Thursday, October 18, 2018

Middle Grade Fantasy: Cybils Reading Part II

Nominations are closed for the 2018 Cybils Awards!

And I'm starting to read books that were actually nominated in my category, Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. So make sure only the best get in there.

This Week I Read:

Ice Wolves (Elementals, #1)The House in Poplar WoodThe Art of the SwapStrange Star
HeartseekerEvangeline of the BayouR Is for RebelThe Game Masters of Garden Place

Ice Wolves, Amie Kaufman. Fantasy adventure with two twins who find themselves split onto opposite sides of a war. We stick with the more timid brother who finds himself enrolled with the Ice-Wolf transforming kids learning to defend their city. On his own he develops his independence and initiative (rather than relying on his more boisterous sister) and finds friends, but can't fully commit while their mission is to destroy all Dragons, which now includes his family. He learns about friendship and forgiveness while uncovering unseemly doings by the authorities before bravely risking everything on a wild act to save his sister. I liked the character development of the boy from a follower to independence, and thought the unraveling of the plot worked well. It did seem to ring a lot of typical plot points for "Fantasy Adventure" in a way that telegraphed a lot of the beats.

The House in Poplar Wood, K.E. Ormsbee. Twin brothers live in a divided house, separated by the implacable beings that rule their family's lives: DEATH AND MEMORY. The mix of small town life and magical beings worked well. The disruption comes from the younger sister of the human tie to town, who insists on her capabilities even when her family dismisses her. Her brashness gets stuff done, but also injures people around her. I liked the atmosphere and the relationships between the characters (although I felt brashness became bullying a few times, enough that the hint of romance at the end was uncomfortable), but felt that the third entity PASSION was used as more of a ex machina solution than an integral part of the story.

The Art of the Swap, Kristine Asselin. Time-swap story between a modern girl and a timid child from the early 1900s. Lots of details about the differences in expectations and family life are shown both from the mistakes the history buff makes in trying to fit in back then and the shocks the sheltered rich girl has trying to play soccer in the modern day. I liked the strength both girls showed in dealing with the fear of never getting back, although I thought the author relied a bit too much on the overuse of modern slang for comedic effect.

Strange Star, Emma Carroll. A servant wants to prove himself to get to England with Lord Byron (I wasn't clear on why England was better than Switzerland; maybe he couldn't learn new languages?), but listens to the story of a resurrected girl about the Frankenstein experiments of the Shelley's previous host. I was distracted by how sure everyone was that the girl was dead (were they just wrong or was this some unexplained effect of the lightning experiments?) and the bizarre behavior of the younger sister. I liked the strong loyalty and persistence of the older sister, but found myself cranky at the idea that Mary Shelley borrowed so much of her inspiration from someone else.

Heartseeker, Melinda Beatty. A girl grows up with a magical affinity for truth in a culture that associates magic with the gypsy-like clans kept on the periphery and mistrusted. Somehow only her grandmother notices that she can neither lie or be lied to, which I found a bit implausible. When outsiders detect her ability, the king demands her assistance and she is plunged into national politics involving repeated assassination attempts which her gullible brother is implicated in. I liked the world building and the characters of the steward and the king's captain, but I thought the book ended without completing her emotional journey of I guess independence? Or something?

Evangeline of the Bayou, Jan Eldrige. Evangeline helps her grandmother with magic, secretly worried that she won't have enough of her own. They are sent to New Orleans to help with a mysterious case. She befriends a skeptic, who learns the hard way that werewolves and magic are real (his come-uppence seems a bit unfair, really!). She faces down adversity and learns that her true worth comes from herself, not her powers. I liked her focus on the task and not on her need to succeed, but some things came a bit easily.

R Is For Rebel, J. Anderson Coats. An invading country is determined to completely suppress the indiginious inhabitants, whom they consider inferior and useless. Children are rounded up into reeducation camps where their language is suppressed, even harmless bits of their culture such as hair styles are ruthlessly forbidden and any sign of defiance is punished severely. Only useful servants are allowed to graduate. Our heroine tries to fight back, learning about the importance of trusting other people and not making decisions along the way. It's all rather horrific, with routine tortures escalating to punishment routines and culminating in a wild rebellion that has little hope of success, but then going along also just means a slower death so there's not much to lose.

The Game Masters of Garden Place, Denis Markell. A book about losing your old friend group when moving into middle school. The protagonist has four friends from childhood, but they are all branching out in different directions while he hasn't found any new interests. So they many not even finish their role playing campaign. It's a tough situation, but then magic distracts things -- the team must work together to restore their characters after a portal pulls them into this reality. There are fun shenanigans but the ending left me unsatisfied -- our protagonist still doesn't have new friends.

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