Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brandon Mull

by Brandon Mull
Recommended Age: Age: 12+

When their parents inherit a luxury cruise upon the accidental death of Mom's parents, Kendra and Seth reluctantly go to spend the summer with their other grandparents on a secluded country estate in New England. There is reluctance on their Grandpa's end, too; since he inherited Fablehaven, he hasn't held much with visitors. But provided the children live by his rules, he promises they will enjoy their summer in the vast gardens of Fablehaven.

Grandpa, however, doesn't reckon on Seth's inability to live under rules. Kendra and Seth, for their part, are little prepared for the true nature of Fablehaven, which they discover a short while into their vacation. For the place is as good as its name, a haven for creatures thought to exist only in myth, fairy tale, and fable. One of few such preserves still standing in spite of a series of attacks and betrayals around the world, Fablehaven is about to face one of the direst tests in its long history. If it fails this test - and if Kendra and Seth are not destined to be its next caretakers - it will fall into a darkness ordinary people would shudder to imagine.

For it takes more than ordinary people to deal with fairies, witches, kelpies, and whatever other things inhabit the deep, dark woods around Fablehaven's manicured gardens. It takes people who can see magic. It takes people of tremendous courage, audacity, and self-sacrifice. And when a terrible mistake on the most dangerous night of the year threatens to unleash an ancient evil no one in the world can fight, it takes more cleverness, goodness, and willpower than Kendra ever knew she had to save the lives of everyone she loves.

If you like fairies with attitude, this is your book. Filled with suspense and dread leading to a powerful climax, Fablehaven is loaded with all the vitamins that have been missing from your diet since your last taste of Harry Potter, Faerie Wars, or Foo. Plus, lucky you, this book begins a series which continues in Fable Haven: Rise of the Evening Star and, coming in April 2008, Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague. Brandon Mull has also authored the interesting-looking book The Candy Shop War.

The Candy Shop War
by Brandon Mull
Recommended Age: 12+

I am amazed. In the middle of writing his Fablehaven series, one book per year (now coming up on the third book), Brandon Mull somehow squeezed out this completely unrelated, and yet absolutely marvelous book.

Where shall I begin? All right, the front cover. I am a huge fan of top-drawer cover art. This book has it, with an image of four middle-school kids running, skipping, dancing up into the air, trailing glittering pieces of candy. Magical candy, of the sort the Honeydukes people only dream of selling.

Nate is new in the small town of Colson, California. He is not eager to start over at a new school and to try making new friends. But before he even realizes what he is doing, he has joined a gang that includes Trevor, a girl named Summer, and the class nerd, who goes by the nickname Pigeon. Together these kids face a nasty new teacher, try to avoid a trio of bullying sixth-graders, and make friends with the nice old lady who runs the new candy shop downtown.

The lady is so nice, in fact, that she invites the Blue Falcons (that's their club) to do a little work at her shop after school. In return, she offers them scrumptious candy. But then she reveals some "secret candy" that has magical powers. To earn it, the children must run some special errands for her. Errands that must be done at night. Errands that may, or may not, be the wrong thing to do.

Right away, this book surprises you by being darker and deeper than what the cover illustration leads you to expect. The magical world of which Mrs. White is a member - and Mr. Stott, the old man who drives the local ice cream truck, is another - is full of secrets and dangers the children hardly suspect. Maybe that's why a bounty hunter is prowling the streets, armed with serious weapons like guns and crossbows. Maybe that's why neither Mrs. White nor Mr. Stott tells the kids the nature of the treasure they are helping them look for, or how they plan to use it, or why they need kids to look for it and can't just search on their own. And maybe that's also why increasingly weird and disturbing things are going on at home, at school, and in the streets of Colson.

By the time the children do know what is going on, they are in it over their heads - torn between conflicting loyalties, pursued by vicious thugs, and armed with candies that give them terrible magical powers - and the responsibility that goes with them. Nothing less than the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of four scared fifth-graders, armed with sweets that enable them to defy gravity, resist physical injury, travel through mirrors, administer electric shocks, blow fireballs, drop suggestions into unsuspecting minds - to name only some of the thrilling powers they carry in their pockets. They'll need every one of them, too, as they meet bizarre and dangerous beings, ranging from a "flatman" that came straight out of someone's nightmare (be careful he doesn't go into yours!) to people with the ability to hurl sticky orange slime, change the size and behavior of living things, move at terrific speed, and grow extra limbs at will. Everything finally comes down to one boy and one truly amazing piece of candy that gives him one slender chance to set things right.

What, you don't believe me when I say this is an extraordinary book? You're not ready to accept the existence of a book that leaves Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tasting like cotton candy - soft, sweet, and insubstantial? That's all right. I don't expect you take my word for it. Put your hands on the book and see if the front cover doesn't draw you in. And when you come up for air, 400 pages later, you'll agree that The Candy Shop War has a lot more going for it than a pretty wrapper!

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