Posts tagged ‘Magic’

Island of Silence

Island of SilenceTitle: Island of Silence
Series: The Unwanteds #2
Author: Lisa McMann
ISBN: 9781442407718
Pages: 406
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2012.

“The attack makes it all to clear: Quill is struggling mightily to accept us–more than anyone had imagined. As much as our friend, High Priest Haluki, is doing to make this transition possible, it is still incredibly hard to introduce new ideas into a society that has been so set in its ways for al these years. […] Clearly, we didn’t expect this kind of violent, organized attack. Clearly, we should have.” (156)

The magical secret world of Artime, filled with Quill’s creative outcasts, has been exposed. Quill is reeling from the death of their leader Justine, and Quillians are fleeing the floundering city for what they see as a promising future in Artime. But the privileged Wanteds of Quill are still holding tightly to their old way of life, and will do anything to restore it. On opposite sides of the fight are twin brothers, with Aaron leading a group of rag-tag Wanteds against Alex’s friends in Artime. Alex wants nothing to do with the leadership position that Mr. Today is offering him, but that doesn’t stop his friends from noticing his absences and resenting his opportunity. When the battle finally happens, will his friends be there to support him in his moment of need?

This is a series where it is quite necessary to read them in order. I would also suggest waiting until the third one has been published before reading this one. The ending here is not a tied up in a bow kind of conclusion, and it leaves you with lots of questions. I thought the first book in the series was a nice, free-standing fantasy, but I was proven wrong yet again. Why do these fantasy series have to always have at least one sequel!? The first one I raved over and book talked till I was blue, but this one just didn’t have as much appeal for me.

That’s not to say that McMann didn’t do a good job, because she did. Aaron’s efforts to build an army are realistic, and eerily reminded me of a Hitler-esque character. He wins over his subjects with food and slowly manipulates their feelings of abandonment to feelings of retribution and indignation. He has a lot of luck when he finally initiates his plan, which I also feel is somewhat realistic since revolutions are led by people who are in the right place at the right time. I actually like Aaron’s parts slightly more than Alex’s. It felt like the writing was tighter, and we really dig into the psychology of winning over the people left in Quill. Plus the secrets and spies added intrigue, as your left guessing with Aaron’s point of view who is truly loyal to him.

Playing off those differences, I was also struck by how different the brothers’ actions and ambitions played out. Alex has absolutely no desire to take over for Mr. Today, which I thought was unique to the genre. We always hear about the reluctant hero, but they all typically step up to the plate, no matter how reluctantly, and do what needs to be done. Alex on the other hand shows his cluelessness, relying on others to help him make decisions and maintaining till the end that he has no idea what he’s doing and is not cut out for this job. There is no false bravado there, only scared struggles to be what people need him and expect him to be. And what they need him to be is a figurehead, although Artimeans know that if Mr. Today wanted him to be trained, there must be something special about him, even if they don’t know and Alex certainly doesn’t realize why he was chosen either.

The reason I didn’t LOVE this book as much as the other one is because it didn’t have the same (pardon the pun) magic of discovery. We spend most of the first book learning about Artime and seeing everything it had to offer. (J.K. Rowling did a very good job of introducing new magical things in each book, where we could go “OOOOOH!” and the shiny thing would distract us and pull us in a little more.) In this book, we kind of know how things work already, and very little new things are introduced, so our attention has to be held by the tension of the impending battle. The one very strange thing, the Island of Silence the book is named after, is nonexistent for the first two-thirds of the book, and then it is flung in like a “Hail Mary” football pass before the game ends. When we finally arrive at the battle scene, there’s very little description of it, which is a let down of sorts. We hear about the battle second-hand, since neither Aaron or Alex really see much of it themselves (due to various reasons which I won’t elaborate here).

It will be interesting to see how the author pulls everything together. I honestly don’t know how many books are going to be in the series, but I’m hoping we get more answers in part three instead of a lot of unanswered questions. I think fans of the first one might be disappointed, but I’ll wait to pass judgement until the third book comes out. I might be waiting a while though, as I see two other books for 2013 (a new series and a contribution to the multi-author Infinity Ring series) on Goodreads, but not a third Unwanteds book listed yet.

Liesl and Po

Liesl and PoTitle: Liesl and Po
Author: Lauren Oliver
Illustrator: Kei Acedera
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780449015025 (audiobook), 9780062014511 (hardcover)
Pages: 307 pages
Discs/CDs:  5 CDs, 5 hours and 55 minutes
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2011.

“I must take his ashes to the willow tree,” Liesl whispered suddenly, with certainty. “I must bury my father next to my mother. Then his soul will move Beyond.” She looked directly at the place where Po’s eyes should have been, if Po were not a ghost, and again Po felt the very core of its Essence shiver in response.
“And you must help me,” Liesl finished.
Po was unprepared for this. “Me?” it said unhappily. “Why me?” (92)

When a ghost appears in Liesl’s attic prison, Liesl asks for help in sending a message to her recently deceased father. The message Po brings back is anything but cheery, as Liesl father insists that he must go home to the willow tree, and that Liesl should be the one to take him there. Liesl steals the container of ashes from the mantle and rushes off to her old house, leaving her wicked stepmother behind. Little does Liesl know that the box she carries does not contain her father’s ashes, but a powerful magic that accidentally got delivered to the wrong address. Soon joined by the “useless” delivery boy called William who is fleeing his angry alchemist master, the three of them are thrust into events that they don’t quite understand, but nevertheless are intent on preventing in their efforts to improve their lives (or in Po’s case it’s death) for the better.

I thought I’d get behind this newest book about a girl and her ghost by Lauren Oliver. It’s narrated by Jim Dale for heaven’s sake, the one who did all those cool voices for The Emerald Atlas and Peter and the Starcatchers not to mention Harry Potter. But for the first time, I wasn’t feeling it with Dale. His attempts at the female voices fell flat to my ears, which I did not anticipate at all, and I didn’t pick up the suspense or excitement that I think this reading could have had.

But maybe he was tempering his voice to match the gray and bleak environment of the story’s setting. Maybe it was the material, because the story itself fell flat for me. Maybe I’m just not cut out for Lauren Oliver. For plenty of other people the story has really resonated with them. After reading the author’s note in the back, I truly wanted the book to resonate with me too. Oliver reveals that she wrote this story “during a concentrated two-month period.”

At the time, I was dealing with the sudden death of my best friend. The lasting impact of this loss reverberated through the months, and it made my world gray and murky, much like the world Liesl inhabits at the start of the story. […] And so my fantasies were transformed into the figure of a little girl who embarks on a journey not just to restore the ashes of a loved one to a peaceful place but to restore color and life to a world that has turned dim and gray.” (309-310)

If she had succeeded in doing this, I would have claimed her attempt a success, and that synopsis of the book makes it sound wonderful, but I didn’t really pick-up on that meaning and depth upon listening to the book. But upon reading the author’s note, I feel like I should have gotten A Monster Calls and instead got Casper.

It’s also meant to be a story of coincidences and mix-ups, but it just seemed like Oliver threw a whole bunch of bumbling characters together and loosely tied their stories to each other in a comedy of errors. Yes, mix-ups and coincidences are sometimes the basis for every story, but do there have to be so many of them in one story? For instance, if Liesl’s step-mother was such an evil woman, why did she bother locking Liesl up in the attic in the first place, an attic window that Will noticed but no one else? The Lady Premiere, the evil lady who ordered up this powerful magic in the first place, feels like a minor general “bad character” with almost no motivation for her actions presented to readers. Why in the world would so many people who have no connection to the events at hand continue to chase after the children? It reminded me towards the end of those old-fashioned black and white movies where the whole town is chasing a dog for no other reason than the dog stole and by this point has eaten a sausage.

Kei Acedera’s black and white drawings are appropriately dark and murky, and I thought Po was very well rendered considering the description of a non-gendered, cookie-cutter child-shaped ghost. In fact, all of the characters were instantly recognizable, and while the facial expressions seemed relatively uniform, the postures told the emotions of the characters very well. For fans of Casper, this mad-cap tale of a ghost and it’s girl will find readers, but while it was an interesting story, it just didn’t do it for me.

Horten’s Incredible Illusions

Title: Horten’s Incredible Illusions: Magic, Mystery, and Another Very Strange Adventure
Series: Stuart Horten #2; Sequel to Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms
Author: Lissa Evans
ISBN: 9781402798702
Pages: 349 pages
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing, c2012.

They looked at each other. “Once you start using magic, it’s very hard to stop,” quoted April, her voice breathy. “It’s another puzzle, isn’t it? Another adventure?”
Stuart closed his hand over the star, and felt the six prongs dig into his skin. His heart was suddenly thumping; he felt both excited and slightly frightened, and he knew from April’s expression that she felt the same. The hunt for Great-Uncle Tony’s workshop had been a wild and exciting chase, sprinkled with danger and magic, and now another quest was beckoning. But for what? What was the prize this time? (37-38)

Stuart and April have just finished solving Stuart’s Great Uncle Tony’s clues about where his secret workshop was. While the legal battle ensues over who the contents rightfully belong to, the local museum takes possession of the tricks found inside, and Stuart and April help catalog them. In the process, they find a mysterious six-pronged metal star and a damaged note encouraging them to use it to become the true “owners of the illusions”. Each of the surviving tricks lead them to a magical world of its own, where they must solve riddles and puzzles in order to get back. But when April’s sisters insist on being involved in the secret and cause problems, it becomes Stuart’s responsibility to save the day and get everyone back home safely.

Another fantastic tale about Stuart and April. I almost wish there were more stories about the two sleuths. And maybe there will be, who knows, but the series is well done as it is and I wouldn’t want the author to drag it out unnecessarily. The challenges that Stuart and April face seem almost tailor-made for their strengths and weaknesses, and when Stuart’s father unknowingly becomes involved, it leads an even bigger impression of the magic being malleable. The sheer variety is impressive, with author Lissa Evans proving that she’s able to craft unique and individual tricks and puzzles.

While Stuart’s father is completely clueless as to what’s going on and Stuart’s more observant mother is sent on a business trip, it’s still extremely humorous to see Stuart interact with him. I think I forgot to mention in my review of the first book, but Stuart’s father writes crossword puzzle clues, and talks like a walking dictionary, which can be very entertaining to read.

His father was looking thoughtful. “Do you think it might aid mutual colloquy if I endeavored to converse in a less polysyllabic manner?” he asked.
“What does mutual colloquy mean?”
“Our conversation.”
“And endeavor means try, doesn’t it?”
“So what you’re saying is, Would it be easier for us to talk if you used shorter words?”
Stuart nodded cautiously. “Well, it might speed things up a bit.” (130)

Not only is the dialogue spot on, but the reactions are accurate too. Even if Stuart’s dad is clueless, the triplets’ parents aren’t, and Stuart is often at the mercy of April, May, and June’s parents regarding where they can go or when they can aid him in his search for clues. All three of the girls try to assert their differences from each other, and I’m thoroughly pleased that they each get their own reactions, talents, and personalities when any other writer would lump them into non-descriptive blobs. It’s also perfectly reasonable to expect May and June to insist on being involved in this hunt, and I appreciate the dynamics between the three that we get to witness. I also liked the fact that Stuart only befriended April in the beginning, further emphasizing the differences between the girls.

Observant and intuitive readers might figure out some of the answers before Stuart, but everyone has plenty to look forward to as the book quickly comes to a climax and satisfying ending. All the loose ends are wrapped up in a bow very neatly. A great choice for a read-aloud in a class room or in a bed-time sharing, I charged through it in about three hours, and anyone who finds anything objectionable about this very family friendly read is looking too darn hard. This rollicking good reading series has found a permanent place on my recommendation list.

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms

Title: Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery & a Very Strange Adventure
Series: Stuart Horten #1
Author: Lissa Evans
ISBN: 9781402798061
Pages: 270 pages
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books, c2012.
Publication Date: April 3, 2012 (originally published in 2011 in Great Britain as Small Change for Stuart)

“An entertainer,” answered his father. “A prestidigitator.”
“A what?”
“A magician. He used to do conjuring tricks on stage.”
“A magician??” Stuart repeated. “You had an uncle who was a magician? But you never told me that.”
“Oh, didn’t I?” said his dad vaguely. “Well, I know very little about him. An I suppose it didn’t occur to me that you’d be interested.” […]
“So, what sort of tricks did he do?”
“I’m not sure.”
“And what was he like?”
“I don’t remember him at all, I’m afraid. I was very young when he disappeared.” (12-13)

His father might not think so, but ten-year-old Stuart is VERY interested in his great-uncle Tony, the magician who disappeared without a trace several years after a fire burned his factory. After discovering coins in an old money-box and receiving a mysterious phone call on an obviously broken pay phone, Stuart realizes that these might be clues to where Great-Uncle Tony’s rumored second, secret workshop has been resting, undisturbed for all these years. Dodging the pesky, prying eyes of the identical triplets next door who purport to being reporters isn’t Stuart’s only problem, as his curiosity in his ancestor catches the attention of someone who is just as interested in finding the workshop and claiming the contents.

A highly engaging and thoroughly engrossing debut middle-grade novel by Lissa Evans. Quickly inhaled in less than two hours, time just disappeared (pardon the pun) while reading this compact book (and I’m not just referring to the book or poor Stuart’s small size). I would go so far as to compare this to Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me as it’s mostly realistic fiction with hints of magic/fantasy until you get to the very end where’s there a twist.

While adults are distant and almost nonexistent in the plot, that doesn’t mean they are absent completely, with both Stuart and April’s parents disciplining them for their disobedience, which is more than we see from most parents. Stuart and April have more than enough personality to carry the book, with April’s knowledge and confidence playing nicely against Stuart’s self-consciousness and curiosity, and they’ve both got determination to spare. They ask questions when they need answers, but they are otherwise very self-sufficient in discovering and deciphering the clues and don’t need to rely on adults for assistance.

Speaking of which, I got a little moment of librarian joy that Stuart enlists the help of library archives to solve the mystery, using “old-fashioned” sleuthing skills such as consulting a map, gathering first hand accounts, and examining photographs. The story reads as almost timeless, with only one mention of computers that I can think of. The cover artwork (with no credit that I can find on the book) also seems to play up an older appearance, with the monochromatic illustrations making it look very different from the colorful cover artwork we’ve gotten used to seeing. This might put it at a disadvantage on the shelf, but readers who enjoyed the mechanics of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick might be pulled in by the title’s promise of “Miraculous Mechanisms”. While probably a shelf sleeper, the availability of the sequel, Horten’s Incredible Illusions: Magic, Mystery & Another Very Strange Adventure (published in September), might help it gather more attention, and the description of book two makes it sound like there are still more adventures to come for Stuart Horten.

Read it before everyone else discovers it, then find yourself recommending it.

The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780307938909
Pages: 387 pages
Dics/Cds: 13.5 hours, 11 CDs
Publisher/Date: Doubleday, c2011.
Publication Date: Sept. 13, 2011

The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.
But it is not open for business. Not just yet.(3)

Celia Bowen is apprenticed to her magician father. Marco has been adopted from an orphanage by a competing magician. While they both are separately aware that they are being prepared for a “game”, neither one of them are knowledgable about the rules. When they finally meet through their roles in the formation of a circus, Le Cirque des Reves, Marco realizes instantly that this is the woman he’s been training to beat. But as the years pass with no clear winner or end in sight, both Celia and Marco become tired and press for more information from their mentors. When the rules of the game finally become clear, they realize that they and the circus might have more to lose than they originally thought.

You just can’t go wrong with Jim Dale as a narrator! His voice is seductive when describing the love that two of the characters share. The scenes where he takes on the voice of the reader visiting the circus is also perfectly pitched, making the writing sound like a Choose Your Own Adventure Novel rather than a regular book. Picking up the printed copy and reading those opening lines months later, I still hear his voice and narration, drawing readers into the mystery and magic that make up the circus.

It helps that he has amazing writing to fall back on. It’s no wonder that everyone is clamoring to claim a copy of this debut novel by Erin Morgenstern. The descriptions of the circus include not just the sights and sounds but the tastes and textures. Circus tents and their contents play a massive role in the tale, and Morgenstern intersperses the tale with second person point of view narration detailing their make and design, which range from the more conventional fortune-teller, magician, and suspended acrobats to a fantastical library of memories triggered by smells and a wishing tree lit by candles. The magic and amazement are palatable, and I was left wishing that such a circus truly existed just so that I could see it for myself.

The publishers tip the author’s hat a little too early in my opinion, because based on the jacket copy readers go into the book knowing that Marco and Celia are going to fall in love. How the competition plays out is a series of interrelated and complicated actions that leave not one person responsible, but also prevents everyone from being wholly knowledgeable about what exactly happened. The mystery, intrigue, and romance dance around each other, until they draw to a climatic yet satisfying conclusion.

One of ten books chosen for the Alex Award, which is given to an adult book that has special appeal to young adults, this is a fascinating read for teens, and a patron I recommended it to raves about it months after the fact. You can contribute to the experience by listening to Erin Morgenstern’s playlist, which she lists in an interview with Largehearted Boy and makes available on her own website.


Title: Flyte
Series: Septimus Heap, Book 2
Author: Angie Sage
Illustrator: Mark Zug
Narrator: Gerard Doyle
ISBN: 9781419393891
Pages: 532 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 30 minutes
Publisher/Date: HarperCollinsChildren’s Books, c2006.

In no time at all, Thunder reached the Great Arch. Jenna expected Simon to slow down and turn the horse around to go back to the Palace, but instead he yanked hard on the reins, and the horse veered abruptly off to the left and hurtled down Cutpurse Cut. […]
“Simon!” protested Jenna. “Where are we going?”
“Shut up!” Jenna thought she heard him say.
“You heard. Shut up. You’re going where I take you.”
Jenna twisted around to look at Simon, shocked at the sudden sound of hatred in his voice. She hoped she had misunderstood what he said, but, when she saw the coldness in his eyes, Jenna knew she had heard right. A sharp chill of foreboding jumped through her. (46-47)

Immediately after Simon returns home after almost a year away, without a word to his parents or siblings, he kidnaps his foster-sister, Princess Jenna and races out of the Palace. Simon and Septimus’s parents are reluctant to believe that Simon would do such a thing. Septimus knows better, and sets off to find her in the next two days so she can visit the Dragon Boat before MidSummer Day. Along the way, Septimus finally meets the rest of his six brothers, has to control the Dragon Boat, and discovers that there might be something else going on in addition to Jenna’s kidnapping.

I’m really enjoying listening to this series as audiobook. The only disadvantage of listening to the audiobook, which is narrated quite nicely by Gerard Doyle, is that you don’t get the benefit of the map and the other illustrations included in the opening pages of the book and primarily at the chapter breaks. Upon looking at the printed copy, I’m actually glad that I didn’t read it, because I think the different font used to name spells would have probably proved distracting.

Angie Sage knows how to appeal to her audience, whether it’s the frozen underground ice highways or the naivety of the adults who just can’t accept the fact that Simon has kidnapped his sister, even when it’s staring them right in their faces. Septimus’s discovery of an old friend stretches the story just a little, but the action that comes in fast and furious spurts will encourage readers to make quick work of this second book in the series. Taking place about a year after Magyk, Septimus and Jenna solve their problems with very little grown-up assistance as readers see they have grown up and are acquiring new skills. Mixing magic with action creates a sure-fire hit that will appeal to a wide range of audiences, and make the rather long book fly to the finish. Readers will be clamoring for the rest of the series.

The Unwanteds

Title: The Unwanteds
Author: Lisa McMann
ISBN: 9781442407688
Pages: 390 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, c2011.

“I’m not sure we’re doing the right thing at all by holding him back.”
Claire sighed. “[…] Alex is spending all his free time alone–and frankly, I don’t blame him. Everyone’s angry with him, and he feels bad now that he’s the only one not in magical training. It’s only making matters worse.”
Mr. Today shook his head and sank back in his chair. “Oh, oh, oh,” he said quietly, “what to do? I am afraid that if Alex starts training, he will use his magic to find his brother. The powerful connection between twins . . . It’s a huge risk we don’t need right now, especially now that Aaron is in Justine’s good graces and under her watchful eye.” […]
“You must understand, my dear lady, that it is very different with twins. There’s a connection. A loyalty that exceeds all others.” […]
Octavia closed her lips over her teeth, folded several arms across her chest and frowned. “So it’s inevitable, you’re saying. The connection between twins is that strong that he’ll never give up?”
“That is what I believe.” (128-129)

Alex and Aaron are twins who are inseparable, until they turn 13. While Aaron is deemed Wanted and sent off to school, Alex was caught drawing in the dirt, which is an unforgivable infraction in the city of Quill. Alex and the rest of the kids who showed any sort of creativity are banished from the city and are convinced that they’re being sent the Death Farm to be tossed into the Great Lake of Boiling Oil by the Eliminators. Instead, they meet a magician named Mr. Today who has created a utopia for these cast offs. Their existence must remain a secret, but Alex can’t forget about the brother he left behind. When Alex learns about a threat to his brother, will he jeopardize everyone to try to save him?

The Kirkus review comparing this book to “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter” was the main reason for me to pick up this book. Even without it though, I probably would have tracked it down considering Lisa McMann’s success with the Wake trilogy. But I can see why the Kirkus review compared it to those two books. It starts off like Hunger Games, where chosen kids are sent to what is supposed to be their death, only to usurp the existing government’s expectations. Like Harry Potter, the teens instead are sent away to this secret magical world which is hidden away from the uninitiated. What I really liked about the book was the action without the gladiator style violence and mature relationship of Hunger Games, which has made me leery of recommending it to younger tweens.

McMann provides some unique concepts for spells and magical capabilities. Each secondary character has their own affinity for a different creative outlet. One sings spells, while another’s strength is acting and a third person uses writing and story telling. These specializations provide readers with relatable characters, as most students have some sort of creativity outlet that they enjoy. Alex’s own strength is art, and the magic he creates with paper, pencil, and other mediums sounds really cool, especially his ability to paint himself invisible. It’s also the root of the threat towards Alex’s brother.

After finishing this book, I book talked it to a group of fifth and sixth graders, and they were intrigued by this concept of creativity being banned. I told them “Alex and Aaron live in a world where creativity is banned. No singing, no dancing, no drawing, no making up stories, nothing. If you’re caught doing any of these things, you could get kicked out of the city and sent to death, and your parents wouldn’t stop them.” They immediately started questioning what could or couldn’t get them in trouble, with one kid tapping out a beat with his fingers, another kid asking about humming, and a third wondering if sports were allowed. I came back and told another librarian that we might end up with a run on this title if they all followed through and checked it out. As a new author to the upper elementary and middle school scene, it might take a little bit of time for this to hit their radar, especially considering Wimpy Kid and Inheritance have just been published. Once kids catch on though, I’m sure this book will become popular.


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