Wildwood

When a murder of crows kidnaps Prue McKeel’s baby brother Mac, the adventure begins in Colin Meloy’s Wildwood.  Mirroring C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Meloy’s young adult fantasy involves you immediately in the possibility of a coyote army and talking eagles in the world of the impassable forest on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon.

Accompanied by Curtis, a school buddy who likes to draw superheroes, Prue ventures into the forbidden forest to rescue her brother, but soon finds herself embroiled in the politics of power, with good vs evil at war.  The ending includes the dramatic battle.

Key moments in the action are illustrated by Carson Ellis (Colin Meloy’s wife in real time) and the flavor of their native Oregon seeps into the green story – complete with bicycles and tangling ivy.

Meloy takes his time describing the details of the world across the ravine, and the action slows in places, but this is the first of a trilogy, so now the characters are well grounded for the next adventure, with Prue just starting to realize her unusual powers.  Let the games continue – a fun read for middle schoolers, with a little mystery, strong confrontations, and a twelve-year-old heroine who saves the day.

Tuesdays at the Castle

If your house sometimes seems to have a mind of its own – hiding your car keys, tripping you with a new wrinkle in the rug, running cold water instead of hot, Jessica Day George’s Tuesdays at the Castle may confirm your suspicions.

With Harry Potter-like shenanigans, the Castle can create new passageways, discard unwanted guests, furnish rooms sparingly or lavishly – depending on the occupant’s standing with the Castle, and play politics to anoint a new king.  On Tuesdays, the Castle always adds a new part to the castle – a room, a window, a wing – and the youngest occupant, Princess Celie, the Castle’s favorite,  records each new piece as she continues to revise her map.

When the royal parents are suddenly missing and then declared dead, outsiders try to take over the Castle and the kingdom.  Although the royal children work to solve the mystery of their missing parents and older brother, the Castle is the main character of this delightful escapade.

The children’s clever outwitting of adults, with the help of the Castle, is as enchanting as the magical diversions –  the “night of manure mayhem” may have you checking your shoes.

With an exciting and satisfying ending – Tuesdays at the Castle is a fun fantasy. Hopefully, George will continue the adventures of Princess Celie and her Castle.

Fablehaven

If you are a fan of The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, or The Hunger Game,  you may already know about Brandon Mull’s young adult fantasy series.  I found Fablehaven by accident while browsing a local bookstore, and fell into a world of amazing characters – most of them not human.

When Kendra and Seth visit their grandparents, they find a strange world full of fairies, vengeful witches, and party-loving satyrs – all revealed when the children “drink the milk” from a special fifty foot cow “with hooves the size of hot tubs.” Grandma is a hen under a spell; the housekeeper is a naiad water nymph turned mortal; and Grandpa is the caretaker of a preserve for fairies and mythical beings on the endangered species list. Seth is the little boy who doesn’t abide by the grown-ups’ rules, and is constantly intruding into places and creatures that trigger trouble for everyone; thankfully, his big sister saves the day in a final battle of good vs. evil.  But the adventure continues in four more books.

With villains and vengeful fairies, Mull created an imaginative world for his target

Drink the milk

audience of middle schoolers, but adults may also enjoy the  clucking grandma and the overwrought witch gnawing at her knots – and laugh at the consequences for children who don’t mind their elders.