Dactyl Hill Squad
19 Dec, 2018

Dactyl Hill Squad

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dactyl Hill Squad Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older
on September 11, 2018
Pages: 272
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

It's 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker.

Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community--a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker. Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it's too late?

Goodreads

Do I really need to tell you anything else besides THIS IS A CIVIL WAR STORY WITH DINOSAURS?  Because, honestly, that’s all it took for me.  I mean, ok, it is written by Daniel Jose Older whose adult and YA books I’ve loved.  Why wouldn’t I love his new middle grade series?

The dinosaurs are both all important and just part of the background in this world.  They are used as draft animals.  The big ones function as buses and ferries.  Triceratops pull carts.  The bad guys ride carnivorous dinos.  

This fantasy imagery is set along side a plot inspired by real events.  There was a ring of white businessmen in New York who kidnapped and sold free colored people into slavery.  The colored children’s home did burn in the Draft Riots.  This book imagines what would have happened if the survivors of the fire found their way to a resistance cell and learned to fight back — WITH DINOSAURS! 

I’d recommend this book to anyone because of the imaginative world building and a look at a part of Civil War history that isn’t often discussed, even without there being dinosaurs.  The dinosaur angle would work well to pull in readers who may be reluctant to read a book about the past.  

About Daniel José Older

“Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa NocturnaHe co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.comSalonBuzzFeed, Fireside Fiction, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs around New York and he teaches workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis.” – from his website

22 Oct, 2018

Castle Hangnail

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Castle Hangnail Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
on April 21st 2015
Pages: 384
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade
Published by Dial Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

From the creator of Dragonbreath comes a tale of witches, minions, and one fantastic castle, just right for fans of Roald Dahl and Tom Angleberger.

When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.

This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.

Goodreads

This book has everything I absolutely love about fantasy books.  It is chock full of imagination and whimsy.  There are also dragons.  You must have dragons.

Molly knows that she is going to be a Wicked Witch.  She can do some magic.  She has an over-the-top Good Twin.  So she steals an invitation to apply for the job of Master of Castle Hangnail.  Who cares that she is only 12?

The Guardian of the castle cares, for a start.  He knows the castle is in danger of being decommissioned if a new master isn’t found who can complete all the tasks assigned.  There needs to be proper blighting and smiting and defending of the castle and capturing the hearts of the villagers (probably literally if the new master is an Evil Sorceress or a Vampire).  Can a cheery 12 year old manage that?

I love the staff of the castle. 

  • The Guardian has served under many truly evil masters and knows how minions should be properly treated.  He isn’t prepared to be given an actual name and thanked for things.  It just isn’t right. 
  • Pins is a stuffed doll who can sew anything, including waterproof sweaters for his goldfish
  • The goldfish is a hypochondriac
  • Cook is a Minotaur who is very angry about the letter Q
  • Angus is Cook’s son and general helper
  • Edward is an enchanted suit of armor with rusty knees
  • There is a woman made of steam.  This happens when a djinn mates with a human woman who didn’t know she had mermaid ancestry.
  • There are clockwork bees and all kinds of bats including one insomniac bat who stays awake during the day and sleeps at night.

Molly is going to be Wicked but not Evil.  Wicked will punish a person to make them think about what they did.  Evil will hurt people for fun.  So she blights weeds and asks around to see who is being mean and is in need of a good smiting.  When she finds someone who is mean to his donkey, she uses a spell to turn the donkey temporarily into a dragon to scare the mean man.  After that all the animals want to take a turn being a dragon, of course!  

This book was absolutely delightful from beginning to end.  I read it in a day.  I was hoping that there was going to be a follow up to see what happens next at Castle Hangnail but so far, no luck.  

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