Tuesday, March 24, 2020

We need fantasy books at times like these!

Meehl, Brian. Blowback '94 (Blowback #3)
February 6th 2020 by Twisko Press
Copy graciously provided by the author

Arky and Matt got to travel back in time to the Carlisle Indian School in Blowback '07, and Arky and Danny visited the time of the Civil War in Blowback '63. Now, Iris finds herself transported along with Arky to the Moulin Rouge in Paris in 1894 to finally solve the mystery behind their mother's disappearance. Iris isn't all that pleased to be hurtled back in time; she has an audition for a summer music camp and Matt has asked her to the prom. When their father, Howard, realizes the two are missing, he isn't happy with the situation. Back in Paris, the two quickly steal some clothing more appropriate to the time and are able to find out that their mother is performing, and even get her address! They convince the landlady that Octavia is their mother, and are able to stay in her apartment even though she is gone. When they finally meet up with her, they are a little confused as to why she is sharing the family Legend of the Cor Anglais with the public, especially since James (the son of Rufus, whom Arky had met during the Civil War) doesn't want her to. Octavia says she has figured out the Horn of Angels paradigm, but isn't quite ready to share it. Iris and Arky make themselves at home in this time period; James gets Iris a job assisting musicians, and Arky a job assisting  Le Pétomane, a professional farter (and real historical character). Arky tries to quit, but his mother threatens to burn the cor anglais if he does. The two get to meet a wide array of historical figures like Degas; their mother also knows Toulouse Latrec, and Iris is thrilled to get to visit La Grande Jatte. Arky has a romance with a ballet dancer, but it is ill fated. They both learn more of the family history
Strengths: This book is a must read, if only for the scenes with Le Pétomane! I know that the first book in this series is really popular with my sports fans, and the second draws the Civil War readers, but the detailed descriptions of the act at the Moulin Rouge will delight most middle schoolers. The details about living in Paris and working in the theater were astonishing, and I loved that Iris had to work within the constraints of being female at a time when options were so limited for women. The backstory to the cors anglais is so intricately constructed, and the conclusion very satisfying. I love the Dvorak piece the family mystery is built around and have been humming it all day!
Weaknesses: This is more of a high school book, but there's nothing inappropriate for middle school; just a bit coarse. Iris' 21st century clothes get her mistaken for a prostitute, and there's some very run of the mill swearing.
What I really think: This is a fantastic series for older middle school readers and absolutely necessary for high school collections. The time travel elements are well thought out, and the historical descriptions really enlightening.

Abu-Jaber, Diana. Silverworld
March 17th 2020 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Samara and her mother and brother have recently moved to Florida, and Samara's Teta (grandmother) lives with them. During the past several months, Teta has had a hard time communicating, and only Sami really can understand her. Her mother, Alia, and her sister, Ivory, want to move the grandmother into a nursing home, since they are concerned that she is weakening and and her health is in danger. Sami, who is very close to her grandmother, disagrees. She and Teta have spent a long time talking about the past, and Sami loves the stories of her grandmother's Bedouin childhood. These stories often incorporate elements of adventure, magic, and creatures like Ifrits, and there is also a book that her grandmother has promised to show her when she turns 12. Fearing that her mother will be moving her grandmother to a facility very soon, Sami searches for the book, finds it, and is suddenly sent through an antique mirror from Teta's past. There, she finds Silverworld, which is a mirror of her own world, but filled with Flickers, Rebalancers, and evil Shadows. With the help of Dorsom and Natala, Sami discovers that Nixie, who is very powerful in the alternate reality, is very unhappy and trying to make everyone else unhappy as well. This is in turn affecting Teta, who is uncommunicative because she is trying to hide from Nixie and keep everyone safe. After a brief visit back to the "Actual" world, Sami starts on a quest to confront the Nixie in order to save Silverworld and her grandmother. This is fraught with peril, adventure, and an array of magical creatures like Bat, mermaids, and even her Teta's alter ego. Will Sami be able to defeat the Nixie and make it back home?
Strengths: Drawing on the author's Jordanian cultural heritage makes Sami's connection with her garndmother's past vivid and interesting, and also makes Sami's feelings of being torn between two worlds very moving. Sami being a Silverwalker, able to travel between both worlds, is exciting, and her mission to save both the world and her grandmother is accomplished by participating in a quest that incorporates a lot of intriguing characters. Dorsum and Natala are helpful and sympathetic companions. I loved the description of food, clothing and artifacts connected to the grandmother.
Weaknesses: World building in a fantasy book is difficult, and there are parts of this that would have been more exciting if we had been shown, rather than told, about the world. Because my mother has been in a dementia unit for the past two years, I am also a little concerned that Sami thinks the nursing home is SO terrible; given Teta's state, it is wise and cautious to send her to one.
What I really think: I enjoyed this, maybe because it is eerily similar to my half finished fantasy novel. Mine was about a grandfather slipping into dementia that was really caused because he was a king in a Grimm's Fairy Tale inspired realm and was being held hostage! This isn't a perfect fantasy novel, but the cultural connections make this well worth investigating. I will definitely buy a copy for fans of Crowl's Eden's Wish and other light fantasy adventures.

Gibbs, Stuart. Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (FunJungle #6)
March 24th 2020 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Teddy and his friends are on high alert when a zebra spanker is making the rounds of zoo across the nation, slapping unsuspecting animals and then posting videos of their exploits. Of course, they manage to take care of this threat quickly, but there is another one: a dinosaur skull has been found on Sage's family farm, and they hope to sell it in order to keep the farm running. When the skull goes missing, Teddy and Summer are called in to help, even though Summer's father is a suspect. We get to see the landscape of Texas outside of FunJungle, and meet some interesting new characters as the children figure out how such an enormous artifact could be moved.
Strengths: Like all of Gibbs' work, this starts out strong and continues with so many wonderful and funny turns of phrase. I really enjoy how he has funny things but also makes a strong environmental and animal rights statement-- copycat zebra spankers end up getting injured, but not gravely so. And honestly, I've spent the last couple of days saying "zebra spanker" to myself and giggling! Even Marge makes an appearance, and her treatment has improved since the first book. The mystery is well developed, the new characters odd but not overly quirky, and Teddy's involvement with the law is realistic.
Weaknesses: My students are HUGE fans of Gibbs' work, so when I mentioned I had read this there was quite a conversation with some students. One of them said "I love the books, but I really think Teddy has become a flat character. There's really nothing new we learn about him, and he doesn't really grow." Wow. Sometimes students DO listen in class. I love the books as well, but agree that Teddy, and his relationship with Summer, isn't really changing much.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and there will be many reserves. I had to purchase additional copies of the first books in all of Gibbs' series to keep up with the demand created by readers recommending the books to their friends!
Ms. Yingling


  1. How did I not know you have a half finished fantasy novel?? Reading is certainly an escape at the moment.

  2. Dementia being a result of something happening in an alternate existence is a really cool idea and deserves more than one book exploring the possibilities!

    PS: hope it's okay that I'm sharing your What to Do ideas with my sister and brother who have kids home from school who are going stir-crazy!

    1. Please do! I have posts planned for all of next week already.