A Grimm Warning

by Chris Colfer

for intermediate and middle grade readers who don’t mind a bit of romance mixed in with their magic and mayhem

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1)The Enchantress Returns (The Land of Stories, #2)A Grimm Warning (The Land of Stories, #3)

I am a fan of books telling the backstory of fairy tale characters and combining worlds – past and the present. The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer is all that and more.  If you’ve not read books 1 and 2, you’ll probably want to get caught up before reading this next part of the series.

Ezmia has been defeated.  The kingdoms of The Land of Stories are being rebuilt.  Alex Bailey is by her grandmother’s side in the Fairy Kingdom and on the Fairy Council.  She is learning all she can about magic and wishes and dreams. It seems that growing up is challenging no matter where you are.

“Sometimes I don’t know if I should be a fairy.  Don’t get me wrong:  I love magic and I love helping people.  There are days I’ll get up and feel so good about what I’m doing for people, and then others when I feel like I’m just screwing everything up.  Some days I don’t think I’m helping enough people and then other days I don’t think people even want my help.  And when I don’t feel confident, my magic suffers – it becomes unpredictable.”

Conner is living in our dimension with his mother and step-dad, fulfilling his charge to keep stories alive by writing and sharing them with the world.  He’s discovered that he’s quite a good storyteller and that he truly enjoys writing.  Because of his skill and interest, Conner is offered an opportunity to travel to the University of Berlin for a Grimm Fest where the first reading of three Grimm tales from a two hundred year old time capsule will take place.

Conner misses his twin terribly, and despite recent challenges in talking to each other in their mirror, the night before he leaves he is able to talk to Alex.  At the end of the conversation they each snap off a corner of their mirrors so they’ll be able to communicate wherever they are.  That turns out to be an important thing because the new stories are much more than just stories.  They are a warning, and the worlds – both The Land of Stories and our own – and in grave danger.

It is up to Conner and his friend, Bree, to collect items in our dimension and for Alex, with Rook’s encouragement, to uncover and discover features of her magical world that can combine to be more powerful than anything before.  Throw in a wedding, an inaugural ball, elves, troblins (troll/goblins) unicorns, a dragon, a masked man and Napoleon’s Grande Armee along the way and you’ve got an amazing adventure.

“How are you taking all of this so well?  Don’t you think the idea of another dimension seems insane?”  Conner asks.

Bree answers, “Not at all.  I’m a writer too, Conner, and the reason I write is because I’ve always believed there is more to life than most people are willing to believe.  You’re just the first person to prove it to me.”

You’ll be convinced of this too as you read and when you’re done you’ll be looking for the next volume in the series hoping to find answers to remaining questions and that maybe, just maybe, Mother Goose will let her secret slip.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place – The Interrupted Tale

The Interrupted Tale (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, #4)by Maryrose Wood

385 pages of middle grade mystery full of puzzle, fun and farcical adventure

Spoiler Alert – If you haven’t yet found this series stop reading. Go find the first book and begin.  If you’re at NHS – come to the classroom and borrow it.  You’ll be glad you did.  Whenever you’re ready two, three and this one will wait for you there as well…

If you’ve loved the first three as I have you’ll understand when I say, “I was happy to find the fourth book in the ‘Incorrigibles’ series.”  I like Penelope Lumley.  I appreciate how she teaches the three “wolf” children she has been charged with.  Her model of gentle care, firm expectations and love is to be admired.  I respect her dogged perseverance and her constant and innovative problem solving.

Things are not as they seem at Ashton Place and slowly but surely Miss Lumley is peeling back the layers of deception and intrigue in a effort to uncover answer.  Why were Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia left in the woods to be raised by wolves?  Were they abandoned or secretly cared for?  Is there a curse the plagues the Ashton men on the full moon?  Why has Edward Ashton feigned his death and then returned after 20 years?  Why was Penelope left at the school as a young child?  Are her parents truly gone?  What are Agatha Swanburne’s secrets?  And the hair poultice?  Without it Miss Lumley and the three Incorrigibles have the exact same rich, auburn hair.  Is there something to that?

These questions swirl around the web of connections that surround Miss Lumley and grow tighter in each story.  There are entertaining villains and surprising allies that await you.  You’ll finish wondering what happened in Ahwoo Ahwoo Island.  You’ll wonder if the mysteries that surround so much of Ashton Place will be solved.  And then you’ll remember the wise words of Agatha Swanburne, “Morning may not put one’s problems in a new light, but at least it puts them in a new day,” and you’ll be ready to move on.  Ready, but eager for the next book to arrive so the story can continue and new questions emerge.

Writers and lovers of words will smile at the play with iambic pentameter throughout the story closing at the end with a TA-tum, TA-tum, TA-tum, TA-tum, TA-tum.  There’s a delicious reference on page 247 about how books you read will later influence what you write:  “…Whether a little French boy named Victor Hugo also read Pierre et la Baguette and was inspired to write a similar tale years later, we will never know, but the truth is that grown-up writers cannot help but be influenced by the books they read as children. Someday you, too, may decide to write a novel that touches upon the subjects you read about as a young person.  Pirates, perhaps.  Or dancing chickens.  Or even some combination of the two.”

It is a fun mystery to savor.

Palace of Dreams

The Familiars #4: Palace of Dreamsthe 4th in The Familiars series

by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson

323 pages of fantastic adventure

Peace has come to Vastia.  Now that Skylar, Gilbert and Aldwyn had defeated Paksahara, Queen Loranella is on throne bringing her kingdom back to its former glory.  While dangers remain, the queen is not willing to cower in fear.  She is working to establish a rule of fairness and believes that forgiveness is the only path for moving forward.

Each familiar and loyal team has been sent on a questabout to test their growing abilities and to strengthen their magical bond.  Skylar and Dalton have gone in search of the lost Xylem garden. Marianne and Gilbert have traveled to the Ocean Oracle to seek the ancient tome, Protocols of Divination.  And Aldwyn and Jack have been sent to the haunted Equitas Isles to find Aldwyn’s Maidenmere Cat twin, Yeardley.  Each returns pair returns, two successful, one not, just in time to celebrate the queen’s birthday.

Before they even have a chance to share the details of their quests, the celebrated three are thrown into their next life or death mission.  Skylar has created a beautiful necklace for the queen, a gift she would like the three friends to give her.  It is the first gift given – and the last.  Immediately the necklace sinks into the queen’s neck poisoning her and bringing her to near death.  The healers can only keep her from slipping into death for two or three days.  That is all the time the familiars have – they must escape the dungeons and find the antidote to stop the parasitic poison from killing their queen.  It seems that everywhere the friends go for help they are always a step behind.  What or whom they seek has been removed just as they approach.  Their final choice is to travel through the treacherous Land of Dreams to talk to the queen herself, find the antidote and clear their names.

Nothing is as it seems.  Dreams turn to nightmare.  Friends become would-be-killers. Reason is clouded by desperate fear.  But Skylar remains scholarly and resourceful, Gilbert, though transformed for a time, remains a true jokester, and Aldwyn continues to logically move from problem to problem determined to reclaim his right to belong and do good for those who depend on him.  This might be my favorite so far.  I can’t wait for the next though – I wonder what will happen when Aldwyn and Yeardley are reunited.

You can find out more about the Familiars series and its creators at their  website.  You can even discover what your familiar would be.  Have fun.

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig

bThe Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A novel of snow and couragey Chris Kurtz

Flora is a pig – a runt at that.   But Flora has big dreams and longs for adventure.  She isn’t willing to give up no matter where her efforts take her.  ” With a heart born for adventure and hooves stuck in a pen, Flora couldn’t help thinking that trouble might be a good thing. ” As a piglet on a farm that raises sled dogs, Flora wants nothing more than to take her place in the line of dogs pulling a sled.

Her best friend on the farm, Luna the cat, tells Flora that the adventures she seeks are nothing but trouble; and trouble will find her whether she looks for it or not. Flora doesn’t shy away from trouble and she isn’t interested in following the rules.  She isn’t one to do something because it has always been that way – and because of that Flora travels to the South Pole.  Also, because of that Flora doesn’t realize why a pig is going to the South Pole… along with the chickens and cows.  Thanks to rat-catching lessons from Luna, Flora can assist her new cat-friend Sophia and make herself useful to everyone. She likes being useful this way, but she is certain there is more for her to do.  Flora believes she on a ship headed for the South Pole because she has been called to help the sled dogs – it is all she has ever wanted to do.  How could there be any other reason?  Everyone seems to know the answer to that question but Flora.  And yet, when tragedy strikes, the whole crew counts itself lucky to have such a courageous pig along.  Flora is totally unique –  her maxims: don’t ever give up, take advice along the way if it helps, be a friend when you can and begin a new dream with every challenge guide her through her trek.

Flora has spunk and determination.  She works hard.  She comes close to giving up.  She comes close to doing what everyone else expects her to do, but in the end she believes in herself enough and she believes in what she can do for others.  Flora is a pig with dreams.  She works hard to hold on to them.  Because of her friends, she doesn’t give up.  Flora has a lot to teach us.  As the  2014 approaches I wish that could be true for all of us – to follow our dreams and make a difference no matter what.

Byrd and Igloo – a polar adventure

Byrd & Igloo: A Polar Adventureby Samantha Seiple

a 175 page expedition to both Poles and back by a man and his dog

for intermediate readers and beyond

The story begins in January, 1926 on a pouring, bitterly cold day in Washington D.C.  Walking home from work, Maris Booth found a shivering puppy. She knew if she didn’t take him home he would die.  She snuck the puppy into her apartment and then into work.  She cared for him, but knew he couldn’t stay cooped up day after day.  The puppy was independent and determined just like, Maris realized, Robert Byrd.  She had read about Byrd and his daring goal to be the first person to fly over the North Pole.  Booth called Byrd and convinced him that this dog could go anywhere he could and would be a reliable companion on any trip.  Unsure at first, Byrd finally relented and thus began the five year friendship of a man and dog who traveled pole to pole together.

The puppy, soon named Igloo, was devoted to Byrd.  Igloo was left behind at the base and did not fly over the North Pole with Byrd on that first expedition – and he made sure that was the last time. Igloo went everywhere with Byrd.  He learned to deal with vicious sled dogs, wore a fur suit and booties to deal with the bitter cold of the Pole and was as dedicated to Byrd as Byrd was committed to the success and safety of each person in his crew.

Early aviation was exciting, dangerous and unknown.  Combined with the polar exploration and the growing science of the time, the true story told in Byrd & Igloo shares this interesting point in history.  The adventures of Igloo, a strong-willed, devoted, best friend, traveling along side the polar explorer from North Pole to South Pole, with Boston in between are exciting ones.  Igloo was quite a dog.  His adventures were many!

The book is illustrated with photographs of the expeditions to help readers picture that era.  Read it.  You’ll be glad you did

 

Flora and Ulysses

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresFlora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is funny, touching, thought-provoking and nutty.  It is an amazing combination of things.  At first is seems impossible that a vacuum cleaner and a squirrel, a round-headed girl and romance novel writing mother can fit together in one story.  Add in temporarily blind great nephew (William Spivers), a shepardess lamp named Mary Jane, typewriters, poetry and comic book phrases and it seems impossible for a story to emerge, but it does.

Holy Bagumba!  It does.

In the opening pages of the book, Tootie Tickham is given a Ulysses 2000X multi-terrain vacuum cleaner for her birthday.  Flora Belle Buckman, the Tickman’s neighbor, watches as Mrs. Tickman is dragged into the yard by the wildly sucking machine and witnesses the horror of a squirrel being sucked into the vacuum.  The squirrel causes the vacuum cleaner to stop and Flora rushes out to see what she can do.

Being an avid reader of The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto, along with her favorite bonus comics “TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU!”, Flora has a great deal of knowledge and information to bring to this situation.  She gently administers CPR to the squirrel .

“The squirrel was a little unsteady on his feet.

His brain felt larger, roomier.  It was as if several doors in the dark room of his self (doors he hadn’t even known existed) had suddenly been flung wide.

Everything was shot through with meaning, purpose, light.

However the squirrel was still a squirrel.

And he was very hungry.  Very.”

From that moment on you’ll be on Flora and the squirrel’s (named Ulysses after the vacuum that nearly took him out of this world) side, hoping they’ll find a place in the world that is accepting, safe and thoughtful.

You can’t help but love each of the characters for their quirks, their honesty and their willingness to go on in a much less than perfect world.  Holy Bagumba!

Those who read for the words – their flow and phrasing can’t help but be thrilled.  I enjoyed every page of Flora and Ulysses.  What did you think?

The Golden Door

The Golden Doorby Emily Rodda.

Her writing is exciting and suspenseful.  As the reader of fantasy you know some things are bound to happen – the youngest brother is going to be the chosen one, the magic is going to help him at the last minute, the ancient ways have been lost or misunderstood – but with this author, you are not going to know how these elements will unfold, even at the last minute.  I love that!

Rye, pure of heart, is the youngest brother living in a land plagued with skimmers.  They come to Weld by night in search of prey – they eat any living thing they can find, human or beast.  Recently the attacks have been more severe and the Warden needs to take action.  He issues a quest. Any man 18 or older who accepts the terms of the quest will leave by a secret way, previously only known of  through the tales and legends surrounding Sorcerer Dann, Weld’s founder.  While outside the city the quester must find and destroy the source of the skimmers.  Upon returning, he will become the future leader of Weld.  Rye’s oldest brother, Dirk, is strong, steadfast and a determined leader.  He is 18 and among the first to accept the challenge.  A year later he has not returned.  Sholto, the middle brother, is studious, scientific and skeptical. Different, but determined as well in the year while Dirk has been gone he has turned 18.  Sholto is among the second group to go.  Two years later when neither has returned, Rye and his mother move to the Keep because they need the Warden’s protection and support to survive.

Rye can’t bear this life and determines to find his brothers and bring them home.  He too accepts the terms of the quest,  though he does not meet them, and is off, but not before one of The Keep orphans begs to join him.  Rye and Sonia begin their journey.  Readers quickly know that though Rye has deceived the Warden by saying he is 18, he has not broken any of the terms of the quest. He has not going to destroy the skimmers and has no desire to become leader.  He has gone to make his family whole again.  Sonia, too does not meet the terms of the quest, but she is determined to make Weld safe once more.  Readers also know that Rye and Sonia are part of something much larger than they realize.  It seems that Rye is “the one” who will set things right, but what they are and how that will be done is a mystery.    You’ll be eagerly turning page after page to find out why Rye has been chosen, what he will do to fulfill his destiny and how Sonia fit in.

This is the first in a trilogy.  What is exciting as a reader is knowing I will have to wait to the very last page of the last book in order to find the complete answer to my questions and fully understand the magic and mystery that surrounds Rye, Sonia and Weld.

M is For Mama’s Boy

NERDS: Book Two: M Is for Mama's Boyby Michael Buckley

If you could have your weakness upgraded and turned into a super power, what strength do you think you would have?

I came to the NERDS series just as the fourth had been published.  I have a hard time with name calling even if it’s supposed to be funny.  I know – snap judgments are not usually accurate – but I passed these books by in the bookstore with just a glance.  Then Ellie started reading them.  “Read from here to here,” she’d say.  “It’s funny.”  She was right.  It was.  While she was enjoying books one, two and three, talk of The Sisters Grimm series was filling our classroom.  That’s when I noticed they had the same author.  I loved his writing in the Sisters Grimm books.  “Okay,” I thought.  “Time to give this a chance.  It’s obviously not what you thought.”

I read the first as summer vacation started and just finished M is for Mama’s Boy, the second this week.  The third and fourth are sitting in one of my to-be-read piles.  I’ll get to them soon.  The NERDS are school-aged secret agents who save the world.  Selected for the team because of their unique qualities, these perceived weaknesses have been highlighted and upgraded with nanotechnology to create super skills.  Together the team has the resources and abilities to save the world from every and any super villain.  The villain in this case is Simon.  He has reappeared with squirrel squadron to do his bidding – along with one Goon.

When the robberies begin happening there is no sense of urgency.  Just another bad guy to be stopped, but Albert Nesbitt notices something odd.  He spends his time locked in the basement of his mother’s house watching TV, building computers, reading graphic novels and dreaming of becoming a super hero.  Albert dreams of doing good in the world and of becoming Captain Justice.  Somehow his dream is twisted around and he becomes entangled with Simon, the evil genius bent on humiliating the NERDS and taking over the world by controlling every computer on Earth.

In disabling Earth’s computers, Simon also disables the super power upgrades of the NERDS.  That’s especially challenging for Duncan, a.k.a. Gluestick.  Always a thoughtful, kind person, Duncan isn’t sure he has any worth without his special powers or his gadgets and gizmos.  Duncan loses confidence.  He’s sure he can’t do anything.  He can’t fit in even when he is trying to be “normal.”  But, he realizes he also can’t sit around and see his family threatened or let his friends face life-threatening danger alone.  Can “ordinary “save the world?  Maybe.  You’ll have to read M is for Mama’s Boy to find out.

The Vengekeep Prophecies

The Vengekeep Propheciesby Brian Farrey

Every person is much more than they seem.

The Vengekeep Prophecies has been sitting in my pile for nearly a year.  I got it just as the school started and there it sat waiting to be read.  I’m glad it was patient.  Reading it made me think about the idea of choosing between what you should do and what you want to do.  It led me to think about the importance of finding a way to contribute by following your passion and knowing what you are good at.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, pick it up and give it a try.

Vengekeep is the name of the town where Jaxter and the Grimjinx family live.  The family makes their living by pulling cons, creating forgeries and pickpocketing.  The wisdom and skill of the profession has been passed down for generations in the family album detailing the Grimjinx history; each entry ending with ‘and then we were rich beyond belief.’   Jaxter is twelve and now is his time to add to the family legacy and continue the story.  The only problem is that Jaxter is a klutz of the very worse kind and that doesn’t bode well for his future success.

On his first solo mission, Jaxter burned the Castellan’s house down and landed the family in gaol.  But staying in gaol wasn’t what the Grimjinxes were destined for.  Each year Vengekeep has an Unveiling of the five hundred year old tapestry foretelling important events for the town’s upcoming year.  For centuries the Vengekeep scholars have been studying and interpreting the tapestry, making plans to avert any foretold danger and keeping the city prosperous.  This year the tapestry predicts a very bleak future that can only be overcome by the family marked by the star.  The Grimjinxes are that family.

Jaxter looks at all the horrors depicted on the tapestry.  How are they ever going to survive them? Each one seems to be a worse horror than the one before. It is going to be a disastrous year – why then are his parents so calm?   They seem to be enjoying their status as the keepers of the city.  That is until the lava monsters arrive and their plan unravels.  Jaxter may not have inherited his family’s skills but he does have knowledge.  Nanni had said, “The things you learn in books will outshine all of us someday, you mark my words.”  Maybe that is true.  Jaxter is going to need everything he has learned along with courage, friendship and creativity if he is going to beat the Vengekeep prophecy.

At the beginning of the book Jaxter wonders if his family is ashamed of him.  It can be hard to choose – doing what you think you should or doing what you want.  Do you have to choose?  Read The Vengekeep Prophecies to find out.

 

 

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shopby Kate Saunders

You may not know it, but magic is everywhere.  You go through your day never noticing it, but it’s there.  Well, at least it is in The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop.

Oz and Lily didn’t know about magic either until their family arrived at 18 Skittle Street. Their dad had just inherited the property from his Uncle Pierre.  A bit strange because he had never met his uncle and the house had been empty for nearly seventy years. The twins hadn’t been expecting much, but everything seemed perfectly intriguing once they got there.  The house was large and homey, with a terrific backyard, and the workshop where the, once famous, Spoffard confections had been made still smelled of chocolate. There seemed to be a cat (something Lily had always wanted); maybe the same one in the photograph of Great Uncle Pierre if that could be possible. The electricity was still on.  Incredibly, the house was everything they could possibly want or need and so the family moved in.

In their first night at the house Oz and Lily learn they have been brought there for a reason.  They are the only ones able to keep Isadore Spoffard from selling Immortality Chocolate to the terrorist group known as the Schmertz Gang eager to take over the world.  Recruited by Demerara – indeed the exact same cat in the seventy year old photograph, the twins join the Secret Ministry of the Unexplained, a division of M16 (of 007 fame.) The SMU polices the misuse of magic to help maintain the world’s equilibrium.  Right now that balance in teetering on the edge.   You’ll have to read The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop to discover how it the plots and plans “unmold.”  You’ll be smiling through every page.