Tag Archives: magic

House of Secrets by Chris Colombus and Ned Vizzini

Chris Coloumbus is the writer and director of some of my favourite movies, including Gremlins, The Goonies and Home Alone.  He’s a gifted storyteller for the screen who has now delved into the world of children’s books.  His first children’s book is House of Secrets, co-written by Ned Vizzini, and I was interested to see if his books were just as good as his movies.

A secret history… A mysterious family legacy… Dark magic of untold power… And three kids who will risk everything to bring a family back together. The Pagett kids had it all: loving parents, a big house in San Francisco, all the latest video games … But everything changed when their father lost his job as a result of an inexplicable transgression. Now the family is moving into Kristoff House, a mysterious place built nearly a century earlier by a troubled fantasy writer with a penchant for the occult. Suddenly the siblings find themselves launched on an epic journey into a mash-up world born of Kristoff’s dangerous imagination, to retrieve a dark book of untold power, uncover the Pagett family’s secret history and save their parents … and maybe even the world.

House of Secrets is an action-packed blockbuster of a book about three children who are transported into the world of fiction.  There’s something in this story to appeal to all kids – adventure, mystery, magic, witches, giants, warriors, pirates, and fictional characters coming to life. Most readers have wanted to actually be in the world of a story at some stage, and this is exactly what happens to Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor (even if it was the last thing they wanted).

Chris and Ned have said that the story was originally going to be a screenplay for a movie, but they thought it would be too expensive to make so they adapted it into a book.  I thought this came through quite clearly as the story really reads like it should be a movie.  It’s quite fast-paced and there is lots of action so it will definitely keep kids’ attention.  I can see why it would have cost so much to make this story into a movie, because it’s quite epic and there would be huge special effects involved.  The house that the children find themselves transported in is much like the Tardis (‘it’s bigger on the inside’), with lots of hidden passageways, and it gets battered about by witches, giants and pirates.  There are many different fictional worlds, filled with different creatures and characters.

Although I loved the story and the way the authors kept the action moving along, I found the children quite stereotypical and a bit flat.  Within the first 10 pages you’ve had a detailed description of what the three children look like and how old they are, which just seemed a little bit forced to me.  I guess it’s probably a movie thing and they’re trying to give us a picture of the characters, but you don’t need to know everything about a character within the first few minutes.

The plot races along right to the end and leaves the story hanging for the next book in the series.  I’ll be looking forward to discovering what comes next for the Walker children.

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2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else

The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I love the world of Fontania that Barbara introduced us to in The Traveling Restaurant.  I reviewed it in September last year,  so if you want to hear all about it and find out what makes it such a worthy finalist, read on.  You can also read my interview with Barbara Else and Barbara’s guest post about The Queen and the Nobody Boy here on the blog.

Last year, Barbara Else took us on a magical journey through the land of Fontania, with Sibilla and The Traveling Restaurant.  Now she takes us back to Fontania and introduces us to some wonderful new characters in The Queen and the Nobody Boy.

Hodie is the unpaid odd-job boy at the Grand Palace in the Kingdom of Fontania.  Fed-up, he decides to leave and better himself.

The young Queen, 12 -year-old Sibilla, is fed-up too.  Sick of gossip about her lack of magical ability, she decides to run away with Hodie, whether he likes it or not.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is a magical story, full of adventure, danger, royalty, spies, flying trains, stinky trolls and poisonous toads. Trouble is brewing from the very beginning of the story.  The Emperor of Um’Binnia threatens war with Fontania and he hopes to destroy what magic there may be in the world.  The Fontanians have been looking for ‘The Ties’ for many years, but nobody really seems to know what they are, and for the Emperor to carry out his plans he must get his hands on them too.  Little do they know how important an odd-job boy might be.

Your favourite characters from The Travelling Restaurant return, including Sibilla and the pirate chef, Murgott.  Hodie is the main character of this tale of Fontania.  Even though he’s not treated very well in the Palace, he’s smart and brave, and determined to make something of himself.   My favourite quote from the book sums up Hodie, ‘Whether a boy was somebody or nobody, if he was normal he was expected to be curious.’  Hodie and Sibilla meet lots of other interesting characters on their journey, including a rather strange Um’Binnian spy called Ogg’ward, and a very persistent squirrel.  The Um’Binnians themselves are quite interesting.  They have a different way of speaking and their names look and sound strange.

If you loved The Traveling Restaurant you have to get your hands on The Queen and the Nobody Boy, but if you haven’t read it this book will make you fall in love with the land of Fontania.  You certainly won’t be able to go past this book on the shelf without wanting to see what magic is inside, thanks to Sam Broad’s brilliant cover.

4 out of 5 stars

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Seven Wonders: The Colossus Rises Book Trailer

The day after twelve-year-old Jack McKinley is told he has six months to live, he awakens on a mysterious island, where a secret organization promises to save his life – but with one condition. With his three friends, Jack must lead a mission to retrieve seven lost magical orbs, which, only when combined together, can save their lives. The challenge: the orbs have been missing for a thousand years, lost among the ruins and relics of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. With no one else to turn to and no escape in sight, the four friends have no choice but to undertake the quest. First stop: The Colossus of Rhodes … where they realise that there’s way more at stake than just their lives.

 

The Colossus Rises is the first book in Peter Lerangis’ action-packed new series called Seven Wonders. It has been described as ‘Percy Jackson meets Eragon’ and it sounds really exciting.  You might recognise Peter Lerangis as one of the authors of The 39 Clues series.

The Colossus Rises is due out in March from HarperCollins New Zealand, and watch out for your chance to win a copy of the  book here on the blog.

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Wings & Co: Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner

I’ve been a huge fan of Sally Gardner ever since I first read I, Coriander.  Sally is one of those brilliant authors whose stories are always original and you never know quite what to expect when you start reading them.  She’s also incredibly versatile, as she writes for all ages, from preschoolers, to middle grade, and right up to teens and beyond.  Her latest book, Operation Bunny, is the first in a new series for younger readers, called Wings & Co.

Emily Vole makes headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she is found in an abandoned hatbox in Stansted Airport. Then, only a few years later, her neighbour Mrs String dies leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: an old shop, a small bunch of golden keys and a cat called Fidget. It’s the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime as the old Fairy Detective Agency comes back to life. It is up to Emily to reopen the shop, and recall the fairies to duty. Together they must embark on their first mystery and do battle with their great fairy-snatching enemy, Harpella.

Operation Bunny is a magical story, filled with a cast of wonderful characters, plenty of mystery, and a sprinkling of humour.  It’s the sort of book that you sit down to read a few chapters and end up gobbling up the whole book because you’re enchanted by Sally’s storytelling and David Roberts hilarious illustrations.

I fell in love with the characters straight away and I wanted to be friends with Miss String and Fidget the talking cat.  Emily is a Cinderella-type character because she gets locked away and made to do all the housework for her horrible adopted parents.  Not only are they horrible, they’re also quite stupid.  Emily’s adopted mother lets a strange lady into their house who turns her triplets into zombies, and Emily’s adopted father is a slimy wee man who’s hiding a secret and always calls his wife ‘Smoochikins.’ However, Emily is much smarter and braver than these horrible people give her credit for, and with the help of her rather unusual neighbours she escapes and starts her new life as a detective.  Fidget is my favourite character because he is always happy to help and he has the best lines (which usually involve fish of some sort), like ‘Search my sardine tin, I don’t know,’ and ‘Twiddle my whiskers and call me tuna.’  I love the way that Fidget calls Emily ‘my little ducks’ too.  Even though she doesn’t have parents that love her, she has a giant talking cat that is looking out for her always.    There are lots of other interesting characters in the story, including a mischievous bunch of keys, zombie babies, a fairy policeman, a shop with legs, a magic lamp that talks, and lots and lots of bunnies.

David Roberts illustrations are wonderful as always and help set the tone of the story.  They’re both hilarious and a little dark, and they bring Sally’s characters alive.  I especially like the personalities that David has given each of the rabbits and the suave, charming look that he’s given Fidget.

Operation Bunny is perfect for reading aloud (to 7 years and up) or find yourself a comfy spot and disappear into this magical story. I’m so pleased that we have more adventures with Emily, Fidget and the Fairy Detective Agency, Wings & Co. to look forward to.  I can’t wait to read the next book, The Three Pickled Herrings (coming in February 2013).

5 out of 5 stars

 

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The Peculiar book trailer

The Peculiar is a wonderful new fantasy story, by debut author Stefan Bachman.  I haven’t read a good fantasy in a while and this is making me fall in love with the genre all over again.  The faery have crossed over into Britain and it’s now populated by humans, the faery and halflings.  I’ll post my review of The Peculiar here on the blog next week and you’ll have a chance to win a copy.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachman is out now from HarperCollins NZ.

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Maddy West and the Tongue Taker by Brian Falkner

Characters in Brian Falkner’s books have saved the world from a deadly virus, discovered the recipe for Coca-Cola, developed super powers, traveled in time, and been chased by black lions.  In Brian’s latest book, Maddy West and the Tongue Taker, an evil witch is stealing people’s ability to talk, and it’s up to Maddy and her friends to stop her.

Maddy West can speak every language in the world. When she is asked to translate some ancient scrolls, Maddy is excited. But the scrolls hide many secrets. Secrets that send Maddy on a wild adventure with a stowaway ninja, a mysterious monkey, a Bulgarian wrestler and a fiendish witch. And soon Maddy finds herself in deadly peril. Does Maddy have what it takes to save herself and her new friends?

Maddy West and the Tongue Taker is an action-packed, magic-filled adventure that has something for everyone.  There’s a girl who can speak every language known to man (some that haven’t been spoken for thousands of years), a very clever monkey, a ninja that can go invisible, a giant Bulgarian wrestler, a witch, ancient scrolls, magic, and lots of spiders and cockroaches. The story is full of twists and turns, so you’re not sure who to trust and whose side of the story to believe.

Maddy is a very cool character.  She has an amazing gift that she uses to help people, especially those who speak another language.  She helps her friend Kazuki and the giant Dimitar by translating for them so that others can understand them or so they can understand the horrible situation that they’re in.  Maddy is also very brave and isn’t afraid to stand up to the dangerous people she meets.  Kazuki is a funny character, who is a loyal friend to Maddy and a ninja who can make himself invisible.  He does his best to protect Maddy, including stowing away on her plane to Bulgaria.  Some of the adults in the story are really annoying, like Maddy’s mum who only seems to be interested in how much money she can make, but there are others, like Dimitar, who are friendly and do all they can to help Maddy.

I love Donovan Bixley’s cover and his illustrations throughout the book.  I’m a huge fan of illustrated novels for children and Donovan’s black and white illustrations add to the excitement and suspense of the story.  I love the way that he has brought Brian’s characters to life, especially Dimitar and Maddy.

Maddy West and the Tongue Taker is a great read for 9+, especially if you liked Brian’s last book, Northwood.  It’s perfect for anyone who likes adventure, mystery and magical stories.  Get it now from your library or bookshop.

4 out of 5 stars

You can enter my competition to win 1 of 3 copies of Maddy West and the Tongue Taker here on the blog.

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Shrunk! by F.R. Hitchcock

Have you ever made a wish on a shooting star?  Tom has, but his wish has gone horribly wrong.  Now he can shrink anything he likes and it’s going to get him in a whole heap of trouble.  Read about Tom’s misadventures in F.R. Hitchcock’s wonderful new book, Shrunk!

After Tom moves in with his grandmother next to the Bywater-by-Sea Model Village, he makes a wish on a shooting star and gets the curious ability to shrink things. The first thing he shrinks is Jupiter, then some sheep and a boat.

But without Jupiter in place, the Earth is slowly being drawn towards the Sun. With the angry (and miniaturised) school bully yelling from his pocket, Tom has to return Jupiter and save Earth — all while trying to make friends in his new home.

Shrunk! is a wacky, weird and wonderful little story full of hilarious antics.  It’s so nice to read a story for children that feels really fresh and completely different.  There’s something for everyone in this wonderful story – wishes gone wrong, missing planets, meteors crashing to earth, shrinking animals and people, horrible little boys, a race against time, and lots and lots of laughs.

I love all the characters in the book, from Tom who ends up with a rather useless and annoying power, to his Grandma who knows more than she’s letting on, his unfortunate, geeky friend Eric, Eric’s dad who believes he has been abducted by aliens, and Jacob the big (or should that be small) bully.  The hilarious antics of the characters will have children cracking up laughing, especially Jacob vs. the squirrel.

Shrunk! is F.R. Hitchcock’s first children’s book and I hope I get to read many more of her stories.  Shrunk! is perfect for children who like funny stories or stories with a touch of magic or science.  It’s a great book for children to read themselves and it also works really well as a read aloud (for around 8 years and older).  It’s a short read too so it’s great for reluctant readers.

5 out of 5 stars

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Interview with Barbara Else, author of The Queen and the Nobody Boy

Barbara Else is the creator of the Land of Fontania, the magical setting of her award-winning The Traveling Restaurant and her latest book, The Queen and the Nobody Boy.  Her books are full of magic, adventure, pirates, spies, and wonderful characters.  I had a few questions about Fontania and its inhabitants and Barbara very kindly answered them.

  • What’s your favourite place in Fontania?

I’m a city girl so it has to be the City of Spires. But I’d like to visit the High Murisons. There (so I have heard) live the only wild bears in Fontania. They have a growl deeper than any other living creature.

  • The Um’binnians have strange names and speak quite differently than the Fontanians. How did you come up with them?

The name for Um’Binnia just typed out under my fingers when I was wondering what to call the neighbouring country. It seemed to me that a good way to identity the Um’Binnian characters would be to use commas in their names too. They speak the same language as Fontanians but, just as all English speaking countries have different accents, I thought the Um’Binnians would sound different too.

  • The Queen and the Nobody Boy features some wonderful new characters, creatures and machines. What is your favourite creation from this story?

I love Hodie for his courage and determination.  And I love the squirrel for its single-mindedness.  But I think Princessa Lu’nedda is the character I cherish the most. She’s very troubled by her father, seems far too cutesy and fluffy at first, but is full of courageous surprises.

And I’m very pleased with the wind-train.

  • If you were the Queen of Fontania what would your first royal proclamation be?

‘Royal Proclamation, Part the First:  Every city, town and village in the Kingdom of Fontania shall have a library stocked to the brim with books to suit each child.

Royal Proclamation, Part the Second: At the end of each year of successful reading every child shall be rewarded with a cake shaped like the Travelling Restaurant.’

  • Can we look forward to more Tales of Fontania?

I’m certainly playing around with more ideas.

 

 

Barbara’s follow-up to The Traveling Restaurant, called The Queen and the Nobody Boy, is out now in NZ.  It’s another wonderful story, set in the world of Fontania.  You can read my review of The Queen and the Nobody Boy here on the blog.

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Picture Book Nook: The Great Orlando by Ben Brown and Helen Taylor

I’ve always loved Ben Brown and Helen Taylor’s books.  So far their books have been mostly about native New Zealand wildlife and they’re beautiful books.  Their latest book, The Great Orlando, is something completely different, but absolutely stunning.

From the very first page you know that this is not a happy story.  ‘The Great Orlando,’ otherwise known as Sunday Jones lives in a ‘rough, broken house with an unkempt lawn and a dead lemon tree in the front yard.’  His father is a cruel, miserable man, but his mother cares for him, protects him, and tells him bedtime stories of The Great Orlando.  When his mother dies, Sunday Jones is left with his father who makes his life a misery.  When he gets the chance to enter the school talent show, he transforms himself into The Great Orlando and is finally able to escape his miserable life.

The Great Orlando is a dark, multi-layered story about a boy who wants to escape.  Ben and Helen introduce us to Sunday Jones, a boy with a father who makes life hard for him, but holds onto the dreams his mother gave to him through her stories.   Ben Brown weaves his magic on the reader with his words and shows us a snapshot of Sunday’s life.  I particularly like the way Ben describes the mother’s love for her son.  This story also shows us how versatile Helen Taylor is.  It’s a completely different subject matter to her previous illustrations but they match the text perfectly and I really love them.  They’re quite dark and eerie, which matches the tone of the story, and I like the symbolism she’s used throughout the book (the shadow of the bull in the background and the butterfly).  The Great Orlando is the perfect picture book to share with older readers who will appreciate both the story and the illustrations.  I hope The Great Orlando sees some success outside of New Zealand for this talented duo.

4 out of 5 stars

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Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver

Imagine living in a world where the sun hasn’t shone for many months.  Because there is no sun, the colour has gone out of the world so everything is grey and gloomy, plants and trees have withered and everyone is miserable.  There is still magic in the world though and this magic has the power to change everything.

Liesl hasn’t left her house in several months.  After her father died, her cruel stepmother locked her in the tiny bedroom in the attic and she’s never allowed out.  Her only friends are the shadows and the mice, until one night a ghost appears.  His name is Po and he comes from a place called the Other Side. Will is an alchemist’s apprentice, helping his mean master gather the ingredients for his strange magical experiments.  One night Will makes a dangerous mistake when he accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing Liesl’s father’s ashes. Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws them together on an extraordinary journey.

Liesl and Po is one of the most unique and magical books I’ve read. Lauren Oliver’s writing is amazing and she transports you to this weird and wonderful world where the sun hasn’t shone for years and the colour has gone out of the world.  She writes in such a way that it makes you think she must have gone through the whole story picking out the perfect words to describe her characters and the world they live in.  Here’s her description of Will,

“He was wearing a large lumpy coat that came that came well past his knees and had, in fact, most recently belonged to someone twice his age and size.  He carried a wooden box – about the size of a loaf of bread – under one arm, and his hair was sticking up from his head at various odd angles and had in it the remains of hay and dried leaves…”

Lauren Oliver says in the authors note that she wrote Liesl and Po after the death of her best friend, so it is a bit dark in places.  She wrote it in two months and didn’t think it would be published, but I’m certainly glad it was.  If you like Kate DiCamillo’s books, like The Magician’s Elephant and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, you’ll love Liesl and Po.

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