January 12, 2016 Debuts: Middle Grade

Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

"Is it ever right to keep something that doesn't belong to you?" That's the question that haunts ten-year-old Lizzie as she adjusts to life as an evacuee in the remote Yorkshire valley of Swainedale. Set at the beginning of World War II, LIZZIE AND THE LOST BABY is told from the dual perspectives of Lizzie and Elijah, a thirteen-year-old gypsy. To answer the question Lizzie must grapple with her own conscience and deal with the intolerance and prejudices of her hosts.

Blackford’s debut is an atmospheric, emotion-filled journey for worried Elijah (who unwillingly left his baby sister under a tree) and sympathetic Lizzie, who wrestles with her conflicted feelings when the family she and Peter are staying with decides to keep the baby—even after they know where she really belongs.
-- Publishers' Weekly

Mars in 1816 is a world of high society, deadly danger, and strange clockwork machines. Pterodactyls glide through the sky, automatic servants hand out sandwiches at elegant garden parties, and in the north, the great dragon tombs hide marvels of Ancient Martian technology.

Twelve-year-old Edward Sullivan has always dreamed of becoming a spy like the ones he reads of in his favorite sci-fi magazine, Thrilling Martian Tales. Instead, he spends his days keeping his eccentric family from complete disaster . . . that is, until the villainous archaeologist Sir Titus Dane kidnaps Edward's parents as part of a scheme to loot an undiscovered dragon tomb. Edward sets out on a perilous journey to save his parents and protect the dragon tombs in the process. Turns out spywork is a bit more challenging than he had imagined. 

"Abundant humor, intricate worldbuilding details, and precisely timed slapstick and mayhem mesh as neatly as the gears and levers of the water abacus, producing a gorgeously articulated clockwork of a novel."
-- Publishers Weekly starred review
"Engaging characters and an action-packed plot are bolstered by some meaningful observations on Martian colonialism... This will appeal to fans of zany adventure tales."
-- Booklist
"Samphire is clearly having the time of his life with this yarn, leavening character types with emotional honesty . . . A bit Tom Swift-meets-early Heinlein, joyfully modernizing space pulp for a new audience."
-- Kirkus Reviews

My review: I love to read adventurous sci fi & fantasy in part because I love to imagine visiting amazing, impossible places, but I am not even kidding when I say I am REALLY VERY ANGRY that I cannot visit the Victorian-era pterodactyl-infested steampunk Mars that Patrick Samphire has imagined in this book. 

I want to see all of it! The deserts and wastelands and museums and garden parties and airships! This is SUCH an imaginative book, full of so many things that are 100% pure joy and adventure and FUN. It's like being transported into an old school Golden Era sci fi adventure without any of the icky backwards old school tropes. (Indeed, the girls are just as clever and fierce as the boys--more so, in many instances--and there's some subtle commentary on class issues and colonialism that demonstrates the author knows exactly what kind of story he is paying homage to, and exactly which parts of those stories are best left in the past.)

Edward is a delightful narrator. He's a twelve-year-old boy who feels like he needs to take responsibility for his eccentric, absent-minded family members, so he's always getting in over his head, and needs a bit of a help learning to rely on the strength and smarts of the people around him to solve the barrage of problems and dangers headed his way. He's not always right, but he's not always wrong either, and it's glorious fun to watch him get into trouble over and over again.

This book is absolutely a delight. I read through it in one evening, barely looking up from the pages, and I don't regret a second of it. Highly recommended!