The Ivory Castle (Book One of the Drakonii Saga) by Guillermo Nodarse

Two young boys, Leopoldo and Antonio, are orphaned in a small, poor village. When their neighbors cannot support them, they must find a way to survive elsewhere. They are chased into the woods by wolves where they discover an old witch. They’ve been warned about witches–evil women who trick young children and gobble them up–but they’re hungry and cold. But the witch is not evil as they had feared, and not necessarily old either, and she takes them in to be her apprentices. Because Leopoldo and Antonio have the Dragon Gift, they can become dragons. Their world changes as they learn the truth about their past and are drawn into a battle against The Dark Prince Lucio and his raven adviser Gratus, who seek to wipe all Dragons from the world.

The beginning of this book reads like the type of fairytale you might have heard as a child, the little anecdote about how some mysterious person tests the hero to see if they are truly good, but as the story continues, it becomes much more than that. And when I finished reading I was left wanting to know what would happen next, always a good sign. To me, this is one of the better children’s books that I have read. It has some weak points (particularly that things are often interrupted for no reason with instructions for the kids to go to bed–what child would not pursue their past when just informed that everything they’ve ever believed isn’t really true?) but overall, it flows well and is enjoyable.

Currently this book is self-published and only available on the author’s website www.drakonii.com but I definitely think it is worth the investment. And while I’m not thrilled with the illustrations in the book (they’re sort of hazy and vague), the cover is possibly one of the best fantasy covers I’ve found, which definitely makes me happy since most are pretty lame.

Sickened by Julie Gregory

For those who don’t know what it is, Munchausen’s by Proxy is when an individual — usually a mother — deliberately makes another person (most often his or her own preschool child) sick or convinces others that the person is sick. The parent or caregiver misleads others into thinking that the child has medical problems by lying and reporting fictitious episodes. He or she may exaggerate, fabricate, or induce symptoms. As a result, doctors usually order tests, try different types of medications, and may even hospitalize the child or perform surgery to determine the cause. (http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/munchausen.html)

Anyway, the reason for that little medical summary is because sickened is about Julie Gregory, who spends much of her childhood in doctors’ offices and hospitals, convinced by her mother that she is sick and slow. But don’t worry, her mother will get to the bottom of this, she will find Julie the best medical care possible until they find what is wrong with her, even if it means invasive surgery, open-heart surgery if necessary. And somehow, after all of it, Julie manages to pick herself up again.

Sickened is terrifying because you can almost see, almost be sucked into that crazy. And how can no one see the truth? How can they? There are some slow moments in the book, specifically near the end, where you want more (more action, more story) but the book is compelling and leaves you wanting more.

Gregory is a good enough writer that I’d love to see if she can write other things. (Other than memoirs I mean. I believe she did write another memoir called My Father’s Keeper that I might check out at some point.)

Get the book: Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood

Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie

Of all the YA/Children’s fantasy I’ve ever read, this book goes somewhere near the top, (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and The Olympians, and His Dark Materials being the other ones up there). You knew when you start reading a new book and only a few pages in you know you’re going to like it? That’s how I felt while reading this one.

Five year old Ian Wigby, an orphan living at Delphi Keep, cannot fall asleep. There’s a storm outside and he thinks he sees someone outside. Sure enough, a man brings a little girl to the orphanage. The girl was found wandering alone in the storm, apparently abandoned by her mother. As “punishment” for being out of bed after bedtime, Ian is given the responsibility of caring for the girl as an older brother, who he names Theo. Years later, while Ian and Theo are exploring the caves near the Keep, they discover a new cave. This new cavern is full of many mysteries, including ancient Greek writing on the walls, a silver box with something locked inside, and a dangerous beast. But these discoveries are only the beginning of a much bigger adventure that the kids will find themselves embroiled with nothing less than the fate of the world at stake.

Interestingly, there are some similarities between story lines in this series and the Percy Jackson series. Specifically, in its use of Greek mythology. Either way, it’s well written (save for the occasional, slightly awkward dialogue) and exciting. It takes a long time before the particular details and magic really come to life and yet I didn’t find myself bored or irritated by it. Laurie sets up a world within the orphanage that is so well defined and captivating, that the larger story’s absence isn’t missed. Though it is certainly welcome once revealed of course.

Sadly, the next book in the series will not be out until August. But on the upside, the author seems to only take about a year to write a book so there isn’t much waiting time from book to book.

Buy the book: Oracles of Delphi Keep