Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ category

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

August 27th, 2011

I just finished The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann and really liked it. Well, there you go. Do you need more of a review?

If I were you, I definitely would want more details after Kirkus (and others) makes a bold statement like, “Hunger Games meets Harry Potter“. Is it realistic to namedrop two of the three biggest titles of the decade? (It would be the YA trifecta if the Death Farm was run by a sparkly vampire.)

I think the world of Unwanteds is split into part dystopia and part fantasy. The book starts out as main character Alex is about to be Purged, sent to to his death for showing artistic ability. The advance copy that I read has a letter in it from McMann explaining the inspiration for the story. Since I’m an educator in Arizona, I’ve seen the budget cuts to the arts. My brother’s a music teacher and one of my closest friends used to be a drama teacher until cuts were made. I get the Purge.

There’s quite an allegory that can be drawn from the story, but the narrative does not suffer. It would have been very tempting for McMann to get preachy or throw in some obvious jabs at current politicians and she refrains, unlike some authors (I’m looking at you, Dante Alighieri).

Unwanteds reminds me so much of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, which makes sense, since McMann says she drew inspiration from similar greats like Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis. Despite the dangers, it’s a world you kinda want to live in. Each student has their own talent, a specialized artistic ability, they use to make the world a better place. Teachers help the students hone their craft into powerful weapons.

There’s an ensemble cast, so even though the main character, Alex, is talented in visual arts, there are other characters for students to identify with. The teacher that speaks in iambic pentameter is a particular favorite of mine, although it’s tough not to side with a painting instructor that is part crocodile/part octopus (don’t get me started on the squirrelicorn warrior).

The story does have elements of the monomyth, but hey, that story’s entertained for a couple of centuries. What McMann does with the archetypes is great. The old mentor that runs the school could have easily been another Dumbledore, yet I felt like Mr. Today (whose name has significance) stands on his own. In one part, he asks the ruler of the dystopia to name any secret Mr. Today is hiding. Throughout the book, Mr. Today emphasizes the need for transparency and how fear is not the way to get things done. That’s a lesson that I hope many readers hold onto after finishing the book.

Unwanteds is its own book and doesn’t need the comparison to Hunger Games and Harry Potter to succeed, but if it draws students to this great book, then I’m all for it. Librarians, get this book. It’s already starting to gain popularity and I agree that it deserves it (and I’m not just saying that because Lisa McMann’s going to be on our campus this Wednesday).

Chip the glasses and crack the plates!

June 24th, 2011

Waiting ’til 2012 is what I hates!

Check out the first image from The Hobbit movie, provided by Entertainment Weekly. It’s actually being made after long debate.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

December 6th, 2010

I used to be a huge fantasy fan and then in recent years my interest dwindled. It seemed like in every book we saw the same plotline: the kid discovered a magical world and then found out that they were the chosen ones and/or had the real magic inside them the whole time (see also Dumbo’s Feather).

Reckless starts out that way and I got nervous. There’s a wardrobe mirror that two boys go through that links to another world, appropriately named Mirrorworld. The first chapter goes very quickly through the kids discovering Mirrorworld and growing up a little. More than one student who has read the book got confused by the first few chapters. When I booktalk this on Wednesday, I’m going to summarize the first chapter so they don’t get lost. (One kid who previewed the book for me was perplexed. “I know there’s a mirror and I know there’s a guy named Jacob. How old is he? There’s a world in the mirror?”)

Once the protagonist is older, though, the book rocks.

Jacob Reckless is probably going to be the chosen one. His father has been missing but we see that he has brought inventions from our world into Mirrorworld and has tilted the balance of power in the war between the humans and the Goyl, a race of gargoyle-esque stone warriors.

Jacob is a treasure hunter whose brother has been struck by a Goyl. The curse is that Will’s skin will turn to stone and go from human to Goyl. Jacob wants to find a cure.

As Jacob and friends quest for a cure, they encounter Mirrorworld variations on old fairy tales. Sleeping Beauty in Mirrorworld never got rescued; mummified hands of failed suitors reach out through the thorns surrounding her tower. Snow-White ends up running off with a Dwarf because that’s the life she’s grown accustomed to.

My favorite twist of fairy tales was a scene involving killer unicorns. Those beasts have horns for a reason.

The pace is decent in the book. It’s one subquest after another that leads Jacob into the bigger picture of influencing the war. Funke avoids the fantasy writer trap of describing a flower for an entire page and I appreciate that.

The character dialogue is great. I just wish Clara, Will’s love interest, was more than an accessory. She takes a predominant role in the middle of the book as there is a question of if she loves Jacob or Will, but the only times she’s mentioned in the last third of the book she’s either fainting or distressed. Fox, a shapeshifter who transforms into a badger (just kidding…she transforms into a fox), provides a stronger female character who tries to bail out Jacob on more than one occasion. It shows their friendship and a possible romance between the shapeshifter and the treasure hunter.

Funke does a great job of sticking to the rules of her world, which is important even if it is a fairy tale land. Every magic token has some law governing it, working almost like technology. Only one character was able to summon magic off the top of her head and she was one of the main villains, the White Witch Dark Fairy.

Reckless is a great read and I recommend it to students who like fantasy stories and/or can appreciate irony in storytelling.

Amulet Book Three: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi

September 10th, 2010

The Amulet series stands out as a graphic novel that tells a great story and is also school appropriate. Book one grabbed the emotions of many adult readers as well as students and was a great transition into the weird world Emily and Navin are thrown into. In book two we got to see a big location and gained perspective into why the elves are fighting.

Book three introduces new characters, as expected, but what’s nice is that these new characters stand out and will be remembered. An airship crew has been hired to find Cielis, a missing city that was either ravaged by fire or is now floating in the clouds. It makes sense in the world of Alledia.

Again Kibuishi handles characterization balanced with action masterfully. My same complaint stands: the books are too short. I understand that it takes time to make art, but you can’t force me to be patient.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

June 7th, 2010

During the last week of school I finished Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. It’s a blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements. Part of the plot takes place inside a living prison, complete with HAL-9000 red eyes stalking the characters’ every move. Part of the plot exists in Protocol, a forced culture shift backwards to a simpler time where people solved their problems through stabbings and poison like civilized people.

Finn lives in the prison but there are rumors that he is a starseer, someone who has actually seen the outside world. Claudia is the daughter of the prison’s warden and needs to make contact to someone inside the prison so she can avoid an arranged marriage.

The general plot points of the book don’t take too many risks. There’s no real deviation from the standard “I’m just a simple boy” “No, you’re the Chosen One” (Galileo Figero!) fantasy arc. Where Incarceron does keep your attention, though, is in its characters.

I think there’s something wrong with me. I always cheer for the villains in epic stories. Darth Vader doesn’t deserve all the bad press he gets.

The character I rooted for in the prison was the gang leader. Catherine Fisher does a great job describing him. I could picture him sitting on his throne with his food taster chained nearby, much like Jabba the Hutt. Add the villain’s superstition that he holds people’s souls in his rings and you have me intrigued.

Finn has a counter-part, Keiro. He’s Finn’s oathbrother but you never know if he’s going to betray his best friend when the opportunity arises. Keiro is uber-overconfident and struts around Incarceron as if he owns the place. Any scene with him usually has conflict and grabs your attention.

The plot does try to surprise with some character reveals of the “Oh. The hermit was actually a hero the whole time” variety, but you can see it coming. Towards the very end, though, the characters call each other by multiple names, signifying everyone’s hidden identity. It could have been the fact that I was reading during the last week of school, so there’s a potential I had temporary memory loss, but the end seemed a little confusing. It doesn’t take away from the story, but I caution my students ahead of time to pay attention as you near the last third of the book so you know who’s who.

It’s an enjoyable book that falls into the Hunger Games/Maze Runner Kids Being Stalked in an Enclosed Arena genre of fiction. If you liked those books, you should pick up Incarceron. You won’t be disappointed.

And yes, like any good YA fiction, it seems, we need a series. Book two, Sapphique, comes out this December.

Author visit with Ridley Pearson

May 10th, 2010

Last Wednesday we had a great author visit with Ridley Pearson. Both the Peter and the Starcatchers and the Kingdom Keepers series are very popular in our library.

Much like when Frank Beddor visited, I now hear Ridley Pearson’s voice when I read his work. I’m on Kingdom Keepers III right now and many of the real-life stories Ridley shared made it into the book. The characters visit the abandoned carousel room, find the maintenance journal for Soarin’, and ride on a crazed Test Track.

If you ever get a chance to host Ridley, take it. He’s a very interesting individual. Last year he taught English at a university in China and was a substitute teacher in St. Louis. Ridley is very successful – he doesn’t need the extra money. He loves working with students. Every chance he gets he teaches To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite books to read and teach.

He’s in a band with Matt Groening, Amy Tan, Stephen King, Mitch Albom, and Dave Barry. Those have got to be some fun rehearsals. It was during one of those band sessions that Dave Barry and he decided to write Peter and the Starcatchers.

As if that wasn’t interesting enough, he has a pass to get into any Disney location for free at any time. He just calls up, says he needs to do some research, and an Imagineer hooks him up. Ridley showed some spooky photos from It’s a Small World at 5 am. If you’ve read the first Kingdom Keepers book, you know what that’s about.

Ridley was a good mix of fun insider stories about Disney and an experienced perspective on the writing process. He also loved what we’re doing at our school, so I pass the applause on to the teachers for fostering an enjoyment of reading in our students.

New Camp Half-Blood

February 24th, 2010

Rick Riordan posted on Twitter last night that he just finished his draft of a new Camp Half-Blood book and was sending it off to his editor. It is on schedule to be released this Fall.

I predict that it’s going to focus on a new set of campers. (Reading Last Olympian’s final chapters gives you some strong hints.)

Warriors Adventure Game

February 10th, 2010

I have not read Erin Hunter’s Warriors series. I have yet to delve into the dark world of killer cats. It’s not that I’m against the series, considering how much I enjoy a good Brian Jacques killer mice novel.

While flipping through Hunter’s The Fourth Apprentice, I was looking for the adventure game that is included since I’m always a fan of games.

Picture my excitement when I found a hybrid of the Choose Your Own Adventure/Lone Wolf stories. There’s an adventure for a narrator to lead a group down a series of paths.

But then imagine my surprise when I saw a reference to stats and a character sheet. It’s not just a Choose Your Own Adventure, it’s more like a paper and pencil role-playing game. Very exciting. You don’t have to use someone else’s concept for a character – you can make your own. I’m a hug fan of these types of RPGs because of their storytelling aspects, so I applaud Erin Hunter for taking the series in this direction.

You can find out more about the adventure game by clicking here.

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson

September 3rd, 2009

I will warn you ahead of time that this is book one to a series.

The pacing to the book is a little different. It’s the story of a young, sheltered boy who goes to live on a farm after his parents have been kidnapped. You with quite a bit of scenes of lazing around the farm slowly at the beginning, including pick-up baseball games in the middle of fields. Then you jump to cold arms reaching out of the wall grabbing at people.

That was what caught my attention. The start was awkward and I personally could have done away with it. There’s one piece of dialogue between Henry and his uncle, where his uncle is very nonchalant/aloof to Henry’s troubles. It’s like he says, “Meh. Your parents are being held in South America. Whatever.”

But some of the awkwardness adds to the quirky tone of the book. Things like the protagonists being named Henry and Henrietta living in the town of Henry.

Once the plaster is off the wall, though, it’s a very enjoyable tale of tracking down an ancient evil that has been released through different worlds with some fun literary references.

Final verdict: Stick with it because the second half of the book is worth your time investment.

Lead into Gold: Get The Alchemyst for Free

April 30th, 2009

In a very pleasing trend, Randomhouse is offering The Alchemyst by Michael Scott for free. Choose your favorite book vendor and select the eBook to start reading about Flamel and all his alchemy fun.

The offer expires May 8.