December 14, 2009

The Magician's Elephant

By Kate DiCamillo
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

Ten year old Peter lives with his half-crazy, ex-soldier guardian after the death of his parents and baby sister. One day, implusively, Peter spends a coin meant for food on a fortuneteller who tells him that his sister is alive and that an elephant will lead him to her. For the first time, Peter begins to question whether or not his guardian has told the truth about the death of the baby. Then, unbelievably, he hears about how a magician has performed an astounding feat, and made an elephant appear from thin air. When Peter hears of the elephant, he must see her, for won't she lead him to his sister? Does he dare believe such a crazy thing? It is Peter's daring to believe in the fortuneteller's words that sets rolling a course of events that will indeed, make that fortune come true and the dark, weary town of Baltese seem a little bit brighter for more than one person. While there are no surprises, this story reads much like a play, and readers will delight in the many unique characters found within.

November 16, 2009

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

By Grace Lin
Rating: 4 3/4 stars

Minli lives in a tiny, poor village in China with her Ma and Ba, barely getting by on their meager portion of daily rice. Her only happiness comes from the wonderful stories her Ba tells. Then a goldfish salesman comes to the village and says goldfish will bring fortune to a home. Impulsively, Minli buys one, but when her parents, especially her mother, strongly disapprove, Minli decides to set her fish free. That is when the goldfish speaks to Minli, telling her the way to Neverending Mountain and the Man in the Moon who could possibly change their fortunes if she asks the right question. And so begins Minli's journey, where she will learn that all stories are interconnected and so is every living thing, and that happiness can be found in your own backyard. Readers will love every single minute that they spend reading this book, from the feel of the heavyweight paper stock to the colorful illustrations to the change of font when a story is related to the lessons learned by the characters as the plot progresses. This book is a pure delight from beginning to end as Minli continues on her quest to bring fortune to her family but finds so much more. A real winner!

November 13, 2009

The Siege of Macindaw

By John Flanagan
Rating: 4 stars

This is the 6th book in the quite good Ranger's Apprentice series. When we finished book 5, The Sorcerer of the North, Alyss had been taken captive by Keren, who had overthrown the lords of the castle. Will had been unable to rescue her and is hiding out with Malcolm, formerly thought to be a sorcerer, but who is merely a healer hiding out in the dense forest. Now Will is joined by his famous warrior friend Horace and by a shipload of Skandians who are grounded for the winter when their boat was irreparably damaged. Then Will discovers things are worse than he knew--Keren is making an alliance with the Scotti from over the border, who plan to invade the region in a few short weeks, forcing a long, drawn out war with Araluen. How can 25 Skandians, one warrior and one Ranger successfully siege a castle and win when normally they would need four times that number? But with a little Ranger ingenuity, anything is possible. Readers will easily be drawn back into this exciting series and be eager to see how the siege plays out. Books 7 and 8 are available in New Zealand and Australia and hopefully will shortly see publication in the U.S., so fans can look forward to more of Will's adventures.

October 02, 2009

The Amaranth Enchantment

By Julie Berry
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

In this fairy tale-bending fantasy, we are thrown headlong into the story of Lucinda, once the daughter of a just short of royalty family until her parents were killed returning from a ball. Now Lucinda is merely a servant to the cruel aunt and benign goldsmith uncle who took her in at the age of 5. But fate had deemed that in short order Lucinda will meet and become involved with the Amaranth Witch, fall in love with the prince, get thrown on the streets, become a thief, go to jail, go to the ball, face matters of life and death, find out the truth about her parents' death, and a whole lot more until we finally arrive at our happy ending. The pace is breakneck, the allusions to fairy tales run rampant, and the enjoyablilty meter is on high. This is a fun, inventive, yet also somewhat predictable story that mixes together to become one of the more charming reads of the year. Fairy tale fans will find more than enough to chew on here (can you count the number of fairy tales referenced?) and fantasy fans will also be swept right along. Fun!

August 18, 2009


By Helen Lowe
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, we skip over the princess doomed to fall asleep and instead spend our time with the prince fated to awaken her, Sigismund. Sheltered in a remote country castle, Sigismund longs for adventure. Then one day a beautiful, magical lady appears at the gates and Sigismund begins to dream of a castle covered in thorns and a girl trapped in endless sleep. Then his father sends Balisan, a warrior to help train Sigismund, not only in weapons but to control his mind and to anchor himself to the earth. For Balisan explains to Sigismund about the castle trapped in a spell for nearly 100 years and how the chosen prince is due to free it. As Sigismund learns more about his destiny and about the dark magics the fairies have used, he must become ever more careful. For the Margravine who cast the evil spell hopes to turn the chosen prince to her ways, and looks for every chink in his armor. Can Sigismund, with the help of Balisan and the mysterious girl Rue (who seems to appear when most needed) break the spell and the Margravine's power? Readers may think they know this story, but they will be consistently surprised at the depth the author gives it. Well written and very enjoyable, readers will definitely come under the spell of this book. For another version of Sleeping Beauty told from the view of the princess, try Robin McKinley's Spindle's End.

June 11, 2009


By M. E. Breen
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

In this compelling story, everyone fears the complete and utter blackness of the night--no stars, no moon, just complete darkness. To add to the fear are the kinderstalk--huge animals who roam the forest and will take any humans they run across. Everyone in Dour County seems to live in fear since all of the farms failed and the only place anyone seems to work is the Drop--a cliff where the valuable ringstones are mined. When Annie discovers her aunt and uncle are going to sell her to the Drop, she takes a huge risk and escapes in the night where she begins to make a startling discovery--she can see in the dark. But her escape is just the beginning of her adventure for when Annie discovers what is really going on at the Drop, she decides to journey to tell the king. And as she travels, more and more unsettling events occur, such as the kinderstalk refraining from attacking her and her eyesight growing ever clearer at night. And when she finally gets to the king, even greater surprises are in store. Is Annie the answer to a prophecy of old? Who or what is she really? Readers will be drawn into this layered story and will be eager to find out all of the details of what is really going on in Dour County and they may hope for a sequel to iron out the somewhat abrupt finish. Good fantasy world building.

April 18, 2009

Princess of the Midnight Ball

By Jessica Day George
Rating: 4 stars

In a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, Rose is the eldest of the 12 daughters of King Gregor and Queen Maude. The barren queen had made a desperate bargain with the King Under Stone, an evil sorceror who had been imprisoned under the earth by a group of magicians so long ago that it has taken on the glow of legend. In return for the ability to have children and produce an heir, Queen Maude would dance for the King Under Stone once a month. But the evil King takes advantage of the innocent queen and when she stretches the bargain to include winning the war against a neighboring nation, the King Under Stone finds a way to draw her 12 daughters into the deal--a deal that would eventually make them brides for his 12 dark sons and perhaps give him and them enough power to break free from their underground prison. Rose and the other girls are miserable and sick of dancing every 3rd evening with their dark princes, but they are unable to speak of their enchantment or break it. King Gregor invites princes from everywhere to try and uncover the spell and if they do, they may win the hand of a princess as well as the kingdom. No one has any luck. But Galen, a young man back from the war and working as an under-gardener at the palace is determined to try his luck for he has fallen for the beautiful Rose. With the help of some magical gifts given to him by an old crone along the road and one of the other gardeners who is more than what he seems, will Galen be able to discover the nature of the girls' enchantment? And if he does, can he set them free of it? Although readers may be familiar with the tale and how it ends, the deeper characterizations and details plus a few additional plot twists make this a very enjoyable retelling.

April 01, 2009

The Farwalker's Quest

By Joni Sensel
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

In this interesting fantasy twist, Ariel lives in a small village with her healer mother and best friend Zeke who hopes to become a Tree-Singer during their upcoming Namingfest. Then Ariel finds a relic from the past--a telling dart. The telling dart was capable of being sent across many miles directly to the person the message was meant for with a long forgotten technology. But the dart brings more than just an unknown message. Two men--Finders--arrive, looking for the dart as well as for the one who found it. And before Ariel knows it, she has been kidnapped by them for they suspect her to be the last of the Farwalkers, a trade that was thought to have died out. Soon Ariel, and eventually Zeke, find themselves tracing the telling dart back to its source in a search for answers and perhaps even treasure, and on their way, their true callings surface. There is plenty of action and adventure in this story and Ariel must learn to tell the truth from the lies and to grow up long before her time to face her destiny. A very likeable tale with hopeful possibilities of a sequel. Thumbs up!

March 11, 2009


By Christopher Paolini
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

This is book 3 in what is now the Inheritence Cycle. This book takes up where we left off, with the Battle of the Burning Plains behind us along with the revelation that Murtagh is now a Dragon Rider as well with the young hatchling Thorn and are bent to Galabatorix's will. In this tome, Eragon and Roran deal at last with the Ra'zac, and then Eragon goes on quests to enlist the dwarves and to meet again with their elf teachers in Ellesmera to answer some pressing questions, including that of getting a proper sword for Eragon. Roran, meanwhile, develops his place in the armies of the Varden. There are revelations and a few different battles. Overall, the action is good when it happens and the characters are developed a little more fully as we journey to the final confrontation against Galabatorix that will occur in book 4. Readers who want a quicker paced fantasy may want to give this series a pass, but those who have been with it from the beginning will persevere.

February 05, 2009


By Ingrid Law
Newbery Honor 2009
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Mibs Beaumont is turning 13 and can't wait to get her very own savvy. At the age of 13, members of the Beaumont family develop a special talent--a kind of magical ability that is sometimes uncontrollable. Mibs' brother Rocket can control electricity and Fish is able to call up storms from wind and water. But any hopeful wondering Mibs has on her birthday is smashed when her father is in a serious accident and put into a hospital miles away in Salina. A few events convince Mibs that maybe her new savvy will be to wake up her comatose father and she is desperate enough to ditch her birthday party and stowaway on a bible-delivering bus bound for Salina. Unfortunately, more stowaways tag along, including her brothers Fish and Samson and the preacher's kids, teenager Bobbi and Will, Jr., who is nursing a crush on Mibs. But when the bus turns north instead of south, the kids embark on an oddball journey that will change all of their lives. In turns, this story is funny and heartbreaking and ultimately about learning how to grow up a little bit and find your own sense of self to be happy. An unusual and highly entertaining fantasy.

February 03, 2009

Princess Ben

By Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Princess Benevolence is no ordinary princess. She doesn't have a willowy form, likes to play in the mud, and has few proper manners. But when her mother, prince father, and her uncle the king are all unexpectedly killed--perhaps by their archenemy Drachensbett who has long coveted the small nation of Montagne--the queen regent Sophia takes it upon herself to make Ben into a proper princess. Ben takes it poorly and acts out so badly Sophia locks her into a tower room every night. But there, Ben discovers a secret room with a book of spells and soon is fully involved in learning to become somewhat of a witch. When events cause her to flee unexpectedly, she crash lands in the middle of a force of Drachensbett troops and is soon forced to hide her identity as the lowliest of beings, a mere shepherd boy. She also has to deal with the heir of Drachensbett himself, the insufferable Prince Florian. Can this unlikely princess with a few magic tricks in her spellbag find her way back to save her country from invasion? Filled with allusions to many a familiar fairy tale, Ben is a heroine that is far from perfect, but whose stubborn feelings will resonate with many a reader. A completely enjoyable fantasy with an unpredictably happy ending.

January 20, 2009

The Sorcerer of the North

By John Flanagan
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

This is book 5 in the Ranger's Apprentice series. At this point, Will has finally become a full-fledged ranger. As he settles into his first appointment at the mostly quiet fiefdom of Seacliff, he receives an unexpected visitor--Alyss, his childhood friend, now a Courier of the kingdom, and someone he has a bit of romantic interest in. But Alyss just isn't bringing messages to the fief, she has an undercover assignment for Will in the far north at Norgate. The lord has fallen into a suspicious comatose state, attributed to Mallakam, a sorcerer from the past who had a feud with the lord's family. Other strange lights in the woods and phantoms have been sighted as well. Lord Syron's son is a weak, disliked replacement and cousin Keren is the well-thought of head of the garrison. The kingdom is concerned though since Norgate holds back enemies from the countries farther north and its current instability could spell trouble. Will is sent to Norgate undercover as a jongleur, or traveling musician, to ascertain what is really going on. Is there truly a sorcerer on the loose? Who would benefit by ridding Norgate of its lord? Will is joined by Alyss, also undercover as Lady Gwendolyn, and as the pair investigate, they conclude that some of the sorcery is just smoke and mirrors. But who is pulling the strings? Is it the son, Lord Orman? Or popular Keren? Or another person, this Mallakam? Then suddenly a new threat appears, and Will must make a choice about who to trust and what to do. This installment is quite exciting and leaves us on a cliffhanger of an ending. The last two books in the series have been outstanding. Fans will thoroughly enjoy this chapter and be eagerly awaiting the next book, The Siege of Macindaw, due out in the spring of 2009.