September 22, 2017

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:15 pm by suebe2

flame in the mistFlame in the Mist
by Renee Ahdieh
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

From her youngest years, Mariko was always the curious one.  She wanted to know how and why.  She looked for better ways to do things.  Her brother on the other hand always knew his duty.

As a result of her curiosity, Mariko had a reputation for being odd.  Fortunately, she is the daughter of a high-ranking samurai so she has tutors and leisure time. At least until her father finds a suitable suitor.

And he isn’t just any young man.  He is the crown prince.  He will be the next emperor.

Mariko doesn’t know what to expect when she reaches the palace but she knows better than to ask.  No one cares what a worthless girl thinks.

But then her party enters the forest and is attacked.  Mariko is the only survivor but her survival is anything but guaranteed.  She can feel the eyes of the forest watching her.  She is told that the attack on her group was the work of the Black Clan, a band of bandits and murderers.  Mariko decides to find out why they wanted to kill her by infiltrating the clan.

As is often the case with fantasy, this is a hard book to describe without simply retyping the entire book.  Ahdieh has created a tale peopled with colorful 3 dimensional characters, powerful magic, and treachery.

Not only does Mariko have to find her way out of the forest, she also has to decide who to trust, who to believe, and who she truly is – passive daughter of a samurai or Mariko, inventor, planner and fighter.

This is the first of a two book series set in feudal Japan. The setting definitely comes to life, going so far as to reach out and threaten the unwary.  There is action, there is romance, and there is mystery.  Readers will definitely want to know what happens next.

And I have to admit that was my only problem with the book.  There is enough left hanging that you will want to immediately pick up the next book but that doesn’t come out until May 2018.

That said, this is definitely an excellent book for fantasy fans especially the patient ones who don’t mind waiting until May.



September 6, 2017

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:43 pm by suebe2

rump the true story of rumplestiltskinRump:
The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff
Knopf Books for Young Readers

When your name sets up your destiny, you want a good name, a great name, a name that makes people take notice.  In a good way.

Unfortunately, Rump’s mother was very sick when he was born.  She whispered his name to the newborn child but Rump was all anyone heard.  So Rump he became.

Do I really need to explain why this is a bad name to have?  No, I didn’t think so.

But life was okay.  Rump’s grandmother loved him dearly.  And he had one friend – a girl named Red, a name as fiery as his temper and only a little better than his own.  But food is scarce and if you don’t find gold in the mines your family will go hungry.

Rump has to feed his grandmother.  She’s simply too weak to survive the winter.  So in spite of her warning he gets out his mother’s spinning wheel.  He doesn’t know how.  He doesn’t know why, but he can spin straw into gold.  With gold, he can keep the only family he knows alive.

But with each whir of the wheel, Rump spins himself deeper into the curse.

A have to admit that it took me a little while to get into this one.  But once I did?  I was captured in a rumple, a tangle of threads, that wouldn’t let me go.

Spinning straw into gold may seem like a blessing but it is truly a curse and Rump knows that he needs help to break it.  He leaves behind his village and sets off in search of the town where his mother grew up.  Surely someone who knew her will be able to help him out.

Shurtliff has spun a story that is part fairy tale and fantasy and part mystery and tale of discovery.  With each fact Rump finds about his mother, he learns something about himself.  With each person he meets, he learns about the world he lives in. He learns about the difference between fact and fear.  He learns about friendship and trust.

Although this story involves a character who traipse across the country side, it is comfortably middle grade.  Young readers who enjoy fractured fairy tales but are ready for something beyond the realm of the picture book, this book is a must.


April 12, 2017

Cavern of Secrets by Linda Sue Park

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:58 pm by suebe2

Ccavern of secretsavern 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 by Rick Riordan

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 5:01 am by suebe2

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

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:07 am by suebe2

A Riddle in Ruby
by Kent Davis
Greenwillow Books

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

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:33 am by suebe2

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

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:50 am by suebe2

The Prairie Thief
by Melissa Wiley
Margaret K. McElderry
AR 5.4

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

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:33 am by suebe2

The Demon King

by Cinda Williams Chima

Hyperion Books

AR 5.3

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

Kid vs. Squid by Greg van Eekhout

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 6:10 pm by suebe2

Kid vs. Squid

by Greg van Eekhout

Bloomsbury Books, 2010

AR 5.0

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

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:17 am by suebe2

Igraine the Brave (AR 5 .6)

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.


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