April 12, 2017
Cavern of Secrets (Book #2 in the Wing and Claw series)
by Linda Sue Park
If you haven’t read Forest of Wonders, the first book in the series yet, I’d suggest that you pick it up. Not that you won’t understand Cavern of Secrets without it, but it is such an amazing book. And series books are just that much better when you read them in order, don’t you agree?
Raffa and his friends have spent the winter hiding in the Sudden Mountains. Winter is bad enough but they are all still adjusting to the fact that Garith is deaf. Raffa does all that he can to make Garith’s life easier but his cousin always seems to be mad at him.
Then one night Garith disappears. Raffa wants to go after his cousin — what if he can’t hear danger approaching? What if he gets in trouble? But Kuma convinces him that he has no choice but to let the other boy go. Like all of them, Garith has to choose his own path.
Besides, Raffa has other worries. Echo, his bat who has eaten a plant that allows him to talk, is growing sicker and sicker. When Echo flies away, he leads them to a hidden cave system in which Raffa finds a glowing plant with healing properties. Can Raffa use it to cure-all of the animals that have been given the vine that lets them speak so that they can once again be wild? And if he can should he also cure Echo?
I’m not going to write any more about the plot because I don’t want to give too much away. Like the first book in the series, these characters are marvelously complicated. No one is completely good or completely bad and it makes for a wonderfully complex story.
The story touches on many themes including loyalty and responsibility. Linda Sue Park has created a rich world of magic and science (apothecary), generosity and greed. It is a place your young reader will want to visit if he or she loves fantasy or adventure.
January 21, 2016
The Sword of Summer
Book 1 in Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
by Rick Riordan
Life isn’t easy on the streets but Magnus has been homeless for two years. He knows who will give him food, where to find a mostly safe place to sleep and how to avoid the cops. Then one of his friends hands him a missing person flier. Magnus can’t believe it. After two years, his uncle is looking for him.
Magnus spies on his uncle and his cousin Annabeth but his mother told him to avoid her brothers. He doesn’t really know why but he decides that he needs to know what is going on and breaks into his uncle’s house.
Uncle Randolph catches him in the house and starts to tell him about their family’s history. They are descended from Vikings. There is a missing sword. The only one who can find it is Magnus and, fortunately, the sword is in the Boston area, just a few blocks away.
Soon Magnus finds himself on a bridge holding a corroded piece of metal. His uncle claims it is an ancient sword and it is all Magnus has to fend off the deadly fire giant that is standing right in front of him. When his attempt to dice up the giant fails, Magnus’ soul is snatched up by a Valkeyrie who takes him to Asgard. If he can prove he is a hero, he will have a place there. If not . . . he doesn’t even want to consider the alternative.
If this sounds a lot like Percy Jackson, don’t be shocked. Riordan has found his niche and young readers love him for it. Although Percy Jackson is all about the Greek gods and Magnus Chase is about the Norse, the two worlds overlap. Annabeth, Magnus’ cousin, is Annabeth daughter of Athena from Percy Jackson. If you’re expecting the book to be 100% original, you might be disappointed. Instead, go into it understanding that the two series overlap.
As always, the story is full of Riordan’s quirky brand of humor. His secondary characters especially seem to be designed to make us laugh. My favorite? Half Born the Beserker. Or maybe Loki. His Loki is very bit the amazing trickster that I expected — alluring, coniving and just a little scary. Riordan has done an admirable job in creating a full range of characters so that both boys and girls will be drawn into the story. Share it with the young fantasy lover in your life.
December 26, 2015
A Riddle in Ruby
by Kent Davis
If you were lucky enough to get a book store gift card yesterday for Christmas, consider buying A Riddle in Ruby.
When I met Ruby, my first thought was Oliver Twist. Ruby was clearly perpetrating a scam. Pretending to be gravely injured while trying to pick a lock. I was certain that her accomplice was also her master, forcing her to break the law.
But it quickly become clear that things are much more complicated than that. Gwath is her senior in age as well as her teacher. He is also the ship’s cook. Ruby has grown up aboard the Thrift were her father ferries passengers across the ocean, telling mock pirate stories and pretending to be something he is not. In fact the whole crew pretends to be pirates and the whole thing gets on Ruby’s nerves.
Until one day when their only passenger is young Lord Athens and his man-servant Crum. A Royal Navy vessel is in pursuit. Athens is sure that they are after him but Ruby’s father seems certain that it is his daughter they want. He orders the pair into hiding.
It is truly impossible to summarize this story without giving it away. The world is every bit as complicated as Hogwarts and Harry Potter but it isn’t a contemporary story. This piece of colonial fiction portrays a world that never existed but . . . if it had? Wow.
Alchemy called chemystry has altered the face of society. Lights can be lit and food can be cooked if only you can afford the service. Chemysts have built cities on top of cities, occupying the sunlight expanses above while Ruby and her ilk lurk below, struggling to make a living in the shadows.
When Ruby realizes that she is the one everyone is looking for such doesn’t understand. At first she thinks she has something that they want but then she realizes that it goes much, much deeper.
Whether it is Ruby posing as a boy or Lord Athen posing as Lord Athen, few characters are who they initially seem to be. The world is delightfully complex. Things aren’t so complicated that they are confusing but they are definitely complex enough to support a series. The characters are equally complicated — doing what they think is best at the time only to discover that they’ve made a dreadful mistake. They often find themselves in situations where there is no clear-cut good choice.
Pick this one up and share it with the young fantasy lover in your life today.
August 14, 2014
The Castle Behind the Thorns
by Merrie Haskell
Katherine Tegan Books
Middle Grade Novel
Sand doesn’t immediately know where he is when he wakes up in an ashy fireplace. Eventually, he ventures out amid a jumble of broken tables and shattered benches into a room torn apart.
He is in the Sundered Castle.
The castle, battered, broken and desserted, stands above the valley where Sand lives with his blacksmith father, his step-mother and his two younger sisters. As a child, he asked questions about it — what happened? why does no one live there? But the answers (earthquake, fled) where given only grugdingly. For some reason, most people in the valley neither saw it nor thought about it. Even Sand eventually quit asking, but now he needs to find a way out and that presents a problem. The castle is surrounded by a murderous raspberry bramble.
Murderous. These thorns don’t just wait until you snag yourself. If you get too close, they come and get you.
As if all of that isn’t enough, the girl in the crypt comes back to life.
This is clearly a work of fantasy, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but it is fantasy steeped in history.
As always, Haskell’s story drew me in and refused to let me get anything else done until the last page was turned. Yes, I read most of this in 1 day although I had other things to do.
As is so often the case, the best lessons are taught through story and not through a lecture. This is a strong story about the destructive power of hate and anger and greed. It shows clearly that it may take more than one person to create the problem but not everyone has to cooperate for healing to begin. And healing, even imperfect partial healing, is a powerful thing.
Don’t let the above paragraph make you think this is a dark story. It is also a story of family, intention, understanding and strong friendship.
This is probably my favorite of Haskell’s books (The Castle Behind the Thorns, The Princess Curse, and The Handbook for Dragon Slayers). Pick it up for your young fantasy lover, but don’t be suprised if you find yourself pulled in my this tale of brambles and sleep and vengence.
March 7, 2013
The Prairie Thief
by Melissa Wiley
Margaret K. McElderry
Louisa Brody knows her papa is no thief. She knows it for a fact.
But she can’t deny that their neighbor’s hatchet, pocket watch and china doll were found in the abandoned dugout on their farm either. And that’s all it takes to get the sheriff to haul Papa off to jail. Louisa can’t stay on the isolated farm by herself (Mama died when Louisa was hardly more than a baby) so she’s taken in by Mr. Smirch, the very man who sent for the sheriff.
Their little cabin might not have been perfect, but Louisa soon learns that not every family is a loving place to grow up. Mr. Smirch is kind enough, in a gruff way, but he doesn’t interfer when his wife thunks Louisa on top of the head with a metal ladle. Their little boys are no better, constantly telling Louisa that they know her Papa is going to hang. Louisa knows they are just repeating their mama’s words but she doesn’t understand why the woman is so mean.
The only bright spot at the Smirch home is Jessamine, a cousin who was forced to move in with the family when her own parents and brother died. She and Louisa quickly become friends and allies even as they search for the wee little man that Jessamine saw disappearing into the hazel grove.
On a brief trip back to her family cabin, Louisa discovers that several items are missing. She knows this should be enough evidence to save Papa but how will she make it to town, 13 miles away, across the prairie?
Fleeing from Mrs. Smirch one dark night, Louisa finds out who has taken everything and why he has hidden it in the dugout. The only problem is that like her Mama, she has promised to keep his existence a secret. Will she find a way to prove Papa is innocent without breaking her promise?
Wiley has created a fun story full of old world magic and charm. I loved the way the old stories come to life amid a new world of tricksters (coyotes) and fleet footed prong horn.
If the story seems a bit slow initially, be patient. As soon as Louisa decided to escape from the Smirch’s things start moving at a much faster pace.
In Louisa, Wiley has created a character that young girls will love. She’s smart, she’s compassionate and she’s up for the adventure of a life time. This story combines mystery, fantasy and a satisfying story of family and friendship.
Why not share it aloud with the young book lover in your life?
February 22, 2011
by Cinda Williams Chima
Han has forsworn life as a gang leader, giving up stealing and hustling for an honest income that won’t bring danger to his mother or sister. Yet earning a living as an honest man seems impossible when everyone believes you are still street lord of one of the most powerful gangs in the city. Not to mention the trouble that he stirs up when he takes an amulet from a young wizard who has threatened to jinx him.
Princess Raisa knows that there is more to live than what she sees within the palace walls. How can she possibly rule when everyone knows more about life beyond the castle than she does? Raisa wants to see the world beyond the Queendom and begins sneaking off to the temple to see what life is like for those less fortunate than herself.
It is at the temple that two worlds collide.
I can’t say much more about the actual plot of this book without revealing far too much.
I have read a number of Chima’s books and this is my favorite thus far although I enjoyed them all. The world she has created is rich and complex. Her characters are complex and wonderfully believable.
One of the things that will be most appealing, and also frustrating, for young readers is that the young characters, including the princess and Han, seem to have so few choices open to them. What should they be? What future should they choose? Han isn’t sure, but it seems that each and every thing he might choose is denied him. Raisa has even fewer choices facing the possibility of an arranged marriage much earlier than she realized was possible.
Fantasy lovers, both boys and girls, will find something to pull them into this richly woven story of destiny, treachery and loyalty. If you haven’t sampled much young fiction yourself, try this story out. You won’t be disappointed.
January 18, 2011
by Greg van Eekhout
Bloomsbury Books, 2010
Thatcher Hill can’t believe his rotten luck. His parents are in Asia, touring squirt gun factories, but Thatcher couldn’t go because he’d been exposed to a kangaroo rat virus and can’t leave the country. Instead, he has so spend the summer with his weird Uncle Griswald at a seaside museum. There, his chores include watering the plants, feeding Sinbad (the cat) and dusting the shrunken heads.
The museum houses a collection of odd-ball items like an octopus in tennis shoes, a tiny headless “mermaid” that looks like it was created from half a monkey.
But that’s not all that’s strange in Los Huesos. One day the boardwalk community is a ghost town, and the next it is full of people, both tourists and oddly pushy workers.
Then someone breaks into the museum and steals the “What’s-It” — a box with a window that may or may not have a head inside. That’s when things really start to get weird.
Soon Thatcher is running the board walk with a princess from Atlantis (the thief) and a hard core detective (the only other ‘normal’ kid who lives on the board walk), trying to catch a witch and stop a curse before they can be captured by giant lobster men, a squid with human eyes, or the kelp men.
This book is seriously laugh-out-loud funny, from the array of twisted creatures to the dialog. Description comes on the fly as Thatcher and his friends tear across the land scape or down cluttered hallways, just enough to get you from one action packed scene to another. For character description, you’ll have to rely on what they do and what they say because no time is spent on narrative in this fast moving story.
With three main characters (one boy and two girls) this story has a certain appeal to both boys and girls but the humor is a bit gross at times so if you have a squeamish kid on your hands you might want to pick another book (hint: the What’s-It is actually a head in a box although she’s still alive even if she’s not kicking).
Every kid who has seen this book in my car or on the coffee table has commented on it and my son has requested that I not turn it back in until he’s had a chance to read it. Why not see if it can get someone in your house to start turning pages?
July 26, 2010
by Cornelia Funke
Igraine may come from a family of magicians but she has no desire to follow in the footsteps of her parents and her older brother. Igraine has other plans — she wants to be a knight. To that end, she’s already raided the castle armory for armor and practices daily with her sword.
When word comes that the new neighbor plans to steal her parents’ singing magical books, no one is very worried. After all, the castle has special magical defenses and her parents are wondrous magicians, but then in completing her birthday present, her mother mis-speaks a word and POOF both of her parents are transformed into pigs. While no one minds pigs, pigs cannot do magic.
There is a spell to reverse the process but first someone has to go get the key ingredient — red giant hair. It sounds like a perfect job for a knight so Igraine borrows a horse and rides toward the hills. There she meets a real knight. Will he be able to help save the castle or is it as hopeless as he fears?
My family listened to this as a book on tape and I have to admit that I approached it with a great deal of curiosity. Funke is one of my son’s favorite authors but the cover looked a bit girly (he is very aware of what is girly) so I was surprised that he picked this particular book out on his own.
Igraine is a character who will appeal to boys and girls. She’s a feisty heroine who uses her smarts and determination to get herself in and out of a wide variety of trouble.
Funke also wrote this book with her trademark humor. Igraine’s mother is a great beauty and, even as a pig, has no doubt that she is the fairest in all the land. The singing books resemble mischievous children more than they do anything particularly wise and apparently wizards succeed occasionally in spite of their own inability to plan — their failures are always funny.
This is a good road trip book but would also make a great family read aloud.
July 9, 2010
More than anything else, Charmain Baker would rather spend time with books, either her own or someone else’s. So she pens a letter to the King, volunteering to work in the royal library.
Then several relatives, including her mother, volunteer her to house sit for Great Uncle William, the Royal Wizard of Norland. Mother has never held much with magic — what would the neighbors say to something so base and common — so Charmain knows nothing about this special skill. But someone has to look after the place while her Uncle is away and Charmain is the only one with nothing to do.
Not only does Charmain have nothing to do, she has very few skills as she discovers when she gets to the house. She has no idea how to make her own meals, do laundry or clean a house. That said, Great Uncle Williams house is no ordinary house. There are no taps in the kitchen so where does the water come from? And whenever she wonders aloud how to do something, Great Uncle William’s tired voice gives sounds out of thin air to give her the answer. And why do you sometimes end up one place when you go through a doorway, and sometimes another completely different? Maybe she’ll just settle down with a good book and wait for her uncle to return, so she heads up to his library in search of something to read and finds an interesting looking, but tricky, spell book.
Then a boy her own age shows up in the midst of a rain storm. He is to be the wizards apprentice and is aghast at how little Charmain knows. She may not know much, but Charmain quickly notices how often Peter’s spells go awry while mysteriously, her own seem to come together rather nicely in spite of her lack of knowledge.
To her great surprise, Charmain is invited to help in the Royal Library. To her dismay, she doesn’t get to read all day. She is to look for documents that might answer a mystery — where is all the money in the kingdom going? If this leak isn’t found and stopped, soon they will have to ally themselves with a neighboring kingdom of dubious reputation. Charmain knows that the answer must be somewhere if she can only decide who to trust and where to look for information.
I listened to this one as a book on tape and wasn’t altogether sure I’d stick it out. Charmain was so utterly useless and more than a little snippy, but I’m glad I did. This isn’t your classic high fantasy — magic and mysterious creatures abound but there are no dragons and many people exist without magic , or so they think.
Readers who enjoy mysteries and/or fantasy would enjoy this tale although it may be more suited to girls than boys who really won’t care how much trouble Charmain had doing her own hair.
by Diana Wynne Jones
Meek and dutiful, Sophie quietly takes her place as an apprentice in the family hat shop after Papa’s death. The work is tedious, but Sophie has to do her part and all three daughters have been apprenticed out by Sophie’s well-meaning step-mother. Besides, Sophie has a talent for hat making, a talent that seems almost magical.
But magic is something the people of her town fear. Nearby is the Witch of the Waste, the subject of late night tales and fireside whispers.
Then a massive black castle floats into view. Soon the town is abuzz with talk of Wizard Howl, a fierce sorcerer who robs young women of their hearts.
With the castle looming over the town, Howl is a much more immediate threat until the Witch shows up in the shop and turns Sophie into an old woman.
In a panic, Sophie flees the only home she’s ever known and, as night falls, barges into the only shelter in sight — the floating castle. There she becomes Howl’s housekeeper who is more vain than fierce. Still, for a man with so many short comings, he occasionally seems amazingly kind in his own mysterious way.
A hapless apprentice,
A scary scare crow,
A crafty fire demon,
and a dog who sometimes turns into a man come to people Sophie’s life even as she struggles to shake off the enchantment.
As an old woman, Sophie becomes fierce and strong, although Howl still accuses her of being too kind. She also has a tendency to make short sighted decisions with disastrous though humorous results. As she strives to sort things back out, she must decide who is more than they appear to be and which of the people in her life can be trusted, all before it is too late.
A fabulous fantasy adventure, Howl’s Moving Castle makes an excellent read for tweens who adore fantasy, feisty, strong-willed characters and humor. For, at times deeply serious, at other times the book leaves you rolling with laughter, especially when Howl is under the weather.
It isn’t necessary to read these books (Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, and The House of Many Ways) in order, but it will certainly shed light on the characters of Sophie and Howl when they appear in The House of Many Ways.
This middle grade novel would also be suitable for advanced readers for, although love is a strong theme, it isn’t acted upon in anything but a romantic sense.