8/25/15

Cat in the Mirror, by Mary Stolz, for Timeslip Tuesday

I remember reading Cat in the Mirror, by Mary Stolz (1975) twice when I was a child, lo these many years ago (about 36 years ago, give or take).  The first time I read it was either because I was on a stint of reading through the public library collection in backwards alphabetical order, or because the cat in the title appealed.   I didn't love it, but liked it enough to check it out a second time, at which point I decided I really didn't care for it as much as it seemed like I should have--girl, cat, time travel is supposed to equal a good book!  And now I have read it a third time, and I realize that I really don't like it because:

1. The main character, Erin, is tremendously unappealing.  All she does is feel sorry for herself, and hate her mother.  Both are pointless, even though her mother is a pretty awful, unloving mother.  And if people go around pouching their faces up with air all the time, being nicknamed "blowfish" is only to be expected.  And if people loose their temper and start screaming hysterically at their classmates on a regular basis, they won't become popular.  I knew I was supposed to sympathize with her, and admire her modern ideas about slave labor, and relate to her introspective nature, but she is actually a whinny spoiled brat. She doesn't, for instance, bat an eyelash at the fact that her housekeeper, Flora, is totally oppressed (perhaps by choice, but still).  As an adult, I was shocked when Erin's parents leave her in the hospital, saying "Flora will stay with you" and Flora just smiles and nods. 

2.  The time travel is pointless.  So Erin makes friends (!) with a new kid, who is not repulsed that she keeps blowing her cheeks up with air, and the new kid is Egyptian.   This is not deeply important to the plot, except for the new kid saying that she looks Egyptian, and adding a sort of "Egypt is important to the story" set up.  In any event, Erin whangs her head on a sarcophagus and finds herself (sort of) in ancient Egypt.  That is, an Egyptian girl, Irun, now has almost sort become possessed by Erin's memories, and sometimes the point of view is Erin in Egyptian girl body, but mostly it's not.  Erin does not learn valuable lessons, grow as a person, or change anything in the past.  She's just a partially embodied, thought to be demonic, observer (and to give Stolz some credit, it's a perfectly reasonable "lets take a tour through ancient Egypt" sort of story, nicely described, detailed, vivid, etc.).  But at least Erin stops blowing her face out while back in Egypt.

3.  If I were to title a book "Cat in the Mirror" I would make sure that the cat presence/foreshadowing/magical implications of cat were part of the book from the beginning.  The cat comes into the story very near the end, and although it is the catalyst for the only interesting bit of something happening, it's not on stage enough to make the book deserve the misleading title.

Really what I remembered most clearly about the book was the whole business of her masses of black bushy hair, which travels back in time to Egypt with her, and which is assumed by the Egyptians to be the result of demonic possession.  It gets shaved off pretty quickly, an image that has stuck with me.  When she gets back to her modern self, waking up in the hospital with her head shaved because of the accident with the sarcophagus, she comments that now she will have an afro, which struck, and strikes, me as odd, because tightly cropped head of hair, no matter how bushy it used to be, isn't my idea of an afro.  But the 1970s were different, so what do I know. 

The clear descriptions of Erin make the paperback portrayal of her rather eyebrow raising; in a sense, she's been whitewashed (though can you be whitewashed if you are white to start with?)  to look less like an ancient Egyptian and more like an utterly ordinary white girl.

In any event, I don't think I'll be reading it a fourth time. 

8/24/15

The Temple of Doubt, by Anne Boles Levy

The Temple of Doubt, by Anne Boles Levy (Sky Pony Press, August 2015), introduces one of the most believable speculative fiction teenage protagonists I've read in a long time, a girl named Hadara, who finds herself unwillingly placed at the center of events that not only shatter the pattern of her own life, but will probably change her whole world.

It starts with a shooting star, falling into the swampy heart of her island home.  Soon after, two high priests of the god Nihil and their military retinue arrive from overseas, taking over the place, and demanding help in finding what has fallen from the heavens, suspecting that instead of a harmless meteorite it is the vessel of a demon.  Hadara and her mother are the only locals familiar with the swamps; they've ventured there often, gathering plants to make forbidden medicine--magic from Nihil, not natural cures, are all that their religion permits.  And so Hadara and their mother find themselves guiding the preists and their guards into the dangerous realm of the nonhuman people, the lizard-like Gek, whose make the swamp their home. 

And there Hadara confronts the mystery of the fallen star, and the threat it might hold...

And in the meantime, Hadara is very much a teenage girl!  Even before the star fell, she was chafing against the strictures of her society; unlike her pious sister, she had no patience for learning religious dogma by route, but would rather be out and doing, held back by a society that gave little room for girls to do so.   She's a direct sort of person, saying what she thinks even when she shouldn't, and that doesn't exactly go over so well with the priests and their soldiers.   Basically, she's in a situation way over her head, that's she's not tremendously equipped to deal with.  And to add to the complications of her situation, she's fallen hard for one of the foreign soldiers in a very believable teenage crush sort of way (with indications that it might turn into more).

We see the events of the story unfolding as Hadara does, and this both strengthens the story and limits it.  The material details of her world are clear and vivid, and the religion is well-developed, but her somewhat insular upbringing and limited point of view can be frustrating  The presence of two non-human races in her world is something she takes for granted, for instance, but it takes the reader by surprise, and the nuances and backstory of this part of the world is never, in this first book, fully explored.  And perhaps because (at least this is my impression of her) Hadara doesn't have the character or education to understand religious/political machinations and manipulations, there was a frustrating sense that lots was happening that the reader wasn't getting told.  And the focus on Hadara's day by day experiences, though it did bring her vividly to life, meant that the pacing was somewhat slow--the action and tension are at times overshadowed by her introspection and mundane reality.  So it won't be to everyone's taste.

That being said, since I enjoy tight character focus, and since I was fascinated by the religion that shapes Hadara's world, and since I was hooked on the mystery of the space thing, I myself was not slowed down in my reading, but turned the pages briskly and with enjoyment.  Even though I wanted to shake Hadara occasionally, or draw her attention to things I wanted her to be thinking more about, I enjoyed spending time with her and look forward to her continued adventures! (and I think readers who are themselves teenage girls will not have the wanting to shake her thing but will simply be able to relate very strongly with her).

And now comes the part where I have to stick a label on this post--part of me says science fiction, because this feels like a "planet with alien races" such as one finds in sci fi, but another part says it has to be fantasy, because the magic of the god Nihil actually is real.   So I guess I have to go with both...

disclaimer: not only did I receive a review copy from the publisher, but I consider Anne a friend, having met her in real life and worked with her for several years on the Cybils Awards (which she founded), and I tried hard  not to let this affect my review of her book.

8/23/15

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (8/23/15)

Here's what I found this week; enjoy!

And let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle, by Gabrielle Kent, at The Book Zone (for Boys) and Middle Grade Strikes Back

Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Abby the Librarian

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at Semicolon

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at Sharon the Librarian

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Charlotte's Library

The Emerald Atlas, by Jonathan Stephens,  at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Eye of Zoltar, by Jasper Fforde, at Sonderbooks

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

The Glass Gauntlet, by Roy Carter, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Always in the Middle

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invicible, by Ursula Vernon, at books4yourkids

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Welcome to my (New) Tweendom

The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brallier, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Lilliput, by Sam Gayton, at Redeemed Reader

Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, by Ammi-Joan Paquette, at Cracking the Cover

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at Cracking the Cover

The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, at SLJ

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Reading is my Escape from Reality

Took, by Mary Downing Hahn, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, by Will Mabbitt, at The Book Wars

Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay, at On Starships and Dragonwings and Charlotte's Library

The Wrinkled Crown, by Anne Nesbet, at SLJ

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Diary of a Mad Brownie, by Bruce Coville, and Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible, by Ursula Vernon

Two by Kenneth Oppel at Boys Rule Boys Read--The Boundless, and Airborn


Authors and Interviews

Maile Meloy (The Apothecary series) at The New York Times

Sherel Ott (Princess Janai and the Warrior Maidens of Ouinu) at The Haunting of Orchid Fosythia


Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday ten of male protagonists in 2015 fantasy at Views from the Tesseract

A Birthday look at Diana Wynne Jones (sniff) at Tor

A look at E. Nesbit at the Guardian

You have until Sept. 9th to apply to be a Cybils Panelist.  Here are my top five reasons to apply (with specific reference to MG speculative fiction).  Book apps and YA non-fiction are in particular need of panelists (although there is lots of room in the other categories too).


8/21/15

Villain Keeper (The Last Dragon Charmer Book 1), by Laurie McKay

Villain Keeper (The Last Dragon Charmer Book 1), by Laurie McKay (HarperCollins, middle grade, February, 2015), starts as if it is going to be a standard medievally boy on dragon-slaying quest story, but bang!  things take a surprising turn when our young hero, Prince Caden, finds himself magically transported to Ashville, North Carolina. How will he find a dragon to slay there in the mundane world?  And how will he ever get home again?  A young magic user, Brynne,  has fallen through with him, and though her magic still works, she has no clue how to get them back where they belong.  (Caden's beautiful white stallion ends up in Ashville too, adding bonus beautiful brave horse elements for the horse-loving kid).

So Caden finds himself in foster care, enrolled in the public school system (where he is, later in the book, joined by Brynne).  But Caden's school has a very peculiar set up, one that makes clear why the book has the title it does.  And when Caden becomes determined to track down a missing girl, Jane Chan, who disappeared from his foster home a little bit earlier, he finds himself in the thick of dangers just as magical as those he might have expected to find back home.  And the lack of dragons proves not to be much of a problem after all! 

Caden's character is initially defined by his all-consuming desire to reach Elite Paladin status, and win the respect of his father and numerous older brothers.  Elite Paladin aspirations and ideals fit somewhat awkwardly into the social norms of our world; as he realizes this, Caden gradually becomes a more developed character (which is good, because he starts the book as a cardboard sterotypical kid hero wanna-be), finding friends and a place in a family that, despite being a foster care placement, offers him more than his own royal family did.  I also enjoyed seeming him learning the potential of the magical gift bestowed on him when he was born; I like people finding out how to get mileage from seemingly not that thrilling magical gifts!  Brynne is obnoxious and not especially kind, but she brings an engaging sort of thumbing her nose attitude to the vicissitudes of the situation.  And Caden's new foster brother, Tito, determined to find out what happened to Jane, adds a nice counterweight on the good kid side.

It's fun and engaging.  Kids will be amused by Caden's mis-steps with modern technology, and readers of all ages will find the titular "villain keeper" fascinating.  With its highly irregular fantastical set up, Caden's new school (where the lunch ladies might really be witches) makes for entertaining, seasonally appropriate (back-to-school-time), reading.

Aside:  sometimes I think I read a lot more like the ten year old target audience than whoever reviews MG fantasy for Kirkus.  After writing this, I went and read their review, and am now scratching my head trying to figure out when "the characters frequently seem to know more than they should...."  This did not cross my mind; I guess I take it for granted when characters in books (also Real Life) know more than me about what's going on.  They have more invested in the story, for one thing, they have longer to think about it (the days they live through, as opposed to the hour and a half of reading time I get, and they are right there, able to pick up on nuance and detail, and they have existing knowledge that I don't have access to).

disclaimer: review copy received from the author
 

8/19/15

Five reasons to apply to be a Cybils Judge (with particular referrence to middle grade spec fic)

The call for Cybils panelists has gone out, and anyone who has a website where children's books are reviewed is welcome to apply!  If you are unfamiliar with the Cybils, the jist of it is that there are many categories of books (including middle grade speculative fiction, formerly middle grade science fiction and fantasy), and during the nomination period, everyone in the world is welcome to nominate their favorite books in each category.   Then comes the first round of judging, in which panelists read all (as far as is possible) the books nominated and come up with shortlists, and then comes the second round, in which a different set of panelists reads the shortlists and comes up with a winner.

So in essence, the first round involves lots and lots of reading, and lots of emails exchanged with co-panelists, and the second round slightly less of each, but perhaps more intense.  Books are picked on the basis of good writing and lots of appeal for the target audience.

Here are five reasons why you might want to apply to be a Cybils judge in middle grade speculative fiction!

1.  The books are really really good this year.  I just scrolled through the Kirkus reviews back to October 16 (the beginning of this year's eligibility period) and there are about thirty mg spec fic books with stars (and others to which I'd have given stars).  And I just went through my own list o books read so far, and came up with thirty (!) books I'd be happy to see on the final short list of seven. Good books means good reading, and good, passionate discussion.

2.  It makes fall a lot more fun when you are a first round panelist.   I love the excitement of the nomination period, the fun of marking books read in the spreadsheet, the wild placing of library hold requests and the packages that arrive full of books not obtainable through the library.  I love having a forum in which I can honestly share with no holding back what I really think about books. 

3.  It will make you really really knowledgeable about the middle grade spec. fic. books of the past year.  You will be able to come up with a book for anyone!  It is something you can put on your resume.  It will bring you to the attention of authors and publishers.

4.  You will make new blogging friends and quite possibly be inspired to blog more.

5.  I'm the category organizer for middle grade speculative fiction, which means assembling the panels is part of my job, so this reason why you should apply is somewhat selfish.  I want lots and lots of people to apply so that I can have new participants along with reliable veterans, and so that the panels can have lots of different view points represented.  I take up one of the seven available slots in the first round, but that still leaves six, and five more for the second round....

If you still have doubts, let me reassure you that it is less work than you might think!

There will probably be around 150 books nominated in MG Spec Fic.  This might seem like a lot of books to read, but remember, you'll probably have read a fair number of them already (if you haven't, you must not like MG spec fic, so you wouldn't be applying).    Also each book only Has to be read by 2 panelists, and since I plan to read all the books, that takes pressure of others.   And also if it is clear to you before finishing a book that you could not support it being shortlisted, you don't have to finish it but can still mark it as read.   Though the nominating period ends October 15, you can start reading just as soon as you get the invitation email from me in mid September, giving you three and half months for reading (the shortlists must be assembled by the end of December).    On the other hand, if you are having a baby, starting a new job, planning on spending the month of December snowbound with no internet access, or moving house this fall, the second round might be a better fit for you!

Things that I look for when gathering panelists:

Obviously, I really want people who know and love MG Spec Fic; this is the most important thing to demonstrate when you apply!  (Do not include a link to a review in which you say "I don't really like middle grade fiction, but I liked this book" or some such, which really has happened a few times in the past).   I want a mix of parents, educators, librarians, and authors. I want a range of viewpoints.  And I want panelists who are able to think clearly (at least most of the time, she says, looking at self) and critically about what makes for a good mg spec fic book. 

So here's the direct link to the application form; please apply!

If you are on the fence about applying, please feel free to email me at charlotteslibrary at gmail.com with any questions or concerns! 

8/18/15

Amber House, by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed for Timeslip Tuesday

Amber House, by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed (Scholastic, October 2012), has a great first line, that tells you right from the get go that strange things are going to happen with time--

"I was almost sixteen the first time my grandmother died."

Her grandmother's funeral is the first time Sarah Parsons has come to Amber House, the great Maryland estate that has been in her family for generations, full to the roof beams with family treasure, and family secrets (Amber House is a good name for it, because lots and lots of piece of the past have gotten stuck there...).  Sarah's mother wants to sell the house, and quickly--she'd become estranged from her mother, and doesn't have any desire to become the next chatelaine of Amber House.   But Sarah still has time to begin exploring, encouraged by another teenager, Jackson, who's grown up at Amber House, and who is in fact a distant cousin thanks to the rape of his several times great grandmother by one of Sarah's slave owning ancestors.

And as Sarah explores, Amber House begins, literally, to show her its secrets.  The women in her family have the gift of slipping through time, to watch events from the past play out.  Past and present are tightly entwined, and Sarah finds herself desperately trying to fix the tragedy that changed her mother and drove her from home.  She's helped in her quest by visits through time with Jackson's African great, great grandmother, who offers council, and helped as well by her own pluck and determination, and Jackson's obvious caring.

In the meantime, Sarah's mother is determined to have a grand party for Sarah's 16th birthday, and a rich young wasp boy of great attractiveness seems to be falling for her, and Sarah wonders if she is falling for him, and she also finds herself drawn to Jackson.  The party planning elements seemed excessive even for an excessive party, and the wasp boy was kind of a pointless distraction (I didn't feel he added much to the book in terms of plot; he felt more like a cute rich boy accessory).   These parts of the book, though, might well appeal much more to the target teen audience.

I myself was more interested in the house, but though I really like old houses full of treasures in my fiction, there just seemed (again) to be a bit Too Much.  Too much melodrama, too many secrets, both architectural and familial, basically just an overly lavish hand that kept individual elements from shinning as brightly as I would have liked.   Yet the twists and turns of the secrets as they were uncovered, and the character of the House itself, kept me turning the pages eagerly... All those who like teenage romance with family complications, opulence, and historical mystery thrown in will doubtless enjoy Amber House lots!

My main complaint is that everything gets Set Right at the end of the book; Sarah has fixed things so that her mother is a completely different person, the one she was meant to be, and so her parents marriage is saved, the house is saved, and everyone is happy.  It was a bit too much to swallow, and seemed to me to retrospectively weaken the emotional tension of the whole rest of the book.  I'm kind of glad to see that the sequel shows that happy ever after isn't necessarily the best idea!

It turns out that although the immediate problems are solved, more have been created--the whole course of American history is changed!  In Neverwas, Sarah and Jackson work together again to set things right...and I liked them both enough that I have added that one to my library holds list!

disclaimer: Amber House was received from the publisher a long, long time ago, and fell curse to the "I'll probably enjoy this one so I'll set it on the shelf and save it for a bit" trap that resulted in its being saved much too long. 

8/17/15

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano

A Curious Tale of the In-Between (Bloomsbury, Sept 1, 2015) is YA author Lauren DeStefano's middle grade debut, and it is a good one!

Pram was orphaned before she was even born when her mother killed herself.  Her mother's body was found before it was too late for Pram, and so she was taken in by her aunts, determined to protect her as they hadn't been able to do for her mother.  The aunts named her Pragmatic, in a hopeful wish for future grounded-ness in reality, and homeschooled her in the home for the aged that they ran.

But Pram's reality was not that of her aunts, because Pram could see ghosts, even the ghosts of insects.  Her only real friend was a ghost boy named Felix, and that was enough.  But her somewhat isolated peace was shattered when she was 12, and her aunts could no longer fight the command from Authority that Pram attend regular school....and that's when the story really gets going

At school, Pram becomes friends with Clarence, who's own mother recently died.  His desire to make contact with her again leads the two of them to the attention of a medium, who senses Pram's ability to see ghosts.  The medium wants to use Pram's powers for her own sinister purposes...and the story takes a dark turn toward supernatural evil when Pram is kidnapped.

But though there are horrific elements, and times of great tension (making for vigerous page-turning), Pram, with her goodness of heart and essential calm, serves as an anchor keeping the book from being too dark.  This is a book for those who enjoy stories of unlikely friendships, kids learning about who they are (in Pram's case, this involves learning about her parents, as well as learning about what she herself is capable of as friend to both the living and the dead; in Felix's case, it involves gathering the strength to move on from his life as a ghost, and in Clarence's case, it means dealing with his mother's death) and, most obviously,  it's one for those who like ghosts as people, not just as spectral menaces!

It is really rather charming, and very gripping, not least because Pram is a dear.

Review copy received from the publisher.

8/16/15

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/16/2015)

Here's this week's round-up; please let me know if I missed your post!

Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at alibrarymama

Beast Keeper, by Cat Hellisen, at alibrarymama

Blaze, by Ginger Lee Malacko, at The Musings of a Book Addict

The Blood Guard, by Carter Roy, at Always in the Middle

Brilliant, by Roddy Doyle, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at SLJ

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Hidden in Pages and The Quiet Concert

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at BookDragon

Fire Girl, by Matt Ralphs, at The Book Zone (for boys)

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at The Write Path

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

The Golden Specific, by S.E. Grove, at On Starships and Dragonwings and The Reading Nook Reviews

The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley, at Hope is the Word

Hook's Revenge, by Heidi Schulz, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

Hopper's Destiny (Mouseheart #2), by Lisa Fiedler, at Fantasy Book Critic

The House on Stone's Throw Island, by Dan Pobloki, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Imagination Box, by Martyn Ford, at The Book Zone (for boys)

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant, at The Book Wars

Lucky Strike, by Bobbie Pyron, at Always in the Middle

Magic in the Mix, by Annie Barrows, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis, at Fantasy Literature

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creaters, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater, at The Book Monsters

The Pirate Code, by Heidi Schulz, at Snuggly Oranges

School for Sidekicks, by Kelly McCullough, at Read Love

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at WinterHaven Books

Shadows of Sherwood, by Kekla Magoon, at The Compulsive Reader

The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, at SLJ

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Hunt for the Pyxis, by Zoe Ferraris, and Valley of the Kings, by Michael Northrup


Authors and Interviews

S.E. Grove (The Golden Specific) at The Reading Nook Reviews

Bruce Coville (Diary of a Mad Brownie) at The Book Cellar

Dianne K. Salerni (The Eighth Day) talks suspension of disbelief at Project Mayhem


Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday 10 of great mg spec fic female protagonists of 2015 at Views from the Tesseract

A gorgeous celebration of the life and works of Joan Aiken in pictures at The Guardian

The applications for this year's Cybils judging open tomorrow!  If you would like to be part of this great experience, please apply!  Here is my take on offering more explanation and encouragement. 

8/11/15

The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma, for Timeslip Tuesday

I am pretty sure in my own mind that there's an element of time slip-ness in The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers, March 24, 2015, YA) but in order to discuss it, I have to spoil everything, and this is a book that's well worth reading unspoiled.  So when I get to the part where I explain why I think there's timeslips happening, I shall helpfully insert the word "spoiler" and if you haven't read the book, you can stop reading there.

Locked inside Aurora Hills, a juvenile detention facility, is Amber, a teenage girl convicted of murdering her abusive stepfather.  Outside is Vee, an aspiring ballet dance, whose life seems to be proceeding exactly how it should.  But Vee's best friend and partner in dance Ori, isn't there any more.   She's gone to join Amber at Aurora Hills.   We learn about Ori through Amber and Vee's two very different perspectives, Vee's told in flashbacks from three years after Ori was convicted of a horrible crime, Amber's told in the time just before and just after Ori's arrival as her new cell-mate. 

It's a story of guilt and innocence and surviving.  And it's a gripping, twisty, incredibly vivid story, that kind of zings electrically across the pages, and I recommend it lots!  Ori is a lovely character, Amber is a fascinating one, and Vee is more than just a pretty face and blistered feet.

Spoiler!!!! (this is the helpful insertion part, because I really am about to ruin the whole book for those who haven't read it.  I mean it!)

But in any event, the description above makes it sound a lot more linear than it really is. In one early scene in the book, Amber sees the institution as it will be three years in the future, when it's been abandoned after a terrible tragedy (although at that point the reader has no clue what's going on), and sees Vee, and then later we learn that in Vee's present timeline, she does in fact visit Aurora Hills, and sees all the same graffiti and abandonment that Amber had seen.    But Vee isn't just visiting, she's kind of traveling back in time, and Amber sees her for what she really is (not a nice person, to say the least), and in a bit of messing with temporal reality, Ori, who has now been dead for three years, isn't dead any more but now Vee is, and Ori goes free while Vee joins the ghosts of the guilty.   My main problem with this (other than confusion) is that Ori has been dead three years and it's not clear whether she's alive in the post-gap present, not having aged, or possibly now three years older, or whether she's gone back in time enough to have a more complete do-over.  And what will the grown-ups say when she shows up again?

I feel pretty certain that at least one slip in time (when Amber first sees Vee), possibly two (when things really go wild during the Swap of the Guilty and Innocent, has happened.   School Library Journal calls it "magical realism" which I think is something of a cop-out.  When a girl who died three years ago is now alive again, this is more than magical realism.  Others call it a ghost story, and I agree there are ghosts involved.  But there are also people who aren't dead (yet), but who simply exist in different times,  crossing paths, and I don't think ghostly visions of past and future are enough of an explanation.  If you've read it, do you agree that there are time slips happening?



8/10/15

Two fun Adventures in Cartooning tales--Sleepless Knight and Gryphons Aren't So Great

Adventures In Cartooning, by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost introduced Edward the Horse and the knight who is his companion in adventure.  Now Edward and the knight have their own stories, stand-alone graphic novels for the young.  Sleepless Knight and Gryphons  Aren't so Great are top notch books to offer the 5 to 8 year old whose just getting going with the fun of graphic novel reading!


In Sleepless Knight (FirstSecond, April 2015)  Edward and the knight head off on a camping trip.  But though the knight's teddy bear was carefully packed, when bed time comes, it can't be found.  A helpful bunny tells the knight where bear is....but the bear in question isn't stuffed!  All ends well, though, with Edward bringing out his ukulele to sing with the bear and bunny by the campfire, while the knight snoozes with the real teddy.




In Gryphons Aren't So Great (FirstSecond Sept 15 2015), the knight finds a Gryphon who's willing to fly her around.  Poor Edward is left earthbound while the knight whoops it up in the sky.  But gryphons aren't reliable, and Edward has to make a daring leap to save the knight when things go wrong.   And the knight realizes that she'd been thoughtless, and she and Edward decide that jumping into the moat from the castle towers is great fun they can have together.  (You can get a sneak peak here at FirstSecond).

So nice, simple stories little kids can relate too, told in simple language and told with really  charming pictures of great kid friendliness.  Don't expect much instruction in cartooning--the inside front and back covers have instructions on how to draw the characters, but that it.  Do expect young readers to be charmed (I was!), and to look forward to more about Edward and the knight!

NB:  I had defaulted to assuming the knight was male, since gender was never specified, but the publisher's blurb makes it clear that the knight is actually "she." 

Here's my 2010 review of The Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book--I still think Edward is my favorite graphic novel horse ever!

disclaimer: review copies received from the publisher

8/9/15

This week's round-up of fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/9/15)

Here's this week's round-up, brought to you on a  beautiful day here in southern New England (although we need rain....).  Let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

100 Cupboards, by N.D Wilson, at Dead Houseplants

Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My…, by Adam Mansbach & Alan Zweibel, at Mom Read It

The Book of Storms, by Ruth Hatfield, at The Book Monsters

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at The Book Wars

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Disapperance of Emily H., by Barrie Summy, at Read Love

Dragon Rider, by Cornelia Funke, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Dragons of the Dark Rift, by Kevin Gerard, at Mother Daughter and Son Book Reviews

Goddess Girls books 9-11, by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Small Review

The Hostage Prince, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, at Read Till Dawn

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at Pages Unbound

Lilliput, by Sam Gayton, at Charlotte's Library

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Nerdy Book Club

My Diary from the Edge of the World, by Jodi Lynn Anderson, at SLJ

The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell, at Nooks and Crannies

Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, by Ammi-Joan Paquette, at Word Spelunking

Ranger in Time series, by Kate Messner, at Redeemed Reader

Renegade Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Leaf's Reviews

The School for Good and Evil series, by Soman Chainani, at A Backward's Story

School for Sidekicks, by Kelly McCullough, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at Read Till Dawn

The Time of the Ghost, by Diana Wynne Jones, at The Book Smugglers

Trollhunters, by Guillermo Del & Daniel Kraus, at SLJ

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire, at Bookyurt

Winter Turning, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden in Pages


Authors and Interviews

S.E. Grove (The Golden Specific) at The Book Smugglers

Cornelia Funke (Dragon Rider, Inkheart), at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Liz Kessler talks about The Wishing Chair at The Guardian

Emma Carroll (In Darkling Wood) at Fluttering Butterflies

Janet Fox (The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle) at Elizabeth O. Delumba

Other Good Stuff

"Magical Realism or Fantasy?" at Project Mayhem

A Tuesday Ten of middle grade sci fi at Views from the Tesseract

The program for Kidlitcon 2015 will be released early next week; stay tuned!
And all stay tuned for the call for Cybils panelists, coming in the middle of the month.  All of you whose blogs show up in these round-ups on a regular basis would make great panelists in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction....

8/8/15

Lilliput, by Sam Gayton

Lilliput, by Sam Gayton (Peachtree Press, August 2015, middle grade) is the story of a Lilliputian girl, Lily, captured by Lemuel Gulliver and kept captive by him in London.  Gulliver is busy finishing his epic account of his travels, and Lily is going to be the scientific proof he needs to convince the world that Lilliput is real.

This, of course, stinks for young Lily.  In her birdcage prison, she watches Gulliver writing, and plans escape after escape.  None of them are successfully, until sleeping drops in his coffee send Gulliver into a stupor, while Lily is briefly outside her cage, gives her the chance she's been waiting for.  With the help of  Finn, clockmaker's apprentice from the rooms below, who she helps escape from his own imprisonment, Lily makes it to a temporary place of safety.  But safety isn't enough, Lily wants to go home.

And that means going back to her old prison, to find Gulliver's book, and free the bird trapped in a clock by the evil clockmaker in the hopes that she might fly home.

It's a story that's both exciting and moving, with the adventure/danger part of the story nicely balanced by Lily's thoughts, and the friendships she's able to make with Finn and another helpful giant.  The illustrations add to the enchantment; though I read quickly, they caught my attention (which coming from me says a lot!).   There's more fantasy here than just the existence of Lilliput--there are birds of preternatural intelligence, and clocks that do more than just tell the time.  But Gayton's portrayal of Lily and her experiences as a tiny person in a big world feels perfectly realistic and believable.  She is truly a heroine to cheer for, never giving up hope. 

And (yay!) she gets her happy ending and the evil clockmaker magician gets his comeuppance, though Gulliver has to pay the price (kind of horrifically, but at least he realized in the end that what he had done to Lily was wrong). 

This is the second "Lilliputians in England" book I've read, the first being Mistress Masham's Repose, by T.H. White.  That book  was much more concerned with a human girl's reactions to the Lilliputians and is a totally different book.  Because this story is seen from Lily's point of view, there's not so much focus on matters of perspective.  Yes, things in our world are huge to her, but it is what she is used to.  And I think this helped the book stay focused on the main point, which was Lily's escape, without slowing things down with excessive authorial interest in matters of size.....

 So in short, even if you haven't read Gulliver's Travels, do give this one a try.   I enjoyed it lots. 


Review copy received from the publisher at BEA.

8/4/15

Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot, by Dav Pilkey, for Timeslip Tuesday

In his past few books, Dav Pilkey has thrown in time travel to jazz things up, because why not?  And it's a good thing, too, because it saves the day for George and Harold, as they face off against a new villain, in Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot!  (Scholastic,  August 25, 2015)

George and Harold, in a twist they'd never have seen coming, must find adults they can trust to help them out of a stinky situation.  Their gym teacher has acquired to turn children into obedient goody goodies, and our heroes must stop him before they too fall victim to his foul miasma.  But with even their own parents favorably impressed by the good children, George and Harold must take drastic action--the only adults they can trust are their own future selves!  So they travel to the future, to bring their adult-selves into the battle in the present.

It was fun to see their grown-up selves!  George and Harold are unencumbered by deep reflections on the paradoxes of time travel, so there were no particularly worrying concerns about altering the future.  This is about as worried as anyone gets, and made me chuckle:

"Wait a minute," said Old Harold.  "I don't remember doing any of this when we were kids, do you, George?"

"No," said Old George.  "If this happened in our past, how come we have no memory of it?"

"I don't know," said Harold.

"Probably bad writing," said George.

As an added time travel bonus, George and Harold get to read one of the graphic novels their adult selves have published (an us readers get a peak at it ourselves!).

But in a twist I never saw coming, Captain Underpants might have fought his last battle!  Will this, the 12th book, be his last?????

It's as funny as all the other Captain Underpants books, and fans of the series will enjoy it. 

8/3/15

Ink and Ashes, by Valynne E Maetani

I went into Ink and Ashes, by Valynne E. Maetani (Tu Books, June 2015) assuming it was speculative fiction, as that's what I associate with Tu Books.  So my reading experience was colored by the expectation that at an minute, supernatural forces would appear...but this never happened.  Instead, Ink and Ashes is more a mystery/thriller type book.

Claire is an ordinary Japanese/American teenager, with a loving family--mother, stepfather (her own father having died when she was seven) and two brothers.  Three more neighborhood boys are almost family too, including her best friend, Forrest.  But when Claire finds a letter, in Japanese, hiding among some old papers belonging to her biological father, she sets in train a disaster when secrets from her father's past as a member of the Japanese mafia come back to haunt her family, with potentially deadly consequences.  Claire finds herself the target of progressively more frightening threats, and though her stepfather promises to do his best to keep her safe, Claire can't help what wonder what other secrets he himself is hiding....

And in the meantime, Forrest becomes more than just a best friend!

So the mystery is combined with a romance, and readers will enjoy following the trail of clues along with Claire and her brothers and friends.   Claire's relationship with the back of boys brings warmth and humor to the mystery,  and elements of Japanese culture and Claire's own experience of being Japanese/American add interest.  Although the mystery itself, which hinges on Claire's parents withholding information and Claire withholding information of her own from them,  didn't entirely work for me, this is possibly because I was expecting demons or something.

Short answer:  a good read for those who enjoy teens under threat from mysterious strangers who want to kill them.

8/2/15

This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs 8/2/15

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

The Reviews

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Leaf's Reviews

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at Redeemed Reader and proseandkahn (audiobook review)

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at Mom Read It

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Welcome to My Tweendom

Darkmouth: The Legends Begin, by Shane Fegarty, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

George's Secret Key to the Universe, by Lucy and Stephen Hawking, at Nerdy Book Club

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, at Manga Maniac Café

The Girl Who Not Dream, by Sarah Beth Durst, at SLJ

The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Leaf's Reviews

The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein, at Ms. Yingling Read

Mark of Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Tales of the Marvelous

Omega City, by Diane Peterfreund, at The Hiding Spot

Ranger in Time: Danger in Ancient Rome, by Kate Messner, at Geo Librarian

School for Sidekicks,  by Kell McCullough, at Read Till Dawn

Servalius Window, by Claudia White, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Shatterwood, by Lelia Rose Foreman, at Mother, Daughter and Son Book Reviews

Six, by M.M. Vaughan, at Redeemed Reader

Song of the Wanderer, by Bruce Coville, at Read Till Dawn

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Mister K Reads

A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graf, at Story Time Secrets

The Wand and the Sea, by Claire Caterer, at Book Nut

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, by Ammi-Joan Paquette, and The Dragonfly Effect, by Gordan Korman

Authors and Interviews

Kekla Magoon (Shadows of Sherwood) at Nerdy Book Club

Other Good Stuff

Check out this 3D tribute to Hayao Miyazaki at Tor

The Smithsonian looks at the History of Creepy Dolls

2015-KidLitConLogoSquareT
One reason that I don't have any reviews to contribute myself this week is that I've been working on the Kidlitcon Program! Early registration discount ends 8/15 http://ow.ly/QbV5E 
Friday night there will be a birthday party for the Cybils Awards, with bowling!  http://ow.ly/Q8J3A   And thank you, CrhonicleKids, for sponsoring a bowling lane! http://ow.ly/Qf1iC    And for attendees who can stay an extra day, we’re planning a tour for Sunday, October 11: Tour Baltimore http://ow.ly/Qi18i 

7/28/15

Harlem Renaissance Party, by Faith Ringold, for Timeslip Tuesday

Harlem Renaissance Party, by Faith Ringold (Amistad, January 2015), is a somewhat didactic time travel book--a magic airplane (at least one assumes its magic) transports a young boy, Lonnie, and his uncle back in time to celebrate the Harlem Renaissance.  The book basically introduces Lonnie to all the great writers, artists, and musicians, and then he goes home again.  So not much actually happens that has story to it; there's no narrative tension--it's basically just the meetings and greetings and listing of accomplishments.  In short, a celebration more than an adventure....time travel as learning opportunity for character and reader.

I happen to know, because I read Faith Ringold's earlier book, Bonjour Lonnie, that Lonnie's grandfather was black.  But it might be confusing to readers who don't know for sure that Lonnie is multiracial to see his red hair and pale skin, although his uncle is clearly black, so one can assume even before Lonnie confirms it that he identifies as African American.  I think it's rather useful, though, to show that identity can't always be assumed from appearance, something that doesn't come up much in picture books....
 
Faith Ringold's art just doesn't work all that well for me, but that's a matter of personal taste (Lonnie on the cover doesn't look happy at all, for instance, which I feel he should!).  If you want a celebratory introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, this might work well for you (back matter provides more information about the great people Lonnie meets); if you want time travel where the time travel is nuanced and complicated (which picture books are capable of), not so much.

7/27/15

Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older (Scholastic, June 30th, 2015), is a gripping new YA fantasy that just goes to show that there's a lot more magic out there than is found in medieval Celtic inspired otherworlds.  The heroine, Sierra Santiago, is a Puerto Rican teen living in Brooklyn, who finds that her family are Shadowshapers, able to infuse two-dimensional art with the spirits of the dead.  She does not find this out in a pleasant, "oh gee I've got magic!" sort of way; instead, she finds it out when people she's known all her life start dying, and malevolent shadow creatures come for her.

With the help of a young Haitian artist, Robbie, himself a Shadowshaper, Sierra sets out to find the killer (a white anthropologist, which added all sorts of interest to me, since that's my own academic training) who's warping the magic of shadowshaping for his own ends (driven mad by anthropological lusts, and the feeling that a white anthropologist knows more than the non-white informants!).  But will she be able to untangle the secrets her families kept from her, and learn to use her power, in time?  Fortunately, Sierra has really good friends, as well as Robbie, on her side, friends who are willing to believe the wild stories she has to tell.   And fortunately she's a fast learner....

So I would say that I am not particularly drawn to "urban fantasy" mainly because I find urban settings kind of gritty and unappealing, in real life and in fiction.  But Sierra's Brooklyn is not defined by grit.  Instead it is a place of memories and meaningful connections; it is Sierra's Place.   And I do like a strong sense of place and belonging, so the urban-ness of Brooklyn didn't impinge on my enjoyment.

And likewise, though Sierra, an African-American-Puerto Rican urban teen, doesn't overtly mirror my own life experience, she is Real enough to simply enjoy spending time with, and her concerns about family and her feelings toward Robbie and her self reflection (happily self reflection that's primarily positive, rather than body image critical) are eminently relatable.  The dialogue is fast paced and full of non-standard English, making things simultaneously realistic sounding (to me, for what that's worth) or unfamiliar (I think age as much as anything is a big contributor to the unfamiliar factor for me). 

But I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it's not a book I read thinking "oh wow this a mirror into lives not at all like my own teenage years" and more a book I read thinking "oh wow it is fun to read a fantasy that goes in directions that aren't along well-oiled tracks."  At the risk of sounding banal, I can, with confidence, say that Shadowshaper struck me as "fresh," "vibrant," and "gripping."
Academic me also was very interested in the villainous anthropologist; the tension of the neo-colonialist outsider appropriating indigenous culture is very real in the real world, and it is was interesting as all get out to see it driving a fantasy story!

Yet that being said, it is Sierra's experience as the person she is that stays with me most clearly, because she is so very real!  And her friends are very real.  And I want to see if what she and Robbie have growing between them turns into more, and what happens with their art, and their lives shaping shadows....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

7/26/15

This Week's Round-Up of Middle Grade Sci Fi and Fantasy from around the blogs (7/26/15)

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

The Reviews

The  Abominables, by Eva Ibbotson, at books4yourkids

The Astounding Broccoli Boy, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at SLJ

At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald, at Becky's Book Reviews

Betrayal (Crystal Keeper, 2) by Laurisa White Reyes, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at proseandkahn

Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia Wrede, at The Book Smugglers

Deep Water, by Lu Hersey, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Children, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Jean Little Library and Read Till Dawn

The Dragonfly Effect, by Gordan Korman, at Read Till Dawn

Five Children on the Western Front, by Kate Saunders, at The Children's War

Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at Paper Cuts

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at On Starships and Dragonwings

The Golden Specific, by S.E. Grove, at Book Nut

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Leaf's Reviews

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins, at The O.W.L.

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at Carstairs Considers

House of Robots, by James Patterson, at Mister K Reads

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at YA Book Shelf

The Maloney's Magical Weather Box, by Nigel Quinlan, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Masterminds, by Gordan Korman, at This Kid Reviews Books

A Nearer Moon, by Melanie Crowder, at SLJ

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Beyond the Bookshelf

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at Sonderbooks and Cover2CoverBlog

Nightborn, by Lou Anders, at The Arched Doorway

Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, by Geoffrey McSkimming, at Charlotte's Library

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire, at Charlotte's Library

Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Authors and Interviews

Will Mabbitt (The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones), at The Children's Book Review

Soman Chainani (The Last Ever After) at Lili's Reflections, Seeing Double in NeverlandWonderland Novels, The Cover Contessa, and Reading Teen


Other Good Stuff

At The Horn Book, Monica of Educating Alice looks at the Morgan Library's exhibit Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland.

Some suggestions for fans of the Ever After series at Pages Unbound, and some suggestions for underappreciated middle grade fantasy series at From Kirsten's Brain

A Tuesday Ten of Cinderellas at Views from the Tesseract

If you need another good reason to come to Kidlitcon this October, the lovely folks at Papercutz are giving two most enticing looking graphic novels to every attendee! Scarlett #1: A Star on the Run
by Jon Buller and Susan Schade, and The Red Shoes and Other Tales, by Metaphrog!  Just a reminder, the early registration rate ends August 15!  And it is not to late to submit a session proposal (Aug. 1 is the deadline for that).  So if you have a burning desire to talk about something, do let us know!

And finally, in as much as August is just around the corner, it is time to start thinking about applying to be a panelist for the Cybils AwardsHere's a post I wrote a while back explaining what's involved.

 

7/25/15

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire

Valiant, by Sarah McGuire (Egmont USA, April, 2015), is a pleasing fairy tale retelling (of The Brave Little Tailor) for older middle grade readers who just venturing YA-ward (which is to day, ages 11-14).

Saville is the daughter of an extremely skillful tailor, but no matter how hard she has tried to be good, and no matter how straight her seems are sewn, he loves his silks and find cloths more than he cares for her.   He is determined to become tailor to the king, but is laid low with a stroke just as he and Saville are about to arrive at the capitol city.   With no other obvious way to look after him and herself, Saville disguises herself as a boy, and assumes the identity of his assistant.  She succeeds in winning the king's approval, and is able to support her father, and a young orphaned boy, Will, who she cares for deeply. 

But the kingdom is under threat from giants, reputed to be devourers of human flesh.  To save Will, who has been captured by two giant scouts, Saville leaves the safety of the city to confront them herself.  And by trickery, straight from the classic fairytale, she convinces them of her strength (squeezing water from a stone, that is actually cheese, and throwing a stone that is actually a bird higher in the air than even a giant could) and makes it back to the city with Will.   But to her dismay, she is now hailed as the kingdom's champion, and her identity as a girl is unmasked to the king and his court.   And the giants are just as much as threat as ever, especially when it is revealed that their leader is a deathless, villainous character of legend....

In the meantime, Saville finds herself falling in love with the king's cousin, Lord Verras, working with him to try to keep the kingdom from falling to the giants and their evil duke.   In the end, it is not any feat of strength that saves the day, but Saville's intelligence and ability to conceive of the giants not as monsters, but as people. 

It is not the fastest read ever, especially the first half or so; I found myself able to put it down without pain, but I kept coming back to it.  I liked Saville very much--she is a very decent, thoughtful person, motivated by love, and although some readers might be disappointed that her romance with Lord Verras does not burn as brightly (and take over the story) as much as the romances do in many YA books, I found it satisfying (although I find myself wondering how things will work out long term, because of the class difference--her a tailor's daughter, him a lord; I can imagine this causing tension down the line....), and likewise, some might be disappointed that Saville doesn't actually DO much beyond figuring things out, but since I enjoy ancient stories holding the solution to problems more than I enjoy people whacking each other with swords, this was fine with me.  McGuire does a nice job twisting the original tale with added nuance and emotional heft.

In short, a pleasant one for fans of fairytales; I'd offer this one to those who enjoy Jessica Day George's books about the 12 Dancing Princesses in particular.   Here's the Kirkus review, which pretty much matches my own opinion.

7/21/15

Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, by Geoffrey McSkimming, for Timeslip Tuesday

Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, by Geoffrey McSkimming (middle grade, Allen & Unwin, May 2015), is this week's Timeslip Tuesday book, and after being somewhat spotty with having time travel books ready for Tuesdays, I'm happy to have gotten this one read and written about!

Phyllis Wong takes conjuring very seriously; she is the great granddaughter of a famous magician, who vanished mysteriously at the height of his fame, leaving her a legacy of magical accoutrements in the basement, and she has cultivated her own impressive talents assiduously.  (Me--I like this about Phyllis very much; I am always happy to read about people practicing their crafts!)  When her great grandfather unexpectedly returns, looking no older than the day he vanished, Phyllis learns there's real magic in the world--her great grandfather has found the secrets of time travel, and now teaches them to her. 

Their first trip to Egypt in 1927 is simply practice, but then Phyllis finds herself drawn into a mystery that will take her back to Shakespeare's London.  Another time traveler plans to steal the original copy of Shakespeare's lost play, The History of Cardenio, and Phyllis is determined to prevent this.  But can she convince the suspicious Bard of her own good intentions, and foil the plot?

Once Phyllis starts travelling back to the 17th century, the book really gets going, and is a fine, fun excursion; it's a pleasure to meet Shakespeare and his players along with Phyllis, and the villain is satisfactorily villainous, and Phyllis, and her little dog, are satisfactorily plucky.  And her stowaway friend Clement, with his twin interests of zombie games and over the top disguises, adds nice comic relief.  However, thing take a while to really get going;  the meeting of Phyllis and her great grandfather and his explanations of time travel are rather less engaging,  and the trip to Egypt added little; some readers might not be hooked enough to keep on till the good part! (I  myself was getting a little doubtful, and so was happy to be pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story once Phyllis sets out to London!).   The set-up for the mystery, involving a suspicions flood of mint condition first folios of  Shakespeare's plays coming on the market, worked for me, but again I'm not sure a young reader would find that particular scenario immediately gripping.

This is the sequel to Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto, which I've not read, but which introduces Phyllis as she finds herself solving a series of baffling robberies.  There's not that much detective work here, but it is solid time travel adventure!  The way the time travel works makes consistent sense, and although the past is the backdrop for the adventure, rather than being itself the point, its described vividly enough to make it an important part of the story.  The third book, Phyllis Wong and the Waking of the Wizard, just now out in Australia,  continues the time travel fun, and I'm looking forward to it!

And I'm happy to have another title for my list of time travel with diverse protagonists!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher



7/20/15

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

If I had a long airplane trip in front of me, or a five hour wait at a dentist's office, or something equally uncomfortable, I would like very much to be having the pleasure of reading Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (Deckle Edge, 2015), for the first time again.  As it was, the suck-in-to-book-world force was so strong that I was able to ignore the crushing heat of my house at lunch time, and even my desire to get up to get a Fla-Vor-Ice (sic) was trumped by my desire to keep reading.....So yes, it's one of my top books of the year.  Technically it's a book for grown-ups, but if I had been told it was published as YA, I would not have questioned it.

The basic story--a bad Wood of Evil threatens the inhabitants of various villages in a valley.  The threat of the Wood is held in check by the power of a magician, known as the Dragon.  Every ten years the Dragon chooses a girl from one of the villages to go live with him (none of them ever report sex being part of the living arrangement...).  Agnieszka is the latest girl to be picked.  She wasn't expecting to be chosen, because of not being particularly beautiful or accomplished...but it turns out she has a gift for magic that made the Dragon kind of have to pick her to teach her.

It does not go as he had planned- her magic and his magic are very different in flavor.  His is the well-crafted, aesthetically handsomely crafted edifices of spellwork, and for her magic comes most easily as homely song and friendly word, feeling and intuition working just as strongly for her as well studied words do for the Dragon. 

Gradually the two of them, so very different, learn to be harmoniously in the world together viz their magic, which is a Good Thing because the Wood is very very very bad and basically wants to send its poision out into the whole world of humanity, and they learn to live harmoniously as people, and (I really liked this aspect of the book) there isn't insta love between the two, but rather sexual desire on the part of Agnieszka totally of her own accord (she initiates things) and with no moping and swooning--and it's not that it's not romantic, but it's a realistic, believable two people strongly phycially attracted to each other relationship.  This makes it rather different from the insta-love of the swoon worthy new boy that has shown up in the last ten YA spec. fic. books I've read.....

And the fight against the wood ends up involving court intrigue and armies and duplicity and scheming (I could have just stayed happily in the Dragon's tower humming spells along with Agnieszka and getting to know the Dragon along with her and sharing flashbacks to her childhood, but I guess the  bad magic out in the wider world of kings and princes and court magicians was important to the story....)

And then there is the final faceoff, and it is somewhat more nuanced than I was expecting with regard to motivation of the bad force behind the Wood.

So in short, I found it immensely readable; my only un-positive thought is that I'm not sure there's enough unsaid or implied or suggested such that re-reading would make it even more to be appreciated (the way, for instance, that one can keep reading Megan Whalen Turner's book and find a new meaning in how a particular gem flashes that give character insights).  It's not tremendously subtle....and  much of the magic is perhaps overly convenient and easily used....so though I enjoyed the first reading very much,  I'm not going to go leaping out to buy my own copy to re-read ad nauseum.


7/19/15

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (7/19/15)

This week I don't have much myself to contribute to this list; houseguests plus preparing to be the Provider of Historical Interest on a kayak tour of a local reservoir (happening in 2 hours, gulp) took most of my time.  Please let me know if I missed your post!
The Reviews

13 Curses, by Michelle Harrison, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at For Those About to Mock

Darkmouth: The Legends Begin, by Shane Hegarty, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Grounded: the Adventures of Rapunzel, by Megan Morrison, at Pages Unbound

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant,  at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge, at Dead Houseplants

Lilliput, by Sam Gayton, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall, at School Library Journal

The Memory Chair, by Susan White, at Finding Wonderland (not actually from this week, but I haven't seen it around elsewhere, so its of interest)

Nightborn, by Lou Anders, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Ranger in Time: Danger in Ancient Rome, by Kate Messner, at The Write Stuff

Rose, by Holly Webb, at Leaf's Reviews

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Fantasy Book Critic

School of Charm, by Lisa Ann Scott, at Always in the Middle

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at YA Book Bridges

Secrets of Selkie Bay, by Shelley Moore Thomas, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia, Nayu's Reading Corner,  Randomly Reading, and Small Review

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex, at Read Till Dawn

The Wish Stealers, by Tracy Trivas, at Read Till Dawn

Authors and Interviews

Robert Beatty (Serafina and the Black Cloak) at Charlotte's Library, Geo Librarian, and The Hiding Spot


Other Good Stuff

At the New York Library, Pooh is currently behind the scenes being repaired, but in the meantime there's an exhibit of original items and some illustrations related to Mary Poppins. (More at Publishers Weekly)

Abi Elphinstone talks about the magic of trees at Middle Grade Strikes Back







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