The books my boys are getting for Christmas

Since this is Tuesday, I should have a time travel book review, but it didn't happen, so instead I offer the books that my boys are getting for Christmas.  It would be nice if my reading taste just happened to be the same as that of my children, which would be very nice for me, but it isn't. There is only one that I was tempted to get for myself; can you guess which one?

For my 13 year old son--

Homestuck: Book Three, by Andrew Hussie.  Books one and two are out of print and too expensive at this time, so I hope he doesn't mind having just this one.  Since he loves Homestuck, it should be ok.

Year of Yesh: A Mutts Treasury by Patrick McDonnell.  Because all 13 year old boys need love and cute.

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hanna Hart.  My son took John Green's recommendation to heart, and this is the only book he specifically asked for.  I'm not quite sure what he'll make of it; the blurb references lesbian sex, which might make him blush (the sex part, not the lesbian part).

Rocks Fall Everyone Dies by Linday Ribar.  I pointed this one out to him in the bookstore, and the cover and title appealed mightily.

The Answer (Steven Universe) by Rebecca Sugar.  This turned out to be a bit on the young side, but he's a fan, so he'll enjoy it at least for one read.

For my 16-year-old son--

Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 By Joseph Fink.  Night Vale of course is geek teen staple, and I'm hoping his fan enthusiasm carries over into reading.

Hilda and the Black Hound (Hildafolk) by Luke Pearson.  He just read the fifth Hildafolk book for his work as a graphic novelist for the Cybils Awards, and happened to mention that he'd never read this one, and that really he'd like to own the whole series (which isn't going to happen this Christmas...there are limits).

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (Book 2) (Lowriders in Space) by Cathy Camper.  He wanted it for his graphic novel collection.

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. Another asked for because it was a gap in his collection.

(Here's his graphic novel review tumbler, if anyone wants the authentic target audience opinion....)


This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (12/4/16)

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

The Reviews

A Boy Called Christmas, by Matt Haig, at The Reading Nook Reviews

The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, at Bibliobrit

The Edge of Extiction: the Ark Plan, by Laura Martin, at Semicolon

Fairies of Dreamdark, by Laini Taylor (series review) at A Reader of Fictions

Fires of Invention, by Scott Savage, at Redeemed Reader

Fuzzy, by Tom Angleberger, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Gears of Revolution, by Scott Savage, at Redeemed Reader

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Completely Full Bookshelf

The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier, at Hidden in Pages

The Littlest Bigfoot, by Jennifer Weiner, at books4yourkids

The Lost Compass, by Joel  N. Ross, at Puss Reboots

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, at  Online Eccentric Librarian

Museum of Theives, by Lian Tanner, at Leaf's Reviews

Phoenix, by S.F. Said, at Charlotte's Library

Princess Between Worlds, by E.D. Baker, at Leaf's Reviews

The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle, by Gabrielle Kent, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at The Reading Nook Reviews

The Shrunken Head, by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester, at Hidden In Pages (audiobook review)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storygaurd, by Jonathan Auxier, at Becky's Book Reviews

Upside-Down Magic, by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins, at Middle Grade Mafioso

Young Scrouge, by R.L. Stine, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Two at  Ms. Yingling Reads--The Secrets of Hexbridge Hall, by Gabrielle Kent, and The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz

Two at Good Books and Good Wine--Saving Lucas Briggs, by David Teague and Marisa de los Santos, and The Thickety, by J.A. White

Authors and Interviews

Grace Lin (in graphic novel form) at A Fuse #8 Production

Ross Welford (Time Traveling with a Hamster) at Time Travel Times Two

Other Good Stuff

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has announced Jane Yolen as the 33rd Damon Knight Grand Master (read more at Tor)


Timekeeper, by Tara Sim, for TImeslip Tuesday

Timekeeper, by Tara Sim (Sky Pony Press, YA, November 2016), literally starts with time slipping; in this case, two o'clock goes missing from a clock tower.  In this quasi Victorian world, clocks don't just tell time, they keep it running, so the loss of 2 o'clock has repercussions for the people that live around that tower, for whom it is suddenly three o'clock.  17 year old Danny is the clock mechanic sent to repair this tower, but what should be a simple job leads him down unexpected paths when he meets the spirit and driving force of this particular tower, Colton, who has the form of a boy Danny's own age.

Danny has lots on his plate emotionally--his father got trapped in a town where time was stopped, and Danny wants to be on the team working to mend things.  His mother has withdrawn from him, and he himself is caught up in his own problems to an unhealthy point.  Being gay is not a crime in this version of the past, but it's not the done thing either, and that difference also contributes to Danny's loneliness and depression.  But Colton, beautiful, impossible Colton, makes him think of other things.....

This book is both romance and mystery (the mystery being how time was stopped in the town where Danny's dad is trapped).  The dangers that spill over from the mystery solving jeopardize the romance, and the romance jeopardizes Danny's role in freeing his father....The two threads are nicely entangled, making for a nicely balanced whole. This is one for readers who don't expect constant Alarms and Excursions; it's something of a slow burn that requires immersion into the fascinating world of clocks and clock spirits and manifestations of temporal twistiness.

Do try this one if you are looking for a sweet but fraught romance (especially if you're looking for an LGBTQ one).  Do try this if you think that time spent cleaning and repairing clockwork with the clock tower spirit helping, and lots of Danny sensing time bending and moving around him, sounds interesting.  But don't go into it expecting a steampunk extravaganza of strange mechanicals and lots of zapping and zipping.  I myself enjoyed it lots, and recommend it.

And so, in a recommending spirit, here's what the pros said, all of which I agree with without any (substantive) quibbling:

"Part mystery and part romance, this fantasy novel delves into what it means to grow up and make important decisions. With an easily relatable main character struggling to fit in, the novel has a realistic and contemplative voice. VERDICT: A must-have richly written fantasy novel that will have readers eagerly anticipating the next volume." —School Library Journal

"Sim creates a cast of complex and diverse characters, as well as a mythology to explain how the clock towers came to exist . . . an enjoyable, well-realized tale." —Publishers Weekly

“[M]ystery, LGBTQ romance, and supernatural tale of clock spirits and sabotage that explores how far people might go for those they love. Its strongest elements are the time-related mythology and the supernatural gay romance.” —Booklist

"This LGBTQ steampunk romance sports a killer premise and admirably thorough worldbuilding, helpfully annotated in the author’s afterword. The characters—even the bad guys—are sympathetically drawn and commendably diverse in sexuality and gender." —Kirkus Reviews

"An enjoyable start to a promising new trilogy." —BookPage

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Phoenix, by S.F. Said

There isn't a whole lot of middle grade space adventure out there, and so it's always a nice change for the reader who focuses on the middle grade (which is to say, me) to get to go voyaging out among the stars.  Phoenix, by S.F. Said (Candlewick October 2016 in the US)  is the story of  a boy named Lucky, whose own chance to leave home and set out on interstellar adventures starts in just about the worst way possible--with the death of his mother. She is killed by the sinister Shadow Guards (the soldiers of humanity out among the stars) before she has a chance to answer  any of Lucky's questions (he has lots, and they are very pertinent), and so Lucky's journey is one where, in true hero style, he must figure out the truth about who he is and what his destiny is.

His mother's last action (besides dying to save him from the Shadow Guards) was securing them passage off the moon of Ares One that was their home.  The ship she found, though, was an Axxa ship, and the Axxa (with their scary red eyes, horns, and hooves) are currently the official enemies of humanity; the two races are fighting a vicious war out among the stars.   And now Lucky is alone with the Axxa, and he's not happy about that, and neither are they. Plus his mother is dead, and his father, who he's never met, is somewhere lost out among the stars....

But it turns out that the Axxa and the humans are more alike than they are different.  And it also turns out that this particular group might be just whot Lucky needs to find his destiny, and to help him control the inferno that he holds with himself.  For Lucky is a rather unsual kid.  When he is threatened, he burns, sending a conflagration out that he cannot (yet) control.   After several perilous adventures in space, the knowledge and mythology (historical truths?) of the Axxa lead him to the answer that he, and the war torn galaxy, both need, and to a choice that isn't really a choice at all....

The setting, stories, and characters were all interesting, and it all moves along at a nice place.  It's a good one for the older end of middle grade (11-12 year olds).  This isn't cute alien fun (though there is an appealling phoenix) but a deadly serious struggle with an ending whose "happily ever after" comes with a twist, and at a cost.  (There's also a kiss, but that's as far as the romance gets).  It's a book with a good message of tolerance for difference, and peace vs. war, and the main female character is nicely strong and self-reliant.  The blocks of text are broken by black and white illustrated sequences of Lucky's dream-trips through the stars, and illustrations referencing the star beings at the heart of Axxa religion/mythology, which bring an element of surreality and other-worldliness to the reading experience that compliment Lucky's own journey nicely.  (Just for the record, I see the blurb on Amazon calls them "remarkable white-on-black spacescapes," which sounds better, if you can swallow "spacescape").

It didn't quite have enough depth or subtlety in terms of writing or story to make me personally love it (for instance, the wise old Axxa sage is named Mystica) and Lucky never impressed me with quick wit and keen intelligence,  but if you have young readers around who like stories of brave kids discovering they are heroes and ending wars etc., it might well resonate with them just fine.

And now, a quick round of "fun with Kirkus."

"An astrological twist on an age-old story; the echoes of Star Wars, The Golden Compass, and A Wrinkle in Time should win it fans."

So Star Wars because it's about a boy with strange powers and an absent father zipping around in space with a war going on, so that's a perfectly fine echo.  The Golden Compass because it's about a special kid with an interesting device (Lucky has a mystical astrolabe) who makes friends with someone of the opposite sex, and that's as far as I get, which seems a rather weak echo.  A Wrinkle in Time because in both books, stars are more than just balls of gas, and that's really all I've got and this really seems a stretch.  If you do read this one, and find other echoes, please share!

But it's clear that Kirkus meant it kindly, so there you are.  And I do agree that though Phoenix is not for everyone, there will be kids whose socks it knocks off.

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


This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/27/16)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; please let me know if I missed your post.


The Black Lotus, by Kieran Fanning, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Curious Tale of the Inbetween, by Lauren DeStefano, at The O.W.L. (audiobook review)

The Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, at Tales of the Marvelous

The Girl Who Could Not Dream, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Dead Houseplants

Henry Hunt and the Beast of Snagov, by John Matthews, at Read Till Dawn

The Howling Ghost, by Christopher Pike, at Say What?

The Kingdom of Oceania, by Mitchell Charles, at The Write Path

Mission to Moon Farm (Secrets of Bearhaven #2), by K.E. Rocha, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at Semicolon

Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at Tales from the Raven

The Secret Path, by Christopher Pike, at Say What?

This is Not a Werewolf Story, by Sandra Evans, at Semicolon

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, at The Book Wars

Wildings, by Eleanor Glewwe, at books4yourkids

Wisdom of the Centaurs' Reason (Andy Smithson #6) by L.R.W. Lee, at Log Cabin Library

Authors and Interviews

Henry Neff (Impyrium) at Book Dreaming

Will Mabbitt (Mabel Jones series) at The  Reading Nook Reviews

Abby Cooper (Sticks and Stones) at For the Love of All Things Wordy

Other Good Stuff

"Middle Grade Book Wisdom 2016, Mostly Fantasy" at Semicolon


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (11/20/16)

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

The Reviews

A Boy Called Christmas, by Matt Haig, at Cover2CoverBlog

Circle of Magic, by Tamora Pierce, at Got My Book (audiobook review)

The Crimson Skew, by S.E. Grove, at BN Kids Blog

Cuckoo Song, by Framces Hardinge, at Finding Wonderland

Five Children on the Western Front, by Kate Saunders, at Becky's Book Reviews and Fuse #8

Foxheart, by Claire Legrand, at My Comfy Chair

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi, at The O.W.L. (audiobook review)

The Gateway Series, by Cerberus Jones, at Charlotte's Library

The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz, at Life's an Art

Lodestar, by Shannon Messenger, at Carstairs Considers

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at Leaf's Reviews

Max Helsing and the Beast of Bone Creek, by Curtis Jobling, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Skyborn, by Lou Anders, at This Kid Reviews Books

So You Want to be a Wizard, by Diane Duane, at Fantasy Faction

Thornghost, by Tone Almhjell, at BN Kids Blog

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, at Redeemed Reader and Book Nut

The Wizard of Dark Street, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, at Leaf's Reviews

Two audiobooks at alibrarymama--The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, and Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway

Four at alibrarymama---Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, Zahra the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor, Baker's Magic, by Diane Zahler, Of Mice and Magic, by Ursula Vernon

Five at Random Musings of a Bibliophile- Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison, The Dragon's Return by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, Andy Tong,  My Diary From the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart, When the  Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

Authors and Interviews

Kate Milford (The Left-Handed Fate) at BN Kids Blog

Lou Anders (Skyborn) at This Kid Reviews Books

Eleanor Glewwe (Wildlings) at The Children's Book Review

Other Good Stuff

Multicultural Children's Book Day is set for January 27, 2017; sign up to be part of the review storm of multicultural books!  You will be matched with a book that will be sent to you.

Jeff Smith's Bone series is becoming a movie, via Tor

Vintage matchbox style art of your favorite monsters, via Tor


The Gateway series, by Cerberus Jones

Getting right to the point--if you need a series for an 8-11ish year old kid who enjoys sci fi/fantasy, and who likes series fiction in which the character development and bigger picture is played out over the course of multiple books, I recommend the Gateway Series, by Cerberus Jones (Kane Miller, 2016 in the US, earlier in Australia), with a pretty high level of confidence.

The setting of the series is a mysterious old hotel, that happens to be located at a stop on the intergalactic expressway, more or less, and so many of the guests are aliens. Mostly they are harmless, but sometimes not....and no one on earth is supposed to find out about them.  That being said, there are people on earth who know the secrets of the hotel.

When Amelia and her older brother James find out their parents are moving them to the strange old hotel, they have not idea that it has more mystery to it than the obvious "what  were Mom and Dad thinking?' But as the various aliens passing through their new home stir up trouble and adventure, the kids, including Amelia's friend Charlie, whose mom works at the hotel, have no choice but to be involved, up to their necks in alien shenanigans....

Each book has its own entertaining adventure, and as the series progresses, character development progresses as well.  As I said above, these are just at the right reading level for kids who don't want little kid chapter books anymore, but who are still young. The books are under 150 pages, with a generous font size, the dangers are dangerous without being too terribly scary, and Charlie and Amelia are relatable characters, who do their best to contribute helpful to every new crisis, with variable results.... 

The first four books of the series are

The Four-Fingered Man
The Warriors of Brin-Hask
The Midnight Mercenary
The Ancient Starship

disclaimer: review copies received from the publisher


The Mountain of Kept Memory, by Rachel Neumeier

It has been a hard week here (including bonus water pipe breaking, and no water for too many days....).  But happily, very happily, I had the best sort of book for such a week on hand; in the words of Pooh, "A Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in a Great Tightness."    The Mountain of Kept Memory, by Rachel Neumeier, was a perfect escape from quotidian stress.

I found it hard to summarize the story, but here's my try at it....

Oressa is a princess of Carastind, a smallish kingdom of not much rain and not much importance.  But one thing Carastind has going for it is divine protection in the form of the enigmatic Kieba, who provides cures for the deadly plagues that periodically bubble up, and whose machines of war have been an effective deterrent against neighboring countries' aggression.  

Oressa has spent her life acting docile when around her father, and learning how to read people and gather information on her own time.  When the unthinkable happens and Carastind is invaded, and the Kieba fails to act, Oressa and her brother Gulien, her friend and ally, have to act instead. 

The invaders want not just Carastind, but the power of the Kieba.  But it is the Kieba's power, the last living relict of the long-dead gods, that keeps the plagues from overwhelming the world.  In the mountain where the Kieba dwells, the memories of death of the gods live on, and the power of the memories sustains the Kieba.   And it is at that mountain that Oressa and Gulien get caught in a struggle with their worst enemies, in an alliance with former enemies, and in a life or death struggle to keep the Kieba's powers from falling into the wrong hands....

  Here are the important things:
--Oressa is smart and impulsive and very much her own person and grows into an appreciation of herself as she becomes more appreciated.  I liked her lots, and it is easy to imagine her as a great queen.  I liked history and story-loving Gulien too, which is good because the book alternates between their points of view.

--the gods, and there were lots of them, are dead.  But their legacy lives on.  There's lots of backstory of magic and mayhem that isn't all spelled out, because that would be deadweight on the story at hand, but which makes the story at hand incredibly rich and interesting. 

--the romance is lovely, and it is based on mutual respect, earned during the course of events, and not just on instant attraction.

--the level of tension was just right for me.  There's the very real threat of the country falling to invaders, the very real threat of the Keiba falling to invaders, and the more mysterious threats of the relics (including the plagues) of the dead gods.  Coupled with these external tensions, the main characters also have their own issues and emotional baggage to deal with; I thought the end result was a very nice balance of external action and character development.

--people are intelligent, and talk and act accordingly, or if they don't, they regret it.  It's a book in which the main characters spend a lot of time thinking about things, so if you like mad rushing around with swords and sorcery in your fantasy, you  will perhaps find it slowish.  And though I myself didn't find it so, it almost felt like two books, because there's a first wave of story, and then after that's more or less resolved, a second bigger wave comes.

The Mountain of Kept Memory is marketed as an adult book, but it is just fine for YA and even Middle Grade kids (the romance is never physically explicit, the violence is never grotesque).  

Final thought-it was lovely to spend a nice leisurely time reading this one, and I loved every minute of it! If you share my taste in books, you will probably like this one lots. If  you like the dreamy, atmospheric cover image of a place clearly full of history and story, and think "I would like to explore that place," you will like it.  If you look at the cover and think, "those people aren't doing anything and nothing is happening," you won't.

Here are some other reviews, at NPR, RT Book Reviews, and alibrarymama

disclaimer: review copy received from the author


This week's round-up of midle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/13/16)

Here's the first post-election round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs.  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

100 Cupboards, by N.D. Wilson, at Say What?

Above, by Roland Smith, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Alistair Grimm's Odd Aquaticum, by Gregory Funaro, at Log Cabin Library

A Clatter of Jars, by Lisa Graff, at Pages Unbound

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate, at Puss Reboots

Dead City, by James Ponti, at Geo Librarian

Ember Falls, by S.D. Smith, at Redeemed Reader

Half Magic, by Edward Eager, at Becky's Book Reviews

Hatched, by Bruce Coville, at Say What?

Hoodoo, by Ronald L. Smith, at Geo Librarian

Impyerium, by Henry Neff, at Always in the Middle

Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkings, at Book Nut

The Littlest Bigfoot, by Jennifer Weiner, at The New York Times

Lodestar, by Shannon Messenger, at Book Dreaming and Kitty Cat at the Library, and a series recommendation with giveaway at Completely Full Bookshelf

Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart, at The NY Times

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Becky's Book Reviews

Sword in the Stacks (Ninja Librarians 2), by Jen Swann Downey, at  Beans Bookshelf and Coffee Break

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, at The New York Times and Cracking the Cover

The Wild Ones, and The Moonlight Brigade, by Alexander London, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Atlantis Lost, by T.A. Barron, and The Monster War, by Alan Gratz

Other Good Stuff

The World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), coordinator of the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) has given first approval to a new Young Adult Science / Fantasy Award, and now it needs a name!  Make your suggestion here at the  name-the-award-survey by  November 15th.  I'm thinking "The Blue Sword."  Or possibly "The Tesseract."

"Why Science Fiction is Important" at Got My Book

And just a post-election shout-out to a local organization--Books are Wings--whose mission is to get books to kids who need them.  Which is even more important now.


A Blind Guide to Normal, by Beth Vrabel

So I think it's rather nice that the book up on deck for today is one about love and bravery and moving onward from grief and fear with head held high.  A Blind Guide to Normal, by Beth Vrabel (Sky Pony Press, October 2016, middle grade)  is a companion to A Blind Guide To Stinkville.  It's the story of a very minor character in that book, a boy named Ryder, who leaves the sheltered world of a boarding school for the blind, where his sense of humor had made him well-liked,  to live with his mother at the home of his paternal grandfather.  His dad was supposed to be there too, but got a wildlife biology opportunity far off in the northern wilderness that was too good to resist.  The idea was that Ryder would get to lead a normal life of family and 8th grade at public school...the reality was that living with his grandfather without his father and with his mother neglecting him for her own work wasn't at all what "normal" was supposed to look like.

His grandfather's home is basically locked in the past; it's been kept exactly as it was when his grandmother died when her son was born (in the 1970s, which aren't a good time to be locked into).  And the grandfather's only way to reach out is with his horrible sense of humor; little things like signing Ryder up for quilting class at school.  Embarrassing.  Awkward.  Unlovable.  And rather similar to Ryder in his use of humor as a coping mechanism.

Ryder himself isn't "normal."  He lost an eye to childhood cancer, and the sight in his remaining eye isn't great, and he has to live not only with the visual difficulties but with the fear that the cancer might come back.  And Ryder is not great at keeping control of his mouth.  The first day at school he makes an enemy of the golden boy in town.... whose girlfriend (ish) Jocelyn, with her own burden of grief and guilt, Ryder starts crushing on something fierce.

It's a character driven book, so although there are things that happen (including a generous helping of martial arts training, which I enjoyed, even though martial arts aren't my own thing), the point is Ryder's emotional state and the emotions of those around him.  By the end of the book, they have moved to a point where they can smash the past (at least partly) and face their fears.  Although loss and uncertainty can't be vanquished just through character growth, peace and acceptance are possible, and welcome.  It's not a surprise ending, but it's a welcome one.  I enjoyed my time with  Ryder and his grandfather and Jocelyn, and wish them well.   If you are looking for a warm, hopeful, sometimes funny, sometimes squirm-inducing read, give this one a try.

disclaimer: review copy received from the author.


This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantsay from around the blogs (11/6/16)

Happy November!  Here's what I found in this week's blog reading.  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Curse of the Boggin, by D.J. MacHale, at Semicolon

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, by David Neilsen, at The Write Stuff (giveaway)

Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines by Charlotte Bennardo, at Project Mayhem

Gears of Revolution, by J. Scott Savage, at Cracking the Cover

The Goblin's Puzzle, by Andrew S. Chilton, at The Childrens Book Review

The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud, at Pages Unbound

The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz, at Redeemed Reader, Semicolon, and Abby the Librarian

Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkings, at Green Bean Teen Queen

The Kat Siclair Files: Dead Air, by Michelle Schusterman, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Midnight Glass, by J.T. Vaughn, at The Write Path

Rebel Genius,  by Michael Dante DiMartino, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Scourge, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Bookish Ambition

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, by Megan Shepherd, at Waking Brain Cells

The Ugly Teapot, by Fred Holms, at Kitty Cat at the Library (with interview)

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing-Eye, by Tania del Rio, at Log Cabin Library

The Wishing World, by Todd Fahnestock, at The Kid Reviews Books

Wormwood Mire, by Judith Rossell, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Four at Ms. Yingling Reads-- Michael D. Beil, A New Recruit, Adam Shaughnessy, The Unbelievable FIB 1: The Trickster's Tale (The Unbelievable FIB #1), Janette Rallison, The Wrong Side of Magic, Meghan Rogers, Crossing the Line

Authors and Interviews

Delia Sherman (The Evil Wizard Smallbone) at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

A Fantasy election poll at Boys Rule, Boys Read

I haven't quite figured out how to share blog tour lists.  They are of interest, so I want to include them, but I don't like that the links don't go directly to the posts.  Any thoughts?

Blog Tour Schedule for Impyrium, by Henry Neff
October 24thCrossroad Reviews
October 25th — Book Swoon
October 26thLife Naturally
October 27thThe Fandom
October 28thGeoLibrarian
October 31st WordSpelunking
November 1stBookhounds
November 2nd The OWL
November 3rdMundie Kids
November 4thRavenous Reader


The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

In The Singing Bones (Arthur A. Levine Books, October 11, 2016) Shaun Tan offers three dimensional art to evoke the spirit of various of Grimm's fairy tales.  Snippets of the tales are presented along side images of small sculptures.  The seventy-five sculptural arrangements are weird, evocative, and eldritch embodiments of the stories; each one calls for contemplation and a pause to enjoy it before turning to the next.  The peculiar is highlighted, the mood is captured, the mythic is embodied.

If you don't know the stories already, you will maybe find the book frustrating, because the stories aren't told in their entirety.  If you know the stories already, you might, like me, want very much to reread them with the new images in mind.  Here's a sample page (Little Red Cap), which shows how a small bit of text is pared with an image.  The page size is big enough so that the details of the images can be beautifully appreciated.

This is a book that would make a perfect gift for a fan of fairy tales, if, again like me, you are thinking ahead to Christmas!  It's a very good present book to give to someone you want to give a book too but aren't sure what, the sort of book that would be a nice addition to any coffee table.  It would make an especially nice gift if paired with modeling clay, because the small sculptures Tan has created are more than a bit inspiring....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Family Tree, by Sheri Tepper, for Timeslip Tuesday

I was sad to hear that Sheri Tepper had died last week...she was a keystone of my speculative fiction reading in my twenties, and obliged just beautifully with her prolific writing.  As an added bonus, my mother discovered her at the same time I did, so we could share the reading experience.  Not every book was to my taste, but they were all interesting, and some I love.   One of my favorites is The Family Tree (May 1997).  And it is impossible to review the book without spoilers, so I shall start by saying that if you are at all interested in a scenario where nature starts fighting back against late stage capitalism, if you are at all interested in world building that involves very different races coexisting in (more or less peace), and if you are at all interested in books that cannot be reviewed without spoilers, because the moments of Realization are so stunning, then go read this book!  There's also a murder mystery, and it's one of Tepper's funniest books--it makes me chuckle lots and lots.  There's also a nice romance. 

On the other hand, it's a two stories at once book, so you have to bounce between two entirely different sets of characters in two very different places. 

I myself love love love the part of the story set in our world, which tells how nature decides to fight back against suburban sprawl, overpopulation, and the predations of goats on semiarid landscapes.  Dora, the protagonist of this part of the story, decides toward the start of the book to leave her husband, Jared.  The wonder of it is why she married him to begin with--it is not a real marriage in any sense of the word.  The catalyst for her decision is a plant, one that attacks Jared when he tries to kill it, sending him to the hospital.  Dora, on the other hand, has friendly feelings for the plant, and wishes it well (I like a character who says hi to plants).  So she finds a place of her own (she's a police officer, so can afford independence), and when trees start coming up all over, blocking roads and trapping parked cars, and removing parking lots etc., Dora is taken aback, but doesn't feel threatened.

But then she is.

And in the meantime, there's a whole nother story going on at the same time, about a group of diverse inhabitants of another society (sort of medievally in feel) going on a journey to find answers to prophecies and dire warnings.  The trees in this place are not growing every which way, but they have become strangly agitated; they feel a catastrophe is coming.

(mostly when I re-read I follow Dora's story straight through, because I like it better, but don't do this your first time reading because it will mess everything up, even it the non Dora story feels too stereotypically fantasy journey.....).

And then the two stories meet.

(spoilery now)

Spoilers not because I'm going to give everything away, but because the more about the book you know the more likely you are to guess things. 

So you can stop reading now.

The meeting of the two stories involves time travel of a rather unexpected kind, and revelations that there were other stories going on in both places that are rather astounding.

The time travel mechanics are not explained, but simply exist to make the story possible.  The time travel, with its concomitant issues of changes the past, and thereby changing the future, are central to the plot, but not so central to the story of the characters, like Dora, who have to cope with the time travel consequences and who have to try to keep the worst of them from happening.  There is a villain who must be foiled...and a future of diverse peoples to be saved.

So in any event this is my most favorite of Tepper's books, and every time I read it I see more and more clues in her descriptions (and boy, is she careful and cunning!) that once you know what's happening make it even more fun.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (10/30/16)

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

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, at Guy's Lit Wire

Amos Daragon, by Bryan Perro, at Say What?

The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, at Leaf's Reviews and Playing by the Book

The Crooked Sixpence (The Uncommoners book 1), by Jennifer Bell at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Disenchanted The Trials of Cinderella (Tyme #2) by Megan Morrison, at Log Cabin Library

The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Girl Who Could Not Dream, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Grave Robber's Apprentice, by Allan Stratton, at Hidden in Pages

A Guide to the Other Side, by Robert Imfeld, at Books Take You Places

The Haunting of Falcon House, by Eugene Yelchin, at Redeemed Reader and The Reading Nook Reviews (with giveaway)

How to Catch a Witch, by Abie Longstaff, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Inquisitor's Tale,  by Adam Gidwitz, at My Brain on Books

Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkins, at The Reading Nook Reviews

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Redeemed Reader

The Last First Day, by Dorian Cirrone, at Charlotte's Library

The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, at Redeemed Reader

Ollie's Odyssey, by William Joyce, at Semicolon

The Only Thing Worse than Witches, by Lauren Magaziner, at A Backwards Story

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price, by Jennifer Maschari, at Semicolon

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart, at Semicolon

Tell the Story to Its End, by Simon P. Clark, at Charlotte's Library

Took, by Mary Downing Hahn, at Geo Librarian

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Semicolon

Waiting for Augusta, by Jessica Lawson, at Semicolon and Puss Reboots

Two at Semicolon-The Wrinkled Crown, by Anne Nesbet, and Time Stoppers, by Carrie Jones

Four quick reviews at Random Musings of a Bibliophile--Baker's Magic, by Diane Zahller, The Goblin's Puzzle: The Adventures of a Boy With No Name and Two Girls Called Alice, by Andrew Chilton, A Most Magical Girl, by Karen Foxlee, The Scourge, by Jennifer Nielsen, and Sticks and Stones, by Abby Cooper

A Halloween-ish sampler at Boys Rule, Boys Read

Authors and Interviews

Ross Welford (Time Travelling with a Hamster) at The Hiding Spot

Henry N. Neff (Impyrium) at Geo Librarian (with review and giveaway)

G.A. Morgan (Five Stones Trilogy) at From the Mixed Up Files

M. Tara Crowl (Eden's Escape) at Log Cabin Library (with giveaway)

Susan Maupin Schmid (If the Magic Fits) at For the Love Of All Things Wordy

Other Good Stuff

Kubo and the Two Strings Screenwriter to Adapt Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon, via Tor

Rachel Neumeier shares her investigation into YA vs Mg

Harry Potter and the Underworld – An Essay by Catherine F. King , at The Book Smugglers

Witch Week has kicked off at Emerald City Book Review

And also in the Halloween spirit, there's a giveaway of the Lockwood and co books, at This Kid Reviews Books


Tell the Story To Its End, by Simon P. Clark

I had not heard of Tell the Story To Its End, by Simon P. Clark (published in the UK in 2014 as Eren, published by St. Martin's Griffin in October 2015 in the US) until it was nominated for this years Cybils Awards and ended up in my category of Elementary/Middle Grade fantasy.  It is a strange and spooky story, one of the most memorable books I've read this year, and I have found myself in the last day or so writing English class essays about it in my head....

12 year old Oli's mother has abruptly uprooted him from London and taken him to stay with his aunt and uncle in the old house in the country where she grew up, and where he's never been before.  She's being awfully unforthcoming with answers to his questions-how long they will be there, when is his dad coming, why haven't they ever been before.  But he's a bright boy, and during the next few weeks he learns the answer to the biggest question of why his father isn't there.

But that's not all that happens...the heart of the book is the story of the bat-like creature up in the attic, who hungers for stories.  Oli is fascinated as the creature shares with him memories of ancient stories tellers from long lost prehistory, but he is repelled at the same time.  There is something off about Eren (apart from the fact that he's a giant bat creature in the attic), and as the creature's insatiable demands for Oli's own story continue, Oli realizes that telling the story to its end might in fact be the end...

And in the meantime, Oli has made friends with two local kids with stories of their own, and tales of this place, which give him an anchor in the real world.  As he works through the lies his mother has told him, and thinks hard about stories, he clings to the hope that somehow he can twist his tale to escape from Eren's mesmerizing power over him, before he is sucked dry of words.

The ending leaves some hope, but I would have liked more of it.

It's on the older end of middle grade, not just because of the horror element and the unresolved ending, and the situation with Oli's father, but also because there are a few swears of the "hell" variety.  Not enough to raise my eyebrows, especially since this is an English book (I think that light swearing is less Shocking across the pond).  But it's not YA--Oli's only 12, and he's very much dealing with middle grade concerns of friendship and family, and having your soul sucked dry by a story vampire bat creature is not an age-specific problem (?)

There is tons and tons of food for thought about stories and the nature of reality and the telling of things...and the writing offers lots for the mind to play with in terms of metaphor and meaning.  In the essay I've been writing in  my head, I've explored images of roads, gates, and windows as offering both commentary on the facts of the situation and hope that there will be escape....

So though its not a comfort read, it sure is strange and magical.  Any one interested in stories and story telling, who likes fairy tale-esque twistedness of reality, will find it worth reading.

And lo, Kirkus agrees--"Savvy readers and would-be writers will love this exploration of story as an art form, a panacea, and an endless part of life."


The First Last Day, by Dorian Cirrone, for Timeslip Tuesday

The First Last Day, by Dorian Cirrone, is one of those time slip books where the clock resets every day.  In this case,  11-year-old Haleigh finds herself stuck in a magical time loop, reliving the last day of vacation at the beach with her best friend Kevin.  It was a good day, a really really good day, except for the part at the end where a very sad thing happens.  But after a while...Haleigh gets sick of all her art from the day before no longer existing, she's tired of knowing what's going to happen, and she's even more tired of not being able to do a darn thing to keep the sad thing from happening.  And she realizes that if she stays stuck in that one day forever, she'll miss out on a whole bunch of life...But how to break the time loop?

She's able to persuade Kevin that the story she tells him is real, and the two of them do a bit of detective work to find out the reason for the magic, and how to end it.  With every day exactly like the one before it, Haleigh thought it would be easy to find out how and why....but it trickier than she'd thought.  But once they mystery is solved, Haleigh's life starts going forward again, with Haleigh a little bit more grown up than she was before.

It a sweet fast read, a perfect last day at the beach read, and a good one for a girl like Haleigh who's uncertain about growing up and keeping old friends and familiar places.  The point is clearly made that growing up is inevitable and that change is not necessarily horrible, but it's not didactic.  It doesn't bring anything dramatically new or different to the genre of repeating time stories, but it's a pleasant read.

Though the friendship between Kevin and Haleigh might eventually become more, for the moment it's just the good friendship of kids, with no fuss about boy things vs girl things.  And also on the plus side, both sets parents are alive and functional! 

Short answer--not one I'd strongly recommend to grown-ups, who've already had to face the music of  growing up, but a good one for the target audience.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi/fantasy from around the blogs (10/23/16)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week of interest to us fans of mg sci fi/fantasy; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, at Got My Book (audiobook review)

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, at Got My Book (audiobook review)

The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood and Co. book 4), by Jonathan Stroud, at Hidden In Pages.

The Curse of the Boggin by D.J. MacHale, at Nerdophiles and Cover2CoverBlog (with giveaways)

The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman, at Sharon the Librarian

The Fog of Forgetting, by G.A. Morgan, at Nerdy Book Club

Fuzzy, by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger, at Semicolon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Ex Libris

The Girl Who Could Not Dream, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Log Cabin Library

In Due Time series review (books 1-3), by Nicholas O. Time, at Charlotte's Library

Insert Coin to Continue, by John David Anderson, at The Book Nut

Insignia,  by J.S. Kincaid, at Book Dreaming

Island of Legends, by Lisa McMann, at Back to Books

Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkins, at Great Imaginations

Juniper Berry, by M.P. Kozlowsky, at A Backwards Story

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel, by Natasha Lowe, at Sharon the Librarian

Monsterville, by Sarah S. Reida, at Say What?

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

The Rat Prince, by Bridget Hodder, at Charlotte's Library

Rebel Genius, by Michael Dante DiMartino, at Me On Books

Rise of the Ragged Clover (Luck Uglies book 3), by Paul Durham, at Semicolon

The Scourge, by Jennifer Nielsen, at The Book Smugglers

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, by Megan Shepherd, at Fantasy Literature and For the Love of All Things Wordy

Starchaser, by Angie Sage, at Ms. Yingling Reads

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, at Randomly Reading

The Wishing World, by Todd Fahnestock, at Geo Librarian

The Wooden Prince, by John Claude Bemis, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

two at Semicolon--Fortune Falls, by Jenny Goebel, and Sticks and Stones, by Abby Cooper

Authors and Intereviews

Sarah S. Reida (Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production) at The Children's Book Review

Tania Unsworth (Brightwood) at Nerdy Book Club

Steve Griffin (The Secret of the Tirthas series) at Carpinello's Writing Pages

Joshua Khan (Shadow Magic) at Middle Grade Strikes Back and Nayu's Reading Corner

Cynthia Reeg (From the Grave) at Always in the Middle

Other Good Stuff

A top twenty list of spooky middle grade at A Backwards Story

Rachel Neumeier recaps Jen Swann Downey's talk at Kidlitcon

One week till Witch Week at Emerald City Book Review

These people won garage decorating (via io9)


The Rat Prince, by Bridget Hodder

The Rat Prince, by Bridget Hodder (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2016) , is a Cinderella imagining in which the rat who gets transformed into a coachman is the central character.  Prince Char is indeed a prince among rats, and he and his rat subjects are not your garden variety rodents. They are pretty much human in mentality (though with rattish concern for Food), and their fortunes have been tied to the human house of Lancastyr for generations. Prince Char watches as the  last of the Lancastyrs, known as Cinderella by her cruel stepmother, suffers, and the stepmother, quick to turn to poison when it suits her, is no friend of the rats either.  Rat and girl become friends (he can understand human speech)...and Prince Char comes up with a plan that might save them both from the intolerable situation.  If Cinderella goes to the ball, and marries the prince, she can kick the stepmother out, saving the rats and ensuring that the Lancastyr bloodline will continue (without the family, the rats are just rats....).

And though the stepmother does her best to keep Cinderella from the ball, magic come into the story when the patron goddess of Cinderella's family comes to lend a hand.  Prince Char is now a handsome, princly human, Cinderella goes to the ball....and though the whole business of her marrying the prince is rather more complicated than in the familiar story (this version adds a nice level of complication to the situation)...Cinderella gets her happy ending.

The chapters alternate between Prince Char and Cinderella, so that both get a chance to become real characters to the reader.  Char is ratty enough when still a rat to be believable (sort of), and although his transformation to human form is unbelievably unproblematic with little residual rat, this is perhaps for the best given that he and Cinderella are in love.....

If you like fairy tale retellings and sweet romances suitable for younger kids to read (and if you can cope with the fact that one of the players is an ex-rat, which is really rather odd), you'll enjoy this one!   There's enough family history unfolded gradually to add some depth to the plot, and the situation with the human prince adds danger.  Plus there's the emotional weight of Cinderella's situation with her (absolutely justified) concern for her father keeping her trapped in a horrible situation.  In short, it's a fun, fast read that makes for a satisfying whole.   A good one for 9-11 year olds, not quite substantial enough for anyone much older unless they enjoy reading light fairy tale romance.


In Due Time, books 1-3, by Nicholas O. Time, for Timeslip Tuesday

For this week's Timeslip Tuesday I offer a new series of time travel adventures, great for the kid who loved Magic Tree House or the Time Warp Trio but who is now ready for a peek at middle school (which is to say, third and fourth graders who want to read about kids older than themselves, with a slightly more realistic fiction feel to the time travel shenanigans).

There are three books thus far in the series (from Simon Spotlight, all 2016):

Going, Going, Gone
Stay a Spell
Wrong Place, (Really) Wrong Time

The premise of the books is that a middle school librarian is the keeper of a book that serves as a time travel portal.  If the book is not used, its power wanes, so the librarian recruits kids she trusts to journey back in time, and (as we learn in the second and third books), there's an antagonist who wants to get his hands on the book, and alter history.  In the normal course of events, the book only allows for relatively minor positive changes.  In book one, Matt, Luis, and Grace travel back to the 50s to save Matt's grandfather from the accident that keeps him from being a pro baseball player.  In the second,  Jada and her two best friends go to 1977 Hollywood, and keep Jada's aunt from making the spelling mistake that foils her dream of becoming a fashion designer.  In the third book, Luis and a new friend, Andrew,  plan a journey with Captain Kidd, and then find themselves coping with visitors from the past in Luis' own home (and you really really don't want a Viking as a house guest!).

As the series progresses, the time travel lens widens, and the stakes get higher as the kids learn about the man who wants to get the book.  Things move beyond the tension of simple (as it were) time travel, to time travel with an enemy who needs thwarting! 

Along the way, the kids deal with a few regular middle school issues of a lighter sort (bad grades in spelling and making friends with a new kid sort, as opposed to weightier issues like dead parents and bullying).   This makes the books a good fit for elementary school aged readers--it won't make them anxious about 7th grade.   The protagonists are an engaging bunch, and Luis and Jada (who is black) bring diversity to the mix.  Something I especially like is that the kids don't fuss about gender when it comes to friendships; it's really nice to see books where boys and girls are simply good friends.

Time travel is relatively easy here--the librarian gives them scarfs that serve as time travel smoother-overs for those difficult linguist and clothing issues.  But of course that doesn't help Luis and Andrew when they have to keep a Viking, Charlie Chaplin, and King Tut from wrecking Luis' house! 

In short--these are fun, fast books that should please the target audience of 9 or so year olds.

disclaimer: review copies received from the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction (10/16/16)

So I'm here in the Wichita Airport, on my way home from Kidlitcon 2016...tired from the intense discussions (we worked hard!), happy to have seen my old friends and met new ones, happy to have seen Wichita, which has the best outdoor sculptures of any city I've ever been.  Thank you everyone who came to Kidlitcon as a speaker or an audience-er (at times a blurry line...)

So here, quickly finishing this off before my flight, is what I found in by blog reading from last week.

The Reviews

Cabinet of Wonders, by Marie Rutkoski, at Jean Little Library

The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, at The Book Nut

The Curse of the Were-Hyena, by Bruce Hale, at Sharon the Librarian

The Eye of Midnight, by Andrew Brumbach, at Semicolon

A Field Guide to Fantastical Beasts, by Olento Salaperäinen, at Fantasy Literature

The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi, at divabooknerd

Guys Read: Terrifying Tales, edited by Jon Sciezka, at Geo Librarian

The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan, at A Reader of Fictions

The Magician's Key, by Matthew Cody, at Sharon the Librarian

Of Mice and Magic, by Ursula Vernon, at Log Cabin Library

OMG...I Did It Again?! by Talia Aikens-Nunez, at Cover2Coverblog

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee, at Michelle I. Mason

Rebellion of Theives, by Kekla Magoon, at Ms. Yingling Reads

School of the Dead, by Avi, at Semicolon

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, by Megan Shepherd, at The Reading Nook Reviews and Vegan Daemon

The Secrets of Solace, by Jaleigh Johnson, at Semicolon

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier, at Semicolon

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morror

Sword in the Stacks, by Jen Swann Downey, at Geo Librarian

There May be a Castle, by Piers Torday, at The Gaurdian

Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Leaf's Reviews

Wishing Day, by Lauren Myracle, at Completely Full Bookshelf

Authors and Interviews

Ross Welford (Time Traveling With a Hamster) at My Brain on Books

Karen Foxlee (A Most Magical Girl) at Booktopia

Other Good Stuff

I did not know Disney was doing a live action Nutcracker movie; appealing casting news here at Once Upon a Blog

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