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.

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.

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.

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 Mysterious Woods of Whistle Root

The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Rootby Christopher Pennell

a mysterious fantasy for intermediate readers who love a  great story

Carly can’t sleep at night.  It is impossible for her and this makes her life hard.  It means she rarely sees the aunt she lives with.  Being 11 she still has to go to school and trying to sty awake for the lessons is nearly impossible.  Her teacher is not very patient and her classmates stay away from her because she is peculiar.

She is different, but that difference is what allows her to see and notice things no one else does.  She sees the squash on the roof.  She hears the music in the breeze and she has started talking to Lewis, her friend the rat.  Lewis plays the violin.  He asks Carly to play the horn and he shares the changes that are happening in the wood.  Something is wrong – the owls have stopped dancing and are capturing the rat musicians.  The cozy peaceful feeling of the wood and the town has been replaced by a sinister, insincere silence.  And it seems as though Carly will be the only one able to collect all the pieces of the stories from the past to save the woods and the beautiful, magical whistle root trees.

I love how the idea of flying by being able to find the handholds in the wind.  I think that stories of the past are important to remember and that tales may not always be “just stories.”  This story is gentle and fierce, funny and serious all at the same time.

The book begins:  “In a small town called Whistle Root, rats play music in the moonlight.  They play on the very rooftops there.  You can hear them if you listen closely in the middle of the night when there’s a slight breeze blowing.  Who knows why they like breezes, but they do.  And moonlight.  You’ll never hear a rat playing music with out moonlight.

The music can be scary.  It sounds as if someone left the radio playing in the closet.  But if you’re brave enough to look in the closet, you won’t find any thing.  And if you’re even braver and look out your window, the music will stop completely.

All of which leads me to the story of a girl named Carly who looked out the window of her upstairs room one night and saw a squash sitting on the roof.”

And from that beginning you’ll be carried off into the magic and monsters, the wonders and worries of Whistle Root.

The Third Door

The Third Doorby Emily Rodda

the final book of the trilogy – very satisfying and surprising – a perfect way for a quest to end

The third door, the wooden door is the one that has been calling Rye and now it is his time to go on the quest of his choosing.  He went through the gold door, found Dirk and brought him home to Weld.  He went through the silver door, found Sholto and brought him back to Weld too.  But Weld is still in danger from the vicious skimmers and Rye cannot rest until he has found a way to undo this evil.  Why is it something Weld must endure?

The land beyond the third door is so familiar – eerily so.   Rye has to figure out what is going on and how Fell and Riverside are connected to his hometown.  Just at the beginning of this leg of the journey Rye is separated from Sonia and his brothers. He loses his memory for a time, but Rye knows there is a mystery hiding behind the shadows and that all is not what it seems. He knows that something must be undone if his family and all the people he has met through his quest are going to survive and live without fear.

Reading The Third Door will have you thinking about families and stories, kindnesses and grudges, forgiveness and jealousy.  How do we honor differences of opinion? What do you choose?  What is important?

The Show Must Go On!

The Show Must Go On!written by Kate Klise

illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

This is book 1 of the Three Ring Rascals.  When you finish you’ll be glad that there is a plan for more stories with the characters that you’ve come to love.

The book opens with “If you’re ever walking down a dusty road and see a sign that looks like this, STOP and look closely.”  The sign says:  Coming Soon!  Sir Sidney’s Circus   Animals!  Acrobats!  Amazing Feats That Will DAZZLE YOUR EYES and DELIGHT YOUR BRAIN!

Sir Sidney’s circus is the best in the world, but Sir Sidney is getting old and a bit tired of travel.  He loves his circus and his animals, big and small, but he needs some help.  After a day of pacing and listing, considering and wondering Sir Sidney hires certified lion tamer, Barnaby Brambles to manage his circus.  Right from the start things begin to go wrong.  You see Barnaby Brambles doesn’t understand that kindness goes a long way.  He doesn’t consider how all things are connected. If you eliminate one thing or add another what is good doesn’t always remain.  Barnaby Brambles also doesn’t know that all things are not what they seem.  If a deal seems to be too good to be true, it just might be. No, Barnaby Brambles doesn’t think about anything but money and becoming rich.  He cuts corners in every way that he can.  If he thinks he can get away with it, he tries it and he has no qualms about telling a lie if it will get him what he wants.  He is bad, through and through.

What will become of the best circus in the world now that he is in charge?  Will the acrobats perform?  Will the animals be safe and cared for?  You’ll have to read The Show Must Go On! to find out.  It’s smafunderful!

You can Meet the Cast here and learn a more about the book. Which character are you most like?  I’m curious to know what 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.

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.