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The Misadventures of the Magician’s Dog by Frances Sackett

MIDDLE GRADE MAGIC FROM HOLIDAY HOUSE

This middle grade novel is ideal for fantasy fans interested in the power of  enchantment and love.

This middle grade novel is ideal for fantasy fans interested in the power of enchantment and love.

The Misadventures of the Magician’s Dog, (Holiday House Inc., $16.95, ages 8-12) by Frances Sackett, is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

For children who are interested in reading books about magic but who aren’t ready for the intensity and length of the Harry Potter series, The Misadventures of the Magician’s Dog by Frances Sackett might provide a good introduction.  At 178 pages and presented in easy-to-understand language, Misadventures is about Peter, a 12-year-old who adopts a magical, talking dog. The Dog, as he is known, is on a quest to rescue his previous owner, a magician who has succumbed to the dark allure of magic, and he needs Peter’s help. Peter, however, has his own agenda in helping The Dog. He will help rescue the magician because he needs the magician’s help to bring his father home from his third tour of duty.

While Peter nibbled on his toast and scrambled eggs, his thoughts went something like this:

1. He understood how to do magic and could do it if he wanted.

2. He had promised Izzy [his younger sister] he wouldn’t do magic.

3. Doing magic might make him angry.

4. If he did magic, maybe he could bring his father home.

                  Four was the sticking point… But his father—how could Peter not use magic to get his father back?

Misadventures is about more than just a magical quest. It includes elements of family dynamics—Peter’s relationship with his parents and sisters—as well as issues of self-esteem. Peter is an “army brat,” moving from city to city and school to school. He has a hard time making friends and fitting in, and he is not even close to brimming with confidence. He feels the burden of the being the “man of the house” while his father is away, and has a rocky relationship with one of his sisters, Celia. Misadventures ties these very real, everyday issues and the emotional brunt they bear to Peter’s ability to help The Dog, and, ultimately, his own family and himself.

An entertaining and discussion-provoking read, The Misadventures of the Magician’s Dog is a solid step into the fantasy genre.

A World Above The Sea

Continuing my summary of books by authors I met at the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffehouse’s recent Mother Daughter Book Party, I’d like to tell you about an intriguing, engaging sci-fi trilogy by San Fernando Valley author Jenn Reese.

AboveWorldjacket-198x300A year ago Reese’s middle grade novel, Above World ($16.99, also available in paperback, Candlewick, ages 10 and up), was released and next month you can pick up the second in the trilogy called Mirage.

If the cover alone doesn’t pull you into Above World, the plucky main character Aluna certainly will. Aluna is a girl who lives underwater in a colony of mermaids.  Mermaids? I was hooked already. All around, in what had been a safe, thriving environment, her fellow citizens’ breathing shells are beginning to fail and Aluna, is determined to discover why. So, despite many obstacles that make this an action-packed adventure tale as well as a sci-fi story, Aluna is going to find a way to save her people. Her best friend, Hoku, a boy one year her junior and a “techie” will join Aluna on her quest Above World, or the land above the sea. The pairing of female and male protagonists make this an ideal read for both girls and boys.

What’s fascinating about this novel’s premise is that the Kampii (Mer people) were all once humans now living in the ocean because the population Above World was getting too high. Reese has cleverly imagined a water world that seems to make sense. Plus the book is filled with so many other types of interesting people, animals and fish such as the Shark people whose habitat is lower depths than Fish. Reese described them as “less cultured,” so they have more adaptations and are a danger to the Kampii. Because I attended the special bookstore event, I was thrilled to learn a little bit about what new characters will be introduced in Book 3, hint: think Greek mythological creature. I am confident readers will agree that here is so much to like and enjoy about Above World that thankfully the story does not end with Book 1!

-Ronna Mandel

A New Golden Age of Epic Fantasy Fiction Shines On

Seraphina ($17.99, Random House Book for Young Readers, ages 12 and up) is reviewed today by Jason Carpenter.

When George Lucas conceived of his Star Wars galaxy, he saw beyond the here and now of giving the people a rousing good yarn. He envisioned a mythology, a world logical and responsible only unto itself, with fantastical creatures that nonetheless felt of flesh and blood.  And like Tolkien before him and Rowling after, the devil- or the grip of imagination- is in the details. 

Rachel Hartman infuses her expansive new novel Seraphina– the saga of an uneasy alliance between mistrustful species (sound familiar?) and the young royal court’s musician who may end up being the key to ultimate harmony or lynchpin to inevitable war- with an eye for Joseph Campbell-like character and plot machinations and an adherence to a painstakingly created medieval alternaverse.

The oppositional species are, in this case, humans and dragons, and as Seraphina begins, a murder of a member of the royal court bearing the trademark savagery of a dragon attack threatens to derail the anniversary celebration of a historical, but tenuous, peace treaty between the two sides. In the midst of this pomp, Hartman also fully realizes the emergence of a young girl’s identity, the fiercely astute Seraphina, torturous as it may be to discover that her mother was a dragon. In a genre dominated by young empowered male principals, it’s  a wonderfully acute choice.

Seraphinas intended demographic, the young and young-at-heart, has proven they can handle the layered storylines, philosophical yearnings, and literal hundreds of major and minor characters that populate the modern fantasy epic. Indeed, Harry Potter’s enduring legacy may just be that it made digging intellectual sword and sorcery lit cool for a fresh generation of make-believers. This novel follows that template elegantly, and at over 450 pages with accompanying glossary, it’s weighty, as well.  The payoff- and it’s not the metaphoric allusions to our own world’s penchant for xenophobia- is in the small quirks of some strongly drawn supporting characters, particularly the reluctantly compassionate dragon mentor Orma, who cares for Seraphina in a way that his dragon demeanor would be loathe to reveal.

Seraphina does rise to rousing good yarn status, but its greatest triumph is in depicting grotesqueries that are anything but and a world that often doesn’t feel that far, far away after all.

Mouse Gone Missing

My 11-year-old son Coleman has always been a voracious reader. The past few months he’s devoured some interesting middle grade books and I’ll be sharing some of his thoughts on what he’s read and loved.  The good news is that he’s discovered a slew of great books in all sorts of genres by a variety of very talented authors. We’ll begin our conversation by discussing a new series called The Song of the Winns and the first book in the Gerander trilogy is entitled The Secret of The Ginger Mice ($12.95, Running Press, ages 8 and up) by Frances Watts with illustrations by David Francis.   – Chosen as a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book 2011

 Q. In a nutshell, if you described this book to friends, what would you tell them it was about?

 A. I’d have to say this book is part mystery, part adventure about mice triplets. When Alice and Alex, two of the triplets discover their other brother has gone missing, Alice and Alex set out on a journey to find Alistair (a ginger mouse unlike the other two) and learn why he has possibly been mousenapped.

 Q. Where do the mice live in the story?

A. They live in a country called Shetlock which borders a country in turmoil called Gerander. Another nearby country called Souris is trying to take over Gerander.

Q. Tell us something about the triplets. What are they like, what challenges do they face trying to locate Alistair?

A. Alex and Alice are very adventurous yet Alistair is the type who would rather sit on a chair, snuggle with his scarf and read a book.  The two siblings face many obstacles during their exploits like Alex eating all the food on the first day of the journey, encounters with two-faced spies, and being locked in a cellar with almost no way out. 

Q. How do the struggles in Gerander affect the triplets?

A. Semi-Spoiler Alert:  Most of the ginger mice come from Gerander, and Souris wants to eliminate all of the ginger mice no matter where they are from so it will be easier to invade and conquer Gerander. As it happens Alistair was mousenapped by FIG, a pro-Gerander secret organization, in order to keep him safe from Souris mousenappers and spies. So all the time Alice and Alex are worried, Alistair is actually safe.  It’s when Alistair tries to escape to go home that his real problems begin.

Q. What did you enjoy most about this book?

A. It’s so hard to pinpoint one thing that I liked because there were so many things in the story I found enjoyable.  I cared about the mice and felt how they did. I thought the story idea was clever and it kept me turning the pages to see what crazy things Alistair was going to get up to, unlike how he usually behaved. The setting was quite realistic and it was easy getting caught up in the story.

Q. How did you feel when you finished the book?

A. At the end I was like, “No, give me more!” I did not want the book to end.

Q. Who would like The Secret of The Ginger Mice?

A. Anyone who can read well and likes adventure books with lots of surprises would find this a terrific book. In other words probably 3rd through 5th graders, or kids even younger if their parents read it to them. I can’t wait for book #2.

 

YA Adventure

I’ll Be There ($17.99, Little Brown Teens, ages 14 and up) by Holly Goldberg Sloan is reviewed by guest reviewer Dr. Juli Barry from Los Angeles.  Dr. Barry has her PhD in 20th century American fiction.

When I saw that Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. had given Sloan’s debut novel a rave review I simply had to read this YA book (once I ascertained that there were no vampires or werewolves on a single page, that is). To my delight, I’ll Be There is an engrossing page turner from beginning to end!

Innocent love, wild adventure, character development that makes you believe in these people, and humorous quirks (such as one boy’s name of Riddle because his neglectful, felonius father just didn’t know what to make of him) – I’ll Be There has it all! Sloan’s ability to turn the “boy meets girl” theme into a complex family drama which includes both good parents and bad, unwavering loyalty to siblings as well as young love, and an amusing and fully developed cast of “extras” pushes this teen lit tale into Excellent Adventure Fiction.


 

 

Frequency Hopping With Ignatius McFarland

dsc_0026Editor Carolyn Graham’s 8 year-old daughter, Kate, read Paul Feig’s new book called Ignatius McFarland: Frequenaut! and had this to say about it:

I like the fact that it is about aliens and one of the bullies is based on one that bothered the author in his childhood. To have that connection and feeling is both happy and sad. On top of that, it was really fun and exciting, too. I also liked a part in the beginning when one of the first female characters arrives on the scene and how she was described like this:

ignatiusmacfarland2“I saw a shadow about 10 feet away from me. It looked like it was from a big bird in the sky above the field. I looked up to see if it was going to be something as weird as the trees and plants I was seeing and quickly realized it was even weirder than I could have imagined. Because it wasn’t a bird. It was a girl.” So I hope you like the book. Bye.

For more about Paul Feig, please check out the  exclusive extended web interview and also see our Chat Room on page 70 in the March edition.

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