The Real Boy

The Real Boyby Anne Ursu

341 pages that magically draw you into the story of flawed boy in a perfect world.  But what is real – what is said, what is done or what you see?

a highly recommended book for intermediate and middle grade readers

 

When you look at the map of Aletheia you can see signs of the past.  The Shining City of Asteri encircled by its shimmering magic wall , the Barrow and the Magic Smiths’ marketplace open each day, the ancient forest and grove of one hundred Wizard Trees and the plaguelands, cutting the eastern villages off from the rest of the island – a daily reminder of past sickness and pain that is no more.

Alethia has been through much and the future seems promising.  There is now one magic worker so skilled that he calls himself a magician, Master Caleb.  He was the first magician in a generation and he helps the beautiful people of Asteri shine even more brightly.  Master Caleb has an apprentice, Wolf, and like the wizards of old, he also has a hand, Oscar.  He gathers the herbs and prepares them.  Oscar make sure everything the best Magic Smith on the island could need is ready.  For Oscar going to the wood to gather the plants and berries, the mosses and bark is a comfort.  He cares for each ancient tree, each bush and flower.  He carries a map in his mind of where he needs to gather in order to keep the shelves of the pantry and shop well stocked.

Master Caleb found Oscar in children’s home and he was glad for his work and his place to stay.  Oscar is careful and diligent.  He quietly executes his tasks in the pantry, prepares the shop of opening each day and cares for the cats.   Oscar observes, remembers and learns all that he can.  Though Oscar is supposed to stay in his room from 9 o’clock ’til morning, in the middle of the night Oscar silently creeps into the enormous library to read.  Breaking that one rule was worth everything to Oscar.  He couldn’t learn enough about plants and magic, the history of Alethia and the places beyond his small corner of the world.

While plants and the forest bring ease to Oscar, being with people bring worry and confusion.  Wolf torments him.   Oscar can’t look people in the eye when they speak.  He can’t find the words to say.  People were confusing.  They never seem to say what they mean.  The meaning of the words and their tone don’t match – words crackle and spit at Oscar, they whir and hiss.  Wolf constantly askes Oscar what was wrong with him.  Oscar doesn’t know, it just is.  As Master Caleb’s fame grew, more people came to his shop.  There was more need and demand, but there was also call for Master Caleb to go to the mainland to see if magic could be sold and traded once again as it had in times past.  Those trips meant more time that Oscar must be alone with Wolf and even more time that he must be with people from the city and the barrow.

Oscar has a job to do.  He is loyal and true.  He is careful and hardworking.  He will do as his master says, but that is hard, very, very hard.  Oscar longs to retreat to the safety of his pantry, to his quiet life with the cats, to his silent time in the forest, but he cannot.  Something evil has come to Alethia and something very wrong has been done. Master Caleb is gone.  Oscar has a job to do.

The Real Boy is a beautifully crafted story full of characters that come to life as you walk beside them through the city, and the marketplace and the wood.  The importance of kindnesses and honest caring shine through the murk created by fear and greed.  What does it mean to be real?  The answer to that question is not as simple as it may first appear.

The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfieldby John Bemelmans Marciano

139 pages telling delightfully evil tale of a boy who gets everything he wants – or does he?

The 9 LIVES of Alexander Baddenfield is funny.  For all time the Baddenfields have been bad and the Winterbottoms have served them, trying to keep them safe and trying to steer them in a better direction.  It hasn’t worked well the Baddenfields have always been greedy and evil.  From the first Boddenveld of Holland who created the 1637 tulip debacle to Pieter Boddenveld in New Amsterdam (now New York) who made mass profit selling the land he had purchased for about $24 in beads to Rolf Baddenfeld of Virginia colony who invented the cigarette and Weems Baddenfield who cut down the cherry tree and blackmailed his playmate, George into taking the fall for it.  Right from the start the Baddenfields had been bad.  They had been able to make a fortune, but never to enjoy it.  Each one had died young.  26 was an old age for a Baddenfield, and Alexander, only remaining Baddenfield, wanted to change that. At 12 his only friend was his cat, Shaddenfrood and looking at his cat, Alexander wondered, “If a cat could have nine lives, why couldn’t he?”

Once Alexander had that idea, nothing could stand in his way.  He went to all the doctors.  He went to all the scientists.  He went to the Head Executive Vice President for Baddenfield Pharmaceuticals (BaddPharm for short) to get what he wanted.  The researchers there didn’t seem to have any ideas either.

When Alexander could take no more, he held up a hand and said, “Enough!  If you think you can confuse and bore me into going away, you’re wrong.  Is it too much to ask for you to solve one little problem?  Is it going to be the think tank for all of you?”  Normally, a think tank is a gathering of top minds; at BaddPharm, it was a literal steel tank that employees were locked into.  “And no one gets out until someone give me something that helps!”

“How about Dr. Graft?”

The name cracked the silence of the room like a put of potato chips in a library.  Everyone turned to look at who had said it, a low-level intern in the fungus department.  “Oh,” said the man sheepishly and shrank down in his chair.

But Dr. Graft is just the person Alexander needs.  He gets his transplant, but without a change in his reckless, selfish ways will that been enough?  You’ll have to read The 9 LIVES of Alexander Baddenfield to find out.

Seconds – Waiting for Thirds

I’ve been reading – but with the beginning of school, I have not taken the time to tell you about the books.  I’ve decided to remedy that.  I have a large pile to tell you about – so here’s a start.

The White House (I.Q., #2)Right after reading I, Q: Independence Hall, I went to the bookstore to get the next book.  It had taken me quite a while to read this series after all, Skye and Matt recommended it to me four years ago.  But good books stay good until you find them.  That is certainly true for this series.  I, Q: The White House continues following “Match” on their national concert tour.  After performing in Philadelphia they make a quick stop at the White House to perform a private concert for the President, his daughter and son and select invitees.

That is exactly what the terrorist ghost cell has been waiting for.  They quickly activate their plan, sure to cause chaos in the United States.  They have infiltrated the White House staff and are waiting for the perfect moment to disrupt the country.  The twist and turns of the plot had me eagerly following Q and Angela through the White House, meeting the President, learning more about the SOS and keeping track of the plots and counter plots.   Complicated, exciting and intriguing!

Boone and Croc remain a the key to the puzzle of who is working with whom and how they are connected.  Though as more of the past is revealed, and the actions of the present become clearer, questions emerge and linger.  The more you learn, the more mysterious it all seems.  Will Angela’s mother stay alive?  Where is the next ghost cell waiting?  Will the President’s daughter, Bethany be safe?  Are people really who they claim to be?

This thrilling spy adventure surrounds you with interesting characters, richly detailed places and exciting action.  You’ll be wonder “what-if” all the way to the end and when you finish, just as you did when you finished the first I, Q, you’ll have to get the next one and keep reading.

The Silver Door (The Three Doors Trilogy)When I finished The Golden Door, I couldn’t wait to read The Silver Door.  Though there are many books waiting in my pile, I began reading it as soon as it was in my hands.  I love how Emily Rodda creates places and bring their inhabitants to life.  Weld is not a nice place to live, but because Rye and Sonia live there I want to be there with them.  I want to understand why life is the way it is there.  I want the best for them and I so hope their lives will be easier. I hope those they care about will find some happiness by the time their quest comes to an end, but I am not certain my wishes will come true.

I think this is one of the beauties of these books.   While good prevails, evil still exists and I am left wondering what will happen to the characters I care deeply about.  What will happen to the Warden’s daughter?  How are the lands found by going through the gold door connected to the lands that are found on the other side of the silver door? How did magic come to be and why does it seem so corrupt?  Is it only about power and who has it?  What has upset the balance so that so many people live in fear and endure so much deprivation?  I can’t wait until September 24 for The Third Door, the last part of the trilogy so I can find the answers to my questions.  Emily Rodda’s characters, stories and writing are a real treat that I hope many readers find and enjoy.

A Box of Gargoyles

A Box of Gargoylesby Anne Nesbet

vampiri samodavi, gargoyles that move, stones full of memories, music that brings the dead to life – there is magic in the legends and magic waiting in a choice

Maya has found her way in Paris with the help of Valko – everything is better with a friend.  Just as she is willing to recognize a little of the happiness hope brings, strange things begin to happen and Henri de Fourcroy is part of them.  He has cast a spell, an enchantment, a bonding?  Something is calling Maya and changing the city: perhaps even undoing the world.

Henri, now a shadow is using what is left of his magic to bring himself back to life.  The Cabinet of Earths may be gone, but he is sure he can bend the rules of the universe once more.  He will only need to convince Maya to give him what he needs – her heart.  He knows she will.   That is how the magic works now that he has bound her to him.   She is his zmey (dragon).   All he must do is wait for her to bring the pieces together. He places his memory into a wall for safekeeping, but the wall doesn’t want to think, to know, to feel, to be – that is not what a rock should do.  The wall resists.  Part of it explodes and the hole that appears it just enough… just enough to give Maya the space to think and choose.  She can decide if the dominoes will just fall as they will or if she will resist and create a new pattern.

Maya is caught in the force of the magic, but Valko is not.  Together they are aware of things that others are not.  They learn about history and heritage.  They learn about change and magic.  Determinism – physics, choice – magic.

A Box of Gargoyles settles the loose ends left from The Cabinet of Earths.  There are always at least two sides of a thing, if not more.  It is important to consider each facet, each color, each choice – they are always there.  When the time is right you’ll know what to do.  It will shine and sparkle like a star.  It will feel warm and happy.  The music of the world will twinkle with peace.

Wednesdays in the Tower

Wednesdays in the Towerby Jessica Day George

225 pages of magic and mystery that will leave you eagerly waiting for more

Wednesdays in the Tower follows Tuesdays at the Castle and picks up the story of Celie, Rolf, Lilah, Pogue, Lulath and now Bran and King and Queen Glower.  Celie has finished her atlas enough so that she feels it is ready to be copied and shared with others.  She knows that her maps will never fully be accurate because new rooms will still come and unused rooms will still go, after all Castle is magic.  Celie loves Castle.  She cares for it and because of that she also feels its present discomfort.  Castle is changing.  Rooms are coming without need and they are old and unused.  The holiday feasting room arrives with no holiday in sight.  A room full of fabrics appears with patterns and fashions hundreds of years old.  A map room shows up but with maps of places no one knows and there’s an armory lined with suits of armor and weapons, the uses of some are unknown but dangerously enchanted.  Castle seems upset, angry, maybe, ill.  It’s as if the rooms are coming from another place and time.  Why?  What is Castle’s story?

Bran, now the Royal Wizard, sends to the College of Wizardry and asks for help with the armory because of the magic weaponry.  Amidst the concern regarding the new unpredictability of Castle, no one but Celie notices the new tower.  It’s beyond the schoolroom and in it Celie finds a pumpkin-sized orange egg on a nest of moss and twigs.  Celie, with Castle’s help, cares for the egg and keeps it safe until it hatches.  The hatchling is a griffin and Celie immediately loves the creature and names him Rufus.

Castle will only allow her to reveal the griffin to a selected few.  Why Castle would bring her a griffin and at the same time want to her to keep it a secret?  Meanwhile, Wizard Awkright arrives, not the wizard Bran had hoped the college would send.  He instantly puts both the royal family and Castle on edge.  His mysterious appearances and unusual interest in what Celie is doing, along with his abrupt comments and near threats to the royal family create a suspicious air.  What is he doing?  Why is he really there?  It is clear Castle doesn’t know what to make of his actions either.  Just when you think you know Celie, Rolf and Rufus, Lilah and Lulath find themselves in a whole new place.  Can Castle find them there?

The adventure and mystery that surrounds Wednesdays in the Tower pulls you through the pages to a satisfying ending and leaves you at a new beginning.  You’ll be looking for the next book in the series and wondering what awaits you at Castle Glower.

In Search of Goliathus Hercules

In Search of Goliathus Herculesby Jennifer Angus

a surreal, Victorian adventure full of mysterious surprises in unusual places

Henri’s dad has been gone for three years and missing for two.  Sent to British Malaya as the superintendent of a rubber plantation, he had, so the story went, one day just walked into the jungle and vanished.  Unable to believe that possible, Henri’s mom decided to travel there to see for herself and that is how Henri came to be at Woodland Farm in America living with Great Aunt Georgie and her button collection.

It was rather boring being 10 and alone in middle of nowhere.  Of course the farm had lots of places to explore, but that only went so far when there is no one to explore it with.  And talking? Well, the only person to converse with as 90-year old, Great Aunt Georgie and she only talked about buttons.  She shared interesting tidbits like the oldest button was five thousand years old or buttons were first used to fasten clothing in Germany in the thirteenth century.  Interesting, but rather dull and right now it was raining.  As he looked out the window, Henri was aware of a fly bumping into it over and over.  He thought it was annoying so he asked the fly to stop.  It did.  Then he noticed another fly moving across the newspaper line by line as if it were reading.  He watched for a bit until it said, “It’s rude to read over someone’s shoulder you know.”  Before Henri could fully believe it, he’d had complete conversation with the fly, which could in fact read.  Henri wasn’t sure he believed it, but suddenly the world was no longer full of chirps and creaks – each one had meaning.  It was true.  Henri could communicate with insects.

When the circus came to town Henri was drawn to Maestro Antonio’s Amazing Flying Flea Circus.  Although a small sideshow, Henri was sure he could help it become the “greatest show on earth.”  Antonio agreed to let him try and so Henri ran away to join the circus.   But not before meeting Great Aunt Georgie’s neighbor, Agatha Black.  Her coldhearted cruelty filled Henri with dread that didn’t seem to fully go away even when he thought he had left her behind.

Joining the circus is just the beginning of Henri’s transformation from lonely boy to ambassador to the insect world.   Henri is thoughtful and creative.  He appreciates the gifts of every creature whether a flea or a queen.  They appreciate this kindness and because of it support his quest to discover the truth behind the story of the largest beetle in the world. Reading In Search of Goliathus Hercules will keep you turning the pages to the very end.  There are some remaining questions and some places where the plot is stretched a little thin, but for insect-loving readers (and even those who feel a little squeamish at the thought) this is totally entertaining adventure from start to finish.  I also love the kaleidoscope of insects that begins each chapter and the connecting information that begins each part of the book.

Fyre

Fyre (Septimus Heap, #7)Angie Sage does a masterful job of bringing all the characters from the first six books of the Septimus Heap series together in Fyre. Septimus is 14 and he has chosen magical over alchemical.  He has made his commitment.  Past and present weave together setting the stage for what looks to be a very bright future indeed. Septimus will become the next ExtraOrdinary Wizard.  His main challenge at the moment is to decipher the glyphs on the tower roof.  Beetle is the newly appointed Chief Hermetic Scribe of the Manuscriptorium.  He is sorting and classifying and working to locate missing pieces in the documents of the history of their magical world. Jenna, soon to be the new queen, must learn all she can about the Queen’s Way.

Their tasks are pushed aside by a challenge from the Darke Domaine.  The evil contained in the two-faced ring is ever-changing and strong.  If they are ever to be free of it, it must be denatured in the true alchemical fyre.  This is not an easy task – especially when magic and deceit are in play so even what they think they know, they do not.  To achieve this goal Septimus must use all his skills –  magical and alchemical and he will require the knowledge, support and genius of everyone he has met in the past and present, living or not.  Everyone and everything will be needed to bring the evil begun DomDaniel to an end.

Septimus is the seventh son of a seventh son who must study his craft for seven years and a day before becoming the new head wizard.  It is fitting that his tale comes to a close in the seventh book of this series.  Unpredictable, funny and exciting – you’ll love reading Fyre even though it means leaving behind characters and a story you can’t get tired of.  I loved reading this series and I think Fyre is the best of them.  Enjoy!

Dragonborn

Dragonborn (The Flaxfield Quartet, #1)by Toby Forward

Book 1 of the Flaxfield Quartet

don’t be deceived by the cover – this is a book for seasoned fantasy readers who’ll be okay with a little confusion and patient enough to have their questions answered as the story unfolds throughout the series.

Dragonborn begins with these words:  Flaxfield died on a Friday…  Flaxfield had been teaching Sam to become a wizard.  Sam is halfway through his apprenticeship – he knows some magic but not enough.  He is completely alone but for his dragon and best friend, Starback. Everything that is familiar to Sam disappears in that instant.  Flaxfield’s past apprentices come back to the cottage to honor their master as the rules dictate – while there they question Sam and don’t believe he is an actual apprentice.  They frighten and confuse Sam enough so that he runs away in search of someone or a way that will help him complete his apprenticeship. He is determined to become a full wizard.  That he will not lose.

Sam’s journey follows a tracing of trails that weaves worlds and times together.  For a time Sam loses Starback because he meets a roffle.  The roffle leads Sam to a school for wizards suggesting he can finish his apprenticeship there.  Once at the school, Sam discovers that it is not what he needs at all. The magic taught there is not what he wants to learn.  Most of the teachers and students there lack respect for the rules of real magic, the important kind.  Magic is wasted there so it becomes weak and useless. Sam leaves there too.

Almost as soon as Sam begins his journey, the other Flaxfield wizards realize that Sam might be “the one” and they go in search of him. Starback, no longer with Sam, but wishing to help, sees this and leads them away from Sam.  He leads castle he once knew.  Then it was teeming with life.  Strangely now it is lifeless and dark, but it is away from Sam and Starbuck hopes that will keep him safe.

Separated from his friend, Sam’s lonely journey continues.  Glimmers of hope appear around some of the bends, while shadows of evil slip through at others. Sam is on a quest, one that threatens his very life.  It seems he has no choice but to follow the path before him.  There is no running from destiny and by the end of the book I had a inkling of what that destiny might be. There is evil magic abroad and an old danger is gathering strength.  It seems that Sam and Starback have an important part to play in this unfolding battle.

I have much more to learn about magic, dragons, Flaxfield, Flaxfold, Tamrin and Ash and I can’t wait!  Dragonborn is the first of four books.  I am eager to read them all.  I had many questions as I read.  It was challenging to keep the characters and the action straight. Jot some notes. They may help you understand the sides and that’s important.  I found myself rereading large sections of the book to make sure I understood how the pieces fit together.  This is a complex book – one to read and read again and enjoy.

The Spindlers

The Spindlersby Lauren Oliver

a intermediate adventure with an eerie twist

The first thing I noticed when I opened The Spindlers was the dedication:  To Patrick, of course –  And to my sister, who has rescued me many times from the dark, and for whom I would gladly go Below.  Hmm… I thought as I began to read…  “One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning , when she woke up, he was not.”

A few sentences later I read:  The fake-Patrick picked up his spoon and gave Liza a look that chilled her to her very center.  Then the fake-Patrick began to eat his cereal, methodically, slowly, fishing all the alphabet letters out of his Alpha-Bits one by one and lining them up along the rim of his bowl.  … I-H-A-T-E-Y-O-U.

Patrick was somehow both there, and totally gone.  Because of this, their parents see no reason to notice.  They are caught up with  the search for missing reading glasses and the endless cycle of working hard and worrying about paying bills on time.  If Patrick is to be saved, it is totally up to Liza.  She knew there were worlds beyond and below.  She’d heard the stories, and though she hadn’t been sure they were true, she wondered now that Patrick was gone.  Had his soul been stolen by the Spindlers.  Though he was a pain, he was her brother.  He was her friend and it seemed to Liza that she must try to find and save him if at all possible.  And so she went looking.  She discovered more than she had ever dreamed of and she had the courage to go Below.  That is how she met Mirabella, the mascaraed rat, learned of the lumer-lumpen, discovered the seeds of hope and found the truths that come to you in your dreams.

Liza is off on a challenging quest in a land that is totally unique and far from kind – and yet it is just down the stairs and a bit below from where you are reading right now.  Will you dare to go?   Will your courage hold ?  Once you’ve made your decision you’ll have a great tale to tell…if you return.

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

by Lynne Jonell

I read this book in 3rd grade (With Mrs. Eaves as a teacher!) and I remember how I could really feel the story, especially the evilness of Miss Barmy. I hope you can too… Enjoy!

It feels to Emmy like she has no parents at all. They are always off on trips, exploring faraway places and she is stuck at home with her nanny Miss Barmy. Emmy never talks back to her nanny, nor does she refuse vegetables, not do her homework and things of the sort.  Miss Barmy is very mean to her and she makes her eat and drink peculiar things. She writes letters to her parents, but she never gets a response. Life is not so great.

Emmy does not have many friends, but she likes to sit by the classroom pet, the Rat.  This was because she could hear him speak. A rat, speaking! Nonetheless, he was rude and and angry all the time. No one else could hear him until one day, when a boy in her class, Joe gets bitten by him. Joe is talking to Emmy and in response to him saying “I was just trying to feed him a carrot. You’d think he would have been grateful.” the Rat said “Ha!” Joe was stunned. He had to leave right after, but for most of the rest of the book, Joe becomes 4 inches tall.  Read this story and In guarantee that you will want to read the next book, Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls, right away.

Click on the book cover to access Lynne Jonell’s website and her summary of the book. And click here to see the video book review on YouTube courtesy of 60secondrecap PickoftheWeek.

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“Jonell takes readers on a merry, sometimes scary romp… It’s fun to watch remarkably good Emmy and especially bad Barmy spar.”

— Booklist, starred review