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Judy

Series Spotlight: The Last Firehawk

Owls are determined to save their home – the island of Perodia – from the evil Thorn, a vulture who is destroying the island with the help of his army of tiger bats and prickle ants. Rivers are dry, trees are being destroyed, and no flowers are blooming. Heroes of this animal fantasy early chapter book are Tag, an owl who uses a magic map; Skyla, a squirrel who uses a slingshot; and Blaze, the last surviving firehawk who uses his wings. When Tag, Skyla, and Blaze are successful in the quest to find all the pieces of the ember stone, their home might be saved.

The first page of each book explains where Tag, Skyla, and Blaze are in their search for the ember stone so the books do not have to be read in order…but in order would be best. Start with The Ember Stone (2017).

A map of Perodia, which is a copy of the magic map used by Tag, is on the next page after the introduction. The reader will want to refer back to the map while reading the adventure. On the last page of each book are questions and activities suggestions, which will add to the enjoyment of the reader and extend their learning. Each of the 10 books (so far) in The Last Firehawk series by Katrina Charman are 90 pages. There are black and white illustrations on each page. Lexile range is 550-640.



Emily

The Witcher. Season 1

​Are you looking for something to fill the void after the disappointing final season of Game of Thrones?  The Witcher, a friend of humanity, is here to slay monsters, collect coin, and reignite our excitement in fantasy TV shows.

In The Witcher (2019, TV-MA), Geralt of Rivea is no ordinary man. Subjected to a deadly trial as a child, he became a Witcher, a mutant hunter used to rid the world of scum.  After accidentally invoking an ancient custom at a wedding, he finds his destiny tied with Cirilla, the young princess of Cintra.  After her kingdom is attacked, she must find Geralt to understand her future and her power. Follow Geralt as he tries to slay monsters, navigate relationships, play politics, and find Cirilla.

Henry Cavill is phenomenal as Geralt.  It was the role he was born to play.  The fighting choreography is stellar and will have you wanting to watch it over and over.  The monsters are unique and disgusting and don't hold back.  Be prepared to have the song, "Toss a Coin to Your Witcher" stuck in your head for an eternity.

I have a few small complaints: the writing can be cheesy at times but the actors do their best with what they are given.  In addition, because two of the main characters live extended lives, the timeline skips around and can be confusing.  Despite these flaws, I recommend this to any fantasy lover looking for a show that doesn't pull its punches.

To watch The Witcher. Season 1 check out one of the Rokus for access to Netflix.

 If you enjoy the TV series, check out the books by Andrzej Sapkowski.  And if you enjoy playing video games, look for Witcher III: The Wild Hunt for PS4 and Xbox One.

Jennifer

Yesterday

If you love The Beatles, you need to watch this movie.  In Yesterday, a mysterious worldwide 12-second power outage triggers an alternate reality.  Struggling British musician Jack Malik is debating whether to give up on a music career.  Then, when playing a Beatles classic for his friends, he discovers that in this new universe, the Beatles never existed.  Jack becomes an international sensation with his alleged songwriting prowess.  But is it too good to be true?  Jack discovers what's truly important on his unbelievable journey.

This feel-good film (2019, PG-13) stars Himesh Patel and Lily James, with Kate McKinnon and Ed Sheeran in supporting roles.  Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis.  Listen to the soundtrack on Hoopla or check out the cd for a delightful assortment of Beatles covers.



Heather

Noelle

Disney+ has finally arrived!  Based on cast alone, my first viewing selection was Noelle (2019, G) which was originally intended for theatrical release, but was later reserved for the launch of Disney+.  It stars Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader as Kris Kringle's kids, Noelle and Nick.  Also in the cast are long-time actors Shirley MacLaine and Julie Hagerty, with comedians, Billy Eichner and Ron Funches.

Nick has trained his whole life to take over for his father as Santa, but as the pressure builds, he takes a vacation on his sister's recommendation.  Unfortunately, Nick took that to mean a one-way trip to the southwest.  Noelle has to venture out from the North Pole to find him, all while learning that Christmas is more meaningful when you focus on giving instead of getting.

Overall, this light-hearted film, albeit slightly predictable, will bring laughter and maybe even some tears to you and your family.  Find other Christmas movies to watch with the family on our website.

View Noelle and everything else Disney you can imagine with a Roku featuring Disney+.


Catherine T.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

I was feeling the need for a good book to escape into and Alix E. Harrow really delivered with whimsical prose and a fantastical story in The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019).

Set at the turn of the 20th century in Vermont, we follow the story of January, a young mixed race child in the care of a wealthy collector, Mr. Locke. Her guardian employs her father to travel the world searching for and obtaining rare treasures and curiosities, which are then added to Mr. Locke's extensive collection or sold at secretive auctions.

At the age of seven, while on a trip to rural Kentucky with Mr. Locke, January opens a dilapidated blue door amongst some ruins in a field and is briefly transported to another world, a world that smells of salt and stone, a world that feels strangely welcoming. Her few short moments there leave her wondering if it was a real memory or just her imagination. Then, at the age of 17, her father disappears while on one of his trips and a book mysteriously appears in a treasure chest in Mr. Locke's collection—a book that carries the scent of adventure and other worlds and tells of ten thousand 'doors'. And so begins an upheaval of January's life and the opening of new doors.

Lovers of Narnia and The Time Traveler's Wife will enjoy this beautifully written book, full of the power of the written word, love, and strong female characters.

Emily

A Darker Shade of Magic

Kell possesses the rare ability to jump dimensions, one of the last of his kind. Using blood magic to travel from Red London to White London to Grey London, he is tasked with being a diplomat between the cities. As a member of the Red London royal family, he wants for nothing. In his free time, he likes to smuggle items from one London to another, an act that is highly illegal and incredibly dangerous.

Before Kell's gift was so rare, there was a Black London. When corrupt magic overtook Black London, the doors were sealed to prevent it from spreading. Only those like Kell were left to travel the remaining cities. When a piece of the corrupt magic threatens the remaining worlds, Kell and Delilah Bard, a surprisingly talented pickpocket from Grey London, must work together to save their realities.

This book had everything I was looking for: a well-written female lead, an interesting magic system, and crossdressing thieves. The audiobook did not do the characters justice, and I recommend reading the book. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (2015) is the first in the Shades of Magic trilogy followed by A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light.

Catherine T.

The Night Tiger

Set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, The Night Tiger follows the adventures of several local children amidst a spate of mysterious deaths, which some people are attributing to the mythical weretiger.

Ren, an 11-year-old house boy, is on a mission to find the severed finger of his recently deceased master, an old British doctor. He needs to bury the finger with the doctor's body before the 49th day after death to ensure the doctor's soul will be at peace.

His story merges with that of Ji Lin, a young girl working at a dance hall to earn extra money to pay off her mother's debts. One night while dancing with a salesman, she ends up with a mysterious item from his pocket, a preserved human finger. Her subsequent search for the owner of the finger leads her and her brother, Shin, into intrigue and danger.

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (2019) interweaves the supernatural and Malaysian folklore with themes of colonialism and class and gender divides, all mixed together in an intriguing murder mystery.



Ashe

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (2017)

Lazlo Strange is earnest in his quest for knowledge. He's someone who could be your best friend. Even his enemies can't completely hate him; they just don't understand him.

The story begins when he's young, when suddenly the name of a city he's read about disappears forever. Books, spoken tales, even memories weren't safe. It no longer has a name. It's just...gone. Lazlo is convinced something happened and is determined to learn everything about this city, and somehow, travel to it. Cooped up in the library, assisting researchers going to-and-fro, it seems that day may never come—but he believes. He never stops dreaming, until a day he may finally have a chance to see this nameless city for himself.

And what he finds there is unbelievable.

Filled with adventure, exciting new locations and love, Strange the Dreamer will entrance you with its beauty and otherworldly feel. In Laini Taylor's epic fantasy, Lazlo's strange journey will not disappoint.


Emily

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (2007)

Kvothe is a legend, a man whose tales have grown bigger than himself. He's Kvothe the bloodless, slayer of kings, master swordsman, caller of the wind, and most recently, Kote the innkeeper. Hiding in a small town, he's given up his life for reasons unknown. When the Chronicler finds him and realizes his true identity, he manages to convince Kvothe to let him collect his story to separate fact from myth. Kvothe agrees and begins his three-day retelling of his life.

Told through his perspective, The Name of the Wind is a tale of a small nomadic boy who becomes the most powerful Arcanist the world has ever known. We follow him from his childhood with the nomadic Edema Ruh to his eventual arrival at the university for Arcanists. His tale is full of struggle, triumph, and personal folly that will have you rooting for him while simultaneously cursing his stupidity.

Patrick Rothfuss' writing is poetic and descriptive, allowing for elaborate world building and thought provoking passages. Some may find his writing to be slow, but if you can get through the first few chapters, the payoff is worth it. This is the first book of a trilogy. The second title is The Wise Man's Fear and the third still forthcoming.


Jez

Good Omens (2019) TV-MA

Ever since humans were cast out of the Garden of Eden, the demon Crowley (David Tennant) and the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) have been ordered by their head offices to occasionally nudge humanity towards one side or the other.  Over the last six thousand years, they have made an agreement to handle the other's duties from time to time, realizing their efforts were canceling each other out.  Over time, they have grown quite fond of humanity and Earth and when the antichrist shows up (in the form of an 11-year-old boy), they try to save the world and put off the impending war between Heaven and Hell.

Meanwhile, there are parallel narratives with the antichrist Adam (Sam Taylor Buck) and his friends, a new recruit to the witchfinder army, and a woman whose family has been led by entirely accurate prophesies from an ancestor.

The stories of Good Omens cross paths multiple times to form a well-woven narrative web that is emotional and dramatic, but most of all, amusing. Bolstered by a phenomenal cast and written by literary genius Neil Gaiman, based on his book of the same title co-written with the late Terry Pratchett, this unusual love story is one you will immediately want to rewatch.

Don't have access to Amazon Prime?  Check out one of our roku devices for a week.

Already a fan of Good Omens?  Discover your next great book with these readalikes.


Megan

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color by Julia Denos (2016)

In this story, we follow a free spirit who can't help but want to tame all of the beautiful colors she sees. We join her wild and wonderful world and hunt for colors along with her. Swatch soon encounters an ethical challenge and we see how our heroine resolves her dilemma.

As picture books go, I think Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color is a perfect example of the power of illustrations and how beautifully and creatively they help tell a lovely story. Additionally, the overall layout and design of the book is great and helps capture the energy of it all.

This is the first book both written and illustrated by Julia Denos. She also wrote and illustrated Windows.


Kathy

Elevation by Stephen King (2018)

Stephen King takes us back to the fictional town of Castle Rock in his latest novella, Elevation, where we are introduced to Scott Carey, a good-hearted, hard-working man, who, as is the case in all of King's works, discovers something rather unusual is happening.

What's most disturbing to Scott is that the unusual thing is happening to him. He's losing weight at a rapidly increasing rate, yet his size doesn't change, ever. No matter how Scott tries to weigh himself down, the number on the scale continues to decrease. As Scott's journey toward weightlessness progresses, the lightness he feels helps him see things more clearly, which inspires the town to go through a kind of lightening as well.

This odd little tale lacks the usual Stephen King horror, so makes for a pretty, quick, dare I say, fun read.


Katie

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) PG

This 2018 movie adaptation of Madeline L'Engle's 1963 Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time was highly anticipated by many book fans.  I was not one of those book fans. I distinctly remember reading the first chapter of the book during a thunderstorm and getting too frightened to read any further.  I was probably in third grade.

When the movie was announced, I was excited to finally go back to the story that I had paused on so long ago.  The movie met every one of my expectations: a little bit strange, a lot of CGI, and a huge heart -- driven mostly by actress Storm Reid.  I would recommend this to families who want a gentler fantasy adaptation for younger children.  As for fans of the books, I have heard that the movie was less than perfect, but isn't that always the case with movie adaptations? (Don't get me started on Remus never telling Harry who the Marauders were in Prisoner of Azkaban...)  Check out A Wrinkle in Time and decide for yourself.

Catherine T.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (2019)

I loved this epic high fantasy from Samantha Shannon. Yes, it is a big book, but it is a standalone novel, so no waiting for a sequel and the nonstop adventure will make the reading quick.

Taking inspiration from old legends, Shannon has created a world with hints of our own and includes a wonderful collection of mythological creatures. This world is currently facing the imminent return of  'the nameless one,' 1000 years after he was trapped in the abyss. Will Sabran, Queen of Inys, produce an heir to protect her country from this threat? Ead Duryen has been sent from the South to infiltrate the court to protect the Queen, but can she maintain her anonymity whilst attacking cutthroats and wyrms? Across the abyss in the East, Tane is preparing for her trials in the hope of becoming a dragon rider, but will the appearance of a stranger put her future in danger?

The Priory of the Orange Tree is an incredible tale full of assassins, religious differences, legends, ancient magic, political intrigue, dragons and pirates. And it has a fantastic cover too!

Katie

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz (2016)

inqThe Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (on the Rebecca Caudill 2019 nominees list) was thoroughly surprising and delightful. I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened this book, complete with the drawings of an illuminated manuscript, but I was completed unprepared to fall in love with it.

The three children (William, Jacob, and Jeanne) absolutely won me over and I cheered for them and their friendship. I found myself looking forward to the twists and turns of the story, especially when different travelers took over as the narrator.

I think this would make a fantastic family read, although there are small bits of violence (a village is burned, a dog is killed -- but comes back, and capture) to be aware of.

I can't imagine how Adam Gidwitz could possibly write a sequel, but I would love to follow another adventure in this same style!