The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson

For those of you not following along, I’m reading the Wingfeather Saga to mark the release of new collectable hardcover editions being released this year.

And so we come to the much anticipated final book in the series: The Warden and the Wolf King:

All winter long, people in the Green Hollows have prepared for a final battle with Gnag the Nameless and the Fangs of Dang. Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli are ready and willing to fight alongside the Hollowsfolk. But when the Fangs make the first move and invade Ban Rona, the children are separated.

Janner is alone and lost in the hills; Leeli is fighting the Fangs from the rooftops of the city; and Kalmar, who carries a terrible secret, is on a course for the Deeps of Throg. Monsters and Fangs and villains lie between the children and their only hope of victory in the epic conclusion of The Wingfeather Saga.

Perhaps not surprisingly given the continued improvement book to book, I found book four a satisfying conclusion to the series. It was a happy ending of sorts but not without some serious sacrifice. Quests, epic battles, twists and turns and some resolution (but not everything tied up in a neat bow).

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The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson

For those of you not following along, I’m reading the Wingfeather Saga to mark the release of new collectable hardcover editions being released this year.  Specifically, books three and four being released today, October 6.

As I noted with book 2, the books seems to be getting better as we go. I enjoyed On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and found the second half of the book more engaging than the first, and that pattern continued with North! or Be Eaten.

And that pattern continued with The Monster in the Hallows.

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby, the Lost Jewels of Anniera, are hiding from Gnag the Nameless in the Green Hollows, one of the few places in the land of Aerwiar not overrun by the Fangs of Dang. But there’s a big problem. Janner’s little brother–heir to the throne of Anniera–has grown a tail. And gray fur. Not to mention two pointed ears and long, dangerous fangs. To the suspicious folk of the Green Hollows, he looks like a monster.

But Janner knows better. His brother isn’t as scary as he looks. He’s perfectly harmless. Isn’t he?

Each book builds on the previous; more history revealed, more surprises, more depth to the characters, etc.

Peterson continues to balance a focus on the inner lives of the children, Janner in particular, with the history and myth of Anniera. He adds in secondary characters that help flush out the details and color of the world he has built but also keeps readers on their toes with twists and turns.

The last third of this book in particular is pretty intense as the action and intrigue ratchets up. Things are barrelling towards the fourth and final book.

As I have said before, great series for young readers and particularly a read out loud or audiobook to share as a family.  But something adults can enjoy too.

The Dark Hills Divide (The Land of Elyon #1) by Patrick Carman

Ok, I am trying to play catch up and post short reviews of books I have read.  One small problem: some of them I read sometime ago and if I didn’t put some thoughts down on Goodreads or have a strong reaction to the book it is hard to remember anything more than a basic liked it or didn’t. I apologize for the brevity and thinness of some of the reviews that are to follow.

I picked up The Land of Elyon series at a local library sale for my daughter and as she began vacuuming up books at an alarming rate I decided to read The Dark Hills Divide to see what the series might be like so I could recommend it to her.

My reaction? Eh.

This very much felt like a Middle Grade or chapter book that wasn’t a good fit for me. I gave it three stars on Goodreads. I enjoyed it I guess but didn’t love it.  Some Middle Grade/Chapter books just don’t have the depth, complexity or prose to hook me.  This is not to say something is wrong with them, they are not for my age group after all.

I read it because the lead character is a girl, which is something my daughter enjoys.  And for that, I think the book is likely to be enjoyed by elementary girls. If you aren’t looking for particular depth or powerful prose, and just want an interesting story you might enjoy this as well.

There is some interesting aspects of the plot and the world building but for me the story was too passive and lacked tension and suspense.  For some reason the story just didn’t take off.  It just sort of moved from one section to the next.

Usually, even with a series I don’t love I want to read the next book just to see what happens, but I after finishing this one I was not in any way motivated to start the next one.

I guess I should have my daughter read it and get her opinion.

The Sandman and the War of Dreams (The Guardians #4) by William Joyce

I have enjoyed the Rise of the Guardians series and so grabbed the latest release,  The Sandman and the War of Dreams, from the library just before vacation.

When the Man in the Moon brought together the Guardians, he warned them that they would face some terrible evils as they strove to protect the children of earth. But nothing could have prepared them for this: Pitch has disappeared and taken Katherine with him. And now the Guardians are not only down one member, but a young girl is missing.

Fortunately, MiM knows just the man to join the team. Sanderson ManSnoozy—known in most circles as the Sandman—may be sleepy, but he’s also stalwart and clever and has a precocious ability to utilize sand in myriad ways. If the other Guardians can just convince Sandy that good can triumph evil, that good dreams can banish nightmares, they’ll have themselves quite a squad. But if they can’t…they might never see Katherine again.

It turned out to be a great addition and perhaps my favorite of the series so far.  I was furiously reading it in the van as we started our vacation.  Interesting characters and some tension filled plot twists make filling in the back story on the guardians, and this particular guardian, a fun ride. [some spoilers ahead]

As I have noted each time I review a book in this series, they are more chapter books in style than YA Fantasy.  There is less world building and detail and more reader imagination and action.  That said, I really like the flow of this volume. It starts with the story of Sanderson Mansnoozie aka The Sandman, brings in the other guardians, and reminds us of the tension with Katherine being captured by Pinch.

Then Sanderson tells his story (via dream of course) and his interaction with Pinch’s daughter, and thereby Pinch, who becomes Mother Nature. This whole section, highlighted by its white type on black paper design, is very well done. It really highlights Joyce’s ability to spin imaginative yet simple tales with fascinating characters.  There is a great sense of mystery and magic lurking behind these stories; they seem like mythology weaved from shared memories and folklore. Just different enough to hold your interest but with enough shared ingredients to already be a part of your imagination.

These threads then connect as Sandman and Nightlight seek to save Katherine and they do; in ways that change them forever.  Even as all of this is going on, Katherine helps Nicholas embark on his dream which in turn will play a role in her rescue and its seems a happy ending for once … But even with all the power of the guardians, Pinch manages to turn things to his favor – as he always seems to do.

And we are left once again waiting for the next book.

But so it is with great series.  And this is one I am very fond of.  I have a feeling this will become something of a classic in our family. Moving from bedtime read aloud stories to exciting reading for young readers to a favorite shared by everyone.

And it is a bonus that they are beautifully designed and illustrated and so that much more fun to have in your library.

If for some reason you haven’t checked out this great series, I recommend it.  For even younger readers, the picture books are great too (The Man in the Moon and Sandman)

 

The Sandman and the War of Dreams (The Guardians #4) by William Joyce

I have enjoyed the Rise of the Guardians series and so grabbed the latest release,  The Sandman and the War of Dreams, from the library just before vacation.

When the Man in the Moon brought together the Guardians, he warned them that they would face some terrible evils as they strove to protect the children of earth. But nothing could have prepared them for this: Pitch has disappeared and taken Katherine with him. And now the Guardians are not only down one member, but a young girl is missing.

Fortunately, MiM knows just the man to join the team. Sanderson ManSnoozy—known in most circles as the Sandman—may be sleepy, but he’s also stalwart and clever and has a precocious ability to utilize sand in myriad ways. If the other Guardians can just convince Sandy that good can triumph evil, that good dreams can banish nightmares, they’ll have themselves quite a squad. But if they can’t…they might never see Katherine again.

It turned out to be a great addition and perhaps my favorite of the series so far.  I was furiously reading it in the van as we started our vacation.  Interesting characters and some tension filled plot twists make filling in the back story on the guardians, and this particular guardian, a fun ride. [some spoilers ahead]

As I have noted each time I review a book in this series, they are more chapter books in style than YA Fantasy.  There is less world building and detail and more reader imagination and action.  That said, I really like the flow of this volume. It starts with the story of Sanderson Mansnoozie aka The Sandman, brings in the other guardians, and reminds us of the tension with Katherine being captured by Pinch.

Then Sanderson tells his story (via dream of course) and his interaction with Pinch’s daughter, and thereby Pinch, who becomes Mother Nature. This whole section, highlighted by its white type on black paper design, is very well done. It really highlights Joyce’s ability to spin imaginative yet simple tales with fascinating characters.  There is a great sense of mystery and magic lurking behind these stories; they seem like mythology weaved from shared memories and folklore. Just different enough to hold your interest but with enough shared ingredients to already be a part of your imagination.

These threads then connect as Sandman and Nightlight seek to save Katherine and they do; in ways that change them forever.  Even as all of this is going on, Katherine helps Nicholas embark on his dream which in turn will play a role in her rescue and its seems a happy ending for once … But even with all the power of the guardians, Pinch manages to turn things to his favor – as he always seems to do.

And we are left once again waiting for the next book.

But so it is with great series.  And this is one I am very fond of.  I have a feeling this will become something of a classic in our family. Moving from bedtime read aloud stories to exciting reading for young readers to a favorite shared by everyone.

And it is a bonus that they are beautifully designed and illustrated and so that much more fun to have in your library.

If for some reason you haven’t checked out this great series, I recommend it.  For even younger readers, the picture books are great too (The Man in the Moon and Sandman)

 

Are All the Giants Dead? by Mary Norton

A story about stories and fairy tales by a famous author with great illustrations (by Brian Froud)? Yes, please. Are All the Giants Dead? by Mary Norton (famous for Bed-Knob and Broomstick and The Borrowers) was originally published in the UK in 1975 but brought to the US in 1997.  I picked up a paperback version at a local library sale for like a dollar. I think the kids calls this “winning.”

Familiar with Norton’s other books but not this volume, I was intrigued from the start:

One night, when he should be safe in bed, young James is whisked away by his friend Mildred to the fairy tale land of Happily Ever After. There Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are middle-aged gossips; Bell’s husband, the Beast, spends his days hunting dragon and unicorn; And Jack-the-Giant-Killer and Jack-of-the-beanstalk while away their retirement telling yarns about slaying the last of the giants.

But the two Jack’s aren’t quite telling the truth: one fierce man-eating giant still lives. And to spare his friend Princess Dulcibel from have to marry an enchanted toad, James must steal something from the dreaded giant’s bone-strewn lair, a place where even the veteran giant-killers fear to tread.

Sucked in by this back of the book blurb, I decided to read it right away not really knowing what to expect.  It turned out to be a clever, if simple, story about courage and belief; and about fairy and folk tales. In classic fairy tale form James faces his fears and saves the princess – just not in exactly the way he might have imagined.

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The Narnia Code by Michael Ward

Like many evangelicals – heck, like a great many people period – my introduction to what you might call fantasy fiction was C.S. Lewis. I have read a decent amount of his writing as well as books about him.

I wouldn’t say I am quite as taken with him as some (there is an almost cultish aspect to many of his fans within evangelicalism) but I am a big fan of the Narnia series.

So when I heard about Planet Narnia by Michael Ward I was intrigued. Was there really a hidden code behind this famous series?  But the book was academic in nature not to mention long and expensive – so I never got around to reading it.

But the folks at Tyndale publishers had the bright idea to bring out a sort of slimed down introductory version called The Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens.  I figured this was my chance to see what all the fuss was about.

Here are the basics:

Millions of readers have been captivated by C. S. Lewis’s famed Chronicles of Narnia, but why? What is it about these seven books that makes them so appealing? For more than half a century, scholars have attempted to find the organizing key—the “secret code”—to the beloved series, but it has remained a mystery. Until now.

In The Narnia Code, Michael Ward takes the reader through each of the seven Narnia books and reveals how each story embodies and expresses the characteristics of one of the seven planets of medieval cosmology—Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus and Saturn—planets which Lewis described as “spiritual symbols of permanent value.”

How does medieval cosmology relate to the Christian underpinnings of the series? How did it impact Lewis’s depiction of Aslan, the Christlike character at the heart of the books? And why did Lewis keep this planetary inspiration a secret? Originally a ground-breaking scholarly work called Planet Narnia, this more accessible adaptation will answer all the questions.

Seems outrageous and interesting, right? Well, it is sort of both. I found the book interesting in concept but less successful in practice.

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The Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen

I recently took my kids to the public library and, as usual, came home with a couple of YA titles – three to be exact. They make up the The Young Merlin Trilogy: Passager, Hobby, and Merlin by Jane Yolen.

The books I read were actually three separate books (as pictured throughout) but I figured I would review them all under this one combined volume:

This is the legendary story of Merlin–from his abandonment by his parents at the age of eight to the discovery of his powers at twelve. Together, these three novels reimagine the origins of the greatest wizard of all time, giving readers a Merlin at once more human and more magical than any that has appeared before.

I found them to be interesting chapter books that explore the childhood of Merlin in poetic and dream like prose. Despite their unique style and structure they are captivating and entertaining reads.

More below.

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