skip to Main Content

Dragons, Friendship and Magic – The Language of Spells

Written by Garret Weyr
Illustrated by Katie Harnett
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

The Language of Spells book cover art


Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 1
Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

In the middle-grade novel, The Language of Spells, homeschooled eleven-year-old Maggie lives in a Viennese hotel with her father. She knows many things, but how to make friends isn’t one of them—until she meets Grisha (a dragon who’s spent decades observing humans and has grown up without doing any of the proper dragon things). Born in 1803, he is the last of his kind. “As the world of men built new and extraordinary things, the world of magic began to decline. No creature lives beyond its own world, and a dragon is nothing if not a creature from the world of magic.”

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 3
Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

All dragons were summoned to Vienna and, due to the inconvenience of their existence, most mysteriously disappeared. While the Department of Extinct Exotics controls the gold-eyed dragons who were allowed to remain, Grisha struggles to remember what happened to the others. Maggie’s determination to help sets them on an investigative journey. Though they know using magic requires a sacrifice, Maggie and Grisha travel across Europe to fight injustice and face difficult decisions.

The Language of Spells is a different sort of dragon tale—one worth a deliberate read and thoughtful introspection. Each chapter opens with a charming illustration by Katie Harnett. The uplifting scenes enhance the story’s relationships. Weyr’s slow-building, sometimes funny tale has an old-fashioned lyrical feel. The book raises questions about the cost of power, the bonds of families and friendships. When few can see the magic left in the world, does it still exist?

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success



Share this:

The Misadventures of the Magician’s Dog by Frances Sackett


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.

Share this:

Pulling Rabbits Out of Hats – Real or Illusion?

Illusionology: The Secret Science of Magic ($19.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 8 and up), written by Albert Schafer with illustrations by David Wyatt and Levi Pinfold, is extraordinary! This most unusual book, with pop-ups, flaps to flip and envelopes to open, takes readers inside the science of illusion. They learn about the history of illusion and how the eye and mind are tricked. The importance of story telling in magic and the art of misdirection are revealed. There are sections on levitation, the science of disappearing, body manipulation and more. Readers will also learn about Houdini as well as other famous illusionists.

What I love about the book is 1) The book cover, with its lenticular image in the center, is superb; 2) It is a beautiful, ultra high-quality coffee table style book with a mystic, historic look from the era of Houdini; 3) Opening flips and flaps and envelopes is really fun and exciting 4) Readers can learn to do actual tricks; 5) Readers are exposed to the science of magic which really makes them think.

I was particularly fascinated by learning about how the human eye can be tricked and how our perspective influences what we see. Naturally I was also intrigued by the details about Houdini’s most famous tricks.

This wonderful book is to be treasured, read and studied for many hours and would make a special holiday gift for any child interested in magic.

Reviewed today by Debbie Glade.

Share this:

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.

Share this:

YA & MG Authors Share Their Stories Part I

This past weekend I attended a Mother & Daughter book event at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse in La Canada, CA. I sat and listened to seven presentations by some of the most interesting and personable women writers for young readers.  Now that I have deciphered my notes I can share what I learned with you. If you happen to be in the San Gabriel Valley on Feb 7, don’t miss the one year anniversary of the bookshop’s new location. You’ll be able to take advantage of sale prices as low as 70% off, and enjoy a delicious beverage as well.

Let’s start with local author Kathy McCullough. First you’ll want to visit her wonderful website to get more details than my brief ones here, but suffice it to say I was impressed by her candor, and clever ideas. She has easily transitioned from screenwriter to kids and teen writer and I am certain we can expect to hear more exciting developments about her blossoming career in the months ahead.

Her new book from Random House/Delacorte Press is called Don’t Expect Magic and introduces us to Delaney Collins, f.g. And if you are wondering what the f.g. stands for, it’s fairy godmother, but “without the pink and sparkly” says McCullough. It so happens that Delaney is not at all happy about having to help people, and to be specific, a certain boy she likes, but she’s basically got no choice since she was born with the f.g. gene. I don’t want to give too much away since I’ll be reviewing the book soon and can’t wait!

While the book is billed as a YA novel, McCullough’s heard from delighted readers in 5th and 6th grade who have become quite demanding in the diversity of their subject matter. Parents will feel comfortable allowing their middle grade readers to pick up Don’t Expect Magic because it’s not full of foul language or questionable content. The book combines a little bit of fantasy with a little bit of humor so check out the trailer now and get a taste of the good time in store for you. You can click here for a selection of links where you can buy the book.

The best news is that there will be a sequel featuring Delaney’s rival fairy godmother which promises to be another feel good novel to keep you turning the pages. And what’s McCullough doing now? She’s working away on yet another YA novel so I recommend fans follow her website to keep up-to-date on all her appearances and publication dates.

Please join me here next week to meet more of the charming women novelists I spoke with at the event. Then, make tracks to your favorite book shop to purchase the stack of books I’ve covered. I promise they will keep you enlightened, amused and entertained for hours!

Share this:

One Camel, Two Kids and Five Skies!

In  Adventures With Kazmir The Flying Camel: The Five Skies by Gina L. Vivona, readers will find enough amazing exploits to keep them turning the 121 pages and will be sad to say good-bye to the well-developed characters at the story’s end.  And while I do not usually review self-published titles, I am so glad I agreed to read Vivona’s book because it was so original, entertaining and imaginative. Don’t forget, too, to visit the fabulous website with a sample chapter, fun stuff to do, a parent’s page and more! If you purchase the audiobook you will also be treated to a narration by three-time Emmy Award-winner Bryan Cranston along with wonderful, mood-setting music that will transport you instantaneously to a magical land where anything can happen.

The story: involving a camel, a kidnapped prince and his power-crazed evil uncle promises action, adventure and even danger for an archaeologist’s daughter, Michael-Ann on a dig with her dad, in Egypt. Without giving away too much, I can tell you this fun fantasy takes place not only in ancient and present day Egypt, but in five unique settings known as the Five Skies.  I will also share that the kidnapped prince is being held in a no man’s land only reached by collecting and piecing together five fragments of a shattered mirror. Each part of the mirror can be found in one of the Five Skies, but reaching these remote places proves more than a challenge for 12-year-old Michael-Ann and Kazmir who have taken on the daunting, perilous task of rescuing the prince. Vivona has woven a wonderful tale for pre-teens full of fluffy clouds (Rain Masters), gigantic spiders (Wish Weavers), Optionators and unimaginably inventive locales that beg to be revisited over and over because of just how amazing they are.

By the time the book ends, Michael-Ann will have experienced such a multitude of emotions and escapades that returning to the dig will certainly open her eyes to the richness of life and love with which she is blessed.

The best part: Adventures With Kazmir The Flying Camel is available as an Audiobook, MP3, paperback, Kindle, and eBook.  For more information, visit Proceeds benefit the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles.

Share this:
Back To Top