2/17/18

A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield

A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield  (Putnam, middle grade, Jan. 2018), is a great pick for kids who enjoy wild and whacky sci fi school stories, and for those who love stories of smart, misfit girls finally finding their people.

Nikola Kross is that sort of girl.  Her intellect and knowledge has antagonized just about everyone in her boring, normal school in North Dakota.  Her father, a mad-scientist inventor type, has rigged up a comfortable enough home of the two of them in an abandoned warehouse store, but although he's taught Nikola a lot, and provided her with a state of the art security system and incredible escape plan just in case things go wrong, he hasn't given her much affection.

Fortunately, when a nasty, non-human monster going by the name of Tabbabitha shows up after school to kidnap Nikola, after already taking her father, the security system and escape plan kick in.  Nikola finds her self a student at the most unusual school on earth, a place for genius kids who are both human (the minority) and not so human kids with extraordinary abilities.  She has a lot of catch up (quantum mechanics and the manipulation of reality not being on the curriculum of her old school), and she has even more figuring out to do.

Questions like "who the heck are these people?" and "can I finally make friends?" keep Nikola busy.  And happily, she does make friends; her new room-mate, though she has little in common with Nikola, turns out to be just who she needs, and vice versa (the way the two of them sort out how they are going to co-habitate is lovely reading!).  And of course the larger, more explosive sort of questions keep her and her companions busy as well, as they try to foil Tabbabitha's evil plottings and schemings for world domination.

It's a fun read, slowed at tad by the amount of explanations readers (and Nikola) need to make sense of things, but not so much so as to be bothersome.  The friendship thread of the story was my favorite part; I found the school slightly less appealing, probably because I am older than the target audience and rather more jaded (does every school have to come with a beautiful mean girl?), but also because the headmistress got on my nerves lots (she's intended to be unhelpful, and succeeds....).  Also perhaps because I'm not personally interested in devices that need batteries and equations.  (Pushing further into introspection-maybe I didn't like the school because I would fail if I went there....).  On a more positive note, I thought the larger conflict part was interesting (I was afraid after meeting the over-the-top Tabbabitha and her henchmonsters that it would be farcical, but it wasn't).

So short answer--I enjoyed reading it, parts very much indeed, but it's not a personal most loved favorite though it is one I'd strongly recommend to readers who do like devices and devisings, and smart girls who are good at both!

Kirkus gave it a star, referencing "an endless parade of jokes (both sly and knee-slapping)." I am now wondering if I need to read the book again, because when I read it yesterday I was amused by many things but cannot recall a single "joke" (unless you count Tabbabitha's name).  Perhaps they are jokes only people who like batteries and equations will notice.  If you have read it and slapped your knee, let me know so that I can appreciate with more precision my failure as a reader!

2/14/18

The Uncanny Express (Bland Sisters book 2) by Kara LaReau


So last week I got lovely book mail--I was a Winner of a prize package to celebrate the release of The Uncanny Express, by Kara LaReau (Abrams, middle grade, Jan. 2018), the second book about the Bland sisters Kale and Jaundice.  Here's a photograph of my treats, using the blandest upholstery in my home as background.  I especially like the little fake moustache, which I have posed ala an Edward Gorey bat between the books....

And today, while home with a sick kid, I treated myself to the Reading.  And such was my reading experience that I'm going to do something I don't usually do.

Usually when I write a review of a children's book (not that I ever write reviews much of grown-up books) I try to cast my mind back to the halcyon days of my own youth, asking myself if little Charlotte would have liked the book, and wondering if "kids today" would like it.

To heck with that.  I read The Uncanny Express as a grown-up, and loved it as a grown-up, and that's a valid experience too!  I enjoyed it so much for two reasons.

1. It was full of very fun Agatha Christie allusions, that tickled me greatly.  A crime (?) is committed on a train full of passengers with secrets.  Kale and Jaundice, the Bland sisters, are passengers on the train, swept up by the self-styled Magique, Queen of Magic (who might or might not be their Aunt Shallot), a magician who's determined to make a comeback in the world of magic (the stage kind, not the fantasy kind, although that one trick at the end.....).  When on the course of the train journey she disappears (murdered?) a  detective manifests on board the train, and Kale and Jaundice are now swept along in the path of his detecting as he questions all the other passengers.  Very much Murder on the Orient express!  Lots of fun!

This is clearly an adult reaction, and I have no clue how kids who don't know Agatha Christie will react.  Probably many will thing its funny in its own right, and than come to A.C and find it a knock off of something they already love.

2.  Kale and Jaundice were not immediately appealing to me in their first outing.  They are, indeed, bland.  But the shells of their blandness are cracking in earnest here, and emotional depths and physiological realizations are bringing them to life and making them loveable.  I truly care about them now.

This is the reaction of me, a mother, an identity so strong in me now that I can't undo it.  Quite possibly young readers will be able to take the girls at face value and appreciate their utterly over the top neuroticness, and empathize with them on the shared experience both real and fiction kids are currently living of growing up and questioning the childhood ways once taken for granted.  That would be fine too.

But in any event, I really enjoyed the book, which is very nice for me!

Thanks, Kara, for the prize package!  I'll be looking forward to book three eagerly.

2/11/18

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs, 2/11/18

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; please let me know if I missed your post!  It was a good week of blog hunting for me, because I found two books to add to my own tbr list that I hadn't heard of before! (in case anyone is curious, I've put asterixes next to them....)

The Reviews

Christmas Carol and the Defenders of Claus by Robert L. Fouch, at Read Till Dawn

The Beginning Woods, by Malcolm McNeill, at Say What?

*The Boy From Tomorrow, by Camille DeAnelis, at Rajiv's Reviews

D Day: Battle on the Beach (Ranger in Time book 7), by Kate Messner, at Time Travel Times Two

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Weezie's Whimsical Writing

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart, at Minerva Reads

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Tales of the Marvelous

The Hubble's Treasure Hunt, by Elaine Horesman, at Charlotte's Library

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano, at Pages Unbound Reviews

Marabel and the Book of Fate, by Tracy Barrett, at The Neverending TBR

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Nocturnals: the Hidden Kingdom, by Tracey Hecht and Sarah Fieber, at Always in the Middle

The Nothing to See Here Hotel, by Steven Butler, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Hope is the Word

Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren at Tales from the Raven

The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd, at Geo Librarian and Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

The Royal Rabbits of London, by Santa Montefiore and Simoon Sebag, at Lemuria Blog

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Rajiv's Reviews

Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin, at Charlotte's Library

The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome, and the Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution, by Jonathan W. Stokes at B and N Kids Blog

*Tin, by Padraig Kenny, at Minerva Reads

The Unicorn Quest, by Kamilla Benko, at Pop Goes the Reader, Ms. Yingling Reads, The Story Sanctuary, Mundie Kids, and Geo Librarian

Authors and Interviews

"Why We Need Portal Stories" by Kamilla Benko, at Nerdy Book Club

Sinead O'Hart (The Eye of the North) at Minerva Reads

Lena Roy and Charlotte Jones Voiklis (Becoming Madeleine) at B and N Kids Blog

Other Good Stuff

"Celebrating Wrinkle in Time With Writing" by Lena Roy, at Nerdy Book Club,and also "Some Things You Might Not Know about Madeline L'Engle" at 100 Scope Notes

2/7/18

Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin

Most middle grade fairy tale retellings use the "original" story as a springboard for wild leaps of imagination, which is just fine and results in some darn good books.  Snow and Rose, by Emily Winfield Martin  (Random House Oct 2017), on the other hand, is a lovely and rare example of a retelling for middle grade readers that fills in the blanks of a story so organically that you can hardly see the joins.

Snow White and Rose Red was a favorite of mine--it's about two girls who live with their mother and periodically meet and rescue a grumpy dwarf and a bear who's really a transformed prince becomes their friend...and really there's so much wild imaging going on here that it doesn't need much more!  So Emily Martin doesn't leap with it; instead she gives the girls a backstory of wealth, and then sends them out to live a meager life in the forest, with a father who is missing, and a community of others doing the best they can in the forest to befriend, and warn, and share...And she gives the strange little man a power and point that drives the plot of the story instead of dropping into it and then poofing away.  And adding to the Realness of the story, Snow and Rose are fine characters and good sisters, with distinct personalities and strengths.

As is the case with the original, at first the happenings seem random, but as you read along, you, and the sisters, find that things are more interconnected than they seem.  There is a mystery the girls must unravel...before they, like the bear, are enchanted...

Adding to the enchantment of the story are beautiful illustrations, mostly grey with just touches of read, both double page spreads and chapter decorations.  They are illustrations that make you feel like you are reading a book that matters and has the weight of magic, without being so rich in their own right that they distract.

It's been a while since I read this (I got a review copy from the publisher for the Cybils Awards last fall), so I looked to see if I said anything on Goodreads, and I (usefully, for a wonder) did:

a very nice retelling of the fairy tale; stuck close to the original, but added characterization and details about the world of forest and cottage that made it pleasing reading.

Which reminds me that if you like stories of moving into cottages, a genre that I myself  like lots, this is a good one!

2/6/18

The Hubbles' Treasure Hunt, by Elaine Horseman, for Timeslip Tuesday

One of the fun bonuses of getting your hands on a new to you vintage children's book is at the end of the book where, if you are lucky, you get a list of other books you've never heard of, sometimes with blurbs.  This luck happened to me last month, and as a result I treated myself to a few book purchases, including The Hubbles' Treasure Hunt, by Elaine Horseman (1965).  This is the second of a series about a group of English kids living in an old house in a cathedral town who have found a spell book, that includes a spell for travelling in time, which is the focus of the plot.

It begins when the kids (two sets of siblings, 3 boys, 2 girls; one set living with grandfather, the others the children the housekeeper) discover a clue to a treasure hunt hidden in a doll carved during the English Civil War.  With the encouragement, even collusion, of the grandfather, the magical recipe given in the spell book acquired in book 1 (Hubbles' Bubble) is concocted and an expedition is sent into the past, hoping that it will be the past of the English Civil War so they can find the treasure.  Instead, the grandfather and one of the older boys ends up in far off prehistory, and when they return home, they inadvertently bring with them a baby prehistoric hippo.

A trip to take the hippo home ends up landing the kids in the middle of a Civil War scrimmage, where by happy coincidence they do make contact with the author of the treasure hunt clue, but they come home nott much wiser about where it's hidden.  They do gain interesting backstory for people involved, though, which I liked.  The young man who hid the treasure went down in history as a traitor to both sides, but his story is not at all black and white....

But then it's more hippo wrangling.  The hippo, back in the present, escapes and must be found...another spell is used, so the kids can breath underwater and travel down the river looking for the hippo.

At which point, I'm, like, enough already with the hippo!  I want English Civil War time travel and treasure hunt with tragic people of the past in distress!

But no.  More hippo chasing ensues.  Sigh.

Then finally two of the kids figure out the clue, and find the treasure (with help from the hippo. sigh again), and it is lovely treasure from the cathedral, hidden from the Round-heads, in a beautiful carved chest (one of the most lovely fictional chests I've ever read).  So that is nice.

I almost really liked this one, but too much hippo, not enough good time travel, though  I realize that for many readers, the fun of prehistoric hippos causing consternation amongst the townsfolk might be wonderful.  The kids were a nice lot though, and it was good that there weren't intrusions of class distinction.  If the other books (there are three in total) come my way, I'll be happy, but I won't seek them out.

Kirkus reviewed the book when it came out in the US in 1966, and I don't think the reviewer was at all conversant with mid 20th century UK books, saying that the characters "keep up a steady banter often pleasantly silly, frequently affected, and always very British."  I, who have read hundreds of mid 20th century books, found the dialogue none of the above and I really wonder what is meant by "affected."  I am also baffled by this sentence:  "The transition to fantasy is always smoothly made, although the course of events often seems illogical or incidental."  I myself think that when you are making your own spells out a Victorian spell book, the course of events is de facto not going to be logical...I had not trouble following what was going on, for what that's worth.  Also for what it's worth, I've never once criticized a book for transitioning to fantasy too abruptly....so perhaps I'm just not as keenly sensitive as the Kirkus reviewer of yesteryear.


2/4/18

This weeks mg sci fi fantasy round up (2/4/18)

Welcome to this week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs; please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Edge of Extinction series by Laura Martin, at Redeemed Reader

Fire of Invention, by J. Scott Savage, at Hidden in Pages

The Four-Fingered Man, by Cerberus Jones, at The Write Path

Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Puss Reboots

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans, at Completely Full Bookshelf

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant, at Puss Reboots

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano, at MG Book Village

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella, by Jerry Mahoney, at Log Cabin Library

The Night Gardiner, by Jonathan Auxier, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee, at The Winged Pen

The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd, at Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

Sisters of Glass, by Naomi Cyprus, at Charlotte's Library

The Thrifty Time Travel Guides--Ancient Rome and the American Revolution, by Jonathan W. Stokes, at Small Review

The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Nerdophiles

Tricked (Fairy Tale Reform School) by Jenn Calonita, at Say What?

Tumble and Blue, by Cassie Beasley, at A Resilient Life

The Unicorn Quest, by Kamilla Beno, at B and N Kids blog

Whiskerella, by Ursula Vernon, at Puss Reboots and Ms. Yingling Reads

The Wild Book, by Juan Villoro, at Playing By the Book

Author and Interviews

Sinéad O’Hart (The Eye of the North) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Kamilla Benko (The Unicorn Quest) at From the Mixed Up Files and B. and N. Kids Blog

Other Good Stuff

"Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain Tells a Fresh Story with Old Tropes" at Tor

"Wanting Realism in Fantasy" at Pages Unbound

2/1/18

Sisters of Glass, by Naomi Cyprus

Sisters of Glass, by Naomi Cyprus (HarperCollins, Nov. 2017), is a good pick for fans of middle grade revolution fantasy, a sub-genre I've just coined for myself in which the young protagonists lead the oppressed against tyranny (having just now thought of this subgenre, I haven't gotten a lot of examples together yet, just Westmark by Lloyd Alexander, and Lian Tanner's books, but I feel there are quite a few...).  Neither of the two heroines of this particular book imagined that they would be leaders of a revolution in a world full of magic, where the elite bend material things into enchantments.  Nalah has no idea this destiny awaits because she's from a different world altogether, in which magic is forbidden, which is horrible for her because she's fizzing with it, putting herself and her father in great danger, Halan because she's the pampered princess, only child and heir, and doesn't know the horrible details of the kings oppression.  She just knows that she's bored and tired of being a failure for not having any magic of her own.

But when Nalah crafts a magic mirror, and steps through, she finds that Halan is her twin on the other side, in a world that mirrors her own where her magic can flow freely.  And Halan, who's snuck out of her comfortable cage in the palace, only to be captured by the rebels who are fighting against her father's cruelty, has to decide if she's going to help this strange twin....or support her father.

So of course, this being a classic mg rev. fant, as it were, Halan ends up leading the rebellion (a rather brisk and successful one) and Nalah must then decide whether or not she will stay in the world of magic...

This is a good story, but I had a heck of a time getting into it.  The two girls don't meet until just before page 200, which is a lot of set up before things start actually happening.  I'm glad I pushed on through, because once the two girls meet, there's action and adventure, and plots and magic, and I found myself enjoying it lots.   But half the book for set up really is an awful lot; I loved the craft based magic, and so I stuck with it primarily for that.  And though I then enjoyed it, the resolution seemed almost too quick and easy, and the world building was a little bit throw in the middle of it all.  But for the sake of how quickly the last 100 pages turned, I feel I can recommend it, with just a bit of reservation.  After all, not many books have glass falcons made by the heroine coming to life, and I'll read a lot for a glass falcon....

Kirkus is more enthusiastic than me, so go read their review if you have doubts.

complaint about the cover-the two girls are supposed to be essentially identical, details of hair cut aside, and both dark haired.  Why then is the princess one blond?

1/28/18

This week's round-up of middle grade sc fi and fantasy from around the blogs (1/28/18)

Welcome to another week of my mg sci fi/fantasy blog gleanings!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Castle in the Mist, by Amy Ephron, at Always in the Middle

Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic, by Armand Baltazar, at This Kid Reviews Books

Dominion, by Shane Arbuthnott, at Sci Fi and Scary'

Dragon Bones, by Lisa McMann, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Flower Moon, by Gina Linko, at Say What?

The Glass Town Game, by Catherynne Valente, at Fantasy Literature

Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix, at Reading Time

House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Millibot Reads

Moon Princes, by Barbara Laban, at Jean Little Library

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella, at Charlotte's Library

The Painting, by Charis Cotter, at Semicolon

Podkin One-Ear, by Kieran Larwood, at Redeemed Reader

Race to the Bottom of the Sea, by Lindsay Eager, at Semicolon

Speedy in Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, at Puss Reboots

Tokoyo, the Samurai's Daughter, by Faith L. Justice, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Watchdog, by Will McIntosh, at Middle Grade Ninja

Whiskerella, by Ursula Vernon, at books4yourkids.com

The White Assassin,by Hilary Wagner, at Say What?

Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, at Hope is the Word

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Book of Boy, by Catherine Glbert Murdock,and The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome, by Jonathan W. Stokes

Authors and Interviews

Zetta Elliott (Dragons in a Bag) at Social Justice Books

James Nichol (A Witch Alone) at Scholastic Blog On Our Minds

Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah and the End of Time), at Publishers Weekly

Other Good Stuff

A look at some new middle grade books from the UK at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

1/27/18

Spirit of the Earth: Indian Voices On Nature, for Multicultural Children's Book Day

I was one of the participants in Multicultural Children's Book Day who was matched with World Wisdom, and I received two books to review. The first, Rock Maiden, by Natasha Yim, I reviewed earlier today.  The second is Spirit of the Earth: Indian Voices On Nature (May 2017), edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald and Joseph A.  Fitzgerald, with a foreword by Joseph Bruchac.  It is not a children's book, but it is one that middle grade and YA readers can certainly appreciate.

This book is a gathering of stunning images, both color pictures of places, and historic pictures of Native peoples  living within places, juxtaposed with quotations from Native speakers about persons (human and nonhuman) living within places, and the relationships that join people to the earth and sky.  It is not a book to rush through, but one to read meditatively and thoughtfully, listening to the words as one reads.  As Bruchac puts it in the introduction, " [T]he quotations....[are] so well chosen, so well paired with the images, and so beautifully centered on our appreciation, understanding and lasting reliance on that natural world, they do what our traditional stories have always done-engage and teach."

So it is a lovely book, with lovely pictures and words.

I did have two reservations though.  The first is one of temporality--Native peoples are still here, and yet with the exception of just two quotations at the very end, both the words and the images of Native persons are from the past, reinforcing the stereotype of vanished Indians.  I would have liked images of living people, and more contemporary quotations, to put a lie to that stereotype.  My second reservation is that the texts were drawn from previously published sources, mostly written by anthropologists and ethnographers years ago.  Some of the quotations are part of ceremonies, and I would have felt more comfortable if the Tribes whose words these are had given permission for them to be included here (I didn't see any acknowledgement that such permission was sought).  Without that permission, I couldn't accept the words as a gift freely given.   The fact that the foreword was written by Joseph Bruchac was some comfort, as he is a well-regarded Abenaki writer, and if he is comfortable with the book, that makes me feel better about it; also, his words are very much in the present tense, which gives some balance in that regard.

Despite my reservations, I'll say again that it is a lovely book, and one that offers riches to those who want to learn and who want to think about being in the world.

Thank you World Wisdom, and thanks to all the sponsors of WNDB and to the organizers and hosts for another tremendous event! Here's the link round-up for WNDB 2018; lots of great books!

The Rock Maiden, by Natasha Yim, for Multicultural Children's Book Day

Today is Multicultural Children's Book Day! Part of this celebration is for bloggers and publishers/authors to pair up, with the reviews becoming part of a beautiful explosion of links.

I was lucky enough to get two books from Wisdom Tales.  The first is a lovely picture book, The Rock Maiden: a Chinese Tale of Love and Loyalty, by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Pirkko Vainio (March, 2017).

Long ago in Hong Kong, Ling Yee feel in love with a young fisherman, Ching Yin.  Many more wealthy men would have gladly married her, but Ching Yin's kindness won her heart.  And they were happy, and had a son.  Then a tremendous storm scattered the fishing fleet, and when it passed, Ching Yin did not come home. Every day Ling Yee took her baby up to the headland and looked out over the sea, waiting for her beloved in vain.


Ling Yee's parents prayed to Tin Hau, the patron goddess of fishermen, for help.  The goddess was touched by the young woman's sorrow, and decided to end it (rather drastically). She sent a lightning bolt from the heavens, and turned mother and child to stone.  But about a year later, a young man came to town.  No one recognized him at first, but he was Ching Yin.  Happily, Tin Hau once more intervened, undoing the stone enchantment, and reuniting the little family.

It is a beautiful and haunting story, with lovely, evocative illustrations in soft colors.  The tension of the story is great enough to keep a young child's interest, and the happy ending offers reassurance.  The stone mother and child, standing looking out to sea, is an image that will stay with young readers for their whole lives.  If you are looking for picture books that will widen your young child's world, this is a lovely one!

When Natasha Yim was a girl growing up in Hong Kong,she was fascinated by the actual rock that is the basis for the story.  Amah Rock is a natural formation that looks like a mother and child, and though of course (since it is still there) the happy ending of the book never happened in real life, that story seemed to sad to her, so she transformed it.



Thank you Wisdom Tales, and thanks to all the sponsors of WNDB and to the organizers and hosts for another tremendous event!

1/24/18

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella, by Jerry Mahoney

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella, by Jerry Mahoney (Capstone, August 2017) is a fun one for younger middle grade readers (9-10 year olds) who enjoy a fun fractured fairy tale.

Maddie is a big fan of Cinderella, and she's proud of the diorama she made of the story for school.  But her stepbrother Holden is not impressed with either, and points out the many logical flaws in the story; for instance, surely Cinderella isn't the only girl with that particular shoe size!  And soon Maddie's diorama has changed to something not in the real story, and all the book versions have gone horribly wrong too.  Holden's logic has broken Cinderella, and her happy ending is no more!

Holden and Maddie magically enter the story (not of their own volition; it just happens), and once there Madddie's determined to set things right.  Holden, though, is an uncertain ally at best, because he's more interested in things making sense, which isn't so useful when dealing with fairy tales. But the two of them manage to start tidying things up, starting with the stepsister who's now going to marry the prince; this wasn't her idea (she'd rather go to art school).  The stepmother is the villain of the piece, and getting her out of the way of Cinderella's happily ever after  turns out to be rather a tricky job. But once Cinderella and her stepsisters (one of whom is now Maddie, disguised by enchantment) put their past behind them and start working as a team, and once Holden and Maddie do the same, things fall into place.

It's a lot of fun, and interesting to visit a well known story through Holden's fresh, critical eyes.  The author also adds a rational explanation for the vexing question of why the prince needed the shoe fitting to recognize his true love again--he has face blindness.  The resulting story is quite a bit more interesting than the original, although happy ever after is once again achieved (I found myself cheering more enthusiastically from the emancipated stepsister, now free to pursue her own dreams, than I did for Cinderella, who's romance still remains founded on the flimsy foundation of insta love...).

There are many bits of very kid friendly humor, and the illustrations entertain as well. It's the sort of book you can start reading aloud to kids even younger than 9, and then leave lying around as bait for independent reading.  Kids who enjoy this sort of disrupted fairy tale will then be happy to read the other books in the series, in which Holden ruins other stories in similar fashion.  It is also a good teaching tool about thinking critically about plot, and learning to recognize plot holes; Holden makes many valid points!

disclaimer: review copy received from the author

1/21/18

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (1/21/18)

Brightstorm, by Vashti Hardy, at Book Murmuration 

Children of Exile, and its sequel, Children of Refuge, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night, at CovertoCoverBlog

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding, by Alexandra Bracken, at Always in the Middle

Engineerds, by Jarrett Lerner, at Librarian's Quest

Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Life's an Art

How Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe (and Put it Back Together Again) by David Teague, at Time Travel Times Two and Charlotte's Library

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, at Leaf's Reviews

The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary, at Boys Rule Boys Read

The List, by Patricia Forde, at That's Another Story

Love Sugar Magic: a Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano, at MG Book Village and Charlotte's Library

The Magpie King, by M.J. Fahy, at Red Headed Book Lover

Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder, at Redeemed Reader and Heavy Medal

Rules for Thieves, by Alexandra Ott, at Semicolon

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, at The Winged Pen

Sky Song, by Abi Elphinstone, at Minerva Reads

The Song From Somewhere Else, by A.F. Harrold, at Pages Unbound Reviews

Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar, at Log Cabin Library

The Unicorn in the Barn, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, at Hidden in Pages

Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson,  at Puss Reboots

Two Middle Grade Castle fantasies--Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, and The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at Falling Letters

Authors and Interviews

Nigel Quinlan (The Cloak of Feathers) at MG Book Village 

Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic) at Nerdy Book Club

Kara LaRue has been on a blog tour for The Uncanny Express, here are this week's stops:
1/15 Librarian's Quest
Other Good Stuff

"The Gods and Spirits (and Totoros) of Miyazaki's Fantasy Worlds," at Tor

For those in the Boston area--a fantastic MG sci fi/fantasy afternoon at the Dedham Library, March 3




1/17/18

Waiting on Wednesday--The Sisters Mederos

I was just reminded the other day of  Waiting on Wednesday, a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Jill doesn't seem to be blogging any more, but it is a darn good meme, and so I will pick it up again!

My pick is The Sisters Mederos, by Patrice Sarath.


A pleasing sort of Georgette Heyer meet Scarlet Pimpernel vibe to the cover....

Here is the blurb from Goodreads, with my thoughts in red.

Two sisters ("sisters" always catches my eye; being a sister is a corner stone of my own identity) fight with manners (I'm reading "manners" as wit, intelligence, and snark, so yes), magic (always good), and mayhem (mayhem works less well for me.  I don't like beautiful things to be broken, which often happens during mayhems) to reclaim their family's name, in this captivating historical fantasy (always good) adventure. 

House Mederos was once the wealthiest merchant family (merchant families are some of the most interesting to read about, I think).  in Port Saint Frey. Now the family is disgraced, impoverished, and humbled by the powerful Merchants Guild. Daughters Yvienne and Tesara Mederos are determined to uncover who was behind their family's downfall and get revenge. But Tesara has a secret - could it have been her wild magic that caused the storm that destroyed the family's merchant fleet? (I want to know more about her wild magic now)  The sisters' schemes quickly get out of hand - gambling is one thing (and not my favorite thing to read about), but robbing people is another...

Together the sisters must trust each another to keep their secrets and save their family.

April 3rd 2018 by Angry Robot

what are you waiting for?

1/16/18

How Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe (and Put It Back Together Again), by David Teague, for Timeslip Tuesday

How Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe (and Put It Back Together Again), by David Teague (HarperCollins Nov. 2017), is a fun new middle grade time travel book, just the thing if you enjoy tense baseball moments, friendship stories, and the odd pterodactyl appearing unexpectedly because the universe has been broken.  Broken by a boy named Oscar, who pressed a button on an old watch that stopped time for 19 seconds and let him hit his first home run, winning the game.

Those missing 19 seconds have seriously derailed the universe; pterodactyls are the least of it.  So Oscar has to somehow figure out how to set things right again...and he does.

In the meantime, he's making friends with his new team-mate Lourdes, going back in time to see Babe Ruth be struck out by another 12 year old girl (Oscar's octogenarian friend in the present, and the one who gave him the watch), and worrying about the precarious state of his mother's finances....and in the meantime there are rouge waves, a double sun, trees with tentacles, and 19 second flashes of other phenomena bursting out of their own time and into his....

It is fun and warm and a little silly but not too much so (and I'm very sensitive to too much silliness so you can trust me on this).  Oscar, benchwarmer and tireless team morale booster, is really a good person, and sort of infuses the book with his personality.  And if you like baseball, you'll enjoy it even more than I did!  It's the sort of book where you feel the author's really enjoying telling you the story--here, have 19 seconds of Carolina Parakeets! sort of fun.  And Oscar's struggle to redeem himself after cheating, and the rather melancholy passing of his elderly friend, adds emotional weight that gives the story point.

Kirkus and I are completely in agreement.  From their starred review:  "Teague weaves the tale with gentle expressions of teamwork, friendship, honesty, and compassion. Fantasy feels real, and it all works beautifully."

1/15/18

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano (Walden/HarperCollins, January 2017), is a classic book of what happens when a kid stumbles into magic, tries to use it for good, and things go horrible wrong!  (I'm thinking classic as in Edward Eager here; his characters would enjoy this one very much).

Leonora Logroño's family owns a lovely bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, but eleven-year-old Leo is considered too young to help, even when the bakery's busiest day, the town's Dia de los Muertos festival, comes around.  Determined not to be left out again, she sneaks out of school and down to the bakery, where she learns what's really going on without her--her four older sisters, mother and aunt are brujas (Mexican magic users), who can imbue their baked goods with magic!  Leo is now even more determined to be part of things, and so when her best friend Caroline has a problem involving a close friend, a boy, who was unkind to her, Leo decides to see if she has the gift for magic too!

She does.  But of course she lacks any experience, guidance, or understanding of the implications of the spells she finds in the family's recipe book of magic baking.  And things go wrong in that special horrible embarrassing middle school way. More magical backed goods later, things are even more wrong, and now Caroline's friend is only a few inches high and hanging out in Leo's old doll house.

Leo has reached the point where can't fix things, but fortunately her family rallies around her, and with both understanding and forgiveness, helps her sort things out.

Full of humor, friendship, and strong, loving family ties, as well as delicious baked goods (recipes included), this is a total charmer!  The recipes that Leo finds are in Spanish, which aren't translated; Leo herself is not fluent in Spanish, and so her own efforts to understand them help the non-Spanish reading reader with no loss of momentum.  And not to worry if you don't know Spanish-three of the recipes (though without the magic) are given in English in the back of the book!

Give this one to young bakers, young readers who love the intrusion of magic into the everyday world, and those looking for windows or mirrors into the of a Mexican American family who are both ordinary and extraordinary!  Read it yourself if you love Edward Eager as a kid!

I was left with one unanswered burning question though--if you make flying pig cookies that really fly, do you eat them, or just let them fly around until they become crumbs?

Kirkus more or less agrees with me, giving this one a starred review.

1/14/18

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (1/14/18)

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

The Reviews

Children of Exile, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Children of Refuge, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The Write Path

The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero, at Charlotte's Library

The Door in the Alley, by Adrienne Kress, at Me On Books

The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Typewritered

Ember Falls, by S.D. Smith, at The Story Sanctuary

The Eternity Elixir, by Frank L. Cole, at ReadLove

A Far Away Magic, by Amy Wilson, at ink pots

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Forever Young Adult

Harriet the Invincible, by Ursula Vernon, at Hit or Miss Books

Nightshade City, by Hilary Wagner, at Say What?

Of Mice and Magic, by Ursula Vernon, at Hit or Miss Books

Red: the True Story of Little Red Riding Hood, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Hit or Miss Books

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Cracking the Cover and Me On Books

Sky Song, by Abi Elphinstone, at Alittlebutalot and The Guardian

The Slithers, by Philip Caveney, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at Jean Little Library

Straw Into Gold, by Gary D. Schmidt, at Hope is the Word

Superfail, by Max Brunner, at Always in the Middle

Tumble & Blue, by Cassie Beasley, at Redeemed Reader

Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Wolf Hour, by Sara Lewis Holmes, at Book Nut (audiobook review)


Authors and Interviews

Kevin Crossley-Holland on Not Being a Reader at Nerdy Book Club

Other Good Stuff

"How Fantasy Candy Kingdoms Have Evolved Over the Past 200 Years" at Tor

Sherry at Semicolon shares her ten mg spec fic favorites, and Katy at alibrarymama shares 9 Cybils nominations she loved that didn't make the shortlist

Books for kids who crave acton and adventure at B. and N. Kids Blog

Robot books for young readers at the B. and N. Kids Blog



1/11/18

The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero

The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero (Delacorte, middle grade, Sept. 2017) is a haunting historical fantasy set in WW II that has just been recognized as a 2018 Notable Book of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards.

In the Land of the Dolls, Karolina was a seamstress, living at peace with her friends.  But then the rats came, and peace was no more.  At the lowest point in her life, the rats having wrecked everything, a strange wind whisks her away, and she finds herself in the shop of a lonely toymaker in Krakow, Poland.  He is making a dollhouse that is truly a thing of beauty, and he made the body Karolina now inhabits to live there.  But Karolina isn't just any doll; she still is herself, able to talk and think, and the lonely man and the exiled doll become good companions.

The dollhouse is being made for a little girl named Rena, and when the Dollmaker delivers it, Karolina goes too, and reveals her secret.  The Trzmiel family takes this in stride, and become friends.   But then the Nazis invade Poland, and life becomes very difficult, especially for Jewish families like the Trzmiels.  The Dollmaker was originally a German, and registers as such with the Nazis (though he gets vilified by his neighbors for this)  to get extra food to share with the Trzmiels, but as things get worse and worse for the Jews of Krakow, it becomes clear that Rena and the other children now suffering in the ghetto, must somehow be saved.

The Dollmaker, inspired by the living doll Karolina, uses his skill to find a strange and wonderful solution that is truly magical.  Rena and a handful of other children are saved, but her father, and the Dollmaker, are lost.

Though the evil of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, from the mundane hatred to the buildup of the Holocaust, is not sugar coated, and the historical details are vivid, and the sadness heart-wrenching, the fairytale element of Karolina acts as a buffer between reader and horror, making this a good one for sensitive readers.  It's also a good one for readers who find historical fiction is more appealing when mixed with fantasy.  And so it succeeds in this regard, and the characters are memorable and the story moving.  That being said, the fairy tale part, especially the flashbacks of Katrina remembering the war with the rats in her own land, ended up diminishing the power of the book for me, with the real horror folded into a framework of the clearly fantastical that never happened.  Except that in the end I was crying just fine, despite the fantasy elements.

It's a tricky book, though, for the adult to try to see through the eyes of a child reader, because of course adults know so much of the history already.  And the Dollmaker, badly scarred in mind and body by the first world war, is a character who I think is more interesting to an adult reader than a child one.  I loved the Dollmaker--the lonely ordinary person, badly hurt in the past but holding strong to decency despite everything, is one of my favorite types of character.  But I did love the dollhouse, and Karolina, just as much as I would have as a child (the dollhouse especially).


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

1/9/18

Chainbreaker, by Tara Sim, for Timeslip Tuesday

Chainbreaker, by Tara Sim (Sky Pony Press, Jan. 2 2018), is the sequel to 2016's Timekeeper (my review), which was also a Timeslip Tuesday book.  These aren't time-slip stories of a traditional sort, with people slipping between different times, but instead are set in a Victorian world where time itself can literally slip out of whack, causing repercussions ranging from the trivial to the profound for the people in the vicinity.  To keep time under control, clock towers were built, each with a resident clock spirit, which are maintained by skilled workers.  17 year old Danny is one such mechanic, and in the first book he fell in love with the spirit of the clock he was maintaining, a boy named Colton (very forbidden both for the same sex part and the spirit/human part).  He also helped solve a crime against the smooth running of time,  surviving exploding clockwork in the process.

Because of his experience with clocks going wrong, Danny is sent to India when clock towers there start being attacked and destroyed.  With him goes a former rival from his days an apprentice, Daphne.  Both are perturbed by the mystery of what's happening to the clock towers in India (where Victoria is about to be proclaimed Empress);  Danny's perturbed to be leaving Colton, and Daphne's perturbed about going to her father's country; he was half Indian, half English.  Their level of mutual perturbation is naturally deepened when their airship is attacked en route, and nothing that happens in India ends up calming them one little bit.

There are plots, both related to the clock towers and their control of time, and related to growing rebellion against the English.  There are romantic involvements and transgressions against the norms of British society during the Raj.  There's the arrival in India of Colton, totally at sea away from his clock tower (which has itself been attacked), desperately looking for Danny.  There are several more attacks and kidnappings, along with spying steampunk spiders.  And all of this has a busy, vivid portrayal of India at a tumultuous time in its history for a backdrop.  But memorable though these things are, what's most memorable of all is the backstory of how the clock towers came to be in the first place.  Part of the book is from Colton's point of view, and he has begun to dream about his past...and what happened is horrifying and sad, and arguably a parallel metaphor to the British Raj....

So there's more action and more steampunk in this second book than there was in the first, so if that was something you found wanting in the first book, you'll enjoy this one more!  I did not find it wanting in the first book, which I enjoyed very much indeed, but I enjoyed this one too because though more Happens, the characters are still the central driving force of the story.  Also Chainbreaker is historical fiction (though of course with a fantastical overlay), and I like historical fiction (though I don't know enough about this particular part of history to be a critical reader of it).

As the number of pages left to turn decreased, I wondered how on earth Tara Sim would manage to get everything wrapped up.....and lo.  She doesn't.  It's a killer of a cliff hanger.  If you wait to read this one till the third book is published, you'll definitely want to keep on going, but it's also fun in a tense, strained way to not yet know, and have the pleasure of resolution to look forward to!  As well as having the expected concern for the characters, who I have come to care about; here's what I am now especially curious about--having seen clock towers in the UK and in India, I want to know what is time up to in the rest of the world.

I also of course want Danny and Colton to get a happily ever after.  They are both so sweet!

This is an own voices story, Tara Sims is both biracial (her mother's family is from India) and bisexual (here's an interview with her at Reading (As)(I)an  (Am)Erica  for more on the writing of Chainbreaker).

Short answer:  These book are really good reading!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


1/7/18

This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (1/7/18)

Not many reviews, as is to be expected this early in the year, when lots of us are still looking back to last year, or trying to get our blogging energy going again after end of year vacations!  But a solid assortment of links; let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews

The Adventurers Guild, by Zack Loran and Nick Eliopulos, at Charlotte's Library

Battle with the Britons (Julius Zebra 2), by Gary Northfield, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Black Panther: The Young Prince, by Ronald Smith, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Eternity Elixir, by Frank L. Cole, at Cracking the Cover

Flower Moon, by Gina Linko, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Girl with the Ghost Machine by Lauren DeStefano, at Sharon the Librarian

The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, at The Reader Teacher

Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Magic Mystery by Mary Laine Dyksterhouse, at books4yourkids.com

Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Shepherd of Weeds, by Susannah Appelbaum, at Leaf's Reviews

Sky Chasers, by Emma Carroll, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, at Great Kid Books

Authors and Interviews

Adam Shaughness (The Unbelievable FIB book II--Over the Underworld) at From the Mixed Up 

Sinéad O'Hart (The Eye of the North) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

Two great lists of middle grade books --the 2017 Nerdies and the Cybils  Elementary/Middle Grade Shortlists
http://www.cybils.com/2017-elementary-middle-grade-speculative-fiction-finalists
A peek at some MG fantasy coming out in the UK this month, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

1/6/18

The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher

The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher (Red Wombat Tea Co., Feb. 2016), is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen," and if you have read any other of T. Kingfisher's books (she's also Ursula Vernon) you can imagine that it is a very nice read indeed, and perfect for reading on a cold day under lots of blankets in front of the fire.  I'm going to spoil a major plot point in the next few paragraphs, but it's one that needs spoiling to help some readers who will love the book to find it!

So "The Snow Queen" is the one about the boy who gets the shard of ice stuck in his eye, and is swept off by the beautiful Snow Queen, and the girl who sets off to find her playmate/love and bring him home.  Kingfisher sticks closely to the events in the original story, but twists them to make something new.

Kay and Gerta grow up together in a northern land where Christianity and old stories and magical beings coexist,  She loves him, but he's not a great friend to her, though she tells herself he is.  The reader quickly comes not to care all that much for Kay; Gerta clearly deserves someone who values her more.  But when Kay is kidnapped (and the arrival o.f the Snow Queen is gloriously descriptive, with her sleigh drawn by flying white otters (!)) Gerta sets off to find him because she is a good, loyal person.  Along the way she befriends a raven with whom she can communicate, which ends up sprinkling humor into the story, and she finds herself in the home of a group of brigands.  The bandit girl, Janna, keeps her from being harmed, and kisses her.

And then Janna sets of with Gerta, who has been given a magical reindeer skin that transforms her into a reindeer herself, to the stronghold of the Snow Queen, to rescue Kay.  And they rescue Kay in an exciting interesting rescue that was good fun to read, making good use of all the disparate things that Greta learned in her journey.

But back to Janna and Gerta.  I was taken aback by that sudden first kiss.  I had nothing against the idea of a Janna/Greta relationship, but the fact remained that Janna had power of life and death over Greta at that point, and she didn't ask before kissing her, rather passionately.  If it had been a young man doing that it would have bothered me a lot, and it bothered me as it was.   But fortunately, after the initial shock ,Greta lets herself acknowledge that she returns Janna's attraction, and things develop between them at a measured pace during the course of their adventure together (making it less an insta love thing than I'd worried it was at first).  It is a rather nice romance, when all is said and done, and Kay basically gets dropped of at home like a parcel of laundry at the end and Janna and Greta set off together for new adventures.

Throughout the story, the power of old women. and the stories and knowledge they keep, is essential to the success of Gerta's mission.  Her strength as a heroine is her persistence, which is close to being an innate goodness--she recognizes what must be done and does it, and she needs the spark of external wisdom and magic the four old women she meets can contribute (even though one of them is horrible, and one imprisons her) to make things work.  And likewise, she needs the spark of Janna's kiss to start really shaking her free of Kay.  I'm still a little worried that's she's not entirely grown into her own self by the end of the book, but she's still young....

Short answer--lots of twists and additions to the original story, and beautiful descriptions, make this a very fun fairy tale retelling.  I would have liked it to push a bit harder at characterization and thematic depth, but it is entertaining as all get out as is!




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