Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Legend of Jack Riddle begins!

The Legend of Jack Riddle, by H. Easson, (January 2018, Stone Arch Books), $26.65, ISBN: 9781496554086/(March. 2018, Capstone), $12.95, ISBN: 9781623709075

Recommended for ages 9-13

Twelve year-old Jack has to go visit his creepy great-great-great-whatever-aunt. She wears Doc Martens, a black ballgown, and wears a creepy top hat, calls him Jackie-poo, and sneaks out to play bingo. In the forest. Jack follows her, and discovers that Aunt Gee Gee may have some secrets. When the cookie jar she sends him back home brings forth a goblin that attacks the principal for a candy bar, Jack definitely gets the feeling that something’s up. The thing is, Jack’s in the middle of a very dangerous fairy tale: he’s the descendant of Gretel, and she’s nothing like the lost little girl in the fairy tale. She’s an awful witch that has Jack and his absent-minded teacher, Professor Ambrosius Footnote, racing to find a way to stop Gretel before there are very, very bad consequences for Jack and for future kids!

This is a fun take on fairy tale history, with cameos from some old favorites and a new point of view. Narrated from Jack’s point of view, there’s an interesting subplot about communication breakdown between parents and kids, and he tackles some fairy tale tropes (why can’t anyone just give a straight answer? What’s with all the riddles?) with laughs. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open. If you have fractured fairy tale readers, this is a good bet for their shelves and yours.

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Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Podkin One-Ear is perfect for fantasy fans!

Podkin One-Ear (Longburrow #1), by Kieran Larwood/Illustrated by David Wyatt, (Sept. 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781328695826

Recommended for readers 10-12

An old bard weaves a tale of the legendary warrior, Podkin One-Ear, for an audience gathered for the winter holiday, Bramblemas. In rabbit society, Podkin was the pampered son of a chieftain, lazy and shiftless, while his older sister, Paz, trains hard, knowing she won’t be chieftain because she’s female. When a savage warrior tribe of rabbits – red-eyed, iron-clad, iron-infused – called the Gorm attack Podkin’s burrow, Podkin, Paz, and their baby brother, Pook, run for their lives, the Gorm always one step behind them. Podkin has a magical sword that the Gorm want, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

Told in the third person in the bard’s voice, with occasional interludes to provide dialogue between the bard and some curious young rabbits, Podkin One-Ear makes the reader feel like he or she is sitting in a dining hall, listening to an epic tale unfold. David Wyatt’s black and white illustrations add to the epic feel of the story, and inject emotion into the tale; the action scenes and the emotion in his character’s faces evoke strong emotion. It’s a wonderful story about the rise of a hero, and I can’t wait to read more. There are big battles, arms and armor, magic weapons and witches – something for every fantasy fan!

Give this one to your Redwall fans, for sure. If you’ve got Mouse Guard graphic novels (and if you don’t, and have fantasy fans, you really need to), get those ready for readalikes. Lisa Fiedler’s Mouseheart series, plus Erin Hunter’s Warriors (and Seekers, and Survivors) are also great read-alikes, and if you’ve got readers that devour those, this is a good book to introduce them to.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Night Garden puts a little spark of magic into WWII-era Canada

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath, (Sept. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374304522

Recommended for readers 9-13

Franny Whitekraft lives with her adoptive parents, Sina and Old Tom, on Vancouver Island while World War II rages overseas. They live a pretty quiet life until their neighbor, Crying Alice, shows up – crying – and asks to leave her three children with them while she goes to stop her mechanic husband, Fixing Bob – stationed at a military base – from doing something dumb. Zebediah, one of the children, knows what it is, but he’s not talking, and he’s not sharing the letters he gets from their father with his brother and sister, Wilfred and Winifred. Things take a sharp turn when Fixing Bob puts his plan into action, and The Night Garden seems to be everyone’s only hope in making things right. Can a garden really grant wishes? Franny and her friends are about to find out.

The Night Garden didn’t really come together for me. There are several plotlines that kind of wander in and out of the book, like Sina’s witnessing a UFO. Narrated in the first person by Franny, there’s humor throughout the novel, but overall, the story took a little too long to get there and meandering plots may keep some readers from fully committing to the book. I enjoyed the sense of humor that kept the book moving, and the characters, on their own, were a fun bunch that I enjoyed my time with. An additional purchase for collections where you have devoted magical realism readers.

Polly Horvath is the Newbery Honor and National Book Award winning-author of Everything on a Waffle. Her author website offers more information about her books, awards, and news.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Aleks Mickelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well reunites Zaria Fierce and friends!

Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well, by Keira Gillett/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (July 2017), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750086

Recommended for readers 9-13

Keira Gillett couldn’t leave us hanging after Zaria Fierce’s last adventure, Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Slippers. And thank goodness! The friends have reunited for a new adventure, but this time, Aleks, a changeling approaching his 16th birthday – and the deadline to decide whether to embrace his human family or retain his fey abilities – is the star of the show. It all starts on a crazy morning: Aleks’ mom loses her car keys, which he finds in the fridge. It’s only the first in a series of increasingly chaotic events that culminates in his unpleasant fey sister, Nori, making an appearance; she tells him that Fritjof, a chaos dragon, is trying to escape and wreak havoc on the world and that he and his friends must help stop him. Aleks finds himself pulled into an adventure that he really didn’t want to be on, dealing with a sister he really doesn’t want to know in this latest installment.

I have wanted to know more about Aleks since I first read that he was a changeling – and that his grandmother is, too! Readers won’t be disappointed; we learn more about Aleks’ origin here, and I love the inner conflict raging with Aleks as he realizes that there is no black and white situation: he initially thinks it’s not a big deal at all to give up his fey gifts, but learns that not only can his ability to find things be a huge help, he learns that his fey side is very much a part of him. Don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone? Aleks may just have to learn that lesson that hard way. I loved seeing how the group of friends has matured – crushes are a big part of the story now! – and how new friends from the previous series are now part of the group, like Hector, the Hart of the Forest. Big plus: my favorite wyvern, Norwick, is back, as is my favorite curmudgeon, Mr. Brown(ie). Take a look at this graphic, from illustrator Eoghan Kerrigan’s DeviantArt page:

A fellow blogger, Brenda at Log Cabin Library, put it perfectly when she said, “There’s just something so comforting about returning to Zaria and the gang”. I couldn’t agree more. Keira Gillet’ts writing gently draws you into a fantasy world via modern-day Norway; the group of friends are as familiar to me as they are to one another. I enjoy reading their back and forth teasing, and catching up with what they’ve been up to since I last spent time with them. When the action starts, I’m ready to join the group on their new adventure. Eoghan Kerrigan has outdone himself with his beautiful fantasy illustrations, and fantasy cartographer Kaitlin Statz provides a map that really helps make this world more real; there’s a lovely Narnian/Tolkienesque feel to a book that starts off with a good map.

You don’t need to have read Zaria’s trilogy in order to jump in with Aleks Mikelson and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well – there’s enough exposition throughout the book to update you – but if you want to feel more a part of things, I’d highly recommend it. A nice addition to middle grade fantasy shelves. Ms. Gillett had a midnight release party for her latest book that I, sadly, had to miss (I was so close, too… darn need to sleep); if you missed it, too, you can watch it right here, thanks to the magic of YouTube. Sign up for Keira Gillett’s author newsletter and get 10 free downloads of Eoghan Kerrigan’s work, too!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A Dash of Dragon introduces readers to monster cuisine

A Dash of Dragon, by Heidi Lang, Kati Bartkowski, (July 2017, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481477932

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lailu Loganberry is a 13 year-old master chef, newly graduated from the Academy. Her mentor, Sullivan Slipshod, used to be one of the greats, and Lailu won’t listen to anyone who has a bad thing to say about him – including her best friend, Hannah. But Master Slipshod has accepted a loan from Mr. Boss, an unscrupulous loan shark, whose terms are dire: if they don’t pay back the loan in time, they not only forfeit the restaurant, but they are stuck working for Mr. Boss for the rest of their lives. Lailu’s determined to beat the odds, cook the perfect monster cuisine – which she has to hunt AND prepare – for her customers, protect Hannah from the Elven mafia that’s out to get her, AND navigate the delicate balance she’s found herself walking between Mr. Boss and Elister, the king’s assassin. She also has to join forces with Greg, her obnoxious fellow Academy graduate and rival restaurateur.

A Dash of Dragon is a fun, fantasy middle grade read. Lailu is a strong, smart heroine who keeps her wits about her when everyone else seems to be losing theirs. There’s some mystery, some humor, lots of adventure, and there’s monster cuisine. I love that the Academy trains chefs to hunt their exotic prey – krakens, dragons, and batyrdactyls all make an appearance in the novel – in addition to preparing the cuisine; it adds a nice touch of adventure to the fantasy and fun. Hannah is Lailu’s foil; she’s flighty and seemingly skin-deep compared to Lailu’s determination and focus, but the two have a strong bond that keeps them there for one another. There’s intrigue, double-dealing, and the age-old magic vs. science conflict is alive and well thanks to a rivalry between elves and scientists. The characters are well thought-out and the pace of the book will keep readers turning pages. There’s a somewhat Asian influence in the overall storyline, with references to cookery gods, altars, and dragon cuisine, but Lailu and her friends are not specifically described as such.

 

A fun and different fantasy selection to add to your collections.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Gork the Teenage Dragon serves up scaly green goodness

Gork the Teenage Dragon, by Gabe Hudson, (July 2017, Knopf), $24.95, ISBN: 9780375413964

Recommended for readers 14+

Gork’s a dragon, but don’t even think about mentioning Smaug to him. He’s not happy at all with the way dragons are portrayed in Earth fiction, and he’s here to set the record straight. So begins the story of Gork: teenage dragon, student at WarWings Academy, orphaned on Earth during his parents’ mating mission and raised by his scientist grandfather, Dr. Terrible.

Starting off on Crown Day – the day dragon and dragonette cadets at the Academy agree to be mating partners – Gork has one goal in mind: to get the luscious Runcita Floop to wear his crown and agree to be his queen. The problem? His nickname is Weak Sauce, his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious (if you’re a gamer, think of Will to Power as a CON/DEX/overall attractiveness level) and he’s got a bad habit of fainting when he’s scared. If Runcita says yes, she and Gork will go off in his spaceship and find a planet to conquer together. If Gork can’t sea the deal, he’s doomed to be a slave.

Gork has a heck of a day ahead of him: Dean Floop – his intended’s father – hates him; his sadistic grandfather is on the run from the Dean, he’s being hunted down by a group of WarWings cadets that have murder on their minds, and the Trenx, a fellow cadet who had similarly low ratings, has seemingly blossomed overnight. Before the day is out, Gork will have to survive and learn some hard truths about his family. He’d better keep his best friend – a robot dragon named Fribby – by his side.

Gork is an out-there novel. It’s a page-turner, and Gork is an endearing first-person narrator, if a bit single-minded in focus. He’s obsessed with mating, but he is a teenager, after all. He refers a lot to his “scaly green ass” a lot, which gets tedious. Gork’s story uses fantasy to tackle some very real points: bullying, friendship, self-esteem, and falling in love. It’s a much deeper novel than the title “teenage dragon”encompasses; it’s a fantasy, a YA romance, and a coming of age story.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Lint Boy – a graphic tale

Lint Boy, by Aileen Leitjen, (June 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544528604

Recommended for readers 8-12

A little lint boy is born in the back of a dryer. Shortly after, a lint bear joins him. The two are happy, living in the warmth of the dryer, when two scary hands reach in and snatch out Lint Bear! Lint Boy goes on an adventure to save his brother, which puts him in the hands of a mean old woman, Mrs. Pinchnsqueeze; formerly a young girl named Tortura, who has tortured and ruined dolls since she was a child. Lint Boy manages to rally the other imprisoned toys and fight for their freedom.

Told with washed-out colors and nonlinear storytelling, Lint Boy is a rousing tale of friendship. Lint Boy is willing to risk venturing into a scary, unknown world – and put himself at personal risk – to save his friend, to whom he refers to as his brother, Lint Bear. There are some scary moments for younger readers, particularly when readers see the hanging cages of imprisoned toys for the first time, and when readers witness Mrs. Pinchnsqueeze cutting up Lint Boy’s hair. He refuses to give up hope or give in to despair, and inspires his fellow prisoners to revolt and overthrow their tormentor.

Perfect for every reader who loves Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and David Walliams, with its macabre-yet-adorable storytelling, Lint Boy is a good addition to graphic novel collections that enjoy a little dark fantasy. Booktalk this one with Coraline for extra fun.