October 30, 2007


By Robin McKinley
Rating 4 1/4 stars
Reviewed by Noelle

Kudos to established fantasy writer McKinley for doing the unexpected. Instead of putting us in a new fantasy environment, this novel places us in what seems to be normal, every day America with one big difference--dragons exist. Our narrator is the teenager Jake, who lives at the Institute, a nature preserve for dragons. And like most non-profit places, it is struggling to survive. Dragons, for all their size and glory, seem able to hide away, and almost no one ever sees them. They also seem to be dwindling in number. And then Jake goes on his overnight solo in the park and finds both a dead poacher and a dying dragon who just gave birth...and one of the dragonlets is still alive. Unthinking, Jake picks up the baby dragon and before he knows it, Jake becomes both the dragon's mom and on America's most wanted list for it is a crime to try and save a dragon's life. The Institute rallies around Jake and his big secret (whom he names Lois), and then things get really out of control. While Jake is learning all about dragons from birth on up with Lois, the Institute is under attack from a group trying to close them down for protecting dangerous creatures--the fallout of the dead poacher. Jake has to leave the Institute with Lois and head out into the backcountry to hide, and it there that he makes contact with other dragons. Real dragons. Big, fire-breathing, house-sized dragons. Can Jake find a way to communicate with the dragons and save the Institute? This novel is compelling, especially told from Jake's stream of consciousness point of view where raising a dragon is tackled from a very practical standpoint. The existence of dragons among us is enough to tease in many a reader, but all of them will stay to see what ends up happening with Lois, Jake and the Institute. Thumbs up!

October 17, 2007

Elissa's Quest

By Erica Verrillo
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Noelle

This is the first book in the Phoenix Rising series. As far as Elissa knows, she is an orphaned peasant girl, apprenticed to the healer Nana in a small village. She fantasizes about the identity of her unknown father, only knowing that her mother died in childbirth. Elissa does have one secret: a magical gift to speak to and understand animals that Nana warns her to keep silent about. Then when Elissa is 13 years old, her father appears, and he turns out to be the prince of Castlemar, Lord Falk. In an instant, Elissa is swept out of the only life she knows and brought with Lord Falk on a journey to meet with the Khan. Although Elissa is desperate for a sign of love from her father, she despairs when Lord Falk tells her that she is to be used as a bargaining chip with the Khan so he'll lend Falk the army he needs to win a war in Castlemar. Left in the Citadel with her faithful donkey Gertrude and a young enslaved serving girl named Maya, Elissa begins to learn of her destiny when she hears a prophecy about the Phoenix and the Seeker. But first before she fulfills any prophecies, Elissa must escape the evil Khan! Can she find a way out of the Citadel and back to her father? This is a very likeable fantasy, with a plucky heroine. Although some elements of the story are rather contrived and convenient, most readers won't mind and will be swept up in the fast-moving plot. Those who like this story will look forward to the sequels.

October 09, 2007

The Dark is Rising

By Susan Cooper
Rating: 4 1/2 stars
Newbery Honor
Reviewed by Noelle

This is book 2 in the excellent 5 book The Dark is Rising Sequence. Will Stanton turns 11 years old in December, and his whole world changes. For Will is an Old One, the last one to be born in the world, and with his eleventh birthday, he becomes the Sign Seeker. He must collect signs from the different elements as he finds them, and in so doing, help to defeat the Dark. For the Old Ones are of the Light, forever fighting those who serve the Dark, in an everlasting battle for dominance of the planet. Will finds the change bewildering, as he still is a young boy celebrating the holidays with his large family as much as he is fighting the Dark in moments that are out of his time. As Will journeys through long winter days, he discovers the powers that are his right as an Old One, and the long arm the Dark has to reach into Will's every day world and family. It is as much an adventure in being and becoming and standing for what is right as it is racing the Dark to collect the signs. Merriman Lyon, the professor we met in Over Sea, Under Stone, makes an appearance here as well, as Will's mentor and an Old One himself. Readers will enjoy the many-layered plot, the symbolism, and the action, and will look forward to reading book 3, Greenwitch, when the characters from the first two stories come together. The film of The Dark is Rising: The Sign Seeker has just been released (October 2007), although what previews I have seen seem to suggest some pretty major changes. Still, fans of the book may be interested.

October 02, 2007

The Treekeepers

By Susan McGee Britton
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Noelle

In the country of Wen, the Tree That Speaks has fallen, when Soladin, the Treekeeper, is betrayed by the evil Rendarren. Since then, the evil king has set about destroying any mention of the Tree and of thalasse, the magical liquid the Tree would produce. When the orphan Bird summons Farwender to help a sick child, she sees him use a vial of thalasse, the last in the world. To protect Bird from the Searchers, Farwender takes Bird to stay with Soladin, where she finds other orphans around her same age. There, Bird discovers she is the chosen one in a prophecy telling of one who will plant the seed that will bring back the Tree. Then Rendarren takes action, and Soladin and Farwender disappear, leaving Bird and the other children to set off on a dangerous quest to bring the seed to Wen and make things right. This is a great story, filled with magic, betrayal, courage, a perilous quest, friendship and adventure. Bird is a fierce but lovable character, stubborn but true. Her personal quest to find her father is woven into the adventure as well. Readers will enjoy this quick-paced and satisfying fantasy.