either chair or self, and with only a little help he traverses jungle and visits sundry fantastical settings that don't present issues of wheelchair accessibility.

The Zoo at the Edge of the World, by Eric Kahn Gale (2014).  The main character in this 19th century historical fantasy set in a zoo in  stutters so severely he can barely communicate with words; he can, however, speak with animals.. 

For readers older than 12ish
(with special thanks to Liviania, whose comments helped make this a longer list!)

Cinder, by Marrisa Marr (2012) and its sequels.  The main character, Cinder, is missing a hand and a leg, replaced with cybernetic prostheses.   In the third book, Cress, a major character is blinded.

The Demon's Lexicon (2009), The Demon's Covenant (2010) and The Demon's Surrender (2011).  Alan, a central character, has a badly damaged leg.

Dragonswood, by Janet Lee Carey (2012)  Tess, the main character, is deaf in one ear as the result of her father's abuse.

The heroine of Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves (2010),  must deal with schizophrenia as the icing on the cake of a supernatural bloodbath.

Bone and Jewel Creatures, by Elizabeth Bear.  The feral child at the heart of the story had an amputated hand replaced by one of bone and jewels.

The Drowned Cities, by Paulo Bacigalupi (2012).   Mahlia, the daughter of a Chinese peacekeeper and a Drowned Cities woman, became a despised outcast when the Chinese withdrew and her father left. She escaped into the jungle but lost her hand to one bloodthirsty faction in the process.

There's also Dangerous, by Shannon Hale (2014), in which the main character was born with only one hand.

The next four are taken verbatim from Livinian's comment:

Extraction by Stephanie Diaz has a disabled love interest.

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis has protagonist Amara, who is mute.

The Insignia Trilogy by S.J. Kincaid has antagonist/love interest Medusa, who is disfigured.

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly has a disabled mermaid. She's set up to be a main character in the series, but enters late in the book.

Fantastical disabilities in fantastical worlds (all of these are YA):

One thing about talking about "disability" in speculative fiction is that there exists a range of fantastical physical differences that don't fall under the rubric of things people in real life have to deal with.

For instance, having bits of your body be bits of dragon-- Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (2012), which isn't so bad if it's just scales, but a dragon tail is a serious disability,  and Dragonskeep, by Janet Lee Carey (which I should review someday...) in which main character has a dragon talon in place of a finger.

Or having strange and awful and amazing mutations, as is the case of the characters in Above, by Leah Bobet (2012).

And then there are twists of disability/ability, like instead of a regular human arm, having a hand made of psychic energy as in Ghost Hand, by Ripley Patton (2012). 

{I wondered briefly if being undead, and having to cope with bits of your body falling off, etc., counted as a fantastical disability, but I decided to draw the line so as to exclude zombies, even though a good zombie book can be a powerful exploration of physical difference......}

Further reading--Sage Blackwood was also thinking about disability in MG Fiction--here are her thoughts on the portrayal of characters with disabilities.

10/29/14

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs--a fun sci-fi murder mystery for the young reader

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Sept. 2014)

The Official Residents' Guide to Moon Base Alpha reassures the "lunernauts" who will make it their temporary home that everything will be just peachy keen and full of "pleasant surprises!"  It says nothing about murder.....

12-year old Dash (short for Dashiell) was unenthusiastic from the get-go about his parents and his little sister Violet leaving Hawaii for the moon.  And after a few months there, he knew for a fact that life in Moon Base Alpha sucked, for many, many reasons, not least of them being the packaged "chicken parmegiana" that drove him from sleeping space (cramped and uncomfortable) to the communal toilets (hideous torture devices) on night.  And it was there, in the small hours of the morning, that Dash was an unwilling eavesdropper on the excited conversation Dr. Holtz was having about a big announcement he was going to make the next morning.

Only next morning, Dr. Holtz was dead--a visit outside the base to the surface of the moon suffocated him.

Dash can't shake his feeling that Dr. Holtz was murdered.  But none of the grown-ups are taking him seriously...and the base commander becomes downright hostile.  But the next shipment of lunernauts brings a woman who shares Dash's suspicions, and who encourages him to keep investigating, and it also brings a plucky, smart girl sidekick who figures out what Dash is up to.

Slowly it becomes clear that Dr. Holtz was not university loved, as more and more of the secrets kept by the moon base residents are revealed (and they are a fine, varied cast of characters--not many of them, because there aren't many people up there, but enough to spread suspicion around nicely!).  But still there's doubt--Dr. Holtz wasn't necessarily sane.  Was his death really murder, and if so, whodunnit?

And, then, as the tension mounts-- will Dash and his plucky girl sidekick be victims themselves????

It is a really satisfying realistic sci-fi story, with excellent lunar base world-building, and a pretty good mystery too, and I can't think of a better book to offer young speculative fiction readers (10 and 11 year olds) looking to venture into those sub-genres. 

There are funny bits--chapters begin with excerpts from the promotional guide book, and I loved little sister Violet's obsession with her Squirrel Force show.  There were scary bits--the final showdown was full of sci-fi tension.    I am not qualified to be a critic of  mysteries, because of not reading them Critically, but this one pleased me (except I was left confused about the logistics of it). 

I am a little uncertain about the twist at the very end...it abruptly made a book that was pretty much 100% probable a lot less believable, but on the other hand, it opened the door to vast new realms of sci-fi possibility....

So yes, my 11 year old and I both read it avidly, and both enjoyed it lots.  We agreed that Dash was not the most interesting character we'd ever read (though a perfectly relatable, believable 12 year old boy), but the story carried him (and us) along so nicely that that didn't bother us.  That being said, we liked Kira, the sidekick, better, and would have liked her to get a bit more page time.

The cover might make it a bit of a hard sell- it doesn't look that fun (unless you look at it closely enough to see all the space-suited people are holding signs identifying them as suspects!).  But "kid figuring out a murder on the moon" is a pretty good hook....and once they start, they'll keep reading.

(I was happy to be able to count this as one for my list of multicultural spec fic-- for kid's in Dash's generation, it's uncommon to have friends who are pure white.   Dash's own mom is black, and his dad's white, and the rest of the bunch on the moon, with the exception of a Scandinavian family who are uber-rich, uber-obnoxious, and fish belly pale (Dash's words), are pretty much a mix.  And Dash's mom is a lunar geologist--so yay for a future in which black women scientist moms are perfectly normal.)

(side note re: Squirrel Force-- squirrels are showing up everywhere in my reading.  It is sinister.  For instance, in El Deafo, little rabbit girl Cece is given a book called "The Meanest Squirrel Ever."  There are at least two obvious squirrel books on the Elementary/Middle Grade Spec. Fic. list of Cybils books, and probably more in hiding....is this the "Flora and Ulysses" effect at work???? or simply that October was Squirrel Awarness Month, not to be confused with Squirrel Appreciation Day, which comes later, in January.  What ever the reason, I am aware...very, nervously, aware...)

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