Lily Quench and the Treasure of Mote Ely, by Natalie Jane Prior (for Timeslip Tuesday)

Lily Quench and the Treasure of Mote Ely, by Natalie Jane Prior (Puffin 2004) was supposed to have been the Timeslip Tuesday book both last week and the week before, but things happened that kept me from finishing it the first week, and the second week I just didn't feel like it.  But here it is now, even though I still don't have much to say about it.

The Lily Quench books are a series, currently at seven books, first published in Australia.  They are Elementary grade-level fantasy, good for strong readers in second and third grades, 7 or 8 year olds.  They tell of the adventures of young Lily, last of  family of Dragon Slayers, who sets off to slay a dragon and save her kingdom...and ends up becoming friends with the Dragon Queen. 

Lily Quench and the Treasure of Mote Ely is the third of the series, and the only one I've read.   Lily is kidnapped and dragged back into the past.  There she must search for a long lost treasure, keep a rampaging dragon from killing her and the friends ho have followed her back in time,  while thwarting the bad guys.

It's fairly standard light medieval castle adventure, perfectly fine, but not remarkable.  What makes it interesting from a time travel point of view is that the attacking dragon is Lily's own dragon friend in the present...who of course has no memory of their friendship.   A nice twist, that's surprisingly rare in time travel books.

In any event, if you do have an elementary school-aged kid who likes medievally adventures and human-dragon friendships, this is a perfectly fine series (and it is always a lovely peaceful feeling as a parent to hook a kid on a series...).  If you are not such a kid yourself, there's no particular reason to read this, although I did not mind reading this one.   Apparently (based on a Goodreads review) Lily is more of an active heroine in other books, which may well make those more appealing to older readers...


Fork-Tongue Charmers (The Luck Uglies Book 2), by Paul Durham

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, was picked as the winner of last year's Cybils Award in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction; it's a fast and fun adventure set in Village Drowning, a place threatened not only by an oppressive government but by the terrifying  Bog Noblins who lurk in the swamps outside the town.  In days gone by, a group called the Luck Uglies pledged to protect the town from the Bog Noblins, a turn away from their past as rogues and rapscallions, but no-one has seen them for years.  But then a young girl named Rye O'Chanter finds herself pitted against both the town's dictators and the monsters in a fast and fun adventure--both the Bog Noblins and the Luck Uglies are back!
Fork-Tongue Charmers (HarperCollins, March 2015) continues Rye's story.  She's now learned that her father, absent most of her life, is the leader of the Luck Uglies.  And the government of Village Drowning is cracking down even harder on its people.  Rye and her family are in danger, so her father sends them off to her mother's childhood home--an island far off to sea. 

There the book really gets going, and becomes an exciting page turner as Rye and her friends help defend the island against the enemies who have followed them! Old grudges, new friends, and vividly depicted dangers fill the pages--I enjoyed this second half of the book very much indeed; I especially liked the world-building of the island community.

What makes things especially interesting on a thought-provoking level is the question of the Luck Uglies nefarious past, and whether they can, as Rye's father would like to believe, reinvent themselves as Good Guys.  And Rye is a heroine to cheer for, and to occasionally want to shake (she's the impetuous sort, not always governed by sane and sober good judgment).

Though the events of this particular installment are wrapped up (more or less), the set up for the next book promises that it will be even more exciting!  Any young reader who likes secret societies, brave kids pitted against sinister grown-ups, and magical adventure should definitely seek out this series.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/24/15)

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

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Children, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Charlotte's Library

The Enchanted Castle, by E. Nesbit, at The Ninja Librarian

Flunked, by Jen Calonita, at Log Cabin Library

The Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, at Emily's Reading Room

Gabby Duran and the Unsitables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Connors, at Sharon the Librarian

Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? by Liz Kessler, at Cracking the Cover

The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein, at BooksForKidsBlog

The Jumbies, by Tracy Baptiste, at The Book Wars

The Mad Apprentice, by Django Wexler, at On Starships and Dragonwings

The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis, at Mom Read It and Redeemed Reader

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at Book Nut (audiobook review)

Wild Born (Spirit Animals Book 1) by Brandon Mull, at Hidden in Pages

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads-- The Orphan Army, by Jonathan Maberry, and The Whisperer, by Fiona McIntosh

Two at Tales of the Marvelous- A Question of Magic, by E.D. Baker, and Son of Neptune, by Rick Riordan

A look at The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper, at Leaf's Reviews (link goes to the wrap up post)

Authors and Interviews

Sage Blackwood (Jinx) at Charlotte's Library

Philip Womack (The Darkening Path trilogy) at the Guardian

Kurt Chambers (Truth Teller), at Carpinello's Writing Pages

Other Good Stuff

The Guardian offers the ten best Moomin quotes ever, and also a Roald Dahl character quiz

Lots of Fairy Tale goodness at the Horn Book

Monica at Educating Alice shares her classroom's letters to Alice and others

A Tuesday Ten of Purple at Views From the Tesseract


Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

So I don't generally read hard sci fi books written for grown-ups that are 861 pages long, but I'm not opposed to doing so (I enjoyed lots of sci fi for grown-ups back in the 1980s and 90s*), and I was rather pleased to receive a review copy of Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow, May 2015), and plunged right in.

The premise is great--the moon gets shattered into seven chunks, and at first this seems ok--seven bits of moon in a cluster instead of one big moon.  But then it becomes clear that the seven chunks are going to bash into each other in an exponentially shattering rate, and all those bits of moon are going to come crashing down onto earth in a "hard rain" of planetary destruction.   So humanity looks to space to provide a home for future generations, until the hard rain ceases and earth can be re-seeded.  The space station becomes the nucleus for a colony, populated by a mix of scientists and engineers who are there because of their technological know-how, and young people of many lands who are there to make babies.

It is not smooth sailing in space.  Things go wrong both on the technological side of things and the social, and by the end of the first few years, there are only seven "Eves" left to be the mothers of space humanity....And then we jump through the ensuing five millenniums to the point where Earth is ready to be recolonized, and the descendants of those Eves come down to their old homeland...

So a very interesting story.  I regret to say, though, that Stephenson's style does not work for me.  There are pages and pages of scientific exposition.  I don't mind some technical detail to give me a sense of what's happening, but all I need is enough to get a general idea that things make sense.  I don't care How the orbital mechanics of things in space work (and likewise, if there's magic in a book, I can accept "magic" without to much exposition about where it comes from and how it works).  Stephenson really goes overboard on spelling out the hard science.  By around page 400 or so I realized that I would never finish unless I skimmed the pages and pages in which no person talks, and it's all just explanation of what was happening in space, or long long passages about the specifics of how the genetics of the seven Eves played out (in many more words than I thought were needed).   There was a lot of Telling here, and the characters seem more like inserts into the science, than the science providing the stage on which the characters can truly come alive.

So the the part of sci fi epics that I most enjoy--the human and cultural elements playing out (as opposed to being explained by the author) isn't the strong point of this book.  There were some fascinating characters, who I cared about, but I couldn't quite shake the sense that they were pieces being moved on the board of the grand scheme of things by the author.  Of course, they were pieces being moved by fate and the force of circumstance, but still.  This wasn't deeply satisfying social anthropological sci fi, even when they do make it back to Earth  (I was especially unconvinced by the social and cultural changes and (more glaring) lack thereof that happened during 5,000 years, which weren't all that speculative).    So not one for me....and yet I kept reading, fascinated by the epic scope...If you do like the science of a story spelled out in detail, you may well like this one lots!

*just for context--my favorite sci-fi for adult authors off the top of  my head are Ursula Le Guin, Sheri Tepper, and David Brin. 

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans, by Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans, by Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder (Crown Books for Young Readers, March 2015) is a lovely twist on the currently popular care of magical creatures sub-genre of middle grade fantasy.  In this case, a dragon, Miss Drake, considers a human girl to be her pet, and as the growing friendship between the two is framed by the dragon's perception that the girl is the one to be trained and raised up properly. 

The dragon had had a previous pet, a woman she nicknamed Fluffy.  But Fluffy grew old, and died.  Miss Drake is distracted from her grief by the arrival of ten-year-old Winnie, Fluffy's great-niece.  Winnie had been told about the dragon, and set out to find her rooms in her great-aunt's big old house first thing.  Miss Drake is very doubtful, not being at all sure she is ready for a new pet, especially a vigorous and curious one like Winnie, who will need a lot of training.   But it turns out that Winnie is just what Miss Drake needs to make life interesting again, and Winnie, who is herself mourning the loss of her father, also finds happiness from their friendship.

And in the meantime, there are magical highjinks aplenty, for Miss Drake is not the only fantastical inhabitant of San Francisco....When the sketches Winnie draws in  a magical notebook escape from their pages, the two must find and re-capture them before they can work mischief.  There is enough tenseness to keep the story going, but no so much so as to be scary, or to overshadow the character- driven side of the book.

It is fun, and funny, and sincerely moving, and I whole-heartedly recommend it to any younger middle grade readers who would love to make friends with a dragon!


A chat with Sage Blackwood, author of the Jinx series

I am a big fan of Sage Blackwood's Jinx series, which I wrote about in my first ever blog post for the Barnes and Noble blog.  The third and final book, Jinx's Magic, came out in January, 2015, so there's no reason to put off reading the series if you haven't already!

It's my pleasure to welcome Sage here today, to talk about the books!

(I'm in bold)

In the first Jinx book, I felt a strong Diana Wynne Jones vibe.  In this third one, I was feeling Terry Pratchett--the use of fantasy to address larger issue of relevance (in this case, Nation building and the rights of indigenous people to their environments).  Are you in fact a Pratchett fan, and was this something that occurred to you as you were writing Jinx's Fire?

Aw, thanks! Im a huge Terry Pratchett fan, and of course a huge DWJ fan. Ive reread both of their bodies of work dozens of times.

I actually always thought I was Pratchetting a bit, but nobody mentioned it until Jinxs Fire. Im not sure whats different about Jinxs Fire.  (for me it's the a strong element of getting along with non-human folk and recognizing them as fellow Urwalders ....)

But from the beginning, I thought of the Jinx trilogy as an American fantasy, loosely based on our own origin myths. 

Im sure you know that the 13 colonies didnt like or identify with each other very much to start out with, pretty much like the clearings in the Urwald. We only united because we had to. Join or die, as Ben Franklin said.

And what are we if not an amalgam of different people who are constantly having to learn not to see each other as monsters?

And now I am wondering if there is some other author reverberating in Jinx's Magic....

Not that Im aware of! Im trying to think who Ive reread as many times as those two. J.K. Rowling, I guess, and on the American side, Anya Seton (historical fiction) and of course Walt Kellys Pogo books. I read the Oz books a lot before I was nine, but not since; still, I think there are echoes of them here and there in the Jinx series.

And Tintin. The Tintin opus was the entire universe of graphic novels when I was a kid. Its quite possible I can recite it.  (me--I don't see any obvious Tintin influences in Jinx...Captain Haddock as Simon is too much of a stretch, even though they are both grumpy from time to time....)

I was very struck by your contemplation of gender identity with regard to witches and wizards, and I wish there'd been a bit more room to play with this more.   I guess I don't really have a question qua question about this, but was just wondering if you had more thoughts on the matter of gender identity and magical power to share.

Well, I decided that in the Urwald, the collective term for wizards and witches would be the gender-neutral magicians.

And it then naturally followed that not everyone who practiced magic was going to find their calling within prescribed gender roles.

Witches magic focuses on survival, while wizards magic is all about power. Still, certain outcomes are the same: magicians are the only residents of the Urwald who routinely achieve old age, they dont starve, and for the most part nobody messes with them.

Jinxs first power, his ability to see other peoples feelings, actually came from my wondering whether intuition evolved out of the need to protect ourselves from violence. Jinx has the intuition most humans have and then just a little bit more.

I worried people would pick up on this and think Jinx wasnt a real boy, but he seems to have passed muster. I mostly hear from boys about the books, and by and large they want to be Jinx.

Which makes me happy because, for all his faults, Jinx is no sexist.

And hes neither a witch nor a wizard but something else that hes created out of himself.

How on earth did you manage to sneak "quondam" past your editor?  or is your editor an erudite person, who feels kindly to Latin?

All editors are erudite people! Ive had three wonderfully brilliant editors for the Jinx series: the legendary Anne Hoppe, who acquired Jinx and edited it (and who was also Terry Pratchetts MG/YA editor); Sarah Shumway Liu, who took over early in the editing process of Jinxs Magic, and Katie Bignell, who edited Jinxs Fire. They are all erudite to beat the band.

Thanks for giving me a chance to mention their names. Of all the people that are credited in the production of a book, editors are conspicuous by their absence. And yet they do tons of work and are huge influences in shaping a novel.

There was never any question raised about quondam, actually and this was only slightly to my surprise. Ive only once had a word flagged as too difficult by an editor (not one of the editors above) and that word was firkin.

Which of the three books was the most fun to write?  which gave you the most grief?

Well, I suppose Jinx was in a way the most fun, because I was just writing to please myself. My previous attempt at a MG fantasy hadnt sold, so I thought Jinx wouldnt either, and therefore I just put into it what I loved most forests, cranky wizards, cackling witches, plucky orphans, trolls.

Jinxs Magic was the hardest. Around the point where Jinx and company leave Witch Seymours house, my life fell apart the way lives do. So unlike the 1st and 3rd books, which I could bury myself in for weeks at a time, Jinxs Magic was written an hour here, a day there.

That it got written at all amazes me when I look back.

Jinxs Fire was fun, because I got to tie off all the characters story lines, and to deliver on some things Id been preparing since the first book. And it was satisfying discovering how Jinx had grown into himself. Also, there are some jokes in there that made me laugh. I laughed my head off over Jinx and the ogre. I may be the only one who did.

Is there any chance that you will give us any more peeks at the Urwald?  I know I am not alone in thinking that a story about Simon and Sophie meeting for the first time would be lovely...

Someday. I would like to write Simon and Sophies backstory. I did put a little of it into Jinxs Magic but it was too grim and had to be deleted. (I thought it would be interesting to explain where Calvin (me--a skull that Simon just "happens" to have on hand) came from. But you know, no ones ever asked?)

If I did write their story, thered be the difficulty of point of view. Would Simon still be funny if seen from his own POV? Probably not. So, would the story be better told from his POV or from Sophies?  

Either way, neither of them is going to be quite the same person they are when seen through Jinxs eyes. Im just pondering these things.

Diana Wynne Jones handled this very well in The Lives of Christopher Chant. Since were in Christophers POV in that book, we never see, as we do in other novels and short stories that include this character, that other people find him insufferable.

What will your next book be about, and when can we expect to see it? 

Miss Ellicotts School for the Magically Minded (working title).  Its about a girl and her dragon, trapped within a patriarchal society which is in turn trapped within itself. At present the plan is that it will be coming from Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins) in early 2017. The manuscript is with the editor, Katie Bignell, and I await her thoughts on it.  (me--sounds right up my alley!  I'll be looking forward to it).

Thanks for coming up with these great questions, Charlotte. I had such a lot of fun thinking about the answers. Its a pleasure to be interviewed by you.
Thank you, very much, Sage!  And now of course I am awfully curious about Calvin's back-story...


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (5/17/15)

As ever, please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Archie Green and the Magician's Secret, by D.D. Everest, at The Reading Nook

Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Book Nut and Ms. Yingling Reads

The Black Reckoning, by John Stephens, at Hidden in Pages

The Chestnut King, by N.D. Wilson, at Fantasy Literature

Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge, at Reading the End and Waking Brain Cells

Dandelion Fire, by N.D. Wilson, at Fantasy Literature

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at For Those About to Mock

The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni, at Nerdophiles

Evil Spy School, by Stuart Gibbs, at Carstairs Considers

Five Children on the Western Front, by Kate Saunders, at Middle Grade Strikes Back

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at Beth Fish Reads

Joshua and the Lightning Road, by Donna Galanti, at Always in the Middle

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge, at alibrarymama

The Mad Apprentice, by Django Wexler, at Best Fantasy Books

North! Or Be Eaten, by Andrew Peterson, at Leaf's Reviews

Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker's Daughter, by Liz Kessler, at Fantasy Literature

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce, at Cracking the Cover and Charlotte's Library

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, at Becky's Book Reviews

Princess in Disguise, by E.D. Baker, at Leaf's Reviews

Resurrection of the Pheonix’s Grace, by Andy Smithson, at This Kid Reviews Books and Log Cabin Library

Return to Augie Hobble, by Lane Smith, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at A Year of Reading

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at For Those About to Mock

Story Thieves, by James Riley, at Redeemed Reader

Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin, at Nerdy Book Club

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads-- Six, by M.M. Vaughan, and A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeing of Humans, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder

Three at School Library Journal--The League of Beastly Dreadfuls , by Holly Grant,  Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, and Grounded, The Adventures of Rapunzel by Megan Morrison

And also at School Library Journal, a gathering of the furry and fierce.

Authors and Interviews

Lane Smith (Return to Augie Hobble) at Tor

Cassie Beasley (Cicus Mirandus) at School Library Journal

Polly Holyoke (The Neptune Challenge) at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday ten of Silver at Views from the Tesseract

The Latest issue of Middle Shelf Magazine is out

The Guardian looks at the top ten ways to be evil in children's books

The call for session proposals for Kidlitcon 2015 (Baltimore, Oct. 9th and 10th) is out!  If you don't feel up to organizing a whole proposal on your own, but would like to be a presenter on a particular topic near and dear to you, or have a proposal idea, please feel free to let me know! (charlotteslibrary at gmail).

The date's for MotherReader's 48 Hour Readathon are set- June 19th - 21st, always a good time.


The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other), by Geoff Rodkey

The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other), by Geoff Rodkey (Little Brown, April 2015, younger middle grade) is tons of fun!  12 year olds New York city twins Claudia and Reese grate on each others nerves plenty, but it's not until Reese makes an unkind fart joke (implicating Claudia) in the school cafeteria that all out war is declared.  And escalates, as Claudia realizes that humiliating Reese in kind isn't going to work (because 12 year old boys have different concepts of what constitutes social shaming--dead fish and Mohawk haircuts do not phase Reese).  

So Claudia decides to strike Reese where it will hurt most--in a minecraft-like world where he has spent hours and hours building an empire, which Claudia destroys, getting herself into more serious trouble than she'd counted on, and making her feel rather awful too. Reese is also distressed by his own most cruel action in the war--uploading Claudia singing (badly) to her guitar about a new boy in their class....Even though the things they do to each other really are terribly unkind, their remorse and regret makes the story less uncomfortable to read than it might otherwise have been--like I said, I found it fun; even the squirmiest parts of Claudia's social humiliation were not as bad as they might have been.

It's told in the form of an oral history project, so we get to read direct observations from other classmates and the somewhat ditzy young woman who's the twin's after-school minder, as well as the original twitter conversations of the twin's parents (who care, but who are rather busier than usual with work during the time of the war).   There are lots of pictures (including photographs) that further lightent the text.  This format keeps the tension at bay and provides comic relief, and the resultant small-bits of story format make it one that will seem friendly and familiar to many young middle school kids of today.

Offer it to a sixth grade fan of Wimpy Kid!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Steifvater

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Steifvater (April 2015, Scholastic, older elementary/younger middle grade). Here's one for everyone who dreams of befriending magical creatures, and who has enough sense to realize that caring for unicorns, griffins, and a whole newly imagined slew of other fantastical animals isn't all rainbows and butterflies! 
Young Pip Bartlett can talk to magical creatures, and in her version of our world, there are lots of them around to talk too!  After a disastrous unicorn riding episode and its concomitant property damage (no one, including the unicorns, had warned her!) Pip is sent off to her Aunt Emma, veterinarian of the Cloverton Clinic for Magical Creatures for some solid learning and hard work.   Though no one believes Pip can actually chat with the creatures, her gift is real, and when Aunt Emma's town becomes the site of a fuzzle infestation, it saves the day. 
The fuzzles look cute enough, but as pets they have issues--bursting into flame when agitated or excited (which happens lots), and they breed faster than rabbits.   No one likes the contents of their underwear drawers catching fire (underwear drawers being favored fuzzle hangouts), and Aunt Emma, the resident authority on magical creatures, is under a lot of pressure to contain the outbreak. 
It takes a bit of sleuthing by Pip and her new friend Tomas (allergic to just about everything, including magical creatures, but still a stalwart companion) to find out what's behind the plague of fuzzles, but Pip is nothing if not determined...
It's fun and amusing, and pages from "Jeffrey Higgleston's Guide to Magical Creatures" interspersed with will please the young magical creature fan for whom the idea of chatting with griffins et al. seems wonderful, but who can handle the idea that not every such creature is going to have a rainbow/butterfly personality!  It's an elementary/lower middle grade type book,  an excellent one to offer a confidently reading third grade or fourth grader, and fans of Suzanne Selfor's Imaginary Veterinary Series should eat it up!
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Last of the Sandwalkers, by Jay Hosler

The Last of the Sandwalkers, by Jay Hosler (First Second, April 2015) is more than just a graphic novel about beetles having adventures, although the story is in fact about beetles on a quest. 

It is also about:

- science! The crew of beetles, lead by young scientist/inventor Lucy (a great character!), are on a quest for knowledge--what lies outside their beetle city? Are there any other life forms out there past the desert sands?  (answer--yes!)  Lucy is a lovely young scientist role model, always wondering, thinking, dreaming, observing, and keeping good notes.

--family, friendship, and loyalty.  There are not that many graphic novels that address adoption; this one does, as Lucy and her sibling (a huge Goliath beetle, who has a lot more too him than just  his bulk), are both adopted.  Her parents also are important characters in the story, and loyalty to family (defined flexibly) is a central value of this group of beetles.

--determination.  The many vicissitudes of the journey into the wild beyond, which is indeed populated by all manner of creatures, many of whom would like to eat the beetles, do not squelch Lucy and company.  They are not whiners; they may be cast down at times, but they persevere. 

--the wrongness of letting authoritarian theocracies distort scientific truths.  Lucy's society is shaped by a myth that knowledge is dangerous, and that a divinity will punish those who transgress, and those in power falsify evidence and history to keep this the status quo.  Lucy's challenge to this story is a clear threat that must be stopped, as ruthlessly as needs be (there is a villainous villain, more dangerous than any natural threat!).

--beetles!  I have never been anti-beetle, but I am much more pro-beetle now.  Hosler is an entomologist, and incorporates a lot of information about beetles into this story, in a learning is fun kind of way.  I enjoyed the notes at the back lots too.  The book, however, will not make anyone more pro-spider than they already are. 

My one problem was that I had a hard time getting the hang of which beetle was who, but I am not a good graphic novel reader, cause of preferring to read the words fast rather than look at the pictures.

If you have a child who is repulsed by beetles, this might be a bit much, but if you have a young naturalist 10-14 years old (or so), do offer this one!  It also works well for generic graphic novel reading 9th grader (mine has read it twice, and it is a long book of 296 pages, so that is saying something...).  There is some disturbing insect on insect violence, that might distress the sensitive younger reader....

I found Last of the Sandwalkers engrossing myself, but I can't help but prefer Hosler's first graphic novel, the lovely and tear-jerking Clan Apis, which I reviewed long long ago in my first year of blogging--it was simpler in story and pictures, and therefore a better fit for my eyes (although my eyes were so teary the whole thing was just a blur by the end of it).  Also I like bees more than beetles.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs 5/10/2015

Happy Mother's Day!  Here's this week's round-up; let me know if I missed your post, your loved ones posts, or posts about  your own books!

The Reviews

Earthfasts, by William Mayne, at Charlotte's Library

Evil Spy School, by Stuart Gibbs, at The Bookworm Blog

Fork-Tongue Charmers, by Paul Durham, at Kid Lit Reviews

The D'Evil Diaries, by Tatum Flynn, at writing.ie

Fork-Tongue Charmer, by Pual Durham, at The Write Path

Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at Great Imaginations

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Word Spelunking

The Legends Begin (Darkmouth, book one), by Shane Hegarty, at Librarian of Snark

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at Kid Lit Reviews

Lucky Strike, by Bobbie Pyron, at Books, Books, and More Books

Moon Rising (Wings of Fire Book 6), by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden in Pages

Ricki the Warlock, by Charlotte Levenson, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at The Rad Reader

Story Theives, by James Riley, at Rcubed

Wade and the Scorpian's Claw, by Tony Abbott, at Boys Rule Boys Read!

The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer, at Tales of the Marvelous

Three at Ms.Yingling Reads- Lots of Bots, by C.J. Richards, Undertow, by Michael Buckley, and Ratscalibur, by Josh Lieb
Authors and Interviews

Jonathan Stroud at Books For Keeps

Other Good Stuff

 A Tuesday Ten of Seeing Red at Views from the Tesseract

alibrarymama has a great list of her top sci books for 4th/5th graders from the last few years

And finally, my youngest is now 12; only one more year as the middle grade target audience!  Here he is with his favorite birthday present, a Cthulhu ski mask (he is also enjoying Hitchiker's Guide; and just for the book record, also got the third Menagerie book, Krakens and Lies, and the third book in Pier's Torday's series, The Wild Beyond):


Owl Diaries: Eva Sees a Ghost, by Rebecca Elliott

I bumped Eva Sees a Ghost, by Rebecca Elliott (Scholastic, May 26, 2015), to the top of my reading and review pile when it came in, not just because it is a slim volume written for kids who have just barely moved past the really easy "easy readers" and therefore but the work of minutes for me to read.  No, the reason I want it out of my house tout suite is that I know a little 6 year old girl who loved the first book about Eva the Owl (Eva's Treetop Festival) and will be thrilled to get this one (and making kids happy with books is a lovely thing).

In any event, this second book in the Owl Diaries series follows a young owlet, Eva, as she tells in her diary about the mysterious happenings in her feathered community.  No one really believes she's seen a ghost, but when spooky things happen at school, too, they realize Eva probably did see something truly out of the ordinary...

It's not a Scary ghost book, but there is a smidge of spookiness.  Mainly, though, it's a story about friendship, and Eva and her pals make for good company!  The illustrations are just as cute as they were in the first book, but somewhat less Pink...do offer Eva's stories to boys as well!  Big eyed cuteness has cross-gender appeal....


Earthfasts, by William Mayne, for Timeslip Tuesday

I have now read Earthfasts, by William Mayne (1966)  three times, and that is the charm....the first time I didn't much care for it, the second I was very interested, and this third time I appreciated it lots.  Possibly because having read it before, I finally felt like I knew what was going on, and that is a help to me as a reader.

There is a lots that doesn't make logical sense going on in this story.  It starts with a drummer boy  emerging from a mound in a high field in the north of England...200 years ago, he went into a tunnel below a castle to look for treasure, and now has emerged, bringing with him a strange cold candle he found down there below.  Two boys were there to see him come out, David and Keith.  And they take the boy from the past under their wings, as best they can, watching him realize he is out of his own time, and watching him go back underground, looking for a way home, leaving the candle behind.

And stranger things still begin to happen.  The standing stones walk, giants raid the local piggeries, a wild boar charges through the market, and King Arthur himself arises.  And then David disappears, and it is up to Keith, the loyal follower of smart, curious David, who must figure out how to put things right. 

Which involves going underground  himself...and bringing David, and the drummer boy, back home with him.

It is a story full of the old stuff of England, and so it should have delighted me from the get go.  But it is a fantasy where instead of numinous delight, there is a sense of dread and chill and wrongness, keenly felt by David and Keith, and spilling over to the reader (ie me) as well.   It is all very real and impossible, and Mayne never lets it become less so, and so it not satisfyingly escapist, because there isn't escape.   Though by the third time, like I said, I understood everything, got over my pique about the Drummer Boy disappearing so early in the book (I was expecting a time travel book about  his experiences in the present, and although that's how things start, he does go off stage rather emphatically, and then there are confusing giants and wild boars etc), and I could relax and appreciate all the lovely details of the setting and the odd little touches of humor and the characters of the boys and their friendship.  That being said, even this time around, I found his style a little coldly distant...

There are two more books that continue the story, Cradlefasts and Candlefasts, and I once started the former, but never finished it, and now feel like I should try again.

But I do have some reluctance to do so, not related to the books themselves.  I have put off writing about Earthfasts for Timeslip Tuesday, even though Mayne was one of the preeminent children's book writers in the second half of the 20th century in England, and this is one his best know books.  He was an abuser of young girls, and he ended up being imprisoned for several years for his crimes, and the utter repugnance I feel toward him makes it hard to like this books.   I can't reread the books with central girl protagonists, because I read somewhere that he used his books as bait for young girls to molest, telling them they could be characters in them....which makes his books with girls too grotesquely horrible to contemplate.. However, I really do love his Hob stories for young kids, with their lovely Patrick Bensen illustrations, and still have his series of books set in the Canturbury Cathedral choristers' school, that begins with A Swarm in May, a book I can't help but feel fond of, though I am deeply conflicted....


The Detective's Assistant, by Kate Hannigan

I was very taken with The Detective's Assistant, by Kate Hannigan (Little, Brown, April 2015, middle grade); plot,character, and writing style all pleased me very much, so yay for me!  I was a tad surprised by my enjoyment, because I feel I have read an awful lot of books about plucky orphan girls in 19th century America and feel rather jaded about them (and I decided when I was quite young that I didn't find 19th century American history interesting, and haven't recovered).  But The Detective's Assistant fought back against my biases beautifully.

I liked the characters:

Turns out I am not immune to the charms of a plucky, bright 19th century orphan girl!  Nell was a believable character, who came with a backstory full of mysteries of her own--what happened the night her father killed her uncle?  What were the circumstances of her father's own death?  Who is her pen pal, Jemma?  And will her aunt keep her?

More than Nell, I appreciated the character of her aunt,  her uncle's widow, who works for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Chicago.    It was tons of fun seeing her at work solving crimes, using her position as a woman to her advantage!  And it was a treat to find out at the end that she was a real person.

I liked the framing of the story:

As well as being a story about a particular girl, it is the story of what was happening in American politics, particularly with regard to slavery, in the time just before Abraham Lincoln was elected.  Jemma, Nell's friend, and her family left New York for Canada after free black families like theirs started being captured and forced into slavery, and the Abolitionist movement and the underground railway are referenced in the story, adding historical depth (even for people who feel tired of 19th century American history).  And I think Hannigan did an excellent job with her historical details--I noticed nothing that grated!

Mostly, though, I liked the whole premise of the female detective and the plucky girl assistant who wants to assist more, both so her aunt will keep her and also because of the thrill of it.

Here's the Kirkus review.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

In short, a very good book.


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi (5/3/15)

Yay!  It is May and presumably will be warm and lovely any moment now...

Kicking off with an announcement-  Kidlitcon 2015 has a place and a date!  Baltimore, October 9th and 10th.  Kidlitcon is the BEST, and I hope you all can come! 

(as ever, please let me know if I missed anything! thanks.)

The Reviews

Alistair Grim's Oddituorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Fantasy Book Critic

The Arctic Code, by Matthew Kirby, at books4yourkids

Beneath, by Roland Smith, at Semicolon

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, at Charlotte's Library

Dragon Spear, by Jessica Day George, at Becky's Book Reviews

Fork-Tongue Charmers, by Paul Durham, at Librarian of Snark

The Great Timelock Disaster, by C. Lee McKenzie, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

House of Secrets, by Ned Vizzini and Chris Columbus, at The Paige Turner

The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein, at Book Nut

Jack: The True Story of Jack & the Beanstalk, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Big Hair and Books

The Jumbies, by Tracy Baptiste, at Fuse #8 and  Ms. Yingling Reads

The Lost Track of Time, by Paige Britt, at Charlotte's Library
The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis, at Pages Unbound

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, at Laurisa White Reyes

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at My Brain on Books

Omega City, by Diana Peterfreund, at Librarian of Snark and Ms. Yingling Reads

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce, at Nerdophiles

The Return: Disney Lands, by Ridley Pearson, at Book Nut

The Scorpian's Claw, by Tony Abbott, at Boys Rule Boys Read

The Thirteenth Princess, by Diane Zahler, at Leaf's Reviews

Thursdays With the Crown, by Jessica Day George, at Leaf's Reviews

Truckers, by Terry Pratchett, at Fluttering Butterflies

The Water and the Wild, by K.E. Ormsbee, at Beauty and the Bookshelf

The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, at Readaraptor

Authors and Interviews

Tracy Baptiste (The Jumbies) at The Brown Bookshelf

K.E. Ormsbee (The Water and the Wild) at The Book Wars

Django Wexler (The Mad Apprentice) at The Book Zone (for boys) and Word Spelunking

Sarah McGuire (Valiant) at Cynsations (giveaway)

Other Good Stuff

"Where Does the Magic Come From?" at Redeemed Reader

A Tuesday Ten of Blue at Views from the Tesseract

Top ten books for Harry Potter Fans, at Nerdy Book Club

A photographer teams up with Haitian artists to recreate the classic Tarot Deck as the Ghetto Tarot and the results are absolutely and utterly stunning.  You can see more images here, and at  the Indigogo campaign page.

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