Monday, September 22, 2014

Middle Grade Fantasy: Lycanthor the Werewolf

Lycanthor the Werewolf - Dragon Fyre Blade 

Title: Lycanthor the Werewolf (The Dragon Fyre Blade, Book 1)     
Author: Aiden Storm 
Illustrator: McCartney Leopardi 
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Dreaming Empire; 71 pages  
Source: Advance review copy

Publisher's Summary:
Thirteen year old Jack is spending the summer at his Aunt’s house in the country. Unfortunately, it’s done nothing but rain and he’s stuck in her old mansion without cable or internet. Bored and alone, he sets out to explore the house. When he reaches the attic, he finds an intricate and unusual mural painted on the walls. Life for Jack gets turned upside down when he stumbles and is transported through a portal into a magical world.

For Jasyra, the daughter of the High King, life couldn’t be worse. Her father has been turned to glass, her kingdom has been taken over by the Demon Emperor, and she and her friend, Evooku, have been exiled. The only way to save the land is to reassemble the Dragon Fyre Blade, but the Demon Emperor has hidden all six pieces and each is guarded by great mythical beasts. There is only one person who can help restore peace, but it has been said that he is not of their land.

When Jack awakens in the Great Forest of Karandur, he encounters Jasyra and Evooku. He discovers the only way home is to band together to fight the evil Lycanthor, a giant werewolf that guards a piece of the Dragon Fyre Blade. But first they have to make it through an enchanted land full of danger.

The Queen of Light appears to Jack and delivers a gift, as well as a revelation. He, Jasyra and Evooku form an unlikely friendship along the way and lasting bonds are made when they realize they are Karandur’s only hope. Will the trio be able to defeat Lycanthor and save the kingdom from an eternity of despair?

The Dragon Fyre Blade: Lycanthor the Werewolf is the first book in a series of six and is written for children 7 – 11 years old.

My Review:
I admit I wasn't sure at first if I would like this. The opening scene was a little violent, and then the story was revealed to be of the normal-kid-falls-into-fantasy-world type. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The Narnia books follow that pattern, for Pete's sake. But I've been feeling a little tired of it, so I was a little biased as I began.

Storm's fast-paced writing blew away that prejudice for the most part. The action is gripping, but I think the author found a good balance between believable peril and too much intensity for the younger children. I would say that my biggest issue with the book is that characters and relationships aren't adequately developed. The book is so short (under 70 pages per my electronic copy) that there is little time to explore Jack's confusion at finding himself in a new world, let alone give us a clear sense of Jasyra and what she is thinking or feeling.

What the story didn't do to keep my attention, the illustrations did. McCartney Leopardi's line drawings are vivid and active, and Lycanthor is truly frightening. The full-page black and white drawings add a lot to the pleasure of the book.

It's easy to see how and why the story is being broken into six books--one for each piece of the blade. But this first piece is found quickly enough to make me wonder if the whole story couldn't have been made into a single book, or a trilogy of books at a more typical length for the age range (at least the upper part. Ages 7-12 covers a wide range of reading levels). To me the book read more like a short story, or an early chapter book.

I think this will be enjoyed by fantasy fans of all sorts, but I would say it is especially suited to the younger end of the middle grades--say ages 7-9.


About the Author: Aiden Storm

Aiden Storm Avatar

Aiden grew up a city boy, but always loved getting out into the country. As a kid, his great uncle always took him to old castles, famous battlegrounds and long hikes in the wilderness. These days, Aiden lives in old cottage next to the forest with his dog Blade. When not writing Aiden spends time exploring the woods, dead certain they’re full of fantastical creatures, long lost relics and ancient magic…

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Full Disclosure: I was given a free electronic copy of  Lycanthor the Werewolf  in exchange for my honest review as a part of a Mother-Daughter Book Reviews book review blitz. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Half a Clue

I'm gradually getting photos in order, so I thought I'd jump back into the Friday Flash Fiction with Chuck Wendig's weekly challenge. This week, the challenge was to continue a story begun last week by another Wendigo. I selected Jemima Pett's fun mystery, "Half a Clue." Just because he can, Chuck changed the rules on us after the first week, so Ms. Pett's half a story is now 1/3 of a story. Or whatever he insists on. I complicated things enough for several more 500-word segments if needed.

Oh, and I finished early, so my Friday flash goes up on Thursday. So sue me.

Half a Clue

(This is what Jemima Pett wrote last week)
The last thing Scarlett expected to find that morning was a dead body.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the excitement of the previous evening she had not slept well. The stuffy old dinner party had turned out to be so much more. As usual, she had been seated next to the vicar, and his groping hands had strayed to her thigh on several occasions. Her mother had asserted some years earlier that little girls did not tell tales, especially about such a respectable person. On maintaining the truth of her allegations, she had been sent to her bed without supper for five consecutive days. She had learned to endure and avoid as a result.

The only person she had confided in was Alba White, the cook. To her immense relief, Alba just nodded. “Say nothing more,” she had advised, and gave her a signal to give to the butler. On the next occasion the vicar’s attentions became too intimate, Scarlett acted as planned, and the reverend was mysteriously taken ill after the sweet course. Last night it happened again, and Scarlett hoped the man of a different god than hers could see it was divine retribution.

She had thrown off that mischief after dinner. Russell Peacock, home from the war, and his mother had been the centre of attention. Russell only had five days leave, but he looked so handsome – and so grown up since their last meeting in the summer. They had known each other since childhood, of course, but there was something so different about him now, it made her heart fizz. Even their entrance had been exciting. Reeves had announced them, of course, but as Russell had shaken her father’s hand his eyes had turned to her, that sudden spark shooting through her, confirming his thoughts were on her as much as hers were of him.

He had done his duty to the rest of the company, of course, and he and Scarlett had only minutes together before dinner was announced, minutes that Scarlett had dissected and savoured in the early hours when she was trying to sleep. Of course, she also examined the scene that, having simmered throughout dinner, finally erupted afterwards. How dare the stuffy old Colonel disagree with Russell about his analysis of the Hun? What right had he to call Russell a ‘young pup’? Scarlett thought Russell had been most heroic in the way he controlled his rising embarrassment tinged with ire. The Colonel was drunk even before he arrived, or so she had heard the professor whisper as he gently led the old soldier onto the terrace after the meal.

Scarlett’s only regret about the evening was its premature ending; Russell and his mother had to return early to nurse his sick father.

So much for Scarlett to think about. No wonder she had risen early to see the dawn. It had just been the last thing she expected to find: Colonel Mustard, in the library, a revolver by his side.

[And here I take up the tale]

Scarlett drew in a breath to scream, then thought better of it. A scream would draw the whole household, blustering or hysterical as their personalities dictated. She closed her mouth and rang for Reeves.

She met the butler at the door.  “It’s the Colonel.”

“Has he been taken ill, Miss Scarlett?”

“He’s been taken dead.” Surprised at her own calm bluntness, Scarlett stepped aside to reveal the corpse on the library rug. Reeves sniffed his disapproval, of bodies messing up his rugs and of young ladies finding them.

“You go to the kitchen, and ask Cook for tea. I will telephone the police.”

An hour later, Inspector Clueso had them all lined up in the lounge. A pair of policemen, or surgeons, or something, worked over the thing in the library.

Scarlett had blurted out the news as soon as they were gathered, of course. Colonel Mustard was dead in the library, with a revolver at his side. Speculation ran wild. Whose revolver? Had he shot himself? Had someone else shot him, and left the gun to make it look like suicide? Who could have hated the old army man that much? People got annoyed with the Colonel, with his rambling stories and his dogmatic pronouncements, but they didn’t generally care that much what he said.

Scarlett hadn’t mentioned what her quick look at the body had shown her: that the gun had not killed the Colonel. And she very much doubted he had killed himself. Not that way.

The Inspector looked over the household. Mrs. White managed the staff at one end of the room, while Reeves kept the family and guests comfortable in the over-stuffed chairs around the fire. “Is anyone missing who was here last night?”

Scarlett glanced at her mother. “There’s the Vicar,” she ventured. “Reverend Green.”

“But he went home after the pheasant, poor man,” her mother protested. “He said he felt rather ill, and I’m sure he looked it.”

Scarlett avoided looking at Reeves. She was sure the Vicar had felt very ill indeed.

The professor cleared his throat. “There was Mrs. Peacock and her son. They departed rather early, as the senior Mr. Peacock is ill. Young Mr. Peacock is home on leave from France.”

Scarlett glared at him. How dare Professor Plum hint that Russell could have had anything to do with it? She thought of the Colonel’s blustering dismissal of all Russell’s opinions about the war. But Russell had kept his temper so beautifully! And anyway, he and his mother had been long gone before this had happened. Well, the Inspector would have to figure it out. At least so far he’d been smart enough not to mention how the man had really died.

Scarlett glanced out the tall windows that opened onto the garden, and her heart began to pound. Russell Peacock was crossing the wide lawn, his cap pushed back and lips pursed as he whistled a tune she couldn’t hear, but imagined was “A Long Way to Tipperary.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Middle Grade Review: The One and Only Ivan 

Title: The One and Only Ivan 
Author:  Katherine Applegate
Publisher:  Harper, 2012. 305 pages.
Source: Library

Ivan the gorilla lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall, a sort of odd cross between a zoo and a mall, and he's lived there so long he almost thinks it's normal. Until, that is, Ruby the baby elephant arrives and reminds him of all he's tried to forget.

Okay, there's no denying this is a good book. It won the Newbery Medal in 2013. It's moving, and brilliantly done, and makes us see and feel what Ivan sees and feels. I think the style of writing and the format (it's laid out with each page a separate chapter, almost like a journal entry, and each sentence it's own paragraph) gives it a bit of a feeling of otherness, or the recording of thoughts. 

And yet (I'd better prepare to duck here): it didn't really move me that much, and I kept wondering what the point was, besides a lesson about cruelty to animals. I'm almost wondering if I should read it again to see what I missed, but I don't think so. I get the message, and I'll even go so far as to say we could extrapolate to thinking about man's inhumanity to man. But as a story, it felt thin. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for something with more poetry than plot. I also had a problem with a book that is both trying to be realistic on one level and yet depicts decidedly anthropomorphic animals. I get it: we are being reminded that the animals, especially ones like gorillas and elephants, in fact have feelings, and I don't doubt that they do. But I was put off by their conversations, and for some reason especially by the cynical speech of Bob the stray dog. It was just a little to human and knowing.

In spite of my reaction, I think this is a good book, and worth reading. Its message is important and clear, without totally beating us over the head with it. I suspect it would make a very good read-aloud, though it might be hard for younger children to cope with the cruel realities it depicts in places.
Full Disclosure: I checked  The One and Only Ivan  out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."