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....

    2/23/15

    Lucky Strike, by Bobbie Pyron

    Lucky Strike, by Bobbie Pyron (Scholastic, Feb. 24, 2015, younger middle grade)--magic strikes in small town Florida, and friendship and turtles are both at risk!

    Nate isn't lucky....but on his eleventh birthday, he actually blows out the candles on his first try--is his luck changing?  Disaster on the links of the miniature golf course suggests otherwise--he gets struck by lightning.

    And his luck changes.

    Now everything he touches turns lucky.  No longer is he a social outcast--the other boys actually want him on their baseball team, his grandpa's luck running fishing trips out of their small Florida town changes dramatically for the better, and on and on go all the ways that fortune smiles on him.

    Before he got lucky, Nate had only one friend--a geeky, super-smart, analytical totally not able to fit in girl named Gen.  They were a team united by their misfit outside-ness, and by their fierce loyalty to each other.   But now that he's in demand, Nate turns away from Gen, leaving her to turtle watch on the beach alone....

    It will take another lightning strike to set things right...if Nate is lucky one last time.

    Even though the premise of the story--the preternatural luck of the lightning--is fantastical, at its heart this is a story of friendship put to the test.   Is popularity (and perfectly done toast) worth giving up your best friend for?   Clearly the answer is no, but it's a no that Nate has to figure out for himself (though most readers will realize this a lot sooner than Nate!).  The wonders of Nate's long string of luck are in and of themselves fun and fascinating, but it's turtle-dedicated Gen who really caught my heart.  And happily it's a happy ending! 

     It's small town folksy, without being Folksy--there are quirky characters, and humor, but not so much as to set the teeth of those bothered by Folksy on edge.   But though it's easy to suggest giving this to fans of books like Sheila Tunage's The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, or Natalie Lloyd's A Snicker of Magic, the kid I'd give this one too is the nine or ten year old who's passionately devoted to the cause of the underdog, be it kid or sea turtle.

    This is the best sort of fantasy for the kid who thinks they only like realistic stories--there's no need to believe the lightning has worked magic unless you want to  (although it would be hard not to believe, just a bit....sometimes a lucky streak just can't be explained rationally, though Gen does her best!).

    Here's the starred review from Kirkus.



    2/22/15

    This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (2/22/15)

    Another week, another snowfall, another round-up!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

    The Reviews

    Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at My Precious

    Beast Keeper, by Lucy Coats, at Charlotte's Library

    Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen, at The Quite Concert

    Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand, by R.S. Mellette, at Log Cabin Library

    The Blackhope Enigma, by Teresa Flavin, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

    The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, at Challenging the Bookworm

    The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente, at The Book Monsters (with giveaway)

    The Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Book Nut

    The Bravest Princess, by E.D. Baker, at Leaf's Reviews

    The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at Librarian of Snark

    The Chosen Prince, by Diane Stanley, at Shae Has Left the Room

    Copper Magic, by Julia Mary Gibson, at The Book Wars

    The Dreamsnatcher, by Abi Elphinstone, at So Little Time For Books 

    Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, at The Social Potato and Waking Brain Cells

    Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Librarian of Snark

    Hunt for the Hydra, by Jason Fry, at Librarian of Snark

    The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at Fan Girl Nation 

    The Inquisitor's Mark, by Dianne K. Salerni, at This Kid Reviews Books

    The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at The Flashlight Reader

    The Last Wild, and its sequel, The Dark Wild, by Piers Torday, at Wands and Worlds

    The Lost City, by J. and P. Voekel, at Charlotte's Library (with giveaway)

    The Lost Heir (Wings of Fire book 2), by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden In Pages

    The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at Bibliobrit, Librarian of Snark, and Book Nut

    Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins, at Book Nut

    One Witch at a Time, by Stacy DeKeyser, at Small Review and Word Spelunking

    The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman, at Hope Is the Word

    The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Bart's Bookshelf 

    A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

    Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at The Bookworm Blog

    The Squire's Tale, by Gerald Morris, at Story Time Secrets

    The Swallow, by Charis Cotter, at Librarian of Snark

    The Witch's Boy, by Kelly Barnhill, at 3 Boys and a Novel

    The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence, by Stan Lee et al., at The Story Goes...


    Authors and Interviews

    Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl) at Nerdy Book Club

    Natalie Lloyd (A Snicker of Magic) at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

    Shannon Hale (The Forgotten Sisters) at Publishers Weekly

    P. Voekel (The Lost City--Jaguar Stones 4) at Charlotte's Library (with giveaway)


    Other Good Stuff

    Ten classical elements that sci fi/fantasy is built on, at Tor

    The graphic novel version of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass comes out in the US this September!  (via Educating Alice)

    At The Guardian:   "It’s been 50 years since Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang spluttered into the world. Now Ian’s nephew Fergus gives us a potted version of the original book – gloriously illustrated by John Burningham."

    And for more graphic goodness, here's a look at Gabriel Pacheco's illustrations for a new edition of The Jungle Book at Once Upon a Blog.

    The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy shortlisted books are:

    Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)
    Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)
    Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
    Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown)
    Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
    Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion)
    The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)

    all the other lists can be seen here

    2/19/15

    Beast Keeper (Beasts of Olympus #1), by Lucy Coats

    Beast Keeper (Beasts of Olympus #1), by Lucy Coats, with many illustrations by Brett Bean (Grosset & Dunlap, Jan. 2015) is the story of how an ordinary boy in ancient Greece gets whisked up to Olympus to look after the menagerie of mythological creatures that are kept there (to be sent down to earth as required for hero-proving purposes).   10-year-old Demon (short for Pandemonium) is only normal for a certain value of normal--his dad's Pan, god of wild creatures.  And so Demon has a preternatural knack for monster-whispering, that comes in handy when confronted with the wild and wacky beasts of Olympus....but it's not the poo (though there's plenty of it) or even the terrible wounds inflicted by Hercules on his charges, that makes Demon anxious--instead it's that nasty sense that he's only a whisker away from provoking immortal wrath (the Greek Gods and Goddess being the sort of divinities they are).

    But it all ends well, and there are more books to come (Hound of Hades is also out now, and Steeds of the Gods comes in May).

    Beast Keeper is a perfectly reasonable book to have on the shelves of a second grade class library.   It will probably become dog-eared.  It's sequels will be asked for.  It's a premise with lots of kid appeal (what a dream come true for the animal lover to look after mythological creatures!) and for some of those kids, the poo references will add to the fun.    There's no particular reason why anyone who's left elementary school should read it (it doesn't offer anything especially original or beautifully enchanting), but not every book needs to reach beyond its target audience.

    It's possible, of course, that I approached this book without an open mind--my own boy, when he was ten, wrote several chapters of a very similar story, called "Hades' Pet Keeper."  And I liked it, perhaps even a bit better than this one, in a maternally-biased way devoid of critical thought etc. way.....

    I also think I like the UK illustrator's style a bit more  (the US Demon looked like a video game character, and I like the more classically Greek UK version better:




    2/17/15

    The Lost City, conclusion to the Jaguar Stones series, by J. & P. Voelkel, with giveaway, interview, and bonus list (short) of Middle Grade/YA Mayan inspired spec fic!

    The Lost City, by J. & P. Voelkel (EgmontUSA, Feb. 10, 2015), is the action-packed fourth and final book in the Jaguar Stones series.  For three previous books, two kids have struggled (without success) to keep the powerful Jaguar Stones from falling into the hands of the Maya Death Lords who want to destroy the world.  Max is an ordinary boy from Boston, Lola is an extraordinary Mayan girl, and together they, um, mostly just barely manage to ride the wild waves of mayhem that occur when the Death Lords rise up and start using social media......

    The two kids and their unlikely allies (most notably two howler monkeys inhabited by an ancient Mayan king and his mom) set out (via submarine) to try once again to gain control of the Jaguar Stones. It's a journey that takes them to a haunted New Orleans (deadly in that special Mayan Death Lord way) and up the river to the city of Cahokia (the center of the Death Lord's social media campaign). 

    But the final showdown comes in a truly unexpected place--Fenway Park.  And Red Sox fans might even will get a bit teary as the team of heroes appears who will give the Death Lords the ball game of their lives....(Yankees fans, not so much).

    Don't read this one if you haven't read the first three!  But if you did enjoy the first books, you'll enjoy this one too.  And if you are looking for a series of that mixes mythological madness with ordinary life in a wild and crazy way, The Jaguar Stones is a good choice.  Facile though it is, "Mayan Percy Jackson"is not inaccurate.  (Caveat:  a tolerance for the absurd and the gross is required for true enjoyment!  There are maggots, farts, and icky death-ness galore!  More so than I myself really enjoy, but I'm not the target audience....)
     
    If you'd like to win the entire series of four books, just leave a comment by midnight on Feb. 24! (US and Canada).  One winner will receive soft-covers of  Middleworld, The End of  the World Club, and The River of No Return (the links go to my reviews), and a hardcover of The Lost City.
     
    And now, the interview, with Pamela Voelkel!  (thanks so much, Pamela, for your thoughtful answers!)
     
    When you started writing Middleworld, did you have a map for whole series, or did it grow and develop as you went?  When you were writing The Lost City, was there anything you wish you'd done differently back at the beginning?

    We always imagined the story as a trilogy, and we had all three books roughly mapped out. We wrote the final paragraph of the last book early on, so we were always working to that end point. One thing I'd change about MIDDLEWORLD is that I'd make us work out the characters and subplots before we started writing the story. I know it sounds like common sense, but for some reason we really made things difficult for ourselves back then.

    Everyone told us that writing the second book in a trilogy is the hardest. "It can't just be a bridge," our local children's librarian sternly warned us. "It has to be a book in its own right, with a proper beginning, middle and end. Don't disappoint me." So when THE END OF THE WORLD CLUB - possibly the only book ever to take a rock 'n' roll angle on the Spanish Conquest - was completed, I thought we were home and dry.

    Book Three had originally been set in New Orleans, but then Katrina had happened, so we'd scratched that plot. Instead we invented an underground hotel deep in the jungle, run by the ancient Maya Death Lords. There was so much ground to cover for this last volume of the trilogy, so many loose ends to tie up, that the first draft was thick as a doorstep. Our editor gave us two choices: either cut it right down or start again and make it two books. She encouraged us to make it two books because there was so much story left to tell. Characters had acquired lives and opinions of their own, even the bad guys had been run through the wringer. And we'd barely scratched the surface of the fun to be had in an underground hotel run by the Death Lords.

    So the publication of Book Three was delayed while we started again from the very beginning. The result was THE RIVER OF NO RETURN, which is the most "Indiana Jones" type adventure of the series. Then there was an unexpected gap between Book Three and Book Four while I had cancer treatment. When I got my mojo back and started writing again, it felt right to include New Orleans in Book Four because we were both survivors!

    On the subject of regrets, it's hard to say. I find it hard to stop editing until the very last moment, so I always ALWAYS feel that anything I write - including this piece - could be a million times better. But on the other hand, I'm just so grateful that the Jaguar Stones series exists and that we were able to put across so much Maya history and have so much fun with it. If I was writing the first book, MIDDLEWORLD, again now, I'd try to relax a little and let Lord 6-Dog and Lady Coco reminisce more about the old days in the Maya court. But at the time, we were overawed by the task. I could see all these kids, our readers, in my head and I kept thinking that if we didn't move the action along quickly enough, they'd lose interest and stop reading. That was always my goal: keep 'em reading for one more page, one more page, one more page...

    There isn't much fantasy for kids in the states that's based in Latin America or draws on Mayan mythology. Did the fact that you were venturing into new territory for middle grade fantasy affect the researching and writing of these books?  Do you have any book recommendations for kids who've loved the Jaguar stones and want more? 

    There are a few Maya-themed picture books and some good factual books, but not much for middle-grade - and nothing that goes where we go. All too often the Maya are presented as bloodthirsty tyrants or noble savages. In reality, they were more like the ancient Greeks - cultured, creative, political, and not averse to waging terrible war on a neighbouring city-state.

    Some reviewers have described the Jaguar Stones as the Maya equivalent of the Percy Jackson books and we love that idea! Our books set the adventures of two moody modern-day teens against the zany world of Maya mythology. Of course, the mythology used to be even zanier, but most of it has been lost. And that's the problem with writing about the Maya. It's really hard to find the facts. It's only relatively recently that archaeologists have been able to decipher Maya glyphs, so most of what you read on the internet is inaccurate.

    We didn't set out to break new ground with the Jaguar Stones. In the beginning, the pyramids were just a cool background to our adventure story. But there came a point where we had to make a decision: are we going to do this properly or not? And doing it properly meant spending family vacations in Central America, befriending Maya people, attending archaeological conferences, even learning to read and write Maya glyphs. It's been a huge undertaking and I wouldn't blame anyone for balking at it. But we try to share our research through free lesson plan CDs and downloads on our website. Maybe other authors can take advantage of that!

    Assuming they've read everything by Rick Riordan, I'd advise a Jaguar Stones fan to discover the work of Alan Garner. His book THE OWL SERVICE, set in the world of Welsh mythology, is one of my all-time favourites. I might also direct them to Beowulf, and collections of Icelandic mythology. And I'd definitely whisper that Rick Riordan has a Norse-inspired series coming out soon...

    Back in 2010, you wrote (for a guest post at this blog) that "My dream is that one day, when our books have been translated into Spanish, well make school visits in Guatemala"   Has this come to fruition yet?

    No. And it kills us, but We haven't given up hope. We're still in touch with Jesus Antonio, the education advocate who inspired us in Guatemala. We have been fortunate enough to make school visits in Chiapas in Southern Mexico - but without the books in Spanish. Luckily, Jon is bilingual and I have high school Spanish, so we manage quite well. We were thrilled to speak at an English language library in Yucatan, where the patrons are learning English - so that was the best of both worlds. We often do bilingual presentations in schools in North America too.           

    But if I can be honest, Charlotte, this whole issue confounds me. I feel guilty to be writing about the Maya, maybe even being part of the #weneeddiversebooks movement, but not being remotely Maya myself. Our connection is that Jon grew up in South and Central America. On our travels, I've talked to many Maya girls and women, and I try to channel their voices. But I have no doubt that any one of them, given my resources, could write a better book than I. Through Max, a kid from Boston and one of our main characters, I try to express this angst. If, like Rick Riordan, we were just concerned with ancient mythology, I wouldn't feel this way. But, as far as I know, no one else is writing about Maya kids right now. I hope that we're helping to bridge the gap between North and Central America. Teachers have told us that students of Maya descent take a new pride in their identity after reading our books - and that makes me proud.

    Now that the story of the Jaguar stones has come to an end, what's next for you?

    Short-term we have the Tucson Festival of Books in mid-March, followed by a book tour in California, plus trips to New Orleans, Iowa and Texas. Longer term, another book is simmering, but I don't like to talk about new projects because somehow the talking negates the writing. It makes me feel like I've already written it and the hard work is done - which it isn't, at all!


    And finally, in as much as the great final confrontation is a baseball game at Fenway Park--are you Red Sox fans?

    YOU BETCHA! But, as I I hope you gathered from the game in the book, it's not the sport that hooks us. It's the atmosphere of Fenway Park and the roller-coaster emotion of being a Red Sox fan.


    And now, the bonus (short) list of Speculative Fiction rooted in/based on/inspired by Mayan mythology and culture:

    Summer of the Mariposas, by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

    Sea of the Dead, by Julia Durango

    Starfields, by Carolyn Marsden

    Anyone know of any other books to add?


     

    2/16/15

    Knight-napped! (Dragonbreath Book 10), by Ursula Vernon

    I love love love the Dragonbreath books, and I thrill to each new installment of the adventures of Danny Dragonbreath and his friends Wendell and Christina and all the other assorted reptile and amphibian characters who fill the pages of this series.   If you want a book to offer a seven or eight-year old with a sense of humor, especially an eight-year old who is maybe a bit geeky and who appreciates the snarky absurd, a Dragonbreath book is the Right Answer!!! 

    In this installment, Knight-napped (Dial Jan. 2015), Danny's annoying cousin Spenser has been kidnapped by knights, and Danny and his friends rush off to the knights' castle to save him.  It is the details that make this fun, and happily there are enough details to make it very fun.

    Why do I love these books?  Because Reasons, as my own boys would say, the reasons being:

    1.  The books include of lots of graphics--illustrations that continue the action, as well as some that just illustrate, that break up the text and make things reader friendly for elementary school readers. 

    2.  The above-referenced graphics delight me with their charm and personality.  So simple, yet so expressive! 

    3.  Christina is a really really cool smart savvy feminist lizard and I love her.

    4.  I like Wendell too, who is also a smart geek.

    5.  I like Danny too, who though not book smart has his moments.....

    6.  But mostly I love these books because I am grinning pretty much the whole time I read one, and that is good, because smiling actually forces the brain to release chemicals that make you happier.   So it is total win.

    Here are Danny and Wendell climbing a tower; they have reached a gargoyle quite near the top, and
    Wendell (terrified) perches desperately on it.

    "You can't just stay there," said Danny.  "I mean, I suppose you can, but we don't  have much time to save Spenser-"

    "You go save Spencer," said Wendell, eyes tightly shut.   "I will stay with the gargoyle.  I will name him Mister Scowly and we will be friends."  (page 126)




    2/15/15

    This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (2/15/15)

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

    The Reviews:

    Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen, at Waking Brain Cells and Writer of Wrongs

    Book of the Dead (Tombquest 1), by Michael Northrup, at proseandkahn

    The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, at Becky's Book Reviews

    Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Hope is the Word

    The Candy Shop War, by Brandon Mull, at Log Cabin Library

    The Diamond of Darkhold, by Jeanne DuPrau, at Fantasy Literature

    Dragon Steel, by Laurence Yep, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

    Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks, at Pop! Goes the Reader

    The Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale, at Shae Has Left the Room, Pages Unbound, and Book Nut 

    The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at Bibliobrit, The Social Potato, and The Reading Nook Reviews

    The Inquisitor's Mark, by Dianne K. Salerni, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Jaguar Stones, by J. and P. Voekel (series review), at Geo Librarian

    The Missing (Troubletwisters 4), by Garth Nix and Sean Williams, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly, at A Reader of Fictions

    Niels Wormwart: Accidental Villain, by D.M. Cunningham, at Project Mayhem

    One Witch at a Time, by Stacy DeKeyser, at The Book Monsters, Charlotte's Library, and The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia (also with interview)

    Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at Fantasy Literature

    The Return of Skeleton Man, by Joseph Bruchac, at Charlotte's Library

    Rose and the Silver Ghost, by Holly Webb, at Sharon the Librarian

    Spaceheadz, by Jon Scieszka and Francesco Sedita, at Madigan Reads

    Thursdays with the Crown, by Jessica Day George, at Small Reviews

    The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, at A Reader of Fictions (audiobook)

    Zodiac Legacy: Convergence, by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong, at The Book Smugglers and Ms. Yingling Reads (giveaway)

    And at a librarymama, two sets of three EMG Spec Fic books from her Cybils reading here and here


    Authors and Interview

    Stacy DeKeyser (Once Witch at a Time) at Green Bean Teen Queen and The Book Monsters (both giveaways)

    J. & P. Voekel (The Jaguar Stones series) at The Reading Zone, Cracking the Cover, and at From the Mixed-Up Files (with giveaway)

    Abi Elphinstone (The Dreamsnatcher) talks about her favorite fictional animals at The Book Zone (For Boys)

    Laurie McKay (Villain Keeper) at Literary Rambles

    Patrik Henry Bass  (The Zero Degree Zombie Zone) is a featured author at The Brown Bookshelf

    Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong (The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence) at The Book Smugglers (with giveaway)

    MarcyKate Connolly (Monstrous) at Pandora's Books

    Ian Johnstone (The Bell Between Worlds) at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

    Matthew Jobin (The Nethergrim) at Charlotte's Library

    Other Good Stuff

    Congratulations to Paul Durham, author of The Luck Uglies, this year's Cybils Winner in Elementary/Middle Grade Spec Fic!  Here's the full list of winners.

    The Waterstones children's book prize shortlist has been announced--with Boy in the Tower representing MG Spec. Fic.

    Likewise, the longlists for the Carnegie and Greenway medals have been announced.

    A Tuesday Ten of fantastical squirrels at Views From the Tesseract, and Ten Otherworld Fantasies, also at Views from the Tesseract

    A list of time travel to Egypt books at Time Travel Times Two

    International Space Station XLV:  The Science Continues (thanks NASA!)

    2/13/15

    The Nethergrim, by Matthew Jobin, with a guest post from the author on the use of anthropology in fiction

    This week The Nethergrim, by Matthew Jobin (Philomel Books, 2014), is out in paperback!   It's the start of a series of three young teenagers who pit themselves against an ancient evil--the Nethergrim--and the monsters that serve it.   It was thought that the Nethergrim had been destroyed years ago....but that was not true.  And  now it is rising again...



    Much of this first book sets the stage for things to come, introducing us to the central three characters--Edmund, whose nascent gift of magic has never been encouraged by his harsh father, Katherine, trained by her father in combat and horse training, and Tom, hard worked slave to a harsh master, whose own gifts of healing and animal husbandry verge on the preternatural.   When the peace of their village is threatened by attacks from the Nethergrim's monstrous minions, and children from the village are captured, Edmund finds in a stolen book of magic the knowledge that might lead them to the source of the evil...but the adults refuse to believe the missing children might be alive.  So the three of them band together to set out and seek the source of the evil themselves, following in the steps of the heroes who had tried to defeat it before them.

    Though it is not till well in the book that the actual quest begins, there's enough happening before this to make it a fast-paced page turner.  The fact that the mystery of the Nethergrim takes a while to unfold adds considerably to the tension, and the friendship between the three kids, and their desires to fight for the village, and to fight as well the pressures of their parents and society to shape their lives (for Tom, abused by his master, this is especially pressing!), adds  much interest to the story.   The actions and inactions of some of the adults didn't always make sense to me (why, for instance, wasn't more made of Edmund's sudden use of magic?  Why did no one seem to care all that much?) but the sweep of the story carried me past these moments of doubt.

    Give this one to anyone who enjoys brave kids with a mission!

    And now, it's a pleasure to welcome Matthew Jobin, a fellow anthropologist! 

    On the use of anthropology in fiction


    In addition to being the author of The Nethergrim and its upcoming sequels, I am also an academic anthropologist, that sometimes-maligned discipline often found sharing a floor on campus with sociology. The two pursuits—anthropology and fiction—are more closely related than they might first appear. In fact, I can credit the study of anthropology and its sub-fields with much of my inspiration for the creation of the world of my books. Anthropology has taught me to dig deeper into the reasons why people are they way they are, how things as seemingly disparate as geography, folklore, biology and language all influence each other and provide the ground of human experience. It has taught me to never assume without cause, never stereotype, and to attempt to understand everything I perceive from as many points of view as I can find. It has helped me to become a better writer, and more importantly, a better person living a richer mental life.

    Anthropology, for those new to the subject, is the study of everything human, from our bodies to our minds to the things we build around us. Amongst its sub-fields is archaeology, the study of human material culture—the things we make and leave behind. An archaeologist often attempts to infer from what remains of a culture what it looked like in the past, and in researching The Nethergrim I used readings in archaeology to lay deep foundations under the things my heroes see. Why is that ruined building there? What was it used for, and what were people thinking about themselves when they built it? In seminar and textbook throughout my career, I have found archaeologists expounding ever on the same theme—what we make says a great deal about how we think. Properly read, our buildings, our possessions, and even our garbage tell tales of our inner worlds.

    There are other subfields of anthropology that have aided me in creating the world behind my books. Cultural anthropology helped me to get unstuck from the norms of my own upbringing and to see the lives of other people from the inside. It is so easy, when writing about a distant or created culture, to use it as a prop against one’s own values, but the result of such work never satisfies as deeply as a culture that seems real unto itself. Biological anthropology helped me to take the long view of humanity, and to consider always that we are influenced by both the contents of our minds and the structure of our bodies. Readings in linguistics inspired me to follow the tree of change back toward its roots, to create the languages I constructed for my world under the influence of believable historical forces. Perhaps the greatest gift, though, that anthropology has given me are friends and colleagues who are experts in all of the fields I mention above. I’ve got to get things right in the world of my books, or they’ll never let me hear the end of it.

    2/12/15

    One Witch at a Time, by Stacy DeKeyser

    One Witch at a Time, by Stacy DeKeyser (Margaret K. McElderry Books ,February 10, 2015) is an extremely satisfying middle grade reimagining of Jack and the Beanstalk.  It's also the sequel to The Brixen Witch (an equally satisfying middle grade retelling of the Pied Piper story), though it can be read as a standalone just fine.

    Winter in the village of Brixen has bee long and hard...and so it's important that Rudi get good bargains when he goes to town to trade his family's cheese.   But the day goes sour when his companion, nine year old Susanna Louisa, makes a bargain on her own--one of Rudi's family cows for the "magic beans" being offered by a strange foreign girl.   Rudi doesn't believe the beans are magic...but he's wrong.    And it's a magic that's alien to Brixen, and if its allowed to stay, the balance of things will go awry.

    At least, this is what Brixen's own witch says, and Rudi has no reason not to believe her.   So Rudi and Susanna set off up the mountains to the next village up, where the beans came from--Petz, a snowbound land whose people have been trapped behind a magical barrier created by their own witch, a giant.  The only way in, or out, is by magic--when they plant one of the beans at the boarder, a magical beanstalk grows....

    But there Rudi and Susanna meet Agatha, the strange girl who traded the beans in the first place...and though she agrees to travel with them to the giant's home, she's less concerned about balancing magic than she is with bringing summer back to Petz....which complicates things more than somewhat.

    Then to make matters worse, Susanna brings one of the giant's chickens home with her to Brixen, and it starts to lay golden eggs....And the giant comes looking for it!

    It's a good story, well-told, with many little twists on the original adding lots of interest!

    Like The  Brixen Witch, One Witch at a Time is the sort of fairy tale in which magic is slotted comfortably into a real world context, in this case, a historical Bavaria.  The strong sense of real place, and the believable characters, makes for very satisfying reading, especially for kids for whom the silly doesn't always work.   It's not a wild and whimsical fairytale fun (like The Hero's Guide series, or E.D. Baker's books); instead, I'd give these to fans of Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted and A Tale of Two Castles

    What sets DeKeyser's books apart is that they are the only younger middle grade fairytale retellings (9 to 10 year olds) I can think of that have a boy as the central protagonist (feel free to let me know I'm wrong!).  Rudi is an ordinary boy, not Chosen, or specially gifted--just reasonably smart and brave, who does what he feels he must as best he can.  There's enough magic and adventure to satisfy the avid fan of fantasy, but this solid base of relatibility (I don't like the word, but can't think of how better to say it) might also win them fans among kids who don't necessarily dream of being young wizards themselves....

    But really, what's most important to me is that I enjoyed both the books! 

    (note on the cover--the cover for Brixen Witch tilted perhaps too strongly toward historical fiction; the cover of this one goes off in the opposite direction.  It doesn't convey anything about what this book is really about (a Jack and the Bean Stalk retelling in which there are no witches who wear pointy hats).  This might make it hard for the kids who will really love it (and I think there should be lots of those) to find it).

    Disclaimer: review copy of One Witch at a Time received from the author.

    2/10/15

    No Time Like Tomorrow, by Ted White, for Timeslip Tuesday (an odd book from yesteryear)

    There are reasons why some books become timeless science fiction classics, read by generations of kids, and others are not even checked out of the library in the years right after they are published, leaving me to be the one that has to make a book record for them on Goodreads.  Sadly, No Time Like Tomorrow, by Ted White (1969), is an example of the later type of book.

    The title is fine; a good choice for a time travel book in which a 1960s teenager, Frank, is mistakenly transported 500 years into the future (the folks in the future were experimenting, obviously without success, with faster than light travel).  Frank is also a fine name for an Everyboy representing contemporary humanity.

    The cover, however, is not fine.  I don't get any sense of "the future is exciting" from it.  Instead I get "those two people look really creepy."  And if you are putting a futuristic saucer-shaped hovercraft thing on the cover, you might as well go all out and make it look like a futuristic hovercraft thing instead of a lightly-sketched dome of randomness (in the middle of the cover, by the white streak that isn't part of the original--sorry about the streak)


    So in any event, Frank gets sent to the future.   And wakes up in a strange (because it molds itself to him) bed, not knowing the language.  And an attractive girl, Dorian, comes in and starts feeding him with her fingers (as in, he has to suck the gloop off them) with odd undertones of titillation and this is just weird.  I cannot think of any books that have become sci fi classics for young readers that involve finger feeding of this sort.

    We switch to Dorian's point of view, and via the first of many info dumps we learn who she is--heir to one of the mega powerful corporations that control everything.   We also learn that this is a sexist society; at most she will be a power behind the husband of her arranged marriage.  We think this future sucks, especially for the people at the bottom.

    When Frank and Dorian are kidnapped, we get to go on a tour of the future earth and see how bad it is.   Here, however, the author becomes a bit confused.  While showing an awful, polluted, over-populated world with a terrible imbalance of power and lots of people in dire poverty having limbs hacked off by those in power etc. and their children taken as concubines to those in power etc., he also tries to defend capitalism with a message about how the middle class, if they just try, can have perfectly fine, successful lives--"There's still room for it.  This is a free capitalistic society, you know," says Archer, an older man who (for unclear reasons) is risking everything to help Frank and Dorian make it back to her family (page 96).    (Viz the unclear reasons--Archer's unborn son was genetically modified into a water-breathing mutant by one of the big corporations, and Archer kills his son to save him from a life of underwater slavery and things go badly for him and the rest of his family after that...I would have like a bit more exploration of how this led to him risking his relatively comfortable (though lonely) independence for two strange kids.)

    In any event, the book ended up feeling didactic, but in a confusing way-- I felt that White was opposing the idea of a few big corporations controlling everything, including people's privacy, while trying to make Capitalism per se not the problem.   The book ends with Frank telling Dorian to try to use her influence (over her kids, because clearly that's the only sphere of power open to her) to make things better.   (If he was sending an anti-big-corporation/anti-uber rich few controlling everything message back then in the 1960s, clearly it did not fall on fertile ground....because here we are.  But like I said, I don't think the book was read much.) 

    Back to the story.  We get more info dumps while the three of them travel.  This includes one about how televisions work, which is really not the point.   It is not really the book's fault, however, that the future technology seems rather meh-ish-- all the hover crafts and rockets  and instant global communication seem unremarkable from the 21st century point of view.

    Frank and Dorian fall for each other.  This does not make either of them a more interesting, well-rounded character.   There is nothing that does.  It does not help that the author goes out of his way to tell us flat out at the beginning that Frank is not an interesting person (I like it when authors at least try to make their characters more than lumps).   The author also shows us clearly that Dorian is a spoiled and clueless person, dimwitted as a result of her sheltered upbringing and not likely to contribute anything useful to anything.

    On the plus side, the plot made sense.... (except for the motivation of the helper character).  And on a sentence level, the writing was just fine.

    Final thought--  as I said above, I do not think this book had a wide readership, one possible reader might have been Ronald Reagan, who famously said "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do."   Pine trees are one specifically referenced source of pollution in this future world.  (you can read more about why this is silly here).  But in White's world, people breathing in and out is a cause of pollution too, for what that's worth.

    Ok--now I've just gone and read the Kirkus review, which is almost as odd as this book (and which seems to have gotten Dorian's name wrong).  Here is my favorite bit from the Kirkus review:  "Then Frank and Damian are kidnapped by a rival corporation in a plot that fails to kill them and they are forced to make their way through the burrows of the peasant establishment...."  but the last sentence is almost as good-- "No Time could be read in no time."

    2/9/15

    The Return of Skeleton Man, by Joseph Bruchac

    The Return of Skeleton Man, by Joseph Bruchac (HarperCollins, 2006), sequel to Skeleton Man (my review).

    Last year Molly's worst nightmare had come true.  Skeleton Man was no longer just a scary story about a fleshing-eating monster from her Mohawk ancestors--he was real, and he came hunting for her.   But she defeated him....and now she's, maybe, free from his horror.   And so it's with a hopeful heart that she accompanies her parents to a conference at a mountain retreat in New York.  Maybe at last they can relax...

    Nope!

    Instead, a growing sense of dread turns into full on horror when it becomes clear that Skeleton Man is there too....hunting Molly....

    Two rather cool things save her.   One is her ability to operate heavy machinery, a pleasing thing to see in an adolescent girl character!  The other is an unexpected ally--a Mayan woman with her own powerful connection to the strengths of the spirit world.

    It's not quite as utterly terrifying as the first book, in which we meet Skeleton Man for the first time, and it takes perhaps a bit too long for the forebodings to turn into terror.  In that first one, Molly's parents have been kidnapped, and she's on her own; here her parents are with her, trying to be helpful and supportive, which blunts the menace somewhat.  And the return of Skeleton Man seems to me a bit unnecessary, blunting Molly's victory from book one.   But still it's a gripping read, especially if you like scary hotels sets in the middle of nowhere...

    An additional reason to add this one to your shelves is that, like its predecessor, it's a pretty unique middle grade fantasy/horror book in that it features a contemporary family who is Native--it is who they are, in a matter-of fact way.

    2/8/15

    This week's round-up of middle grade speculative fiction from around the blogs (2/8/15)

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

    The Reviews

    Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor, at read. we are book punks.

    Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Sharon the Librarian

    Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen, at The Book Monsters, Effortlessly ReadingIn Bed With Books, Cuddlebuggery, Snuggly Oranges, On Starships and Dragonwings

    Dark Lord: School's Out, by Jamie Thomson, at alibrarymama

    The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire book 1), by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden in Pages

    Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Cherise Mericle Harper, at Time Travel Times Two

    The Dreamsnatcher, by Abi Elphinstone, at Readaraptor

    The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Fantasy Literature

    The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, at Leaf's Reviews, and a review of the whole series at Fantasy Faction

    The Inquisitor's Mark, by Dianne K. Salerni, at Middle Grade Mafioso

    The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews

    Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at Literary Rambles (with giveaway)

    Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly, at The Daily Prophecy

    Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins, at alibrarymama

    A Plague of Unicorns, by Jane Yolen, at Read Love

    The Power of Un, by Nancy Etchemendy, at Charlotte's Library

    The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell, at The Daily Prophecy

    Rose and the Silver Ghost, by Holly Webb, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

    The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at A Reader of Fictions (audiobook review)

    The Shadow Throne, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at Log Cabin Library

    Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Always in the Middle

    The Swallow, by Charis Cotter, at Rachel's Reading Timbits

    Tommy Black and the Staff of Light, by Jake Kerr, at This Kid Reviews Books

    A World Without Princess, by Soman Chainani, at The Book Smugglers

    The Zodiac Legacy-Convergence, by Stan Lee et al., at Charlotte's Library (giveaway)


    Authors and Interviews

    MarcyKate Connolly (Monstrous) at Literary Rambles (with giveaway)

    "Angela Banks" (Finding Serendipity) on "How Two Write a Novel" at Nerdy Book Club

    Pam Muñoz Ryan (Echo) at Publishers Weekly


    Other Good Stuff:

    Middle grade speculative fiction did not fare well in this year's ALA Youth Media Awards.  I Lived on Butterfly Hill, by Marjorie Agosín, is the 2015 Pura Belpré (Author) Award winner. And A Snicker of Magic is an Odyssey Honor Recording.  Oh well....

    Lee and Low announce the finalists of the 2015 New Visions Award

    The Guardian offers "The best talking animals in children's books."

    Flavorwire has a nice long article about "We Need Diverse Books" --a good summary

    At BoingBoing, "The best adventure stories for kids from 1965" includes lots of fantasy books.

    I almost have enough snow lying around (with more falling) to try my hand at my own massive snow sculptures, but I think the Japanese army and their Stormtrooper tableau will always have me beat....

    2/7/15

    The Three Loves of Persimmon, by Cassandra Golds

    I can now safely say that The Three Loves of Persimmon (Penguin Books Australia, 2010) is my favorite of Cassandra Golds' books, (although The Museum of Mary Child has a place in my heart as well).  The story of a lonely young woman (Persimmon), instructed via letters from her deceased, clairvoyant aunt to allow herself to look for love, and the story of a lonely young mouse (Epiphany), longing for some unimaginable, more beautiful life beyond the subterranean railroad platform that is her home, intersect beautifully to make a satisfying whole.   There is a happy ending for both, and I read it in a single sitting.

    Really, that's all that needs to be said.  But just for the sake of a longer blog post, I will add that Persimmon has a flower shop (following her dream of flowers alienated her from her vegetable- loving family, leading to her loneliness), and it is flowers that draw young Epiphany up from below, leading to her important encounter (quite near the end of the book) with Persimmon.   I like flowers.  And I will add that a book plays an important role in Persimmon's happy ending, and I like books too.   And finally, like all of Cassandra Golds' books, the world is almost our own, but made just a more dreamlike and more magical; in this case, with light, rather than darkness---for instance, Persimmon's best friend is a talking ornamental cabbage named Rose (who is now my favorite fictional cabbage).

    I was a tad worried that Persimmon, naïve and shy and vulnerable, was going to be need Saving (especially after the first two loves leave her in need of a third), but happily she finds her own strength and does not need that third love to make her believe that she is a person who matters.

    A lovely book, and if you want a dreamlike, beautiful love story to escape winter with, this is an excellent choice.

    Note:  I have wanted this book ever since it first came out in Australia, but the Book Depository didn't stock it, and Amazon only has it in Kindle form.  Years passed.  Then I found that there was way to get books with free shipping from Australia, via a website called Fishpond, and I am now slowly asking my loved ones for all the Australian books on my wishlist...this one was a Christmas present from my dear mother.

    2/5/15

    The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence, by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong -- with great giveaway!

    The  Zodiac Legacy: Convergence, by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong (Disney, January 27, 2015) is a rip-roaring story of young teens with super-powers, pitted against a powerful bad guy who wants to take over the world.  What makes this one tremendously interesting is that the super-powers come from the Chinese signs of the Zodiac--each of the major players in the story is a vessel for the powers of each sign.

    Steven Lee, a 14 year-old Chinese-American kid on his first trip to Hong Kong, left his tour group in the middle of a museum to follow a strange woman through a mysterious door.  He had no idea that doing so would end up with him being Tiger, filled with all the powers of that Sign, and allied against a criminal mastermind named Maxwell, who embodies the power of Dragon.  Steven finds himself part of a frantic search for the four Zodiac powers that had escaped Maxwell's control.   But finding the four--in France, South Africa, Ireland, and the states, is only the first step. The four new recruits and Steven must learn to work as a team, and master their powers....before Maxwell can capture them, and use their powers for his own nefarious purposes.

    It is a heck of a fun fast read--I very much enjoyed the whole finding and recruiting and getting to know each member of the team, and seeing how their Zodiac powers manifest (in very cool ways!).  And it has just tons of appeal for any young reader who thrills to ordinary teens granted supernatural gifts and caught up in a wild and dangerous adventure.  I myself started this one by reading it out loud to my eleven-year-old, and he was quickly and irrevocably hooked--this is a great one for 11-13 year olds (the whole "building a team" part seems to me an especially middle-grade friendly theme).  The frequent illustrations add to the kid-friendliness, especially for those who like to see the action for themselves!



    I'm very happy to be part of the Zodiac blog tour, with a great giveaway  to offer:

    THE ZODIAC LEGACY prize pack
    One (1) winner receives:
    ·         a copy of The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence ,
    ·         plus custom ZODIAC LEGACY temporary tattoos.

    Simply leave a comment by midnight, February 13th to be entered to win! (US and Canada only)

    Learn more about the book at DisneyZodiac.com, watch the Book Trailer, and follow #ZodiacLegacy to find more chances to win!

    And visit the Zodiac Generator to find your own animal power!


     
    About the Creative Team:
    Stan Lee is known to millions as the man whose Super Heroes propelled Marvel to its preeminent position in the comic book industry. His co-creations include Spider-Man, The Avengers, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, as well as hundreds of others. He introduced Spider-Man as a syndicated newspaper strip that became the most successful of all syndicated adventure strips and has appeared in more than 500 newspapers worldwide. Stan currently remains Chairman Emeritus of Marvel, as well as a member of the Editorial Board of Marvel Comics. He is also the Chairman & Chief Creative officer of POW! Entertainment, a multimedia entertainment company based in Beverly Hills, CA.
     
    Stuart Moore has been a writer, a book editor, and an award-winning comics editor. His recent writing includes Civil War, the first in a new line of prose novels from Marvel Comics, The Art of Iron Man 3 (Marvel, with Marie Javins); and THE 99, a multicultural super hero comic from Teshkeel.
     
    Andie Tong has worked on titles for various franchises, including Tron: Betrayal, Spectacular Spider-Man UK, The Batman Strikes, Smallville, Wheel of Time, TMNT, Masters of the Universe, and Starship Troopers, working for companies such as Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, Panini, Dark Horse, and Dynamite Entertainment, as well as commercial illustrations for numerous advertising agencies including Nike, Universal, CBS, Mattel, and Habsro. When he gets the chance, Andie concept designs for various companies, and also juggles illustration duties on a range of children's picture storybooks for Harper Collins. Malaysian born, Andie migrated to Australia at a young age, and then moved to London in 2005. In 2012, he journeyed back to Asia and currently resides in Singapore with this wife and daughter.



    Disclaimer: Review copy  & prizing  provided by Disney Enterprises, Inc.


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