Two 2017 Middle Grade Spec Fic Releases

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

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?

  • The cover and genre of this book appealed to me, but when I came to the plot, I thought “That’s a bit too quirky for me” and didn’t add it to my TBR. After positive reviews from Ms. Yingling Reads, Charlotte’s Library, and Random Musings of a Bibliophile, I decided it might be worth a shot.
  • The story itself is a simple one. The appeal is in the combination of elements not usually taken together – dragons, apprenticeship, chocolate making, royal politics and elitism.
  • Aventurine, being a young dragon transformed into a human, brings a unique perspective to this style of fantasy. Youthful energy and dragon stubbornness combine for some interesting moments in Aventurine’s human form. I enjoyed reading about her new found passion for the craft of making chocolate.
  • The relationships Aventurine develops as she learns to trust in the love and support of others give this story some warmth.
  • I would enjoy a sequel that features more of Aventurine’s dragon family and the difficulty Aventurine may face in balancing her two identities.
  • The Bottom Line: A fun bedtime read that served its purpose in distracting me from grad school life.

Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar

Race to the bottom of the SeaWhen her parents, the great marine scientists Dr. and Dr. Quail, are killed in a tragic accident, eleven-year-old Fidelia Quail is racked by grief — and guilt. It was a submarine of Fidelia’s invention that her parents were in when they died, and it was she who pressed them to stay out longer when the raging Undertow was looming. But Fidelia is forced out of her mourning when she’s kidnapped by Merrick the Monstrous, a pirate whose list of treasons stretches longer than a ribbon eel. Her task? Use her marine know-how to retrieve his treasure, lost on the ocean floor. But as Fidelia and the pirates close in on the prize, with the navy hot on their heels, she realizes that Merrick doesn’t expect to live long enough to enjoy his loot. Could something other than black-hearted greed be driving him? Will Fidelia be able to master the perils of the ocean without her parents — and piece together the mystery of Merrick the Monstrous before it’s too late?

  • Not quite sure where to start with this book. It turned out to be a lot more mature, and fairly dark, than I expected.
  • The details of Fidelia’s parents’ death alarmed me a bit. I had expected them to have died prior to the start of the story. The fact that the Fidelia had invented the submarine in which they died was tough enough. But then add the fact that she decided to ignore an incoming storm, when her mom explicitly asked if they needed to head in for safety… ouch.
  • I generally enjoy having adult characters interact equally with the younger main characters in middle grade novels. However, all the characters aside from Fidelia are adults, and most of the story is really their story. I often felt like Fidelia was just along for the ride. For her part of the story, she does learn to be herself again after the death of her parents, but the plot is driven by the actions of the adults.
  • My opinion of this book isn’t as bad as you might think! There are a lot of fun elements that made this an entertaining read – pirates, ocean faring, sea creatures, and Fidelia’s inventions.
  • The Bottom Line: Another fun read, but darker and more mature than The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. Not recommended for sensitive readers.

Have you read any speculative fiction releases (especially middle grade) from this year? What are your favourites?

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Book Shopping in Seattle

A couple weekends ago, I went down to Seattle to see Depeche Mode (look how much restraint I’m exercising in not gushing about the show…….). I took time to check out a couple of neat bookstores.

Elliot Bay Book Company

Elliot Bay Bookstore Co.
Photo from Elliot Bay website

Website | 1521 Tenth Avenue

Why you should visit:

  • Stunning architecture
  • Extensive selection
  • Cozy cafe
  • Great hours
  • Lots of events

My experience:

Elliot Bay Bookstore Co. from second level
View from the second level (my photo)

As I only had about 48 hours in Seattle, Elliot Bay Book Company ended up being my number one bookstore to visit. It ranked high on recommendation lists; it was relatively close to where I was staying; it was open late on Friday when I had no other plans. Thirst was plaguing me, so for literally the second time in my life, I bought (and enjoyed :O) a tea from the cafe in the back to drink while browsing. As for books, I bought an autographed hardcover copy of Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne (which my sister and I previously discussed for Family Reads). The hardcover has a design element that the paperback doesn’t have. See the rabbit?

Borne hardcover

Mortlake & Company

Mortlake and Company bookstore
Photo from Mortlake & Company’s Facebook

Website | 117 Prefontaine Place

Why you should visit:

  • Elegant shop
  • Well-curated
  • Rare books and curiosities
  • Good prices on used books
  • Gallery with monthly exhibits

My experience:

Mortlake & Company cardI stumbled across this wonderful little shop during my many walks from my accommodation to downtown. I kept forgetting I had seen it, but I made an effort to stop in just before I caught the bus back home. I imagine I could return to this shop many times and find something new and intriguing on each trip. Too bad it isn’t in Vancouver! The selection ranges from folklore and mythology to alchemy and magic. I picked up Celtic Fairy Tales and The Mabinogi.

Celtic Fairy Tales and the Mabinogi

What are some of your favourite reasons to visit a bookstore? Do you have any bookstore recommendations for Seattle?

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Jessica Miller’s Elizabeth and Zenobia Exemplifies Gothic MG

Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

Elizabeth and Zenobia coverFormat/Source: eBook/Netgalley
Published: September 2017
Publisher: Amulet Books
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Middle grade gothic
Rating: ★★★★
GoodReads Indigo | IndieBound | Wordery
I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

When Elizabeth and her unusual and fearless friend Zenobia arrive at Witheringe House, peculiar things begin to happen.

Especially in the forbidden East Wing.

The flowers and vines of the wallpaper sometimes seem to be alive.

A mirror has a surface like the water of a pond.

And an old book tells a different story after midnight.

Zenobia is thrilled by the strangeness, but Elizabeth is not so bold…

Until she makes a mysterious and terrifying discovery.

Here is a spooky middle grade tale I can get behind! There is a countryside estate that’s been boarded up for some years, there is an overgrown garden and labyrinth, there is a distant father with a mysterious past. While the story doesn’t scare, not in the way of Coraline or The Nest, it uses a handful of gothic tropes to create its own tense and atmospheric moments. Miller writes well for this genre. Her descriptions aren’t too flowery, yet they are creative enough to set an evocative scene. What really brings the setting and story to life, however, are the delightful cast of characters.

Elizabeth and Zenobia play off each wonderfully. Miller gives each a distinct voice. If I described both girls, I might make them sound like caricatures, but they come across as believable young girls. Elizabeth makes for a unique protagonist in these kind of stories – she is not a daring and adventurous child. Zenobia is brash and bold; Elizabeth is scared of many things. Zenobia wants to contact the spirits she assumes inhabit Witheringe House; Elizabeth would rather not. And a similarity – Zenobia can only be seen Elizabeth; Elizabeth wishes her father would see her better. Zenobia’s eager tendency towards the gruesome also helps shape the darker tone of the story. They are the best of friends, and the story explores how they navigate that friendship when their personalities clash. While the plot takes some time to show itself, I found the daily interactions of Elizabeth and Zenobia in their creepy new home entertaining enough.

In addition to Elizabeth and Zenobia, there is a housekeeper whose ability to appear without warning greatly impresses Zenobia and serves as a running gag. There is a tutor who is not the antagonist of the story. And there are a few more characters that I’ll leave you to discover…

My primary criticism lies in the ending. I felt the story concluded abruptly. The mystery surrounding Zenobia never receives an explicit explanation. I like stories neatly wrapped up at the end, though I am coming to learn that’s not always necessary. Zenobia’s nature being revealed was never a promise of the main story line (though I crossed my toes hoping it would come up). The illustrations were not at all to my taste. I tried to be forgiving – “Maybe they’re meant to look like they’re drawn by a kid…” – but personally, I just think they’re bad. Edit (Oct. 13): I did not think to consider that the illustrations were not finalized in my ARC. (As a blogger who’s been reviewing ARCs for awhile, I am a little embarrassed…). Thank-you to the author for politely pointing this out to me. I have since purchased the book and am happy to report that the illustrations are much more tidy and refined, yet they still retain a quirky quality that’s very appropriate to the story and characters.

The Bottom Line:

A delightful tale of friendship between two very different young girls, Elizabeth and Zenobia is an example of Victorian Gothic middle grade fiction that other books could look up to.

Further Reading:

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August and September 2017 Month in Review

August and September Month in Review

October is here! Oh, how I love this month. Autumn seems even better here in Vancouver than in Winnipeg. The air is crisp, the sun is bright, the leaves are changing to all sorts of marvelous colours, and I can see mountains from my house. I can’t wait until my couch finally arrives next week and I can cozy up with a blanket, a mug of hot chocolate, and a good book.

In the post announcing my hiatus, I said “Look for me in October”. I have been giving some thought to whether the hiatus should continue in October, now that I have an idea of how much of my time coursework eats up. I have found the readings and assignments to be very reasonably paced. The catch with October is that I am spending two weekends travelling, so I am losing a lot of time there. I’ve decided to remain on semi-hiatus. What does that mean? I will be checking in more with everyone on Twitter, trying to comment on a few blogs, and posting maybe once a week here. I wrote a couple post in the past few weeks and they reminded me how much I enjoy blogging. I’m eager to get back into it, but will have to be careful not to mix up my priorities… TL;DR: I’ll be active again the book blogging world, but won’t be posting on a schedule or reading your blogs as much as usual. 

Books Finished

  • Patina by Jason Reynolds (Track #2)
  • The Painting by Charis Cotter
  • Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller
  • Strangers by David A. Robertson (The Reckoner #1)
  • The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Books Reviewed

Features

Happening in October

  • 1 Oct – Publication of Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar (middle grade novel about a young girl and her mother’s involvement in Gandhi’s protests for India independence)
  • 3 Oct – Publication of Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (put this one on my TBR after reading the author interview in this month’s Goodreads newsletter) and Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (ee, I’m sure this will be gorgeous)
  • 10 Oct – Publication of Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (do I need to say anything about this one? I’ve been a vlogbrothers fan since 2007 so while I’m not as excited about a new JG novel as I was as a teen, I’m still looking forward to this.) and The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (the excellent picture book duo strike again!)
  • 13 Oct – Publication of From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty (I had never planned to read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, her book about working in a crematorium, but I did and enjoyed it, so this also book interests.
  • 21 Oct Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, 10th anniversary! Reader sign-ups open now. Wish I could participate, but I’ll be in Seattle (attending a Depeche Mode concert, so can’t really complain :P)
  • 31 Oct  – Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (the book I mentioned in Diversity Spotlight #4)

I’ve been disconnected from the blogging community for awhile. What books have you been enjoying? What posts have I missed out on? Please leave me a link in the comments!

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Cybils 2017

Cybils 2017

Today nominations open for the Cybils Awards. The Cybils are the Children’s and Young Adult Blogger’s Literary Awards. The award “aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal”.

How to Participate

Nominations will remain open from today until 15 October. Anyone can nominate a book (one nomination per category). There are 10 categories, ranging from board books to graphic novels to young adult speuclative fiction. Nominated books must be 1) published in Canada or the USA, 2) between 16 October 2016 and 15 October 2017, and 3) written in English. Books don’t need multiple nominations to make the cut. If you nominate it, it will be considered! You can find out more about nominating at the Cybils website.

My Role

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Cybils as a panelist for middle grade fiction. This year, I will be participating as a judge for middle-grade speculative fiction, my favourite genre 🙂 This means I will be part of the second round group that selects a finalist from the shortlist created by the round one panelists. I am honored and excited to work with a group of book bloggers who are experts in the genre. Be sure to check out their blogs.

Have you read any books this year that you think are worth nominating?

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