Friday, January 30, 2015

Five Kingdoms: Rogue Knight by Brandon Mull

Cole, Mira, Jace, and Twitch are on a mission to rescue Mira's outcast sisters, the next being Honor. As they follow the star pinpointing Honor's location in Elloweer, their magical weapons lose their power and Honor's star disappears. In desperate need of help, the group contacts the local rebellion, the Unseen, for assistance. While the group searches for Honor, news arrives of another wild, shape-crafted monster, called Morgassa, that is ravaging the land. Traveling undercover the group is ambushed by the mysterious warrior, the Rogue Knight, and Mira is kidnapped. It's up to Cole, his friends, and the Unseen to find Mira and Honor and destroy Morgassa.

Mull's thrilling second book starts off with our heroes' being stripped of their magical or shaping advantages as they enter Elloweer. In each kingdom, a person's or object's shaping abilities are lost once they enter a new kingdom. Cole's group must rely on each other, their past experiences, and several new friends to help them complete their daunting tasks. But one trial Cole faces alone is his struggle to leave Mira in search of his enslaved friends. This issue is heightened when Cole rescues his best friend, Dalton. So not only is Mull's story an original fantasy with heart-stopping adventure, but it is also a detailed description of Cole's inner turmoil. The next book, coming out in March, is called Crystal Keepers.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Midnight Charter by David Whitley

During the gray plague outbreak in Agora, Mark is sold to Dr. Theophilus to pay for his father's debts. Mark becomes the doctor's apprentice, but Mark's new friend Lily convinces him to switch jobs with her. Lily was working for Count Stelli, the great Agorian astrologer. After the switch is made, their lives change completely. Mark rises in power and prestige with Count Stelli, while Lily is constantly defending her work with Dr. Theophilus in helping the poor. When a mutual friend is murdered, Lily discovers that a secret society—known as the Midnight Charter—has been watching her and Mark to see if they are the prophesied ones who are to change the future of Agora forever.

Whitley creates an intriguing and thought-provoking story with The Midnight Charter. The Agora society is based on contracts between people for any job or promise and is void of charity or selfless service. But when Lily creates an almshouse to help the poor, she is fighting the very principles Agora was founded upon. The Midnight Charter can be an excellent classroom resource for analyzing the make-up of different societies or imaging our world without charity. This book is the first book of the Agora Trilogy.

(Full Review found on The Children's Book and Play Review:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

Solveig and her royal siblings, Harald and Asa, are stranded. For their protection, the children must survive the bitter winter in a hall hidden far away from the war their father is fighting. But as the freezing months draw out and their supplies run low, mysterious deaths start to occur. Solveig can tell these deaths are no accidents. There are traitors among their small party. But when enemy ships come into the fjord, the true traitors come to light. Solveig and her siblings must escape to keep their royal lineage safe.

Kirby tells the story through the eyes of Solveig. Solveig is neither heir to the throne, like her brother Harald, or a beautiful marriage-age princess, like her sister Asa. Solveig feels alone and lost, but she keeps herself occupied by taking care of everyone’s physical needs. Solveig has a clever, attentive mind as she closely observes her fellow hall dwellers. But Kirby adds an unlikely twist to the plot with more than one traitor with diverging agendas involving the royal family. At its core the story is a medieval Nordic murder mystery. But at its heart, it’s the longings, fears, and observations of a young girl struggling to fit in. Icefall is an engrossing read great for boys and girls ages 10 and up.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Reading Challenge #5: New Books vs. Classics

I have been pondering this reading challenge for a while now. Many parents have asked me what new books I think their young readers would enjoy. Now I get that new books are sometimes more relevant to what our young readers are going through. But, parents, have you looked to the past for some reading inspiration lately?

When I was a teenager, I remember often going to this old book store in Kansas City. My librarian mother went there searching for out-of-print books to add to her elementary school libraries. So while she was going through the children books, I would peruse the antique book section.

Now I went to the antique book section for a reason. I felt I had two reading problems: (1) constantly wanting the next new book and (2) judging a book by its cover. I found a way to resolve this issue by picking books I had never heard about that didn't have any type of cover. From those book store buys, I found some incredible books with amazing stories with titles like The Burnished Blade, The Black Rose,  or Captain from Castile. These books were just as adventurous, suspenseful, and enjoyable as the brand-new read right off the Barnes and Noble shelf, but MUCH cheaper.

So I have a challenge for both parents and new-book addicts out there. Why not look to past books for a great read? You may think you or your young readers have read all the "classics" in children's literature, but most likely you haven't.

Please realize that classics aren't always found in the "classic" section at Barnes and Noble or listed in literature textbooks. Classic books are timeless stories that keep inspiring you to return back to their pages time and again. Classics can be books from over a hundred years ago to just published last year. So don't let the book store chains or textbooks determine what is and isn't a classic. You decide!

As an aid to both parents and readers, here is a list of my favorite classic books that you may recognize or you may have missed. Enjoy!

Dragonfly series by Julia Golding
The Whisper of the Glocken by Carol Kendall
The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt
The Beast of Noor by Janet Lee Carey
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Peak by Roland Smith
The Silence of Murder by Dandi Dayley Mackall
The Blue Sword series by Robin McKinley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
Beyonders series by Brandon Mull
Heist Society series by Ally Carter
Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
Green Knowe series by L. M. Boston
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
Pie by Sarah Weeks
Al Capone Does My Shirts series by Gennifer Choldenko
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Elephant Run by Roland Smith
A Long Way From Chicago series by Richard Peck
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Kidnapped by Robert Lewis Stevenson
Christy by Catherine Marshall
Mrs. Mike series by Benedict and Nancy Freeman
The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key series by Jack Gantos
Crispin series by Avi
The Kestrel series by Lloyd Alexander
Start Little by E. B. White
Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen
Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman
Sarah Bishop by Scott O'Dell
The Alliance by Gerald Lund
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Island of the Blue Dolphins series by Scott O'Dell
Abhorsen series by Garth Nix
Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson
Holes by Louis Sacher
Goody Hall by Natalie Babbitt
A Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
The Candy Shop Wars series by Brandon Mull
Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Time Trapped by Richard Ungar

Caleb loves living with his newly adopted family in 1968, but his past life at Timeless Treasures comes back with a vengeance. At Uncle’s request, Caleb is kidnapped, returned to 2061, and has his memory restored. Uncle brought Caleb back to oversee the training of turning stolen children into time-traveling thieves. But Frank, Caleb and Abbie’s snatching peer, plans to eliminate Uncle and take over the company. To avoid being victims of a violent rebellion, Caleb, Abbie, and the children must make a risky escape through time with both Frank and Uncle at their heels.

Ungar’s sequel is just as riveting as the first book. Having the evil extremes brought out in both Uncle and Frank make this book even more unpredictable and intense. Caleb has no idea what Uncle and Frank will do next, which will also keeps readers on their toes. Besides the page-turning suspense, this series has similar themes to stories like The Traitor’s Gate or The Clockwork Three, except with a science-fiction twist. At times, the time-travel science is confusing or glossed over, but the driving plot and believable characters help pull things together into a satisfying conclusion.

Time Snatchers by Richard Ungar

It’s 2061 and Caleb works for Timeless Treasures, a rare artifacts business run by Uncle. To stock his inventory, Uncle sends children through time to snatch priceless objects from history. Caleb enjoys the work, especially as he works with his close friend Abbie. But Uncle changes the program by making “snatchers” compete against one another. The snatchers who fall behind on filling their artifacts quota are left stranded in the past. When fellow snatcher, Frank, starts ruining Caleb’s snatches things get deadly between Caleb and Uncle.

Ungar’s story is a science-fiction spin of Oliver Twist, with Uncle’s character starting off like Fagin, but ending the story like Bill Sikes. But unlike Oliver Twist, Caleb is an orphan with absolutely no family ties. When Caleb was “adopted” by Uncle, it seemed to Caleb that Uncle actually loved him. But when Caleb sees Uncle’s affection deteriorate because of greed and pride, Caleb aches for familial acceptance. On the surface, Time Snatchers is a fast-paced, intense novel full of humor, excitement, betrayal, and time-travel adventure. At its core, the book is the confession of a boy fighting impossible odds to be a part of a family. The sequel is called Time Trapped. Good for both boys and girls ages 12 and up.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull

A trip to a haunted house turns into a nightmare when Cole and his friends are kidnapped by slave-traders and taken to a world called the Outskirts. Once there, Cole comes across shaping—a magical ability used to create objects, buildings, or “living” beings. Cole is sold to a company of raiders and he makes friends with three other slaves: Mira, Jace, and Twitch. Later, Cole learns that Mira is one of five princesses hiding from their father, the High King, supreme dictator over the Five Kingdoms. Cole must decide whether to aid Mira or search for his missing friends.

Five Kingdoms is an absolutely original piece of fiction. Mull seems to have pulled ideas from people’s wildest dreams to create the world and magic of the Outskirts. But unlike dreams, Mull pulls it all into a cohesive package with a driving plot, likeable characters, and riveting storytelling. Readers will cheer on Cole as he finds the hero within himself when he and his new friends face dangers only found in nightmares. A great read for ages 10 and up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Beyonders: Chasing the Prophecy by Brandon Mull

Jason, Rachel, Galloran, and their delegation proceed with the Oracle’s prophecy: Jason and his party search for Darian the Seer while Rachel, Galloran, and their company reclaim Trensicourt and attack Felrook. As Galloran’s troops wait on Felrook’s impregnable threshold, Rachel gives in to her doubts by agreeing to become Maldor’s apprentice. Rachel hopes to destroy him, but her efforts are in vain.

Chasing the Prophecy is a spectacular ending to a masterfully written trilogy. Besides the heart-stopping action and page-turning adventure, Mull highlights how doubts affect his characters. Jason consistently doubts he’s important to the Oracle’s prophecy, even though he can see the prophecy unfolding during his mission. Rachel, on the other hand, doubts the prophecy’s authenticity but she can see she is essential to saving Lyrian through her Edomic talents. Their doubts are quenched by Darian’s prophecy, because they finally see why they were brought to Lyrian in the first place. A satisfying fantasy read for both teens and adults.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Beyonders: Seeds of Rebellion by Brandon Mull

Jason must return to Lyrian. He prepares supplies—which includes Ferrin’s hand—and jumps into the hippo tank when the opportunity arrives. Once Jason is transported back to Lyrian, he becomes a hunted man. On his way to tell Galloran that the Word is a diversion, Jason enlists Aram, a half-giant, and Ferrin as protectors. Meanwhile, Rachel discovers she has a rare gift for Edomic magic. Jason and Rachel are reunited with Galloran, and a quest to gather forces to oppose Maldor begins.

Mull’s second book in the Beyonders’ trilogy is a nail-biting journey that will leave readers impressed by Mull’s attention to detail and his control of all his characters. At several points in the story, the rebel group includes nine or more people. But Mull seems to effortlessly create well-rounded, deep, and unforgettable characters. Mull’s amount of thought and background to the world of Lyrian mirrors J. R. R. Tolkien’s creation of Middlearth in The Lord of the Rings. Any fan of Tolkien’s series, will definitely enjoy this modern twist of an epic story. Chasing the Prophecy is the final book in the trilogy.

(Full review found on The Children's Book and Play Review:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Beyonders: A World Without Heros by Brandon Mull

Jason Walker is working at the zoo when he hears strange music coming from the hippo tank. Jason accidentally falls into the tank and is swallowed by the hippo. Instead of entering the hippo’s stomach, Jason enters a new world where the people are ruled by Maldor, a tyrannical wizard emperor. While searching for a way home, Jason opens a forbidden book that puts him on a quest to find a magical word that will destroy Maldor. Rachel, a girl from his world, joins Jason on his mission and together they gather each piece of the word.

Mull’s story is full of action, intrigue, deception, and suspense. Both Jason and Rachel are characters that many readers would relate to easily, because of their believable responses to each other and to their predicament. Compared to Mull’s previous work—the Fablehaven series and The Candy Shop War—Mull has created a more mature, intricate piece of literature. Beyonders ranks up with such series as The Dark Is Rising, the Prydain Chronicles, and the Inheritance Cycle in creating a lasting impression on fantasy literature. Beyonders is set up to be a trilogy. The second book is Seeds of Rebellion.

(Full review found on The Children's Book and Play Review:

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Introducing Brandon Mull

I met Brandon Mull when he came to Iola, Kansas, during his nationwide book tour in September 2011. At the time he was promoting  his Beyonders series, now a New York Time Bestseller. I had a wonderful time getting to know him and asking him some penetrating questions about writing. We have kept in contact through the years as I read and reviewed many of his books. Brandon is an awesome guy with an outstanding imagination. It's a thrill to meet someone putting their amazing potential to work in creating incredibly original literature. He has a brilliant future ahead of him!

Here is his bio from his website:

“Brandon Mull is the author of the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling Beyonders and Fablehaven series. Brandon resides in a happy little valley near the mouth of a canyon with his wife and four children. He spent two years living in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile where he learned Spanish and juggling. He once won a pudding eating contest in the park behind his grandma’s house, earning a gold medal.”


Through my correspondence with Brandon, he's answered many of my writing and reading questions regarding his work:

1. What helps you to keep writing?
Good scenes keep me writing. Make every scene count. Make sure every scene engages you (because it is funny, or revealing, or amazing, or tense, or whatever). Pay attention to how your favorite writers build their scenes--how they start, how they handle dialog, how they work in backstory, how they paint on your imagination with descriptions, how they end the scene, and what they skip dramatising in a scene. If you write good scenes, then string them together in a smart way so that as a whole they convey a complete story, your readers will have a good time.

2. Do you ever come to your writing with a problem you are dealing with in your life and then try to write through it?
I do let things on my mind (troubles, issues, etc.) drift into my writing, and sometimes it has helped me clarify my thinking on certain issues or principles.

3. How did you start up the Spirit Animals series?
Scholastic came to me with the premise, but I served as architect for the series, creating the characters, the world, and outlining all seven books. I then wrote book one. There will also be a bonus book of stories about the Great Beasts, and I wrote one of those stories.

4. What other books do you have coming out soon?
(With the Candy Shop War) there will probably be a third and probably final novel called The Carnival Quest, but it is four or five years away due to contracts for other books.

Scholastic released, like 39 Clues, Spirit Animals, written by a team of authors. I wrote book one and the outline for the other six books. See more here

Then I have the series called Five Kingdoms, a five book series where our main character crosses over to another world, but with a lighter feel than Beyonders. It'll be true middle-grade like Fablehaven, but the world where he goes will be really different from anything we've seen. The first three books will come out only six months apart from each other.

And then in 2015 there will be a sequel series to Fablehaven called Dragonwatch. It will be five books and will continue the main storyline of Fablehaven, following Kendra, Seth, and the other main characters.

Discover more about Brandon Mull at

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Candy Shop War: Arcade Catastrophe by Brandon Mull

The clues of John Dart's and Mozag's disappearance lead Nate, Summer, Trevor, Pigeon, and Lindy to the newly opened Arcadeland. On the outside it may look like a regular arcade, but the kids can sense foul magic behind the establishment. Once a player gains a certain amount of tickets, they can use their winnings to buy a hand stamp that gives them the powers of the stamp’s image: tank, race car, submarine, or jet. However, once stamped the players are forced into a deadly competition to find magical artifacts for the wizard Jonas White, Mrs. White's brother. As the missions get harder and players disappear, Nate is the only one left to stop Jonas White.

Fans of the first book will welcome this deeper and more detailed world in which Nate and his friends live. But this story exceeds its prequel in terms of action, adventure, suspense, danger, and humor. Readers will be able to see the personal progression of the main characters from the first book. Nate and his friends have learned to be more mature and courageous from their past magical challenges and they use these strengths in solving more mystical dilemmas. And with that added maturity and courage, Nate and his friends teach it to other children caught in Jonas White's clutches. Like the first book, this story is also a great read-aloud book the whole family would enjoy. Mull will release a third and final book in the near future.

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull

A new ice cream and candy shop has opened in town and four friends—Nate, Summer, Trevor, and Pigeon—are naturally interested in the establishment. After several visits, the owner, Mrs. White, decides to share with them some special candy she keeps in the back. This candy gives the children magical powers, such as the ability to defy gravity or be unbreakable. But to earn this candy, Mrs. White enlists the children into doing some strange tasks, such as steal certain items around town. The children begin to question Mrs. White and her motives and break their deal with her. As soon as they end their commitment with Mrs. White, the children get mixed up in a magicians’ war. Only with their clever use of the magical candy can they help end it.

Mull has created an enchanting and tantalizing read with The Candy Shop War. The four friends grow and progress realistically as they see the deception through the sweets. Instead of letting go of the problems they created, they take responsibility for their actions—even to the point of sacrificing themselves to make things right. Few books today showcase this honest progression from innocence to maturity. Mull does it splendidly while adding immense suspense and drive to the story. This book can be a helpful resource to teachers, librarians, and parents as they use the reading guide at the end to spark conversation and lesson plans about the book. The second book is called Arcade Catastrophe.

(Full review found on The Children's Book and Play Review:

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Kendra and Seth are sent to stay the summer on Grandpa Sorenson’s preserve called Fablehaven. But this is not an ordinary preserve. Fablehaven is the home to both good and bad magical creatures like centaurs, fairies, trolls, and demons. The preserve is relatively safe, but on Midsummer’s Eve demons trick Seth into letting them into his grandparents' house. Grandpa Sorenson is kidnapped and the evil creatures wreak havoc to the house. It is up to the children to regain control of the creatures on the preserve, find their grandfather, set their Grandma Sorenson free from a spell, and recapture an evil witch.

Mull’s story is imaginatively written with great characters and a well-paced, exciting storyline. Kendra and Seth definitely represent a realistic brother and sister relationship. When the two siblings are put into a problematic situation, they realistically make many mistakes until they can find a solution. Fans of Harry Potter, the Alchemyst, Percy Jackson, and Ranger’s Apprentice series will enjoy this new world where mystical creatures and magical artifacts take center stage. Fablehaven is an addictive introduction to Mull’s five book series.

(Full review found on The Children's Book and Play Review: