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Viewing Blog: After Potter, Most Recent at Top
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After Potter seeks to review books that hopefully your children, or you, will want to pick up after finishing Potter. I will not include books such as A Series of Unfortunate Events or even The Lord of the Rings, for these books are very well known and loved. Instead, After Potter will review more recent books, reading ages 8-16, that I feel are as enjoyable as Harry Potter. I hope that after reading these reviews you or someone you know will find another great book (or two or three) to love.
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1. When Good Books Go Bad

Is there a point when our favorite books go stale? Can our favorite characters or authors lose their sparkle? I think there is. What did you really think about the very last Harry Pottery book? Did it really capture the magic for you like the first four books? For me, I have read all the Harry Potter books up to book seven twice. The last two just weren't the same. I purchased the latest Artemis Fowl book, but have yet to read it. And as for the Warriors, I became too tired of the cats. And let's not even start at how the brilliant Mr. Snicket was really just stretching the plots of his Series of Unfortunate Events by book number 5. Did the last book in that series even make sense to you? It sure didn't to me.

Yes, even the most creative and beloved authors can get stale. I take case in point Georgia Byng and her creating Molly Moon. As my readers (and spammers - for some reason, they love spamming that entry) know, I am actually quite fond of little Molly Moon. But her latest adventure, Molly Moon, Mickey Minus, and the Mind Machine had me scratching my head.

In this adventure, Molly and her friend Rocky go to search for her missing twin brother. To find out who took her brother, they go back in time and follow the culprit who took him. But then, they end up having to follow the kidnapper to the future. Only this is a future ruled by a preciously evil six-year old Princess Fang. Everyone in the kingdom bends to her whims thanks to Molly's brother's powers of hypnotism.

Overall, the book isn't terrible. I still think Ms. Byng to be a fun writer and still find Molly spunky and energetic. But overall, this story was strange. First of all, why does Molly have to acquire a new superpower with every story? Okay, okay, she actually loses her former powers and thus takes on the new power, but still? Why can't she learn to use the powers she already has and expand on them more? Also, I found the humor I loved in the first three stories to be lacking. What I liked was how Molly dealt with her terrible situation at the orphanage with spunk and humor. But she's in a strange new world, that seems to get stranger and stranger as you read on (particularly when you get to the part about the half human-half animal hybrids).

I know there's another Molly Moon book out there. Even though I have not read it yet, I understand Molly's acquired yet another superpower. I think I might give that book a pass for a while and look for something a little fresher out there. Don't get me wrong - I love series. It is always fun to read about further adventures of beloved characters. The problem is when I feel the authors are starting to stretch their stories too thin. Then we readers are left wondering if the authors are still in love with their characters, or know the characters still sell books?

2 Comments on When Good Books Go Bad, last added: 6/28/2010
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2. The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Summary: In this second book of the Conch Bearer, Anand goes to a small village being terrorized by some sort of evil. Going undercover as a village boy, he joins a group of workers who are searching for something among a palace ruins. Anand quickly learns that the man in charge is no man at all but a wicked wizard who uses the worker's souls to feed a terrible demon. In an attempt to get away, Anand discovers a little mirror that takes him into the past - to a time when the palace was a gleaming and lively place. Even more, he discovers that the wizard has also come back in time and plans to take over the throne.

Assessment: This book has one element I absolutely love and one element I do not like. First, I love time travel books and this one is a great one. Divakaruni takes us back to the times when India was ruled by shahzadas (Muslim princes) and describes in beautiful detail the sumptuous finery, jewels, and endless banquets as well as the customs of the court. It makes me wish for more novels set in the Mughal era (possible writing idea there). So what was there not to like? There are about two things I don't like in stories - I don't like novels where the stories take place in dreams, and I don't like stories that re-introduce a beloved character, only to have that character behave differently through the novel because he or she has forgotten his or her identity. In this case, Nisha is also in the past, but cannot remember who she was. Instead, she acts the haughty niece of the grand vizier and has no idea who Anand is, and at first, wants nothing to do with him. For me, this is the writing equivalent of saying, "Forget everything you knew about this person," which isn't fair to the people who have come to really like the character. However, having said that, do not let that detract you from this book. It is richly detailed, exciting, and with a thrilling ending, I actually enjoyed this book even more than the first one.

1 Comments on The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, last added: 4/1/2010
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3. The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Synopsis: 12 year old Anand is a poor slum dweller who works in a tea stall in Calcutta (sorry to all purists - it will always be Calcutta to me). Everything changes when he is entrusted with a magical conch and is told by a magical wizard that it is Anand's duty to take the conch to its rightful home in the Himalayas. The only problem is that another powerful and evil wizard wants the the conch and its powers for his own - and he will stop at nothing to take it from Anand.

Assessment: It is exciting to read fantasy that instead of being set in Europe (particularly medieval Europe), is instead set in another country within the context of their traditions. In this case, the story is set in modern-day India, and incorporates traditional Hindu ideas. But you don't need to know one thing about India or Hinduism. All you need to do is pick up the book and expect an exciting page-turning read. Danger and adventure greet Anand and his companion Nisha at every turn, and every reader will find that once hooked, they won't be able to put it down.

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4. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Summary: After a murder is brutally murdered, a baby boy crawls into the cemetery across the street, and is adopted by the ghosts who reside there. Nobody Owens (as he is named by the denizens) slowly grows and learns the ways of the cemetery, the boundaries, and special skills that only ghosts can teach him. However, despite the ghosts trying to keep him safe, they know that the man who killed Bod's family is coming for him to finish the job. And at 14, as Bod wants to learn more about the world outside - the world of the living, he meets a girl he had once known as a child. Unfortunately, this friend inadvertently leads him to the man who wants to kill him.

Assessment: I'll be honest - I am no fan of Neil Gaiman. Many people are, but after reading Stardust, I was decidedly not. I also wasn't crazy about Coraline (which was why I never reviewed it here). But after winning Newberry, I thought perhaps I should give the book a chance. The idea behind it was certainly intriguing, and I always love a good ghost story, so I did. And I am glad I did. I actually did enjoy this story. Now, this is no Eva Ibbotson - it isn't what I like to call cute scary - it can be just plain scary, so I do not recommend it for younger or more squeamish readers. But I think bolder readers (and especially boys) will greatly enjoy it.

1 Comments on The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, last added: 3/5/2010
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5. The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu

Summary: Strange things start happening to Charlotte Mielswetzski the day a cute little kitten appears and demands to be taken home. Not long after that, her cousin Zee shows up from London telling her a terrible tale about the kids in his school that had all mysterious coma-like sickness. Then, the kids at Charlotte's school start showing the same symptoms and strange white-faced men in tuxedos start following Charlotte around. Soon, Charlotte and Zee learn that that a demon named Philonecron is stealing shadows to create an army to overthrow Hades, the king of the underworld.

Assessment: First, let me say that at first, I found this book quite fast-paced and action-filled. And then I read Percy Jackson. Okay, it doesn't stand up to Percy in that regard. It is not filled with swordfights and demons trying to kill Charlotte and Zee at every turn. One reader on the Barnes and Noble website said it was boring. So I do not recommend this book to the reluctant reader, and it might be more suitable for girls. But having said that, it still is a very enjoyable book. I enjoyed seeing Charlotte uses her wits to get out of some very frightening scenarios including escaping flesh-eating rhyming harpies and facing down Philonecron's zombie army of the dead. Finally, I liked the withdrawn and a tad sarcastic third person narration. The mix of adventure and humor is well mixed making this a slightly slower, but no less enjoyable romp into Greek mythology. And I cannot end this review without mentioning how satisfying it is to learn the true origin of Charlotte's kitten, but I won't say what it is. You'll have to find out for yourself.

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6. Ye gods!

I just finished Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief which I really enjoyed. I would write about it here, but as we all know from the constant ads, the movie is coming out very soon. Because the goal of this blog is to highlight lesser-known books, I suppose it wouldn't be fair to post about that book since by the time a movie is made of the book, it no longer qualifies as lesser-known.

So, in the same vein, I plan to highlight two other books I read and enjoyed that deal with the Greek gods. I will introduce one this week and one next week.

Juliet Dove Queen of Love by Bruce Coville

Summary: Shy Juliet Dove wishes just once she could get a little attention once in a while. But after she gets a strange amulet from an even stranger shop, she suddenly discovers that all the boys have all developed major crushes on her. Far from nice, the attention is annoying! But when she tries to take off the amulet, she discovers that it won't come off! With the help of two mice acting as cupids, Juliet discovers that she's become the new Helen of Troy (not Venus as the title suggests) and she must learn to use her strengths to get her out of this situation - if she can only figure out what those are.

Assessment: This is a part of the Magicshop series which (shame on me!) I hadn't read until I got my hands on this book. I plan to read more of those books since this one was so much fun. Don't worry, there's no mushiness here (or kissy-kissy parts as a student of mine once called it). Instead, Ju
liet discovers the old "be careful what you wish for" adage and doesn't want all the attention. What you get is a fast-paced story, memorable characters, and good humor.

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7. Witch Week By Diana Wynne Jones

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Book 4.

A note starts all the trouble. The note reads, "Someone in this class is a witch." In any other classroom setting, the teach would have crumpled it up and continued with his lessons. But in this world, one very similar to our own, being accused of witchcraft is a very serious crime - one in which the accused can be burned at the stake. Not long after their teacher discovers the note, Charles Morgan and Nan Underwood, both unpopular students at the dreaded Larwood House, a dreary boarding school, realize that they can do magic. Little by little they test their newfound abilities with a secret glee - that is, until when they learn that the Inquisitors are coming to the school to find the accused witch! Only Chrstomanci can help save them from the terrible fate that happens to witches in their world.

Assessment: I liked this story even better than The Magicians of Caprona, to which this story was bundled in my book. One can easily sympathize with the plight of poor picked-on Charles and unpopular Nan. Who hasn't wished for magical abilities to play tricks on our tormentors (my dream in middle school!) without magical abilities? But along with that, there are hints that they aren't the only ones with magical abilities - there's also the Indian student Nirupam and Brian. Jones skillfully switches between the four students' point of view helping us learn more about the terrible school and world they live in - and how each one has been personally touched in some way or another by the draconian laws of the land. Furthermore, she sprinkles the story with good humor like brooms that demand to be ridden and mops and hoes that act more like stubborn mules when ridden. While Larwood House is the opposite of Harry Potter's beloved Hogwarts, this story puts every bit as much fun as any Potter story.

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8. The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Book 3

Summary: In the fair town of Caprona live two families of magicians - the Montanas and the Petrocchis. Much like Montagues and Capulets, these feuding families do all they can to try prove they are the better magicians. However, while these families are too busy fighting each other, they fail to notice that the city is falling under the clutches of an evil force. When the youngest member of the Montana family, Tonio, is kidnapped, he must learn that it takes more than just magic to get out of his predicament. Particularly since he only way out may be with the help of a Petrocchi!

Assessment: This book has it all - action, adventure, a hidden villain you don't suspect until the middle of the story, and even just a hint of romance. To be honest, this was my least favorite among the Chrestomanci books only because it takes a little while to get into it (it was also the first Chrestomanci book I read, so it took me a little while to understand who Chrestomanci was). However, once Tonio is taken prisoner, the action takes off and the story becomes exciting and engrossing. I really love the details Ms. Jones puts into these stories, and this story in particular - from the paper horses that dissolve in the rain to the spells that Tonio attempts that go awry. The author really creates a wonderfully magical world.

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9. The Lives of Christophe Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci #2

Summary: Christopher Chant has a pretty miserable childhood. His parents spend little time with him, and barely even with each other. His days pass drearily with dull governesses and orders from the servants, but at night, he is able to escape. In his sleep, Christopher is able to travel to other worlds, including one where he meets a girl who is believed to be the living incarnation of a goddess. This ability attracts his uncle Ralph who, with the help of a friend, requests that he brings back things from these other worlds. But when Christopher goes to develop his magic at Chrestomanci Castle, he soon realized that his kindly uncle may possibly be the mastermind in charge of a dangerous gang who had been behind thefts and even murder on these other worlds - and that Christopher may have unwittingly helped him all along. Soon, Christopher, with the help of the goddess, her cat, and a few other friends, must put a stop to uncle Ralph once and for all.

Assessment: This is one of my favorite stories of the Chrestomanci series. It is packed with loads of adventure, intrigue, and humor. I really can't say enough about how terrific Jones is. For the older set, you already know, but for those who have just started with Rowling, you will love her books - they have all you love in the Potter books.

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10. The Chronicles of Crestomanci by Dianna Wynne Jones

Volume 1: Charmed Life

Cat has always lived in the shadow of his older sister Gwendolyn and has never seemed to mind. She's much better at magic and always seems to be there when he needs help. Her magical talents have the both of them sent to Chrestomanci Castle to learn magic. But when denied learning more advanced magic, Gwendolyn causes such havoc that Cat must be the one to finally stop her.

Assessment: The cover of this book said, "Mad about Harry? Then try Dianna." Never before have these words been absolutely true. All I can add is that I wish I discovered Dianna years ago. Then by this time, as I write this, I would have read all her books. Her stories are fun, full of adventure, and make you feel as though you've stepped into the story itself. Even though these books have a numbered order, you can read any one out of order as each one is different; they are united by the fact that they have the Chrestomanci make an appearance in each. Because of this, I will treat each one as a separate story. In Charmed Life, you will have a great time watch Cat go from a shy young boy to one confident in his magic as he understands that the sister he once thought was protecting him was really just using him. And even though you'll really dislike Gwendolyn, you won't help but be amazed and a bit amused at her magical antics to get noticed in Chrestomancy Castle. Overall, you'll love this book!

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11. Mothstorm by Phillip Reeve

Summary: It should be a quiet Christmas time for Art Mumby and his family when Jack and his crew arrive and tackle the problem of Christmas pudding infestation, and a mysterious message from Uranus (Sorry, Gregorium Sidus). Upon investigating, Art (and his family, too, of course) discover a sinister cloud of moths led by an even more sinister woman threatening the galaxy, and worse, the British Empire (again)!

Assessment: As my faithful readers (all two of them) know that I am quite devoted to this series. I love the author's vivid imagination and witty turns of phrase, as well as humorous look at the Victorian period. The illustrator's whimsical illustrations that give the feel of a Victorian novel. There's plenty to like in this from Art's heroic efforts to Myrtle teaching an alien society of warrior females to do embroidery and faint better. However, having said that, I get the feeling from this novel that the author is running out of ideas. One of my biggest complaints is that one of the best characters, Ssilissa, had very little to do throughtout the whole story. Only until the end do we see her again. This is quite disappointing as I expect more from Reeve's great storytelling skills. Hopefully the author will take a little break, clear his mind, and then write some more about Art and his family!

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12. Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep by Liz Kessler

Summary: Emily and mother and father are sent to live on an island with other mer/human families. Even her best friend is there! It seems like paradise until Emily, in an attempt to impress some new friends, discovers a dark secret to this paradise. Deep below, the island is guarded by a terrible creature that Emily has unknowingly awakened too early. With no one able to control it, the terrible creature threatens not only her tranquil island, but even the humans who venture out too close - and that includes her old nemesis Mandy Rushton.

Assessment: It isn't too often that I say this, but I actually enjoyed this book better than the first one. I think this is because none of the humour or feeling of adventure is lost in this second book, as can so often happen and since introductiosn to characters and settings can be taken care of quickly, this leads to more action and more excitement. What is more, I really enjoyed having Mandy Rushton's point of view in the story. It opened up better understanding as to why she had picked on Emily earlier and why she is unhappy. It is very rewarding that both Mandy and Emily have to change in order to help each other.

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13. The Tale of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

Synopsis: Emily Windsnap has always lived on a houseboat on the water, but never learned to swim. As she reaches her twelfth year, Emily convinces her mother to let her take swimming lessons. When she does, Emily discovers great joy - and terror. She's extraordinarily good at swimming, but her legs lock together and she is unable to move them. Although terrified to go back into the water, she wants to know what happened, so she sneaks out at night and tries to swim again. Her legs lock up again, but this time, she learns why - in the water, Emily becomes a mermaid! Suddenly, a whole world opens up to Emily complete with merpeople, shipwrecks, and even the real fate of her long-lost father.

Assessment: It is probably few girls who have not dreamed of being a mermaid. Here in Emily, our dreams can swim freely! Kessler does a good job describing the confusion and exhileration Emily feels at learning her true identity, as well as introducing us to new friends, merpeople culture, and school. The mystery of what indeed happened to her father keeps the story moving briskly, although I didn't find the means of how Emily's mother was tricked into forgetting her former life very believable. Still, it ends happily and wondering what will happen next to Emily, her family, and her new friends.

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14. The Time Thief by Linda Buckley-Archer

Synopsis: Time collides when the Tar Man, the villain of the 18th century has come into the modern age, while Kate and Peter's father disappear back in time to try to find Peter. While in modern London, the Tar Man learns to adapt his skills for his profit. Back in the 18th century, Kate and Mr. Schock scour London to try to find Peter - only to discover that they haven't gone far enough and Peter is now a grown man.

Assessment: Make no mistake, Linda Buckley-Archer is a talented storyteller, adept at weaving emotion and excitement into her stories, and packing them with fascinating details of the 18th century. However, this book doesn't live up to the excitement of The Time Travelers. For one, while the idea of a rogue as villainous as the Tar Man, his havoc on the modern area doesn't really pan out. His profits come from stealing art. Furthermore, it you were a fan of young Peter, and especially Giddeon, you barely see them until the last few chapters. The book is action packed and exciting, but doesn't quite live up to the first one. I hope the final book in the series re-ignites the excitement of the first story.

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15. Changeling by Delia Sherman

Summary: 12 year old Neef is a changeling, a human child stolen by the fairies of Central Park to live among them. She has always lived in the world of "Between New York" a world that only the fairies know about. One night she breaks the greatest taboo and joins in the Midsummer Dance. Her punishment: to be devoured by the Wild Hunt - unless she can get three magical items to appease the Green Lady. And thus Neef sets off on her greatest journey into the fairy realm of New York City.

Assessment: Even if your not that fond of fairies, (though I admit I am), this is a fun read. Sherman has managed to create a contemporary city landscape where the beings of old stories come alive in the modern world, including a tough mermaid of the harbor, and my personal favorite, the dragon of Wall Street, with his human assistant Dow Jones. There's a little bit of everything thrown in from vampires to Japanese tengu, and Neef's inability to be surprised by anything and ability to keep her wits makes this book a great page turner.

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16. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

Synopsis: It is the year 2194. 13 year old Tendai, along with his younger sister Rita, and little brother Kuda, decide to leave the sheltered compound of their home and explore the city to earn a Scout badge. Almost immediately, they are taken prisoner by a monstrous woman known as the She Elephant and forced to work in a plastics mine. Their beleaguered parents, General Matsika and his wife, decide to hire the only detectives in Zimbabwe, three odd figures with hypersensitive senses known as the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm.

Assessment: What I loved most about this book was Farmer's ability to combine traditional African culture and mythology into a futuristic fantasy book. The characters are just as deep, interesting, and fun as they adventure they all undertake. The non-stop action will have you glued until the end. A wonderful read!

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17. The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer

Synopsis: It's already shaping up to be a terrible day for Peter Schock when his father has to cancel their grand day out together and instead he has to spend the day with Kate Dyer and her family. When her father shows the children a new anti-gravity machine, it somehow transport Peter and Kate back to 1763. Although they are fortunate to have been befriended by the kindly Gideon Seymour, they discover that their machine, and their only hopes of returning home, has been stolen by a cunning and dastardly fellow known as the Tar Man.

Assessment: With loads of fun, excitement, and details, this book will pull you in from the start. The front of the book says it's for kids who love Harry Potter. This is one of the few times that I actually agree with this comparison. The action is so fast-paced that will want you to keep reading, and the story combines elements of modern and old England with enough science fiction to satisfy every reader. What I especially loved were the details about life in 1673 including the lack of hygiene, methods of transportation, and manners of speaking. I thoroughly enjoyed it all.
This is the first book in a trilogy that does not come to it's conclusion with the first story. I highly look forward to reading the second book and hope to soon.

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18. Spotlight on Richard Peck

The Ghost Belonged to Me Summary: Alexander is having a hard enough time being a normal boy in school without his strange neighbor Blossom Culp trying to scare him by telling him his barn is haunted. One night, thinking Blossom is trying to spook him again, Alex goes into the barn and discovers a strange girl in wet clothes with a little dog. When the mysterious girl helps prevent a tragedy from occurring, suddenly everyone far and wide wants to see Alex and his ghost. Now Alex and Blossom must avoid the press and other gawkers in order to grant the girl's one request - a proper burial with her family in New Orleans.

Ghosts I Have Been Summary: When poor Blossom Culp saves the richest girl in town, Letty Shambaugh, from being beaten up, she is rewarded with new clothes and a visit to the Shambaugh home. Only problem is that Letty doesn't want spunky Blossom there. To make her visit more interesting, Blossom pretends to have ESP. But what turns out to be a prank actually unleashes Blossom's real psychic powers. Soon she is able to prevent a boy from getting run over by a motor car, a false medium from swindling the town, and even help a kindly old woman with her ghost problem. But things take a turn when Blossom travels, for a moment, into the past on board the Titanic. And there, she learns the terrible truth about a family everyone had once thought were heroes.

The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp Summary: Blossom is starting out her first year of high school on bad footing. Everyone knows about her psychic powers, but everyone feels she's just lying or is crazy. Never one to worry about what other people think, Blossom agrees to be part of the school Halloween Haunted House as a fortune teller. However, when she goes with Alexander to take a look at the house to be used, she is suddenly transported, not back in time, but to the future. It's a very strange future where people used strange glowing boxes, grown girls wear their skirts short, and even worse, everything she knows and loves about her beloved Bluff City is gone.

Assessment: Without a doubt, Richard Peck is one of the finest writers for children of our day. Typically, he writes historical novels set at the turn of the century, and a few set just before or during World War II, with marvelous details, particularly about the automobiles, Hoosier speech, and way of life is quiet towns, typically in Indiana. However, I was glad to come across these novels because now I could find a reason to include Richard Peck on my blog. Don't expect a lot of suspenseful action; instead, expect rich and wonderful humor such as a great Halloween prank against mischievous boys who want to overturn an outhouse and are instead scared out of their wits by a made-up Blossom. I hope these books will also lead readers to Peck's other wonderful novels.

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19. Dragon Breath by E.D. Baker

Summary: Emma is a young princess who is starting to learn how to use magic. However, before she even starts to get a grasp of what she can do, a neighboring kingdom decides it's a good time to invade. The situation is made even worse because that's the exact time Emma's grandmother decides to distract the Green Witch (the protector of the kingdom and Emma's Aunt Grassina) by turning her true love Hayward into an otter. Emma and Prince Eadric must help Aunt Grassina by gathering three magical ingredients in order to restore Hayward before time runs out - otherwise Hayward will remain an otter permanently and the kingdom will be lost!

Assessment: This is a charming and magical book for girls who might like Harry Potter, but perhaps find them a little too scary. Although Emma faces some difficult and perilous tasks, such as getting a pearl from a sea witch or the breath of a green dragon, she accomplishes these things by seeking out friends, making friends, or using her own cunning and budding magical skills. No one, not even a vicious manticore, is killed. Readers will also enjoy some of Emma's humorous mistakes in learning to gain control of her magic, including the fact that whenever she sneezes, she and Eadric suddenly become frogs. This book is the second in a series. Although I have not read the first one yet (though I hope to soon), I found that despite the fact I hadn't read it, I still understood quite well what was happening, so don't worry if you come late into the series as well.

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20. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Synopsis: Kendra and Seth think they're in for a boring summer at their grandma and grandpa's house. But as soon as they arrive at the old manor, they notice a few strange things. First, grandma is nowhere in sight and no one can really give a reasonable explanation as to where she went. Then, they're forbidden to enter the reserve that grandpa is in charge of, but after a little investigating, they discover a beautiful lake with pavilions. And then there's the extraordinary number of large butterflies that are always in the back yard. Intrigued by milk that is always left out for the butterflies, Kendra tries it. Suddenly, she sees beautiful fairies in the place of butterflies and she and Seth realize that there's a lot more to grandma and grandpa's reserve than people are telling them. They soon learn that their grandparents run Fablehaven, a reserve for magical creatures, some good, but some terrible. Kendra and Seth discover just how terrible on Midsummer's night when goblins enter the house and take grandpa and his staff away. Only Seth and Kendra are left to save them, find grandma, and stop an evil demon from reemerging.

Summary: A mysterious organization called the Evening Star wants to take over the magical reserve of Fablehaven. Grandpa suspects that the group is already trying to get Kendra and Seth into their clutches. To protect them, he has the two brought up to his home. But even there they are not safe. Someone from Evening Star has indeed infiltrated Fablehaven and is trying to steal an important artifact kept on the reserve. The only problem is that there is a terrible spirit guarding the artifact that turns anyone who dares enter catatonic. Three people have already turned catatonic trying to get to the artifact, either to steal it or to hide it. Seth and Kendra must reach the artifact in time before the infiltrator does; a very difficult task as the infiltrator can control people in their sleep which means Seth and Kendra must not sleep or they will be in the clutches of the infiltrator as well!

Assessment: Brandon Mull makes an excellent debut with these novels. The problem that I have found with many novels since Harry Potter is that they try very hard to create a magical world, but lack in interesting characters, or fall short on plot. These books do neither. The characters of Kendra and Seth, being brother and sister, have good tension between them. Kendra likes to play by the rules, Seth likes to break them. At times they spar, quite humorously, and at times they are partners in crime. There is something to like in both characters for both boys and girls. The stories are also exciting with such thrilling endings that it is impossible to put the book down. I read the first book in a day and the second in two days. Although the first book starts off a little slow, once the action starts rolling, it doesn't stop and continues into the second. I look forward to reading more from Mull.

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21. Larklight and Starcross by Phillip Reeve

Arthur and his sister Myrtle are expecting a guest on their seldom-visited home of Larklight just outside the moon's orbit. Unfortunately for them, their visitor turns out to be a band of giant spiders who quickly take over their home. The two siblings quickly escape and are rescued by a band of pirates. The pirates turn out to be not as bad as their reputation that precedes them. In a space skirmish, Myrtle is taken to Mars by the fiendish spiders to be rescued by Martians. She ends up in London (only to assault Queen Victoria in a case of mistaken identity!). Arthur, on the other hand, in the search for his sister, finds his long-lost (and believed to be dead mother). Arthur and his mother realize that the spiders are planning something horrible on Earth to bring down the British Empire. Little do they realize that it is not at the Crystal Palace, but the Crystal Palace itself as the celebrated building turns into an enormous machine bent on destroying London.

Arthur, Myrtle, and their mother decide to take a holiday at the famous Starcross resort on an asteroid off Mars. Soon, Arthur realizes that the asteroid has the ability to travel back in time to when Mars once had oceans. While there, they discover that a a band of interstellar creatures called Moobs that seem to have taken on the shape of gentlemen's hats. Myrtle gets stranded with her pirate love interest and a member of the French Legion back in Martian pre-history. Arthur and his mother, on the other hand, have to keep the Moobs from taking over the British Empire.

Assessment: It is 1851 and Britannia not only rules the waves, but Mars, Jupiter, and other parts of the universe as well. Phillip takes a page from Jules Verne with unusual machines and fantastic worlds where life teem and humans don't have to worry about space suits or oxygen, and fuses it with action. The pace is non-stop fun, particularly in the author's ability to portray and parody British sensibilities from the 1800s. For example, Myrtle is absolutely obsessed with dresses she sees in magazines and appearing to be a proper British lady (including her wondering why she can't swoon like the ladies in the novels she reads). Arthur, on the other hand, takes comical views of his sisters silliness (glossing over people gushing emotions and making fun of his sister's bathing costume - a proper Victorian thing with a bustle to hold safety supplies should the wearer be lost at sea). Both books were just tremendous fun to read and I highly recommend them.

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22. I, Coriander by Sally Gardner

Summary: A coming of age story in 16th century London, Coriander beings her story happily, the wealthy daughter of loving parents. But after her mother dies, she sees strange goings-on, strangest of all, her father's marriage to a mean Puritanical mother. When her father is arrested in association with Oliver Cromwell, her step-mother takes in a horrible priest, who rules the family with an iron fist. When Coriander rebels against them, he locks her in a trunk for three years. But instead of dying, Coriander learns of another fairy world where her mother had been a princess and her wicked aunt is trying to seize control. Coriander learns to take control in both her London world and in the fairy world.

Assessment: This is another wonderful book for girls. It is quiet in story, but extremely rich in details. History buffs will savor the flavors of the details of the politics and lifestyles of the day, as well the touch of romance in the fairy world. The novel is beautifully written, well-plotted, and just a delight to read.

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23. The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Summary: Dashti, maid to Lady Saren, are shut in a tower for seven years because of Saren's refusal to marry a brutal khan her father has chosen for her. Saren has secretly pledged herself to the kind khan Tegus. For two years Dashti and Saren must endure the brutal summers and winters in the tower. Then, just when it appears that the food is running out, Dashti finds a way to escape. But when they escape, things get even worse. Dashti quickly learns that Lady' Saren's kingdom has been destroyed and all her family killed. She and the traumatized Saren must wander until they procure work as pot scrubbers in a nearby kingdom - khan Tegus' kingdom. Just as Dashti is thinking things will become easier for her and her lady, they soon learn that the kingdom is under threat from the same brutal khan, and worse, Tegus is about to marry another.

Assessment: Hale is just a wonderful storyteller! Her books are exciting and expressive. Here, she takes an obscure Grimm fairytale (Maid Maleen) and imagined it on the central Asian steppes. Not only is it fascinating to read about the culture and religious beliefs of the time, but you'll be riveted to the fleshed-out and well paced story. What's more, then end is so satisfying you'll want to cheer for Lady Saren who moves from being a terrified mouse to a lady who learns her worth, and especially for Dashti who, while holding completely true to her values, earns her worth.

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24. Spotlight on Eva Ibbotson

The Great Ghost Rescue

Humphrey and his family of ghosts are in big trouble; their dingy home is being renovated into a movie theater. Forced to move, they travel Britain looking for a new home, but soon realize that dank castles and broken down homes are being turned into hotels, discos, and even motorways. As they search, they meet Rick, a sympathetic schoolboy who wants to help look for a home, not just for Humphrey and his family, but for all ghosts. He takes his case for a ghost sanctuary all the way to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister isn't sure he can help, but a lord says he knows the perfect place - an old remote and desolate estate off the coast of Scotland. Delighted, ghosts from all over come to the new sanctuary. But their happiness is short lived as they quickly learn that they have been lured into a trap. And the helpful lord in actuality wants to rid Britain of ghosts forever!

Not Just a Witch

Hectate Tenbury-Smith is a witch who wants to do good in the world. She has decided to turn all wicked people into animals. She befriends a boy named Daniel who helps Heckie turn a mean nursing home owner into a warthog and a cruel chicken farmer into a fish. But soon a cunning furrier named Lionel Knapsack learns of Heckie's amazing power. Realizing that Heckie's Lionel's ticket to creating rare coats, the rascal begins courting her, promising to marry her if only she'd rid their community of 300 terrible men by turning them into snow leopards. Now it's up to Daniel to save 300 prisoners from becoming snow leopard skin coats for the nefarious Lionel, and even more, to prevent Heckie from having a broken heart.


The Wilkinson family lost their lives in World War II and have just lost their beloved home. Miserably, they are forced to live in an underwear shop until their adopted daughter Addie discovers a strange building called Adopt-a-Ghost, an agency that pairs ghosts with families that want them. At the same time, a young orphan named Oliver has just learned that he is direct heir to Helton Hall, a dreadfully lonely and frightening place. What's worse, his cousins Fulton and Freida Snoddle-Brittle are determined to get the Hall for themselves. Fulton goes to Adopt-A-Ghost asking for the most frightening and ghoulish ghosts they have. The ladies at the agency know just the pair: a horrible couple known as the Shriekers who strangle children in their sleep. Poor Oliver doesn't stand a chance against this gruesome couple! Or perhaps the agency isn't as well organized as it seems.

Assessment: These books are sure to please kids looking for more magical fun. They are filled with magical beings and spells, but are very funny and enjoyable to read. Ibbotson does a wonderful job creating various threads of her story, then weaving them together in various, often funny, complications that tie up to satisfying resolutions in the end. What is also enjoyable is the way the author inserts social commentary into the stories; such as, even though prisoners have done wrong, is it right to turn them all into leopards or is it fair to judge people in death for what they had done in life? Ibbotson is a delight to read and I will certainly look out for her other titles.

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25. Savvy by Ingrid Law

Description: When each member of the Beaumont family turns 13, each receives a special gift they call a savvy. It's Mib's turn to receive her Savvy, but as she's nervously awaiting to see what it will be, she learns that her Poppa has been in a terrible accident and is in a coma in the hospital. Believing she can revive him, Mibs, along with two siblings and the preacher's kids too, hides on a bus heading to the town where her father lies. Or so she thinks. Nothing turns out the way she hopes, including her savvy.

Assessment: This book is full of good humor, interesting characters, and just plain fun. While nothing works out as Mibs hopes, Mibs tries to work things her way while learning about her savvy and a little about love, for her siblings, for another girl she originally didn't like, and especially for the cute preacher's son. With it's beautiful cover and great characters, I feel this book will soon be very popular among middle schoolers who iwll be able to relate to many of the characters.

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