“The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle (Roc, 2011)

Last Unicorn
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Every once in a while a book will come along and get written and be released to the world and become something so special and unique that it will stand the tests of time, whether it was published last year, or fifty years ago, or a hundred years ago.  In the magical fairytale style of The Princess Bride, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is certainly one of those ethereal books that generation after generation will read and enjoy for years to come.

“The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night.”  What she doesn’t know, but eventually discovers is that she is the last unicorn on earth.  These magical beasts once roamed free and helped and healed those around them, but now she is the only one left.  And even though she is old, she is not very wise and soon finds herself a member of Mummy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival with no chance of escape.  But then a most unique individual comes along, named Schmendrick the Magician, whose magical powers work most infrequently, and only when he really needs them to; and he frees the last unicorn.  Molly Grue also joins the unusual travelers, who still has faith in fables and believes in legends, even though she has met a suspicious Robin Hood character and his band of overly-merry men.  They journey far and wide across the lands, have many adventures in search of the other unicorns, and end up at the withered castle of King Haggard, where the Red Bull lies in wait for the last unicorn.

Many complimentary words can be said about this book, but still they will not do it complete justice, as it just transcends so many levels and ages, making us all, perhaps just for a moment, believe in these wondrous beasts.  For the new anniversary edition, a quote on the front of the book from Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind, says it best: “The Last Unicorn is the best book I have ever read.  You need to read it.  If you’ve already read it, you need to read it again.”

Originally written on February 13, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Last Unicorn from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Down the Mysterly River” by Bill Willingham, illustrations by Mark Buckingham (Starscape Books, 2011)

Down the Mysterly River
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The dynamic duo who’ve been entertaining fans for years with the fantastic comic book series Fables now turn their writing and illustrating talents to middle readers.  Down the Mysterly River is a quaint, entertaining tale that straddles a perfect balance between a memorable fable or fairy tale, and a great kid’s story.  Combining Bill Willingham’s skill as a storyteller and Mark Buckingham’s recognizable illustrations, this book is a delight for anyone, be they child or adult.

Max “the Wolf” is the best of the best when it comes to Boy Scouts, so when he wakes up to find himself in a strange and unfamiliar place, the last thing he’s going to do is panic.  He’s got his tools and his abilities to tackle anything.  When a badger named Banderbrock shows up and starts talking to him, Max thinks it’s a little weird – maybe he’s dreaming? – but keeps on going.  Before long he’s on the run from a group of hunters and their snarling hounds, picking up new friends along the way: Walden the black bear and McTavish the Monster (who looks quite a bit like an old barn cat).  The question is will they be able to keep themselves from getting caught, and why is this all happening to Max anyway?

Originally written on December 1, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Down the Mysterly River from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Chronicles of Harris Burdick” edited by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

Chronicles of Harris Burdick
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Many readers, no matter what age they might be, are familiar with Chris Van Allsburg’s unforgettable, award-winning classic, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, presenting fourteen unique and incredible illustrations that spark the mind and begin moving the gears of the imagination.  The illustrations have gone on to serve as great starting points for many schoolkids around the world looking to engage and develop their storytelling and writing abilities; a number of them still have those original stories they created when they were kids (my wife is one of them).

Now, over twenty-five years after the publication of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, fourteen renowned and well-known authors put their own minds to the task of creating original stories from these iconic works of art.  The likes of Louis Sachar, Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Lois Lowry, and even Chris Van Allsburg himself, create their own moving and special stories, most of them published here for the first time.  Stephen King also takes on the story of the house launching itself into the sky, originally published in his Nightmares & Dreamscapes short story collection, it is reprinted here.  The Chronicles of Harris Burdick also features an introduction from Lemony Snicket, with some of his thoughts on where these illustrations might have come from.

 The book is a keeper, to be added next to one’s own copy of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and to be picked up and read, as well as read aloud to others, over and over again.

Originally written on November 20, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Phantom Limb” by William Sleator and Ann Monticone (Abrams, 2011)

Phantom Limb
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Bestselling author and delighter of many children’s minds, William Sleator, returns with Ann Monticone – after collaborating on Test – in likely his last novel, The Phantom Limb.  While Sleator sadly passed away earlier this year, The Phantom Limb is a fantastic send off, employing some of his great story telling with a truly terrifying and unforgettable plot.

Isaac is the new boy in town, who dreads each day going to school and having to deal with a bullying pair of twins and all sorts of ridicule.  Friendless, he enjoys what time he can at home, entertained with his growing collection of optical illusions.  His mother is ill with a mysterious sickness, permanently in the hospital, while Isaac is lonely at home, tending after his grandfather who may be suffering from dementia.  As he begins to get used to the new house, he finds a leftover item from the previous tenants, an optical illusion in fact: a mirror box that is designed for amputees as it creates the illusion of a second limb.

As Isaac spends his time visiting his mother, she seems to be growing sicker and sicker, instead of getting better and yet the doctors and nurses don’t seem to know what’s wrong with her.  Isaac starts to suspect that someone at the hospital may be intentionally making her sicker.  As for the mirror box, he has noticed something special about it: there’s an additional limb in there – a phantom limb – that appears only before him.  It seems to be trying to tell him something, but Isaac will have to work out who this phantom limb belongs to, who the previous tenants were, and how they are linked with the hospital and its suspicious staff.  But Isaac will stop at nothing, because his mother’s life depends on it.

Sleator does what he does best in The Phantom Limb, revealing an incredible story that grows and becomes more and more bizarre, with the fantastic and the unbelievable; and yet Sleator keeps the reader reading along, linking plot lines and tangents, bringing them all together in  a logical conclusion that will leave the reader astounded.

Originally written on October 13, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Phantom Limb from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Wonderstruck” by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press, 2011)

Wonderstruck
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Brian Selznick last shocked and delighted the world with his incredible work of art, The Invention of Hugo Cabret: a tour-de-force in combining word, illustrations and photos to tell an unforgettable story.  The book not only became a bestseller, but went on to win multiple awards, including the 2008 Caldecott Medal, a Quill Award, and was on numerous best book lists, including the New York Times, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.  And the great news is Selznick is back with another incredible story employing his artistic and writing talents once again in Wonderstruck.

In Wonderstruck, Selznick tells two stories simultaneously: one in strong and powerful words about a boy named Ben in 1977; the other in moving illustrations and pictures about a girl named Rose fifty years earlier in 1927.  Ben discovers an important clue to the identity of his unknown father, and then the home he is in is struck by lightning, passing through the telephone he is holding, turning him deaf for the rest of his life.  But he still needs to discover who his father is, no matter what it takes.  He runs away from the hospital and travels to New York City, following the clues, which take him to the American Museum of Natural History.  There he will find some answers, as well as some new friends, while exploring this incredible place.  Rose’s journey also takes her to New York and the museum, in search of a loved one.  As to how Selznick links the two stories, bringing them together in a powerful plot  . . . you’ll just have to read the book yourself.

Selznick manages to convey so much detail and emotion in his artwork, even though they are black and white, as to tells as much of the story as the pages that feature his words.  He uses the same method from The Invention of Hugo Cabret, with multiple pages of illustrations unfolding a captivating tale.  Readers of Hugo Cabret will find just as much magic in Wonderstruck; and for those who are picking up Selznick for the first time, this book will sweep you away to a miraculous world that you’ll never want to leave.

Originally written on October 13, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Wonderstruck from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Invention of Hugo Cabret

“Dark Life” by Kat Falls (Scholastic, 2010)

Dark Life
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Dark Life, the first in a series from debut author Kat Falls, is another example of the growing genre brought about by the success of Hunger Games, about a dystopian future where things are bleak, but everything is certainly not as it seems.  In this particular doomed future the ocean levels have risen, leaving a small amount of high altitude land on each continent that is now filled with very high rise buildings and large populations living in very small spaces.  Then there are those groups who are looked down upon for living beneath the waters in undersea homes.  This is the story of those ocean dwellers.

15-year-old Ty was born underwater and has spent his whole life beneath the waves; it’s the only world he really knows.  Everyone lives in simple homes that look like jellyfish filled with air, attached to the sea floor; the trapped air inside prevents the water from entering.  The people live here normally, growing underwater vegetation for consumption, as well as running farms of different types of fish.  They are dependent on the Commonwealth for certainly supplies, such as machinery and medical supplies; in return they give the Commonwealth various types of fish in large amounts.  Only now a group known as the Seablite Gang is terrorizing them, attacking and taking their supplies so that the Commonwealth stops sending it, telling them they have to get rid of the Seablite Gang before they will send anything else, otherwise they’re on their own.  As the people of the underwater town grapple with how they’re going to do this, Ty meets Gemma, a girl close to his age and a topsider who has escaped from her school in search of her brother who went subsea in search of hope and wealth.  Then there’s the rumors of the “Dark Gifts,” supposed special abilities those who spend their lives underwater develop, but it’s a tightly kept secret, because if people found out that children were developing unique and powerful marine life abilities, it would change everything.

Readers will get sucked into Dark Life quickly, as Kat Falls has a knack for telling a fun and interesting story, keeping things simple, but action packed.  At the same time she has done her research, with the machinery and technology that is used, as well as the detail of sea life of both flora and fauna.  In addition to enjoying a great story, you will find yourself learning a lot about the underwater world and its many strange but very real inhabitants.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on March 5, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens” by Brandon Sanderson (Scholastic, 2010)

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
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Hey.  Hey you!  Come here.  Are you alone?  No librarians nearby, right?  Yes, librarians.  You heard me right.  Okay, good.  Yes, librarians are evil.  They’re an unstoppable cult that has pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes for a long time.  Everything you think you know isn’t the way it is.  Don’t believe me?  Then be sure to check out the first three volumes of Alcatraz Smedry’s incredible biography – Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, and Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia – written under the secret name of bestselling author Brandon Sanderson.  Sounds familiar now, right?  Well, keep this quiet, but Alcatraz is back with his next installment, and it’s a doozy!

Alcatraz and his friends and family are preparing for war against the Evil Librarians.  Except, of course, for his mother who is an evil librarian herself (we don’t know the complete story on this yet) and his dad, who has just gone off to who knows where.  The council is still trying to decide how best to handle this when the Evil Librarians lay siege to the city of Mokia.  The council refuses to help at the moment, while the Knights of Crystallia are just hanging about, making sure all the Smedrys are okay.  Alcatraz hatches a stoopid plan; in fact it’s his stoopidest plan yet!  He will travel to Mokia and sneak into the city without getting caught, then he’ll let the Knights of Crystallia know where he is and they’ll have to come save him.  Everything sort of goes according to plan until he comes face to face with the giant robots.

This has got to be Alcatraz’s most gripping adventure yet, where it really seems like he could easily get killed, but then he’s telling his story – pretending to be Brandon Sanderson – so he must make it in the end.  He gets up to his usual stoopid stuff, I mean stupid: like using his and his family’s weird and seemingly useless talents, messing things up with Bastille – even though he really likes her — oh yeah, and not spellings words correctly.  If you’ve read Alcatraz’s early adventures, you won’t want to miss this one!

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on April 10, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

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Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians    Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones    Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia