Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2017 Cybils Winner for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction and thoughts on all the Finalists

Cybils 2017

It's February 14th and in addition to being Valentines Day, it's also the day the winners of the Cybils are announced!  This year I was selected as a round 2 judge, which for us started two months ago. 

Since that time we've been busy reading the seven finalists books,  having discussions and then made our decision on this year's winner for Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction.  So with no further ado, this year's winner is.....


Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Harper Collins/Walden Pond Press
Number of pages: 247
Published: May 30th, 2017

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she's ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when the human she finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.

But she's still the fiercest creature in the mountains -- and now she's found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she'll be conquering new territory in no time...won't she?

This year’s winner is a story of dragons, chocolate, finding one’s passion, and facing social prejudice. Aventurine is a young dragon whose family thinks she’s too young to leave their cave. Convinced that she’s perfectly fierce enough, she sneaks out on her own, hoping to find in the outside world both something to hunt and maybe even something to be her dragon-ish passion in life. When a human, who should have been easy prey, tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she finds herself turned into a human girl! On the plus side, she’s found her passion—chocolate!  But in order to get more chocolate, she’ll have to go live with puny humans as a puny human herself.  Can a fierce dragon girl find a place among humans (when she gets angry, her first instinct is to eat them), and enough chocolate to keep her happy?  And what happens when her dragon family comes looking for her? Tensions build and tempers flare, and the suspense builds to a happily satisfying ending. Themes of finding your true self, and loyalty to family and friends combine with political intrigue and prejudice in a memorable and gripping story.

Round 2 judging for the Cybils was a totally new experience and quite fun being all mysterious and secretive about posting my review until the winners were announced.  There was a wonderful group of books selected as finalists, making our final selection a bit harder but I hope you get the opportunity to read some of these wonderful books and check out all the Cybils winners in all of the categories HERE.  

 2017 Cybils Finalists for Elementary/ Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction:

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Harper Collins/Walden Pond Press
Number of pages:  336
Published: February 14th, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  

It is Earth year 2213—but, of course, there is no Earth anymore. Not since it was burned to a cinder by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. The human race has fled to Mars, but this was only a temporary solution while we prepare for a second trip: a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a distant star, our best guess at where we might find a new home.

Liam Saunders-Chang is one of the last humans left on Mars. The son of two scientists who have been racing against time to create technology vital to humanity’s survival, Liam, along with his friend Phoebe, will be on the very last starliner to depart before Mars, like Earth before it, is destroyed.

Or so he thinks. Because before this day is over, Liam and Phoebe will make a series of profound discoveries about the nature of time and space, and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a desperate struggle for survival.

Opening line: “Many hundreds of light-years from the solar system you call home, inside a spindly crystal structure floating at the edge of a great nebula shaped like an eye, a yellow light began to blink.”  

The cover is eye-catching and really captured my interest.   I really enjoyed the concept of the universe is bigger than one can comprehend while the individual was a small part of it.  The plot centering on the Sun expanding to the point that it will engulf Earth and the surrounding planets by exploding in a supernova seemed plausible and was set up well in the first few chapters.  The appeal to kids comes from the balance of tension and action. While I'm not typically a science fiction reader this was such an engrossing book.  The pacing kept ratcheting up accentuated by the time clock at the beginning of each chapter and the feeling of the impending doom that faced these two kids.  Maybe it's the dangers that they face along the way and the glimpses of the future that Liam see's when he time shifts forward.  You want the things he sees not to happen.  Or maybe it's just that I've seen Alien and the whole idea of going into a stasis seems frightening. Although this ended on a cliffhanger, I didn't take this as a negative.  Instead, it just made me want to read The Oceans Between Stars that much more.  Lucky for me this came out in February.  

26102519The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Number of pages:  336
Published: August 1st, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  
Ambassador, you are go for launch in T- minus 5…4…3…2…. Get ready to blast off with this high-action, high-stakes middle-grade adventure that’s perfect for fans of Chris Grabenstein and Peter Lerangis!

Miranda Regent can’t believe she was just chosen as one of six kids from around the world to train for the first ever mission to Mars. But as soon as the official announcement is made, she begins receiving anonymous threatening messages…and when the training base is attacked, it looks like Miranda is the intended target. Now the entire mission—and everyone’s lives—are at risk. And Miranda may be the only one who can save them.

The Martian meets The Goonies in this out-of-this-world middle-grade debut where the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Opening Line:  "Nearly every single person in this auditorium is wearing a T-shirt with my name emblazoned across the front."

The Countdown Conspiracy reads partially like a mystery and a school story while at the same time there is a political unrest going on in the world.  I enjoyed the diversity in the team of kids.  There are the dynamics of the classes that the crew take together, while there are also rivalries to get the best position,  grades and favor of their instructors.  Most of the emphasis is on Anna and Miranda not getting along, but also that maybe Sasha's position was stolen by Miranda on the team.  A little more scientific than I was expecting, but I really enjoyed the action when their spacecraft is taken over and they have to work together to figure out how to divert themselves from going to Mars.  You can see how much research went into the writing of this book to get the details of space travel and NASA type engineering as accurate as possible.

31915219A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Format:  Ebook 
Publisher:  Amulet Books
Number of pages:  497
Published: May 9th, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  
In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. Neverfell's expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed . . . 

Opening Line: “One dark season, Grandible became certain that there was something living in his domain within the cheese tunnels.”

I really enjoyed A Face Like Glass, it leans more toward  Young Adult than Middle Grade but it's a fantastic story.  Hardinge's books to me have this rich expressive writing quality that I enjoy.  Like this one  "As the carriage rattled along sandstone colonnades, then down rose-marble avenues dappled like raspberry ice cream, she found herself passing ever grander carriages with better-decorated people within." I did think that the beginning was a tad slow but it did grab hold of me and I couldn't really put it down.  The Facesmith and idea of faces that people wear being taught were very intriguing.  Neverfell is way too trusting and doesn't really seem to grasp that the people she's dealing with can show one face, but have a completely different intent.   Kinda made me think of Game of Thrones and the masks that Arya wears.  I also especially liked the Grand Steward with his right/left eye showing the differences between your right and left brain functioning.    The world building and complex political intrigue are wonderful, even the messaging, for which I know I'm missing some.  It's the kind of book that I would really like to go back and read again.  

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Number of Pages:  288
Published:  July 25th, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  

We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh returns with Spirit Hunters, a high-stakes middle-grade mystery series about Harper Raine, the new seventh grader in town who must face down the dangerous ghosts haunting her younger brother. A riveting ghost story and captivating adventure, this tale will have you guessing at every turn!

Harper doesn’t trust her new home from the moment she steps inside, and the rumors are that the Raine family’s new house is haunted. Harper isn’t sure she believes those rumors, until her younger brother, Michael, starts acting strangely. The whole atmosphere gives Harper a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. She knows that the memories she’s blocking will help make sense of her brother’s behavior and the strange and threatening sensations she feels in this house, but will she be able to put the pieces together in time?

Opening Line:  "Harper! Come quick!"

Spirit Hunters was a lot creepier than I thought it was going to be, which made it a wonderful story for me cause I love creepy scary things.  There are multiple incidents of Harper being injured by the presence in the house, and her younger brother Michael being taken over by a supernatural presence, yeah just creepy.  I did really like the diversity and the touching and realistic relationship between the siblings.   I did wish that more had been written about Harper's grandmother's  being a Korean mudang.  Maybe some of the cultural histories,  although it did prompt me to look it up a little bit online.  She sounded so fascinating that it was a shame that she couldn't be included more in the story.  I also really liked the character of Mrs. Devereux and especially her views on racism.   

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books
Number of Pages:  192
Published:  August 22nd, 2017
Source:  Library

Synopsis from Goodreads:  
Rosa Ramona Díaz has just moved to the small, un-haunted town of Ingot—the only ghost-free town in the world. She doesn’t want to be there. She doesn’t understand how her mother—a librarian who specializes in ghost-appeasement—could possibly want to live in a place with no ghosts. Frankly, she doesn’t understand why anyone would.

Jasper Chevalier has always lived in Ingot. His father plays a knight at the local Renaissance Festival, and his mother plays the queen. Jasper has never seen a ghost, and can’t imagine his un-haunted town any other way. Then an apparition thunders into the festival grounds and turns the quiet town upside down.

Something otherworldly is about to be unleashed, and Rosa will need all her ghost appeasement tools—and a little help from Jasper—to rein in the angry spirits and restore peace to Ingot before it’s too late.

Opening line:  "Rosa and her mother moved into a basement apartment underneath the Ingot Public Library. "

I quite liked this quick read and the twist of Ingot being the only place where ghosts aren't found, how in other cities ghosts are plentiful.  How it's wrong for Ingot not to have any ghost, while everywhere else ghosts and the living have found a way to coexist.  Rosa and Jasper are the only ones who can unravel what has been keeping the ghosts away.  I also enjoyed the emphasis on librarians and the patron saint Catalina de Erauso with the idea of remembering the dead through the books that you read.  It's not a particularly scary story but would be an interesting read if you enjoy paranormal stories, or are just starting out to explore ghost stories.   

Favorite lines:  "Whenever you open an old book you read it along with everyone else who's ever read that same book.  You're supposed to.  Hauntings don't end.  Ghosts don't ever just go away." 

30653902Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Format:  Hardcover

Number of Pages: 368
Published:  March 21st, 2017
Source: Library

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Chantel would much rather focus on her magic than on curtsying, which is why she often finds herself in trouble at Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens. But when Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears along with all the other sorceresses in the city, Chantel’s behavior becomes the least of her problems.

Without any magic protecting the city, it is up to Chantel and her friends to save the Kingdom. On a dangerous mission, Chantel will discover a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and a new, fiery magic that burns inside her—but can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?

Opening line:  " A secret nearly cost Chantel her life, on a dark summer morning when the rains ran down the stairstepped stone streets of Lightning Pass." 

Chantel is an endearing character, head strung while struggling to hold her tongue.  The messaging in this story is what appealed to me.  Questioning adults and having your own ideas of what is right and wrong.  The character's of Miss Ellicott's were also nicely balanced with boy/girl characters and there was plenty of humor with the inclusion of Chantel's familiar, although a snake in your head sounds unsettling.  A very timely story with wonderful world building, entertaining to read while being thought-provoking.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

MG Fantasy Review: A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1) by Anna Meriano

34848650A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1) by Anna Meriano
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Walden Pond Press
Number of pages:  320
Published:  January 2nd, 2018
Source:  Library

Opening Line: "Leo sprinted to the hallway bathroom, slammed the door, and locked herself in, just in time."  

Leonora "Leo" Logroño and her four sisters live in Rose Hill Texas, where their family runs the local bakery,  Love and Sugar.  Eleven-year-old Leo is the youngest of the Logroño girls and feeling left out this year because her siblings get the day off from school to help their mother prepare at the bakery for the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.  Leo desperately wants to be given a chance to show she's not too young to help but is quickly denied and sent off to school.  As she reluctantly heads to school, Leo runs into Caroline and Brent. Caroline and Leo were best friends in the third grade but Caroline moved away after her mom died, and is just now starting back at school.  Brent is Caroline's next door neighbor and was a good friend to her while she was dealing with her mother's death, he's also her secret crush.  While at school, Leo enlists Caroline's help as cover while she sneaks to the bakery to spy on her family, Leo overhears her mother, aunt, and sisters performing a ritual in Spanish around a table.  Leo is so confused by the events and wishes she understood Spanish but does recognize the word magia or magic.  Is Leo's family keeping a secret from her?  Later at the de Los Muertos festival, Leo witnesses two of her sister's performing what she thinks is magic and upon investigating the bakery further finds a secret cookbook filled with recipes for spells.   Leo experiments with the magical cookbook and eventually is caught by her oldest sister, Isabel.  Isabel explains that the woman in their family are brujas or witches that can infuse some of their magic into the baked goods they make, she teaches Leo one her own special spells but also cautions her to be patient because girls in their family don't start practicing magic until they're fifteen.  Leo is impatient to learn, so she tries more and more difficult spells, drawing the attention of her other sisters who also give her advice on the families magic, and further caution her about going too far and having their mom find out.  Yet Leo doesn't heed their advice and after she tries to help Caroline by making a "love bite cookie" things start to go horribly wrong.  The only way out now is for Leo to go to her sister's and ask for help.    

Being the youngest, Leo wants to grow up so fast and do all the same things that her older sisters do, feel like she's able to contribute at the bakery, a feeling a younger or middle child could easily identify with.  Leo so reminded me of all the things that I love about Matilda, she's mischievous and sneaky but also kind and caring to her friends.  She may feel awkward and be looking for her place at school, but her family radiates with warmth, caring, and love.  There's a lovely sense of togetherness, everyone contributes in the family, not only at the bakery but at home.  The relationships between the sisters were sweet and realistically portrayed, they bicker and tease but also stuck together despite knowing mama would be so mad if she found out that Leo was practicing magic.  Leo's impatient and didn't always think her actions through but wasn't deterred by not being able to speak Spanish, she grabs her English to Spanish dictionary when she can't read the recipes in the magical cookbook and sets out to translate them herself.  She does struggle with feeling guilty about keeping her own secrets from her mother and sisters but also really wants to learn more about magic. There is a lovely scene in the story where Leo and her mother are talking about Leo's feelings about being the youngest girl in the family and her mother gives her a role in helping make the cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  I also really enjoyed learning more about the Dia de los Muertos festival and brujas.   There are so many fun touches added like the illustrations at the top of each chapter, Spanish recipes which are even translated into English at the end of the book.  Even Brent's scientific reasoning when he is the recipient of one of Leo's magical mishaps and says that "some reactions are irreversible, you can't unburn toast by putting it in the freezer."  But my absolute favorite piece happens at the very end of the story when mama finally finds out the truth and tells Leo that she is sad that she felt like she had to be so secretive and warns Leo that if she ever keeps a secret from her she has a creative way to deal with it, I'll let you read the story to find that one out for yourself.    Such a fun humorous story of family, friendship, and tradition which is quickly turning into my favorite book of the year.   

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

MG Fantasy Review: The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd, illustrated by Júlia Sardà

25337516The Problim Children
by Natalie Lloyd & illustrated by Júlia Sardà 
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books
Number of pages:  304
Published:  January 3oth, 2018
Source:  Purchased

Opening Line:  " Once upon a Wednesday, many years ago, a small boy made a brave decision."

The seven Problim children and their one small pet pig have been living comfortably in the Swapy Woods while their archeologist parents have been off doing important research.  Then there's an explosion that demolishes their home and Sundae, the eldest Problim uncovers a deed to their grandfather Frank Problim's home in Lost Cove.  Meanwhile, in Lost Cove, an auction is occurring for the purchase of House #7 on Main Street otherwise known as the Problim Mansion.  A horrible, villainous woman, Desdemona O'Pinion is trying to outbid everyone to ensure her family gets the house, but secretly she just wants to search it for a map to a hidden treasure.  There also might've been a bit of a disagreement between the Problim's and O'Pinion's in the past so once she's searched the place, she plans to smash it to bits.  When the Seven Problim's arrive at the mansion, Desdemona tries to have them taken into custody by the Society for the Protection of Unwanted Children (a group she created) under the pretense that they are not the rightful heirs to the house.  However, the mayor steps in and gives the children twenty-one days to prove they are in fact a Problim. 

The seven Problim children's names and character traits come from a rhyme about which day of the week they were born on. "Monday's child is fair of face (Mona), Tuesday's child is full of grace (Toot), Wednesday's child is full of woe (Wendell), Thursday's child has far to go (Thea), Friday's child is loving and giving (Frida), Saturday's child works hard for a living (Sal) but the child who's born on the Sabbath day is good and wise in every way (Sundae)."   I absolutely adored these siblings, they're all so unique and have such varied likes and abilities.  Sundae is the oldest, followed by Sal.  Thea and Wendell are twins who are starting to branch out from sharing everything together.  Toot is just as his names describes, the youngest of the bunch who is prone to farts that have their own unique smell, it's how he communicates with the other children and they've begun cataloging them (their probably up to #200 by now).  Frida is stealthy, refers to herself as the Fox and talks in rhymes.  My favorites are Thea and Mona.  Thea is fearful and not at ease around the children in the neighborhood, her special bond with her brother is really sweet and it's sad when she gets jealous when Wendell starts to become friends with their next-door neighbor, Violet O'Pinion.  Mona, she's something special, she's slightly scary, smart, secretive and imaginative and made me think of Wednesday from the Addams Family.  Mostly because when I was in elementary or maybe even middle school kids liked to tease me by singing the Addams family song to me, there might've been a few Grizzly Adams references or even singing that song from 1977,  Short People too.  But there's this one line from the Addams family song, you know the one, " They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky, They're all together ooky, the Addams Family."  The Problim's reminded me a bit of them, in a none spooky or creepy way.  They both are a tight-knit family and have interests that other people might think are slightly strange.  Morticia had carnivorous plants that could wrap themselves around you, and Sal engineers flowers that have a particular smell, keeps a foggy garden of Wrangling Ivy and carries his gardening tools on his sleeve ala Edward Scissorhands.  Wednesday had her spiders, and Mona has a Venus flytrap and circus spiders that she can send out to deliver messages.  Both had neighbors who were curious yet also slightly scared of them.  Yet both are totally fine with who they are, they aren't changing their personality to fit in.  One very fun example is how at Thea and Wendell's birthday party they celebrate with the Problim family traditional "smash cake"  (just like it sounds smashing your face into your cake).  Despite the initial lukewarm welcome they receive from their neighbors, the siblings still reach out and try to make friends.  Always conveying the important, beautiful message of  "look at someone heart-first," that "there's never an excuse to be cruel.  When you meet someone new, think first about all the good and the sad and wonder and worry that's probably blooming in their heart.  Just like yours."  

If you've read The Key to Extraordinary or A Snicker of Magic, then you certainly will enjoy The Problim Children it has the same quirky magical feel to it with the bonus of a mystery based on rumors about a family feud, a riddle involving a prophecy of sevens and a treasure hunt for something that might be hidden somewhere in the house.  There are even mechanical animals like a squirrel with a purple tail, brass rabbit's and who could miss out on circus spiders?   

Favorite lines:
 "Tell me a tale worth telling back."    

"Any treasure worth finding is worth seeking.  And you seek with your head and your heart-not just your dusty sneakers."  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

MG Fairy tale Retelling Review: My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella by Jerry Mahoney

33033222My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella
by Jerry Mahoney
Format:  Ebook
Publisher:  Stone Arch Books 
Number of pages:  161
Published:  August 18th, 2017
Source:  Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.  

Opening Line:  " Maddie McMatthews was pretty sure she had the worst stepbrother in the entire world."  

Eleven-year-old Maddie can't wait to share her favorite story and a diorama she made of Cinderella's wedding with her class at school.  That is until her rotten stepbrother Holden ruins everything by poking holes in the story with all his questions, and right in front of the whole class.  It's almost as embarrassing as that time he posted a picture of what her hair looks like in the morning online.   Even though Holden asked some good questions like "what would happen if the glass slipper fits another woman beside Cinderella? " he didn't have to ruin her presentation.  That night, Holden and Maddie also discover Maddie's diorama and an ebook of Cinderella on Holden's tablet have changed, Cinderella's stepsister is now the one marrying the prince and Cinderella's stuck scrubbing the floors.  Maddie grabs her copy of the book to see whether all of the stories have changed and as she reads aloud the line "Once upon a time..." they're magically transported into the pages of the story.  It's up to them to fix what was broken. 

I've always been a huge fan of fairytale retellings and the title of this series, My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined...  has such a catching ring it really piqued my interest.  Like Maddie, Cinderella is one of my favorite fairytales, and I must say I really enjoyed Mahoney's spin on Cinderella.  Cinderella continues to be as kind and patient as I remember, with a sense of grace and poise, but now Maddie's transformed into one of Cinderella's wicked stepsisters, Holden's a foot soldier and Prince Andrew has prosopagnosia (aka difficulty recognizing faces), which amused me to no end.  What a mixup they've created.  Equipped with only Holden's tablet they take on their new roles as characters from the story and try to get the prince and Cinderella back together again so they can have their happily ever after.   But when Cinderella is locked in the dungeon, getting these two together becomes a bit more difficult.  I liked that Holden and Maddie act and think like eleven-year-olds, they bicker and disagree as stepsiblings might, but they're also so darn funny.   While Holden points out the flaws in the original fairytale, he also realizes that he needs to work with Maddie to fix things or be stuck as a foot soldier.  We all knew that Cinderella's stepmother was wicked, but now even she wants to marry the prince.  My favorite change though is when the stepsister due to marry Prince Andrew isn't happy about marrying him after all, she'd rather be designing wedding dresses than wearing them.    Such an amusing story, and makes for a wonderful comparative/contrast teaching tool for discussing plot and the messaging in the original fairytales.  Here are the covers for the other three titles in the series.     

Favorite exchange:  

"My whole life, she's told me I'm not worthy of marrying a prince."  (Cinderella)

and Darreth's response:   "You have your own eyes, don't you?  So why use hers?  The question is, how do you see you, Cinderella?"

                  34137708   34137707  34137703

Monday, January 15, 2018

Science Fiction/Fantasy Review: Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar

28448306Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books
Number of pages:  624
Published:  October 3rd, 2017
Source:  ARC received from the publisher via Giveaway hosted at Goodreads.
Synopsis from Goodreads:  The world did not end. At least not permanently.  The Time Collision came from beyond the stars, a cosmic event that fractured time and space, tearing apart the earth and reshaping it into something entirely new.  This is the world Diego Ribera was born into. The past, present, and future coexisting together.   Timeless.

Opening Line:  "On the morning of his thirteenth birthday, Diego Ribera glimpsed the future in a dream."  

A cosmic event occurred causing a  Time Collision that ruptured the space-time continuum melding together three distinct time periods,  the past (Steam Timers), the in-between (Mid-Timers) and the future (Elders).  The new world was made of bits and pieces from each time period, a world where gravity boards, steamships, trolley's, robots and even dinosaurs are now commonplace.  The world created first started at war, but after years of fighting, eventually, the people came together and found a way to live together in peace.  Not everyone was happy with the new arrangement and out of this, the Aeternum grew hoping to gain dominance and control of the world for themselves.  

Diego lives in what is now known as New Chicago with his mother, a renowned pilot, and father one of the world's foremost engineer's instrumental in building the robots that protect the city.  On his thirteenth birthday, Diego learns from his father that special abilities called "The Maker's Sight" run in their family, which grant them the skill of visualizing the design and creation of objects within their mind, talents that Diego's father also possesses.   After Diego receives his birthday present, he and his father get into a huge disagreement over his plans for the future, which becomes further upsetting to Diego when he later learns that Aeternum has captured his father and a steam-engineer.  Diego enlists the help of Petey, his best friend, Lucy, a girl from the Victorian Era whose brother and father were also captured, and Paige, Lucy's best friend.  Together with a band of pirates, they attempt a rescue of their fathers.  Along the way, they learn more about Aeternum's plans, who is behind the capture and that not just Diego's father is in danger, the whole world is at risk.   

What initially drew me to Timeless was how the author began writing it as a bedtime story to his son, at first he thought of making it into a picture book but time got away from him, his son got older, so he decided to expand it into a book his pre-teen son would enjoy reading.  There are over 150 illustrations in Timeless, gorgeous illustrations, like my favorite of the four kids looking up at a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  The facial expressions of the characters give them a life-like quality, and each is distinct.  Lucy in her Victorian dress is also one of my favorites.  There are also pages giving the feel of a graphic novel detailing the action in a scene from a gunfire fight.  All the illustrations add these rich, lush details to this very unique world.  I'm not surprised to learn that Baltazar is a former art director for Disney and Pixar.  I also really enjoyed the mixing of the different eras into one, having robots right next to dinosaurs lends itself to some interesting hazards and challenges for the adventures.  Everything from protecting their ship against a dinosaur and World War II fighter plane attack, to building and creating a robot or car submarines.  It's hard to place whether this is fantasy or science fiction, or steam-punk but it's enjoyable nonetheless.  With characters from different eras, Baltazar also delved into the topics of the suffragette movement, discrimination, even slavery.   A wonderful adventure coupled with some of the most gorgeous illustrations makes me eager to see what Baltazar comes up with next.  Here's a small sample from the prologue and an introduction that highlights some of the illustrations and models Baltazar made while creating Timeless.   

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New Adult Review: Lullaby (The Sand Maiden #1) by L.R.W. Lee

Lullaby by LRW Lee

Format: E ARC
Publisher: Woodgate Publishing
Number of Pages: 405
Publishing: January 15th , 2018
Source: Author in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis from Goodreads

You've heard of the Sand Man. Meet his counterpart, the Sand Maiden.

Alissandra thrills to help her human charges make sense of thoughts that need refinement, problems that need solutions, worries that beg for action, and things they should or shouldn’t have said, as she weaves their dreams. She’s been doing it her entire immortal existence. But when the most powerful king in Dream realm sets his sights on her current charge, Prince Kovis Altairn, to exploit him in his quest to conquer Wake realm, Ali has no choice but to flee and pray the sovereign doesn’t hunt her down.

Prince Kovis Altairn, crown prince and the most powerful sorcerer in the Altairn Empire, knows nothing about Dream realm, let alone his sand maiden. So when Ali is discovered naked in his bedroom, how will she convince him of her intentions, as well as the danger?

Lullaby is the first in a series of New Adult epic fantasy romances written by L.R.W. Lee, there is mature content so it would be in the 18+ realm for me.  I had the pleasure of reading an early draft, and the subsequent changes that Linda made following reviewer comments, it was really cool to get a glimpse of how the editing changed the beginning of the story.  New adult books aren't something I typically read or review, but Lullaby is special, I was so intrigued by its premise that I knew it was a book that I wanted to read.  Plus,  I've been following Linda for quite some time and really enjoyed her middle-grade series Andy Smithson and knew that Lullaby wouldn't disappoint.  

Lullaby consists of a world split into a Dream and Wake realm with both having their own unique magical systems.  In Dream realm,  Alissandra (Ali) is one of many sand people helping the people of Wake to slumber and dream each night, her charge is Prince Kovis, a man whom she cares deeply for.  Ali's father is the ruler of Dream and is bent on controlling the people of  Wake,  through the use of "mares" he can enter a person's mind and take control.  Once Ali and her sister figure out his plans,  Ali is left with no other choice but to escape to Wake to get away from her abusive father and protect Kovis.  In the early draft, the first chapter was a bit confusing, but as I kept reading, I felt it was meant to be this way because Ali is in a new place with magic that she doesn't understand and a human form that is new to her.  Not to mention she is in Prince Kovis' bedchamber surrounded by his guards.  The changes Lee made firmed things up, pique your curiosity and made me want to know more about this world and characters. 

Lee creates a magical system where the people of Wake can wield the elements of fire, ice, metal, and wind, powers that don't exist on Dream.   Yet, Ali is also unique because not only can she put someone to sleep, she has also developed the ability to wield elements in very unpredictable ways.  They're skills that she never had before but also are an equal match to those of the Prince.  Kovis is both intrigued by Ali's story and her ability to help him sleep that he takes it upon himself to train her and see exactly what other powers she can control.  Lullaby is a fresh world with lovely romantic moments and the kind of fantasy elements I enjoy reading.   Not only does Ali begin training for an epic magic competition pitting her against some of the top sorcerers of Wake, there are mysteries to uncover in Kovis and his siblings past, and Ali's father and the "mares" bring just the right amount of tension to the story.  I also really enjoyed the magical bond Ali and Kovis share which allowed them to telepathically communicate with one another, their playful humor and the eventual romance that ensued between the two was a delight.  While things ended on a slight cliffhanger, I'll definitely be waiting for the sequel.    

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The 2017 Cybils Finalists for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

I'm always excited to be a part of Cybils (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards), especially this year since for the first time I'm a round two judge  working with fellow judges Mark at Say What?, Halli at The Winged Pen,  Rosemary at Mom Read It, and Jenna at Falling Letters to pick the winner come February.  Here are the seven finalists in the category of Elementary/ Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction and the blurbs from the round one judges.  According to Cybils, there were 1426 titles nominated and shortlisted into 12 categories, you can read more about the other finalists from the 
Cybils blog

2017 Finalist · Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Nominated by: Sam Musher
Those who inhabit the underground city of Caverna are born with blank faces, and have to learn to put on preset patterns of expression. These learned Faces enable the citizens of Caverna to lie and dissemble and carry on dizzying political intrigues. One girl, Neverfell is different. Her guardian, Grandible the Cheesemaster, insists that she wear a mask whenever she meets with anyone else, though she does not know why. Maybe “Ugly” is the only Face she has been given? Or maybe it has something to with her past before she was taken in by Grandible as a seven-year-old, which she can’t remember. Middle grade readers will identify with the difficult task of deciding what face to show to the world while also trying to remain true to oneself and honest in dealing with both friends and enemies. And all readers will enjoy the twists and turns of the plot in this surprising and vividly detailed tale of underground adventure.
Sherry Early, Semicolon
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Maureen E
Rosa Díaz is the daughter of the world’s best ghost appeasement specialist and is training to be one herself.  Everywhere has ghosts, of course – especially libraries, which tend to be full of the ghosts of past readers.  That’s why it makes no sense that she and her mother have moved to the tiny town of Ingot, which is famous two things: its Renaissance Faire, and for having no ghosts at all.  But when Jasper Chevalier, son of the Ren Faire Queen and its Black Knight (who will explain to anyone that there were Moors in Europe in the Middle Ages), takes her on a tour of the Faire, they are attacked by an angry monster, part ghost but very physical.  And when the ghost steals Rosa’s mother’s voice, Rosa and Jasper are on their own. This is a short and fast-moving, just a little scary book perfect for those newly graduating up from early chapter books or for read-alouds, with delightfully off-beat descriptions and illustrations.  Despite the excitement and the shorter length, there’s a lot under the surface for the perceptive reader, from environmental themes to Rosa’s understated dealing with her grief over her father’s death.  This is an alternate reality readers will want to visit again and again. 
Katy Kramp, A Library Mama
Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star) by Kevin Emerson
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Debbie Tanner
This one is gripping middle grade science fiction at its best! 150 years or so in the future, the sun is going supernova, long before it should. Humanity took refuge on Mars, but the expanding sun is about to engulf that planet too. Liam and Phoebe are supposed to be on the last colony ship departing the solar system, but things go wrong. Not ordinary wrong, but evil star-destroying aliens wrong….It’s a tense adventure, with the threat of death by supernova hanging over the characters’ heads, that will leave readers anxious for the next book.
Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Libary
Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
Katherine Tegen Books
Nominated by: Brandy Painter
Miss Ellicott’s school  teaches the “surplus” female children of a walled city-kingdom magic and deportment and.. well, mostly deportment, with the intent to make the girls “shamefast and biddable.” Chantel struggles with that, and as a result ends up facing against the kingdom’s ruling Patriarchs and king in order to save the city. There is a lovely array of evil characters as well as friends in surprising places that help Chantel save the kingdom as well as find her own strengths.  She never does learn to be biddable, but she does learn the power of well-placed deportment, and the power of Persisting.  Not only is this a terrific magical adventure, it’s a hopeful and empowering tale, perfect for today’s readers.
Debbie Tanner, The Book Search; Katy Kramp, A Library Mama; and Melissa Fox, Book Nut
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
Nominated by: Deb
Here is a superb ghost story for kids who want horror that’s scary as heck but won’t scar them for life. Harper’s life has been upended when her family move to a surprisingly cheap old house in a new city. It’s cheap because of the horrors that happened in it, and once Harper starts to see for herself just how haunted it is, she likes it even less. Harper can see and sometimes communicate with ghosts, and when her little brother becomes possessed by the spirit of another little boy who lived, and died, in the house, she had to try to save him. Fortunately, she has the help of her Korean grandmother, who was herself a spirit hunter. Alongside the horror, there’s also a story of family and friendship, and trying to fit into a new place, so that the nightmare is balanced by the everyday. Harper is a great character, strong but uncertain in a believable middle grade way, and her story is memorable and gripping (and scary).
Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Libary
The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky
Nominated by: Pat Zietlow Miller
In the near future, the world has made it through several wars and has decided to come together to form an exploratory Mars program, inviting brilliant children and teenagers from around the world to join, with the idea that in nine years they will be sent into space. Sounds like a perfect unifying program. That is, until things go wrong: our main character, Miranda, is attacked on her way to the training. She and the five other kids who are on her particular team (a diverse group with strong opinions) don’t get along. And someone is sabotaging the training. When they suddenly and unexpectedly launched into space, they are faced with figuring out how to work together…or risk never returning home again. Full of action, suspense, and realistic and plausible science and math, this is not only science fiction at its best, but one for those who love middle grade mysteries and school stories as well!  
Melissa Fox, Book Nut
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Heidi G.
Dragons meet chocolate in a treat for fans of both! Aventurine is a young dragon who has never been allowed to leave her cave. She’s convinced that she can be just as brave and wonderful as the rest of her family if they’d give her a chance, and one day she sneaks out on her own. Things go wrong when a human she thinks would be easy prey turns out to be a magician, and he tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate which turns her into a human girl!  Aventurine is forced to go to the big city to find a job and satisfy her newfound passion for chocolate. Can a fierce dragon girl find a place among humans, and enough chocolate to keep her happy?  And what happens when her dragon family comes looking for her?  Themes of finding your true self, and loyalty to family and friends combine with political intrigue and prejudice in a memorable and gripping story.  
Debbie Tanner, The Book Search