12/11/17

The Science of Science Fiction, by Matthew Brenden Wood

The Science of Science Fiction, by Matthew Brenden Wood, from Nomad Press' Inquire and Investigate series (Feb. 2017) is a really fascinating and well-done look at the science that lies behind science fiction stories, and in front of us in the real world.  It covers six main topics--cloning, robotics, living on Mars, alien, faster than light travel, and time travel. 

The real life science of each topic makes up the bulk of the book, and I found it very interesting, even though I was familiar with some of the material. It was good, clear explanation and description of some pretty complicated concepts.   Lots of little side bar note, pictures, and QR codes dot the pages, adding to the material presented (although I could not check out the QR codes because I have not embraced today's technology*). Basically the sci fi tie-in is fun lead into actually science, and it's done very well--explaining without patronizing.

The part of the book that makes it really stand out, though, are the experiments.  I am not a hands on person myself, but I find myself strangely tempted to do some of them myself; there's one about putting a bar of chocolate in the microwave to measure the speed of light, for instance, which looks really cool (and the chocolate is not horribly harmed, and can be eaten afterwards).

So if you have a STEM loving kid around, or a twelve year old who read the Martian, and liked the first part of it lots, give them this book!  It's also good for classroom use; there are, for instance, thought-provoking questions to pose for discussion and writing prompts, which would work better in the classroom than swinging a bucket of water around your head to gain familiarity with centrifugal force, or the lack thereof....

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

*I had to ask my kid what those little boxes are called. He says everyone with a phone (except me) is able to use them, so perhaps my feeling that including this tech. reliant part of the book excludes kids who don't have all the resources is misplaced....

12/10/17

This week's roundup of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (12/10/17)

Welcome to this week's round-up!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Adventurers Guild, by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos, at Nerdophiles

The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol, at alibrarymama

The Cladera, by John Flanagan, at Say What?

Death and Douglas, by J.W. Ocker, at Mom Read It

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Book Nut

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island, by Liz Kessler, at Say What?

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, at Charlotte's Library

EngiNerds, by Jarrett Lerner, at Log Cabin Library

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart, at Charlotte's Library

The Glass Town Game, by Catherynne Valente, at Pages Unbound

Ivy, by Katherine Coville, at Jean Little Library

The Land of Stories, by Chris Colfer, at proseandkahn

Max Tilt: Fire in the Depths, by Peter Lerangis, at Ms. Yinglng Reads

Rise of the Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Book Nut

The Search for the Lost Prophecy, by William Meyer, at Always in the Middle

Sword of Light (Pendragon Legacy 1), by Katherine Roberts, at Say What?

The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Ms. Yingling Reads (scroll down)

Voices for All: The Legend of ZoaBrio by Scott Vincent, at Log Cabin Library

The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching, Book 1) by Terry Pratchett, at Hidden in Pages

The World's Greatest Adventure Machine & The Afterlife Academy by Frank Cole, at Geo Librarian

York: the Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby at Book Nut

Three at The Book Search--The Crooked Sixpence, The Unicorn in the Barn, and Dragon's Green

Other Good Stuff

Help raise $1,000,000 for Heifer International by helping the Worldbuilders meet a challenge goal.

12/7/17

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart

Here's a fun action-packed fantasy for all you readers who want to hie yourselves away to Greenland to come face to beak (?) with a giant Kraken!  Emmeline, the young heroine of The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart (Knopf, middle grade, August 2017), is the sort of child with ZERO interest in doing this.  She is paranoid, distrustful, and set in her ways, and most of this is a result of her booby-trapped (literally) childhood--her parents (when they weren't off having adventures) spent no effort on making her feel safe; indeed, the opposite is more like it.  So one day, when her parents are off somewhere, a letter arrives for her...and her first step is to check it for poison.

It's not poisoned, but it does bring the news that she is now an orphan, and must  immediately travel to France to stay with a woman she's never met. So she's bundled on to a ship, clutching her trusty satchel of things that might keep her safe.

She is not safe.  From the moment she steps onto the ship to the last few pages of the book, she joins the whole world in being threatened as all get out. The world was threatened first-the ice of Greenland is melting, and under the ice is a giant Broken of tremendous power, and whoever wakes the Kraken can gain control of it.  Emmeline gets personally threatened as a result of this--a bad guy thinks she has learned something from her parents (whose adventures took them on rather unusual excursions...) about Kraken control. She's kidnapped and hauled off the ship and taken off to Greenland.

But before she was kidnapped, she met a boy, who calls himself "Thing."  He throws his lot in with hers, partly at first because he's board, and partly, later on, because he's awfully lonely.  And though Thing can't, quite, save her from being kidnapped, when he himself leaves the ship  its in the company of a man and woman determined to stop the bad guy from awakening the Kraken.

So moving on more quickly, Thing and the two adults with  him are pursued, and they would be rescue attempt goes south, ending up with Thing flying off to Greenland in an airship he has no idea how to control.   Emmeline, well trained in escaping traps, does so to great effect, and heads out over the ice of Greenland, populated by magical creatures, to find her parents, who may still be alive.

And moving on even more quickly, because Too Much that's very exciting happens to tell it all, and it would spoil everything, there are other bad guys interested in the Kraken, including one magical villain, an evil ice queen..  Much foiling of bad guys is required, but Emmeline and Thing are up for the task and triumph.

So if you like excitements, you'll enjoy this lots.  As the adventure gets going, the story starts being told in the alternate viewpoints of Emmeline and Thing, layered on top of each other in the same chapter, which worked very well to keep the tension nicely ratcheted up.  My favorite part of the book, though, was Emmeline's ingenuity in the face of adversity; she wins this year's award for Foiling Villain with Pilfered Spoon. Thing is very appealing too; his backstory is a sad one, but he has come through it as a genuinely lovable character.  His bad asthma, something you don't see much in a mg fantasy novel, adds interest.

I wasn't quite convinced that I understood the actions of some of the bad guys; kidnapping Emmeline didn't seem to matter enough to have been worth the trouble of doing so.  But I was happy to go along for the ride.

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

12/4/17

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud

Way back in September of 2013, a few days before it was released, I finished The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, the first book in the Lockwood and Co. series about an alternate Britain plagued by malevolent spirits and a pluck team of young ghost hunters who fight against them (here's my review).  I wrote: 

"great characters, great premise, exciting ghosts and I Cannot Wait till the next book, when more about the very charming Anthony Lockwood, and more about the geekily appealing George, might be revealed! We already know Lucy pretty well, but I'm curious about how her relationships with the boys might change..."

And now I have just finished the fifth and presumably final book in the series, The Empty Grave (Disney-Hyperion, Sept. 2017), and I have all the answers, and an ending has being reached, and all is well (though "the Problem" of the ghost is still troublesome).  So from that point of view, The Empty Grave is a very satisfying book, and I was delighted to read it.  Unusually for me, I find the exciting bits of these books more interesting than the character building bits, perhaps because the exciting bits (hunting ghosts), contain mysteries and team dynamics as well as just the adventures. 

From a more critical point of view, it's not the best in the series--it's a bit bogged down by the gang siting around trying to figure out what to do, as opposed to actually doing things.  It wasn't until about 2/3 of the way through that it became the page turner I was expecting it to be.  And I got really fed up with George's overweight physique being presented as something to laugh at; it's the sort of body shaming that makes me not want to recommend the books to any plumpish geeky boys, because it will make them (I imagine) feel bad.  It is also not a diverse bunch of characters, although it is strongly suggested by the end that one of the main characters is gay.   But though it's not perfect, I continue to recommend the series with  conviction--give these books to the 11-13 year old "reluctant reader" and they will be read.  I speak from personal experience here; my own son, who is now 17, is getting this for Christmas and will be very happy.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Awards consideration

12/3/17

The books my loved ones are getting for Christmas

So this weekend I came down to Virginia to my mother's house, for pre-Christmas quality time with her, but also quality time with all the presents I've had shipped to her house.  Many of these are, of course, books!  (Only three members of my immediate family is not getting a book; instead, they get pruning clippers, owl puke (with rodent bone chart) and one of those cars that follows the line you draw). And because I like talking about books, presents, and my children, here are the books my loved ones (those that don't read this blog) are getting.  To make it more fun for myself, I'm rating my choices, with 10 stars being a sure winner, and down from there).

For my 17 year old son:

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud.  Though he mainly reads graphic novels, this is a series that hooked him with the first book and that he's been reading enthusiastically ever since. 10 stars.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzie Lee.  He's looking forward to leaving home, though not for the same reasons as Monty, and I think he'll enjoy this grand tour gone horribly wrong (I was lucky and found a like new copy in a used bookstore, so felt I could take a chance on it). 6 stars because it's hard to predict what new books he'll actually read....

Book of Challenges: Dungeon Rooms, Puzzles, and Traps.  He wrote his college application essay on the challenges of being a Dungeon Master for the first time, and though I was doubtful, and have not been allowed to read it, he got a personal email from one college admissions person saying she LOVED [sic] it.  So I'm happy to keep encouraging him.  10 stars (he asked for it)

It Devours: Welcome to Nightvale by Joseph Fink.  The second Nightvale novel; he's a huge fan so at least will pick it up and start reading. 8 stars--hopefully it will hook him quickly.

Digger, Vol. 2, by Ursula Vernon.  He loved the first one.  Also, Ursula Vernon.  10 stars.


For my 14 year old son:

Falling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson.  He heard about in online (probably John Green? ) and wants it.  7 stars--he'll be pleased but not thrilled, and I'm not entirely certain he will devour it quickly.

Pearls Hogs the Road, by Stephan Pastis.  Can't go wrong here.  He'll be reading it Christmas afternoon.  10 stars.

In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan.  He should enjoy the fantasy, and he's at the age where a book with a positive attitude toward sex and sexual identities is appropriate.  8 stars--had to take two off because he can't be counted on to read things I think he would enjoy.  John Green has a much better track record than I do in this regard.

Rebel, by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown.  The third book in the Change series; the first book, Stranger, is his all time most favorite book. 10 stars--he'll be thrilled.

For my mother:

The Durrels of Corfu, by Michael Haag.  As a family we are huge fans of Gerald Durrell, and I'm looking forward to this lots, and have no reason to think my mother won't be equally as interested!  So without having read it, I'll give it 10 stars

For my older sister:

The Goat, by Anne Fleming.  I mentioned it to her last summer and she was tickled by the idea.  Having been tickled by the book myself, I'm confident that she'll enjoy it too.  10 stars

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, by Kelly Jones.  I haven't read this myself yet, but I really liked her first book, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, and it sounds like it will appeal to my sister -- 7 stars (can't go any higher because of not having read it)

For her husband:

Smile, by Roddy Doyle.  He is hard to shop for, but when I first met him, in Peshawar, Pakistan, where he and my sister were working for MSF, he was reading a Roddy Doyle book with enjoyment....of course that was 25 years ago, and he might have been reading it for lack of anything better to read--5 stars, but hopeful ones.

For her daughter:

Spinning, by Tilly Walden.  Seems to me a good pick for a teenaged girl who's exact taste you don't really know who is more comfortable reading in Dutch; pretty sure she'll find the cover appealing enough to at least open it.   7 stars.


For my younger sister:

The Trees Kneel at Christmas, by Maud Hart Lovelace.  A timely book by an author she loves. The first present of 2017 I bought; I wanted to get it early, because last year I waited till December to buy it and the price had jumped lots.  So I got in April when it was out of season ($1 as opposed to $20), and it has been wrapped and here at my mother's house since June.  She found it and tried to open it, thinking it was a forgotten leftover from last year, but fortunately was told not to in time. 7 stars--she'll be pleased, but it might be too young for her...

Josie Moves Up, by Phyllis Matthewman.  Third in a British girls school series; she has the first two and likes them, as do I, so this is nice for us both.  Ten stars.  An easy one.

For her son:

I am Pusheen the Cat.  He loves Pusheen.  Ten stars.  Also easy.

This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (12/3/17)

Welcome to this week's round up of mg sci fi/fantasy!  And welcome December, the last month in which to complete 2017 reading challenges....I myself have to read at least 2 books a day this month to meet my Goodreads goal of 500 books....

Please let me know if I missed your post, and I'll happily add it!

The Reviews

Air of Vengeance (Windhollows, book 1) by Trayner Bane, at Chanticleer Book Reviews

Bat Girl at Superhero High, by Lisa Yee, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Beast and Crown, by Joel Ross, at Bibliobrit

The Caldera, by John Flannagan, with bonus paean for his books in general, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Children of Refuge, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at The O.W.L. and Always in the Middle

Dominion, by Shane Arbutnott, at Charlotte's Library

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The House of Secrets (The House of Secrets, Book 1) by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini,‎ at Hidden in Pages

Journey's End, by Rachel Hawkins, at alibrarymama

The Legend of Jack Riddle, by H. Easson, at Mom Read It

The List, by Patricia Forde, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Matchstick Castle, by Keir Graff, at alibrarymama

Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King, at Book Nut

Nightfall, by Shannon Messenger, at Carstairs Considers and Michelle I. Mason

Oddity, by Sarah Cannon, at Mom Read It

The Painting, by Charis Cotter, at Charlotte's Library

Polaris, by Michael Northrup, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Skeleton Tree, by Kim Ventrella, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Secret of the Scarab Beatle, by William Meyer, at Always in the Middle

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, at Geo Librarian and Book Nut

The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke, at proseandkahn

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby, at Say What?

Two at alibrarymama--Voyage to Magical North, and The Memory Thief

Three short ones at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Lost Frost Girl, Mutant Bunny Island, and Sisters of Glass

Four short ones at Random Musings of  Bibliophile--Dragon's Green, Ghosts of Greenglass House, Miss Smith's Spy School for Girls, and Spirit Hunters

Authors and Interviews

Jackie Ogburn (The Unicorn in the Barn) at Tales from the Raven

More Good Stuff

a fun post by Ursula Vernon at Tor--The Sausage Princess, or, Reshaping the Bizarre Structure of Fairy Tales

12/2/17

Dominion, by Shane Arbuthnott

Dominion, by Shane Arbuthnott  (Orca Book Publishers, Middle Grade/Tween, February, 2017)

Are you in need of a steampunk fantasy set in an alternate New World where air ships powered by aetherial spirits travel through the skies in search of other spirits to capture and sell?  This is the life that Molly has grown up with, and now she's the engineer on board her family's air ship, the Legerdemain.  But Molly is not behaving as a proper engineer should.  Instead, she's talking to the spirit powering the airship, and feeling it respond.  When she finds herself capturing an extremely powerful spirit, she hears it speak to her.

It is a spirit that knew one of Molly ancestors long ago.  And that starts her down a path that ends up in Molly finding truths she's never thought possible about her world, and challenging the owner of the most powerful company in Terra Nova who is threatening that world with his greed (and who has taken the Legerdemain from Molly's family).

So yeah, Go Molly!  Challenge arrogant corporate greed!  Have the intelligence, sensitivity, and empathy to listen to spirits instead of dismissing or fearing them!  Realize your ancestors did bad things, and work to undo them! Believe in your mechanical abilities and yourself!  And Go Spirits too, from small spirits forced to power little bots, including one who is utterly charming and helpful, to the greater spirits like the one who powered Legerdemain.

In short, Molly's a great heroine and the whole set up with the spirits is fascinating.  I wish we'd been given more of a look at this alternate world--we only see the sliver of sky traversed by Molly and her Family, and the one city where they dock, though there are hints of the bigger world.  And likewise it seems like the author knew more backstory about Molly's family than is given in any detail.   I'm hoping Molly's world will be broader in future installments, because she's a great heroine who really deserves a great world to adventure in! 

Note on age:  It's definitely middle grade; Molly's only 14, and there's no sex, and it feels middle grade.  But it will be enjoyed more by the older end of MG, pushing YA-ward-- so  11-14 year olds. 

Kirkus and I agree on this one-- "Though some of the physics may leave some readers dizzy, feisty young Molly will keep them grounded in this page-turning mystical adventure." (here's the Kirkus review).

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

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