Ella Enchanted

Once again, I bring you a book that I probably wouldn’t have read if not for the faculty book club at my school. This month, we’re reprising an old theme and reading classic children’s books and/or books we’ve always meant to read but never made time for. I had loads of books to choose from, but I decided to go with Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

I don’t know if Ella Enchanted can be called a classic–even though it was a Newbery Honor Book in 1998–but I have always meant to read it. After all, I do love a good fairy tale. I know there’s a movie adaptation out there–which I’ve never seen–so I figured I’d read the book and then see how the movie compares. Well, as of yesterday, I’ve completed one half of that equation.

Ella of Frell was burdened with a curse when she was born. A well-meaning fairy named Lucinda “gifted” Ella with obedience. From then on, Ella had to obey any direct command given to her. When she tried to disobey, she would be afflicted with terrible pains, and they could only be assuaged by doing as she was commanded.

It’s difficult for Ella to be true to herself when, at any time, her own will can be subverted. She does, however, find little ways to counter some of the commands sent her way. Ella’s true wish, though, is to find a way to break this horrible curse, once and for all.

Following the death of her mother, it’s more imperative than ever for Ella to find a way to break this curse, especially when her father unexpectedly marries a wretched woman, and Ella is forced to become little more than a servant to her new stepmother and two stepsisters.

Ella’s curse even causes her to break ties with her closest friend (and possibly the love of her life), Prince Char. If any one of Char’s enemies learns that she could be commanded to do anything, that could put Char at risk. Ella simply can’t allow that to happen.

Ella despairs of ever being free of this curse, but a series of events–including a few royal balls and a bit of fairy magic–may just change things. Ella may find that the power to break her loathsome curse lies within and only needs a little push to be gone from her life forever.

What will give Ella reason enough to break her curse? Find out when you read Ella Enchanted!

Ella Enchanted is, of course, a spin on the traditional Cinderella tale. Readers who enjoy fractured fairy tales or fairy tale retellings will delight in discovering the similarities to the tale they know and the differences that make this version so distinctive. They may even be prompted to seek out even more versions of the tale. Some novelizations that could pique interest are: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George, Ash by Malinda Lo, and Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer, just to name a few.

I think Ella Enchanted is a great read for anyone in upper elementary grades on up. It’s fun, aggravating at times, and bewitching. It could lead to discussions on why being obedient could be seen as a bad thing or why the other “gifts” bestowed by Lucinda weren’t gifts at all.

All in all, I’m glad I finally read Ella Enchanted, and I will definitely recommend it to my students. Now, I have to settle in to watch the movie version and see how it compares to the book.

For more information on Ella Enchanted and other books by Gail Carson Levine, visit the author’s website.


The Bronze Key

A word of warning: Proceed with caution if you haven’t read both The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet, the first two books in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This post might be a little spoilery if you’re not totally caught up.

This may not be my standard post. I’ve been awake since 3am, and I’m having a little trouble keeping my eyes open, much less stringing sentences together. I’ll do the best I can.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Bronze Key, book three in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This book continues the story of Call, Aaron, and Tamara, three young mages trying to figure out this whole magic thing. They are students at the Magisterium, and Call and Aaron are both Makars, or mages with an affinity for chaos magic.

As The Bronze Key begins, Call, Aaron, Tamara, and their frenemy Jasper are being honored for their action against Constantine Madden, known as the Enemy of Death, and his minions. What most people don’t know is that the soul of the Enemy of Death is very much alive…and residing within Call.

Call worries that he’ll become an evil overlord one day, but that’s only part of his problem at the moment. At the party honoring Call and his friends, one of the Magisterium students is mysteriously killed and another attempt is made on Call’s life. It’s clear that someone is out to get him, but why? Does someone know his secret, or has he outlived his usefulness as a Makar?

Soon enough, Call and company are back at the Magisterium, and the mystery deepens. There is a spy in their midst, and it could be anyone. Call doesn’t know who to trust, and he even looks at his best friends with a certain degree of suspicion. He’ll have to figure out what’s going on fast before he–or someone else–meets a rather sticky end.

I’m going to stop there before I give too much away. It’s enough to tell you that some bad stuff goes down in this book, and it wallops you in the heart before all is said and done. I, for one, wish I could dive into book four, The Silver Mask, right now so that I could see where things go from here. Sadly, that is not going to happen.

Speaking of The Silver Mask, it is set to be released sometime in 2017, but I’m not sure exactly when. My guess is early fall.  The fifth and final book, The Enemy of Death, will follow in 2018.

For more information on The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet, The Bronze Key and the rest of the Magisterium series, visit the official website. It’s got lots of interactive goodies that you may enjoy.

Note: The Iron Trial is a nominee for this year’s South Carolina Children’s and Junior Book Awards. In my opinion, the entire series is a good fit for fantasy lovers in upper elementary grades and up.

Rebel Belle

This book has been on my radar for a while, and this weekend–while avoiding everything I probably should have been doing–I dove into Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins. Rebel Belle is the first book in the series, and books two and three, Miss Mayhem and Lady Renegades, are already out. Given how much I fancied book one, I can assure you that I’ll check out the rest of the series.

Harper Price is the epitome of a Southern belle. She’s confident, popular, intelligent, refined, and she works to make her school the very best place it can be. She’s also a shoo-in for Homecoming Queen. On the night of the Homecoming dance, however, Harper’s world changes in the blink of an eye.

After an alarming altercation with the school janitor and her history teacher, Harper finds herself with strange new abilities. She’s basically a super-powered ninja with better fashion sense. But why does she have these powers? What is she supposed to do with them?

As it turns out, Harper is now a Paladin, a guardian traced back to the rule of Charlemagne. What exactly is she guarding, though? Well, Harper soon finds out that she’s charged with protecting David Stark, her nemesis and, apparently, an Oracle. Neither Harper nor David is thrilled with this odd turn of events, but they eventually come to realize that they have to work together, despite how much they’ve loathed each other in the past.

While Harper and David seek to understand more about this whole Paladin-Oracle business, they begin to uncover secrets that shake the foundation of everything they’ve ever believed…about themselves and those around them. Thanks to David’s rather murky prophecies, they realize that something awful is on the horizon, and they can only put their trust in each other to figure things out. A relationship that was once filled with nothing but animosity is quickly becoming something more.

How can Harper reconcile her growing feelings for David with her desire to return to her normal life (including her practically perfect boyfriend)? Is “normal” even a possibility now that she’s a Paladin? What will she have to face in her quest to protect David, and will her efforts be enough?

Find out what happens when you mix supernatural forces with a tenacious Southern girl when you read Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins.

Rebel Belle is a great pick for middle grade and teen readers who are looking for a fun read filled with mystery, magic, and mayhem. I’m pretty sure that all readers will root for Harper and David to get together, and they’ll enjoy the winding path they take to get there. I can only hope that the other two books in this trilogy are just as entertaining as this first offering.

To learn more about the entire Rebel Belle series and Rachel Hawkins, you can connect with the author on Tumblr and Twitter.

Enjoy, y’all!

Order of the Wicked

By this point, if you haven’t been reading all of the Dorothy Must Die books and prequel novellas, I don’t know what to tell you. Read all of the stories below before proceeding with this post.

Moving on…

A while back, Order of the Wicked, the seventh prequel novella in Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series, was released. I finally made time to read it yesterday. This novella focuses on–you guessed it–the Order of the Wicked, particularly one girl’s experiences within the Order. The story introduces characters that we may not have seen before, but I feel sure they’ll reappear in The End of Oz, the fourth and final (?) full-length book in the series.

When Lanadel’s family is killed by Dorothy’s horrific forces, she sets her mind on revenge, and there’s only one group in Oz that may help her on her quest–the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. Risking her own life in the process, Lanadel seeks out this mysterious order, and they eventually take her in and begin to train her for the coming war.

Lanadel soon realizes that she’s got a long way to go before she’s ready to get vengeance. She’s not much of a fighter, and she has almost no magical abilities. That will soon change. With the help of Nox, her drill sergeant of a trainer, and Mombi, a witch who teaches Lanadel to tap into the magic within, this girl may start to believe that she can face off against the forces who killed her family.

But is the Order being completely honest with Lanadel…or the other people preparing for war? What secrets are they hiding? What do they really want from Lanadel and her new friend, Melindra? And what’s the deal with Melindra and Nox? Lanadel knows there’s a rocky relationship there, but it’s as complicated as her own growing feelings for Melindra.

So…what’s a girl to do? No matter what happens, Lanadel is determined to keep her focus where it belongs. She’ll get her revenge on Dorothy…and anyone else who hurts her friends or gets in her way.

This may be kind of spoilery, but I’ll go ahead and tell you that Lanadel’s story ties directly into some of the events that unfolded in Yellow Brick War. Her mission with the order deals with the land of Ev, so I am sure we’ll see more of her in the future. I’m not so sure which side she’ll be on. As for Melindra, I’m hoping she’ll return as well. I think introducing her into the Amy/Nox relationship would be extremely interesting. (If you haven’t read at least the novels in this series, none of that makes any sense.)

While Order of the Wicked is not my favorite of the prequel novellas in this series, I’m hoping it will move up the ranks once the series as a whole is complete. We’ll just have to see how it ties into future events.

As far as I know, there are still two more prequels to look forward to. I don’t know titles yet, but #0.8 is scheduled to be out on January 3rd, and #0.9 has an expected March 14th release date. I’m not too sure about that last one, though, since the fourth book, The End of Oz, also has a Marth 14th release date. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

If you’d like more information on the entire Dorothy Must Die series and the fabulous Danielle Paige, connect with the author on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.

Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle

Even though I’ve felt like absolute crap for the past couple of days, I did manage to finish another of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen. (Only two more to go!)

This book, suitable for upper elementary grade readers on up, is a fantastical tale full of mystery, peril, and riddles. It’s a great book for those readers who’ve exhausted the Harry Potter series and are looking for something similar. And given how this book ended, I’m hopeful that we’ll see more of Gabriel Finley and friends in the future.

Gabriel Finley’s father, Adam, has been missing for several years. Gabriel lives in Brooklyn with his aunt, but he never stops wondering what happened to his father. Soon, though, Gabriel will begin to solve the riddle of his missing father…and so much more.

When Gabriel discovers that he can communicate with ravens–who are the most intelligent of all the birds–secrets begin to be revealed. As it turns out, his dad shared this gift, and it could have something to do with his disappearance. Gabriel’s dad worked with his own raven companion, or amicus, to hide a powerful object from the valravens (cursed, fiendish birds) and their leader, Corax, a being who is half-man, half-valraven…and Gabriel’s uncle.

With the help of his own amicus, Paladin, and several friends, Gabriel begins to unravel the truth of what his uncle is seeking and the whereabouts of his father. The journey involves untangling riddles, battle with a magical, music-loving desk, and learning about the Finley family’s secrets. Gabriel is determined to find his way to his father, but forces are at work that are equally determined to stop him.

Is Gabriel ready to descend into Aviopolis, Corax’s horrifying domain, risking the lives of himself and his friends, to prevent Corax from ruling both above and below the surface? Will he be able to rescue his father, save himself and his friends, and defeat the evil Corax? Read Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle to find out!

I barely touched on my favorite part of this book–the riddles. To a word nerd like myself, they were fun and entertaining, and I loved that saving the world in this book relied more on using one’s brain than relying on brawn. I’m hoping my students have as much fun as I did figuring out the answers to the riddles, and I think reading this book could lead to readers crafting their own riddles.

As of right now, there’s no word on future Gabriel Finley books, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout. There are several mysteries in Gabriel’s life that are yet to be solved, and I, for one, would love some answers. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about this great fantasy, visit the Gabriel Finley website. Enjoy!

Yellow Brick War

Notice: Before reading the post below or Yellow Brick War, the third book in Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series, you must read the books and prequel novellas below. If you’re all caught up, proceed at will. If not, you’ve got some work to do.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to Yellow Brick War. I’m not going to do a big recap of the series up to this point. You can read my posts on the books above for that. Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

Once again, Amy Gumm has failed in her quest to kill Dorothy. Now, she and the Order of the Wicked are stranded in Kansas, the last place Amy ever wanted to see again…but there might be something hidden here–the silver slippers that Dorothy wore during her first visit to Oz–that could help them defeat Dorothy, Glinda, and their armies before both Oz and Kansas (known to Ozians as the Other Place) are destroyed once and for all. But how is Amy supposed to find a pair of shoes that have been hidden for years and that most people don’t think exist? Well, the answer is simple.

She has to go back to high school.

Amy is reluctant to return to the life she left behind, but it is her only option. She reunites with her mother–who has undergone a drastic change for the better–and she encounters Madison, the girl who tormented her all through school. Madison, too, has changed. She’s a teen mother dealing with her own struggles and facing ostracism by those who once kowtowed to her. She and Amy form an unlikely alliance, and Amy begins to wonder if coming back to her old life–for good–might really be possible after all.

But nothing is ever that simple when it comes to the battle for Oz…

While Amy is searching her high school for the slippers that will help her and the Wicked return to Oz–because of course these magic shoes are hidden in a Kansas high school–she encounters a terrifying figure that could be even more dangerous than Dorothy or Glinda. It’s the ancient Nome King, a powerful, dark creature who has plans of his own for Amy. Could he be the one manipulating everything happening in Oz? Is he somehow connected to Glinda’s grab for power or Dorothy’s return to Oz and her addiction to magic? Amy’s not sure what’s going on, but she does know that she must do whatever it takes to save both Oz and her home (a place that’s maybe not so bad after all).

With the silver slippers–or combat boots–in her possession, Amy and the Wicked make their return to Oz to discover that things are even bleaker than ever. War with both Glinda and Dorothy is imminent. Amy and friends must gather whatever forces they can if they have any hope of defeating their foes. Amy will have to tap into the dark magic that she finds both terrifying and exhilarating. But will it be enough?

Can Amy and the Wicked win against two enormously powerful fronts? What will be lost in the process? Who will provide help when they need it the most? Will Amy finally be able to kill Dorothy and return balance to Oz? Is a much larger threat just waiting in the wings?

Discover what awaits Amy and her Wicked friends when you read Yellow Brick War, the thrilling third book in Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series!

I’ve left soooo much out of what happens in this book. Just trust me when I say that it’s action-packed from start to finish–much like the rest of the series–and I am eager to see how things progress for Amy and company in the final book in the series, The End of Oz. This book is set to be released on February 22nd, 2017.

If February is just too darn far away for you, there are three more prequel novellas to look forward to. One of them, Order of the Wicked (novella 0.7), is already out, and I plan to read it as soon as finish a few other books-in-progress. The other two are not yet titled, and I’m not sure when they’ll be out. If the series stays true to form, they’ll be available before February.

For more information on this wonderful series and author extraordinaire Danielle Paige, connect with the author on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook. You may also want to check out Epic Reads’ Yellow Brick War book trailer below. It’s pretty great.

Finally, Danielle Paige is scheduled to be at YALLFest again this year, so, if you’d like to attend this outstanding YA book festival in lovely Charleston, SC, this November, click here for more info. I hope to see you there!

The Seventh Wish

What do you get when you combine a wish-giving fish, Irish dancing, and drug addiction? You get The Seventh Wish, Kate Messner’s newest book. This book is weird, moving, and magical. It will be released this Tuesday, and it is at once fun and serious. Yes, there is a fantastical element to it, and it’s often entertaining to see how that plays out, but the book also deals with some difficult situations. Those situations are handled in a very real, accessible way, and it’s interesting to see how serious issues may be viewed through a child’s eyes.

Charlie doesn’t expect much from her ice fishing adventures with her friend and his grandmother. But when she comes across a fish that agrees to grant a wish in exchange for its freedom, Charlie reevaluates things. Maybe this fish can help Charlie, her friends, and her family get everything they’ve been hoping for.

As one could imagine, a girl isn’t going to let a wish-granting fish go to waste, so she puts it to good use. Charlie wishes for her mom to get a new job, for one friend to pass her English exam, for another to make the basketball team, and for a boy she likes to fall in love with her. Unfortunately, Charlie learns rather quickly that one must be extremely specific when speaking to a wish fish. Her wishes, however well-intended, are not turning out as she would have hoped.

Even with all of this wishing and fishing going on, Charlie still has to find time to work on her science project and practice her Irish dancing. A big dance competition is coming up, and she could have the opportunity to move up into a higher class. It’s a big deal, and Charlie has been psyching herself up for a while. She won’t let anything get in her way.

Sadly, something does happen that derails Charlie’s plans as well as everything she ever believed about her big sister. When it’s revealed that her sister, who’s been away at college, is having problems with heroin addiction, Charlie’s family–her whole world, really–changes. Everyone drops everything to help Charlie’s sister, and, while Charlie understands why, she’s also angry that she’s having to give up so much. Her dance competition, time with friends to work on their science project, and nearly everything else. Isn’t she important, too?

Charlie wonders if her wish fish could somehow help to make her sister and this horrible situation better. If she’s very careful with her words, maybe it could. Maybe her sister could come home and be the girl that Charlie always looked up to. It couldn’t hurt, right?

For a while, everything is going okay, but then something happens that shakes Charlie’s world once again, and Charlie knows that her wish fish can’t help with this one. Some things are just to big too let a little fish handle.

This book brings to mind the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” Charlie’s wishes definitely get away from her, and she learns quickly that words have power. Some of the situations she found herself in were kind of funny. Others, as you’ve no doubt gathered, were heart-breaking.

Some adults may hesitate to put this book in elementary or middle school libraries because it deals with the topic of heroin addiction. Nothing is sugar-coated here, but I do think the topic is handled with care and empathy. Like it or not, some of our younger students deal with addiction as a daily part of their lives, and they need stories that show them that they’re not alone. I think The Seventh Wish is a book that speaks to students who’ve had siblings, parents, or friends suffering from addiction. I also think it might enlighten those who haven’t dealt with such a serious issue.

Will I be placing this book in my elementary school library? Yes, I will.

If you’d like to learn more about The Seventh Wish so that you can decide if it has a place in your school, classroom, public, or personal library, visit author Kate Messner’s website.

Many thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this wonderful book a little early.