A few updates, some favorites from the last two years’ reviews, and very loose, mild goals for 2021.
So not only was 2020 a mess, I never really did a wrap up from 2019. I’ve gone ahead and updated my Review pages (2019, 2020) so let’s look at a few other things before getting into my favorites of the last two years and goals for 2021.
Middle Grade Mondays
For 2021 I am going to start a new occasional post, Middle Grade Monday. Towards the end of 2020, my Fiction Fridays were almost entirely diverse middle grade fantasy novels. I have a LOT more books in that category to read, review, or post about and am hoping to put out a second round up at the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022. But I also read a lot of other books including adult novels, YA, picture books, historical fiction, realistic stories, and even middle grade science fiction, all of which I would love to discuss on Fiction Friday.
I don’t want the diverse middle grade fantasy to overwhelm the blog, so sometime in the next few months I’ll be switching to posting that on Mondays and hopefully doing other fiction reviews for Fiction Fridays.
TL;DR – The advertising fake “sponsored post” content is NOT from me. Might have to figure out a new place to take CBR depending on how this goes.
Greetings dear readers.
I prefer to focus my time on producing content, so it distresses me to make another one of these this year. The good news is as of right now, I’m still creating content, with Fiction Fridays at least continuing for the next few months.
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH WORDPRESS?
The bad news is that WordPress is very suddenly testing a deceptive new feature called “sponsored content” in several places, including this blog. This is a practice of making a fake blog post which is actually an advertisement that is incorporated into one’s blog feed.
Readers are more likely to click on it for two reasons: 1) because it is formatted and styled just like a regular post 2) or because some bloggers do get paid to create and post specific content, which in some cases may still be of use or interest to their readers
DO I EVER CREATE SPONSORED POSTS? (NO! NEVER!)
For this blog, I do NOT do any sponsored posts. At times I accept free review copies of books that interest me, but always with the understanding that I may not write a favorable review. These posts where I get free review copies are ALWAYS labeled as such. I even mark books to indicate if I got them at the library, purchased them myself, or received them as a gift. At times I might refer to or collaborate with others and these posts are ALWAYS LABELED.
“I do not like waste and destruction. I do not want an enemy. If I must have an enemy, I do not want to seek him, and find him, and meet him. … If one must hunt, the prize should be a treasure, not a detestable thing.” page 113
The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle #3) by Ursula K. LeGuin. My edition Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001. Fantasy, 260 pages. Lexile: 920L . AR Level: 6.1 (worth 10.0 points) . NOTES: Please see review for age appropriateness. See my other posts under the Earthsea tag for more information on this series.
Arren travels with his idol Ged to solve the mystery of why magic is slowly disappearing from the islands of Earthsea.
The Farthest Shore is not without problems. Female characters continue to be minor or even unnamed. One secondary character suffers from mental illness and I had so many thoughts on that subplot they might not all fit in this post.
Parents and teachers should be aware of several aspects before handing this to a child. First, Arren has a crush on Ged. I read this as the sort of schoolchild hero worship that many children experience during puberty, but other readers have seen an unrequited romantic love. The text supports either interpretation. Ged absolutely does not have romantic or sexual feelings towards Arren, and their slightly forced companionship grows into mutual respect and esteem as events progress.
“In the middle sat an elegant woman with a medium brown complexion who appeared ageless and formidable. She held a large ivory staff decorated with leaves and flowers in one hand. There was no doubt in Jiho’s mind that this woman was in charge.” page 109
The Dragon Egg Princess by Ellen Oh.
HaperCollins, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 248 pages.
Not yet leveled.
Jiho Park is an anomaly in his highly magical kingdom – part of a family not affected by magic, which makes him destined to become a ranger protecting the Kidahara. But he wants nothing to with the forest and the magical creatures it protects and instead is intrigued by the foreigners from technologically advanced lands trying to tear down the forest in the middle of Joson. Meanwhile, two girls whose lives have been heavily affected by magic both have their own agendas – and when all three cross paths, the whole kingdom might be affected, for better or worse.
I wanted to love this so much – bought the hardcover, so yes I fully invested in this story. Sadly, it underwhelmed me on many points despite the appealing blubs from several authors I trust and the fabulous cover. Let me just take a minute to mention that I completely support Oh’s mission, her work on WNDB, and even her excellent anthologies, and continue to do so despite really not liking this book.
The setting had a unique feel. The land of Josen, the Kidahara forest, the permeation of magic in the kingdom, everything had a twist to it somewhere. But on the other hand it had some steampunk or even science fantasy elements, as some of the other kingdoms have no magic but focus instead on technology. The one other region with magic was also different, so a lot was packed into this book.
Worldbuilding was clearly a major focus of Oh’s, and she has a fairly detailed mythology likely to appeal to young fans of speculative fiction. While this book focuses on Joson, based in Korean mythology, Shane and Calvin are from another country called Bellprix and mention vampires, werewolves, and zombies. I only wish that more of the essential information about this world had been organically included in the action or dialogue, instead of being infodumped .
Lately I’ve seen several of those “What to Read After Harry Potter” type booklists*, mostly aimed at parents of middle grade readers who zoomed through that intense seven book series and are now voracious readers who aren’t quite ready for the heavier content in YA fantasy novels yet.
However, scanning through list after list, I quickly noticed few of those lists had even a single book with a character of color, let alone diverse authors. In some ways, that makes sense. While we’ve seen some improvements in children’s literature lately, genre fiction can be slower to change, and the “classics” haven’t caught up to new tastes in reading. But there ARE amazing diverse fantasy novels, many by #ownvoices authors, some that have been around for decades, and I was incredibly sad that those weren’t better known.
So this is one librarian mama’s list of diverse fantasy novels.** I considered these to be appropriate for middle grade readers, so generally not too much romance or graphic violence, but please click on the title of any book to read my full review including length, reading level, and age appropriateness – a few do skew towards older or younger MG readers.
“She was not accustomed to thinking about things changing, old ways dying and new ones arising. She did not find it comfortable to look at things in that light.” p 29
The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle #2) by Ursula K. LeGuin.
My edition Aladdin Paperbacks, New York, 2001; originally published 1970.
Middle grade fantasy, 180 pages.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.9 (worth 7.0 points) .
NOTE: Second book in the original Earthsea trilogy.
Young Tenar has become Arha, the Eaten One, servant to the highest powers of her land. Solely in charge of rites to infrequently-worshiped deities, she is set apart, both the most powerful and powerless priestess. Shortly after accepting her full powers, she faces an unexpected challenge – a Havenorian wizard entered the sacred labyrinth and walks where none but her must tread.
All of the books in the original Earthsea trilogy are said to be variations on coming-of-age, and I’d have to agree. Although set in the same world as A Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs of Atuan is told entirely from Tenar’s viewpoint, and it isn’t immediately clear how the two connect. Back when I first started reading LeGuin, I read this before either of the other Earthsea books, which don’t seem to have been obviously numbered in most versions.