Book Review: “Sky Raiders” by Brandon Mull
Book Reviews / July 25, 2014

When Cole and his sixth-grader friends troop down the basement steps to view a spooky Halloween house of horrors, they’re more worried about whether they’re too old to go trick-or-treating than about being kidnapped. But the basement is already nearly full of caged kids waiting to be forced down a ladder in the floor. Cole manages to hide until everybody has gone down the hole, wondering how anyone could think of getting away with kidnapping so many kids at once. Then he follows them. His plan is just to find out where the kids are being taken, so he can report back to the police. But the hole in the basement floor proves to be a portal to another world—and it’s a one-way trip.

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: “Once upon Stilettos” by Shanna Swendson
Book Reviews / July 11, 2014

It’s been quite a few years since I read “Enchanted, Inc.” because, frankly, I’m a guy, and chick lit isn’t my thing. But it was such a funny and magical book that continuing with the series has often been on my mind. And now I find that the “Katie Chandler” series has grown to seven books. Based on the adventures of a Texas belle who finds adventure, romance, and professional fulfillment in New York, it combines the appeal of a “Sex and the City” spoof with the charm of a modern, urban fairy tale.

Book Review: “The Wizard in the Tree” by Lloyd Alexander
Book Reviews / July 8, 2014

If Famous Witches and Wizards Cards featured beloved wizards from the pages of literature, you know there would be a card each for J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore, Tolkien’s Gandalf, Peter Beagle’s Schmendrick, and John Bellairs’s Prospero… I’ve already got quite a long list in mind. Now that I’ve read this brief book by the Newbery Medal- and National Book Award-winning author of the “Prydain Chronicles”, I have another name to add to that list: Arbican. He doesn’t do much magic in this book, and most of what he does goes wrong, and on first acquaintance he may seem a bit brusque and grumpy, not very lovable at all. But in the last few pages of this book, he earns his Chocolate Frog Card, wands down. In fact, for the sake of one paragraph, a single speech in which he finally sets straight what is and isn’t true about fairy tales, he’s a shoe-in.

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: “The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning” (TLoS3) by Chris Colfer
Book Reviews / July 8, 2014

Published today, Chris Colfer’s third installment of his magical “The Land of Stories” series comes with a Grimm Warning! Now age 14 and stuck living in the Otherworld, Conner Bailey must navigate across the globe to decipher a clue left from the world’s most famous storytellers. With a little help from some friends along the way, he must race through time and across dimensions to warn his twin sister Alex that the Fairy Kingdom is in grave danger. Full of surprises, secrets, and sorcery, the series is perfect for fans of fairy tales with a twist.

Book Review: “Wildwood” by Colin Meloy
Book Reviews / July 7, 2014

When I saw this book at the public library, I thought it had a striking design. This, including loads of quirky but beautiful illustrations, is the work of Carson Ellis, who has also decorated books by Lemony Snicket and Trenton Lee Stewart. As for the author, I thought his name sounded familiar. Only later, after I had brought the book home, did I connect it with the alternative rock band the Decemberists, of which Colin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter. If you’re familiar with his music, you may not be surprised to learn that hints of a political message and of a New Agey, earth-magic type of spirituality perfume the pages of his book. But it’s also a thrilling fantasy adventure featuring a couple of kids from St. Johns, Portland, Oregon, who find a strange, magical, perilous world hidden within a short bicycle ride of their city.

Book Review: “Boys of Blur” by N.D. Wilson
Book Reviews / July 5, 2014

Random House sent me a copy of this latest book by the author of the “100 Cupboards” and “Ashtown Burials” series. I thank the author and his wife for arranging it and apologize for once again taking so long over such a short book. Released in April 2014, it is as Heather Wilson described it to me, a mash-up of “Beowulf + football + Florida swamps.” As befits a book based on an epic poem—the classic work of Old English literature, in case you slept through your high school literature class—N.D. Wilson’s retelling is filled with heroes and magic and dreadful monsters, features a seemingly invincible being of ancient and evil power, and has the ring of poetry flowing through its paragraphs of prose.

Book Review: “The Book of the Sword” by A.J. Lake
Book Reviews / June 19, 2014

Edmund is a prince with the power to see through the eyes of other people and animals, to communicate mind-to-mind. Elspeth is a sailor’s daughter who has formed an intimate bond with a magic sword. Together, they are either mankind’s only hope to defeat the evil god Loki or Loki’s only hope to defeat mankind. Welcome to Book 2 of the “Darkest Age” trilogy!

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.