Tuesday, February 11, 2014


A Tale of Two Castles
by Gail Carson Levine
Published by Harper
Copyright © 2011
Review by Anthony Kendrick
 Move over Sherlock Holmes and Professor Watson; here comes Meenore and Elodie. “A Tale of Two Castles” beautifully marries two genres, fantasy and mystery, into a riveting tale of prejudice, theft, deception, and attempted murder.

Elodie is leaving her island home of Lahnt in Lepai for it’s mainland capital city of Two Castles. She is twelve years old and her parents are sending her away to find an apprenticeship with a weaver. However, Elodie has other plans; she wants to join a theatrical troupe and become an actress.

During her sea voyage she learns that it is no longer free to become an apprentice. It will cost her much more than what she has. Her task seems bound to fail, and yet she does not have the money to turn around and go home. Fortunately for her she is taken in by the dragon Meenore to be his assistant. Meenore is a jack-of-all-trades. He will lend you his fire, his wings, or his powers of induction and deduction as long as you are willing to pay his price.

Elodie will now assist him in his business, and one of her first tasks is to proclaim Meenore’s inimitable ability to find what is lost and to reveal that which is not known. This job will eventually lead to a mission into the Ogre’s castle where Elodie must uncover a plot to murder his lordship. Elodie will find that evil does not always wear fangs, claws, or blood red eyes. Yes, just as her mother told her she must “beware the white sepulcher.”

“A Tale of Two Castles” is unlike any fantasy that I’ve read. It is not overloaded with magic and action. There are no magic spells and there are no fights to the death. There is simply a dragon, an ogre, a king, a princess, a smart and determined young girl, and a cast of townsfolk and servants. However, no one is what they seem and little happens with striking observableness. Meenore and Elodie must use their intellect to make logical deductions, inductions, and inferences to get to the bottom of this case.

Levine writes a tale that shows that you cannot judge goodness or evil by mere appearance and outward kindness. In addition, you never know where, or in what form, you are going to find a friend. And lastly, if you are an ogre never get trapped in a room full of cats.

This book is a wonderful gateway for youths not only into the world of fantasy, but also into the world of logic and intellect. Youths need to read about characters who are mentally superior, not just physically superior, and Meenore and Elodie fit that bill well.


Here are a few book trailers for "Hollow City" by Ransom Riggs.


Hollow City:
The Second Novel of Miss Peregrines Peculiar Children
By Ransom Riggs
Published by Quirk Books
Copyright © 2014
Review by Anthony Kendrick

In the “Miss Peregrine” series the side show freaks are the main attraction and I wouldn’t have it any other way. This second book gives us even more peculiars, even more action, and even more suspense. This sequel definitely lives up to, and even surpasses the original!

The adventures of Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children continue in Hollow City. Miss Peregrine has been saved from the Wights but she is stuck in bird form, and only another ymbryne can cure her. So, her wards will embark on a journey to find help in war torn London of 1940. Finding one uncaptured ymbryne is hard enough, but with bombs dropping everywhere, Wights disguised as allied soldiers, and Hollowghast seeking to eat them alive it becomes a nearly impossible task. With the help of a menagerie of peculiar animals, some gypsies, and some stray peculiars they will find the only free ymbryne in London, but will they find her quick enough to save Miss Peregrine?

Ransom Riggs surprised me with his initial offering “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” which seemed like an old fashioned X-Men. The story, however, was heavily focused on Jacob Portman the boy from the future who finds the Cairnholm Loop and can see the Hollowghast. Jacob is still the main protagonist and the development of his abilities play a key role in the safety of him and his friends, but Riggs real victory here is that he develops the other peculiar children more fully in “Hollow City”. He also delivers on the X-Men feel with more action as Miss Peregrine’s peculiars show how useful their powers can really be in a fight; I mean who really thought that a boy who has bees living in him would find a way to be useful. (And why in the world do bees live in him anyway!? Riggs gives us a very succinct answer.) Additionally, he adds to his cast of peculiars by introducing child and adult peculiars from other loops and times whose abilities are just as odd and powerful.

If I had any qualms with the story it was that the relationship between Jacob and Emma got a little boring at times, but I understand its utility within the story. That said, “Hollow City” is the perfect sequel. I loved it just as much or more than the first book. One fantastic thing is that the author has left us hanging once again, so we know there will be a third in the series. I don’t want to give too much away, but just when everything seems to be going right it doesn’t. And just when heartbreaking decisions are made, they are turned upside down. I am now eagerly awaiting the third installment even more anxiously than I did the second. Fans of Fantasy, and comic book fans (this is not a comic book), should read this story. Riggs really shows how good Juvenile and Young Adult novels can be.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Explorer: The Lost Islands
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Published by Amulet Books
Copyright © 2013
Review by Anthony Kendrick

Kazu Kibuishi, creator of the Amulet Series and the comic strip “Copper”, is back with a second installment of his graphic short story collection “Explorer”; This one is entitled “The Lost Islands”.  Kibuishi edits, and contributes to, this collection in which the premise is that every story should have/use a lost island in some way.

I love the concept of these books. Everyone builds their own story around one theme and then these fantastic graphic illustrators bring it to life as well. So this book is rich with color, texture, and even beauty.

My favorite stories in this edition are “Rabbit Island” By Jake Parker where we visit a island inhabited by personified rabbits who become too reliant on technology. It really hits home in the society in which we live where so few people know how to do anything with their own hands.

…and I also liked “Loah” by Michael Gagné which tells the story of a group of fish that are in terrible danger as their island is about to explode. Of course I love this one most because it is visually colorful, clean, and stunning.

This is a wonderful book if you want to see the way a theme inspires artists differently. It might also be a great to have students write a short story based on the same theme as well. I hope Kibuishi continues to roll out the “Explorer” books.

Monday, February 3, 2014


The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain
by Lloyd Alexander
Published by Henry Holt and Company
Copyright © 1999
Review by Anthony Kendrick

"The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain" is a book of 8 short stories in which Lloyd Alexander get's to revisit the Characters from the Prydain Chronicles and tell a little of their back story. On it's own this book might not be very enjoyable, but once you have taken the journey through Prydain these stories make perfect sense and add joyfully to your memory of that place.

In "The Foundling" we meet the Great Dallben as a child, and we learn how he came to possess the book of three.

In "The Stone" we poor Doli is yet desperately trying to turn himself invisible, to no avail, and he is seen and helped by a poor farmer. The farmer thus asks for and is granted a wish, but he shall wish that he had not made that wish afterall.

In "The True Enchanter" Princess Angharad, Eilonwy's mother, must choose a suitable husband. Since she is royal and an enchanter she may only choose an enchanter to marry, but will she be able to find one who is not only an enchanter but is also enchanting?

In "The Rascal Crow" a clever, but conceited, crow named Kadwyr will be humbled. He will learn that we all need help sometimes, and that help might come from the most unlikely of places, so he should watch his tongue.

In "The Sword" we see the story of King Ritta who was a good and just king; however, he let his pride get the best of him and he slowly sunk to become an evil and paranoid king who lost the love and respect of his kingdom. And of course we learn why Princess Eilonwy found the great sword Dyrnwyn where she did under the spiral castle.

In "The Smith, the Weaver, & the Harper" we see how Arawn, Lord of Death, was able to steal the secrets of craftsmen, but there was one that he could not steal.

In "Coll and his White Pig" tells how the warrior turned farmer, Coll, saved his pig with the help of the creatures of the forest because of his goodness and courage. But most importantly we learn what happens to his turnips.

In "The Truthful Harp" we meet King Fflewddur Fflam in his small kingdom when he decides to become a bard. We get to be with him when he learns the power of the Harp that has been bestowed upon him, and just how valuable and precious the truth can be.

There isn't much to tell about this book that hasn't already been said in my review of "The Chronicles of Prydain". I will reiterate though:

"Lloyd Alexander is among the best fantasy writers of all time, but he has been forgotten by the book reading public for some time now. Students today have never heard of him. Most readers of my age have not heard of him. I really want to change that. I highly recommend his quintessential works 'The Chronicles of Prydain.'"

If you have read "The Chronicles of Prydain" you will want to read "The Foundling" as it will entertain you will earlier stories of Prydain.