Book Review: “The Enchantress Returns” by Chris Colfer
Book Reviews / July 29, 2014

Collection spells are not just for debt collectors who want to put the hoodoo on a delinquent customer. In Chris Colfer’s “Land of Stories” series, they are the framework for a quest-like adventure through a magic world teeming with fairy tale heroes and villains. The first book, “The Wishing Spell”, was all about a shopping list of magical items that twins Alex and Conner Bailey needed to assemble in order to get home to the “Other World” (namely, ours). It could only ever be used one more time, and the Evil Queen from “Snow White” wanted to get there first. Now in their second visit to the Land of Stories, Alex and Conner are trying to complete one collection spell, while the Enchantress from “The Sleeping Beauty” races to finish another.

Book Review: “The Thief Queen’s Daughter” by Elizabeth Haydon
Book Reviews / July 19, 2014

In “The Floating Island”, we first met Ven Polypheme, an unusual specimen of the ancient Nain race. Unlike the typical Nain, whose idea of a good time is to dig ore out of a mountain’s roots, Ven’s family lives in a human city and specializes in building ships. Unlike other members of his large, practical family, Ven has the itchy feet of an explorer. And unlike practically anyone else in known history, Ven has survived an attack by the Fire Pirates. By the opening of this sequel, Ven has found his way to a wayside inn staffed by orphaned children. His friends include the cook’s mate of a sailing ship, a pastor-in-training for a congregation of little people, a pickpocket named Ida No, and a quiet little Gwadd girl who shares her people’s power to make things grow. These friends are ready to join Ven on his next adventure, when young King Vandemere sends him to the thieves’ market to seek the origin of a mysterious, glowing stone.

Book Review: “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” by Ian Fleming
Book Reviews / July 8, 2014

We’ve run into this problem before: First it was a novel. Then it was adapted, more successfully than faithfully, into a movie. Then came a film novelization, a novel designed to be more faithful to the movie than the movie was to the original novel. They did it to Pierre Boulle’s “Planet of the Apes”. More recently, it happened to Cressida Cowell’s “How to Train Your Dragon”. It even happened to another book by Ian Fleming. And so your dilemma is this: Which book do you buy or borrow, to read or give to your kids? Which counts as the classic?

Book Review: “Cosmic” by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Book Reviews / June 20, 2014

Two 12-year-olds from Waterloo, UK (near Liverpool) tell their parents they are going to the Lake District for a school camp, when in fact they are going to the moon. Kids these days! It’s only the latest prank pulled by young Liam, who has made a study of ways to get in trouble by being tall for his age and stubbly-chinned. When adults mistake him for one of them because of his height and mature looks, it’s as if he can’t help himself. It starts at an amusement park, with a thrill ride other kids his age are too short to try. Then there’s his first day in high school, when the headmistress mistakes him for the new teacher. By the time his father catches him trying to test-drive a Porsche, you would think Liam’s fever for mischief has run its course. But you would be wrong. This thrill ride goes all the way to the moon.

Book Review: “Scumble” by Ingrid Law
Book Reviews / June 18, 2014

In her debut novel “Savvy”, Ingrid Law introduced us to the big, unconventional Beaumont family, in which each child manifests a unique superpower (called a “savvy”) on his or her 13th birthday. The challenge is to recognize what that savvy is and scumble it, or figure out how to control it, before something big happens. Otherwise, people could get hurt, or even worse, outsiders might find out about the family’s secret. In this sequel, we meet some of the Beaumonts again, as well as their cousins the O’Connells and the Kales. The birthday kid this time is Ledger “Ledge” Kale, whose special ability to “Bust! Things! Up!” literally brings down the house at a family wedding reception.

Book Review: “The Mystery” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Book Reviews / May 6, 2014

The third book of the “Troubletwisters” series pits young Wardens-in-waiting Jaide Shield and her twin brother Jack against yet another threat to the wards that protect the town of Portland from the Evil. You know, that force of emptiness that comes from another dimension and wants to take over everything. They have thwarted the Evil twice before. But if there’s one lesson the Evil seems to learn faster than Grandma X and the other good guys, it’s that keeping secrets from the twins makes them vulnerable. And if they’re vulnerable, so is Portland… and the world.

Book Review: “The Emerald Atlas” by John Stephens
Book Reviews / March 8, 2014

Kate P. barely remembers her parents. Heck, she doesn’t even remember her last name – only the letter P. Mostly she remembers the night her parents disappeared, when her mother gave her a cherished locket, told her to take care of her younger brother and sister, and promised to return someday. Since then, Kate, Michael, and Emma have spent ten years moving from one orphanage to another, never getting adopted, and never settling down for long. After the head of the Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans reaches the end of her patience with them, the P. children are sent to a remote orphanage in far upstate New York., so remote and far upstate that even at the end of the dock where a boat is supposed to pick them up, nobody seems to know where it is. The orphanage turns out to be a seedy mansion overlooking a miserable village where everything seems blighted and where there have been no children for the past 15 years. This is due to a certain tragedy that no one wants to discuss. There almost seems to be a curse about the place. Naturally, Kate and her siblings are the only orphans. Could it get any worse than this?

Book review: “The Castle Corona” by Sharon Creech
Book Reviews / September 11, 2013

The first author to win both the Newbery Medal (for “Walk Two Moons”) and the Carnegie Medal (for “Ruby Holler”) here deviates from her general habit of depicting present-day kids in dramatic situations. Instead, she conjures a make-believe kingdom somewhere in medieval Italy, with a king and a queen, a princess and two princes, hermits, peasants, servants, and knights.

Book review: “The Wall and the Wing” by Laura Ruby
Book Reviews / September 9, 2013

The author of “Lily’s Ghosts” brings us a book so funny that it hurts, set in a magical world so weird that it can only be New York City. She doesn’t come right out and name it, though. She describes it as “a vast and sparkling city, a city at the center of the universe.” But it’s also a city that has grown upward because the natural moat around it prevents it from spreading outward; a city with skyscrapers, subways, a Little Italy, a Chinatown, a Radio City Music Hall, a Times Square, and a Brooklyn Bridge.