3/30/15

Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan

Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins (Charlesbridge, April 2014, middle grade), is one for readers whose hearts melt (or possibly start beating frantically from the tension) when presented with baby animals in danger.  In this case, it's a baby tiger in danger, and for those who get anxious, baby tiger is saved and reunited with her mama! (because there are many young readers who hate it when the baby animals don't make it, I thought that spoiler would be helpful....)

In this case, the baby tiger has escaped through the fence of a wildlife reserve on one of the many islands of the Sunderbans, off the coasts of India and Bangladesh.  An evil, rich, and powerful man wants the tiger captured so he can kill and sell her skin and body parts...and a brave boy, Neel, is determined to find her first and save her.  But Neel's own father, desperate for money, is working for the rich bad guy, though his heart is against it. And Neel himself is supposed to spending his time cramming for an exam for a scholarship that would give him incredible opportunities.

Neel, though, isn't sure he wants opportunities....he's pretty sure he doesn't want to leave home, because hard thought the work (fishing and farming and odd-jobbing) is, it is what he knows and loves.  And then there is the distraction of saving the baby tiger....So Neel and his older sister set out into the night in race against time...

In a really nice twist,, when Neel saves the tiger and returns her to the rangers, he is given a small library of books on wildlife management in return....and realizes that if he were to get the scholarship, he help his islands, which is even better than saving just one tiger.   This lesson isn't hammered home to the reader, but instead is shown through Neel's point of view as he  comes to that conclusion himself. 

Neel's point of view is an excellent window into the lives of the islanders, still reeling from a storm that shattered their livelihoods a few years back.  The rich bad guy, intent on turning Neel's island into his private source of cash, has no redeeming features, and so there's never any moral conflict in the readers mind....but that's balanced by Neel's  own internal conflict about trying for the scholarship or staying home and accepting the status quo. 

And the baby tiger (cute!  not yet a vicious man-eater, like many of the tigers on these islands actually are, as is explained in the author's note) adds just tons of kid appeal.  And the story (with its Tiger Tension) moves along very nicely indeed, and Neel (with his reluctance to grapple with math) and his friends and family are all relatable people despite their geographical and cultural distance from kids in the US.   Rich descriptions bring Neel's world to life; and presumably the illustrations (not included in the advance copy I read) will add even more.

Short answer--it's very easy to use the hook of baby tigerness to offer your kids a window into a way of life they might never have thought of before!  And it's a good story in its own right-- I enjoyed it lots myself.

review copy received at Kidlitcon 2014 (where Mitali was the great Keynote Speaker)

3/29/15

This Week's Round-up of mg spec fic from around the blogs (3/29/15)

Another beautiful spring day (ha) here in New England with fresh snow.  Sigh.  

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

The Reviews

Bella at Midnight, by Diane Stanley, at Read Till Dawn

The Chosen Prince, by Diane Stanley, at Read Till Dawn

Clones vs. Aliens, by M.E. Castle, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Courting Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Strange and Random Happenstance

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Children, by Laurence Yep, at Waking Brain Cells and The Hiding Spot

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Kid Lit Geek, Great Kid BooksNot Acting My Age, and The Book Smugglers

Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway, by Steve Watkins, at BooksforKidsBlog

Greatful, by Wendy Mass, at Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, by Christopher Healey, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at Kid Lit Geek

The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein, at books4yourkids and Librarian of Snark

The Island of Shipwrecks, by Lisa McMann, at Hidden in Pages

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, by Liesl Surtliff, at Hidden in Pages

Jinx's Fire, by Sage Blackwood, at By Singing Light

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at A Reader of Fictions

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Book Nut and Charlotte's Library

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, at Lunar Rainbows

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at The Reading Nook Reviews and Bookshelf Gargoyle

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Literary Hoots

Nuts To You, by Lynne Rae Perkins, at Bibliobrit

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Librarian of Snark

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at In Bed With Books

Son of a Dark Wizard, by Sean Patrick Hannifin, at Bibliotropic

Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Becky's Book Reviews

Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Strange and Random Happenstance

The Telling Stone, by Maureen McQuerry, at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

The Story of the Amulet, by E. Nesbit, at Fantasy Literature

The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer, at Charlotte's Library

The Zodiac Legacy, by Stan Lee et al., at Nerdophiles

Zoe and Zac and the Ghost Leopard, by Lars Guignard, at Bitches n Prose (audiobook review)

Authors and Illustrators

Sage Blackwood (Jinx) at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

John David Anderson (The Mutineers) at Word Spelunking (also review and giveaway)

Alice Hoffman (Nightbird) at School Library Journal

Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan) at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Heidi Schultz (Hook's Revenge) at the Barnes and Noble Kid's Blog

Anthony Brown on reimagining Alice in Wonderland

Other Good Stuff

Brandy has compiled a great list of fun fantasy over at the Cybils blog, and at her own place she has a great list of favorite MG spec fic heroines.

A Tuesday Ten of sickness and tiredness at Views from the Tesseract

A look at the first pages of the illustrated Harry Potter at Tor


And finally, the Providence Public Library is currently hosting a Unicorn Stampede!  "The Providence Public Library will host an art installation of life-size glitter unicorns surrounded by light and sound.  These figures will serve as muses and help the public visualize the wondrous possibility that unicorns represent.  At the close of the stampede, the unicorns will disperse around the city to other prominent indoor locations." Runs through Tuesday, March 31, Providence Public Library, 150 Empire Street

3/28/15

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen--historical fantasy in the Roman Empire! with Griffin!

Middle grade historical fantasy is somewhat thin on the ground, with possible exceptions for the 19th century and the middle ages.  So when I heard that Jennifer Nielsen (of False Prince fame) had a book coming out involving magic in the Roman Empire, I was tremendously exited!   Mark of the Thief (Scholastic, Feb. 2015) didn't quite live up to my hopes (which were perhaps unrealistically high), but it's a good read none the less. The inclusion of a griffin as the main character's companion animal, and the magic of the Roman (ex-Greek) gods add lots to the kid appeal, and making it one to offer the multitudues of somewhat younger Percy Jackson fans. 

Nic is a slave in the salt mines, worried about keeping his little sister safe.  There's not much he himself can do for her, as his life is not his own.  And this is proved definitively one day when he's ordered to enter a cavern in the salt mines that has been the death of everyone else who's tried to enter it.  The cavern contains a great magical treasure--an amulet that once belonged to Julius Ceaser himself!  It is filled with magic from the gods, and Nic takes it for his own.  But  griffin guarding the caverns treasures wounds Nic, marking him with more magic....magic that lets him communicate with her (to some extent).  With help from the griffin and the magic amulet, Nic escapes from the cave...only to be plunged into worse troubles.

Because of the magic he has found, Nic is now a player in a power struggle to control the Roman Empire.   The most powerful general, the most powerful Praetors, and the emperor himself are now all very anxious to relieve Nic of his magic and take it themselves....and Nic, confused, hungry, and wounded, must struggle to stay alive until he can decide what to make of his new destiny....and find his little sister, and make a place of safety for the two of them.

From the Colosseum to the sewers of Rome, from great estates to the temples of the gods, Nic stays barely ahead of those who would use him for their own ends....And there's never a dull moment.  Although fans of The False Prince might find Nic overly reminiscent of that book's hero at first, he comes into his own, and character interest is provided by his relationship with a girl named Aurelia, who variously befriends, saves, and betrays him, and who has secrets of her own.....

I felt that this book took perhaps too long to really get at the meat of its magic--where it comes from, why Nic has it, and what he might do with it.  But there was action aplenty, the bonus griffin relationship was a nice touch, and the whole set up promises good things in the next books! 

Here's another review at Ms. Yingling Reads.

3/24/15

The Sword of Culann, by Betty Levin (for Timeslip Tuesday)

The Sword of Culann, by Betty Levin (1973)  (time travel tourism to ancient Ireland!) was supposed to be last week's time slip Tuesday book, but in as much as I am the sort of person I am,  I thought "I will have an Irish time travel book for St. Patrick's Day" at 4:30 in the afternoon, which didn't give me enough time to finish reading it, let alone writing about it.  So here it is today.

The Sword of Culann, by Betty Levin, (Macmillan 1973) is about two kids (step siblings) who, while spending a week camping on an island off the coast of Maine (the camping part, with sibling dynamics, is the best bit of the book), travel back in time to Iron Age Ireland, and who witness the events of the Cattle Raid of Cooley first hand.  The time travel mechanism is the strange sword hilt belonging to an old sea-Yankee man, the sort of strange old man who lives in a shack with a crow and lacks a certain freshness.    It is a magical sword hilt--when the mists come up off the coasts, it allows people from our time (like the old man's father) to go back to ancient Ireland (there's a kind of tenuous connection between an island of the coast of Maine and ancient Ireland, but not enough of one to satisfy me).

So in any event, Claudia and her little brother Evan show up in Ireland before the Cattle Raid actually starts, and are taken under the wing of Fergus (because he's that sort of person, I guess, who realizes their strangeness but is not repulsed by it; once again any more convincing reasons kind of escaped me, if they were there at all).  And Claudia becomes one of the female help, and Evan works in the stables, and it is all very ancient Irish and then Queen Medb assembles her army and they all go off to attack Ulster, which is guarded only by the hero known as the Hound of Ulster.  And the old man's crow shows up and hangs around Claudia, and it is not a good thing to be a girl in a war in ancient Ireland with a crow hanging around you (cause of the Morrigan, but I don't think Levin makes this Clear), so Claudia is going to be sacrificed to a bog but she and Evan get back to Maine, and then Evan goes back in time alone to see the actual battle and then comes back and tells Claudia about it, which isn't the most graceful way to tell a story of a battle, and then Claudia goes back alone and sees Fergus one last time before he turns into dust (for reasons).

This one disappointed me as an adult for exactly the same reasons it would have disappointed young Charlotte--there was not particular emotional hook.  There was not point to the time travel- Claudia and Evan didn't affect the past, nor were their lives profoundly changed (although they sure know a lot more about Dark Age Irish material culture.... It was, really, just a tourist trip.  And a kind of bloody, unpleasant, anxious one at that, with no beauty or awe inspiring mystery to it such as one wants Celtic time travel to have....part of the problem is that, for an outsider, the whole Cattle Raid business make the Trojan War seem Pointful and worth-fighting.  Fergus, with his deeply conflicted loyalties, is an interesting character, but since he can't even remember Claudia when he's telling the story many years later (just before turning to dust) there's not much connection between him and our point of view character.

And the cover sure doesn't do a whole of a lot to draw in the reader of today.  Those lumpen kids have no spark of force vitale to them at all, and the Irish dude (presumably Fergus) behind them is unappealing, and does not appear to know how to hold sharp blades.

With these old books, I enjoy going back to see what their contemporary reviewers thought of them, which is mostly more positive than what I'm thinking.  From the  Kirkus review:
"The children adjust as well as they can [not very well] to talismans electric with taboo and to the capricious, snarling, gloomy and wise-cracking people they find so frequently bewildering. Claudia, fascinated by and devoted to sad Fergus, acts as his emissary among exiled Ulidians [people of Ulster]  and rallies them with an enchanted [not really] bead [to no particular effect....]. Then Claudia, horrified to discover that she is considered immortal [more like "supernatural"], even by Fergus, and therefore expected to undergo a sacrificial death, barely escapes with Evan to Maine. The characters are stirring creations, from a ferocious Queen Medb to a kitchen matron called the ""great Mother,"" and although the plot is labyrinthian it's well worth staying on for the surprises and layered revelations at every turn.

Uh.  Maybe I was not intellectually engaged enough to notice the "layered revelations."  It happens.

And ack!  According to the Goodreads blurb, there was "emotional growth" and I missed that too!  Bad reader. Bad.

In any event, for "Celtic" time travel, I'd much more strongly recommend A String in the Harp, which is a gem of a book, and for retellings of the Irish epics, I'd suggest Rosemary Sutcliff's The High Deeds of Finn MacCool (although that's not fair, since I think that's a stronger story to start with than the Hound of Ulster is).

There are, however, two more books about Claudia and Evan time travelling, and they are both in my local library....and so I will doubtless read them eventually......

3/23/15

The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer

I approach this blog post with trepidation because I have no intellectual grasp worth mentioning on the events of The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 2014, middle grade;  sequel to 2014's The Riverman).  I don't think I am the Right Reader for this one.

Basically, what happens in The Whisper is that Alistair, a 12 year old kid, fairly ordinary for most of his fairly uneventful life in the middle of New York State, finds himself in a rather nightmarish situation.  In the many realities of an alternate universe known as Aquavania, where kids from our world can create their own fantastical realities, his best friend/potential girlfriend if things had been different Fiona was lost to the mysterious Riverman.   The Riverman sucked her soul out, and so both the real-world Fiona and the constructed reality Fiona are gone.  And Fiona is not the only one to be so disposed of.  At the end of book 1, it was revealed (shockingly and horrifically) who the Riverman was), and now Alistair is travelling the worlds of Aquavania looking for Fiona, for the Riverman (now aka The Whisper), and for answers.

And I bobbed along in Alistair's wake, bouncing from story to story (and they were good, fascinating stories, these glimpses of imagined realities, though sometimes with disturbingly horrific elements), looking for Answers, and feeling that I was fumbling.  I kept wanting things to make Sense, but in the same way that dreams don't make Sense, and being a story-telling person trying to understand reality/other people doesn't make sense, neither does Alistair's story.....(at least it didn't to me).

At times I felt like I was in a somewhat more pleasant version of  Harlan Elison's scary story "I have no mouth and I must scream," in that "reality" was constantly being shifted by an all powerful game master, though The Whisper was much less viscerally disturbing (being middle grade).  Alistair's struggles to achieve his goals in a game where everything was stacked against him (or was it?) gave me the same sense of being trapped in a nightmare as Elison's story did.  The only thing that kept me sane were the generous bits of back matter from Alistair's childhood--these made sense, both in themselves, and as steps toward understanding the larger story.

If you like stories of characters involved in dangerous games, full of pretty phenomenal imagined realities, you many well like this one lots!   Kirkus calls it "A riveting, imaginative, disconcerting, inscrutable, unresolved sequel, guaranteed to leave readers anxious for the finale" and I can't disagree...It never occurred to me to put it down, and though it was not exactly to my own taste,  I have a feeling that in Book 3 I may be offered slightly more solid ground and I will able to look back more kindly on Alistair's adventures here.

Here's something I can say with happy confidence--I loved Aaran Starmer's first book, The Only Ones!  It gives me hope that the tangle in my mind with regard to this series will be resolved....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

3/22/15

This weeks mg sci fi/fantsy roundup (3/22/15)


It was not my own most productive week ever of reading and blogging, but thanks to the work of others I still found enough for a nice middle grade sci fi/fantasy roundup!  Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

Alistair Grimm's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees, by Robert Kent, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Tales of the Marvelous

Children of Winter, by Berlie Doherty, at Time Travel Times Two

The Chosen Prince, by Diane Stanley, at Kid Lit Geek

Dr. Critchlores School for Minions, by Sheila Grau, at Sharon the Librarian

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, at Views from the Tesseract

Everblaze, by Shannon Messenger, at Log Cabin Library

Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School, by Jen Calonita at Bitches n Prose (with giveaway)

The Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, at Read Till Dawn and Charlotte's Library

Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger, by Jon Scieszka, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Word Spelunking

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

The Grimm Conclusion, by Adam Gidwitz, at Kit Lit Geek

The Hob and the Deerman, by Pat Walsh, at Charlotte's Library

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at My Precious

Jinx's Fire, by Sage Blackwood, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgiss, at Strange and Random Happenstance

The Missing Alchemist, by Caldric Blackwell, at This Kid Reviews Books

Next Top Villain, by Suzanne Selfors, at Kid Lit Geek

Renegade Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Strange and Random Happenstance

Six, by M.M. Vaughan, at Views from the Tesseract

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at Kid Lit Geek

The Story Thieves, by James Riley, at Pages Unbound

The Swallow, by Charis Cotter, at Bibliobrit

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, at Of Dragons and Hearts

Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville, at Fantasy Literature

The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, at Bart's Bookshelf

The Zoo at the Edge of the World, by Eric Kahn Gale, at Becky's Book Reviews


Authors and Interviews

Alice Hoffman (Nightbird) talks about Mary Poppins at The Guardian

Louise Galveston (In Todd We Trust) at From the Mixed Up Files

Tatum Flynn (The D’Evil Diaries) talks about  her path to publication at Miss Snark's First Victim

Jake G. Panda (The Case of the Cursed Dodo) at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

Andrea Beaty (Fluffy Bunnies 2: The Schnoz of Doom) at Word Spelunking (with review and giveaway)

Heidi Shulz (Hook's Revenge, and its sequel, The Pirate Code) at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

Sheila Grau (Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions)  at Word Spelunking (with review and giveaway)


Other Good Stuff

Tributes to Terry Pratchet at Middle Grade Strikes Back, and how you can embed the GNU code to send his name through the internet clacks for as long as there is internet.....

The True Meaning of Smekday is going to be made into a movie called Home!  More info here.

Adam Rex (the True Meaning of Smekday) will by in L.A. next Saturday for the opening of an exeition --Adam Rex and the Art of Home.  More info. here.

3/21/15

The Forgotten Sisters (Princess Academy Book 3), by Shannon Hale

The Forgotten Sisters (Princess Academy Book 3), by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, middle grade, Feb 2015).

It was a cold, snowy night yesterday (as is so often the case), and so it was a great pleasure to escape to a warm, fetid swamp of heat and high humidity, home to three forgotten princesses who habitually wrestle alligators (and win).  For Miri, the  heroine of Shannon Hale's Princess Academy series, journeying to the swamp was not quite as welcome; she was looking forward to going home to the mountains, and did not welcome the royal command to go run a Princess Academy for the three girls.   But she wasn't given a choice.

Miri had plenty of doubts from the beginning, mainly about her qualifications for the job, and about the reason for it--one of the sisters is going to be married off in a political alliance to prevent a war.  But things are even more difficult than she'd imagined...the princess have been living alone, engaged in a hardscrabble struggle to hunt and forage for their food (including the above-referenced caimans), as the funds sent to sustain them are being intercepted along the way (one of the many problems Miri must deal with), and they are not at all eager to be educated. 

But Miri, as strong willed, determined, and sincere as ever, perseveres....and her efforts pay off  beautifully as the mystery of the princess' identity is unraveled and war is averted.  Fans of the first two books will be pleased to see Miri's story continue to a happy and satisfying ending; it's nice to see old friends, but the new characters introduced here are also pleasing additions in their own right!

There's magic--the powers of linder stone to transmit thought and feeling, and to hold memories, are and essential part of the story that adds a pleasing fantastical-ness, and there's adventure that goes beyond simple alligator-wrestling into the tunnels beneath a besieged castle, but mostly what I enjoyed about the book was the people in it--figuring out who they are, and understanding those around them.

3/16/15

The Hob and the Deerman, by Pat Walsh (a Crowfield Abbey story)--lovely historical fantasy

Many years have past since a boy named Will, and a friendly Hob nicknamed Brother Walter fraught against the forces of darkenss at Crowfield Abbey.   I found the first two Crowfield books, The Crowfield Curse and The Crowfield Demon to be top notch middle grade historical fantasy--great characters (particularly Brother Walter the Hob), and great story lines of human, fey and angelic power fighting evil.  When I heard that Pat Walsh was continuing the series with a book focusing on Brother Walter-- The Hob and the Deerman ( self published 2014), I knew I had to get it....and when she offered to send it to me, I was overjoyed, and when it grew clear as the weeks passed that it had gone astray I was very sad indeed. So much so that even thought I am ostensibly on a No New Book Buying regimen (TBR pile issues) I bought the book for myself.  (and though it was not traditionally published, there were no quality issues, so no worries on that side of things).

It was sad and lovely, and creepy and happy and I was able to give it five stars on Goodreads which I almost never do.

It was sad that Crowfield Abbey had fallen into ruin (thanks Henry VIII), and all the monks of the first books, like dear Brother Snail, quite naturally dead (what with years passing)....and it was sad for Brother Walter to return to the Abbey expecting in part of his mind to find it all as he had left it....

But it was lovely, because I love Brother Walter, and he makes new friends--a ghost girl who can't leave the Abbey until her father comes for her, Ned, the son of one of the workmen demolishing the abbey's ruins at the behest of the new, greedy, landlord of the village, and Curious, another Hob brought to life by the power of the mysterious Deerman, a fey being (never fully Explained) from the forest of great puissance who is freeing the art and  beauty of the Abbey before it is all destroyed.   And by the end of the story, even the stinky Boggart who terrified the Hob at first has become a friend, which just goes to show.

And it was creepy, because the Abbey is haunted by a horrible specter who kills--the Crawling Man, who is terrifying humans, fey, and ghosts alike....Very very scary!

And it was happy, because the Hob is very Brave, and does the right things even though he is so scared and sad, and there is a happy ending for everyone except the greedy landlord (who doesn't get his carved stonework from the Abbey and who doesn't get to demolish the cottages of all the villagers he finds offensive) and the Hob and Ned save the Abbey's treasure, its most precious books.  And I like how Christianity is made part of the supernatural forces on the side of good (primarily through the residual power of the angel from the first book), as this feels right for a book set in a monastery.

And it is lovely because I do so like to read books about people who are motivated, like Brother Walter, by love for their friends, who aren't obvious heroes, but who have to try really hard to be brave and keep going because it is the right thing to do.  I do not mind one single bit being taught this particular life lesson repeatedly, especially when it is in the context of a magical, ghost-filled, historical horror story in a ruined abbey....

In short, it is with no caveats that I recommend this series to fans of historical fantasy!  I am pleased to be reminded that my own middle grade reader has not read them....I will remedy that.  He will love Brother Walter too.

And I am very hopeful that there will be more about Brother Walter; Pat Walsh does call this one the first in a series on her website.... and it's The Hob Tales Vol. 1 on Amazon......

3/15/15

This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (3/15/15)

Late today with the round-up because of starting a watercolor class at RISD this morning!  Yay me; I am trying to find more things that give me joy, and although it would have given me more joy if the car keys hadn't fallen inside a shoe when I put them down last night (this caused Confusion and Delay) it was fun!  In any event, please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Aesir Kids, by James Grant Goldin & Charlotte Goldin, at Bitchs n Prose

Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen, at The Book Wars

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Hasell, at Bibliobrit

Copper Magic, by Julia Mary Gibson, at Kid Lit Geek

The Dark Secret (Wings of Fire book 4) by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden in Pages

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Challenging the Bookworm

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans, by Laurence Yep and Diane Ryder, at Librarian of Snark

Fairy Tale Reform School, by Jen Calonita, at Mom Read It

Fleabrain Loves Franny, by Joanne Rocklin, at Bookshelves of Doom

Hook's Daughter, by Heidi Schulz, at So Many Books, So Little Time and Readaraptor

How To Catch a Bogle, by Catherine Jenks, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Jumbies, at Views From the Tesseract

The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis, at Log Cabin Library

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Pages Unbound

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Monstrous, by Marcykate Connolly, at Book Nut

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Kid Lit Geek

Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller at Literary Hoots

Peter Pan in Scarlet, by Geraldine  McCaughrean at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

A Question of Magic, by E.D. Baker, at Leaf's Reviews

The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye, at Redeemed Reader

Story Thieves, by James Riley, at Read Till Dawn and Ms. Yingling Reads

Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin, at Charlotte's Library

Witch Wars, by Sibéal Pounder, at Wondrous Reads

Four Spec Fic Pirate books at School Library Journal

Authors and Interviews

Catheryn M. Valente (theFairyland series) shares her Big Idea at Whatever

Jessica Day George (Tuesdays at the Castle, et seq.) at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Stephanie Burgis (Kat, Incorrigble et seq.) at Strange and Random Happenstance

Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder (A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans) at My Brain on Books

Other Good (?) Stuff

At Reading Rainbow there's a list of 13 Children's books that are helpful for those wishing to raise a reader of science fiction

This is the one that led to the question mark above-- Big Barbie is watching you!  But they're obeying all applicable government regs., so no need to worry.....via Boing Boing

A Tuesday ten of Remarkable Female Protagonists at Views From the Tesseract

And I love xkcd's tribute to Terry Pratchett!

3/12/15

Thank you, Terry Prachett

Thank you, Terry Prachett, and goodbye.  I came late in life (as in, the year before last) to Terry Prachett's Discworld...but oh, the joy of that year of reading all of the books in chronological order!  And oh, the joy of meeting Sir Terry's characters,  and the feeling of not just having read deeply entertaining books, but of having been given lovely food for thought of a life-perspective tweaking sort that could lead to better ways of being in the real world.   My only real regret about not having started reading him sooner is not just that I could conciveably have already become a better person, but that I missed out on years of excitedly waiting for the next book to come out...

My favorite of his books is Night Watch....and when the lilac blooms this spring, I'll tuck a sprig in my coat and cry some more. 

3/10/15

The Queen Must Die (Chronicles of the Tempus, Book 1), by K.A.S. Quinn, for Timeslip Tuesday

Some time travel books are most enjoyable for the fun of the time travel, others are best enjoyed as historical fiction.  The Queen Must Die (Chronicles of the Tempus, Book 1), by K.A.S. Quinn (Atlantic Books, 2010, upper middle grade), falls into the later category--it's one I'd recommend more to people who enjoy reading about Queen Victoria and her children than to people who enjoy clever time travel.

It's the story of a modern girl, Katie Berger-Jones-Burg (lots of step-fathers) who one day finds herself transported back to Queen Victoria's palace while reading the letters of her daughter, Princess Alice.  Alice is remarkably unfazed by having a time travelling New Yorker show up, and welcomes the diversion, and the friendship that grows between them.  Katie is plenty fazed, but it's not the time travel as such that concerns her, but the fact that she's been seeing visions, and the fact that there are sinister plots afoot in the past...Princess Alice and her family are in serious danger from anarchists who have infiltrated the palace.   And even more alarming, 19th century London has been infiltrated by sinister supernatural agents who might well want to kill Katie, and the two other time travelling children who have also made their way their, to serve their own purposes.....

It all got kind of complicated, the sort of complicated that happens when the main characters themselves have no clue, and the big revel, when it came, didn't quite make everything clear to me, and seemed to be sort of shoehorned onto the story.  And why wasn't more made of the two other time traveling kids who were basically shadows we never met?  It also felt that the author had to stretch a bit too much to make her emotional conclusion to the story tidy (Katie realizes that her neglectful mother loves her at the end, despite having no more evidence of this than she ever did....)

But I did enjoy Princess Alice and her family, and Katie and Alice, and Jamie, the son of the palace physician, becoming friends and trying to work things out and foil the anarchists' plots; even though their goings on stretched credulity quite often, I found them believable as individuals.  It was also fun seeing Prince Albert caught up in the building of the Crystal Palace, and as a result of google searching inspired by the book I now know a lot more about what happened to Victoria's children, which I guess is good viz me being an educated person....Alice, for instance, was the mother of Alexandra, Tzar Nicholas II's wife, and it was rather sad to know that her own life was not going to be all that happy....

It wasn't a book I loved, but I didn't mind reading it despite my confusion......and in as much as it felt like a book in which ground was being laid for the sequel, and in as much as I liked Alice lots, I will probably seek out book 2.....And like I said, it is one I'd recommend to those seeking fictional visits with Victoria et al.

Here's a longer, and rather more actively favorable, review from the Guardian.

3/9/15

Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin--beautiful, sweet, poignant, and really cool!

One of my favorite types of books as a child (and grownup) are those involving a lonely kid (mostly girls) finding peaceful refuges--ala The Velvet Room, in Zilpha Keatly Snyder's book of that name,  Mandy's house in the woods, by Julie Edwards, and lots in Elizabeth Goudge's books....Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill, Feb 2015) is a book of that sort, only in this case the main character isn't a girl; he's a lonely, introverted boy desperately searching for the quiet he badly needs, and he finds his peace in a magical east Texas valley.    But regardless of gender and refuge particulars, reading Wish Girl felt familiar and friendly...except for something I've can't recall ever reading before--  here the refuge is not just beautiful and peaceful...it is magical, a character in its own right.  I was totally Team Valley from the start.....

Peter's family has moved from the city out into the middle of nowhere, Texas Hill Country--partly because life in the city was not kind to introverted, bullied, Peter and his parents think a fresh start will help.  But the small house with all his loud family in it, mentally and emotionally pulling on him, isn't what Peter needs, so when he finds the Valley, a beautiful piece of nature where quiet is the order of the day, his spirit can unclench itself.  To his initial dismay, though, he finds a person already at home there--a girl named Annie, who refers to herself as a "wish girl."    She is driven to create art in nature, in what time she might have left--she's a wish girl as in "make a wish foundation."  And she and Peter become friends, really seeing and appreciating each other in a way that is special for both of them (and, just saying, it's not romance; they are introverted kids who are kindred spirits).    The valley is a refuge for both, giving them what they need.

And the valley really does actually and fantastically look after its friends....there are two bad boys, the sort that run around with a gun shooting animals, who are not its friends--instead of clear water and flowers and a cute baby armadillo, the bad boys get attacked by insects....And the two bad boys decide to make Peter their victim...and since his parents aren't listening to him, or hearing what he needs, they think it's nice that there are boys nearby for him to be friends with.  And so, when the physical abuse from the bullies and the noise at home drive him to escape, it is of course to the valley that he goes.

And Annie is also trying to escape...her cancer is back, and she's supposed to be starting new treatments that could leave her permanently un-Annie.  She can't stand the thought that she might loose her creative spark and love of beauty and art...but her mother isn't listening to her, either.   But the valley, try though it may, can't make everything all magically better, or keep all violence out.....

I love the valley.  It is so well described that I feel I have been there, and it is beautiful.  If, like me, you still have several feet of dirty snow around and an icy driveway, it makes an especially nice change!  Annie and Peter's stories were moving without being too much to take; Annie is described in the official blurb as "the dying girl" but she isn't, she's a fiercely living girl and that is the point, and even though Peter's parents are dim, they at least care.  And then ending is not heartbreaking, which it so easily could have been.....I am particularly glad that the valley comes through it all unharmed!  There's not a ton of Action and Adventure, although there is a bit....it's definitely one for the place and character loving reader.

Give this to any introverted child who loves quiet places, or to a kid who appreciates being part of nature and making beautiful things!  Or give it to a kid who doesn't yet know that these things might be just what he or she needs....

Added bonus for those of us on the lookout for diversity--Annie, as shown in the cover, is a brown skinned girl....

3/8/15

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction (3/8/15)

Does anyone actually Like Daylight Savings Time????  I myself want my hour back.....

But in any event, here's what I found of interest to us MG spec. fic. fans this week; please let me know if I missed your post!
The Reviews

Anni Moon and the Elemental Artifact, by Melanie Abed, at S.W. Lothian
The Arctic Code, by Matthew J.  Kirby, at Hidden in Pages

The Case of the Cused Dodo, by Jake G. Panda, at Read Love and Becky's Book Reviews

The Cottage in the Woods, by Katherine Coville, at Ms. Yingling Reads

A Dragons' Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder at From my Bookshelf and My Brain on Books

Dragons at Crumbling Castle, by Terry Pratchett, at Fantasy Literature

Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, at The Emerald City

Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks, at The Book Wars

Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School, by Jen Calonita at Read Love

The  Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, at Fantasy Literature and Ms. Yingling Reads

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Dead Houseplants

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at Leaf's Reviews

How to Catch a Bogle, by Catherine Jinks, at Leaf's Reviews

The Imaginay, by A.F. Harrold, at Librarian of Snark and Random Musings of a Bibliophile

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

K9--Knightly and Son book 2, by Rohan Gavin, at Charlotte's Library

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

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall, at Charlotte's Library

Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Operation Awesome

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at Readatouille

Nuts to You, by Lynn Rae Perkins, at Ms. Yingling Reads

OMG....Am I a Witch? by Talia Aikens-Nunez, at Kid Lit Reviews

Princess in Disguise, by E.D. Baker, at Sharon the Librarian

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at Word Spelunking (giveaway)

Rose and the Magician's Mask, by Holly Webb, at Geo Librarian

Rose and the Silver Ghost, by Holly Webb, at In Bed With Books

Shipwreck Island, by S.A. Bodeen, at The Haunting of Orchid Fosythia

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at Tales of the Marvelous

Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson, at Views from the Tesseract

Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin, at Word Spelunking (with giveaway)

The Witch's Boy, by Kelly Barnhill, at Middle Grade Mafia

Witherwood Reform School, by Obert Skye, at GreenBeanTeenQueen


Authors and Interviews

Alice Hoffman (Nightbird) at Publisher's Weekly

Sara Stinson (Finger Bones and Wendy) at Carpinello's Writing Pages

Mary Amato (Good Crooks Book 3: Sniff a Skunk) and Patrick Jennings (Hissy Fitz)  at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Matt Myklusch (Seaborn: The Lost Prince) and Jon and Pamela Voelkel (The Lost City) at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Heidi Schulz (Hook's Daughter, aka Hook's Revenge in the US) at Wondrous Reads

Shannon Hale offers five tips for surviving a Princess Academy at Pages Unbound (with giveaway)

Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl) at The Reading Nook Reviews (with giveaway)

Frank Cotrell Boyce (The Astounding Broccoli Boy) at The Guardian


Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of Food in Spaaace at Views From the Tesseract

Kid Lit celebrates Women's History Month for the firth year, at The Fourth Musketeer













3/6/15

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall--really cool exoplanet sci fi for the young!

Here are words I don't often type--this book is really cool, engrossing exoplanet middle grade sci fi, and one of the main characters is a super smart black girl (identifiably black on the cover) who includes exo-archaeology in her career plans and one of the other main characters is a robot in the shape of a giant goldfish (love!).    So thank you, Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall (Egmont, March 2014 in the UK, Feb 2015 in the US), for giving me that chance!

In a nutshell--aliens (who are invisible) have come to earth, settled at the poles, and reversed global warming with a vengeance, plunging earth into an ice age with the strange net they have cast over our atmosphere, that blocks the sun's light.  Earth's forces are fighting back, but it's not going well....and so a group of the best, brightest, and most well-connected kids on earth are evacuated to Mars, which has been terraformed so that there's some oxygen.....just not quite enough for it to be Home.  They are going to be trained to be the next generation of soldiers in the war against the aliens being fought over earth.  One of these kids is English girl Alice Dare, whose mom is one of the most legendary pilots/fighters of invisible alien spacecraft going!  Alice would rather have a life untroubled by aliens with both parents at hand, but Mars it is.....

On the way there she finds herself becoming friends with Josephine--super smart, super unhappy about being forced into the military, weird, black, blunt, and well-equipped with duct tape.  And she doesn't make friends with the rascal of the bunch, an Australian boy named Carl, but they become allies regardless....  And on Mars she find herself at the mercy of not just military instructors, but determined robot instructors (including the aforementioned goldfish, which flies around like a helium shark balloon, and also a very creepy Teddy Bear Robot), who take their mission to Educate very seriously indeed (they provide pleasing comic relief).

And even though the whole business of things not going well (which involves encounters with hostile aliens, cliff hanger adventures, malfunctioning robots, and a distinct lack of helpful adults) is all very fun, interesting and exciting, just as interesting to me were the interactions among the main characters, and Alice herself as a character who's not particular smart or gifted, but who manages to keep (more or less) calm, helping everyone carry on.

That being said, and I hope having piqued your interest, I have to warn you all that the rest of  this review is somewhat spoliery, and to share my main issue with the book, I have to share the main arc of the plot.

So one day Alice and the other kids wake up to find that all the grownups are gone, and they are left with their robot instructors and enough food and oxygen for a while and no way back to earth, and no way to communicate in any meaningful way with any grownups in the galaxy, and basically Lord of the Flies happens and my credulity was stretched....

So I was glad when Alice and Josephine and Carl and Carl's brother Noel (a sweet child) and the robot goldfish head out into the Martian wilderness to trek to the nearest science base....I find harsh survival journey stories more appealing than kids turning on each other.....and it all got very tense (thank goodness for Joephine's duct tape!) and it got especially tense when they find (really big spoiler alert )

a crashed alien ship with a survivor, who turns out to be an alien about their own age.  And although the Earth kids quickly duct tape the alien up, they end up becoming friends and for the first time there is actually real dialogue between earthling and aliens and cross-cultural understanding is assayed not unsuccessfully!  And then the real threat happens, the thing that drove the aliens to earth to begin with, and Mars is in great danger not to mention the four kids (five if you count the alien) who seem doomed.....but they aren't doomed because they are smart and because one of their travel companions is a robot goldfish and all ends happily.  (The sort of happy where Alice gets her parents back and Josephine doesn't have to join the military and earth is saved and not everyone is happy about the aliens but there they are).

And this leads to my one negative reaction--  it was kind of too easy a happy ending vz alien earth relations--- McDougall doesn't gloss over the fact that aliens killed earthlings and vice versa, but the aliens never seem as sorry as I think they should be for deciding that because they needed earth they were justified in taking it over.  It is true that facing a mutual threat that could annihilate everyone is a really good joiner, but it lacks complexity.  This is not necessarily an issue in a middle grade book, but it does keep me from urging grown-up readers of sci fi to try this one.

Except, of course, for grown-up readers with tastes similar to mine, who will enjoy this combination military boarding school/alien conflict/character driven story very much indeed!

give this one to kids who liked The Roar, by Emma Clayton, Ambassador by William Alexander, and Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, and also to any kid who likes reading about other smart kids coping in difficult circs. without grownups!  Especially give it to any kid who's interested in terraforming--this part of the book was very satisfying to the science geek in me!

3/2/15

K-9 Knightly and Son, book 2, by Rohan Gavin

K-9 Knightly and Son, Book 2, by Rohan Gavin (Bloomsbury USA Childrens, Feb. 2015, upper middle grade/YA)

Young Darkus Knightley is, for the most part, proud to be his father's co-investigator of the criminally weird.  But his dad is not the most reliable father or partner; he can't be counted on to be conscious, which is a problem.   When K-9, the second book about Knightly and Son begins, Knightly senior is out of commission, having left Darkus with a traumatised ex-bomb-disposal dog, Wibur, and a difficult step-father.  When a new investigation starts heating up--with something savagely killing pets in the wilds of London's Hamstead Heath, and policemen being tracked and savaged by  aggressive canines, Darkus sets off with Wilbur to investigate.   Is a werewolf responsible? as Darkus father, resurfacing and investigating as well, seems to believe, or is it  a puzzle that Darkus's more rational brain can unravel?

Those who love junior detectives at work will enjoy this one....there are lots of clues, considerable mystery, and Darkus is a sympathetically intelligent young hero, joined in sleuthing by his stepsister, Tilly, who I actually found more interesting..... It's a good page turner.

Those who are saddened by the deaths of dogs, however, should approach this one cautiously....What Darkus finds hidden on Hampstead Heath is grotesque, and Spoiler Alert (highlight to read), and I think it's an important spoiler, because a lot of readers won't like this bit at all) sadly (very sadly) Wilbur, who's the most endearing character in the whole book, gives his life at the end.

It turns out not to be a fantasy book after all, but there is enough that is fantastical so that those actually expecting bona fide werewolves won't be disappointed. Not to my personal taste, just because young detective and dogs aren't really my favorites), but a solid page-turner.  It was gripping and interesting enough so that I am tempted to go back and read book 1 (though this second book stood alone just fine), and I am curious to see what the future holds for young Darkus......

Here's another review at Ms. Yingling Reads; she enjoyed it more than me.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

3/1/15

This weeks middle grade sci fi/fantasy round-up (March 1, 2015)

Here's the first MG sff round up of "Sring", typed with freezing fingers and 5 more inches of snow expected....please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Airborn, by Kenneth Oppell, at Leaf's Reviews

Allistair Grim's Oddituorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Le' Grande Codex

The Arctic Cold, by Matthew Kirby, at The Social Potato

Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at @Home Librarian

Beaskeeper, by Cat Hellisen at The Book Smugglers

The Box and the Dragonfly, by Ted Sanders, at Librarian of Snark

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente, at On Starships and Dragonwings (giveaway) and A Reader of Fictions

The Case of the Cursed Dodo, by Jake G. Panda, at Log Cabin Library

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at Book Nut

Chasing the Prophecy, by Brandon Mull, at One Librarians Book Reviews

The Courage of Cat Campbell, by Natasha Lowe, at Charlotte's Library

The Dragon of Rom, by John Seven, at Time Travel Times Two

The Dream Catcher, by Monica Hughes, at Tor

The Everyday Witch, by Sandra Forrester at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon
Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, at In Bed With Books, Sonderbooks, and A Reader of Fictions

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Bibliobrit

The Hidden Kingdom (Wings of Fire book 3) by Tui T. Sutherland at Hidden in Pages

The Hunt for the Hydra, by Jason Fry, at Book Nut

Icefall, by Matthew Kirby, at books4yourkids

The Imaginary, by A. F. Harrold, at thenerdypanda, Ms. Yingling Reads, Shae Has Left the RoomA Reader of Fictions, and Great Imaginations

The Incredible Space Raiders from Space, by Wesley King, at Ms. Yingling Reads

James and the Dragon, by Theresa Snyder at Dab of Darkness (audiobook review)

K-9 (Knightly and Son 2), by Rohan Gavin, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Lost Castle Treasure, by Don W. Winn, at This Kid Reviews Books

Lucky Strike, by Bobbie Pyon, at Charlotte's Library

The Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at In Bed With Books

Monstrous by Marcykate Connoly at The Book Smugglers

The Nethergrim, by Matthew Jobin, at Word Spelunking

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at That's Another Story

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at So Little Time for Books

Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at @HomeLibrarian

A Posse of Princesses, by Sherwood Smith, at Here There Be Books

The Rescuers, by Margery SHarp, at @HomeLibrarian

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Guys Lit Wire

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at My Brain on Books

Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at Wands and Worlds

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Log Cabin Library

Story Thieves, by James Riley, at Read Love

The Swallow, by Charis Cotter, at Book Nut

The True Meaning of Smek Day, by Adam Rex, at Tales of the Marvellous

Witherwood Reform School, by Obert Skye, at The Book Monsters, The Hiding Spot, and Manga Maniac Cafe (both with giveaways)

Five books about "nonsense and disorientation" at Tor

Authors and Interviews

Abi Elphinstone (The Dreamsnatcher) at Wondrous Reads and The Book Zone (for boys)

Stuart Gibbs (Space Case) at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Jerry Craft (The Offenders) at 28 Days Later

Pam Muñoz Ryan (Echo) at School Library Journal

Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl) and Tracy Holczer (The Secret Hum of a Daisy) talk sad, dark, and twisty MG at Nerdy Book Club

Steve Bryant (Lucas Mackenzie and the London Midnight Ghost Show) at The A.P. Book Club (giveaway)

M. T. Anderson at Boing Boing

Dorinne at shares breaking Fablehaven new straight from the mouth of Brandon Mull at The Write Path


Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of off world Adventure at Views from the Tesseract, and another Tuesday Ten of Off World Adventure also at V. from the T.

I enjoy it when Sondy takes a look at middle grade fantasy translated into German--this week she took a look at Jinx, by Sage Blackwood


The Shortlistts of the Aurealis Awards (Australian spec. fic.) have been announced; here are the books in the children's  category:
Slaves of Socorro: Brotherband #4 by John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
  • Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy by Karen Foxlee (Hot Key Books)
  • The Last Viking Returns by Norman Jorgensen and illustrated by James Foley (Fremantle Press)
  • Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell (ABC Books)
  • Sunker’s Deep: The Hidden #2 by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)
  • Shadow Sister: Dragon Keeper #5 by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)

  • and just in case you need more books to read, here's a look at the must read middle grade books of February at Project Mayhem

    2/26/15

    The Courage of Cat Campbell, by Natasha Lowe

    The Courage of Cat Campbell, by Natasha Lowe (Simon and Schuster, January 2015, middle grade)

    Cat Campbell's mother, Poppy, was born with a gift for magic.  But Poppy (as described in The Power of Poppy Pendle) didn't want magic.  She wanted to bake.  And eventually her dream came true, and she was allowed to swap magic school for a bakery....where her own daughter, Cat, is growing up amongst the many many tasty snacks. 

    Cat, however, doesn't want to bake.  She wants magic, and her heart is full of passionate longing as she gazes at the broomstick flying girls of Ruthersfield School, where young witches are trained for great things....Even though no sign that she has magic has manifested by the time she's 11 years old, she still dreams.  

    Then one day, up in her grandparents' attic, she finds her mother's discarded school books and wand.  And to her horror, she also finds a large spider.  The kickstart of spider-fear fueled adrenaline brings her latent magic to life!  Her dream will come true!  Except, not so much.  Poppy is horrified at the thought, and for the first time, mother and daughter are at odds.   But even more dauntingly, for a late bloomer like Cat, magic is difficult and hard to control....and Ruthersfield only takes the magical crème de la crème.  Which isn't Cat.

    Nothing if not determined, Cat makes a new plan.   The most evil witch ever has escaped from prison, and may be heading to Ruthersfield for revenge.  If Cat can capture her with magic, maybe that will be her ticket out of the bakery and onto a broomstick...

    And it is all wrapped up pleasingly in the end, especially because Cat DOESN'T turn out to have astounding gifts for magic, but achieves a very satisfying magical job at the end through hard work (and a talent for broom riding).   So much more realistic than special child of preternatural talent!   And although there is a Bat Witch who must be captured, she's not the primary antagonist; instead, it's a much more true to life story of conflict between parental expectations and what the child wants--something lots of the target audience will doubtless relate too!   I also appreciate books in which parents love their kid, and the kid loves her parents, even when they are at odds!

    On top of all that, is also a very nice story, with engaging secondary characters, pleasing references to the first book, sprinkles of humor, and lots of baked goods.  A fast read, and a tasty one; sort of like a roll of Thin Mints....you wouldn't necessarily offer them to the intelligentsia at a black tie dinner party, but they sure are good when curled up in front of the fire at home.

    2/24/15

    The Door to Time (Book 1 of the Ulysses Moore series), by Pierdomenico Baccalario

    The Door to Time (Book 1 of the Ulysses Moore series), by Pierdomenico Baccalario (Scholastic, 2006) is essentially a prequel to a series of brave children having time travel adventures.  There is no time travel until five pages before the book ends, when we get a teaser glimpse of ancient Egypt, where book 2 takes place.  So it's a bit of a moot point to call it a time travel book, and I feel a tad cheated because what with the title I thought we'd actually get to the time travelling....although no promises were made, of course, about going through the door....

    In any event, this series of books was translated from the Italian to the American, and, in what is quite possibly a direct result of this, its portrayal of three English children in Cornwall is not exactly convincing (they do not seem English).  However, I found them unconvincing in general.  For much of the book they were being Introduced in a rather labored way as part of the whole setting up the series thing--here is the girl focused on material things, here is her twin, the sensitive boy, here is their new friend, the one year older more practical boy who clearly is going to end up with the girl--and neither the dialogue, actions, or narration did much to make me believe in them.  

    In any event, these three young persons are in a huge old house in Cornwall (unconvincingly acquired by the parents of two of them, and once owned by Ulysses Moore, the original time traveler who gives his name to the series) and they go swimming without complaining about how cold the water is/getting dashed on rocks and other things that would make me believe they were swimming in Cornwall.   They also find clues of an intricately puzzley sort combined with exploring dark passageways necessitating chasm leaping etc.  and ultimately reach the magical time travel part, without me having any idea just why it had to be so complicated.  Possibly because there is a Bad Character lurking off to the side who wants the secret to the time travel for herself.  Possibly because they are being Tested.  Possibly because it is Fate.  I dunno.  I just don't see the point of the fireflies (still living) encased in the mud balls.  This could be my problem, not the book's.

    However.   I have requested the second book from the library....so next week I will travel with these three children into Ancient Egypt, and I shall see if the actual time travelling works better for me than the set-up did. 

    And I shall not be adding this first volume to my list of time travel books, because it really isn't.

    Maybe back in its day, when young fans of the Spiderwick Chronicles were clamoring for more, this series (clues! black and white drawings of mysterious stuff! lots of books in the series!) was welcomed....I don't think there's much reason to offer it to the kid of today.  But I really am curious to know if it works better in the original Italian.....

    It probably would have worked better for me personally if I'd read it closer to its original publication date--so many, more subtle, interesting, better written (or possibly better translated) books have come along since then....

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