Posts tagged children’s literature

Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull

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Finally had a chance to sit down and finish this fantastic book this morning.  The fourth in Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary follows route in being bigger and better than its predecessors.  I really cannot rave about this series enough.  Once again, Seth and Kendra Sorens0n have serious challenges and adventures and manage to prove themselves in the process.

I really can’t say all that I want to about this book because it would spoil the pants off of anyone who hasn’t read the series!  But I can say that these books are ridiculously inventive, completely understanding of kids’ intelligence—and completely appealing to the kid inside each one of us.  There’s really nothing I can compare this series to.  It’s not a Harry-Potteresque allegory, it deals with real-life ch0ices and consequences, and real-life challenges… it just does it with a cast that includes dragons and satyrs and giants and trolls.  That said, it is also something completely fantastical.  It’s something akin to mythology, where the heroes are just normal people, standing up against enormous (sometimes literally!) odds.  And through it all there is a sense of humor, danger, intrigue… even the smallest shades of romance.

As always, there’s also masterfully subtle lessons built in to the stories about teamwork, taking chances, being honest, and accepting responsibility for your actions.  Meanwhile, Mull has gotten better and better at conveying emotion and (admittedly) whopping the reader over the head with unexpected twists and turns.

I’m already ready for the next one – or maybe I’m not, since it’s the last one planned for the series.  The last one!  What am I supposed to do to get my fantasy kick after this?  Why must I be so series-prone, and love characters so much?  While I’m the first to admit that a story that last forever is a story that lasts too long, I hate to say goodbye to them, too.  Then again, I could certainly do with a re-read… once I get the books back from my brother, that is!

Fablehaven is also published by Shadow Mountain, the very publisher I’m eyeing myself.  I would love to see my books up alongside the likes of the Fablehaven series.  Someday, they just might be.

Anyhow, go grab these books!  The first three are already in paperback, and so, so very worthy of being added to your personal library, and once you pick the first one up, you’ll just want to keep on reading.

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Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep

Book #7.  Yes, I realize I’m going slowly.  Emma is really boring me this time around for some reason, but more on that later.

This is the second of Liz Kessler’s Emily Windsnap trilogy, about a girl who learns at twelve years old that she’s half-mermaid.  The first book was all about her discovering her mermaid heritage and the reason she hadn’t known about it beforehand, which turns out being a bit more nefarious than expected.  She and her mother are then reunited with her mermaid father and sent to a secret island to live a happily ever after.

Which is where Monster from the Deep picks up.  I was fairly excited for this book, mainly because the idea of a secret, paradisical island where mermaids and humans live together in harmony reminded me a little of Peter Pan’s Neverland—well, that and the island at the end of the off-the-mark ’98 TV movie of Brave New World, with Peter Gallagher, but that’s probably just me.

My point is, I was looking forward to a lot of exploration of the island.  Despite the title of the book, I was basically assuming that it would be an end-of-the-book climactic thing, rather than what it was, pretty much the main focus all throughout.  I can’t complain, though.  It’s a middle-grade book, and while we don’t get to see as much of the island as I’d like, there’s some character development here that I didn’t expect.  Emily has looked forward to living on this island because here she would finally, finally fit in—except she’s so focused on fitting in that she works overly hard to try to prove herself, which is what ends up landing her in trouble in the first place.

That’s all good and well… but once she does get in trouble, the story goes a little bit off kilter.  Meanwhile, we’re flashing over to the point of view of Emily’s old school rival Mandy at the end of each chapter, which was an effect that I like, but I think could have been developed just a teensy bit more.  We get that Mandy’s parents are selfish and argue a lot, leaving Mandy feeling left out and not very important, but we don’t really understand a thing about her parents, except that they argue a lot.  Like in the last novel, the child-parent relationships just seem a little off.    The end of the novel felt very much like a repeat of the first one, also.  Both strongly imply that mermaids have been doing awful, awful things for hundreds and thousands of years, and then after Emily pleads her case, Neptune, despite being as megalomaniac-y as you could suppose, eventually sees her point and changes his ways.

I’m starting to wonder if the excuse “this is a middle grade book,” isn’t a little thin.  I don’t know that Emily learned anything from the mistakes she made in this book, except perhaps to not go trespassing on Neptune’s personal property—she abuses a friendship and instead of having to pay for it with anything more than her conscience, her friend turns around and praises her for being such a courageous person.  Instead of realizing that she would have fit in on the island just being herself, she just seems happy that she gets a party at the end of the book.  And on top of all that I’m having more and more trouble buying her as twelve years old.  The book is marked for ages six through eight, but personally I was reading stuff like The Secret Garden by then.  I can’t help but think that maybe Kessler is underestimating her readers…

That said, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the book.  I did, actually.  Despite her faults, Emily is an extremely likeable character, and any look we get at Mystic Millie is worth all the rest.  Though not how she’s described at all, I keep picturing Millie as an overdressed Zooey Deschanel, it just seems like the kooky kind of role she’d play, and if it ever gets made into a movie, she’d have my vote for the role in a heartbeat.

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The Westing Game

Book #2 of 2009 – The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I read this book first when I was in elementary school, and then again in middle school, both thanks to school libraries at their various times.  A couple years back I decided I really wanted a copy of my own, and another read through it, but it took me until late last year to actually get it into my hot little hands.

The basic set-up is that sixteen people are gathered together together and told that they are heirs of paper-product mogul Sam Westing.  But not only heirs, they’re also suspects!  One of them has taken Westing’s life, and the one who wins the game, wins the inheritance.

If you’ve never read this book, you really must.  It’s generally labeled as a mystery, but really the story is one big puzzle, reading like a fantastic game of chess complete with fascinating characters and a lot of humor and heart.  It’s a children’s novel, but every bit as entertaining to me now as it was when I first read it at the age of ten.

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