Book & Audio Review: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

Getting ready for the holidays?  This is a great book to share with friends and family…and if you add chocolate, it’s even better!

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The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart
By Stephanie Burgis, Narrated by Jill Frutkin
8 CDs, 9.25 HoursDragon Chocolate Heart

Aventurine is the youngest member of her family…and she hates that everyone can tell her what to do, from her only-slightly-older-brother Jasper to her know-it-all older sister Citrine to Mother and all the aunts and her Grandfather Grenat.  Even though she has her own treasure hoard, she is not allowed to leave the cave or fly, since she’s too young and her wings are untested.  Worst of all, everyone believes that she’s lazy, just because she hasn’t found her Passion yet.  Every dragon has a Passion–the thing that gives their life meaning.  Jasper is interested in learning, and reads every human philosophers’s book he can get his claws on.  Perfect Citrine already has other dragons worshiping her and building her palaces for the epic poetry she writes, but Aventurine has a passion too!  It’s out there…somewhere.

But how is Aventurine supposed to find out her Passion if she’s stuck in a cave? It seems to her that if she could go out in to the world, to hunt on her own, to see humans with her own eyes, she would find her Passion, and show her family!

Escaping a dragon cave isn’t difficult when you’re a small dragon, but trying to do it secretly means scraping through some tight spaces…and during her flight, Aventurine manages to injure her wings.  Not having wings means hunting isn’t as easy as she thought, and Aventurine doesn’t like being hungry.  When she discovers a strange human, making something over a fire, she knows exactly what that means–dinner!  Aventurine pounces.  Unfortunately, her injured wings get in the way, and she puts a claw in the fire.  And that’s when she smells it…something rich, and sweet, and spicy.  Something absolutely delicious that the human is cooking over the fire!  She demands to know what it is, and the human tells her “chocolate”.  He even offers her some to drink.  Aventurine can’t resist the wonderful aroma…she drinks deeply, and the chocolate explodes within her.dragon with a chocolate heart uk

When she wakes up, Aventurine has no claws, no smoke in her throat, no wings.  Instead, she has a soft skin, strange furry stuff on her head, and cloth coverings instead of scales.  Aventurine has been changed into a human.  But she has found her Passion–Chocolate.  The human mage leaves her with the advice to get to the nearest city and find a job or apprenticeship…maybe one of the Chocolate Houses will take her.

With no idea about what it means to be human, the transformed Aventurine makes her way toward the city.  One small, puny human who used to be a dragon against the whole world.  She survived barely a day as a dragon, how will she manage to survive the human world?  Will she find a way to turn chocolate into her Passion?   What about her family?  Will they even notice, or care, that she’s gone?

That is quite a bit for one small girl to deal with, even if she is a dragon inside.   But Aventurine is not a quitter, and there’s chocolate out there, somewhere.  She just knows she can conquer one small city and find her Passion.  She’s certainly going to do her best.

 

dragon with chocolate heart audio

I loved, loved, loved The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart.  Aventurine is brave and passionate and learning so much about herself in her journey.  She has no idea what humans are like, but she doesn’t let that stop her.  The writing reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones or Jessica Day George…lots of adventure, a touch of humor, and characters who will stay with you after their story is finished.

With that said, I had some real issues with the sound recording of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart.  When if first started, I really enjoyed the youthful, kind of scratchy voice of the narrator, and I liked the slow pacing during the first chapter, when Aventurine was a dragon.  However, when Aventurine because human and the story moved into the city I became very frustrated.  The pace stayed slow and the narration felt very much like a singsong bedtime story trying to put listeners to sleep.  I wanted a button to speed it up.  The other issue was that every character had the same voice…there were only a couple that sounded distinctly different.

So while I loved the book of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, I didn’t enjoy the sound recording.  That may be only me though!   But my recommendation is, if you have a choice, read the book and imagine your own voices.  I can almost guarantee, when you finish reading, you’ll want to hear more of Aventurine’s story.

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Dragons and chocolate!  Who knew they’d go so well together?  I would recommend The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart to readers in fourth through seventh grades.  If I didn’t scare you away with my assessment of the sound recording, I think it would be accessible to listeners as young as second grade, although there are a couple scary scenes.  If you’re just trying to put someone to sleep, you might be able to go even younger.

Some read-alikes you might like:
Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede
A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep.
Stephanie Burgis also has a wonderful trilogy that starts with Kat, Incorrigible, that readers of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart would enjoy as well.

As always, if you need any reading or listening suggestions, visit the library and ask one of our librarians for help.  We’re always happy to match books with readers and listeners.

Happy Reading!

::Kelly::

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Audio Review: The Wishing Spell

One of the most popular series in the library these days is Chris Colfer’s series The Land of Stories.  With five fiction books, a picture book and a collection of classic fairy tales, it’s consistently one of our most requested series.  Since he last volume of the series coming out in July, it seems like the right time to seek out some answers about why.  So, when we got a new copy of the audio book, it was time to try it!

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The_Land_of_StoriesThe Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell
by Chris Colfer
Narrated by the author
8 CDs, 8.5 Hours

Alex and Conner , 11-year-old twins, have had a horrible year.  Not only was their father killed in a car accident, they’ve had to move from their beloved home to a small rental house, their mother had to sell the bookstore their father owned, and neither of them is doing well in school…for two totally different reasons.  Alex is interested in everything and always knows all the answers, so some kids are resentful, while Conner falls asleep in class because he’s not really interested in anything.  When their mother has to work a double shift on their birthday, the twins are happy that their grandmother can come for a visit and a party.

For a gift, their grandmother gives them her cherished copy of The Land of Stories…a book of fairy tales that the twins and the whole family have grown up sharing.  It’s a wonderful surprise, and something both Conner and Alex will treasure.

But when the book starts humming late one night, Alex isn’t sure what is going on.  Conner watches as his sister starts acting strangely, both at home and at school.  Alex won’t tell him what’s going on, but he knows he has to figure it out.  But he never would have guessed that the book is coming to life!

When Alex tumbles into the book–literally–Conner follows close behind.  Even if it’s dangerous, there is no way he is going to let his twin get lost in a book without him!  Upon landing, they discover that they’re in the middle of their favorite fairy tales…only nothing is quite as they remembered.  Time has passed since the stories, and the kingdoms are in crisis.  Goldilocks is a wanted fugitive, Red Riding Hood is a reclusive queen, and the Evil Queen has escaped prison to terrorize all the inhabitants.  Stories are fun to read, but maybe not so fun to live in.

When a new acquaintance tells them about a spell–a wishing spell–that might get them home, Alex and Conner are determined to find all the ingredients.  Can they travel the fairy tale kingdoms and retrieve the treasures to get them home?

wishing spell audioI quite enjoyed the audio recording of The Wishing Spell.  Chris Colfer is a delightfully flexible actor and his voices for the characters were wonderfully rich and varied.  Listening, you can hear that he had a lot of fun interpreting his characters for the audio production.  I was a little less impressed with the narrative sections; sometimes it felt like he was rushing through them to get to the voices.  Still, it was a good solid recording that is enjoyable for all ages of listeners.  If you enjoy thrilling quests, adventures with a touch of humor, and fairy tales, this series is for you!

I would recommend The Land of Stories books for kids in third through sixth grade.  I think avid fans of fairy tales would enjoy them a little earlier, and their enjoyment would last a little longer.  If you’re looking for something to listen to on a family car trip, this is a good choice.   If you’re a fan of tv shows like Once Upon a Time, or Disney fairy tale movies, this series is right up your alley!

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If you come to the library and The Land of Stories is not available, think about trying some of our other titles with similar themes: Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, or The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley are all wonderful books on CD that should also appeal to fans of Alex and Conner.  If you’re looking for books to read in print, try the Whatever After series by Sarah Mlynowski, The Hero’s Guide series by Christopher Healy or the Half Upon a Time series by James Riley.  These are all adventurous, fun series with a fairy tale background.

 

And as always, if you’re looking for help or book, media or other suggestions, ask one of our librarians.  That’s what we’re here for!

::Kelly::

Booklist: Cooking Up Some Magic!

There are several new books just out this spring that deal with magic by way of cooking.  It’s a delicious thought, isn’t it?  Find a recipe that you can follow to get some magical results!  It made me think about what other cookbook magic is out there…I remember reading a couple when I was a kid;  I think my favorites were Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians, by Mary Nash and a bunch of different books by Ruth Chew.  Sadly, they’re no longer in print and our library doesn’t own them. (If you’re interested though, you can find used copies online.)

So if you’re a fan of cooking shows, or you’d like to have a little magic spicing up your kitchen, try one of the books on this list.  I think you’ll find them to your taste!

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Magical Cooking!

 A booklist of some magical recipes and extraordinary cooks!

is there life on a plastic planetAmes, Mildred.  Is There Life on a Plastic Planet?
Hollis is miserable with her life.  She hates her name, her mother keeps bugging her to eat healthy food, her cousin Addison makes her life miserable.  Then Hollis meets Ms. Eudora, who manages a shop that sells dolls, and serves Hollis yummy éclairs while she listens to her problems. It’s Ms. Eudora who comes up with the plan…substitute one of her dolls for Hollis, and Hollis can spend her days at the shop with Ms. Eudora and her magical éclairs.  But is it all too perfect to be real..?

this book is not good for youBosch, Pseudonymous.  This Book is Not Good for You
Between the pages of this book lies the secret to the best-tasting chocolate in all the world. I promise, your taste buds will tingle. Your palette will sing! Oh no, have I accidentally tempted you to read this book? I will warn you, however, the most delicious things are never good for you…and this story is particularly scrumptious! In this tooth-rotting adventure, Cass’s mom has been kidnapped by the evil dessert chef and chocolatier, Señor Hugo! The ransom…the legendary tuning fork. Can Cass and Max-Ernest find the magical instrument before it’s too late? Will they discover the evil secret ingredient to Señor Hugo’s chocolate success?  If you’re tempted, take a taste, but just remember…this book is not good for you.

just add magic 2Callaghan, Cindy.  Just Add Magic
Take three friends. Add an old cookbook. Combine with cute boys and a pinch of magic…and see what kind of chaos ensues! When Kelly Quinn and her two BFFs discover a dusty old cookbook while cleaning out the attic, the girls decide to try a few of the mysterious and supposedly magical recipes that are inside. To their surprise, the Keep ’Em Quiet Cobbler actually silences Kelly’s pesky little brother and the Hexberry Tart puts a curse on mean girl Charlotte. Is it possible that the recipes really are magic? Who wrote them and where did they come from? And most importantly of all, when boys get involved, what kind of trouble are the girls stirring up for themselves?

chocolate touchCatling, Robert.  The Chocolate Touch
John Midas loves chocolate. He thinks chocolate is better than any other food! But when John finds an odd coin, he buys a tiny piece of chocolate at an odd little shop.  It’s the most chocolaty chocolate he has ever tasted. The next morning, John discovers that everything that touches his lips turns into chocolate—rich, sweet, smooth chocolate. Toothpaste tubes squirt chocolate. Water fountains at school spout streams of chocolate. This is a dream come true! But even greedy John finds that too much of a good thing can quickly turn from a dream into a nightmare—especially when he kisses his mother and turns her into a chocolate statue. Is there anything John can do to reverse this horror?

chocolate meltdownConnor, Lexi.  The Chocolate Meltdown 
Eleven year-old Beatrix, B for short, is a witch with a quirky talent. When she spells out words, magic spells take shape!  B’s dad’s job at Enchanted Chocolates has always been a great thing — who doesn’t like free candy and special tours of a chocolate factory? But when something goes wrong with the new batch of treats, there’s nothing sweet about it! Everyone seems to be losing their magic touch — can B whip up a solution, or could this spell the E-N-D of witches?

ice cream heroesCorbalis, Judy.  The Ice Cream Heroes
Oskar’s mother is a famous mountaineer, off on a trip to explore the Himalayas.  When he discovers that she’s forgotten her favorite ice pick, Oskar and his new friend Henrietta (a girl who wears a gorilla costume because of her job delivering gorillagrams) set off  to deliver it to her in person. Along the way they meet a tribe of abominable snowmen; are held captive in a palace made of magically flavored ice cream by the henchmen of The Controller, a demonic thief with a cohort of mad scientists; and meet the Great Khone, an ice cream maker searching for the world’s stolen ice cream supply.

great custard pie panicCorbett, Scott.  The Great Custard Pie Panic
On a walk through the fog Nick and his dog discover a wonderful bakery that makes magical pies.  Unfortunately, the owner turns out to be his archenemy, the evil magician Dr. Merlin! (Early Chapter Book)

lemonade trickCorbett, Scoll.  The Lemonade Trick
A mysterious potion mixed by Kerby with his chemistry set has a beneficial effect on the neighborhood bully but also wreaks havoc at the Sunday School pageant.  Try the rest of the series too…Kerby’s chemistry set has quite a few magical recipes in it!

charlie and the chocolate factoryDahl, Roald.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory is opening at last!  But only five lucky children will be allowed inside.  All they have to do is find the golden ticket.  And the winners are: Augustus Gloop, an enormously fat boy whose hobby is eating; Veruca Salt, a spoiled-rotten brat whose parents are wrapped around her little finger; Violet Beauregarde, a dim-witted gum-chewer with the fastest jaws around; Mike Teavee, a toy pistol-toting gangster-in-training who is obsessed with television; and Charlie Bucket, Our Hero, a boy who is honest and kind, brave and true, and good and ready for the wildest time of his life!  As he tours the magical candy factory, what will Charlie find there?

george's marvelous medicineDahl, Roald.  George’s Marvelous Medicine
George is alone in the house with Grandma. The most horrid, grizzly old grunion of a grandma ever. She needs something stronger than her usual medicine to cure her grouchiness. A special grandma medicine, a remedy for everything. And George knows just what to put into it. Grandma’s in for the surprise of her life—and so is George, when he sees the results of his mixture! George decides that his grumpy, selfish old grandmother must be a witch and cooks up some marvelous medicine to take care of her.  (Early Chapter Book)

truth cookie 2Dunbar, Fiona.  The Truth Cookie
Lulu Baker’s dad is getting ready to marry his new girlfriend, world-famous model Varaminta le Bone. Everyone thinks Varaminta is fabulous. Everyone, that is, except Lulu. She knows that her stepmother-to-be, not to mention her awful son Torquil, is cruel, deceitful, and just using her father. But how can she make her dad see Varaminta and Torquil for who they really are? When a magical recipe book called The Apple Star finds its way into Lulu’s hands, she finds that some very unusual ingredients and some help from her friends just might do the trick.

tangle of knotsGraff, Lisa.  A Tangle of Knots
In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born.  And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever.  However, these encounters hold the key to Cady’s past and how she became an orphan.  If she’s lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent!

magic cake shopHashimoto, Meika.  The Magic Cake Shop
Emma Burblee couldn’t be more different from her parents if she tried. She’d rather dig for treasure in a park than try the latest fashions or discuss their favorite subject: themselves. When Emma mortifies her parents, her punishment is to spend the summer with her Uncle Simon—a loathsome man with a huge appetite for food and get-rich-quick schemes.  Although Emma’s days revolve around cooking and cleaning, there is one bright spot. Her uncle’s sweet tooth means she gets to visit the town bakery, Mr. Crackle’s Cake Shop, all the time. Mr. Crackle is as charming and kind as Uncle Simon is vile. But then Emma discovers a plot by Uncle Simon; he has set his sights on ruining Mr. Crackle and the entire dessert making industry!  Can Emma stop their evil plan?

circle of doomKennemore, Tim. Circle of Doom
One day, Lizzie Sharp decides to concoct a potion to cast a spell on her family’s only neighbors, the unbearable, ancient Potwards. The very next day, Mrs. Potward breaks her hip and the couple disappear forever. It could be just a coincidence, but Lizzie is convinced of her own magical powers, and the temptation to involve both her younger brothers in her ambitious spellmaking plans is irresistible. As one potion leads to another, all three Sharp children become ridiculously entangled in a web of secrets, conspiracies, and misunderstandings.

jennifer hecate macbeth william mckinley and me elizabethKonigsburg, E. L.  Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth
Elizabeth is an only child, new in town, and the shortest kid in her class. She’s also pretty lonely, until she meets Jennifer. Jennifer is… different. She’s read Macbeth. She never wears jeans or shorts. She never says “please” or “thank you.” And she says she is a witch. It’s not always easy being friends with a witch, but it’s never boring. At first an apprentice and then a journeyman witch, Elizabeth learns to eat raw ends and how to cast small spells. And she and Jennifer collaborate on cooking up an ointment that will enable them to fly. That’s when a marvelous toad, Hilary Ezra, enters their lives. And that’s when trouble starts to brew.

karma bitesKramer, Stacy.  Karma Bites
Life seems to have it in for Franny Flanders. Her best friends aren’t speaking, her parents just divorced, and her hippie grandmother has moved in. The only karma Franny’s got is bad karma. Then Franny gets her hands on a box of magic recipes that could fix all of her problems. It could even change the world! Finally, life is looking up. But Franny is about to learn that magic and karma aren’t to be played with. When you mess with the universe, it can bite back in unexpected ways. Ouch!

magic puddingLindsay, Norman.  The Magic Pudding
The Magic Pudding is a pie, except when it’s something else, like a steak, or a jam donut, or an apple dumpling, or whatever its owner wants it to be. And it never runs out. It’s magic!  No matter how many slices you cut, there’s always something left over.  But the Magic Pudding is also alive. It walks and it talks and it has a personality like no other. A meaner, sulkier, snider, snarlinger Pudding you’ve never met. So Bunyip Bluegum (the koala bear) finds out when he joins Barnacle Bill (the sailor) and Sam Sawnoff (the penguin bold) as members of the Noble Society of Pudding Owners .  This madcap childhood classic recounts the adventures of the three friends as they defend the pudding from thieves.

blissLittlewood, Kathryn.  Bliss
Rosemary Bliss’s family has a secret. It’s the Bliss Cookery Booke—an ancient, leather-bound volume of enchanted recipes like Stone Sleep Snickerdoodles and Singing Gingersnaps. Rose and her siblings are supposed to keep the Cookery Booke under lock and whisk-shaped key while their parents are out of town, but then a mysterious stranger shows up. Aunt Lily rides a motorcycle, wears purple sequins, and whips up exotic (but delicious) dishes for dinner. Soon boring, non-magical recipes feel like life before Aunt Lily—a lot less fun.  So Rose and her siblings experiment with just a couple of recipes from the forbidden Cookery Booke.  A few Love Muffins and  Cookies of Truth couldn’t cause too much trouble . . . could they?

dash of magicLittlewood, Kathryn.  A Dash of Magic
Rosemary will do anything to get back her family’s magical Cookery Booke, even challenging Aunt Lily to an international baking competition in Paris.  If Rose wins, Lily will return the Cookery Booke that she stole. If Rose loses . . . well, the consequences are too ugly to think about. But Lily isn’t playing fair—she’s using a magical ingredient to cheat. The only way for Rose to compete is for her to find magical ingredients of her own.  Together with her long-lost grandpa, his sarcastic talking cat, and a turncoat French mouse, Rose and her brothers race around Paris to find the magical ingredients that will help her outbake—and outmagic—her conniving aunt.  She has to win or the Bliss Cookery Booke will be lost to her family forever.

sinister sweetness of splendid academy 2Loftin, Nikki.  The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy
Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy—Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei’s favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?  It’s up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones—and might even pick them clean!  Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you’ve got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.

power of poppy pendleLowe, Natasha.  The Power of Poppy Pendle
Ten-year-old Poppy, born to ordinary parents, inherits her famous Great Aunt Mabel’s genes—GAM was a famous witch. In Poppy’s world, witches work for good and are much valued, with powers both coveted and praised. But Poppy does not want to be a witch—she wants to be a baker, and she is extremely good at baking. Her parents insist Poppy follow in the footsteps of her great aunt, but Poppy has plans of her own.  Part magic, part adventure, and wholly delicious, this spirited story includes more than a dozen recipes readers—and budding bakers—can try at home.

cake  love, chickens and a taste of peculiarMagnin, Joyce.  Cake:  Love, Chickens and a Taste of Peculiar
Wilma Sue seems destined to go from one foster home to the next—until she is sent to live with sisters and missionaries, Ruth and Naomi. Do they really care about Wilma Sue, or are they just looking for someone to help raise chickens and bake cakes?  As Wilma Sue adjusts to her new surroundings and helps deliver ‘special’ cakes, she realizes there’s something strange going on.  On her search  for secret ingredients, she makes a new friend, Penny.  When Penny and her mother hit a rough patch, Naomi decides to make her own version of cake—with disastrous results. Then tragedy strikes the chickens, and all fingers point to Wilma Sue—just when she was starting to believe she could at last find a permanent home with Ruth and Naomi. Will the sisters turn her out, or will she discover what it feels like to be truly loved?

witch's guide to cooking with childrenMcGowan, Keith.  The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children
When Sol and Connie Blink move to Grand Creek, one of the first people to welcome them is an odd older woman, Fay Holaderry, and her friendly dog, Swift, who carries a very strange bone in his mouth. Sol knows a lot more than the average eleven-year-old, so when he identifies the bone as a human femur, he and Connie begin to wonder if their new neighbor is up to no good.  In a spine-tingling adventure that makes them think twice about who they can trust, Sol and Connie discover that dangerous secrets lurk in even the most pleasant neighborhoods.

witch's curseMcGowan, Keith.  The Witch’s Curse
A shadowy witch, a cursed hunter—it’s tricky business for Sol and Connie as they face off against this awful pair. The kids narrowly averted being eaten by the last witch after them, and this time it doesn’t look any better. It’s a long way through the accursed valley, they’re running out of food and water, and that lodge on the mountain side with the collection of animals inside isn’t exactly comforting. Who can save them? The All Creatures Manager? A heroic woodthrush? The Camper Lady? The Know-It-All Cube? Or will they have to save themselves? And here’s the worst of it: little do Sol and Connie know that the ancient child hunter is about to wake up—thanks to the witch’s curse.

candy shop warMull, Brandon.  The Candy Shop War
Welcome to the Sweet Tooth Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe, where the confections are bit on the . . . unusual side. Rock candy that makes you weightless. Jawbreakers that make you unbreakable. Chocolate balls that make you a master of disguise.  Nate, Summer, Trevor, and Pigeon meet the grandmotherly Mrs. White, owner of the Sweet Tooth, and soon learn about the magical side effects of her candies. Then the ice cream truck driver, Mr. Stott, arrives with a few enchanted sweets of his own. The danger unfolds as the kids discover that the magical strangers have all come to town in search of a legendary treasure—one that could be used for great evil if it fell into the wrong hands. The kids, now in over their heads, must try to retrieve the treasure first. And so, the war begins . . .

arcade catastropheMull, Brandon.  Arcade Catastrophe
In the sequel to The Candy Shop War, Nate and his friends meet Mrs. White’s brother Mr. White, who owns Arcadeland, a local amusement center. At Arcadeland, kids can play games and earn thousands of tickets, which are redeemable for one of four kinds of stamps jets, tanks, subs, and race cars. Could it be true that these stamps allow kids to fly through the air? Or breathe underwater? Or run faster than a car? But Mr. White is hiding a secret: when all four clubs are filled, he will be able to retrieve perhaps the most powerful talisman ever. For Nate and his friends, it will take more than candy to fight and win this war!

magic mistakesRyan, Margaret.  Magic Mistakes!
It’s the start of the autumn school semester and the fairies are learning a new subject—cooking! Who can make the best pudding? Airy Fairy is determined to do well in cooking class, but with Scary Fairy around to stir up trouble, things are bound to go wrong once again.  Airy Fairy might be the clumsiest, most messy little fairy in town. Her wand is bent, her wings are patched with bandages, and her magic spells have a way of going wrong. Even so, she’s a lovable little fairy whose adventures have quickly become favorites among young readers.

m for mischiefParker, Richard.  M for Mischief
When they move into a new house, Andrew, Milly and Peg find a little round structure in the garden, complete with a stove inside.  The stove looks like a normal one, except for the strange “M” on the dial.  And then there’s the “Magical Cook Book” they find with the stove.  Could it really be true?  Andrew and his sisters can hardly wait to try it. Carefully, they set the stove dial to M. Then Andrew cooks an egg and eats it, following the directions.  He can see himself perfectly fine though.  But his sisters can’t.  Andrew has disappeared!  Now they have a magic stove and a whole book of spells to try.  Can they keep their stove secret and keep out of trouble?

van gogh cafeRylant, Cynthia.  The Van Gogh Café
At the Van Gogh Cafe, anything can happen. Clara’s dad owns the cafe, and she’s seen it all—from food that cooks by itself to poems that foretell the future. This award-winning collection of vignettes by Newbery medalist Cynthia Rylant is a treat to be relished. So bring your appetite for the unexpected, because at the Van Gogh Cafe, your order of tea and toast comes with a side of magic!  The Van Gogh Cafe, located in Flowers, Kansas, has magic in its walls, causing strange and mysterious events to occur there.

whizz pop chocolate shopSaunders, Kate.  The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop
Welcome to the most magical house in London.   The family of eleven-year-old twins Oz and Lily have inherited it, together with the mysterious shop downstairs. Long ago, the shop’s famous chocolate-makers, who also happen to be Oz and Lily’s great uncles, were clever sorcerers. Now evil villains are hunting for the secret of their greatest recipe. The terrifying powers of this magic chocolate have the ability to destroy the world.   Soon, Oz and Lily are swept into a thrilling battle, helped by an invisible cat, a talking rat, and the ghost of an elephant. It’s up to them to stop the villians and keep the magical chocolate recipe out of harm’s way. Their family and the world depends on it.

chocolate feverSmith, Robert Kimmel.  Chocolate Fever
Henry Green is a boy who loves chocolate. He likes it bitter, sweet, dark, light, and daily; for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks; in cakes, candy bars, milk, and every other form you can possibly imagine. Henry probably loves chocolate more than any boy in the history of the world. One day, Henry finds that strange things are happening to him. First he makes medical history with the only case of Chocolate Fever ever–Henry breaks out in brown bumps which cause a series of events ending in a hijacking and a realization about chocolate and family.

mary poppins in the kitchenTravers, P. L.  Mary Poppins in the Kitchen
Get a unique glimpse at the famous Poppins cast as the spit-spot English nanny and the Banks children take over the kitchen for a week. With the help of familiar visitors like the Bird Woman, Admiral Boom, and Mr. and Mrs. Turvy, Mary Poppins teaches her irrepressible young charges the basics of cooking, from A to Z. And young readers can re-create the week’s menus by following the thirty different recipes. Kitchen adventures were never so much fun!

pieWeeks, Sarah.  Pie
When Alice’s Aunt Polly, the Pie Queen of Ipswitch, passes away, she takes with her the secret to her world-famous pie-crust recipe. Or does she? In her will, Polly leaves the recipe to her extraordinarily fat, remarkably disagreeable cat, Lardo . . . and then leaves Lardo in the care of Alice.  Suddenly, the whole town is wondering how you leave a recipe to a cat. Everyone wants to be the next big pie-contest winner, and it’s making them pie-crazy. It’s up to Alice and her friend Charlie to put the pieces together and discover the not-so-secret recipe for happiness: Friendship. Family. And the pleasure of donig something for the right reason.

sorcery and ceceliaWrede, Particia.  Sorcery & Cecelia: Or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot
Cousins Kate and Cecelia have always been inseparable. But in 1817, as they approach adulthood, they are forced to spend a summer apart. As Cecelia fights boredom in her small country town, Kate visits London to mingle with English society. At the initiation of a magician into the Royal College of Wizards, Kate finds herself alone with a mysterious witch who offers her a sip from a chocolate pot. Kate refuses the drink and the witch disappears as chocolate burns through her dress. Strange forces convene to destroy a beloved wizard, and only Kate and Cecelia can stop the plot. But for two girls who have to contend with the pressures of choosing dresses and beaux for their debuts, deadly magic is only one of their concerns.

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As it turns out, magical cookery books seem to be very popular!  Most of these titles were out when I made this post.  If you’d like to place a book on hold in the Minuteman system, simply click on the title link and you’ll find yourself on that page of our catalog.  Just place a Hold Request from there!

Enjoy!  And if YOU find a mysterious magical cookbook, please bring it in and share with our staff!  Everyone here would like a turn at some cooking magic!  🙂

::Kelly::

Booklist: Double (or Triple!) the Trouble – Fantasy stories!

Continuing our booklist on twins, triplets and other multiples…this time with a Fantasy twist!

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Double (or Triple!) the Trouble Family Stories:
Twins, Triplets, Quadruplets…

FANTASY STYLE

Hollow Earth by John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman

hollow earthLots of twins have a special connection, but twelve-year-old Matt and Emily Calder can do way more than finish each other’s sentences. Together, they are able to bring art to life and enter paintings at will. Their extraordinary abilities are highly sought after, particularly by a secret group who want to access the terrors called Hollow Earth. All the demons, devils, and evil creatures ever imagined are trapped for eternity in the world of Hollow Earth—trapped unless special powers release them. The twins flee from London to a remote island off the west coast of Scotland in hopes of escaping their pursuers and gaining the protection of their grandfather, who has powers of his own. But the villains will stop at nothing to find Hollow Earth and harness the powers within. With so much at stake, nowhere is safe—and survival might be a fantasy.

First Hero by Adam Blade

first heroAt the age of seven, Tanner’s father was killed in front of him by the evil warlord Derthsin. But his father’s death was not in vain and Derthsin was carried away to his doom by a good Beast, Firepos the Flame Bird. Now, eight years later, another evil army is wreaking havoc across Avantia. But Tanner has been training with Firepos, waiting to avenge his father’s death. There is something familiar about this new menace, who rides with a Beast of his own. The evil army is after the pieces of the Mask of Death–which allows whoever wears it to control all Beasts. Tanner sets off on a journey to stop them. Along the way, he encounters twins Gwen and Geffen, who hold the map to finding the remaining pieces. Check out #2 (Chasing Evil) and #3 (Call to War) in the series!

Doctor Illuminatus by Martin Booth

doctor illuminatusWhen a family moves to an old English country estate, Sebastian, the son of an alchemist, is accidentally awakened from a centuries-long sleep. The evil enemy of Sebastian’s father has also been awakened and continues to pursue his sinister plan.
Check out Part II: Soul stealer.

 

The Land of Stories: the Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

land of storiesAlex and Conner Bailey’s world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairy tales. The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about. But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.

Witch Twins and the Ghost of Glenn Bly by Adele Griffin

witch twins and the ghost of glenn blyClaire and Luna are thrilled to visit an ancient castle in Scotland with their five-star-witch grandmother, Grandy. But this is no ordinary vacation. The three witches are on a mission: to rid Glenn Bly castle of the terrifying ghost that haunts it. The situation at Glenn Bly is more complicated than the twins had imagined. There’s prickly Daphne, who lives with her grandfather in the castle and seems to be hiding something. There are the awful Shrillingbirds, the absentee landlords who now want to make Glenn Bly their permanent home. Finally, there is the ghost himself. And when Claire and Luna meet him, the real mystery begins. The twins turn ghost-busters in this fourth magically funny book in the Witch Twins series about these novice witches.

 

Otto and the Flying Twins by Charlotte Haptie

otto and the flying twinsIt is the spring following the events in Otto and the Flying Twins, and Otto’s world is still strangely unpredictable: the Karmidee still an underclass of ‘magicos’, his parents at odds, and the twins still unable to fly free. And the City of Trees is in the grip of something strange – with the approach of spring, when there should be warmer weather, carnivals and celebration, there is instead increasing cold, snow, bitter blizzards, a frightening upside-down world of ice. Once again, the Karmidee are blamed. But if they ever knew how to control the weather, they have long ago forgotten. Otto and Mab must help to find the answer. Otto encounters the legendary Wool Bandits, helps a miniature family with a dangerous secret and, together with new and extraordinary friends, must challenge the ancient powers of the sinister Bird Charmers. Read the next books in the series: Otto and the Bird Charmers and Otto in the Time of the Warrior.

The Akhenaten Adventure by P.B. Kerr

A251SchAkhenaten_0.tifMeet John and Philippa Gaunt, twelve-year-old twins who one day discover themselves to be descended from a long line of djinn. All of a sudden, they have the power to grant wishes, travel to extraordinary places, and make people and objects disappear. Luckily, the twins are introduced to their eccentric djinn-uncle Nimrod, who will teach them how to harness their newly found power. And not a moment too soon . . . since John and Philippa are about to embark on a search to locate a monstrous pharaoh named Akhenaten and his eerie tomb. Read all seven books in the Children of the Lamp series!

Flip by David Lubar

flipIf you could become anyone in the world, who would you be? Did you ever wish you could be anyone else but who you are? Twins Ryan and Taylor do it all the time. Now their dream is about to come true. They’ve discovered mysterious alien disks that allow they to “flip”–to become legendary heroes from the past. But who?

 

 

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

unwantedsWhen Alex finds out he is Unwanted, he expects to die. That is the way of the people of Quill. Each year, all the thirteen-year-olds are labeled as Wanted, Necessary, or Unwanted. Wanteds get more schooling and train to join the Quillitary. Necessaries keep the farms running. Unwanteds are set for elimination. It’s hard for Alex to leave behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted, but he makes peace with his fate—until he discovers that instead of a “death farm,” what awaits him is a magical place called Artimé. There, Alex and his fellow Unwanteds are encouraged to cultivate their creative abilities and use them magically. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation. But it’s a rare, unique occurrence for twins to be divided between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artimé that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate magical battle. Check out book #2: Island of Silence.

Facing the hunchback of Notre Dame by L. L. Samson

facing the hunchback of notre dameA hidden attic. A classic story. A very unexpected twist. Twin twelve-year-old bookworms Ophelia and Linus Easterday discover a hidden attic that once belonged to a mad scientist. While relaxing in the attic and enjoying her latest book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Ophelia dozes off, and within moments finds herself facing a fully alive and completely bewildered Quasimodo. Ophelia and Linus team up with a clever neighbor, a hippy priest, and a college custodian, learning Quasimodo’s story while searching for some way to get him back home—if he can survive long enough in the modern world. Read the next two books in the series: Saving Moby Dick and Dueling with the Three Musketeers.

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

alchemystThe legend: Nicholas Flamel lives. But only because he has been making the elixir of life for centuries. The secret of eternal life is hidden within the book he protects—the Book of Abraham the Mage. It’s the most powerful book that has ever existed. In the wrong hands, it will destroy the world. That’s exactly what Dr. John Dee plans to do when he steals it. Humankind won’t know what’s happening until it’s too late. And if the prophecy is right, Sophie and Josh Newman are the only ones with the power to save the world as we know it. Sometimes legends are true. And Sophie and Josh Newman are about to find themselves in the middle of the greatest legend of all time. Read all of the books in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series!

The Storm Makers by Jennifer E. Smith

storm makersWhat starts as an ordinary summer turns exciting and perilous for twins Ruby and Simon when strange occurrences begin happening on their farm — sudden gusts of wind, rainstorms, and even tornado warnings — that seem eerily timed to Simon’s emotions. Then a stranger arrives and tells the twins that Simon is a Storm Maker — part of a clandestine group of people entrusted with controlling and taming the weather — and that he is in great danger. Soon Simon and Ruby must race against the clock as they try to master Simon’s powers in time to stop a rogue Storm Maker’s treacherous — and potentially deadly — plans.

Troubletwisters by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

TroubletwistersJaide and Jack Shield’s lives are changing in a very, very strange way. The weather is turning against them. Magical disasters occur when they’re around. And a mysterious explosion has just destroyed their house…from the inside. Without knowing why, the twins are stolen away to live with Grandma X–a relative they’ve never, ever met. At Grandma X’s house, things are even stranger. Weather vanes point in the opposite direction of the wind. Doors appear and disappear. Cats talk. Read book 2: The Monster!

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

thirteenth childEff was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he’s supposed to possess amazing talent — and she’s supposed to bring only bad things to her family and her town. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that separates settlers from the beasts of the wild. Read #2 (Across the Great Barrier) and #3 (The Far West) in the series!

 Booklist by Julie G!

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Hmm.  In Fantasy stories, multiples always seem to be twins. There’s not a triplet or quadruplet in the bunch!  Maybe that’s a book that someone should write…

Next up: Twins, triplets and more in Science Fiction.  (I’m thinking that’s going to be doubles too.)

::Kelly::

Audio Reviews: Three (and a fifth) titles

These audio books have been waiting in my review pile for far too long!  So here are a few new audio books for your listening pleasure.  Try one of these titles (or any of our previous reviews) on your next road trip!

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Fake Mustache: Or How Jodie O’Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind
by Tom Angleberger, Narrated by Jonathan Todd Ross and Jessica Almasy
3 CDs, 3.25 Hours

fake mustacheLenny Flem Jr. is a nerd.  He freely admits it.  His friend Casper Bengue is more of a con-man, so it’s hardly surprising that when Lenny finds himself in a heap of trouble, Casper is at the root of it.

Both boys live in Hairsprinkle, a rather strange little town where nothing every changes.  They still have trolleys running down the middle of main street, the Hairsprinkle Hot Dog Stand, Sven’s Fair Price Emporium, Chauncey’s Big & Tall, Short & Small store, and there’s even the Heidelberg Novelty Company on the outskirts of town.

fake mustache 2When Casper borrows the last ten dollars he needs from Lenny to pay for a fake mustache at Sven’s–not a cheap one either, but the Heidleberg Handlebar Number Seven–Lenny isn’t really surprised.  Weirded out a bit, maybe, but not surprised. He’d spent the entire afternoon following Casper as he made a variety of odd purchases, including a pin-striped suit and the mustache.  But everything becomes clear to Lenny the next day, when he hears that the local bank has been robbed.  He knows it has to be Casper.   After all, what other criminal mastermind could pull off a heist with a gang of strolling accordion players, led by a short, well dressed man-about-town sporting a spectacular handlebar mustache?

Of course, no one believes Lenny, and soon he finds himself trying to stop his best friend from his crime spree.  Things only get worse though, when Casper has the financial backing to run for United States President. Lenny has to call in the big guns: Jodie O’Rodeo, former child star, now teen cowgirl queen, and her trained horse.

Will Lenny and Jodie succeed?  Or will Casper win?  It’s a battle of wits as these friends face off over a fake mustache and the fate of the U.S. population!

fake mustache audioFake Mustache is such a goofy story; all  preposterous situations and ridiculous coincidences and silly clues. That’s what makes it fun though!  The two readers split Lenny and Jodie O’Rodeo’s telling of the story, and they do a wonderful job.

The main characters in this story are all twelve years old and in middle school.  Tom Angleberger is also the author of the popular Origami Yoda series, and like those books, Fake Mustache will be popular with the fourth through eighth grade crowd.  Make sure you check out the book, even if you’re planning to listen to the CDs…the illustrations are great and add an extra level of absurdness to the story.  And you’ll definitely want to check out the mustache types on the end pages!

If you want a serious story, give Fake Mustache a pass. But if you want an absurd, over-the-top extravaganza of wackiness, go for it.  You’ll be laughing as you try to figure out what Casper is going to do next, and how Lenny’s predicament can possibly get any worse!

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A Confusion of Princes
By Garth Nix, Read by Michael Goldstrom
8 CDs, 9 Hours, 44 minutes

confusion of princesPrince Khemri is a Prince of the Empire.  While most citizens of the Empire go about their boring lives, living out their short life-spans, Princes are taken from their parents at a very young age and placed in a temple. For the next ten years, their minds and bodies are augmented by three forces: Mektek, Bitek and Psitek.  This makes Princes stronger, faster, smarter and luckier than normal humans.  The only drawback is that once a Prince reaches maturity, he is subject to the rules that govern all other Princes–there is only one Emperor.  And the surest way to ensure your endurance is to kill, dishonor or destroy the competition.  Fortunately, when a Prince dies, his life is assessed, and if the Imperial Mind finds him or her worthy, he or she is reborn.

confusion of princes 2When Prince Khemri reaches his majority, he has to leave his temple and make his way to a protected learning place.  At one of the Academies, he will be safe from being challenged to duels and protected from major, obvious, conspiracies.  But of course, one thing about Princes is that they always believe they’re right, so being in a protected place doesn’t actually mean that Khemri is safe.  No, it just means that the rules are harder to figure out, and that the game is even more deadly.

Khemri is finally chosen for a special assignment, and is sent out on a secret mission.  In the midst of his trial period, after a deadly space battle, he finds himself rescuing a lieutenant named Raine on a disabled and drifting spaceship.  Is this another test, or is it real?  When Raine and her world challenge everything Prince Khemri has ever known about the Empire, the Imperial Mind, the Emperor and himself, will he find a way to reconcile all these different sources of information?  Or will he return to what he knows?

confusion of princes audioAlthough I love reading science fiction, I sometimes find it difficult to listen to.  I was a little afraid that I would have that problem with this audio recording, but was quite pleased that while it sounded futuristic, it was also exciting and current.  Michael Goldstrom, the narrator, is enjoyable.   His voice sounded both young and confident, befitting a prince. There was some infrequent but useful sound effects for Khemri’s internal psitek evaluations when he spoke with the Imperial Mind.

A Confusion of Princes is in our Teen section. Because of violence and some romantic situations, is more appropriate for upper middle school and high school readers and listeners.  Garth Nix has had quite a few series (The Seventh Tower, The Keys to the Kingdom, and the Abhorsen Trilogy) and this one should be just as popular.  Science fiction readers and listeners–teens and adult– could enjoy this together.

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The Willoughbys: A Novel
Nefariously written by Lois Lowry, Narrated by Arte Johnson
3 CDs, 2 Hours and 55 Minutes

willoughbys2The old-fashioned Willoughby children live in a small, old-fashioned house with their old-fashioned parents.  Timothy is the eldest, is twelve.  Barnaby A and Barnaby B, the twins, are two years younger.  Jane is the youngest at six and a half.  All four children are convinced that, like Anne of Green Gables and James of the Giant Peach, they should be orphans.  After all, in old-fashioned books, all the best worthy and winsome children are orphans.  And it’s not like their parents really like them or anything, they couldn’t even manage to think of two names for the twins!  The clincher to the orphan thing is when they find a beastly baby abandoned on their doorstep. Of course, they don’t want to keep it, so they pass it on to the rich old gentleman down the road.

willoughbys 3But when their parents depart on a sea voyage with the Reprehensible Travel Agency, they hire Nanny to watch after the children.  The letters home prove that the Willoughby parents are remarkably resistant to the dangers of floods, volcanoes and tornadoes.  However, they’re also resistant to their worthy and winsome offspring.  They put their house on the market with no intention of ever returning.

Timothy, A and B, Jane and Nanny are not very happy with this situation. They Must Do Something!  And with the help of sweets tycoon and bereaved benefactor Colonel Melanoff and his adopted ward, Baby Ruth, they may rise above their situation and prevail!

willoughbys audioThe Willoughbys is a parody of all the “great” children’s classics. It really helps to know the rags to riches, poor orphaned premise of stories like Pollyanna, The Secret Garden, Mary Poppins and Heidi to know what the Willoughbys are going through!  Every element of Old-Fashionedness is here, from villains and wealthy benefactors to long-lost heirs and abandoned babies. The Willoughbys pays playful homage to classic works of children’s literature with all the wit of current writers like Lemony Snickett.

Arte Johnson is the perfect narrator; droll, dry and understated.  He sounds like he’s surprised with every twist and turn of the plot, but he’s as matter-of-fact about these developments as the children are.

The Willoughbys is for all ages; anyone who appreciates parody and children’s literature will enjoy both the book and the audio.  It’s a fast read, and a fun listen.  There is a great glossary of old-fashioned terms in the back of the book, as well as a bibliography of classic children’s literature mentioned during the story.  This would be a fun book for a family car trip with kids in third grade through middle school.

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…and the “fifth” of a book:

Seraphina
By Rachel Hartman, read by Mandy Williams with Justine Eyre
11 CDs, 13 hours, 15 minutes

seraphinaSeraphina lives in a world where humans and dragons co-exist, although there are still problems between the two groups. These issues are part of Seraphina’s secret: although her father is human, her mother, who died when she was born, was a dragon.  If anyone knew, she would be put to death immediately.

Seraphina’s father has told her not to reveal her secret to anyone, and to make herself as inconspicuous and invisible as possible.  But Seraphina keeps finding herself in situations that bring her to the attention of powerful people–human and dragon.  Can she keep her secret and discover her heritage?

Why is this “a fifth”?  Although I LOVED the narrator’s voice in the audio recording of Seraphina, my daily commute is about ten minutes. And I couldn’t keep track of who people were (lots of fantasy names with different-sounding vowels) and what they were doing (which was pretty detailed and convoluted) in such short, choppy segments.  I’m sure this is a wonderful audio, but it needs to be savored in long stretches of time.  So although I only listened to the first two CDs, the book is in my list of Books To Read, because I think it’s sure to be a wonderful story.  For me, it just needs more time and visual contemplation.

Because of the situation and concepts of Seraphina’s existance, Seraphina is definitely a teen book. I would highly recommend it to fantasy and dragon fans who have the time to pour over it.

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And there you have it!  Three (okay, almost four) audio books to listen to on your next trip.  And let our staff know what you think!

::Kelly::

Old Favorite: Dark Lord of Derkholm

October is my favorite month of the year.  Changing leaves, pumpkins, apples, Halloween, Halloween costumes…  When I was a kid, I usually based my Halloween costume on favorite stories and books.  I remember the year I was Dorrie quite well; it took a long time to find two pairs of different colored striped socks and a stuffed black cat for Bink!  With all the Harry Potters out there today, it’s obvious that people still find their inspiration for costumes in books.

But what if finding a costume was more serious that just once a year, for fun?  What if your life depended on it?  In Diana Wynne Jones’ Dark Lord of Derkholm, a whole world’s livelihood depends on the strength of their costumes.  And on their acting abilities.  And athough that might sound like fun, for the brothers and sisters in this tale, it really isn’t.

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Mr. Chesney is the most powerful man in the world.  In several worlds, in fact.  His  business to to bring groups of Mr. Chesney’s Pilgrim Party Tours from the overdeveloped, over mechanized outer realms to a poor world where magic works.  His hold over the world started forty years ago, and involved blackmail, threats and a demon.

No one  actually likes Mr. Chesney or his Pilgrims.  For one thing, everyone has to pretend to be something they’re not if one of the Pilgrim Parties is in town.  For another, every year, people are forced to play the Dark Lord and his minions.  During that year, the wizard  must act evil, perform evil deeds, and in the end, be defeated by the Pilgrim Parties in a huge, epic battle.  Even worse, the tourists in the Pilgrim Parties don’t actually know that most of the evil henchmen and magicians are farmers, soldiers and normal wizards forced into playing the part under duress.  It’s a dangerous job, and everyone–from farmers to  soldiers to thieves, elves, and dragons– agree that Mr. Chesney must be stopped. Even though that means risking the wrath of a creature who has the power to destroy their world completely.

When Querida, the High Chancellor, and her cohorts in the High Council of Wizards’ University consult with the Oracles, the only help the Oracles can give is that the next Dark Lord must be the first person Querida sees, and the second person will be the Wizard Guide, who leads the Pilgrim Parties around the world and who is supposed to keep all the tours running smoothly.  Even though this mysterious prophecy doesn’t seem very helpful, the Council is sure that both these people will be powerful wizards, able to defeat the evil Mr. Chesney.

But the first person Querida sees is the disorganized and kind Wizard Derk; the second is his 14-year-old son Blade.  And suddenly, Derk, Blade and the whole of Derkholm, from family to servants to  merchants and townspeople are embroiled in a magical mess.  Derk has to reform the family castle into a pit of despair and doom, as well as coordinate armies, magical creatures and other magicians while trying to save his people from too much devastation.  The whole family is dragged into the act. Although no one likes the idea, they’re resigned to a year of no crops, no income, destroyed farms and sacrifices.  And then Derk is hurt in an accident with a dragon.  With his wife Mara’s help, Derk still might be able to pull off the role of the Dark Lord…but what about Blade?

Even though Blade is still a teen, his job of shepherding the Pilgrims around the world and dealing with Mr. Chesney might be even more dangerous. Especially now, when his parents can’t help him.  Luckily, his sister Shona is willing to drop out of Bard college to help him.  And their brothers and sisters: Elda, Lydda, Don, Callette, Finn and Kit have some great ideas too.  So what if they’re griffins, not humans?  But Mr. Chesney is grimly determined that magical creatures, even related ones, must be evil.  His actions toward Don, Callette and the others put them all in terrible danger.  Blade and the others might squabble, but they’re a family.  The siblings become more determined, and their goal is clear. Derk needs help, Blade is in trouble, and what Mr. Chesney doesn’t know won’t hurt him.  But the question is…will it hurt them?

As Blade goes out with the first group of Pilgrims, he’s not sure quite what to expect.  Pretty quickly, he learns that he’s in over his head. The tourists seem to have their own agenda,  it’s not so easy to pretend to be an ancient wizard, even behind a long white beard that apparently, ALL wizards wear, and it’s hard to pretend that  your wounded and kind father is an Evil Overlord of Doom.   Even worse than that though, Mr. Chesney seems to have seen through their deception.  While trying to play their roles, Blade and his brothers and sisters find themselves in danger.  Trying to defeat Mr. Chesney at the same time that they’re protecting their father and their friends from his wrath is no picnic!

Will these unusual siblings prevail?  Or will the implacable Mr. Chesney and his menacing weapon–a demon–win?  Read and find out!

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I just love all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books, and Dark Lord of Derkholm is among my favorites.  If you’ve ever read any kind of fantasy novel with a dangerous quest at the heart of it, you’ll laugh as you read the descriptions of what Derk’s people have to go through to create this illusion.  You’ll never look at fantasy in quite the same way!

The siblings in this story–human and griffin–each have distinct personalities and goals.  They squabble like most brothers and sisters, in spite of the magic.  Best of all, when problems arise, they work together.  Derk and Mara are wonderful, loving parents, happy with their children and each other, and quite in over their heads with their evil taskmaster.  Mr. Chesney is a horrible enemy; cunning, controlling and commercial.

So if you like a splash of humor in your dangerous fantasy world, try Dark Lord of Derkholm.  There’s also a sequel, called The Year of the Griffin.  Both are wonderful!

::Kelly::

Old Favorites: Wren to the Rescue

Quests are always a fun topic for an adventure book. The more dangerous the adventure, the more exciting the read.  What’s not to like?  Daring heroes, impossible tasks, magical mischief, mistaken identities and more await every lucky reader.

Wren to the Rescue, by Sherwood Smith, is full of all of these elements…and more!

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Wren was left at a mountain orphanage when she was just a baby.  At nine, she was transferred to Three Groves Orphanage because of overcrowding.  At Three Groves, she learns how to clean, cook, mend and do farm tasks.  Wren would rather learn how to read and write, act or go on adventures!  But Wren is stuck in life as an orphan; when she’s twelve, she’ll be hired out.  Until then though, she makes a name for herself creating stories and sticking up for other kids.  She meets another orphan, Tess, when she rescues her from some of the bigger orphanage bullies.  Three years later, Wren and Tess are still best friends, doing everything together.

So when Tess announces that she isn’t really an orphan at all, but a princess in disguise, Wren is amazed.  Tess has been under a curse and in hiding from an evil sorcerer the entire time she’s known her!  Wren is completely envious that Tess–quiet, shy Tess–is about to go to the palace to live in luxury and have grand adventures.  Tess though, would rather stay an anonymous orphan with her best friend. When she asks Wren if knowing she’s a princess changes Wren’s opinion of her, Wren tells her of course not. But she does think that their personalities are better suited to each others positions.  Fortunately, Tess isn’t angry–she knows it’s true.

Tess asks Wren to join her–not as a maid servant, but as her friend. Wren promptly agrees, and both girls are magically whisked away by Mistress Leila, one of the orphanage teachers who is actually Tess’ aunt, to the Magic School.  There, Tess meets with her parents and learns that she’s not completely out of danger.  But, reassured by the precautions the King and Queen have taken, the royal family and Wren return to the Palace.  But the curse seems to come true when, during the preparation for her 13th birthday, Tess vanishes. Kidnapped!

Wren saw the person who took Tess, and she saw the magic that was used.  But no one listens to her; they think she’s just a poor girl.  So Wren repeats the phrase she heard Mistress Leila use, waves her hand the same way, and is transported to the Magic School, where she meets a young wizard.  This wizard can’t seem to perform magic reliably, and is stunned to learn that Wren can do a difficult spell just from hearing it one time.  He also has a best friend, another boy training to be a warrior.  They’re willing to listen, so Wren tells them all she knows of Tess’s disappearance.  All three bond over their worry about Tess, and soon Wren, Tyron and Connor are defying the King and setting out on a quest to find and rescue her.

But Wren doesn’t know that both her traveling companions have secrets.  She also isn’t quite sure what to do with the magical abilities she seems to be developing; will they help or hinder in the search for Tess?

Facing evil magicians, enchanted beasts, and magical warriors led by an enchantress, Wren leads the boys over the mountains on a continuing mission to find Tess.  But when her magic backfires, will Wren be able to continue on her quest?  Only by finding Tess and confronting her evil captors will Wren find the answers to her questions.

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Wren to the Rescue was written in 1990, and was followed by two other titles, Wren’s Quest and Wren’s War. The trilogy stopped with some unanswered questions, so I was happy to see that there is now a fourth book, Wren, Journeymage available online through the author’s website.

Although there are princesses and evil sorcerers, dragons (well, sort of) and potential romance aplenty, it’s refreshing to meet a heroine who starts out with no special status or powers.  She’s not a princess or a magician herself, but an ordinary girl with determination, stubbornness and  principles.  Wren is the power behind the quest, the one who organizes the other rescuers, the one who is motivated by to find her friend.  She consults with the boys, but is usually the one they turn to to make important decisions.

If you like quest stories, spunky heroines and magic, you’ll love Wren to the Rescue.  So what are you waiting for?  Read it and find out!

::Kelly::