Archive for October, 2020

Review of A Home for Goddesses and Dogs, by Leslie Connor

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 385 pages.
Review written August 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs is another heart-warming story by the author of The Truth According to Mason Buttle, a book I read during my Newbery year and loved in so many ways.

As the book begins, Lydia Bratches-Kemp, an eighth grader who’s been home-schooled, is setting out for a new home after her mother’s death. She gets to stay with her Aunt Brat and her wife Eileen on a farm in Connecticut owned by Elloroy, who had gotten too old to keep up with things. To add to her new family, shortly after Lydia arrives, Brat and Eileen decide to adopt a dog. Lydia’s not a dog person, so it takes her some time to get accustomed to the unruly and exuberant yellow dog they choose.

The book is about making friends, making a home, and making a new family. Lydia also has things to deal with in her memories of her mom, and about her dad who left them when her mom got sick. Lydia’s mom was an artist, and used to make goddesses when something came up they had to deal with, such as the Goddess of the Third Heart, made when her mom got passed up for the third time on the heart transplant list.

Lydia’s new school is small. She’s skeptical, but some girls offer to show her around the neighborhood, and she makes some connections that surprise her.

This is a feel-good story about finding home.

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Review of My Calamity Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Thursday, October 29th, 2020

My Calamity Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

HarperTeen, 2020. 520 pages.
Review written October 10, 2020, from a library book

This is the third book by “The Lady Janies” about a historical (or fictional) Jane retold with a paranormal twist. The first two – My Lady Jane about Lady Jane Grey and My Plain Jane about Jane Eyre – I was very familiar with the stories they were based on, and especially enjoyed the way they’d been shifted. I was not very familiar at all with the life of Calamity Jane of the Old West, so that made the book not quite as much fun.

At first, I felt like it was all melodramatic and silly. Then I remembered that it’s intentionally melodramatic and silly, and I settled in and enjoyed it.

The twist they put into this story was that Wild Bill Hickok and his Wild West show featuring Calamity Jane were werewolf hunters as well. So this is the Old West with werewolves. And we’ve got an evil werewolf, the Alpha, who’s forming a Pack of werewolves who follow the Alpha in wickedness. And Wild Bill and Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley and Frank Butler the Pistol Prince all get involved in a wild adventure with the Alpha as the adversary. But we do have a twist that not all werewolves are bad. If you get bitten, you don’t have to prey on others when the moon is full.

And it includes trick shooting and bull whip manipulations and plenty of romance.

So it’s more silly fun. This time in the Wild West.

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Sonderling Sunday – The Battle’s Thrilling Finish

Sunday, October 25th, 2020

Surprise! It’s been months since I’ve done it, but tonight it’s time for Sonderling Sunday!

Sonderling Sunday is that time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books, sort of a Very Silly Phrasebook for armchair travelers.

Since I’m skipping so many weeks now, I’m going back to the Sonderbook that gave me the idea, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, with the original English title The Order of Odd-fish, by James Kennedy.

Last time, which I’m afraid was back in April, we left off on page 353 in the English edition, Seite 449 auf Deutsch. For a very long time, Jo and Fiona have been fighting a bitter battle. (I try not to give away any spoilers, just intrigue you with the language and phrases used, so I won’t say more than that.)

The way the next section begins hints at the drama:
“Jo grabbed the bars of the cage, hanging on. It wasn’t over until she fell in the water.”
= Sie erwischte die Stangen des Gitters und hielt sich fest. Der Kampf war erst vorbei, wenn sie ins Wasser fiel.

See if you can find a reason to use this sentence this week:
“But she had lost her ostrich.”
=Aber sie hatte ihren Stauß verloren.

The translator has often lost alliteration:
“she was bruised, bloody, and broken”
=sie war übel mitgenommen, blutüberströmt und am Ende ihrer Kräfte
(“she was evilly run-down, blood-overflowing and at the end of her strength”)

“gibbered” = plapperte sinnlos (“babbled senselessly”)

“a black, sludgy gelatin” = eine schwarze, schlammige Gelatine

“the universe itself might unravel”
= das Universum selbst möglicherweise vernichtet werden würde

“She was still clinging to the side of the cage.”
= Sie klammerte sich noch immer an den Käfigstäben fest.

“bestial and ugly, screaming for blood”
= bestialisch, hässlich und nach Blut schreiend

“bucked fiercely” = bockte wild

“every chance” = bei jeder sich bietenden Gelegenheit

“waving her over” = winkten sie zu sich.

Long word alert:
“opposite side” = gegenüberliegenden Seite

“stamping, hollering, and pressing their faces against the cage”
= stampften und brüllten und pressten ihre Gesichter gegen den Käfig

“encouragement” = Aufmunterungen

“screamed abuse” = beschimpften sie

“extra lance” = Ersatzlanze

“blast” = Knall

“clogging the doors and hallways” = verstopften Türen und Gänge

“unheard-of” = absolut unerhört

“breaking the furniture” = zertrümmerte die Möbel

“debris” = Trümmer

“flung aside” = beiseitegestoßen

“squirting out of her eyes” = spritzte aus ihren Augen

“running out her nose” = lief aus ihrer Nase

“gurgling in the back of her throat” = gurgelte in ihrer Kehle

“seeping from under her fingernails” = sickerte unter ihren Fingernägeln hervor

“in the back of her throat” = an ihrem Gaumen

“piteously” = erbärmlich

“dark and angry” = düster und wütend

“thunderous cheer” = donnernder Jubel

And the last sentence of Chapter 25:
“She had betrayed them all.”
= Sie hatte sie alle betrogen.

Auf wiedersehen! Now until next time, see how many of these phrases you can work into conversation, preparing for the day when we can travel to Germany again! When that day comes, we’ll surely hear donnernder Jubel. Let this be Aufmunterungen until that day! Bis bald!

Review of Champion, by Sally M. Walker

Sunday, October 25th, 2020


The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree

by Sally M. Walker

Henry Holt and Company, 2018. 136 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I’m not sure when I heard that American chestnut trees had all died off, but I know I heard it as a regrettable fact.

This book says that isn’t actually true. Scientists are using a three-pronged approach to bringing back the American chestnut tree.

First, we learn what happened. A mysterious blight hit the magnificent trees in 1904 in New York, killing them quickly.

It took some work, but scientists determined that a fungus was causing the problem. Finding a way to fight the fungus proved to be very difficult. By 1940, nearly four billion American chestnut trees had died.

However – there’s still some hope.

The roots of many American chestnut trees are still living beneath the soil. Certain microbes in the soil stop the blight fungus from invading the buried roots. The healthy roots continually send up new sprouts that ring the lifeless stump. Each sprout develops its own root system and becomes a sapling. But its reprieve from the blight is only temporary. The sapling grows for 5 to 10 years, until eventually the blight kills it.

However – those still-alive trees give scientists something to work with.

There are currently three approaches being used to try to bring back the American chestnut tree. One is weakening the blight – a virus was found in Europe that attacks the fungus that causes the blight and makes it weaker, so that trees can survive its attacks. Scientists are working with this virus and inoculating trees.

Another approach is to cross breed American chestnuts with Chinese chestnuts, which are naturally resistant to the blight. The challenge is using backcrossing to keep almost all the characteristics of the American chestnut in the resultant trees – but have them resistant to the blight.

The final approach involves genetically modifying the trees’ DNA with a blight-resistant gene from wheat. However, genetic engineering is highly regulated, so there will be many tests the resulting plants must undergo before they can even be allowed to propagate in the wild.

It’s all very interesting, real-life science. Because trees are slow-growing, it all takes years, but maybe our grandchildren will once again be able to find forests of American chestnut trees.

There’s plenty of back matter in this book, including four appendices about side stories. I liked Appendix B where they tested whether squirrels like the taste of the new chestnuts and would gather them. Appendix C talks about ways children and classrooms can help the effort.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away

by Meg Medina
illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Candlewick Press, 2020. 32 pages.
Review written September 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Full disclosure: I was privileged to be on the Newbery committee that chose Meg Medina’s book Merci Suarez Changes Gears as our winner and thus changed her life forever. After an amazing dinner with her and with the rest of the committee and our big celebrations together, she has a special place in my heart and I will always think of her as a friend. So I was predisposed to love this book.

Though at the same time, I have read a zillion picture books about a child moving away or arriving in a new place, so I wasn’t completely sure this one would stand out. And since I only review a small percentage of the picture books I read, I thought I could just quietly enjoy this book and let it go by without notice.

But this book is marvelous. I am confident I would love it even if I didn’t already love the author. And let me also add that the illustrations are stunning – and I have no connection to the illustrator, so there’s clearly no bias there. I’ve read the book a few times, and each time the words and pictures go straight to my heart.

Here’s how the book begins:

Evelyn Del Rey is my mejor amiga, my número uno best friend.

“Come play, Daniela,” she says, just like she always does.

Just like today is any other day.

The two girls are pictured with different shades of dark skin. Evelyn is peeking in the window of the apartment. On the next page, we see a big truck with boxes ready to go inside surrounded by bright orange and yellow fall leaves – still on the trees, but also on the street and on the sidewalk. Some of the items ready for the truck are named in the text – “Evelyn’s mirror with the stickers around the edge, her easel for painting on rainy days, and the sofa that we bounce on to get to the moon.”

The painting is so evocative of a dark and damp day in late Autumn, still with dazzling leaves, and Daniela has lonely eyes as she looks at Evelyn’s things, ready to go.

But that changes when she gets inside, with Evelyn waiting for her. We see the girls running upstairs with grins on their faces.

We learn that the girls’ apartments are mostly the same except for things like the color of paint and the furniture, just like the girls are mostly the same. But as Daniela talks about what a great friend Evelyn is, we see packing going on behind them and around them.

We find a still-empty box near the door. In no time, I am a bus driver steering us all over the city. We play until the tables that were bus stops are gone and the beds that were skyscrapers have vanished, too.

When we look around, everything has disappeared except us.

They make plans to talk every day after school, to visit in the summer, but Daniela knows it won’t be the same.

And it turns out not everything is gone. Daniela sees some sparkly stickers in a corner, and they wear them on their cheeks as they say good-by.

Finally as the actual good-by happens, the girls’ faces crumple. Their mothers try to comfort them, though Daniela knows that Evelyn will always be “my first mejor amiga, my número uno best friend…”

And where tears came to my own eyes was when I turned to the last page and saw a much older adult Daniela smiling and looking through a box of letters containing a picture of Evelyn, with the words:

the one I will always know by heart.

My own best friend moved away after sixth grade. And yes, we are still best friends today. In fact, when I was 42 years old, I moved to the town where she lives, on the other side of the country from where we were friends as children.

I’ve read quite a few books lately about kids who have moved to a new town and have to face that their old friendships have dissolved. So I actually wasn’t prepared to see in this story a friendship like the ones I’ve been privileged to have – friendship that sustains you for your entire life.

Here’s to friends we know by heart.

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Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The New Testament: A Translation by David Bentley Hart

Sunday, October 18th, 2020

The New Testament

A Translation

by David Bentley Hart

Yale University Press, 2017. 577 pages.
Review written October 18, 2020, from my own copy.
Starred Review

It seems so presumptuous to write a review of The New Testament! Rest assured this is a review of this particular translation in order to recommend it to other students of the Bible.

I was interested in this translation because of reading the author’s book on universalism, That All Shall Be Saved. The translation came first, and I’ve found that many proponents of universalism have an in-depth knowledge of biblical Greek. This author is no exception.

He does claim to have approached the text without theological bias, admitting that there will always be some, but trying to be faithful to what is written. Here’s a segment from his Introduction:

I should note that this is not a literary translation of the New Testament, much less a rendering for liturgical use. If it conforms in any degree to any current school of translation theory, it is certainly that of “formal,” rather than “dynamic,” equivalence – though, in fact, I believe that no translator should entrust his or her choices to the authority of any “theory” whatsoever. Again and again, I have elected to produce an almost pitilessly literal translation; many of my departures from received practices are simply my efforts to make the original text as visible as possible through the palimpsest of its translation…. Where the Greek of the original is maladroit, broken, or impenetrable (as it is with some consistency in Paul’s letters), so is the English of my translation; where an author has written bad Greek (such as one finds throughout the book of Revelation), I have written bad English.

I’m writing this review after finishing the entire book – for many months, I’ve read one two-page spread per day as part of my devotions. I may start up again on this, but I will also keep the book on hand for times when I’m curious about how this author renders the original Greek, to get another perspective on a biblical passage and, I think, a clearer idea of how it was written in the original text.

I have to say that in all my reading of this book, there was one verse that made me cry out in delight at his clear rendering. It was Philippians 2:10-11 –

So that at the name of Jesus every knee – of beings heavenly and earthly and subterranean – should bend, And every tongue gladly confess that Jesus the Anointed is Lord, for the glory of God the Father.

The insertion of the word “gladly” means you can’t pretend this verse means that one day God’s going to force knees to bow.

But I also enjoyed the many footnotes (Really!) with explanations for why he translated things a certain way. And I especially enjoyed the section at the back titled, “Concluding Scientific Postscript.” It includes some particular notes on the Prologue of John’s Gospel and some details in the Greek that can’t really be expressed in English. Then he includes notes on translating nineteen specific words, beginning with aionios, “which in most traditional translations is rendered as ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting,’ except in the many instances where such a reading would be nonsensical.” He goes on for several pages about why this is not an appropriate translation, referencing extra-biblical Greek sources as well as the Greek-speaking church fathers, besides giving other reasons for his choices. Of course this is a crucial point for universalists, and he makes a strong case. The second word he looks at in depth is gehenna, and he explains why “hell” is not an appropriate translation for that. The rest of the words do not apply so particularly to universalism, but it’s all tremendously interesting and enlightening, and gives insight into what the Bible says.

David Bentley Hart finishes up this volume with these words:

I do hope this translation will, for many readers, help to cast new light on his or her understanding of the origins and contents of Christian faith. And I repeat my assertion, which may seem slightly incredible, that I have tried not to advance my theological or ideological agenda, but rather to capture in English as much of the suggestiveness and uncertainty and mystery of the original Greek as possible, precisely in order to prevent any prior set of commitments from determining for the reader in advance what it is that the text must say (even when it does not).

Why review this book? To let other students of Scripture know about this amazing resource. I hope some of you will seek out a copy to aid in your own study.

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Review of Return of the Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

Monday, October 12th, 2020

Return of the Thief

by Megan Whalen Turner

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 464 pages.
Reviewed October 12, 2020, from my own copy, preordered via
Starred Review

She did it. Megan Whalen Turner brought her Queen’s Thief series to an amazing conclusion. And I’m sad it’s come to an end, but happy about what an amazing series this is.

The publisher persists in talking about these as stand-alone books. There’s a sense in which they are – since this new book introduces a new character as narrator and shows his perspective on some of the events that happened in earlier books. But if you’re tempted to jump into the series in the middle, don’t do it! Start at the beginning and you’ll understand the multiple threads coming together in this amazing conclusion. (I suspect the publisher does this because it took the author twenty years to write the six books. Look at it this way: If you’re only starting the series now, you can read them ALL and don’t have to wait years for the next installment.)

I never want to say a lot about the plot of these books, so as to not give away things that went before. I will say that the long-anticipated invasion of the Medes happens in this book. So the countries of the peninsula need to unite – and they still have some trouble with that.

I love the narrator in this book. He’s a new character, Pheris, the mute and deformed grandson and heir of the powerful and treacherous Baron Erondites of Attolia. Pheris has been forced to come to the court of Attolia, and he sees and understands more than most people realize.

There’s cryptic intervention from the gods, as usual. And plots and intrigue and questions of trust. The plot isn’t quite as twisty as the other books in the series – but in war with the Median empire, there’s so much at stake that every decision requires wisdom and has weighty consequences.

And she’s such a good writer! The whole world and the political relationships feel authentic and nuanced. The characters are realistically imperfect – especially Eugenides, who never really wanted to be a king at all, let alone a high king.

I don’t have to write a review at all really. For those who have read any of the other books, all I have to do is say: The conclusion to The Queen’s Thief series is out!

I’m currently a panelist for the Cybils Awards Round One, so I’m going to have to wait until January to sit down and reread the entire series. I’m looking forward to it!

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Review of Fighting Words, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

Fighting Words

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 259 pages.
Review written September 19, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Wow. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is better than any writer I know at instilling in my heart a fierce, compassionate love for girls who have come through abuse. That may sound like it’s a sordid, gritty story – but she manages to write about such things in a way that’s full of light and beauty.

I’m thinking of her Newbery Honor-winning book The War That Saved My Life along with this one. The books are totally different, but they both have beautiful young girls trying to make the best of things who don’t even realize that what they’ve been through is not normal and is not what they deserve.

Wait a second. I’m afraid that telling you that might put you off. So before I get into what this book is about, I need to tell you that you need to read this novel! And that your children older than 4th grade or so should read this novel! And that you and they will love it and you will love the characters and you will come away with a better understanding of how to stand together with anyone who’s being treated badly. This book has gotten SEVEN starred reviews – that’s every major book review publication. It’s that good.

Yes, Fighting Words deals with sexual abuse – but it happened in the past. When it comes out what happened, the description is not graphic or detailed at all. The fact is, it’s unfortunately true that one in ten children will be sexually abused before they are eighteen. So even if your child is not, they may have a friend who is. And although you might want to protect your child from even thinking about this, instead you can let them read about it in a beautiful context of love and grace through the safe pages of a book that shows a kid coping with it as best she can and with the help of supportive grown-ups.

Della (short for Delicious) is telling her story in this book. The author nicely gets around the problem of being realistic while not including lots of swear words by having Della say this at the beginning:

Suki says whenever I want to use a bad word, I can say snow. Or snowflake. Or snowy.

There’s a lot of snow in this story.

As the story begins, 10-year-old Della and her older sister Suki are in a new foster home in Tennessee, and Della’s starting at a new school. Their mother is incarcerated in Kansas, after having a psychotic break from overuse of meth. They can’t visit her and she wouldn’t recognize them if they did. But Suki has always taken good care of Della, especially in the five years since her mother was arrested.

During those years, Della and Suki were staying with Clifton, who was their mother’s current partner before she was incarcerated. But for some reason, they fled Clifton’s place. Now they’re in foster care and Della’s starting a new school and they’ve been sent to therapists, and Della’s writing out her story.

Della’s teacher isn’t very happy with Della and her frequent use of snowy language. Suki gets a job at the local grocery store and Della ends up having to go to an after-school program most days, and hangs out at the grocery store deli on Friday nights. But Della does make friends with some other girls in her class.

I’m going to talk about a truly wonderful scene toward the end of this book. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler, because this is only a subplot, but if you don’t want to hear about anything except the beginning of a book, stop right here.

There’s a boy in their class who copied an older friend by snapping girls’ bra straps. But fourth grade girls mostly don’t wear bras, so instead he gives the girls a hard pinch in the middle of their backs and calls them babies. This makes Della angry. When she responded by swearing at him, she got in trouble. When she responded by punching him, she got in trouble. But in a lovely scene later in the book, after she’s had some sessions with a therapist, here’s what happens:

I jumped to my feet. I spun around and stepped forward so my entire body was about an inch away from Trevor’s. I pulled my fist back to punch him.

And then I didn’t.

I didn’t punch him.

Instead I looked him straight in the eye. I said, loud and clear into the silence that had fallen on the class, “You just pinched me, and you need to stop. Never touch me again. Never touch me or any girl in this class without permission ever again.

At first, the teacher just wants Della to sit down. But one by one, six other girls stand up and back Della up. The teacher finally has to take it seriously. And she does affirm what Della said, that no one is allowed to touch anyone else without permission.

The whole series of incidents seems so much more realistic than if Trevor just reformed. We do get some insight into what he’s dealing with, but also that what will keep him in line is that he won’t get away with it. I loved the way Della found her pack and when she spoke up, her friends had her back. The book also acknowledged that everybody any of the girls had mentioned it to before this had not taken it seriously. But that this, too, is an issue of consent.

So yes, this book models good behavior learned from therapists – but it doesn’t feel canned and doesn’t feel trite. You see a girl with a fighting spirit trying to deal with awful things that have happened to herself and her sister. The overall message is that they will come through.

There’s an Author’s Note at the back, and it begins like this:

The first thing I want you to know is, it happened to me.

The second thing is, I was able to heal. It took time, and work, and I did it. People can always heal.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Nominate These Books!

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

It’s Cybils Time!

Time to nominate books, that is!

The Cybils Awards are the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards, and once again I’m serving as a Panelist for Round One, this time for Young Adult Fiction and Speculative Fiction both. I’m going to need to do lots of reading through Christmas!

But now is the time that anyone can nominate books they’ve enjoyed this year. The books must have been published between October 16, 2019 and October 15, 2020. (I always feel sorry for October books. If they’re published before the 15th, nobody’s read them in time to nominate, so they mostly have to get nominated on faith. If they’re published after the 15th, people have forgotten about them by Cybils time next year.)

I’ve read 21 young adult books so far this year, but I’m really frustrated because only TWO of those have gotten nominated so far! (And one was nominated that I read in 2019.) And I only get one nomination in each category — Young Adult Fiction and Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Believe me, more than one of these books deserve consideration!

[I’ll try to update by putting brackets around books that get nominated.]

So let me urge you, dear reader, to nominate one of the following books, if you don’t already have a book you’ve read in each category that you want to nominate.

I’ll start with books I’ve read that definitely deserve consideration but haven’t been nominated yet as of this writing. (Links to my reviews if they’ve been posted.)

In Young Adult Speculative Fiction:
The Toll, by Neal Shusterman
[The Queen of Nothing, by Holly Black]
[Red Hood, by Elana K. Arnold]
Igniting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers
[Kind of a Big Deal, by Shannon Hale]

In Young Adult Fiction:
[Dangerous Alliance, by Jennieke Cohen]
Darius the Great Deserves Better, by Adib Khorram
The Hand on the Wall, by Maureen Johnson
We Used to Be Friends, by Amy Spalding
The Gravity of Us, by Phil Stamper

In Middle Grade Fiction:
Wink, by Rob Harrell
[A Home for Goddesses and Dogs, by Leslie Connor]
[Here in the Real World, by Sara Pennypacker]

In Elementary Nonfiction:
[The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity, by Amy Alznauer and Daniel Miyares]
Hello, Neighbor!, by Matthew Cordell
[Girl on a Motorcycle, by Amy Novesky and Julie Morstad]
Our Subway Baby, by Peter Mercurio and Leo Espinosa
Ruth Objects, by Doreen Rappaport and Eric Velasquez
Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children, by Jonah Winter and Nancy Carpenter

In High School Nonfiction:
In Search of Safety, by Susan Kuklin

In Fiction Picture Books:
Madame Badobedah, by Sophie Dahl and Lauren O’Hara
Rita and Ralph’s Rotten Day, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Pete Oswald
In my Garden, by Charlotte Zolotow and Philip C. Stead
Bedtime Bonnet, by Nancy Redd and Nneka Myers
Sunny, by Celia Krampien
A New Green Day, by Antoinette Portis
I Can Be Anything, by Shinsuke Yoshitake
[The Blue House, by Phoebe Wahl]
Sun Flower Lion, by Kevin Henkes
Catch That Chicken!, by Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank

In Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, I haven’t read these, but these good authors have eligible books out:
The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay (not sure if it’s Speculative)
Homerooms and Hall Passes: Heroes Level Up, by Tom O’Connell
The Rider’s Reign, by Jessica Day George
Toto, by Michael Morpurgo

In Middle Grade Fiction, more eligible books by good authors:
Fly on the Wall, by Remy Lai
[Starting from Seneca Falls, by Karen Schwabach]

Next, here are some books that look intriguing and I’d love to have the excuse to read, so I hope they get nominated in my category!

In Young Adult Speculative Fiction:
[The Princess Will Save You, by Sarah Henning]
A Heart So Fierce and Broken, by Brigid Kemmerer
The Beast Warrior, by Nahoko Uehashi
Lost and Found, by Orson Scott Card
Children of Virtue and Vengeance, by Tomi Adeyemi
The Empire of Dreams, by Rae Carson
My Calamity Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

In Young Adult Fiction:
A Cloud of Outrageous Blue, by Vesper Stamper
Illegal, by Francisco X. Stork
Again Again, by E. Lockhart
Suggested Reading, by Dave Connis
[The Bridge, by Bill Konigsberg]
How It All Blew Up, by Arvin Ahmadi
Where We Are, by Alison McGhee

Please do us all a favor and nominate some books! Thank you!

Don’t wait too long — nominations close October 15!

Review of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

by Garth Nix

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 393 pages.
Review written September 29, 2020, from my own copy, ordered via
Starred Review

I think the title of this book is utterly delightful. The caption on the cover: “Authorized to kill… and sell books” only makes it better. When I heard this was coming out and saw it was by one of my favorite authors, Garth Nix, I preordered a copy. Then I forgot it was coming, and was happily in between books when it arrived at my doorstep. I got to indulge myself and finish it on the weekend, discovering a very fun story filled with imaginative details, lots of danger, and satisfying challenges.

The story is set in an alternate London in 1983. Susan Arkshaw turned 18 on May Day, and she has come to London to settle in before starting art school. She hopes to find out who her father was while she is in London – her mother has always been vague about that, but has given Susan a few clues.

She begins her adventure thinking she’ll stay with “Uncle Frank,” who sends her mom Christmas cards, but not long after she gets to Uncle Frank’s place and decides she doesn’t want to stay, Frank gets disintegrated with a silver pin by a handsome young man wearing a glove on his left hand. As Susan shouts about calling the police, a giant louse bursts into the room, and the young man kills that as well. They make hasty introductions, and his name is Merlin, but then she asks him what’s going on:

“Can’t explain here,” said Merlin, who had gone to the window and was lifting the sash.

“Why not?” asked Susan.

“Because we’ll both be dead if we stay. Come on.”

He went out through the window.

Susan looked at the phone, and thought about calling the police. But after a single second more of careful but lightning-fast thought, she followed him.

That night, a black and thick fog comes after them, inhabited by a Shuck, which gives off an intense and foul smell. They must walk an ancient path back and forth until sunrise to stay safe. And even then get arrows fired at them by an otherworldly creature.

Susan gets housed in a special safe house, but attacks keep happening. It seems to have something to do with whomever her father is. And the left-handed booksellers of London know how to deal with the ancient forces. Or at least she hopes they do.

Merlin takes a special interest in Susan’s case, along with his sister Vivien, who is a right-handed bookseller and has different skills. Of course, following up with Susan leads to more and more danger for all of them.

It all adds up to an otherworldly adventure, trying to find out what they need to do to survive ancient forces unleashed against them. With the banter between characters, the book manages to be a fun and light-hearted read rather than dark and scary.

As Susan finds out about the Other World, she recognizes some things, leading to this favorite bit of mine:

“Children’s writers,” said Merlin. “Dangerous bunch. They cause us a lot of trouble.”

“How?” asked Susan.

“They don’t do it on purpose,” said Merlin. He opened the door. “But quite often they discover the key to raise some ancient myth, or release something that should have stayed imprisoned, and they share that knowledge via their writing. Stories aren’t always merely stories, you know. Come on.”

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