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The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

 

This ferociously inventive and satirical novel is set in a 21st Century Britain divided into dozens of squabbling principalities called the Ununited Kingdoms. Magic openly exists in this world, once it was the driving force of civilization but over the centuries it has dwindled. Long ago the greatest wizard ever forced the powerful and terrifying dragons to live on special reservations bounded by force fields that disintegrate any human interlopers. The Dragonlands are pristine natural areas kept free of farms, freeways, and factories, and in return people can go about their routines without being gobbled up by giant flying reptiles. All thanks to the mighty wizard Shandar, the like of whom we shan't see again.

Nowadays the greatest magic practitioners of the age have to hustle odd jobs like finding lost keys, enchanting moles out of a garden, or rewiring a house without having to cut into the walls. Kazam Magical Arts Management is an agency that arranges these jobs and handles all the paperwork for the notoriously disorganized wizards. Forms have to be filled out for even the smallest spell. The punishments for ignoring this modern bureaucracy are very old-fashioned-- burning at the stake. Kazam is currently run by Jennifer Strange, two months away from her sixteenth birthday but extremely bright and competent. She is a foundling; there is a whole industry that contracts orphans in indentured servitude until their eighteenth birthday. Jennifer could have done worse than being in charge of a bunch of highly temper mental magic-users who all live with her in a big converted hotel filled with all sorts of quirks and enchantments. It certainly never gets boring.

Things get a lot less boring when some of her precognitive clients and other soothsayers in the Kingdom of Hereford predict the coming death of the very last dragon. With the demise of the fearsome and unseen dragon Maltcassion the hundreds of square miles of Dragonland will be up for grabs. More tantalizing still, there are predictions of a coming Big Magic, which no one can explain but has all the kingdoms in a tizzy. Jennifer and her friends at Kazam are swept up in the greedy plots of politicians, corporations, and the media. She will meet all sorts of weird characters, benign and menacing, and uncover her own destiny.

Jasper Fforde has amazed us with his brilliant Thursday Next novels and the Nursery Crimes. He loads his pages with astounding imagination and gleefully lampoons the status quo. Jennifer Strange's world comes alive with lots of odd details. The Last Dragonslayer is the first in a series for younger readers. It came out in the UK two years ago and I am looking forward to reading the further brainy and funny Chronicles of Kazam.

Reviewed by Chris, Compass Books SFO

My Colors, My World/Mis Colores, Mi Mundo by Maya Christina Gonzalez

 

When I open Gonzalez’s My Colors, My World, I feel myself getting lost within her worldbrought to life by her vivid artwork.  Maya, her main character, narrates life living in the desert, at first, monochromatic with sand blanketing her environment.  Yet with a little purple bird by her side, she teaches us to open our eyes to the accentuated intensity of natural colors such as pink sunsets, her red swing, and the green cactus growing outside her house.  By reading the parallel text, young readers will be inspired to celebrate the beautiful colors of wherever they live.  (Ages 5-8)

Reviewed by Jamie Dela Cruz, Books Inc. Market Street 

Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

How excited (a word here meaning, "jumping up and down while trying to stay steady enough to read a book") am I about this!?

If you have forgotten what it's like to read a Lemony Snicket novel, Who Could That Be at This Hour? is here to remind you. A new novel set in the same universe of  The Series of Unfortunate Events not only means new mysteries and new characters, but also new insights into old questions (and naturally, new questions about old insights). This book concerns the adventures of a young Lemony Snicket who, geared with "an unusual education" and a natural curiosity, begins solving the mysteries of a town called Stain'd-by-the-Sea.  In typical Snicket fashion, the narrative is charming, playful, and bittersweet, weaving witty humor with tones of anticipated sorrow.  As in The Series of Unfortunate Events, the narrator is Snicket himself and his simple language but elegant (and at times somewhat profound) ideas, make this another remarkable novel. 

P.S. You may have guessed that the answer to the first question is "very." In that case, you would be correct and I suspect you too could have a very successful future with an "unusual education" in a town called Stain'd-by-the-Sea. (Ages 9+)

Reviewed by Kelly, Books Inc. Laurel Village

Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper

The incredible story of Melody, a delightful and very intelligent fifth grader trapped inside an uncontrollable body and unable to speak because of cerebral palsy, at first left me feeling sorry for her but I quickly realized that’s not the point of this heartfelt story. Melody is strong, loving and extremely smart! The last thing she needs is for someone to take pity on her, she just wants to be heard, and when she gets a computer that finally lets her speak she’s able to surprise everyone around her, especially her classmates, with just how bright she is. Having the ability to speak now comes with a new set of challenges as she is transitioned into a regular classroom. You will find yourself cheering Melody on as she grows and struggles with changing how people view her and the disappointments she faces along the way.  Ages 10+


Reviewd by Melanie from Books Inc. Berkeley

What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang

 

This new author is young - not as young as Paolini of Eragon fame, but she's barely in her second year of college, and this book has been brewing in her head since she was twelve. What's Left of Me is the beginning of another young adult series called the Hybrid Chronicles, taking place in an alternate version of present-day Earth. The people in this universe are all born with two souls housed in the same body. Essentially, by the time a person is past their toddler years, a "dominant soul" is expected to take over the body, while the "recessive soul" fades away entirely. Children who don't completely merge are seen as hybrids, and are dangerous for reasons that aren't fully explained in this breakout novel; the main characters are actually two souls, Addie and Eva, both conscious in the shared body. Once again you've got teens on the run from the government, but as readers uncover the horrible medical and political secrets kept from the public, things get more intense than expected. Addie and Eva communicate through a form of thought/speak reminiscent of the familiars from Pullman's Dark Materials series and Applegate's Animorph series. Because it's two people in one body, it's like reading about a person with multiple personalities, except it's happening at the same time and while a girl is going through the tough teenage years. Seriously, characters in young adult novels have it beyond rough. Ages 13+

Reviewd by Robbin from Compass Books (Our Airport Store)

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