The Dinosaur Hunters by Patrick Samphire

Not too far in the future, four authors whose books I have read and very much enjoyed will be doing an author event that would be close enough to consider if it worked with my schedule.  Alas, it does not.  But if you will be in the Lansing, Michigan area on the evening of August 9, you could go see Stephanie Burgis, Jim C. Hines, Merrie Haskell, and Patrick Samphire at Schuler Books.  Here’s the Facebook event page.

Meantime, I recently read this novella by Patrick Samphire set in the same world as Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, which he was kind enough to send me as a review copy.  I’m keeping thoughts brief only because I’m short on time, not for lack of book love.

The Dinosaur Hunters by Patrick SamphireThe Dinosaur Hunters by Patrick Samphire. Five Fathoms Press, 2016.
Sixteen-year-old Harriet lives on Regency-era Mars in the care of her married older sister, who has just gotten it into her head that Harriet needs to be safely married off.  Harriett is appalled, but jumps at the chance to help her bumbling police inspector brother-in-law Bertrand save his job by helping him track down the notorious thief the Glass Phantom.  That villain is reported to be in the area with designs to steal a fabulously expensive necklace from the Countess von Krakendorff.  (In this world, dinosaurs are still alive on Mars, though rare.) Since the Countess is heading on a dinosaur hunting expedition beyond the wall that separates the dinosaurs from civilization, Harriett disguises herself as Harry and heads out with Bertrand.  There will be airship travel, lots of characters with secrets, ancient artifacts, curious Martian wildlife, and of course, encounters with dinosaurs.

I enjoyed Secrets of the Dragon Tomb quite a lot, but this story, featuring a girl dissatisfied with her social lot and determined to find more in her life, was a little bit more to my taste.  The details of the curious Martian wildlife and artifacts are just as delightful, and the attention to the social mores of the by-gone era as precise.  There’s also more of a look at the former natives of Mars – I would really like a fuller exploration of this topic!  The story is also aimed a little bit older, involving an actual murder (though of a disagreeable character.)  I wasn’t quite sure that all the ends were tied up – but as the story is left open for sequels, I shall happily wait for more.  All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Dinosaur Hunters.

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before & P.S. I Still Love You

Way back in April, the Top 10 Tuesday theme was “__ Books That Make Me Laugh Out Loud.” – I did Middle Grade Fantasies That Make Me Laugh Out Loud, of course.  But some other book blogger I stumbled upon (mea culpa! I didn’t write down her name!) in exploring the other people who’d signed up had put the first of these books on her list. It had been on my radar since it first came out, but being contemporary and realistic, had never quite made it to the top of the list. This pushed me into actually checking it out and starting it on my break that day.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny HanTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Simon & Schuster, 2014.
This book starts out awfully sad for a book billed here as funny.  High school junior Lara Jean Covey is the middle of the three Song girls – Song being their deceased mother’s middle name.  That sad event happened several years ago, but they are still feeling the pain.  Now oldest sister Margot, who’s kept the family running while their doctor father is at work, is leaving for college in Scotland.  She’s breaking Lara Jean’s heart by breaking things off with long-time Josh next door – Lara Jean is afraid that Josh will no longer be the close family friend he’s been for so many years.

The humor comes a bit later.  Ever since eighth grade, Lara Jean has written letters to boys she had crushes on when she’s decided it’s time for her to get over them, detailing all the things she loved about them.  They’ve lived in a hat box in her room – but now the hat box is gone, and boys are coming to her at school, ancient letters in hand.  Josh gets one.  Super-handsome athlete Peter Kavinsky gets one.  Choices are made to stop the flood of embarrassment that only make sense to a hormone-fueled teenage brain.

This is definitely a teen romance, and despite the decidedly made-up situation, it has the solid ring of truth underneath it.  Lara Jean’s life is filled with many things beyond boys, including her love of baking and her discomfort with driving, having just learned to do so. Her circle includes fleshed-out family members and several friends, including strong-willed and temperamental younger sister Kitty, friendly Josh, and “bad girl” best friend Chris.  While the drama feels relatable to any modern teen, Lara Jean’s part-Korean heritage is an important part of her family culture. Though the Korean may be more particular, the integration of old and new traditions felt familiar to me, as well.  I fell in love with Lara Jean and went right on to the next book.

psistillloveyouP.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han. Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Trying to stay as free from spoilers as possible – Lara Jean’s romantic life, which seemed beautiful at the end of the last book, is now developing wrinkles.  The most romantic moment in her life was caught on video and published on the locally popular website Anonybitch.  Lara Jean is quickly recognized and suffers the full force of modern opinions on teen girl’s sexuality, put through the wringer both for the modest nightgown she was wearing and being called a slut by fellow students and encouraged to do better by herself by teachers.

At the same time, Lara Jean is working at the nursing home, setting up dances and scrapbooking, while getting advice from seniors Stormy and Alicia on dating and life.  Kitty has an expanding self-awareness, and she has decided to rope Lara Jean into trying to get their dad to date again.

This has the same heady mix of relationships romantic and not, ethical dilemmas, trouble and hilarity.  I was very excited to read just last week that Han is writing a new one.

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State of the Book Basket – July 2016

Summertime! We have hit a momentous milestone in our reading lives: the kids are now good enough readers to put the books in a bookstand and read during breakfast. I’ve always done this, but the interruptions are slightly less when I’m not the only one reading. Here’s what we’re reading:

My daughter, now six and three quarters, as she likes to say, is moving back and forth between picture books (Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley and Cecil the Pet Glacier by Matthea Harvey from the library, as well as ones we own) and chapter books (Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke, and Sofia Martinez: Singing Superstar by Jacqueline Jules.) She’ll read some Magic Tree House, a picture book, and then back to a chapter book.

She just decided that she needed to read a graphic memoir I just finished herself – Something New by Lucy Knisley, her story of planning her wedding. It’s quite dense for a rising second-grader, but she seems to be motivated! I’m reading her Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus, as well as Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan, depending on what she feels like. That last is the perfect level for read-aloud: interesting to her but just advanced enough that she isn’t tempted to read ahead on her own. We’re listening to both Charlotte’s Web and Pie by Sarah Weeks in the car.

My son, age eleven, has finally found a print series he wants to read all the way through! It’s Hikaru No Go by Yumi Hotta, about the ancient strategy game of Go, which my love learned as a child from his older brother. My boy was (last I checked) on volume 10 of 23. He’s also looking at some Greek mythology books and asked if he could read Something New, too. I’m reading him my childhood summer favorite The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. It’s not really surprising that there are some uncomfortable moments in this book, first published in 1903. I’m just surprised that I didn’t notice the awfulness of the (mercifully brief) blackface scene until reading it aloud, at which point we had to halt for a conversation to discuss why it’s so inappropriate. Also not free of sexism, though that’s a good deal less obvious here than in, say, Peter Pan. He’s listening to Mister Monday by Garth Nix on his iPod, and we’re listening to The BFG by Roald Dahl in the car. (Somehow I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory repeatedly as a child, The Great Glass Elevator once or twice, and no other Roald Dahl until now.) There’s also some sexism here, but at least readily apparent and easy to discuss.

My love recently purchased Velveteen vs. the Seasons by Seanan McGuire and read it in record time. I think he’s now gone back to re-read Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots. We are both (separately) listening to Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. This has won so many awards and is loved by many of my favorite book bloggers as well. We are still trying to figure out what’s going on enough to know if we’ll love it or not.

I have my usual long queue of mostly library books. I’m reading Vitamin N by Richard Louv in hard copy (looking especially for ideas to get the Brownie troop more nature experiences) and Black Dog Short Stories by Rachel Neumeier (purchased) on my ereader. I’ve got The Dinosaur Hunters by Patrick Samphire (a review copy!) up next on my ereader, and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai, Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman, Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung, The Game of Silence by Lousie Erdrich, the Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski, and Poison is Not Polite by Robin Stevens in line in print. My love would also like me to read the complete Justice League: New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke, which I am absolutely planning to do as soon as there aren’t so many library books checked out. As soon as I finish Ancillary Justice, I also have a Great Course on CD, Medieval Heroines in History and Legend Part 1 by Bonnie Wheeler.

What are you reading?

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The War That Saved My Life

This is one that won a Newbery honor, the Odyssey award for best audiobook for children.  And even more importantly for me, Maureen at By Singing Light  really, really, really liked it.

warthatsavedmylifeThe War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Read by Jayne Entwhistle. Random House/ Listening Library, 2015.
Ada has lived her whole life in a tiny London flat with her little brother Jamie and Mam.  Mam has always told her that her clubfoot makes her too hideous for anyone to see, so Ada has never left the room or learned to walk.  When Jamie tells Ada that children are being sent away from London because of risk of German bombs, Mam is clear that she intends to send only Jamie away.  Ada secretly teaches herself to walk so that she can go with Jamie, the only person she loves.

In the country, no one wants a pair of ragged, dirty children, one of whom is a cripple.  They’re pushed onto Susan Smith, a single woman so locked in grief over the loss of her best friend some years earlier that she wants nothing to do with them.  Slowly, the children draw Susan out of her shell.  (Standard children’s literature theme: children are good for adults, whether or not they think they want them.)  Susan has a pony, Butter, whom Ada learns to ride.  Slowly, slowly, Ada deals with the weight of her ignorance about the world and the depth of her self-hatred.  She is often angry and out-of-control in a way that felt very realistic for an abuse survivor, as she struggles to learn to read and write, to accept gifts, to make friends.  Always, there is the fear that Mam will take them back.  Towards the end of the book, there are bombs and a German spy – the last of which I agree with Maureen did not feel necessary to the story.

It’s read by Jayne Entwhistle, who also narrated The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.  She says in a conversation with her at the end of the book that she toned down her accents for American audiences, but the different in lower-class London and upper-middle-class Kent is still clear. I wasn’t sure after the multiple narrators and integrated music of Echo how this one might be better – but this is just amazing.

This is character-driven historical fiction done to perfection.  I found myself worrying for Ada and Jamie frequently as I was listening to the book.  The bombs and spies were such an abrupt addition towards the end that I’m not sure how kids would react to it – it felt like possibly too much for the sensitive reader (though the child abuse with Mam is pretty severe, too), while I could see a plot-first reader like my son waiting impatiently for actual war stuff to start happening.  Still, it was just about a perfect book for me, and a great choice for a family audiobook listening with kids of middle grade age and up.

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3 Positive Parenting Books

There are times when I go years between reading parenting books, and times when I feel like I need an infusion of new, helpful ideas.  Here are brief summaries of my recent reading, with thanks to my dear friend Dr. M. who found and recommended to me all my favorites here.  All my favorites are centered on classic positive parenting principles. Continue reading

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Diversity on the Shelf – June Update

I’m participating in the Diversity on the Shelf challenge hosted by Akilah at the Englishist.

I read 19 books in June, not including two I didn’t finish – one because it wasn’t working for me and one because I was reading Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon aloud to my daughter, who liked it so much that she finished it on her own.  By the levels, one early chapter-ish book, 9 middle grade, 3 teen, and 6 adult.

Four books by authors of color:

  • Booked by Kwame Alexander (middle grade)
  • Sewing Happiness by Sanae Ishida (craft, adult nonfiction)
  • Spirit Week Showdown. The Magnificent Mya Tibbs 1 by Crystal Allen (middle grade)
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (adult)

Three by white authors with main characters of color:

  • Little Robot by Ben Hatke (children’s graphic novel, low word count)
  • Court of Fives by Kate Elliott (teen)
  • The Beatriceid by Kate Elliott (adult short fiction/ epic poem)

Bonus nonfiction interviewing lots of girls, including many of color:

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein

  • Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein (adult)

 My total count for authors of color this year is now at 30, with an additional 18 books by white authors with main characters of color.  That puts me exactly halfway to my goal of reading 60 books by authors of color this year – right on target, but I can’t slack off now!

I’m still working on finding and reading more chapter books starring girls of color suitable for classroom read-alouds from K-3. The ones I’m reading now will show up next month, but I’m still open to suggestions!  I’m especially in need of books with Asian and Latina protagonists.

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Top 10 Under-Rated Books

It’s Tuesday again!  I still need to write my monthly reading summary, and we won’t even talk about how far behind I am on reviews.  But this week’s Top 10 Tuesday topic (hosted as always by the good folks at the Broke and the Bookish) was both such a fun challenge and an opportunity to promote some of my favorite underappreciated books that I found myself participating again.  The cut-off was officially books that have under 2000 Goodreads ratings, but when I saw how low some of my favorites were, I took it down to under 600, with honorable mentions that have a few more.  Without further ado, here are my top ten under-rated middle grade and teen books, mostly fantasy as usual.  Links to my reveiws; numbers of Goodreads ratings in parentheses.

Top Ten Tuesday

Middle Grade

Honorable Mention: Rose by Holly Webb (1,360)


Honorable Mention: The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston (1,769)

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TTT: Top 10 Summer Crafting Books

This week’s topic at Top 10 Tuesday (hosted by the good folks at the Broke and the Bookish) was a freebie. Even though I don’t actually have more time in the summer than during the school year, somehow I always find myself drawn to craft books over the summer, as if I’ll magically have time to do more.  Just dreaming is half the fun! Links to my reviews where available.

Top Ten Tuesday


Foolproof Preserving by America’s Test Kitchen I’ve never yet canned anything but applesauce and apple butter, but I have this book on hold at the library in hopes that this will be the year I make my own jam!

Campfire Cookery by Sarah Huck and Jaime Young – gourmet cooking over the campfire, this was a dream from a few summers ago.

Homemade Soda by Andrew Schloss  – this one we bought, as well as a soda siphon, though we’re now just as likely to mix lemon juice and carbonated water for a light drink.

The Weekend Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge – a favorite in my house, this is full of fruit-based desserts like Uncomplicated Fruit-Topped Yellow Cake, many with variations depending on the season.


Handmade Garden Projects by Lorene Edwards Forkner – this book is full of lovely things to put in the garden, meant for people with more time than money.

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots written and illustrated by Sharon Lovejoy – beautiful hand-lettered and illustrated plans for garden meant for children, both to help with and to play in.


Charmed Knits by Alison Hanson – I thought I wasn’t enough of a Harry Potter fan to want to put in the time to knit Harry Potter things.  I was wrong, as it turns out.  I’ve knit more from this one book than from all of the other knitting books I own.  (I also have and love the Interweave Knits Unofficial Harry Potter Knits special issue.)

Literary Knits by Nikol Lohr – fun patterns relating to favorite book characters.


Fabric-by-Fabric One-Yard Wonders by Rebecca Yaker and Patricia Hoskins. – Low-commitment patterns perfect for relaxing sewing.

Sewing Happiness by Sanae Ishida – This recent find prompted this whole list, as the author gives a year’s worth of unfussy projects like Japanese-style aprons, simple dresses, and a gorgeous felt floral wreath, along with thoughts on finding sanity making time for breathing, sleep, good food and crafting.

The Upcycled T-Shirt by Jenelle Montilone – Another recent find, this one is full of projects to make out of recycled old t-shirts, ranging from reusable household items like unpaper towels, dust mops and mitts and produce bags to garments, tote bags and a gorgeous quilt.  Some are no-sew, some simple enough sewing for kids, and some use arm knitting.  I have a feeling our Brownies will be doing some crafts from this book this year!

What do you dream of doing with spare time?

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Space Hostages by Sophia McDougall

Hooray! The sequel to last year’s Cybils finalist Mars Evacuees.


spacehostagesSpace Hostages by Sophia McDougall. Published in the U.K. by Egmont, 2015, in the U.S. by Harper, 2016.
Following her return from Mars and the publication of her memoir on the subject, Mars Evacuees, Alice Dare is now considered one of the celebrated “Plucky Kids of Mars.” She’s all set to go on a new space with the other Plucky Kids to celebrate the official opening of the new Morror planet. Kind of accidentally/on purpose, she ends up on the ship without her father. She’s thrilled to see Carl, his younger brother Noel and Thsaa – but her former best friend Josephine isn’t speaking to her anymore, preferring to spend time with her older sister. As an added wrinkle, they’re travelling on the luxury cruiser Helen of Troy, owned and operated by Captain Trommler, the father of Christa Trommler, the bully from the last book. She’s on board, too, and not happy about her portrayal in Alice’s book. Captain Trommler has very creepily programmed the Helen to be in love with him and want to obey him, something that even Goldfish finds suspicious.

Things are going rough in the way that you might expect when getting together a disparate group of people after a while when the ship is boarded by a new alien species, the Krakkiluk, who are 9-ft tall crustaceans with highly decorated shells. They revere the married couple to the point of only being willing to negotiate with married people, and then only as a couple, and do not think that “spawn” are really people. Thus it happens that part of our group finds themselves marooned on a new planet without even having any duct tape! And this planet is home to another species, a brightly-colored fruit bat-like people all too familiar with the Krakkiluk…

As the group is split into two, the story is narrated part of the time by Noel. This makes me want to jump up and down with excitement, not only because Noel is a great character, perceptive and able to notice the humor in these stressful circumstances, but also because this is the first middle grade speculative fiction I’ve ever read with a POV character of Filipino extraction – finally a book in the only genre my son is really interested in that somewhat reflects that side of his heritage! It’s also great to see a kid younger than the other main character take center stage at least part of the time.

There is lots of high-stakes adventure here, along with realistic friendship struggles and looks at imperialism and the rights of species, children, and even artificial intelligences. But with all of that deep thinking and trying to stay alive (even the floating goldfish teacher-robot gets some serious moments) – it also made me laugh out loud frequently, and read many snippets to my family over the breakfast table. These books continue to impress me, and I really hope that there will be more of them.

This would also pair very well thematically with my beloved The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.

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Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

This book was showered in honors last year, including a Newbery honor and an Odyssey honor for audio production for children.  A great audiobook involving music, magic and history was one I didn’t want to miss.

echoEcho by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Read by Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, MacLeod Andrews, and Rebecca Soler. Scholastic, 2015.

A magical harmonica comes in and out of the lives of four children around World War II in this novel that reads like a series of linked novelettes.  In the first, short story, Otto in Germany gets lost in the forest and meets three sisters lost in time.   Next, we meet Friedrich, who has orchestral conducting in his blood but who had to leave school at an early age because of bullying around the constant conducting and the large birthmark that covers half his face.  He’s still hoping to attend the music conservatory, but his hopes are endangered as Hitler comes to power and his father attracts attention due to his outspoken support for Jews.  Continue reading

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