Tag Archives: Sage Blackwood

Armchair BEA: Exploring Middle-Grade Novels

ArmchairBEAI’ve never stopped loving children’s books, and have reread my childhood favourites many many times despite having become an adult many many years ago (lots of many’s there!).

Whenever I’m in the library, I always like to include the children’s section in my meanderings through the shelves, and always find at least a handful of middle-grade books to take home with me.

This Armchair BEA topic got me thinking about some of my recent favourites, the middle-grade novels I didn’t grow up with, the ones I discovered when I was already all grown up. And I also realize I’d like to explore the middle-grade range more than I have been – not just being content with whatever I might stumble upon when I have a chance to browse at the library (although that makes me quite contented!) but also searching out the latest middle-grade books, following more middle-grade book bloggers and reading more than just the most recent award winners.

I’ve only just embarked on this new exploration, and expect many delightful finds to come as a result, so my choices below aren’t particularly recent books, although none of them go as far back as my own childhood.

Mysteries

I love a good mystery, and as an adult reading middle-grade novels, it’s not that easy to find a really good middle-grade mystery. Unlike adult mysteries, middle-grade mysteries don’t tackle murder that often. As you expand out into the young adult book world, this changes, but generally speaking the middle-grade mysteries I’ve read have been mostly about robberies, burglaries, and bad guys up to no-good schemes involving burglary and robbery.

A good middle-grade author can, however, take these themes and make them as exciting as the latest Harry Hole mystery by Jo Nesbo. Yes, without any serial killers or deranged murderers. My favourites include the Herculeah Jones mysteries by Betsy Byars and Blue Balliett’s art-themed mysteries (I rave about Balliett’s The Calder Game here.)

Dead Letter

Calder Game

Fantasies

When it comes to fantasies, the middle-grade range continues to offer a fabulous selection. This was true when I was growing up, and the whole fantasy area has exploded since then, with many thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter. Two recent favourites of mine are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jinx by Sage Blackwood (I reviewed Jinx here). Book 2 of the Jinx series, Jinx’s Magic came out earlier this year, and it’s definitely on my to-read list.

Graveyard Book

Jinx Sage Blackwood

These are my two favourite genres in general, so it’s no surprise I tend to be drawn to middle-grade novels in these genres as well. I am, however, currently reading Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen, a contemporary middle-grade, and I’m enjoying it (it’s on my son’s upcoming Battle of the Books list, and we’re reading it together. It’s not really the type of book I should be reading with my eleven-year-old son, but we’re having fun with it.)

What about you? Do you read a lot of middle-grade novels? Have any must-read titles to recommend to me? I’m looking to add to my middle-grade to-read list, so any help would be appreciated!

Review: Jinx, by Sage Blackwood

JinxI first came across Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, when Melissa at Book Nut posted about the state of her TBR pile. The title looked interesting, and when I read the description, I thought, “I’d like to read this!”

In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter churn–riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magnus.

Jinx knows that wizards are evil. But Simon’s kitchen is cozy, and he seems cranky rather than wicked. Staying with him appears to be Jinx’s safest, and perhaps only, option. As Jinx’s curiosity about magic grows, he learns to listen to the trees as closely as he does to Simon’s unusual visitors. The more Jinx discovers, the more determined he becomes to explore beyond the security of well-trodden paths.

But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest. And soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat.

I’ve always read a lot of middle grade fiction, especially fantasies and mysteries, and for me, the best middle grade reads are the ones that create a rich, complex world with equally rich and complex characters. It’s actually not such an easy thing to achieve with middle grade fiction – authors always have to stay aware of the age group for whom they’re writing but sometimes when they’re too focused on this, it can be to the detriment of the story they’re trying to tell.  Books like Jinx prove that you can stay true to your audience without oversimplifying your narrative and characterizations.

I really enjoyed Jinx. The characters were delightfully real – as conflicted as anyone I know in real life. Jinx, the protagonist, is smart without really knowing how smart he is, smart in a survival-savvy way that was just such a joy to read. I also enjoyed how he stayed uncertain about the adults with whom he engages, waiting until they prove themselves before he makes a decision. Given his background, you really can’t blame him for holding back from really trusting anyone.

And the adults themselves, especially the wizard Simon Magnus, have their own inner conflicts and deal with their own uncertainties. They are perhaps not quite “all good”, in the way that none of us ever can be “all good”, and certainly not infallible.

The story moves along at an engaging pace, and the world of magic that’s revealed is a credible one, firm, solid, despite all the things about it that we – and the characters – don’t know. It’s a beautiful, finely detailed world, but at the same time, there’s so much that’s shrouded in mystery; part of the fun in reading was finding out more about this strange world of Urwald and beyond.

Jinx ends on a cliffhanger-ish type of ending, but this is a cliffhanger done right: we learn the ending to the particular story that we’ve been following, and at the same time, Blackwood entices us with details about what’s to come.

Which is to say, I’m very eager to read the next book in the series, and find out where Jinx’s adventures will take him next!