Goblin Secrets

Goblin Secrets (Zombay, #1)by William Alexander

223 pages telling the book of a play – a reenactment of life where you can be changed, have your will taken away and live with clockwork parts that seem unimaginable – but become more real as you consider their gruesome possibility

When I heard Goblin Secrets had won the National Book Award I thought I’d give it a try.  It is an unusual book to be sure.  It made me question and wonder.  I am glad I do not live in Zombay, but I would like to cross over the Fiddleway Bridge and cast a stone to say “hello”.  I would not want to be one of Graba’s children, but I do think that would be better than fending for myself on either the North or the South side of the city.  I would love to see the masks and I would love to see the plays – I think.  That the masks could change me makes me a little nervous.  And the way life and magic works in Zombay is unsettling to me.

Rownie is an orphan living with a host of “stray children” gathered up by Graba the witch. She orders them about to do her bidding and maintain her hold on her side of the city. Rownie’s brother Rowan is missing. He seems to have vanished from the city – but Rownie believes there must be more to it than that. Intrigued by the sign a troupe of Goblin players post on the bridge, Rownie decides to attend their presentation and even dares to participate though the Lord Mayor has outlawed acting. It seems that acting and actors are unpredictable. They are able to create a magic all their own – a magic that can change the world. Those in power don’t want that world to change. They like their power, but it seems to me there is little joy in Zombay on the best of days and change might not be such a bad thing. Rownie isn’t interested in power or change but he would like to find his brother and know the warm security of knowing your family again. That simple desire is caught up between two bickering sides and an angry river threatening to flood. Read Goblin Secrets – let us know what you think. Do you end with more questions than your began with?

Under Wildwood

Under Wildwood (Wildwood Chronicles, #2)Colin Meloy  and Carson Ellis continue the wonder and wildness of Wildwood in the second adventure that bring Curtis and Prue together in The Wood.

Mac is home.  Everything should be right for the McReel’s, but it’s not.  Prue faces a daily longing and emptiness and there is no one to share it with.  Curtis is back in The Wood training with the Bandits, but Prue’s story in Portland continues on in dullness that gnaws at her.  It seems as though the wood is calling her. Sometimes it seems to be sending for her and other times it seems threatening and menacing.  Somethings is unsettled, unclear, on the brink of change, but what?

Meanwhile in the Melhberg home, Curtis’ parents are desperate to find him.  Their most recent lead is sending them to Istanbul, Turkey, but for this trip Elsie and Rachel must stay behind.  The Melhbergs have found a temporary place for the girls to stay, The Joffrey  Unthank Home for Wayward Youth situated on the edge of the Industrial Waste and the Impassable Wilderness.

Everything, we know, happens for a reason though that reason may not be immediately certain.  Prue and Curtis first came into The Wood together and that is how it seems they should be – together – for their role in confronting the tensions of the Wood.  But there are more denizen’s of the wood who have been hiding out in Portland and it seems that they will be called on if the evil waiting to take over is to be stopped.

Read Under Wildwood to learn more about how the history of the Wood as lead to its present challenges.  What does it take to reinstate peace to the Wood?  Is it possible to keep Wood Magic alive and whole?  What of those who cross in and out?  Are the two world really separate?  Should they be?  What do you think?  When you finish Under Wildwood you’ll be wishing for the next part of the story – I hope it comes soon!

The Fire Chronicle

The Fire Chronicle (The Books of Beginning, #2)by John Stephens

Kate, Michael and Emma have been hidden away by Stanislaus Pym, their guardian. They are not safe and he hopes that he’ll be able to discover more about the danger and the reasons with time. Time, though, is not on their side and Michael and Emma find themselves on a breathless quest to find the second Book of Beginning, The Fire Chronicle. At the same time Kate is transported by the power of the Emerald Atlas to the past.

Michael and Kate race from the Screechers and others who work for the Dire Magnus. They travel around and through the world in search of the magical book and clues to discover where and why their parents have been taken from them.  With the help of steadfast Gabriel, Michael and Kate join a dragon and an army of elves (not Michael’s beloved dwarves)  to gain control of the Chronicle and learn even more about their destiny as the prophesied three.  While their quest unfolds Kate is whisked through time to the exact moment when the magical world divided itself off and went into hiding. There she learns of another part of the children’s destiny and comes to understand more about the divide between the wizards and the Dire Magnus.

Only by being together will the children be able to do any thing – Kate is in past in New York City and Michael and Emma at at the bottom of the world in the lava chamber of vast volcano.  Magic can bring them together – but how and when.    There is a cost  for using magic but that won’t be fully understood until the story of the Books of Beginning is told from start to finish.  What is the  cost of bringing the three books together? Who will pay and how will the worlds be left? Are their more than two choices?  Are there only two sides –  good and evil?  The Fire Chronicle is a thrilling adventure that will leave you breathlessly turning pages, eagerly searching for information, connections and answers to your many questions.  I didn’t think a book could be better than The Emerald Atlas, but The Fire Chronicle just might be.  All I know for sure is that I cannot wait to read the final book in the trilogy – so many twists and turns, so many possibilities.  I can’t wait to find out discover what is in store for Emma, Michael and Kate – their parents and friends and the world.  Life is in the balance.

Starry River of the Sky

Starry River of the Skyby Grace Lin

Rendi has run away from home – gone as far as he can to be away from his father, Magistrate Tiger as he possibly can.  His father, hoping to become an important man, bullies everyone around him with his arrogant and dishonest challenges.  His tricks and plans seem to get him what he wants, but Rendi cannot bear to be part of the deceit. Although it means leaving his mother and sister behind, Rendi’s anger at being used and discarded gets the best of him and he set off.  His journey brings him to the City of Clear Sky.  He finds a job as chore boy in the Inn and here questions and stories unfold around him. They make him wonder about choices – his choices.   Where has the innkeeper’s son gone? Is Peiyi angry or sad?  Why is she concerned about leaving?  Why do neighbors argue, when working together they could find a solution? Is it possible that Mr. Shan cannot tell the difference between a rabbit and a toad?  Where is the moon and why does no one else notice it is missing?  And mostly, what is the sound, the crying and haunts Rendi everywhere he goes?

An elegant lady comes to the Inn and Reyndi wonders why she has chosen to stay there.  At once enchanted by her stories and the ease she brings to their lives, Rendi begins to understand that people are revealed by the stories they tell.  He learns that many stories can be understood different ways – one story may have as many different meanings as there are listeners.  Finally Rendi’s questions are answered and he knows what he must do.

Readers of Starry River of the Sky will smile as they discover how the threads from each story told are woven together to create a rich tapestry combining China’s ancient tales with our contemporary lives to create a new, completely satisfying story challenge, friendship and love.  Mountains, the moon, toads and journeys play an important role in Grace Lin’s new book – a companion to When the Mountain Meets the Moon.  You’re sure to love to journey as you begin to wonder what you reveal through the stories you share and tell.

Grace Lin shares how she came to write this story and how her favorite fairy tales and legends combine in her telling.  Click here to hear what she has to tell.

Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, #3)I thought the challenges and actions in this book were outstanding.  I appreciated the twists and turns that were added as new myths and legends were told.  I think it is one of Riordon’s best stories so far.  My review definitely sounds like a teacher – I really appreciate when people are challenged and their efforts are respected.  I’ll try to tone it down, but if you know me, you know that taking risks, being committed to achieving greatness and being kind are my top three.  I think this book has that, along with lots of interesting twists. Enjoy!

574 exciting pages of adventuring quest

Working together is the only way to save humankind.  This is more challenging than it seems. The Greeks don’t like the Romans.  The Roman’s don’t trust the Greeks.   Gaea is working to gather  the power and energy she needs to reawaken,  That means that  nothing touching earth is as it seems when you’re a demigod.  The Giants are hoping to regain their authority.  That means nothing is as it seems underground.  The Gods are in chaos – which strength, which image should they let appear to the demigods charged by Hera/Juno to bring peace to Earth.  That means being in the air may not be safe either.  This is the turmoil Leo, Hazel, Jason, Percy, Annabeth, Piper and Frank must journey through.  If they fail, our world will fail too.  What will rise in its place?

The Mark of Athena continues the story begun when the Prophecy of the Seven was foretold.   Greek and Roman demigods must not let Gaea rise while defeating the giants, thwarting the eidolons and gathering long lost secrets along the way.  When the way for the quest was established, the makers could not conceive of cooperation among enemies, but so far in the quest it has been cooperation that helped them through each challenge; cooperation and genuine care for others and humanity.  Each one of the heroes has his or her special talent and unique weaknesses.  Only through accepting both the good and the bad and making a total commitment to  respect and trust each other can they discover what the world needs.

It is comforting to know that gods get scared, that they make bad decisions and that they have to deal with the consequences of their mistakes.  It is also comforting to know that self-centered, egotistical power is undone and outwitted while friendship, family and dedication struggles on.  There is strength in this quest because of the trust and respect shown by and for each of the characters.  You’re sure to enjoy The Mark of Athena.  The only down side is that The House of Hades is a year away.

Splendors and Glooms

Splendors and Gloomsby Laura Amy Schlitz

400 pages of eerie delight and gruesome mystery

Splendors and Glooms is a creepy, captivating story; dark and light at once.  Gaspare Grisini, is a devilishly evil puppeteer who owns two children that do his bidding and work:  Lizzie Rose, noble and true and Parsefall, a talented scamp.  They perform marionette shows around the streets of Victorian London, an “icy stew of mud and straw, horse manure and urine.”

It is at one of these shows that their paths cross with Clara Wintermute, the daughter of a well to do doctor.  Clara’ life, though blessed, is far from happy. Her four siblings have all died of cholera and she bares the secret shame of surviving.  Secrets and lies, combined with magic and morbid cruelty unite the children in a fight for survival and a desire to live with honest care and love.

The final part of the story develops through the tale of the dying witch, Cassandra.  She has drawn her lasting power from the fire opal that is now consuming her very life.  As she tries to save herself she calls them all from the city.  Grisini, Lizzie Rose, Parsefall  and the magic that surrounds, consumes and saves them.  Spells are woven and broken as the children discover only they can undo the folly and malevolence placed on earth by the blinding greed of adults.

This book makes my skin crawl.  The image rich language brings history to life – every bit of it; the feel, the sound, the smell.   Poverty is here, desperate and raw – in striking contrast between those with warm food and gifts and parties.  Those with

means and those without is strongly is a vivid image in this book for me.  That children can be bought and sold because there is no one to care for them, and then once bought, there is no public eye to their continuing care and well-being makes me wonder.  Have times changed all that much?

Read Splendors and Glooms for its unique story, its incredible language, it’s vivid look into history and lingering images that stay with you long after you are done reading.  Will you be inspired to learn more, to take action and to recognize the need to kindnesses in our lives no matter how small?


The Familiars – Secrets of the Crown

Secrets of the Crown (The Familiars, #2)by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew JacobsonThe Familiars (The Familiars, #1)

Three are chosen – discover who and how in 374 pages of fantasy adventure for intermediate and middle readers

Who’s your favorite “Familiar”?  What animal would your familiar be?

Two years ago I read The Familiars.  I was attracted to it because that year I had a reader of only cat books.  Aldwyn, one of the Familiars, was a cat so I thought I’d give it a try.  I did and it was great fun.  The main characters are a stray cat, a red-eyed tree frog and a blue jay.  I don’t think there could be a more unlikely trio and their distinct personality traits had me smiling all the way through.

When I saw The Familiars – Secrets of the Crown in the bookstore I knew I wanted to keep this series growing in my classroom.   My to-be-read piles are all over and rather large… finally it was time to read about the Familiars again.  I am so glad I did.  First, because I was reminded of just how fun the characters and the story line is.  One of my favorite scenes is as the quest begins and we find out that Gilbert has blundered a spell (yet again) and now has three extra toes that cause him to hop with a limp and a wobble.  Second, because the third is coming out September 4 and I definitely want to spend more time with Aldwyn, Gilbert and Skylar.  I can’t wait to find out what new challenge Paksahara will put forth, how the prophecy will continue to unfold and how magic will be restored to Vastia (at least I hope it will).

Vastia has been placed in peril.  On the edge of a new era, the kingdom is threatened by take over if the prophecy of a new three who will save and guide the kingdom into the future is not fulfilled before evil Paksahara eliminates all remaining vestiges of magic and has her way.   In a race against time the keepers, both past and present, of Vastia must decipher the riddles laid out before them.  Who are the three?  Is it the three children, Jack, Marianne and Dalton?  They are learning the ancient ways as quickly as they can, but will it be in time?  Or is the prophesied three their Familiars?  Could it be a combination?  In Vastia humans and animals team up, complimenting each other and completing the circle of magical power.  Will they discover all they need to know quickly enough?  Time is of the essence.  Paksahara is experienced, evil and strong.  Will they be in time or Vastia will fall prey to the Paksahara’s Dread Army of skeletal wolves, zombie bears and ghoulish animals.  Will the uprising begin?  How will it end?

Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage

Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage (Clover Twig, #1)by Kaye Umansky

about 250 pages of magical gadgets, interesting characters and exciting adventures for middle grade readers and everyone who appreciates good friends

Clover Twig is sensible.  She is dependable, thoughtful and unflappable – important qualities if you are going to work for a witch.  That is what Clover, the eldest daughter of the Twig family, does in Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage.  She answers  Mrs. Eckles ad, and though she does not seem to fit all the qualifications (she doesn’t look all that strong), she is hired.  From that day on Clover lives and works at the magical cottage six days a week.  Clover is unfazed by the oddities around her.  She has a cottage to clean, food to purchase in town and meals to prepare.  She has eggs to collect, gates to grease and a yard to tend.  Wilf, the delivery boy from the town and Neville, the large, rather smelly, ugly cat become her friends and companions

Clover settles into life at the cottage easily.  She gets used to the strange things going on around her and she learns there are witches who use magic for good and witches who use magic for ill.  Mrs. Eckles is an ethical witch.  She uses her magic when necessary and she accepts her responsibility for keeping the magic content.  She cares for the cottage and makes sure it’s pleased with its place.  Her sister, Mesmeranza, is just the opposite sort of witch.  She wants everything and she wants it all for herself no matter what or who is hurt.  In fact she doesn’t care about that at all, she just wants everything.

When Mrs. Eckles plans to go to the May Fayre and leave the cottage in Clover’s care, Mezmeranza launches her plan.  It has one flaw – Mezmeranza doesn’t know about Clover.  She thinks Wilf is going to be at the cottage so she has misdirected her energies there.  Clover Twig is undisturbed by the unusual happenings surrounding the magical things she finds herself confronted with.  She isn’t scared or cowed  and Mesmeranza doesn’t expect that.  Clover is a force to be reckoned with – even if much happens by accident – which sends Mesmeranza into a fury.

You’ll smile at the outrageous shoes, allergies and antics that surround those who live at Castle Coldiron.  You’ll appreciate how those from the Magical Cottage takes things in stride and are satisfied by who they are and what they do – flaws and all.  Clover Twig is a great friend, loving sister and loyal employee, plus she knows what is right and just.  It all works out in the end but it takes a lot of effort, ingenuity and cleaning.

Mesmeranza doesn’t get her way and she is not happy!  She has a new plan and this time it is directed straight at Clover.  Read Clover Clover Twig and the Perilous PathTwig and the Perilous Path to see how the second tale unfolds.  Magic is challenging but those who are true at heart come through unscathed in the end.

The Best of Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl had so many great books! I will share a few of his that I liked so much that I have read so many times. Boy and Going Solo I have already reviewed, but the ones that I’m going to review are shorter reads and are just as great.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

5 Golden Tickets are released into 5 Wonka candy bars all around the world. After 4 tickets our found, Charlie’s parents, struggling to ‘make end’s meat’, give him a chocolate bar and as expected, no ticket. But by some miraculous stroke of luck, Charlie gets a golden ticket. The spectacular adventure that awaits him is far more than anything that he could have imagined. But meeting Mr. Wonka himself is one of the unimaginable adventures in itself. This has two movie takes on it and again, is one of Roald Dahl’s Ultimate Classics.

The Magic Finger

The Greggs are a normal family. They live in their normal house, go about their daily activities. The dad and his sons hunt. But this makes their eight year old neighbor very cross. And being cross is the thing that activates her ‘magic finger.’ Her magic finger punishes people for the things that make her cross. For example, the magic finger turned her teacher into a cat because the teacher called her stupid. And now the magic finger has done something horrendous to the Greggs, without the girl being able to control it. This is a quick read, but so not underestimate this book at all.

The Enormous Crocodile

The Enormous Crocodile is a VERY ENORMOUS CROCODILE! And he wants to dine on some “sweet, juicy” children. But all of his animal friends try to talk him out of committing this “dastardly deed”. The jungle animals cannot convince him not to do it, but they are not giving up. Read The Enormous Crocodile to find out what happens.

Click here to access the Official Roald Dahl Website.

To view other Roald Dahl Book Reviews, go to the “Book Review List” page (link found about book picture at top of screen) and find his books.

Tuesdays at the Castle

Tuesdays at the CastleJessica Day George

225 pages of middle grade magic and pluck

“Whenever Castle Glower became bored, it would grow a new room or two.”  From the first line you know that Castle Glower is not like any other.  But neither is the royal family who resides within it.  King Glower the seventy-ninth and Queen Celina are thoughtful rulers.  They have four wonderful children – Bran, Liliah, Rolf and Celie, and as they watched them grow they noticed their different talents.  They realized Bran, though oldest and technically heir, was not meant to be a king.  He was destined for something different.  They could see the magic in him and they sent him off to the College of Wizardry.  Rolf, though younger, was able to mediate, discuss and decide justly.  When the time came, it was decided, he would be king.  Certainly that was a long way off, but Rolf would be ready when the time came.  Princess Celie was bouncy and energetic, determined and true.  She was trying to map the castle and record all its changes in an atlas.  Celie knows many of its secrets but not all.  She loves the castle and everything about its gentle living magic.  She pays very close attention to its shifts and changes.  The castle pays close attention to her.

Two weeks ago Bran graduated and the king and queen had gone to the ceremony.  They were due back any minute and the prince and princesses were eager for their return.  While waiting Celie found a mysterious tower.  It had a table, a rope, a tin of biscuits, a book and a spyglass mounted on the windowsill.  Looking through the glass she saw something strange – her parents’ carriage with no soldiers or guard.  Celie showed Rolf and before they could wonder more, the carriage and a sergeant arrived reporting the terrible news; their family had been ambushed by bandits and murdered.  Could this be true?  Before they could be certain, Lord Feen declared Rolf, King.  He and the other Lords of the Council stepped in to assist.  They closed any investigation into the disappearance of the King and Queen and now, Wizard Bran.  They invited the neighboring royalty to the castle for a hasty coronation and worked to make certain that Rolf, Lilah and Celie are cared for in their grief.  Things were not as they should be.  Rolf, though young, knew decisions being made were not correct.  Something strange, even sinister, was happening, but what?  With the castle on their side Rolf, Lilah and Celie have a chance of clearing away the murky intrigue surrounding them.  But what will happen if the Lords succeed in ending the castle magic?  What will that mean for all of Glower?

Tuesdays at the Castle is full of great characters, interesting twists and turns ( to say nothing of the tunnels, secret passageways and spy holes) and crafty plots and plans that surprise and satisfy.  I was excited to learn that this is a first book in a series.  I can’t wait to find out how royal family of Glower changes along with its amazing castle.  I’m interested in knowing what happens to Prince Lulath of Grath, Pogue and Rufus.  When I visit the castle, I wonder what my room will be like?